Escort, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
World Financial Center Plaza
Saturday, August 25
Better than: Screaming “Disco sucks!” in a crowded Studio 54.
“Disco snuck up on America like a covert operation,” wrote Alice Echols in Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture. Dan Balis and Eugene Cho’s Escort—a 17-member live disco fantasia—likewise snuck up on New York’s dance scene. But it took an inauspicious party argument to plant the seeds of Saturday night’s feverish fusion of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society with its disco equivalent—the finale to New Amsterdam Records’ adventurous Ecstatic Summer Festival. “I am one dumbass,” concluded Argue of the night he found himself touting Chic to Balis as disco’s single great act.
After a short yet typically galvanizing set by Argue’s Secret Society, whose bright palette and elastic tempos will rock your head in virtually any context, the two big bands merged into a supersized hybrid to perform “Penumbra” (described by Argue in a blog post as “late ’70s Quincy Jones meets Guillermo Klein’s rhythmic filter”), which bloomed large, with horns and strings swelling and exhaling over a bed of thick Latin percussion. About halfway through, a big four-on-the-floor thump gave it lift-off as Sam Sadigursky soloed brightly above it on clarinet.
Argue, a social-networking mofo, had solicited programming suggestions on Twitter. The winners turned out to be a couple of jazz-disco crossover landmarks by Donald Byrd, who reinvented his sound in the mid-’70s with the help of Motown pioneers Larry and Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell. If one could claim (or dumbassedly oversimplify) that Secret Society is about multiple modes of expression, while Escort revels in disco’s formal pleasures, Byrd’s “Change (Makes Me Want to Hustle)” and “Stepping Into Tomorrow” hit the brain-body sweet spot. Guest trumpeter Tim Hagans reprised Byrd’s pithy statements over floating horns, celestial synths, stellar strings, siren-seductive vocals, and subtle street rhythms—but it was Erika vonKleist’s sexy sax solo in “Stepping” that pushed it toward the sublime.
The stage looked a little sparse with Secret Society’s departure, but it didn’t stay cool for long with the arrival of Escort frontwoman Adeline Michèle, working it hard in a brightly colorful dress and thigh-high black leather boots. Calling out to the sailboats floating nearby this perfect late-summer evening, Michèle, her understated backing singers, and the rest of Escort credibly translated disco’s late-night interior demimonde delights to the curious tourist class. Escort hit its stride during “All Through the Night,” when its symphonic excesses became most apparent and the timbales took off.
If disco was the biggest cultural cliché of its day, indie rock probably holds the current title. So let’s just say the twain doth met in Escort’s cover/remix of Feist’s “I Feel It All,” with Secret Society back onstage, Karlie Bruce on vocals, and a literal military rhythm replacing the disco imperative. That returned in full effect almost immediately, when Secret Escort pulled out all the stops for one of the summer’s musical highlights in any idiom: a 20-minute megamix of Cerrone’s “Je Suis Music,” BB&Q’s “On the Beat,” Gino Soccio’s “Dancer,” and the Bucketheads’ “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind).” The night felt like a glittering lunar expedition even without a disco ball twirling overhead.
Critical bias: “Argue strives to rejuvenate the form with a sound that’s remarkably personal while evoking Gil Evans returning to Cookie Mountain with Steve Reich.”—Richard Gehr, Village Voice, May 2009
Overheard: “I usually hate this kind of shit.”
Random notebook dump: Too bad Escort ran out of time for its always-stimulating “Cocaine Blues.”
Brooklyn Babylon Chapter 1: The Neighborhood
Secret Society + Escort
Change (Makes Me Want to Hustle)
Stepping Into Tomorrow
Get on Up
Love in Indigo
Bright New Life
All Through the Night
A Sailboat in the Moonlight
Why Oh Why
All That She Is
I Feel It All (w/ Secret Society)
Mega Medley (w/ Secret Society)—Je Suis Music, On the Beat, Dancer, The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)