The Fast Horse Hootenanny, p. 2

At this particular juncture in my professional musical world, I'm surrounded on a constant basis by Top 40. So anything not in heavy rotation is pleasant. And anything nowhere near heavy rotation is bliss. So I was psyched about the hootenanny. I noticed a few guys in the crowd wearing that Stipe-esque orange star shirt, but other than that, the audience seemed to be there for the whole scene, not just for Peter Buck. Maybe it was his recent judicial unpleasantness or maybe it's the fact that the last two REM albums didn't sell all that well, but the mad REM-affiliation hysteria seems to have died off. And that's a good thing, because the crowd was really there to listen to some new types of stuff. The respect and devotion showered upon Davis was enough to warm even a New Yorker's heart - the guitarsmith, confined to a wheelchair due to the combined effects of polio and a 1950s barroom brawl, appeared to float on the adoration of a roots- and blues-loving bevy of followers. And thus, the hootenanny was a welcome diversion from the typical Thursday night downtown NYC concert - nothing too indie, nothing too popular, and nothing too hip. It was just about music for the joy of music. People were actually dancing and having fun. It was a nice change.

I wasn't sure what to think about the Wayward Shamans. I knew the group was based on Martin and Cripps' percussion stylings and I knew that the rest of the players were staples of the Seattle session scene. They were solid, weaving intricate melody lines around basic jazz structures and afro-Cuban progressions. Keyboardist Alex Vesey stood out at the front of the stage, with his rakish fedora and his vocal scatting, adding a swing flavor to the mélange already occurring. Their songs were swirly and enticing, although they occasionally veered too far into the Steely Dan realm for my tastes.

Next up was the somewhat tipsy Minus 5, led by a sunglass-wearing Scott McCaughey. McCaughey, who leads the Young Fresh Fellows (see? They're more than just a They Might Be Giants name-check) and plays utility infielder for REM in his spare time, really likes to rock. His songs are poppy, well-constructed pieces of rock'n'roll and he sings them all in his character nasal-yet-pleasantly appealing way. Tearing through songs from their recent album, Let the War Against Music Begin, the Minus 5 seemed content just to have fun. As other musicians from the tour filtered on stage, Buck and McCaughey would shout out chord changes and banter over the playlist. McCaughey, with his trademark glass of Maker's Mark at his side, implored the crowd to buy albums by Athens band The Possibilities and then dropped to the floor, doing the worm while playing some punk rock guitar.

At one point the very gorgeous John Wesley Harding joined the mess on stage and performed the Bob Pollard part from "Boeing Spacearium" (from The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy ) and I stopped paying attention to the garage rock for a while. Harding is so good-looking and hits those harmonies sooooo well that I got lost in his quirky British cuteness. Which is good, because I had been drunkenly embarrassing myself by knowing every single word to every single Minus 5 song and I think people were getting weirded out. But I didn't zone out to the fact that not only did Peter Buck play some nice, solid bass, but also, he didn't throw yogurt on anybody or assault any stewardesses. So maybe all that shit was just a fluke. But anyway.

Buck & McCoy et al left the stage and then everyone trooped back out as the Tuatara incarnation of the night. They started to play and the whole crowd collectively gasped - was this magnificent music coming from the same motley crew who had been playing messy garage only five short minutes ago? (There was a very long thought collectively crammed into a collectively brief pause, take it from me). But somehow, it was true, and Tuatara started weaving rhythms and patterns of percussion and saxophones, trumpets and vibes, flutes and electric guitars. It was tribal, but not in a drum circle way. The whole mosh pit area was groovin' - REM fans, dreadlocked dudes, trendoids and squares alike. It was lovely. Tuatara's soaring songs often seemed to tell stories; it's no wonder their latest disc is called Cinematique and it's also no surprise to learn that they've started scoring films.

Although their lineup has changed (most notably, with Sue Orfield replacing Skerik on sax), Tuatara still does something neat. They've really got a handle on combining different genres with different rhythms while somehow still sounding slightly like a rock band. They're more rock/jazz tinged than Peter Gabriel's stuff or David Byrne's Luaka Bop issues. But they're not really rock at all. In fact, it's amazing to watch McCaughey's transformation from drunken and slurring grungy rock guy into vibe-playing and jazzy avant-garde guy. Except the band isn't really that avant-garde, not when you listen hard. They're just solid, and they combine kinda trite stuff (we've all heard West African rhythms used in rock music before) with some other more interesting and unexpected stuff and it comes out sounding right nice.

Image: John Wesley Harding [1]       2     [3]     [Next]

September 2002

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