Daniel Lanois' Black Dub
Wednesday, 17 Nov. 2010
Bowery Ballroom, NYC
Sometimes a live show can transcend because the recorded version of the music has been scrubbed too clean by digital detergent. Nice, tight compressed waveforms. Click-clacks, click tracks. More compression, oui? Well, maybe just a smidgen. Oops, too much. Compromised by the recorded signal getting squashed to 128-320 kbps. No audience to interact with the musicians when recording.That feeding frenzy that nourishes both patron and artist. When the musicians finally do get to share their majesty in front of an adoring and musically-starved audience, magic happens.
Such was the case on Wednesday evening when Mr. Lanois, leader of his latest quartet, Black Dub, hit the first note on his Gibson Firebird six-string guitar. Two seemingly undernourished Fender tweed amps pushing out his evocative filigree. Yes, he has street cred in spades, and not just for his production and engineering feats for Dylan, Emmylou, U2, the Neville Bros., et al. His solo efforts are quite evocative, too. Acadie (1989) and For the Beauty of Wynona (1993, cover art by Czech photographer Jan Saudek!), remain essential listens. Throw in the DNA pool of the Whitley clan, i.e., Ms. Trixie, daughter of the late, great singer/songwriter Chris Whitley, plus the monstrous drumming of jazzbo Brian Blade and his longtime bassist Daryl Johnson and you have a very formidable roots-rockin' monster.
(A few short years ago, I had the grand fortune of witnessing Ms. Whitley, and a guitarist, crush a small group of us at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn. I hadn't been that moved by an artist in such a tight space since I worshipped at the altar of Jeff Buckley during his Sin-é sermons.)
But I disgress...
For it was this near-perfect performance that really showed me how dynamic and vital and revelatory Black Dub can be. Apart from watching a handful of compelling live in-studio videos, I'd not previewed their debut CD prior to seeing them on Wednesday evening. So my prejudice in being underwhelmed when I listened to a few tracks yesterday was mainly due to this transcendent gig. And blessings to those of us who were fortunate enough to catch it.
"Love Lives" jump-starts the evening. Soulful, huge vocals on chorus. Brian Blade's Jack DeJohnette tribute on drums. All angles and strikes. Arms akimbo in perfectly executed fast-form tai chi movement. Trixie's big, and I mean big voice keeping it all reined in until the music called for her to deliver more. "I Believe in You." Even more soulful with three-part harmonies filling the venue. Tracie seems ready to bust out of her skin any moment. Her body moving and bopping, focused on the harmonies with Daniel and touring bassist Jim Williams. (Additional kudos for Mr. William's Gibson SG providing stellar bottom end; never boom-bastic.)
But it is "Nomad" that grabs the audience by the throat. Trixie's voice, yes, her voice, a master class of Voice as lead instrument. Daniel rips a tight, taunt mini solo. Trixie jumps on her drum kit stage right to make it even funkier. And she's locked into the groove, trading percussive chops with Brian all while singing. (Levon Helm would have been totally stoked.) But before the audience can catch the collective breaths, the band swings into "Sing," one of my favorite tracks from the CD. And it is the perfect segue. This be a 'Nawlins funk workout. But that barely prepares the adoring audience for the slow, burning, Solomon Burke-styled ballad "Surely." Surely the venue will be leveled by their divine providence, unless we can all catch our collective breaths.
Daniel's stage banter, thanking his friends in attendance, some who've witnessed multiple shows on this and previous tours. Even props to his friend for making soup for his merry music freaks. "The Messenger," a staple from his solo repertoire (from Wynona), gets the added bonus of Trixie's harmony vocals. Elegiac. Tasteful. Powerful. A few instrumental passages featuring more nimble fretwork from Mr. Lanois; one on his trusted pedal steel, an instrument that he has mastered and continues to exploit in the most cosmic way. (Check out his chops on one of Eno's ambient masterpieces, Apollo.)
"The Last Time." Break down on drums. Funky fresh fever. Pumping bass. Fractured git lines. All compete to keep the organic nature from becoming contrived or predictable. It is anything but. Audience agrees with yelps and wild applause.
A momentary respite. Tension fills the Bowery as we anticipate Black Dub's next move. It builds to a near-deafening crescendo after Trixie straps on her black Gibson Les Paul and begins to deliver her stunning, uptempo blues-infused ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind." We hang on her every word... "I'd rather go blind / Than be this / Misunderstood..." She is PJ Harvey being dragged up from the grave of Janis Joplin. Her legacy in rock's Pantheon cemented.
But this only primes the audience for the Tenor Saw classic "Ring the Alarm," which evokes the ghosts of Neil Young's Crazy Horse past and calls for an audience with every shaman of the future. Trixie is now on keyboards. Three-part harmonies on the chorus punctuate Lanois' snaking guitar leads. Brian's drumming jaw-dropping ridiculous. The ebb and flow of said chorus lifts us off our feet. Wave after wave. Breathtaking. A "Dylan" bow from center stage lets everyone know that the main set has drawn to an appropriate close.
A very brief call from the audience for an encore and the band, sans Brian, drops into "Silverado." Then Brian finally appears, halfway through, and jumps on Trixie's kit to help swing everyone into one of Mr. Lanois' greatest compositions, "The Maker." It's take no prisoners, and who could resist. We are spent, but satiated. We are glowing, but not burnt. We have witnessed the future of music and it is now. Experiences this grand linger in the frontal lob for eons.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.