January 30, 2011

One Big, Mean, Funky Machine

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Saturday night, the local funk outfit The Big Mean Sound Machine brought their ten-piece act to Castaways and inspired all in attendance to get undeniably funky. The first thing that struck me about the band is that all of its members were having an absolute blast on stage. Bassist Angelo Peters and guitarist Dan Barker led The Big Mean Sound Machine and behind them were a dancing, smiling ensemble of percussionists, keyboardists and horn players. Frequently, members of the band would play different instruments in different songs, and musicians who were not playing their main instruments during particular songs would always add to the groove with maracas, cowbells, wood blocks and other rhythm instruments. The band acted as a veritable democracy of funk, in which every citizen plays an important role in the production of funky grooves, equitably distribuiting solos and acting as a cohesive unit.

The Big Mean Sound Machine describes themselves as a “Live Experimental and Electronic Afro-Beat, Funk and Dub” band on their MySpace. Despite that description’s unwieldy length, it does a good job at describing their ambitious sound, which got everyone in Castaways bobbing their heads and moving their hips. The music was entirely instrumental, but the spacey and psychedelic jazz that they played did not require lyrics to draw in the listener. Each song would start out with a standard afro-beat groove and then be brought to an extreme tempo or volume as it progressed. Peters’ talent on the bass was showcased during a powerful dub breakdown that occurred towards the middle of the show, during which his uncanny knack for grooving incited even the most dance-averse audience members to shake their stuff. A featured alto saxophonist layered the sound of the band with an ambient-minded, freeform style of play. His incendiary playing meshed with the psychedelic rhythms of the songs in such a way that made the jazzier songs that the band played seem more dangerous, like music from a jazz club on the brink of hell.  Dramatic descriptions aside, that raw edginess was what I liked most about The Big Mean Sound Machine because it differentiated the band’s music from your typical jam band fare. The music was still smooth and funky, but the high energy of the band members showed me a raw passion that they had for their music that I normally do not feel at jam band shows, which can often seem aimless and meandering. The different musical styles that were explored throughout each song were all played with the same high level of intensity and kept the show from becoming monotonous by offering something new for the audience’s ears to enjoy on every track.

Castaways proved an adequate environment for The Big Mean Sound Machine. There were enough people at the show to fill up the dance floor but not enough to make it feel crowded. The audience was fun and only made the atmosphere around the show more exciting. There was not a noticeable Cornell presence at the concert, but the audience was nevertheless diverse, ranging from grizzled old barflies to promiscuous high school kids wearing fake mustaches. Everyone was visibly into the music, which provided for an exhilarating evening. One particularly avid fan named Mike provided me with what may have been the most accurate statement of the night when he likened one of the songs’ intros to a snake-charming melody.

If you are a fan of live music and don’t have anything against an instrumental concert, I would highly recommend going to see The Big Mean Sound Machine. The diversity of their music is engaging, yet always danceable and groovy, and they are a local band that has just as much fun as their audience. If you are interested in listening to their music now you should check out their Big Mean EP or their live album from a show they did at Castaways last year. Both of these albums can be downloaded for free at the band’s website, bigmeansoundmachine.bandcamp.com. The band also announced that they will be releasing an entirely new album this March of April, so be on the look out for that this Spring.   If last night was any indication of the band’s on-record potential, it should be a worthwhile addition to any funk-loving, jam-appreciating music listener’s library.