Fuzzy purple lights wrapped the State Theatre in a cloud of warmth, as 30-foot tie-dye tapestries set the backdrop for the world’s most renowned Grateful Dead tribute band, the Dark Star Orchestra (DSO). Touring nationwide for over a decade, the Chicago-based DSO recreates original, song-for-song concerts from the Dead’s 30-year history. Last Tuesday night, the audience was treated to DSO show #1,611 — a rare original set list.
An inaugural cry of vitality kicked the Decemberists into gear with a tight, up-tempo cathartic march. Rocking to the Barton Hall rafters, the veteran Portland, Oregon band confirmed their reputation as a jaw-dropping live act while reenforcing their status as “independent super-pop” trailblazers. Busting the Sunday evening stupor, the Decemberists hitched indie rock’s scratchy, emotionally piercing dissatisfaction with a charged army of rich organs and inventive percussion.
“Welcome! Brothers, Sisters!” Eyes saturated with a sense of purpose, Billy Bragg inaugurated his Saturday evening performance at the State Theatre with scratchy, scathing electric guitar riffs as the firm backbone to a stream of political consciousness. Sporting dark blue jeans and a black 45-r.p.m. spindle throwback T-shirt, the graying folk-punk protestor drove the crowd to the verge of delirium by savagely pounding at his strings while firing off the words “democracy,” “unite” and “market fundamentalism.” Between songs, the Brit’s barely comprehendible rants featured profanities that we don’t even have in American English.
Eclectic percussionist Jerome Cooper came to Cornell “to perform, that’s under my contractual agreement. I’m not here to talk.” Or so he said at Tuesday’s American Artistic Renaissance Symposium panel, emphasizing the symposium’s performative element over its academic one. He led jam session with a glockenspiel-laden set, expertly harnessing the deep pulse of true, free jazz. Though his reputation was cemented as a soloist famous for short, rhythmic phrases, Cooper played alongside jazz legend Leroy Jenkins in the 1970’s “Revolutionary Ensemble.”
Psychedelic minstrel. Trailblazer of acid folk. Scruffy dude banging Natalie Portman. A litany of personas, one artist: Devendra Banhart.
The Venezuelan’s recent offering, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, is a clear consolidation of musical growth born amidst his experimental albums Cripple Crow and Rejoicing in the Hands.
Summer’s last sunset unfolds behind the Ithaca foothills as RJD2 readies himself to unleash a rhythmic, bass-infused assault on the Arts Quad. Fiery Maker’s Mark fumes seeping from the pores of the blonde girl to my left, while to the right an easily identifiable sweet and pungent aroma sets the olfactory stage.
Needle hits vinyl: Pop-crackle and snap! RJD2 spins the crowd into motion from behind an arsenal of three turntables and a synthesizer. Trippy projector at his back, the D.J. — real name Ramble John “RJ”
Krohn — fluidly matches hand-pounding licks to diverse clips ranging from Aqua Teen Hunger Force to The Matrix.
Homogenized product and hackneyed melodies take note: today is the end of days. Rec-execs, feel free to point the finger of blame at Reel Karma’s latest offering: the youthfully exuberant Paper Me and Paper You. The time is now to commence the conjecture regarding what responsibilities a band bears to its audience, and specifically how those responsibilities relate to the sociopolitical context of 2008. The task impetrative, Reel Karma leads us to the critical, euphorically free answer we have tried so hard not to exhume.
“Arrrrite erieeone,” calling together the finicky crowd with a crisp, bluesy anchor, “this next number were goaahh do for you, is called Paper Me and Paper You.” BANG. HOOK. EYES.