AKRON/FAMILY, GROUP DOUEH, OMAR SOULEYMAN LIVE!
*Rises from sick-bed* to finish off time-travelin' back to last sunday:
Despite having lived in Bedminster in a previous life (over a chemist's shop next door to Joan Armatrading's percussionist! - sad to see the old Roxy cinema has long gone; I remember seeing a Biker film double-bill there back in the day; and they once filmed a set-up for Shoestring outside the flat.) Kek failed to navigate Farmer Glitch to Fiddlers. So, our heroes pull up outside an pub and ask directions from a couple of white be-vested punters. "Fiddlers? Is that a gay or a straight pub" asks one of them. Errrrr...?
Later, the dynamic duo have a back-street run-in w/ Cheech & Chong's classic VW camper - w/ C&C still tie-dyed and in the command-cockpit, cast adrift in time from some 70s/80s stonerfilm.continuum.
So Kek phones Tim Goldsworthy who consults his AtoZofBrizzle and says, "Head for Asda; it's around there somewhere." So they do and it is.
Kek really wanted to like Akron/Family but somehow just couldn't bring himself to do it. Too fussy, messy, twiddly or something; each song containing 15 different micro-genres or too many references to something-or-other. "A band with an indentity crisis," said The Farmer, dryly, his eyebrows probing the air like antennae. Kek likes proggy, complex, twisty stuff, but this was too...too, Kek dunno, infused w/ US Indie and trying too hard. It's a shame, cos they were obv. nice guys (much later they were drinking beer and dancing lots to the SF acts), and Kek feel churlish n hateful for saying such horrible things about um, but: hrrrmm...
The bits when they chowed down on their guitars and heavied-up were the best, rather than The Talking Heads play CSNY in a Samba stylee for 15 seconds in 13/8; there was a rolling/loping funksturm that caught Kek's ear too, but too little and not often enuff.
Still, here they are:
And here's their most recent album - "Set 'em Wild, Set 'em Free" on Crammed. Not really sure what to make of it, tbh.
Have the same reservations as for their live set - too jingly-jangly, too fussy for the most part: fast/switching tween Byrne-ish twitterfunk, urban.tribal chants, Zappa guitar breakdown (trying to think which song's being referenced there - "Zombi Wolf", maybe? Certainly something off "Overnite Sensation" - no wait! - it echos a line off of "Roxy and Elsewhere" - yeah, got it now!), atonal Magic Band/Waits clangbloozesturm, baroque.pop orchestration and early 70s 'Ard Blues riffage - and that's just one track lol! On paper a mighty confluence of musical confectionary, but somehow just not quite working, dunno why...the vocal harmonies grate a bit too. Anyway...
Group Doueh were waaaaay more funkier than Kek expected w/ a Yamaha keybrd.station providing preprogrammed Saharawi riddims and some seriously phat Worrellesque b/lines. Jamal Salmou (son of Bamaar aka "Doueh") pumped up the N. African fonk-runs while his mom Halima slapped a tbal drum, sang and got roars of crowd approval for hr brazen dance.shapes. A be-robed Bashiri handled most of the vocals, holding himself in a way that could best be described as dignified and dude-like, but it was Doueh who really fascinated - a man who was so freaked when he first heard Hendrix on the radio in the early 70s in a small Western Saharan town that it changed his life forever, and here he is now, 35 years later, playing his music back to us and changing our own perception of the world and how it should sound.
Yep, the Jimi-licks are all present and correct, along w/ that warmly dissonant gtr-tone of his. He plays some blistering runs - often at unexpected moments - but also knocks out some razor-sharp rhythm-work that's skeletal, but sooo tight that it puts Chic to shame. Again, that rolling, lurching heavy-funk bounce - so unexpected - sometimes dark and afrofuturistic; sometimes bouyant, loose-limbed and supple...the three of us are bopping around now - a trio of crazy old men - everywhere we look people are grinding at the air and grinning.
(The end to each groove/track is signposted by a bubbling watermark of flanged gtr-noise which reins the rest of the band in to a halt behind him as if they were a wagon-train pulling up at a water-hole. Hmmm: like the idea of bands/artists having unique trademark/signature sounds to end each song - the only example that comes to mind right now is Frank Sidebottom's "I really do, I really do" vocal/ukele/casio stutter-finish that he uses as a running-joke/meta-stop to every song. Wish more groups would end songs in a formalised manner beyond the trad.rock Beyowwwww! powerchord exit-strategy.)
At one point a track stretches out for 5, 10 minutes - an ebony roil of sound that moves in bow-tie/infinity-sign shaped micro-cycles of rhythm, creating overlapping circles of acid-funk that even Byrne n Eno could never have anticipated. Even Doueh's feeling it now, allowing his face to split into a grin as he sees the crowd are getting down. He slings his geetar over his shoulders and plays a solo on his back. Baamar Salmou: Hassanian guitar-hero. You rock!
(Doueh takes it to the (guitar) bridge)
Outside, a visibly-moved Chiz - from promoters/co-tour organisers Qu-Junktions - tells Kek that tonight is like a dream come true for him. He says that Group Doueh and the Omar Souleyman band have bonded really tightly on the road, that the two groups are having a whale of a time. Yep, and so are the rest of us.
Later on, Kek wanders down the alley in search of the lavs and spots an open door, inadvertently catching Syrian superstar Omar Souleyman as he has what could only be described as A James Brown Moment. Omar is sat alone in his robes on a chair in a large, otherwise empty room preparing himself for the show. It is a wonderful image (oddly reminiscent of the cover of "Ray Charles: A Man and His Soul", with Ray brooding into his coffee-cup with a jacket drapped over his shoulders) and Kek finds himself reaching for his camera until he realises what a shitty thing it is to intrude on someone else's privacy and solitude, so he respectfully backs off. No picture, but a moment his eye will never forget.
Still, Kek snagged the intro of Omar's set on vid (nice n trashy overloaded sound here), cutting off just as the beats kick in and the venue slides into total bedlam (what a tease!):
No - really! - it was a great build-up; and when the drums kicked off the dance-floor went completely mental. The beats were a fusion of jump-up Dabke wedding-dance rhythms and raw hi-bpm Bashment thrills - "Syrian Dancemania vol6!" - courtesy of the astonishing Rizan Sa'id, who worked his sampling-station to death, manually hammering-out some wicked two n three-finger'd snare-roll-rushes and twisting sample-loops of assorted reed instruments and ouds into rubber-fingered solos that would've made Rick Wakeman wept. At points it sounded like a giant mosquito was Stuka-bombing the beats. Percussion-loops ratchet'd and chirrup'd up n dn the kboard, weaving in and out of the drums and some blistering electric-lute licks. Occasionally, a string-sample would dance its way across the pastic-ivories and the music briefly threatened to turn into a wrong-footed Irish jig or reel - Steeleye Span 'pon The Magic bus.
Regulars will hopefully understand that Kek uses the term 'cheesy' in a non-pejorative manner, meaning, errrm, 'unselfconsciously 'obvious' in a thrilling way' or, uh, 'moments in which the mainstream can present signifiers of the ecstatic' or something; and so it was that the Souleyman band walked a wonderful tightrope between the cheesey and the retro-raw; creating a musical crossroads between places and moments that we never expected to see collide; well, not in The West Country. For an hour or so, all sorts of unexpected false-futures and misimagined-pasts peeled off from themselves and crashed head-on, recombining in a way that was joyous and raucous. There was a def. Old School Rave-Energy hovering (hoovering?) around the band, one that I'm certain would be enjoyed by some of Kek's elderly, early-90s-marooned Dadnuum-worshipping blog.colleagues
The guy on Omar's right in the vid is the legendary Mahmoud Harbi - "The Whisperer" - who provides Omar with lyrical/poetic 'ammunition' by pssst-pssst-psst-ing in his ear during the set, directing the vocal flow and acting like a human karaoke prompt. Loved the way he just wandered around at points, arms folded (UK smoking-ban, see?) like a bodyguard or minder, occasionally whispering at Omar, sometimes clapping - Doueh was also on stage at this point, videoing the performance and the audience...more Brit.bands should have members or associates who just occupy the stage, wander around aimlessly carrying out non-specific tasks; Kek'd like to see a move away from traditional rock-designated instrumentation roles where A is The Guitarist, B is The Drummer, etc - Tim commented on Mahmoud's leather trousers as being a look you couldn't get away with in the US/UK outside of a leather-bar or fetish-club; he's right...up 'til that point Kek'd figured that only East European guys could rock that look as casual street.attire with any degree of confidence, but it looks like the Syrians can pull it off as well. It appeared as if Mahmoud had a sort of second belt made of monogrammed rubber. Awesome. Also dug Omar's incredible and expensive-looking brown shoes; they were kinda winklepickeresque, pointing upwards as they narrowed into pointy tips.
Later in the show Omar surreally interviewed the audience via an interpreter (he and the rest of the band seemed genuinely delighted and surprised by the way the audience responded to their tunes - at one point it was starting to turn into a serious Pogues-style knees-up) until someone inverted the interview and asked (incredibly politely) if the band could play "just one more song" - which, of course, they did!
Timmer kinda goaded Kek into getting some vinyl autographed - not that he needed much goading, sad fanboy bastard that he is...but - duh! - missed Doueh packing away his guitar, but managed to nab Bashiri and Jamal...
...and also grabbed Mahmoud (yay!), who's now officially one of Kid Shirt's alt.cultural heros! Love to use his whispers on an Ice Bird Spiral track. Wonder if we could sort something out there?
Anyways, Kudos to Chiz and Mark and the Sublime Posse for putting together this remarkable night, and for Tom Bugs for live-mixing a bizarre blend of digital, accoustic and accoustic sonix; a lesser man would have surely cried and ran away. Wanted to have a quick chat w/ Alan Bishop - who was sooo helpful with Kek's recent FACT piece - but we had to hit the road in a 2am hurry.