There are mysteries on the Georgia coast. Out on the islands, there are settlements of descendants from slaves, the Gullah, who've developed their own culture and language, Geechee, derived from English and African dialects. Legend has it that at Ebo Landing, a group of slaves that had just arrived in America drowned themselves en masse, still shackled together, when they realized what was in store for them. To this day, blue-shell crabs from the waters at Ebo Landing have strange markings on their back that look oddly like African faces. There are old, abandoned, antebellum plantations, and homes and lighthouses reported to be haunted. There's even an unexploded hydrogen bomb lost somewhere beneath Wassaw Sound following a mid-air jet collision.
The band Little Tybee are steeped in these mysteries and even titled their first album Building A Bomb in tribute to the Wassaw Sound incident. But before they took the stage last night at The Earl, Atlanta's The Shadowboxers performed.
The Shadowboxers are fronted by three young men who sing well and harmonize superbly in addition to playing guitars and keyboards. They're backed by a drummer and as good a bass player as I've heard in an Atlanta band. Their sounds is well mixed, and they perform as consummate professionals.
I didn't like them. While they're quite good at what they do - I'll give them that - I don't like the radio-friendly, lukewarm pop-rock thing it is that they do. I found it all a little too generic and predictable. Much of the audience seemed to disagree with me, and several young fans by the front of the stage were dancing along from the very first beat. The band said it was their first time playing The Earl, so the audience must have heard them somewhere else before, and my guess is that since their type of music is ideal for a high-school prom or frat party, the audience was following them from those kinds of gigs.
I'll put it this way - if you thought Orleans was the best band of the 70s, you might like The Shadowboxers. If you though Hall & Oates were the best band of the 80s, The Shadowboxers might be the band for you. If Hootie & the Blowfish rocked your 90s, this is the band you'd be listening to now. To put it another way, The Shadowboxers are the kind of band you like until you start listening to better bands.
Maybe I'm just a cranky old man. Either way, I had to retreat back to the rear of The Earl until their set was over so that I wouldn't be making pained expressions at the band while they were playing.
After that, Little Tybee came on stage and turned my night around.
Little Tybee are usually classified a folk-rock outfit, and with Brock Scott's acoustic guitar and Nirvana Kelly's violin there's some accuracy to that clasification, but the band moves quite a bit beyond the confines of the folk-rock genre. Guitarist Josh Martin and keyboardist Chris Case added alternately jazzy and tropical flourishes and took the band at times into near prog-rock territory, with Brock and Nirvana happily tagging along on the journey.
Last evening seemed to be something of a showcase for Josh Martin in particular, as he displayed his new guitar-playing techniques to at times startling effect.
The set included a cover of Paul Simon's Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes from Graceland, with Martin's shimmering guitar transcending the afro-pop of the original and taking it into Little Tybee's own special little universe. Graceland has risen and fallen and risen again in popularity and cred over the years, and as Little Tybee performed Diamonds, I was reminded of the lines from Allo Darlin's My Heart Is A Drummer: "Do I have to say I'm sorry for my happiness? You see it's like loving Graceland - it's not allowed to be, but we all know it's everybody's favorite, deep down in the place where music makes you happiest, in the place where my heart is a drummer."
In addition to Diamonds and several older favorites, Little Tybee previewed several new songs last night. The band has a new album that won't be coming out until mid-summer or late next year (translation: whenever), but they plan on premiering the songs and their new, more-eclectic approach over the next several months.
The set culminated in a one-song encore.
As always, Little Tybee's rhythm section of Ryan Donald on bass and Pat Brooks on drums did a fine job of keeping the songs percolating along.
Extra good-karma bonus points: Nirvana Kelly announced that the band was donating all of its earnings from last night's gig to a scholarship charity for the school she teaches in, one that caters to underserved and at-risk children.