Sunday, June 1, 2014

Christ, Lord at The Mammal Gallery, Atlanta, May 31, 2014


As discussed elsewhere, the power at my house went out last night due to a fallen tree down the block, and after two hours or so it got so warm and sticky indoors that I had no choice but to go somewhere, anywhere, else for relief.  As it turns out, Saturday night was a fairly good night for live music here in Atlanta, so it's not that I was without options.  The Candler Park Music Festival, where we saw Edward Sharpe last year, was going down and included performances by Trombone Shorty, Lucero, and Frank Turner. However, it having rained earlier in the day, I didn't trust the weather enough to spend the evening at an outdoor event.  Meanwhile, Atlanta's Quiet Hounds were performing at a restaurant, Le Maison Rouge, but that show had sold out before I got a ticket, so that was out for me as well. 

Coincidentally, last night also marked the final performances by two other Atlanta bands.  The funk-rock collective Noot D'Noot are calling it quits after eight years, and were playing their last-ever show at the MJQ Concourse (basically, the  other side of the bar at The Drunken Unicorn).  Meanwhile, Christian Ballew, accordionist, singer, and frontman for the band Christ, Lord, is moving to Wyoming (of all places) for some reason, and last night also marked their final-ever performance.  Given that I was never that big a fan of Noot D'Noot anyway, and that Christ, Lord's finale was being held at the Mammal Gallery with the venue proprietors Hello Ocho opening, I headed downtown to the MG to escape my dark, hot, powerless home.  

The doors at the Mammal Gallery opened at 9:00 pm but the music didn't start until 10:30.  However, having nothing else to do what with the power outage at home, I arrived at The Mammal Gallery just a little after 9:00 and was one of the first people there.  I waited, alone, leaning against a wall and playing with my cell phone until the battery ran low (another power failure!) to kill the 90 minutes before the show began.  I was not in a good mood and in the back of my mind I kept wondering if the power had been restored at my house yet and if I shouldn't just head back home and call it a night.  I decided to pace myself, though, and wait until after the opening act, Tantrum, finished before I left.


Tantrum is Michika McClinton, who started her set solo singing over loops and keyboard, before adding a bass and guitar to the mix.  My mood, still sour over the loss of power at the house and the 90-minute wait, didn't allow me to enjoy her set, until she was joined on stage by members of Hello Ocho and other friends to perform a perfect, note-by-note over of Tom Tom  Club's Wordy Rappinghood (which, by the way, I first heard on WRAS Album 88).


It's interesting how one song can turn your whole attitude around.  In no time at all, I and the whole rest of the audience were dancing and jumping up and down and singing along, even to the tricky "Ran-san-san a ran-san-san, Ku-ni ku-ni ku-ni ku-ni ran-san-san, Ai-ka-ye yoopi ak-ka-ye, A-roo, a-roo, a-ni-ki-chi!" Michika and company covered the song faithfully and perfectly, including all of the raps and even the conga solos.  I was in pure veridical heaven. 

That one song turned me and my evening around ("turned my frown upside down"), but I realized later that much of the young audience didn't even recognize the classic 1981 song.  Hell, most of the audience hadn't even been born yet when the song first came out and at the time, I was approaching 30 (okay, I was 27). So, for those of you who don't know, Wordy Rappinghood was the B-side to the single Genius of Love by the Tom-Tom Club, a spinoff of The Talking Heads fronted by bassist Tina Weymouth.  The two songs on the single marked, if not the first hip-hop/rock fusion - the 12" single version dropped February 17, 1981, a month after Blondie's Rapture had come out - certainly the most ebullient and joyful.  If I have to choose my favorite recording of 80s white girls rapping, it would have to be Tom Tom Club over Blondie, who sounds rigid and scripted by comparison.

In fact, the loopy, unhinged rapping of Wordy Rappinghood is probably a lot closer to The Slits' post-punk deconstruction of hip-hop than to Blondie's slick disco-glam.  I'd love to hear someone attempt to channel the late, great Ari Up someday and cover In The Beginning There Was Rhythm, also from 1981:

But I'm rambling (as old men tend to do) - and also up and dancing to the videos I just posted - but meanwhile, back at the Mammal Gallery, the audience was pumped up by Tantrum's performance, and Hello Ocho, about the only band that could harness that energy, took the stage for a terrific performance of their original songs.  


I've used the term "Zappaesque" in the past to describe Hello Ocho, and while the band sounds nothing like the late Frank or the Mothers of Invention, they share a common enthusiasm for mixing and subverting genres and for tricky time changes.  The "I want to take you grocery shopping" break in Orange Peel owes as much to Cruising With Ruben and the Jets as it does to the doo-wop it satirizes, and they even have a Ruth Underwood-caliber marimba player.  From about 1972 to 1975, my friends and I were heavily influenced by Zappa's unique, jazzy brand of prog rock fusion, and Hello Ocho are exactly the kind of band we kept unsuccessfully trying to form at that time. 

But this night was all about Christ, Lord, not about Tantrum or Hello Ocho, or, for that matter, Tom Tom Club, The Slits, or The Mothers of Invention.  The Atlanta music community had shown up to send Christian off, and I spotted members of Little Tybee in the audience, as well as Georgie Seanny (No Eyes) and Davy Minor (Deer Bear Wolf), among others.  I even got a chance to chat with Nirvana Kelly of Little Tybee, and bought her and guitarist Josh Martin a beer.  It wasn't until well after midnight that Christ, Lord took the stage, but it was well worth the wait.


Christ, Lord's gypsy-influenced, Balkan folk rock sounds somewhere in between the band Beirut (but without the mariachi flourishes) and Gogol Bordello (but without the punk intensity).  In a city with any number of idiosyncratic stylists (Adron, Jeffrey Butzer, Takenobu, etc,), Christian Ballow and Christ, Lord have managed to contribute their own unique flavor to the musical stew.   They will be missed.

Christ, Lord was joined on stage for several songs by members of Hello Ocho, who've played with them before, including a stint as the brief-lived Ocho Lord Orchestra, while the audience proved that yes, you can in fact mosh to a waltz.  It was a wonderful set, and at the end Ballow declared, "That's all the music that we know," but still somehow managed to come up with one more number to perform for the ecstatic crowd.

The night ended with earnest hugs all around the stage as the band realized that was it, it's over, and it was time for the musicians to move on to whatever it is they choose to do next. Personally, I'd love to hear a fusion of Hello Ocho with the remaining members of Christ, Lord to hear what Hello Ocho would sound like with horns.

It was about 2 am when I finally got back home, and the electric power had been restored.  The clocks were flashing "1:30," indicating that the power hadn't been restored until 12:30 am or roughly six hours after it had gone out and just as Christ, Lord was taking the stage, so it's a good thing (at least for me) that I turned my mood around and stayed for the whole event.  A-roo, a-roo, a-ni-ki-chi!

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