The Staxx Brothers :: 11.19.09 :: Moe’s Alley :: Santa Cruz, CA
In funk music we find a pronounced commingling of elements, where rock, jazz and R&B bump uglies, moistened with soulful lubrication and powered by a church-like need to get folks onto their feet and out of their constrictions. When done right, funk hits one like happy lightning with a bumptious thunderclap that shakes our preconceptions and lights a fire in the pit of us. Not many contemporary practitioners truly honor the spirit of funk’s founding fathers – Sly & The Family Stone, The Meters, Funkadelic – but one finds the same refined, lusty, socially conscious clamor ringing loudly in Seattle’s Staxx Brothers, who further distinguish themselves by carving out their own mythology rather than riding the coattails of their ancestors.
Before the show, bandleader/lighting rod DP Staxx (aka Davin Michael Stedman) tested the length of his microphone cable to make sure he could reach the already retreating weeknight crowd. Coming up to a total stranger, he quipped, “I’m Davin with The Staxx Brothers from Seattle, and we came to party. We’re gonna play our fuckin’ hearts out.” The look in his eye and casual, confident tone announced he meant business, and the great leaping “hoo-rah” of opener “Westsound Union,” a glorious West Coast celebrating funk grenade, delivered on his word immediately. And then they never let up, not for a second, and this in spite of one of the most honky ass, hang back audiences Moe’s Alley has ever witnessed. How one stands still with a bunch of thrusting, jiggling jumping beans like the Staxx kids capering onstage is simply beyond me, but if the general lethargy of the crowd bothered them it never showed, and DP brought the party right into folk’s faces, busting down the proverbial fourth wall to force choruses and giggles out of some genuinely startled peeps. As an enthusiastic recipient of their back alley gospel flecked salaciousness, I found myself happily singing “Crimson & Clover” and skipping with DP when he scooped me up. One picks up on the same audience-bridging gusto one finds in Akron/Family and Surprise Me Mr. Davis, except much earthier in tone and more anxious to tweak your bottom like the Marx Brothers riding a bad ass bass line.
For just a few folks, they made a hellacious amount of sound. With just three instrumentalists – Chris O’Connor (guitar), Denali Williams (drums), and Shane Smith (bass) – the focus often rested on the four-strong vocal frontline of DP Staxx (MC, lead vocals, awesome, shameless clownin’), explosive, direct and darkly adventurous rapper DC Staxx (aka Amin Tony Hester), and The Staquelettes (comprised of Angela Rickard and Michelle O’Connor). However, the richness of their sound is a smartly designed, cleverly interwoven relationship between all elements, where tight, satisfying solos and perfect, humorous refrains arrive right on time, every time, and the whole thing rides like a cherry Caddy with top line hydraulics. Even the best of their funk contemporaries usually relies heavily on showy musicianship or obvious cover tunes to woo audiences, but Staxx has it all over most of them compositionally, vocally, and intellectually, and their showmanship puts them in the stratosphere of vintage P-Funk (on a no-frills budget – one dizzies to think what they might do if they had ‘flying saucer’ production money). Decked out in a Run-DMC tee, DP was balanced out by the curvaceous Staquelettes in “RIP JMJ” shirts, and it’s sly little touches like coordinated fashions and a growing stock of stage props, costumes, etc. that make time with the Staxx crew so hugely entertaining. Good music is wonderful but if one can have good music and a good time, isn’t that better still?
It would be enough that they’re so bloody fun and engaging live but there’s a deep bottom depth to their music. While not initially clear in the heat of a concert, Staxx’s studio work – 2008’s keenly shaped, Parliament-esque 12th Street Blues and 2009’s heady snapshot of the band in fiery action We Are The Blaxstonz (produced by Scott Colburn, who’s worked with Arcade Fire, Mudhoney and Animal Collective) – reveals slave narratives, close encounters with death, country and hard rock leanings, and way more as one commits to sussing out the nitty and the gritty in their grooves. And like Funkadelic’s ’70s recorded output, just as one finds they’re shimmying they often also discover that some succinct yet important socially or culturally aware nugget has suddenly lodged itself in their dome. Frequently while singing along, perhaps unconsciously, as happened to me a few times at Moe’s, one stumbles across a quality laugh AND something that gives one pause.
And this creative arc looks to be on a continuing upward spiral based on the new numbers they rolled out at this set from their forthcoming third album, Jungle Cats, which showed the band delving into even more diverse musical terrain but keeping things sticky sweet and dance floor ready.
“Jungle Cats is our own mythology that we aren’t actually black, white, Puerto Rican/Creole, or even gypsy, but rather the last of the North American jungle cats, thought to be extinct, no longer running for cover – out of the shadows (of Bigfoot) and kicking ass,” says DP Staxx. “Plus we have crazy cool medallions, sweet ass capes, and a fur coat made of actual possum.”
Their lustiness, hell, their PLAIN OLD DIRTINESS is essential to their appeal. As the world grows increasingly more desiccated, ball-less, insular and individually focused, it’s heartening to find a band that openly and anxiously proclaims their love of pussy, nasty pounding, and other carnal delights that create connection, union, and vibrant, immediate sensation. Staxx is a post hip hop unit, and the street vibe is strong in this bunch. That often means they cut to the chase where others tiptoe, and more power to them on this front. It does not hurt that they have The Staquelettes, who undulate oh-so-winningly, moving hypnotically like some lost Motown sisters that might just give it up if you played your cards right. When I told the girls after their set that despite being a happily married man I had it bad for them both, they smiled and said, “Well good, that’s our job!”
From an absolutely blazing, tough as nails cover of “Red Hot Mamma” to irresistible new compositions like “Bad Neighborhood” and “Sugarwalls,” The Staxx Brothers reaffirmed funk’s relevance and potency in Santa Cruz. Going straight for that g-spot and doing The Running Man with zero irony, they poured out all they had in them, truly playing their “fuckin’ hearts out,” just as promised. Their apostolic character inspires healthy fanaticism for their cause. Their general delightful demeanor and blooming mythology, full of multiple nicknames and a strange, expanding geography, provide multiple points of entry, and wherever you come in the music is on point and rewarding. Theirs is a sound and mood that might stir you to dry hump the nearest GILF, toilet paper Timothy Geithner’s house, or some other form of beautiful mayhem. The Staxx Brothers are reaching out, anxious to take your hand and get into it, and they’re game for anything.
The Staxx Brothers :: 11.19.09 :: Moe’s Alley :: Santa Cruz, CA Westsound Union, G Spot, Game Recognize Game, Red Hot Mamma, Roll Wit’ Me, Sugarwalls, Money, Bad Neighborhood, Back Home, On Ice, 1992, Name Dropper, Keep The Motor Runnin’, Jesus In Adidas, Detroit
We’ve started our fires in the forest and soon we will bring them to the cities with our second full-length album titled, Brand New Blood, to be released on Sarathan Records. Your first chance to buy the album will be when we release it for digital release on Tuesday, December 8th, and then you can go out and buy it in stores on Tuesday, January 19th…..
Not long ago, a group of genuinely backwoods dudes from the country moved to Seattle and began playing shows that burned with primal intensity and soared with pop sensibility. They called themselves Feral Children-a wholly appropriate name for a bunch of wild boys from rural Maple Valley, WA-and were ready to stake their claim in Seattle’s celebrated music scene. And when they arrived, they adamantly let it be known they would not be playing any of the following: “fucking California pop”; “classic rock covers”; or “shitty indie pop.”
Instead, Feral Children would be making their music-music from the Pacific Northwest. When they released their 2007 debut LP, Second to the Last Frontier, bassist Jim Cotton proudly stated: “It actually sounds like the first Northwest record that I’ve heard in 10 years.”
And it didn’t take long for them to catch the ear of KEXP FM and the local press, who jumped all over this debut with rare and unanimous praise: “will undoubtedly be heralded as one of 2007’s best” (The Stranger), “the future is now for the Feral Children” (John Richards, KEXP), and even “Perfect, absolutely perfect” (Seattle Sound Magazine).
In a city known for “hey-no-worries” politeness, there are countless interviews in which local indie rockers come off like glad-handing chimps toward their peers, often hiding their real opinions under a veil of niceness. The boys in Feral Children, however, have been ready to separate themselves from the pack and to claw their way to the top if need be, and they don’t seem to care who gets scarred along the way; “Yeah, we live in Seattle, but only because we have to.” In fact, they would prefer the soggier and stranger outskirts of town.
Luckily, they haven’t had to claw too hard to get attention; they’ve perked the ears of many on the strength of their music and the visceral ferocity of their live shows. And if Brand New Blood is any inkling, they’re set to garner even more acclaim, well beyond the hemline of the Cascade Mountain range they call home.
Like their last album, Brand New Blood contains music that evokes Feral Children’s home territory-sprawling, chilly, vast, strange, and, at times, violently stormy.
Comparisons have been made to another great Northwest concern, Modest Mouse, and that comparison is not without merit. But after listening to Brand New Blood, it’s obvious Feral Children share more in common with Modest Mouse philosophically than musically. The fact that they are from Maple Valley, WA, and not the big shitty of Seattle, has cemented their outsider status and shapes every lick of music they play. They also share that band’s mournfulness for nature-as natives of the Washington hills, these Feral Kiddies have watched Mother Earth raped time and again by greedy developers. They don’t approve of excessive wealth and would likely have no idea what to do with the wads of cash this album stands to earn them. To some, their perspective may be askew-but they are proud of it and don’t feel like conforming to anyone’s standards. Why should they? They’re from the real Washington State, so fuck you.
Take a listen to the album’s centerpiece, the colossal “Conveyer”, in which the band’s wonderfully wonky perspective of society is on full display. “This world is like a video game controlled by lonely boys with attention deficit disorder,” sings Jeff Keenan in a huffy manner that suggests total exasperation with everyday life. The song eventually erupts into full-throttle Arcade Fire-like pounding with Keenan frothing and barking the lyrics: “The milk calls the coffee black/ and Mother Nature’s getting so fat!”
Scott Colburn produced this album, and his ability to push a band into the stratosphere is all over Brand New Blood. This sucker is all about atmosphere; specifically, the Pacific Northwest woods featured in Twin Peaks or Twilight. In fact, the band doesn’t sound like they are playing in a studio at all. The cold blankets of synthesizer (“Kid Origami”), the tooth-clattering percussion that sounds like the breaking of bones (“Castrato”), the volatile guitars (“Enchanted Parkway”)-this album feels as if it were recorded along the banks of the Green River Gorge at 3 a.m. in the middle of January.
The legion of hyphen-wielding indie rock critics will likely be compelled to draw parallels between Brand New Blood to Lonesome Crowded West. But that would be a lazy comparison based on little more than geography. A deeper listen will reveal that while there are philosophical similarities, Feral Children are on to a whole other trip musically, one that feeds off of isolation and loneliness, the ghosts of their working-class pasts and the awkwardness of trying to fit in to Seattle’s hyper self-aware music scene. Desolate as it may sound, though, it’s obvious they are happy to have each other for company. Fucked up individuals they may be, but they seem to understand each other and speak fluently through their music. Feral Children are proud to stand together as a pack: defiant, dysfunctional, and outsiders to the core