Out with the old, in with the Krewe
the triad music scene by Ryan Snyder
The last time Toubab Krewe played a New Year’s Eve run at the Orange Peel in Asheville, the shows were so hot that they unexpectedly spawned the band’s second album, Live at the Orange Peel. That evening saw special guests Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets and Uncle Earl iddler Rayna Gellert guest on what would become a thoroughly blistering disc. One year later, the Afro-fusionists are back in their hometown for another two nights at the Orange Peel to see the decade to a close. The night opened with an inspired set by former Dispatch guitarist Chad Urmston’s new outit State Radio before DJ Brett Rock kept the crowd warm for the headliner. If you had just awoke from a coma and immediately walked into this particular show, you might assume it was Halloween from most of the band’s attire. Guitarist Drew Heller looked as if he stepped out of an ’80s frat-party lick with his tuxedo and cheap red sunglasses. The rhythm section took the shenanigans a step further, or maybe drummer Teal Brown’s appearance in a full bellhop get-up simply coincided with a shift at downtown Asheville’s Princess Anne Hotel.
Bassist David Pransky’s appearance as a dandy fop was the most daring of the ive, while string player Justin Perkins and percussionist Luke Quaranta simple dressed as members of Toubab Krewe.
After bringing reggae legend Earl “Chinna” Smith on tour throughout the summer, recording with Moog synths and introducing keys to the band’s arrangement, the past year was easily the most experimental in their relatively brief history. It was all back to basics for the New Year’s Eve gig, nonetheless. Despite his keyboard set-up within arms reach throughout the night, Heller stayed irm on his guitar, leaving the color to the band’s choice of attire.
The setlist, however, was rife with the band’s new material. After opening with live staple “Djarabi,” the seconds ticked closer to midnight during “Area Code” as the deliberate burn of Heller’s downtempo surf guitar slowly gradually sped to a climax. “Wassoulou” became the last song the band would perform in the old decade before balloons and confetti rained down from netting overhead and the venue doled out cheap champagne on the mostly spun-out concert-goers. The band’s friends and family joined them onstage and Toubab rang in the New Year with a surprising and completely obscure cover of Archie Bell & the Drells funk classic “Tighten Up.” Quaranta barked tongue-in-cheek orders for the fans, the bass, the guitar and their dancers to all “tighten up” until rounding it out with a super-heavy riff on “Auld Lang Syne.”
The rest of the night was more or less a lengthy stretch of new and unreleased material that included Gellert returning for another NYE guest spot on the dubby “Mansani Cisse,” the rocking “Tamasanko” and the traditional Appalachian iddle tune “Cluck Old Hen.” While it did become someone more dificult to discern the nuances between songs — the tempo changes and focal points tend to become ever more blurred — their music will never be short on dance impetus. If this was a preview of the Toubab Krewe to come in the new decade, expect a slight move away from the African side of their fusion dichotomy and a step toward a more Westernized sound. “Nirvana the Buffalo” sounded neither like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” nor Donna the Buffalo, but it was as close to outright rock as the band has ever come.
Being New Year’s Eve and all, surely more guests were expected and all three members of State Radio were happy to oblige. The uniied eight-man squad blew through Neil Young’s “Keep On Rockin’ In the Free Word” with Urmston’s impassioned pleas leading the charge. The night closed with possibly the band’s bluesiest track of all, the “Mannish Boy”-inspired “Sirens” that saw Heller providing the signature riff using a homemade matchbox guitar. They left the stage shortly thereafter, only to reappear with the house lights on, parading though the remaining crowd armed with drums and djembes. True, they’ll never stray too far from their Malian roots, but 2010 portends to be another in the right direction for the Krewe from Asheville.