Robots and Dap-Kings: Monday fun day without the Tuesday blues

by Ryan Snyder

Free the Robots steals the juice from the Glitch Mob as Cali electronica takes over Greene Street.(photo by Ryan Snyder)

If you can deal with the resulting bleary-eyed, straw-in-the-coffee-pot kind of morning that follows a work/school night out at the club, no one will be mad at you for indulging a Monday or Tuesday night treat from time to time. Sometimes when the right name comes around, any night can be a night to scratch the itch. With a trio of sought-after acts all supporting new albums and gracing the Piedmont to kick off the 40-hour march, last week was that week.

It shouldn’t be a stretch by any means to picture yourself taking a worknight to see arguably the best and most current outfit of truly organic soul and funk in existence. One sold-out crowd at the Cat’s Cradle did just that, as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings visited Carrboro last Tuesday. With greater chops, better stage presence, loads more soul, and maybe even better style, Sharon Jones has more than claimed Amy Winehouse’s backing band the Dap-Kings as her own. Jones

“Baby Love” “Stop in the Name of Love” “You Can’t Hurry Love” “Come See About Me” has turned the Stax and Motown-obsessed octet with a strictly business approach into a revivalist juggernaut with transporting abilities that transcends the well-intentioned, but inauthentic likes of Mayer Hawthorne. Of all of the brilliant emotions conveyed on Jones’ face, her best words of the night were short and sweet as she pointed down a burly African-American man watching her intently from the audience.

“Big Daddy Kane in the house,” she said shortly after a powerful conclusion to the title track from her latest I Learned the Hard Way. Yes, the hip-hop legend was in the house, lending even more gravity to the shoulderto-shoulder mass that sacrificed a productive day to see the remarkable singer and her extraordinary band. Kane lives in Durham these days, by the way.

But electronica on a Monday night? With higher education in full-on exam mode, the timing was just right for the couple hundred in Greene Street to see a triple threat of boom-bapping button pushers at all echelons of their craft. Then again, when the LA club scene practically picked itself up and carries itself to Greensboro, on what night it happens bears little significance.

Most came out to see the trio of dark and submersive LA grind-hoppers the Gitch Mob, who have torn up the dance scene with challenging, insatiable and completely addictive beats for the past four years. The threeman crew had only been playing their way through their upcoming debut album Drink the Sea for a little over a week by this point, but the tour headliners were apparently trying to prove that a curious new arrangement of synths and drums showed that they are musicians first and button pushers second.

Utilizing their usual touchscreen JazzMutant Lemur sequencers and back by slick visual projections, they coaxed enough electronic noise and bass to suck the air out a sticky, ripe Greene Street Club. But with a real album to support, the free-flowing, groove-pushing Glitch Mob that most know were replaced with something at least a little on the questionable side. For a moment, the hottest name on the underground club circuits were merely three guys playing quarter notes on three pairs of Timbales at the same time. Their album didn’t sound like a campfire drum circle, though their live show at times seemed to have become a failed experiment in jam-bandism. It’s been proven time and time again that these guys can produce, so they deserve a mulligan for at least trying something new.

There was one name on the bill that any electronic junkie should know, however. Seeing mercurial LA dubstep producer Chris Alfaro, also known as Free the Robots, play a show on the East Coast is a bit like finding Bigfoot in your backyard, if Bigfoot were capable of throwing down the next generation of hip-hop beats that is. Alfaro rocks in a way that feels so rare, you forgot what it feels like till it happens again. His cerebral, yet darkly funky beats wrap themselves around you and wring you out like a sweatsoaked sponge, throwing in the occasional little nuggets of recent club history for flavor. The skull-rattling, almost intolerable bass inside Greene Street during opener Deru subsided just below critical levels as Alfaro opened with the riff from Jimi Hendrix’s “If Six Was Nine” overtop a throbbing homemade backbeat portentous of what was to come. Alfaro (minus cohort Phil Nisco) already had the club by its collective medulla oblongata during the 8-bit psychedelia of “Select/Start,” but his drop of the Purple Ribbon All-Stars banger “Kryponite (I’m On It)” sent a few bodies into fits.

Like Glitch Mob, Free the Robots has been doing his thing in the LA clubs for years. Unlike TGM, his debut Ctrl Alt Del retains the relentless dance-at-all-costs ethos upon which he’s made his name. It’s guys like this that make you want to call in late for wherever you have to be the next morning, and it’s so incredibly worth it.