Toubab Krewe pack the Blind Tiger

by Ryan Snyder

As hard as I might try to avoid making hyperbole-laden statements in any of the live music reviews that I write — David Byrne a completely forgivable recent exception — it is time to venture down that avenue once again. Toubab Krewe’s ( soldout performance Friday at the Blind Tiger might have been one of the best that this area has seen at a venue this size in quite some time. In fact, the Asheville natives themselves might just be one of the most important acts to come out of the state in the past 15 years. That time frame purposefully leaves the genesis of the Ben Folds Five and Whiskeytown just out of bounds, but it’s entirely possible that history will eventually cast the five-piece afro-folk troupe along with such influential names. It’s a rarity when a band can both create a style all their own and sound extraordinary in the process, but Toubab Krewe does it with a spellbinding sort of energy that few, if any, could successfully emulate. While it’s difficult to perfectly encapsulate Toubab Krewe in just a few words, their core influence lies somewhere along the mean of Appalachian roots-folk and West African traditional music. While they might sound like strange bedfellows on the surface, the fusion of distant folk styles seems much more practical upon examining their defining elements. The roots of both styles are homegrown and slightly primitive, though beautifully expressive and impassioned in craft and defining characteristics of each region’s indigenous traditions. It’s not front-porch picking music, however, as none at the Blind Tiger were content to merely tap their feet and slap their knees. Toubab Krewe stirred the packed house into a frenzy from the moment they took the stage with their magnetic, reverberating grooves and persistently morphing polyrhythms.

There was no single focal point for the crowd to latch onto, however. Rather, individual performances and the interplay between various band members were compelling in their own rights. Kora phenom Justin Perkins was simply mesmerizing to observe, using his 21-string calabash resonator to create a plethora of sounds from entrancing melodies to muted percussion. He swayed gently back and forth like a young Doc Watson, weaving intricate instrumental narratives that said more than any amount of verbiage ever could. He kept prolonged periods of eye contact with guitarist Drew Heller, each player intently taking their nonverbal cues from the other. They seemed somewhat compartmentalized from the three-man rhythm section of drummer Teal Brown, bassist David Pransky and percussionist Luke Quaranta, though the melodic and rhythmic components same together seamlessly through out the entire show. The ebb and flow that the band consummated with the audience was palpable throughout, as elongated, trance-like grooves like “Lamine’s Tune” were contrasted by the earthy, melodic “Area Code.” By the time the strictly percussive “Asheville to Abidijan” came around in the middle of the second set, Quaranta’s brow was pouring sweat after his tireless efforts and furious drum substitution patterns. There was talk in segments of the audience that the band was “dropping a ‘Bani’ on us,” a song that has apparently become a rarity in the Krewe’s sets these days. When the source of the scuttlebutt was asked about the possibility of hearing “Devil Woman,” the song that introduced countless fans to the band through the wonder of satellite radio, the only response was, “Probably not; that’s a treat.”

There were treats to go around, however, as the aforementioned “Bani” did find its way into the latter set. Digging further into their repertoire at the end of the second set, the band pulled out “Chasse” with a juicy nugget buried within for those paying attention. As the band settled into the song’s bridge, they slyly infused the oh-so pleasing melody of Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” with slick chord changes that didn’t so much as disturb the tempo. There were more than a few in the crowd scratching their heads at what must’ve been a vaguely familiar tune, though the name of which was just out of reach. So how good was the show? It was good enough to warrant seeing them once again this coming Friday at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, in what will most assuredly be another sold-out date. Maybe we’ll even get to hear that “Devil Woman” song that people talk so much about.