Two nights of Toubab bring out old favorites and brand new material

by Ryan Snyder

Two nights of Toubab bring out old favorites and brand new material

It would mark their third and fourth performance in Greensboro during the last sixth months, with several more dates within a mere stone’s throw, but Toubab Krewe still managed to draw hefty crowds over backto-back evenings at the Blind Tiger this past Friday and Saturday. No doubt that their star is rising; if the increase in ticket price from $12 back in February to $20 per night over the weekend weren’t enough of an indication, then the “No Smoking Tonight” sign on the front door might better portray the kind of clout the band wields. It’s evident from the very first note that kora and guitar player Justin Perkins hit as to what kind of sway they hold over a crowd, as the roughly 100 people at the opening night were moving in accord from the outset. The weekend plan for the Afro-fusionists from Asheville was to venture through their entire catalog of material while also debuting concepts from their ongoing efforts in the studio to record new material. Based on the crowd’s reaction that first night, the new songs are sure to be a hit. With actual titles as fuzzy as Drew Heller’s surf guitar, what was heard marks a definite change of direction from thumping African rhythms and hypnotic chord progressions to outright psychedelia, accented by Perkins’ preference for his alloy-based kamel ngoni. It produced a far heavier reverb than the more natively-constructed kora did and the result was an emphasis on experimentation with the new and pushing the old into uncharted territory. There was some visible frustration among some of the members with the sound quality that evening, but that also seemed to be a derivative of the sheer intensity that they brought to the Friday set. Percussionist Luke Quaranta wasespecially animated, as he worked in an array of abstruse percussiveimplements over the band’s single two-hour set, but it was thealways-reticent guitarist Heller who dominated that evening’s musicalsortie. From the instant the fuzz bled out on the third movement ofcrowd favorite “Bani,” he led the charge into Afro-rootsexperimentalism.

About midway through the opening evening, the band was unexpectedly joined onstage by one of those dancing the hardest in the front row. The guest happened to be local djembe master Atiba Rorie, who guided the three-headed percussion with a blazing assault on his own drum and those around him. His showmanship was worth the appearance alone, as he marked his time with Jaggerian posturing and the occasional mid-air karate chop. The set wound to a close around 1:30 a.m. as bassist David Pransky looked to the audience and said, “Alright, where we going?” He obviously made a few friends that night, as dozens of the same faces from Friday were present at the second show to work up another sweat. Nothing was repeated and more than a few rarities made an appearance, as they doubled their workload from the night before to two full sets.

Saturday proved to be just as unpredictable in pacing as the opening night, though the material may have been a bit more familiar. “51-Foot Ladder” followed “Hang Tan,” before “Autorail” preceded “Hommage” to create an interesting mix of up- and mid-tempo songs over the show’s first half hour. The focus shifted from Heller’s fuzz-driven chops to Perkins’ dexterity on the strings through an evening that included “Kaira,” and odes to their teachers, “Sekou” and “Kante.” The opening of the second set also included an appearance by the increasingly rare, but always amazing to hear “Devil Woman,” a song that brings out every facet of the band into one five-minute explosion of string-scratching, intricate rhythm and pinpoint tempo changes. They closed out their weekend in Greensboro with another full-band drum jam, “Petit Amadeus,” that did its best to cave the roof, as Pransky and drummer Teal Brown worked the bass drums to deafening effect. The cost of doing business might have gone up for Toubab’s fans, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t reaping huge rewards every time the band comes through town.

Toubab Krewe’s Justin Perkins tunes up his guitar, while bassistDavid Pransky addresses the crowd during their Friday night performanceat the Blind Tiger. (photo by Ryan Snyder)