“You women have heard of jalopies/you’ve heard the noise they make/Let me introduce you to my new Rocket 88 …”-Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats
So, on the weekend before we commemorate the fifty year anniversary of the March on Washington, the ninth anniversary of The Afropunkfest, was in full bloom. My Boss, feeling sorry for me, beamed back wonderful sights from the Planet of Brooklyn. A Space ‘Mardi Gras’ that seemed to be engineered by Marvel Comics but filtered through the psychedelic mind’s eye of longtime Funkadelic cover-artist Pedro Bell.
I harkened back to a simpler time of Lollapalooza’s past. But alas, this was different. For though the crowd shared the aforementioned festivals’ diversity and its tendency to court bands from the outskirts of the mainstream, this one differed because the audience and many of the bands were predominantly young black folks. There, they were a tribe I once thought was lost … black rock fans.
My tablet was low on juice, so as I was about to charge it, The Skins hit the stage … an enthusiastic burst of off-kilter youthful energy but precisely anchored on its own solid axis. I cursed myself for my lack of preparation and tried to entertain myself with some cable. There, I tripped over the other event in New York this weekend … the Video Music awards. Yes, I was ‘lucky’ enough to see the Robin Thicke/Miley Cyrus debacle. Thicke, a likable and accomplished soulman, had for the first time ever, garnered mixed feelings in me. I was disappointed that Thicke, Pharrell and TI had chosen to go through with a lawsuit against The Gaye family. Gaye’s family made allegations that the song he was about to perform; ‘Blurred Lines’, was too similar to Marvin’s classic ‘Got to give it up’. I digress. The performance was painful to watch, but Miley accomplished one thing … she used that platform to load up her Love gun and blow the head of Hannah Montana clean off.
In so doing, (though completely unintended) she killed the era of well-tailored, prefabricated pop music. THAT ‘music’ has been dripped like morphine into the veins of American kids since the tragedy of 911. Well … maybe, I don’t know. There was however a definite shift in the force. My Tablet was now charged, I checked the web for the possibilities of new Skins music (the self titled debut EP was a phenomenon) and found The Wreckroom Project. The brainchild of Adrian Grenier of Entourage fame, the Wreckroom is a studio built in the basement of Grenier’s Brooklyn home … dedicated to supporting emerging bands. The bands get to record music, get a video shot while they perform, then finally promotion for the bands is provided. This I might add, is all for free. The only catch is that these ‘hand picked’ bands must give back by supporting each other and doing collaborations. How’s that for a Dr. King-like sentiment?
The Skins have posted two videos … they both kicked my ass. A simple set up of a camera in the Studio is intimate but not intrusive. Grenier has mastered his brand of ‘cinema verité and it fits well with rock ‘n’ roll. The experience from his past Gonzo documentaries shows prominently here. You just feel like you are in your friend’s parents basement making an unholy racket.
Just then, Skins guitarist Russell Chell starts with what sounds like a excerpt of Billy Corgan doing a lost Intro to a Brian Wilson Smile era tune aptly titled ‘Surf’. The song builds with the rhythm section (two of the bands three siblings Reef and Kaya Mckeithan) adding a bluesy hip hop beat and bass line. Right then the third sibling, vocalist Bayli, kicks it off with a shout and this cues the other guitarist Daisy Spencer, who has been steadily weaving into the groove, to let go and drop in … thus creating a ‘Zeppelinish’ dinosaur stomp of a wave to ride on. So sure-footed in this groove, they freely switch it up with their own live sample of Black Sabbath’s ‘Sweetleaf.’ They swing back in time to bring their song home. Bayli’s vocals glide along the musical wave, going in and out of Martha Reeve’s bellows and Robert Plant crescendos until the end.
Their next song ‘Killer’ is a whole other animal … part funk workout but with ‘Stones’ swagger, the song flies on the funkiest rhythm-guitar riff this side of the Bee Gee’s ‘Jive Talking’ while keeping their blues rock on point. I gotta admit, I could go on with the comparisons of Gang Of Four bass lines and guitar freak outs that crash into Jane’s Addiction’s realm. But what makes these young soldiers rise above is the DNA of hip hop spliced throughout, … so by the end, they sound like something vaguely familiar but totally new. I ran through those two songs four times and kept coming up with this … The Skins are one of the best damn Rock n roll bands I have heard in years. They make Rock ‘n’ roll sexy, danceable and young again. In that room was an element of endless possibilities and you could feel it.
As I wrote this late on a Wednesday, I was distracted by shows on MSNBC about the ‘Dream’. Dr. King’s personal Counsel Clarence Jones was doing a critique of the days speeches when he mentioned something about the iconic speech I had never heard about until now. No sooner had Dr. King started his speech, he was interrupted by Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson … who screamed “Tell ’em ’bout the dream, Martin!” Dr. King, inspired by her outburst, went on an improvised roll all the way to the end. Gospel shout, black baptist cadence and Jazz, a cosmic freestyle for the ages. As a immigrant I looked on every struggle in America with great regard. We do best when we work together. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. American music has been there always and has been a reflection of us. These last ten years have felt like we’ve been in an oppressive cultural bind and I am only now seeing a small spark of light at the end of the tunnel. So, hey Miley … you’ve killed the beast on your back (applause, kid). Now what?
Until she figures that out, I got my money on The Skins. Rock ‘n’ roll saviors? Honestly I hope so … but for now they look and feel like a world of endless possibilities and that would make the good doctor very happy.