Live Review: BOBBY at Detroit Bar 6/22/11

Partisan Records recording artist ‘Bobby‘ proved to be a dangerous opening act Wednesday June 22nd at the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa.

Yes, I know, Costa Mesa is a jaunt on a Wednesday evening, particularly if you are trying to travel down the 405 to catch one of the early acts. But Sneak Attack Media gave us a much-appreciated heads up about a show they said would be well worth catching. And was it ever (Thanks Marni!!). Bobby drew a noticeably large crowd for an opening act a long way from their Massachusetts origins and they kept the audience enthusiastically engaged with a stunning barrage of beats and tones and some of the best vocals I’ve heard from any artist at any level in a long, long time.

Drawing on a beautiful blending of rhythms that include references to Indonesian Gamelan orchestral themes, Nigerian Yoruba hand drumming and the Malian sinew of Ali Farka Toure as well as recognizable jazz/rock influences – the one thing everyone in the building was able to do real fast was find a groove that grabbed them. The tonal waves that washed over the top of all of this percussion was a gorgeous mix of keyboards, synth sounds, bass and guitar looped and played over (and then played over again) in a polyphonic ebbing and flowing that allowed (or was it compelled?) each song to find a place to resonate inside you from the very first time you heard it. In fact one of the things that was most noticeable about Bobby’s performance was the terrific mixing and sorting of so many sounds. Though they expressed some dissatisfaction with the stage monitors the music out front was about as perfect as any band not the LA Philharmonic could expect.

Here is what I noticed most, besides the fact that I had the rare experience of seeing a band I knew nothing about and having my ears and feet asking for more before they even got finished: the percussion, as many faceted and as driving as it was, had more tone and melodic force than you ever thought you could comprehend. And the melody was as much about beat as it was about tone. Melodic drumming and percussive guitars, synthesizers and keyboards. OK, they aren’t the first band to use that approach to making music, but they do it really well. And don’t let my critics pretentiousness about recognizing a wide array of esoteric influences put you off – this was really accessible, enjoyable music. It just employs a wide array of esoteric influences in some unsuspected, but extremely effective ways.

Four paragraphs in and we haven’t even started on Amelia Meath (officially of Mountain Men – NO, not the punk/metal Mountain Men; the female trio who’s 2010 release Made the Harbor, also on Partisan, deserves your attention) and Tom Greenberg’s vocalizing. Although Molly Sarle (also of Mountain Men) is Bobby’s official vocalist (including the singing on their new release titled, ‘Bobby’) the demands of school kept her ‘studies bound’ for this tour and so Mountain Men partner Amelia Meath stepped in to lend her range and pitch perfect pipes so the show could go on. Meath brought a wonderful blend of rock sensibility, sensuality and theater to her performance. It’s hard to explain, which is probably an unforgiveable phrase for a reviewer to use, but all of that music that was at once ethereal and yet gripping, in a very rock way, underneath Amelia’s voice when she finds the flattened third of the blues scale, is nothing short of exquisite.

Like everything else about Bobby the singing was both musical and percussive. I don’t know how they do it (catch up with Tom or Paolo or Amelia next time they are in town so you can ask them) but they make vocals that are all at once beautiful and light and yet tough enough to make the sadness hurt and the longing palpable and the joy real enough to lift you. Whatever the secret, it works. And it seemed right when Amelia was attempting to make it understandable and said,  ‘It feels a little risky when you know you’re going to have to find the spot. There’s a tension. It’s stepping out onto something you hope is going to be there.’

It was there all right.

A band of talented and really fun multi-instrumentalists Bobby is: Tom Greenberg, Martin Zimmerman, Paolo Menuez, Julian Labal, Roby Moulton, Molly Sarle, and Amelia Meath.

Here are a few downloads from their album, Bobby, released June 21 on Partisan Records

“Ginger (Water Birth)” mp3:

“Sore Spores” mp3:

“Groggy” mp3:

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