Dâm-Funk, Nite Jewel & Jonas Reinhardt
July 1, 2010
By Daniel Levin Becker
Best Overheard Line: "You know what, God? You're the person with the most
homes in the universe."
Better than: Listening to Dâm-Funk under any other circumstances
So where exactly does Dâm-Funk--pronounced "dame funk," like a 23rd-century dowager--fit into the present? Dude is the iPhone of G-Funk, the stylish technical best of something we're pretty sure we need in our lives but couldn't say quite why. He is "The Message" incarnate, the freewheeling specter of a bygone Los Angeles where the stakes are higher and the styles way less self-aware, where the streets are more authentically mean and more authentically funky, where the blowout ponytail is king and the keytar is an excitingly bitchin' new technology. He calls his vocation "modern funk," which is as hard to argue with as it is hard to qualify as it is easy to straight-up groove to.
Full disclosure: I never quite bought into Dâm-Funk. I never saw the point, really, never embraced his five-LP debut album (condensed on two discs and released last year as Toeachizown) as the revelation I read it was. I found the headiest of its candyfloss celestial explorations grating at worst, aimless at best, with all the repetitive charm of a Cameo cassette in a ceiling fan instead of a tape deck. I'd also never seen Dâm-Funk play live, and had my doubts as to whether there was anything to see.
Lucky me, then, that most of last night's headline set at Mezzanine was not just Dâm-Funk but his live band Master Blazter, boasting the subtly masterful human touch of keyboardist Computer Jay and drummer J-1. A few moments into his solo opening number, the new single "HowUGonFuckAroundAndChooseABusta," Dâm's laptop fell from its perch and cut out the jam, prompting a dogged promise to give the audience its money's worth--and then, as if the whole thing had been arranged beforehand, the arrival of his strong, silent musical posse. Tracks clicked with motions. Solos were taken. Songs came alive. Some of them still got stale, but organically so.
Better yet, in between dalliances with his low-slung keytar (er, synth-ax) and Troutman-style talkbox, Dâm sang on just about every number: he has a terrific, boisterous voice that brings to the fore a liveliness and an urgency neglected on Toeachizown. Last night found him getting his bearings as a frontman, not as a DJ or a producer. In his appearance at the Dr. Martens store a few hours prior, he told the crowd unassumingly that he wanted to "share some wax" with them; at Mezzanine he wanted to share an entire experience, and it was refreshing to see what he was capable of.
Master Blazter's set was preceded by a brief introduction to Nite Funk, the hybrid of Dâm-Funk and Nite Jewel, three almost-wiry twentysomethings fronted by L.A. funk-dame Ramona Gonzalez, who writhed to her songs in a dress with an extremely ambiguous relationship to its own sleeves. Nite Jewel lacked the raucous immediacy of Dâm-Funk, but also brought a welcome human complexity to the retiring bedroom disco mazes of Good Evening. Before that, San Francisco's Jonas Reinhardt, an analog synthster on the colorful side of the Kranky spectrum, accompanied by members of Trans Am and Mi Ami, set the mood with chunky kraut-rock space jams and polite, dependable freakouts.
The real constant of the evening, apart from a bunch of lasers and an extended loop of this video, was an encouraging sense of the possibility borne by experimentations taken out of the studio and into the club: the simple pleasures of live interpretation, glimpsed twenty years into the future from a smoke-billowing wayback machine.