Kid redeems woozy lineup
When I noticed that the Chinese-Canadian turntablist Eric San, aka Kid Koala, was scheduled to play Friday, September 27, with his new "groove-oriented" band, Bullfrog, I couldn't believe it.
A couple of years ago, I'd heard "Scratchappyland," his first single for Ninja Tune Records; I was instantly converted by the oddball sound collage aesthetic. San incorporated a far richer range of found sound (beatbox, self-help tapes on shaking caffeine addiction, etc.) than the majority of his DJ contemporaries. The mixes were unusual and innovative, less scratch than beat experiments. There was also a sense of humor in his selective restructuring. Kid Koala made his avocation fun, and fun cool.
Unfortunately, as Bullfrog took the stage last Friday, my optimism evaporated as quickly as the reserves of Starr Hill Amber Ale. Within 10 minutes, I found myself tucked into a sweaty horde of increasingly intoxicated frippies (frat-hippies), solo cups hoisted high, weaving like weak saplings to basic street funk-formula groove.
And then I noticed the turntables. Not only was Kid Koala demoted to opening act, he was in a corner, quietly reduced to sampling Funkadelic and providing wiggity-wiggity-wack for a band as interesting as a bowl of rice krispies. It broke my heart.
Bullfrog's lyrics didn't really do it for me, either. Case in point– the chorus of the biggest crowd-pleaser: "Y-G-O-L-O-H-C-Y-S-P / Reverse Psychology." Please.
Maybe it was the fusion they were shooting for– without George Clinton's glitz and disco lights, the groovy stuff seemed kind of canned.
Thankfully, between sets they gave Kid Koala about seven minutes to scratch on his own terms, just enough time to re-invent "Moon River."
The headliners, Robert Walter's 20th Congress, were a little better until they smothered their solos in wah pedal butter. (According to their website, their latest release, There Goes the Neighborhood, has been nominated for High Times' illustrious Doobie Awards, if that gives you a hint as to what they sound like). The oily residue left me with a woozy head, although Robert Walter did provide some surprising moments of clarity on the electric organ.
At their best, the Congress reminded of middlin' Medeski, Martin, and Wood, and at their worst, as a friend aptly put it, they sounded like the Saturday Night Live Band (that mixed with, say, Herbie Hancock covering the theme song from "Sanford and Son").
Funk's allure already collapsed once before under the weight of its own pretense; if these bands are an indication of where resuscitation attempts are headed, you're better off keeping those platforms in the closet. The mothership has not landed.