World beats

By Damani Harrison

Dr. Didg at the Outback and Corey Harris and the 5X5 at Starr Hill Music Hall, Saturday, June 8.

This whole World Cup thing has got me screwed up. The games begin at 2 in the am and end at 9:30am. I guess the powers that be weren’t considering my day job when they elected to broadcast the event live from host countries Japan and Korea this year.  Nevertheless, I find myself setting the alarm and rolling out of bed to catch at least one of the three games that air every night/morning.
There is something very special about the World Cup. It is, in all honesty, the only real “world championship.” The World Series is really just the United States, as are World Heavyweight Boxing, and just about any other sport you can name. The World Cup is a true worldwide multicultural experience. Watching the way each different country celebrates after a goal is sometimes as good as the goal itself.
So, the Cup has got me all gassed up on culture with the urge to get out and see something new and unique. The first place I headed was to The Outback Lodge for Dr. Didg. I had heard of this guy before, a doctor from Oxford, England who received a Ph.D. in the physics of a Didgeridoo. Dr. Didg kicked things off with a little demonstration of the various tones and sounds that can be created with a Didgeridoo.  He puffed his cheeks, much like that of a tuba player, blew the most immense, bass-heavy tones from what looked like the hollowed trunk of a small tree. The vibrations were funneled through effects boards where they were spiced up with delay and reverb. After he found a singular meditative pattern, he looped it. As that pattern played repeatedly, he laid various syncopated rhythms on top of them. I could have sat there all day and watched him as a solo act.  After about 10 minutes the band took the stage. On cue they dropped in on time with the groove the good doctor had laid out. The drummer and bassist locked in the pocket sweetly as the guitarist noodled some spaced out digital delay on top. Things were looking good. People were dancing and having a good time until (cue for Jaws music)… the guitar solo came.
If there is one thing I can’t stand, it is a self-indulgent guitarist. A good musician knows when to step into the spotlight and when to bow out into the background. This was the Dr. Didg show, not the corny-guy-with-cheesy-black-derby-cap-and-a-hankering-for-jerking-off-on-his-six-string show. I gave it a chance, I really did. I mean, damn, the Didgeridoo part was awesome. But by the fifth song the guitar was so loud that you couldn’t even hear the main attraction. I had just about all I could take of that, dude. Next stop: Starr Hill.
Corey Harris was playing at ‘da Hill’ and since I had my fill of the Outback, I decided a nice change of pace was in order. I was just in time for a large part of the second set. Report came from my undercover scouts that the first set was extraordinary.
I expected nothing less from blues great Corey Harris. His newest record, Downhome Sophisticate, recently received a rave review (four stars) from Rolling Stone. The man has come along way from playing acoustic tunes on the Downtown Mall for spare change. So I was surprised to see the venue not very packed. Corey was laying into some serious blues-ing and the band was rocking hard to a comfortable gathering of folks congregated close to the stage. 
What is so compelling about Corey Harris? For one, he is a giant among men. Standing at a little over six feet with head full of dread locks and a solid build, he definitely turns a few heads when he walks in a room. Alas, image isn't everything. However, connecting with your audience, something Corey is known for, can go a long way. Midway through a song Cory stepped off the stage and walked around the audience as he played a guitar solo. The entire time he wore pleasant smile while making eye contact with everyone he could from behind a pair of lightly tinted shades. Add the soul of his backing band, 5X5, into the mix and you've got yourself a recipe for a kick ass performance.
But what really made the night for me was Corey's singing. Especially when the band was finished and he opted to end the night with a handful of acoustic songs. I couldn’t tell you what the songs were or what African language some of them were in, but that didn’t matter. Corey sang blood, sweat, and tears into those songs, and those that stuck around long enough to hear them were rewarded for their loyalty.
As the night came to a close, I was happy that at a time when I most needed diversity in my musical life I had two completely different options to choose from. I got home around 1:30am, just enough time to shower and grab a late snack before turning on the World Cup again. In my mind I had been to Australia and Africa in one night and no one could tell me otherwise. After my evening's escapades I didn't feel too guilty about curling up on the couch for another night of the largest and most diverse sport in the world.

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