Well, you win some and you lose some. After a spring of stellar shows, The Spin had to draw the short straw eventually, and that short straw happened to be Toubab Krewe last Friday night at Exit/In. Not that it was a bad show, per se — it was fine — but holiday weekends tend to lack audiences and energy, and if a band isn't rolling into town with new material and a bit of buzz, things are just going to fall flat. And they did! At least they did for The Spin, who spent a solid chunk of our evening dodging rookie Wookies — they have no sense of balance! — and listening to the worst people ever talk about how they "totally dressed for Demonbreun."
We rolled up to Elliston Place right at funk o'clock, just in time to catch AJ and the Jiggawatts. We've seen these kids slay it live plenty of times, and we're big fans of the whole G.E.D. Soul Records crew, so catching them on an off night was a tad dispiriting. It probably didn't help that they were playing to an empty room, but the set was stiff and felt like they never found their groove. And that's a shame, because their groove is a killer one. There were hiccups and flat notes and a lack of cohesion that we frankly hadn't seen from the Jiggawatts before, but luckily there weren't a lot of other folks there to see it either. Let's just call this one a wash and pretend it never happened.
Asheville, N.C.'s Toubab Krewe needs a new album, desperately. Their last record came out in 2010, and we caught the band both before and after that release. And it was rad. But three years later, their Malian-influenced fusion just feels tired and uninspired, like the band was on autopilot, cruisin' along without a care in the world. Compared to previous shows — which were sweaty, trance-inducing affairs — this time the Krewe never really got it out of first gear. And when the traditionally instrumental band started singing, it was like somebody had thrown on the emergency brake. Seriously, it went from Fela Kuti to Jimmy Buffett in the wink of an eye.
And then — because clearly the universe just didn't want The Spin enjoying ourselves on Friday night — Toubab Krewe decided to do some sort of Dust Bowl Johnny Appalachian duo thing like it was an East Nashville open-mic night. When the best thing about your band is the amazing rhythm section and the international flavor, why do you send them both offstage and indulge in some bullshit murder ballads? Mercifully, the detour into Downerville was short. But by the time the band put the fusion train back on track, The Spin had reached our limit of touchy rando bros and bubbly hippie chicks, and it was time to bug out, short straw in hand.
Long before it got all segmented and compartmentalized on us, music was a communal thing. Before recording came about at the end of the 19th century, the only way to hear music was to go to a fancy hall and watch someone else make it, or get together with your friends and neighbors and make it yourself. Folk music has been romanticized to death in the wake of a booming music industry, and for better or worse, it's a marketable commodity with its own distinct demographic subset. With that in mind, we were stoked to have an opportunity to catch a folk-focused bill on Saturday night in The Stone Fox's cozy West Side nook.
By the light of the full moon, we strolled in to find Peggy Snow and John Allingham of The Cherry Blossoms holding court — as they have for many a year in many a living room, back porch and dive-bar stage. Encompassing several generations of folk aficionados, their assembled company included percussion, winds and a striking young vocalist — on paper, a combo right out of A Mighty Wind, but minus the hokey pretension of a band convinced it has a sacred mission. With the exception of Allingham's guitar, there wasn't an electric pickup among them, which can make appropriate mixing tricky on such a small stage, and Snow's kazoo-and-whistle rack made it difficult for her to get close to a microphone. The audience, mostly youngsters there in support of Honey Locust, were all crowded in a line about six feet from the stage; any closer and they'd be overshot by the speakers, making the vocals completely inaudible. Though we doubted the band members could hear themselves, they raged on with an informal joie de vivre that's worth the trip to experience in person.
After the dust settled a bit, Honey Locust took over for an efficient and polished set that still retained a bit of a backyard jam's ramshackle feel. The group's "orchestrated folk" sound — shot through with strings and brass, akin to world-traveling genre-blenders Beirut and Devotchka — required a fair bit of instrument-doubling, with their drummer holding down the beat and a rhythm guitar on occasion, and co-founder Patrick Howell ably handling bass, viola and accordion, sometimes during the same song. Despite the shuffling, there was nary a fumble to detract from their soaring choruses and rich harmonies. Though they're fairly new faces around town, their skill at putting on a show is just as impressive as their songs, and we're pumped to hear more from them in the future; not something we'd typically be inclined to say about a band whose forthcoming full-length (The Great Southern Brood in this case) is about cicadas.
We weren't quite sure what to expect from Josephine Foster. She's made an enormous circle, from Fairport Convention folk-rock through German lieder and folk music popularized during the Spanish Civil War, all the way back to an impressively enigmatic blend of all of the above on 2012's Blood Rushing, recorded by wide-ranging Nashville engineer Andrija Tokic. With a mostly acoustic band including husband Victor Herrero on a guitars and local keyboard wizard Micah Hulscher on a spinet piano hauled in for the occasion, Foster treated us to a timeless music that felt truly psychedelic — not in the "Whoa dude, look at the colors" way, but rather in its somewhat disorienting otherworldliness. Foster's classically trained voice is powerful in a way we're not accustomed to; we were reminded of Audrey Hepburn doing "Moon River" in Breakfast at Tiffany's as Foster wound through a seemingly bottomless well of songs, varying from her own treatments of Emily Dickinson poems to the Bacharach/David number "Love Was Here Before the Stars."
The intimacy of Foster's performance made an odd juxtaposition with the portion of the crowd there for late-night drinking. After half an hour of fighting to hear over their conversations, one fan urged them to "shaddup," and eventually they died down to pin-drop levels. We were intrigued by the upcoming jam announced with the remaining Cherry Blossoms, but noting the time approaching 2 a.m., we made our farewells and headed for the sack.