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Nelly’s Echo: Live at the Avenue

From left to right: Thomas Morris (drums), Jordan Parks (bass), Kameron Ralls (keys), and Nelson Emokpae (guitar/vocals)

The website nellysecho.com describes Nelly’s echo as “neither a band nor a solo musician, but a concept of the musical experience associated with its creator and led by guitarist and vocalist Nelson Emokpae”.  This is definitely evidenced by the band’s ever revolving lineup.  I’ve seen the band three times, and to the best of my knowledge it’s been a different assortment of musician’s each time, with the only player in common being Nelson Emokpae, its frontman.

I saw the band for the third time on friday night, on “The Avenue” in White Marsh, Baltimore.  The newly renovated plaza has had its brick covered ground replaced by a giant turf field.  People sit on blankets in front of a small, slightly elevated stage.  A local high school rents out lawn chairs, while neighboring restaurants hawk beer and pretzels under tents along the edge of the field.

When the band finally takes the stage, they play The Cure’s “Lovesong”.  It takes a moment to recognize the song as it is.  It is restyled as a soulful reggaefunk jam, with the familiar synth progression, replaced by intonations of ooohs and aaahs.  With scarcely any pause, they launch into “Waiting on the World to Change” a John Mayer hit.  You haven’t heard the song until you’ve heard it with a go-go beat.

Nelly’s Echo play a variety of covers throughout the night.  They range from the touching rendition of “Hallelujah” to the bizzare “Fast Car” with a verse from “Uptown Funk” inserted midway through.  No genre of music is out of bounds.  Emokpae & Co. cut songs up and twist them beyond immediate recognition before weaving them together into a patchwork quilt of music that is somewhat original, somewhat borrowed, and all excellent.

Midway through, the band takes a break.  Pop music blares from the speakers as Emokpae steps down from the platform and mingles with the crowd.  A young boy runs over to request a song.  Nelson smilingly obliges.

It’s almost definite that not everyone there is a fan of reggae or funk, and yet, looking around, I saw nobody that wasn’t having an absolute blast.  Emokpae, Morris, Parks, and Ralls radiate passion in their playing, something that the crowd can clearly detect.  As they play “Purple Rain” near the end of the show, Ralls half-jokingly waces his arm too and fro in time with the music.  Phones are produced, and brightness levels are turned to the maximum.

The atmosphere Nelly’s Echo creates live is a powerful but intimate one.  I’d love to see them blow up, and be recognized for their great music, but for the time being I’ll take them where they are right now; small, but formidable, playing great music everywhere they perform.

Flatfoot 56: Live at the Ottobar

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From Left To Right: Kyle Bawinkel, Conrad Allsworth, Brandon Good, Eric McMahon, and Tobin Bawinkel

I recently had the opportunity to see Flatfoot 56 perform at Baltimore’s Ottobar.  What a show; before the band took the stage at 10:00, the audience was treated to performances by Last Call Hooligans, Dead End Lane, and Ninety-Six Ghosts.  While entertaining, the shows were fairly low energy; The floor was practically empty, and everyone was dort of just meandering around, waiting for the main event.  After Ninety-Six ghosts finished their set, there was a thirty minute intermission, in which the crowd grew from maybe twenty people, to about one hundred.  The energy level rose drastically.

Flatfoot sets a very intresting dynamic in their concerts, with a surprising instrumental variety.  Conrad Allsworth plays drums, and Kyle Bawinkel plays the bass guitar.  Tobin Bawinkel, standing at 6’10” towers above the audience as he shouts gutturally into the mic.  Brandon Good, and Eric McMahon both play guitar, but alternate between accompanying with bagpipes (McMahon), and mandolin (Good).  Good is a fascinating musician to watch; a giant of a man, he dwarves his electric guitar, and when he picks up the mandolin, it looks like a child’s toy in his gigantic hands.  The gutsiest player award goes to McMahon however, who performs the entire show in a kilt. You know, in case you’re ever unsure that they’re Irish.

As the show went on, a circle pit formed at the foot of the stage.  People joined in, prancing in circles, kicking their legs out and flailing their arms.  This dance is known as skanking, and yes, it is a bizzare as it sounds.  All weirdness aside, it is a strangely liberating experience; a comunal one, that allows the audience to make the jump from spectator to participant.

Colony House: Live at the U Street Music Hall

I first saw Colony House in the summer of 2015, Playing with Needtobreathe, and Switchfoot on their “Tour de Compadres”.  I didn’t really know anything about their music, or its quality, and I was fully prepared to endure twenty minutes of mediocrity before the main event.

Out of nowhere, the band began playing; as people began turning their attention to the stage, singer Caleb Chapman let out a feral but joyful scream.  I was captivated; the band did not stand on ceremony, nor did they show any sign of timidity whatsoever.  They proceed to play a show of about five songs that, while lacking in quantity, was as full of energy as any stage show could be, especially considering the fact that it was about six O’clock, and plenty of daylight was still present.

It was with this in mind, that I went to see Colony House at Washington D.C.’s U Street Music Hall.  A small room in the basement, with barely ten square meters of space was the perfect environment for Chapman and company.  The energy that succeeded in a rather huge amphitheater, was only more powerful when concentrated in this smaller venue.  After opening band Deep Sea Diver played, Colony House took the set shortly after.

The crowd knew they were coming when Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” began playing.  About halfway through the song, it began skipping, like a broken record, gradually fading into unrecognizable noise.  At this point the band walked out and jumped right in, with the opener to end all openers, “Cannot do this alone”.

The concert was an exhilarating experience.  Colony House knows how to put on a show, and they seem to thrive in a small club environment, feeding off of the energy of the crowd, and repurposing it to drive their own indefatigable playing.  When the band played “1234”, they capitalize on a chorus practically built for playing in concert, coaxing the crowd to join in the numeric chant:

One Two — I told you that I love you

Three Four — Love me just a little bit more

Throughout the concert, a screen on the wall behind the band played a variety of images — both exciting and bizarre — in sync with the songs, the most impressive being a countdown from three minutes and twenty seconds, till the completion of the song “3:20”.  Other strange offerings include, among other things, a scene from the movie Hook, played on loop, footage of a mustang driving through a desert, and a picture of a benal tiger.  Uniquely, these images are not the show, nor are they allowed to dominate.  The  music is still king, but it sounds a lot cooler when there are some pictures to drive it along.

At the show’s end, Caleb Chapman announced “We’re not gonna do the whole walking out thing, this is our encore right now”.  They played their riff heavy song 2:20 — they have a thing for songs named after times — and the crowd jumped, screamed, and danced feverishly one last time.  Afterwards, the band members exited the stage, drenched in sweat.  This was an adrenaline filled experience, that would be difficult to duplicate by even the deftest of musicians.  Anyone can be skilled –albeit via varying levels of difficulty — but it is rare to find a band that has as much fun playing as the crowd does listening.

If you aren’t sure about who Colony house is, this video ought to tell you just about everything you need to know.