all words: Andy Hess
all photos: Dafna Steinberg
BLK JKS have a great marketing rep in Diplo. He apparently coined the phrase “African TV On The Radio” — which has been the band’s favorite superlative from many press outlets — after discovering the band on tour in South Africa last year. Shortly thereafter they were on the cover of FADER — their label is home to the always adorable and smiling Matt & Kim — before having a proper U.S. release. But to categorize BLK JKS as the African equivalent to TV On The Radio wouldn’t do the band justice. Sure, on their best song “Lakeside” off their recent full length release After Robots they sound a lot like the aforementioned band from Brooklyn. But that’s about it.
When BLK JKS showed up to a surprisingly packed show on a Tuesday night with DC buzz band Laughing Man, they brought the house down with their hugely ambitious sound that pulls from multiple sources. Ska, reggae, ambient, math and noise are just a few, but the execution of these sounds live has its highs and lows.Songs like “Molalatladi” build and build and build (and build and build) to a Mars Volta like opus with the end result just being a massive headache. On the other hand, songs like “Tselane” — which had quite a charming backstory about the fable that the song is named after — had beautiful pieces of harmony and was a perfect antitheses to the more bombastic rhythms from earlier in the night. “Lakeside” was the highlight of the night which was complete with the whistling from the studio track — from the drummer no less (who was quite impressive).
Vocalist Lindani Buthelezi voice — while drenched in reverb — was stronger than I had thought it was going to be live, but was unfortunately lost in the mix which I’m not sure if the band wanted it that way or not. They were struggling with the sound engineer for most of the night it seemed. Which is unfortunate, because on a great night — sound wise — BLK JKS would be worth the price of admission.
Since we’re on the topic of great marketing, what about the Laughing Man? They’re one of the more talked about acts around town apparently — I haven’t checked out much local music since I’ve been up here — and it was nice to see a local act playing alongside of a national touring band. When I walked in mid set, I was immediately drawn to the stage presence of Brandon Moses. I’m sure he gets it a lot, but the dude has an uncanny resemblance to Andre 3000. It might have been the pink Wayfarers, though. Regardless, his act reminds me of a weird concoction of Sammy Davis, Jr., Andre 3000, Black Joe Lewis, Fiona Apple and at times even Tom Waits (sans Scarlett Johansson of course).
The band was just as enthralling. The cool bass lines. The tight rythmn section. The supporting cast of players — Patrick Kigongo (who interviewed them for BYT the other day-ed) from Ra Ra Rasputin made an appearance (yet another act I have yet to see, but have heard a lot about) as well as a few members of another local act Noon 30 — were equally great.
It is always good to see the scene involved, but the set had a tendency to drag at times and sent me back to the bar on more than one occasion. As much as I love the Isley Brothers in space, the music has a tendency to sound a little repetitive. Maybe it was an off night, but Laughing Man doesn’t have me rolling on the floor just yet.