Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Concert Review: Vulfpeck [With Links To The Show!]

Who:  Vulfpeck  (Opener was Joey Dosik)
When:  13 May 2017, 8:30 PM
Where:  The State Theater, Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Short Take:  Unless super expensive light shows and over-the-top stage production are your thing, you will not see a better concert this year, period.  Feel your battered, cynical heart blossom into an organ of hope and life.  Feel your soul  inspire (and believe) the words that comprise stupid sentences like the previous one.  Smile and feel unsinkable like a junior high kid with a nasty crush and a great song in his head.  In these strange times, there's nothing more subversive than that.

The Set List:  All links are from the the very show reviewed in this blog entry - thank you, Internet.
(Major thanks to Paul Zink for tracking the set list and finding links to the show.)
Conscious Club
My First Car (w/ Jack Stratton drum solo)
The Speedwalker/Sky Mall
[Stratton father/son jam]
Aunt Leslie
[Stratton mom "Funky Duck" dancing lesson]
Funky Duck
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Wait For The Moment
[Jack Stratton flash fundraiser for school in Flint, MI]
Back Pocket (w/ a capella intro)
Animal Spirits
Beastly (bass solo #1, #2, and #3, with alternate view of solo #3)*
Cory Wong

Encore: Dean Town
* - A note from Paul:  "The guy on YouTube has them mislabeled.  His "solo #1" is technically #2; his "solo #2" is really #3.  Solo #1 is usually the shortest, so maybe people don't consider this a "solo".

More:  Pete, Paul and I trucked up to Ann Arbor, Michigan this past Saturday to go see Vulfpeck; though we were all familiar with their tunes, none of us had seen them live before.  Although we all expected it to be pretty good, we didn't know what we would be seeing at all.

The venue for it was great - seeing concerts in old, ornate theaters always give the show a sense of occasion in my mind.  Probably the worst thing about the venue was you had to be a part of some club or something to buy beer.  You can join the club on the spot, but it reeked of some sort of weird extortion scheme.  If you didn't join the club, you had to settle for watered down Maker's Mark.  As a result, I had only one whiskey. Which is probably just as well.  I don't see how booze would've enhanced my experience even a little.  In fact, my two runs to the bathroom had me miss precious opening seconds of both Joey Dosik and Vulfpeck.  Stupid small bladder.

Joey Dosik opened.  I had never even heard of the dude though if I was a hardcore Vulfpeck fan, I would have:  He collaborates with them often.  He stayed on a Fender Rhodes piano for his whole performance, adding drums on the second tune, guitar on the third, then gradually winding back down to just him on electric piano by the end of the set.  Joey has soul to spare.  He sang in this cool falsetto for most of it; sort of mind blowing for me because I never thought I'd see the words "cool" and "falsetto" in the same sentence.  He also pulled off the singing dialogue thing nicely ("I know times are really strange" he sang at one point, seemingly acknowledging the world is in a fucking shitty place right now, but in the most melodious way possible.) - something that usually annoys me more than charms me.  But his minimalist set was full of warmth and love, and just sounded effin' good.  In that sense, he does exactly what a warm up act is supposed to do:  get the crowd feeling alright, ready for the main event.

I forgot to mention he did a great version of the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down".

As for Vulfpeck?  There's a lot to say, and you don't have a lot of time.  Why don't I just list out why they were so dope?

  • Watching Vulfpeck is like watching a buncha clean cut, straight "A" students melt away all the dumb, pretentious ideas I had about music.  How is it that music like theirs can be fun without being campy?  How can it be positive without being preachy?  How can such extreme musicianship remain interesting without being ejaculatory?  How can a saxophone (Dosik joined Vulfpeck multiple times on vocal duties and sax duties) solo outside of jazz not hurt my ears?  I don't know, man.  But they did all that stuff.
  • With the exception of bassist Joe Dart and keyboardist Woody Goss, all the other band members switched instruments throughout the show.  Again, you'd think this would be a gimmick that would backfire; instead, each musician brought their own take to the instrument.  It was shockingly seamless.  At no point did the music lack because of the switching.
  • I often refer to Vulfpeck as a funk band, but that sorta doesn't work and this show drove that home.  They are probably the funkiest band I currently know about, but they bring a funk flavor to tunes that sound like one part lounge jazz, one part yacht rock, one part 80s pop with a dash of skank thrown in on the tone.  I know, I know - that sounds truly horrendous, but it's not.  It works.  No one else is doing it, probably because no one else can pull it off.  I like how their music references different types/sounds of music without ever actually doing a whole sale rip off of that music.
  • Cory Wong (guitarist) - his guitar tone is straight up 1983, but I've never seen it so perfectly executed live.  Cory Wong on the Vulfpeck studio recordings sounds identical to live Cory Wong.
  • Vulfpeck is hurting in the swag category.  They were selling these ugly ass posters for major money.  But even this is a positive:  I wasn't spending money on shit.  Just my luck they'll become collectible or something.  C'est la vie.
  • A one point, Jack Stratton did this dopey dance, only for a few moments.  If you liked it, you could go to Venmo and pledge $2 to help a school in Flint, Michigan.  Needless to say, they smashed their goal.  Hell, people were literally running up the aisle throwing cash at them.
  • And that crowd:  they were really, really great too.  Vulfpeck had us eating out of their hands, but the crowd was loud when it was appropriate, quiet when it was necessary.  There was some cell phones filming, but never a lot, and never distracting.  I was pretty surprised by that too.  Lots of dancing, lots of smiles to be had.  No one wanted the night to end.
  • Joe Dart.  It would've been worth it for him alone.  His playing is as tight, interesting and creative as it gets.  And it never.  Leaves.  The. Pocket.  I don't usually care much for bass solos (that'll be the topic of an upcoming blog entry), but Joe Dart is the glaring exception.  I could listen to him all damn day.
I'll probably think of some other praise to heap, but maybe I'll just leave it at that for now.  This is easily one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life, but you don't have to take my word for their greatness:  head over to their (lovely minimalist) website and see how many tickets are available for their upcoming shows.  Good luck if you want to go.  

MAJOR hat tip to Paul for supplying the set list and links for this post as well as to Pete, who drove to the show and was fun as hell to spend time with.