Deep Banana Blackout is soul-rectifying funk euphoria. Although decidedly funk in nature, their music is an eclectic combination of the old school downtown James Brown soul funk with more modern psychedelic jazz and even a little Latin flavor. An enormous band of eight musicians, DBB is both the sum of its parts and a successful showcase of each of its members’ improvisational virtuosity. With rich vocals, heavy horns, and the incessant drive of masterful rhythms, their songs cover it all, from the wild and spasmodic to the sweet and sassy.
On Saturday night, playing to an almost packed house at Irving Plaza in New York City, DBB showed why they are the hottest thing to come out of Connecticut since– since– ever. The crowd was made up of a unique mixture of the usual fun-lovin’ Phish heads and the rest of the jam band and funk faithful, with a wide variety of scraggly looking homeless people, hardcore punk rockers, and even a few uptight investment bankers. “If anything I could say that this cab was rare but I thought, man forget it, yo homes to Bel-Air.”
And I’m glad I did stay in the cab all the way to Bel-Air, because DBB was off the hook. Lead guitarist James “Fuzz” San Giovanni and lead singer Hope Clayburn led DBB out with incredible energy in the first set, especially with the jazzy “El Sol” and the funk anthem “That’s What I’m Talking About,” both off their most recent album, Feel the Peel. Fuzz has that thing, that elusive ability to make the guitar speak and dance off his hips as he free-wheels into mind-boggling funkadelic jam improvisation. Also remarkable in this opening act was Clayburn’s ability to simultaneously play the flute and make tenor sax-like blurps with her voice. Spinning flamboyantly from one jam to the next, DBB had Irving Plaza bopping the whole time.
After a much needed 15-minute rest (for the crowd, that is), DBB came right funkin’ back with an ill rendition of “Stiff Pickin'” from their second album, Rowdy Duty. Saxophonist Rob Somerville and trombonist B. Smith unleashed piercing, punchy unison lines that kept the funk in check throughout the entire last act.
Perhaps the most interesting spot of the evening was when Bomb Squad tenor saxophonist Mike Raskin joined DBB onstage with a strange looking instrument that I have yet to identify. If you have ever seen a metallic colored, midgetized didgeridoo (an Australian horn instrument made with a hollowed-out eucalyptus branch) hooked up to an amp that makes the sounds of a whining donkey on crack, then you know exactly the kind of instrument this man was playing.
Beyond the music, the Deep Banana Blackout experience is about the dance. For those of you who have “felt the peel” or “taken the monkey’s food” (as some people call it, but I do not), then you have been fortunate enough to have let the funk wash over you and free your mind and body to move however it wishes — but hopefully in rhythm. On Saturday, the Banana split my body into percussive subunits and propelled the various parts into rhythmic, bombastic motion.
I highly recommend you banana-functify yourself while you still can.