Daniel Lanois And Black Dub Bring A Chaotic Synergy To The El Rey
Review by: Eric Paulsen
Black Dub played their first west coast show to an enthusiastic crowd at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, CA on Friday, Jan. 28. in support of their recently released self-titled debut album.
Daniel Lanois was clearly leading the direction of the music, taking the band down unexplored musical paths to the border of random order where they discovered together a sort of chaotic synergy. Lanois’ depth of production knowledge allowed him to find the very essence of every song even when it meant sometimes risking getting lost along the way.
There were moments of wrong notes being played and dubious glances amongst the players, evidence that the edge of disaster was, sometimes, not far away. Each band member, at their time, seemed to know where to pull to right the tipping of the musical balance.
Lanois is clearly comfortable on stage as a performer and is well-supported by a cast of talented musicians. His guitar playing has a certain voice that at times seems to speak the languages of the various musicians and genres he has produced through the years from artists as diverse as U2, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris.
Brian Blade’s percussive talents ran so deep that no matter how many times he was asked to dip for more, he seemed to pull something new and refreshing out of the well. At one point Lanois said, “Some of us grew up in pool halls. Some of us grew up on the streets. Brian Blade grew up playing drums at church…. This is a gospel tune.” The description of Blade’s drumming and the song itself was an obvious oversimplification; with the opening notes, Blade captivated the crowd with a fusion of sounds that could be considered a connection of reggae, blues and jazz parts that were all wired to a circuit board of rock and roll. When Lanois introduced the band, it was Blade who received such a resounding approval that Lanois eventually interjected to try to move things along by making a joke that Blade should play a drum solo. Instead of providing a segue, the audience only cheered louder.
Trixie Whitley took the lead on the opening songs of the set including “I Believe In You” and “Love Lives.” She has a vocal command that is confident and strong. Her voice blended well with Lanois and Daryl Johnson and the band’s harmonies were the human element that drew the crowd into the phrasing of each of the songs. Whitley seemed at home when her vocal talents were the focus of the songs and also possessed the ability to step back and allow for the music to take a course that was not vocally driven.
At times, when it was clear that the band was going to jam and she was left without any words to sing, she would sit down at a drum set next to Blade and carry the essential rhythm of the song, thereby allowing Blade to explore even more of the musical treasures in the glove box of his imagination. Whitley also played synthesizer on a few songs to provide support to the texture and mood of the overall set.
Johnson has taken the role of being the person who will stand out less and add much more. His bass playing complimented the seemingly unpredictable direction of Lanois’ guitar and Blade’s playful exploration. Johnson essentially played the parts that are necessary between an engine and a steering wheel, allowing the others to take the spotlight and all along knowing that his role is critically important to everything that matters in live music.
There was a videographer on stage with the band whose shooting was displayed on a screen behind the band. It was a fresh approach that allowed the audience to feel like they were up there with the band or at least sneaking a peak at something that would otherwise never be known, like a lush valley just over a hill out of the range of sight.
The set list brought to life the songs from the album and made them dance like dry bones being raised in the desert. If Lanois is known for using his technical and studio savvy for finding the connective tissue to the essential organs of a song, then he should be credited even more so for leading Black Dub live in concert in a quest to find the beating heart of the recorded songs from the album.
It was clear that a good portion of the audience was there, because of Lanois’ presence in the band, and he did take time to play some of the best songs from some of his solo work including “The Maker” and “The Messenger.” He and Blade played together a blending of songs that predominantly featured Lanois on pedal steel guitar.
Black Dub will be playing in the coming week up the west coast through Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. They are the kind of band that could sound different with each concert as they allow themselves the freedom to explore terrain on the musical landscape of their songs that seem to lie just out of sight. Anyone who goes to see them will surely witness something remarkable and definitely personal and intimate. Lanois said, “We have a vast array of ingredients…” and it is clear they will try to find a use for each one of them as they complete their tour.