By: Colin Aldridge
Walking down High Street, on my way to The Jeffs’ album release party, I could feel it in the air. You could see it on the faces of everyone you passed by. You could hear it in their voices. There was pride, of course; pride all over; pride in an immediate way; pride in defense. There was pride, but there was also something else. You could feel it on the concrete you walked on as clear as you could feel it in your own head: the world is on fire. It might not be okay.
Maybe I’m projecting.
Either way, my brain is thick with it. Dread, anxiety, uncertainty. This past week has been especially tense. I don’t need to report the news–you know what’s going on. So, equally needless to say, I went into Brothers Drake this past Saturday not expecting to forget. We like to think that music and art serve a greater purpose than to make us forget, and they do. Catharsis, for one. But let’s be honest; the best art is the art that takes us out of ourselves, takes us to another state of mind that runs exclusively on the ability to totally entrance us.
Anyway, through no fault of the bands, I didn’t expect to enjoy myself very much. Thankfully, at points, I did. The power of music and art transcends the constant onslaught of bullshit any wannabe totalitarian dictator can shovel our way. Life goes on in places like Brothers Drake, with music like Bella Ruse, The Jeffs and The Whirlybirds.
To play music at all, to enjoy oneself, to be happy, is a political statement. The powers that be don’t want peppy folk songs, guitar music or swing/jazz bands. But we do. And we have it right here in Columbus. We may have shitty parking and we may have gone red in 2016, but we have the music. We will have fun, goddammit. We had fun Saturday night.
Belle Ruse took the stage first. Made up of singer Kay Gillette and her guitarist and husband Joseph Baker, the duo immediately lightened the mood with self-described “shamelessly happy” tunes. The band’s only melancholy song was called “The Kazoo Song,” which, of course, featured a kazoo solo. A ukulele was also brought out more than once. I walked in with arms crossed and darkness in my mind, and by the end of their set, I was singing along with the audience to the chorus, per Gillette’s request. The song was called “Forget the Bad Times,” and as we sang along, you could almost see the cartoon ball bounce above the text of the lyrics. It was beautiful.
In another song, which Gillette said was “about not knowing what the future holds, but going for it anyway,” she sang, “It will be okay.” As I write this now, I’m not sure if I believe her, but in the moment, I certainly did.
The Jeffs came on next. This was its party; the band was releasing an 11-song project, The Day Tom Waits Died, and selling it on flash drives. The irony here is that the band plays Americana–little bit rockabilly, little bit country, lotta bit rock-n-roll. It’s composed of two guitars, a bass and drums. Doug Hare shined on lead guitar, busting out solos that make you feel the metal of the strings. Geoff Wilcox was fantastic on the bass and played a song on acoustic guitar that blew me away. Frontman Jeff Tobin’s lyrics were witty and he played with excellent rhythm. The best song of the night, however, belonged to drummer Paige Vandiver, whose tribute to the Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines brought down the house.
At one point, Tobin took a break from They Might Be Giants-esque irreverence to play a song written the day after the president’s inauguration, titled “Resist.” “We try not to get too political as a band,” he said, “but sometimes you can’t friggin’ help it.”
The Whirlybirds finished the night with exceptional jazz and swing; these guys know how to play jazz (I’m talking real jazz, not La La Land jazz). Each member excelled on their instrument. Joe Gilliland led the band on guitar and vocals, Jacob Campbell on keys, Max Marsillo on drums, Nick Simko on trumpet, Trent Sampson on upright bass and Joe Brenneman on clarinet and sax; they all presented their mastery. I’m not usually much of a swing guy, but these cats absolutely crushed it. It was during their extended jams that I was most able to disappear in the music, forget everything else and transcend.
I felt better after Saturday night’s show, which is just about the best thing you can say about a concert. Walking back to my car, I thought about art and music and concluded that music may not be able to save the world but it can comfort the mind and mend the soul. That’s enough.