Shirlette & the Dynamite Brothers played Local Beer Local Bands night Thursday. Shirlette Ammons is a Durham poet who has brought her words to the musical stage in a number incarnations, most notably with Mosadi Music, as well as collaborations with a veritable Who's Who of local indie rockers. But as of late, she's been gigging with the Dynamite Brothers, and together, they're about the funkiest thing going in the triangle.
Shirlette and the Dynamite Brothers...
Shirlette rarely sings; she mostly raps. But like the best of early rap (which was basically poetry set to beats), her timing and rhythm are so tight, it's more than simply a recitation. Her staccato rap is in your face... musically, rhythmically, and lyrically. She raps about race, sexuality, and other topics in an unapologetic way that demonstrates how music is perhaps the last effective form of free speech left in the U.S. Sad, if a bit obvious, but musical accompaniment often allows artists to more easily get away with their most contentious words, or at least allows them to speak them to a larger audience.
The first time I saw them, I thought the Dynamite Bros. were more of a rock band backing her. Upon a second listen, though, really, they're a great blues band. The tight interplay of their funk and blues with the words -- they match her cadence perfectly, and vice versa -- make a perfect vehicle for Shirlette's voice, and the entire venture a "band" in the true sense of the word. The guitarist even got all Barry White one one number, called "Chains" (or "Change"?), singing along with Shirlette.
The Beast, a self-described "indie hip hop and progressive jazz" group, headlined. Their rap was a more modern style, and definitely with more of a more rock-pop backing sound... complete with keyboards, guitar solos, and singing as well as rapping. Emcee Pierce Freelon (yes, he's related) name-dropped everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Earth, Wind, & Fire, to Corey and Topanga from Boy Meets World. But it wasn't all fun and pop-culture games. Singing "We don't want no trouble now", they told the age-old tale of having to lay low if you're black -- or "weird", or just different -- and get stuck in some backwoods Southern town.
Pierce Freelon of The Beast...
While The Beast had more of a rocking sound (even a little "Rage Against the Machine"-ey at times), they showed their chops by dipping into a jazzy excursion here and there, and even a little into salsa and other latin styles. Midway through the show, before Shirlette had to go, she and Freelon sang a duet ("Strangelove") that was pure 70s soul!
Overall, this LBLB night was kind of a visit to the best of the old-school, and then the new. While Shirlette and the Dynamite Bros. are still the funkiest of the two, The Beast is taking the genre into new territory.
As a postscript, The Beast did a song about going to Brooklyn, "but every time I try, I've got Carolina on my mind". Great to hear that, and it about says it all about bands relocating... to Brooklyn, or Portland (in the 90s it was Seattle, in the 80s it was Austin and Athens). Props to them. Stay at home, especially now, when you can make and promote your music from anywhere. Besides, we've got a pretty burgeoning little scene here.