It’s hard for me to find any new music to get excited about these days. The last band that really impressed me was The White Stripes, and they’re venerable veterans now. Before that, Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road blew me away. That was seven years ago.
On Saturday night, however, I saw a band that brought the full-strength joy.
The show was at Subterranean on North Avenue in Chicago, a pretty small hall on the second floor with a balcony area on the third. The place was not packed. There were people, but there was plenty of room to move.
The guy who suggested we go is a keyboard player who particularly likes the kind of tight funk musicianship you hear with James Brown or Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect.
The band was The New Mastersounds. I was told that the promoter had flown them all the way from Leeds for just one show in Madison and this show in Chicago.
When they took the stage, my first impression was of one of those instrumental combos from the 1960s that played surf or garage rock suitable for go-go dancing. There was a guitar, Hammond B3 / Fender Rhodes keyboards, a bass and drums. The drummer, Simon Allen, was stage right and at the front — an unusual placement, but it made sense because he handled all of the between-song patter and it gave him good eye contact with guitarist Eddie Roberts, bassist Pete Shand, and keyboardist Bob Birch.
They used that eye contact a lot. This band was tight.
While their music did harken back a little to some of the best surf rock, it was much more than that. It incorporated precision funk, cool jazz, New Orleans syncopation, and Ray Charles R&B. Staccato drum shots punctuated shimmering guitar flourishes and the kind of sprawling keyboard runs that would make Paul Shaffer grin. Rhythms and melodies wove in and out of each other like race drivers playing chicken while a chunky bass line kept everything anchored. Songs layered and built until the happiness in my chest overrode the analysis in my head. It was a pure blast.
The New Mastersounds were confident on stage, but there was no pretense. They wore T-shirts and seemed happy. Simon Allen vaguely resembled Carson Kressley and had a similarly dry sense of humor. Eddie Roberts looked a bit like a young Eric Burdon, but said nothing and did not swagger. He just played guitar amazingly well.
I just ordered their latest album, This Is What We Do</em. Here’s hoping they show up on Letterman very soon.