The Divine Maggees (pronounced “Maggies”) have recently ended their long East-coast search for a home here in Asheville. The No Depression-friendly all-female duo spent the first years of the new millennia based in Maine, where they garnered acclaim for their “their provocative, yet surprisingly accessible” vibe.
After spending 2004 in Athens, Ga., the pair of Cregan Montague (acoustic and electric fiddles) and Danielle Tibedo (acoustic and electric guitars) relocated here, and has already begun work on a new studio record. They’ll play their first local gig at a free, all-acoustic show at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe on Friday, Feb. 18.
Saturday-night Special with Strut at Stella Blue; Feb. 5.
Ozzy Osbourne has seen better days.
Yet, despite his sad depleted state, there’s still some valuable lesson to be learned from the flimsy-brained, incoherently-babbling Ozzy on MTV’s reality opus, The Osbournes. I think the moral to Ozzy’s special story has something to do with the price of burning the candle from both ends for too long, the joys of modern medicine — especially lithium — or maybe just the long-term dangers of huffing too much ether.
Whatever the case may be with the man’s head, even Ozzy (who clearly has trouble with complex thoughts, much less talking in general) would have snapped to attention like a pissed-off college linebacker if he’d seen what The Homegrown Band did to his beloved Black Sabbath classic “War Pigs” during their opening set at Stella Blue.
I can see the middle-aged Prince of Darkness now, cussing fiendishly in a slurred and broken British accent about how “f••king Tony Iommi’s riffs aren’t to be toyed with” and the shortage of “huge bloody balls in rock ‘n’ roll these days.”
The problem with THB’s painful rendering of “War Pigs” was that no one ever taught these youngsters that crucial cornerstone to live music: Never ever give Black Sabbath songs the jammy-jam hippie-dippy treatment — not under any circumstances. Some bridges were never meant to be crossed, and dynamite and roses don’t always go together just because they’re both red.
The opening band (especially at a small local show) doesn’t have to be Led Zeppelin. I’ll even settle for a Zeppelin-influenced garage band in that context. But for “THB” (and I think Ozzy would agree with me here), a little less time with “Sweet Leaf” and a little more in the practice room might go a long, long way.
Once Strut finally hit the stage, things improved by leaps and bounds — which isn’t to say everything was perfect. (A scratchy Air Supply record would have sounded better than most parts of THB I saw.) But Strut quickly brought things back into funky good order with their rhythm-versus-guitar dance-happy thang.
Grounded by brothers Casey (guitar) and Elijah (bass/vocals) Cramer, the sometimes-instrumental quartet is rounded out by the meaty drums-and-percussion combo of Patrick Thomas and Biko Casini, respectively. Since I last saw them (which has been a couple of years), the band has added a sort-of full-time singer known as Agent Ishi.
And herein lies the problem. Most of Ishi’s vocals (as well as Casini’s, when he joins in) live somewhere inside the positive hip-hop bubble that’s so darn popular ’round these parts. Two or three years ago, Strut often shared their stage in a similar vocal capacity with The Mad Rabbi, who now heads up the excellent Pens and Needles venture. In The Rabbi’s day, Strut’s rap songs were both excellent and few and far between.
Live hip-hop music — when done right — is a rare and beautiful thing, and Strut funk lends itself naturally to that live hip-hop groove. But in the case of the Stella show, at least, Ishi and Casini’s rap medleys were not near as polished as The Rabbi’s, and now there were a whole lot more of them.
The band itself, including Casini’s pounding percussion work, remains squeaky clean. They move from ska to punk, then from jazz to funk, with remarkable ease, and the brothers Cramer especially have unbelievable skills on their respective instruments. Elijah’s bass yields rolling complex texture, while Casey is perhaps the best guitar player in town. Hands down, the guy is a ridiculous talent — evoking Trey Anastasio jazz/jam prowess one minute and a Ted Nugent-quality solo the next. In the end, the show’s highlights were inevitably a number of wicked instrumental segments, but even with the uneven rapping, Strut’s still one of the ablest groove purveyors around. In this case, a little less rap might just go a long way, too.
Score: On the too-dope-for-your-own-damn-good scale, Strut scores an Ozzy Osbourne: a textbook example of how too much dope, in all its many forms (including said rhymes), ain’t as good for the head as one might think.