Nucleus, Boom Boom Room, San Francisco- 7/15
The band is still sound checking when I walk in. The delightfully crusty old-timer working the door tells me theyve been done for awhile but keep hopping up to fine tune things. Even before the show proper its apparent that Nucleus possesses a youthful vigor and passion for the music that will be hard to resist. I am drawn out on a work night, a Monday of all things, because of an undying hope that I will hear something fresh, something new. Im here based only on the description of Nucleus music which is described as a mix of jazz, funk, latin, drum n bass, african and not a few other genres. If nothing else I figure that many styles in one blender is bound to produce a few interesting flavors.
Once a small crowd had filled in the tables & booths the band took the stage for their first set. Theres a silly kind of pit-of-the-stomach excitement for me the first time I hear any band play. Ill find myself holding my breath unconsciously, eyes trained like a bird-dog on the stage. As the four members gathered I reminded myself to exhale.
Nucleus consists of Piet Dalmolen on guitar & vocals, Peter Ciotti IV on drums, Matt Dickson on saxophone & vocals & percussion and Steve Webb on bass. For a quartet they pour out an astonishing palette of sounds. In talking with Peter before the show I hear that they arent afraid to make a song as crazy as possible. This is a philosophy I can get down with and their first tune exhibits this willingness to mess with structure. The first thing that grabs me is the hard, relentlessly tight drumming. The look on Peters face reminds me of old photos of a young Max Roach. His work on the skins has the quickness & strength of 50 bop. The avenues for jamming seem nearly endless as they work repeated patterns. Suddenly they break into sections that swing but swing with a modern intensity to it. They are clearly having the time of their lives up there.
Their sound brings to mind the more electric artists on the ECM label in the 70s. They share some of the beauty and dissonance that swirled together in albums by Terje Rypdal, Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek and even the less pastoral work of Oregon. Many of the Nucleus compositions I hear this night have a sweetness to them. Theres light & happiness in the notes and I appreciate that they dont fear the music being beautiful. All the effects layered onto their instruments give off the vibe of sunlight breaking through trees, small shafts of brightness punching through the darkness.
During Funston, a song inspired by a street in San Francisco, Steves bass catches my ear. His instrument dances with the other players. It is wonderfully limber and a striking counterpoint to the intense drumming. The tune has all the shimmery drip of Summer heat. Matt takes a free flight sax solo that conjures up happy images of Gerry Raffertys Baker Street and that songs ability to instantly transport me away on a warm breeze. When Piet unleashes a slinky slide guitar jam, Im both surprised and pleased. Totally unexpected but works well. As one of Nucleus own tunes says, were wandering down a road weve never been on.
For a time the only people on the dance floor in front of the stage are three women. They are utterly beautiful and free and I envy them more than words can say. I think about standing up and joining them but like many guys something without name keeps me planted in my seat. I feel vaguely ashamed for not letting the music really flow into my limbs.
Tired I see its after midnight when the 2nd set is about to begin. I think about slipping out despite how good the music is. Being practical and all that with work beckoning in a mere seven hours. Then the music starts.
Those that have stayed are ready to move and the dance floor begins to fill, each new body like sand dropping in an hourglass filling the space. There is glorious motion & smiles & sweaty glee. A senior citizen, 75 years if he was a day, makes his way out there and the hippie girls swarm him. Hes all over them like a Soul Train dancer and they dont seem to mind this amiable, dirty old man in the slightest. It isnt long before I set aside my distance and join in.
The flow of tunes is smoother in the second set. A groove has been found and they work it in tune after tune. Thoughts of departure disappear as I give my body to the music. Much of the set has a hypno-trance vibe similar to that worked by Sound Tribe Sector Nine or the Disco Biscuits. Except Nucleus pours something more human into the mix. Theirs is an organic sound that works better for me than either of those bands because it hasnt forgotten the rubbery bounce of classic funk on its way to the new thing. The addition of a second drummer, Tommy Stickman Fitzmorris, pushes the whole thang into a higher gear. Sweat pours from the dancers and every one seems far from tired even as our bodies ache. Close to 2 am they call it a night and the red curtain falls on another night at the Boom Boom.
What was clear as this show progressed was how the band fed off of the audience. Rarely have I seen it more clearly that the music in the jam scene is made by both musicians AND those that come to hear & dance. It is collaborative in the best sense of the word. When the room was moving to their music Nucleus played better, took more risks and pushed themselves harder. It was a reminder to me that every band starts somewhere before everyone knows their name. These bands need our support now on Mondays, Tuesdays or any other weeknight they secure a gig. One day Nucleus will be playing Fridays & Saturdays in a town near you. Their promise is huge. Right now they are really good. One day I suspect they will be great. As the seams in their long compositions begin to disappear the flow of the second set will arise right from the start of shows. But theyll get there a lot faster with a bunch of smiling faces standing right up front letting them know were listening. Check them out before some festival slot creates a big buzz. Enjoy the journey with them. I know I will.