The Yohimbe Brothers, The Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR- 10/15
Trying to describe the Yohimbe Brothers is a little bit like trying to describe the rush of sky diving. Some things just can’t be explained and can only be experienced first hand. The Yohimbe Brothers definitely fall into this category. The main element to their sound is percussive, with DJ Logic at the turntables, Deantoni Parks on drums, and Jared Nickerson on bass all helping to drive the sound forward. This is not “sit quietly and watch music,” this is a full throttle danceable frenzy of sound. If you are looking for songs with a basic structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse chorus, look elsewhere. And while many folks may not yet be open to dipping into the hip-hop or rap influences, this is a nice way to ease in. Yes there is a DJ, electronica, and even some beat-boxing involved here, but there’s also Vernon Reid on guitar.
I walked into the Aladdin Theater and bought a Widmer’s Brother Winternacht Ale (I wondered why they had winter beer at the beginning of Fall, too), then headed inside for the show. DJ Logic played an opening set by himself. He was on the right hand side of the stage and had his turntables set up in front of him and a crate or two of records by his side. He was mixing some danceable beats with some recognizable tune samples. The Iko-Iko snippet he used reminded me that Logic is basically a full-time member of Ratdog now. The large theater was pretty empty during this set, with only a few token dancers of which to speak. Most of the silhouetted heads in the seats in front of me were bopping up and down to the beats, however. Eventually, a woman came out and tapped DJ Logic on the shoulder to let him know the main act was ready.
After a short break, the Yohimbe Brothers took the stage. DJ Logic looked out into the crowd to see most of the people sitting, and he told everyone to come up front. They did. In five minutes, the dance area directly in front of the stage was filled up with fifty to seventy five people. What happened exactly after that is somewhat unclear. There were little in the ways of songs, but the band stopped playing momentarily after each sound barrage and usually Vernon Reid spoke a little bit, thanking us mostly. The music was made up of fast grooves with samples, computer generated sounds, keyboard solos, and guitar solos. They slowed down a little here and there, but the beat was never so slow that dancing had to cease.
DJ Logic was on stage right. He was behind a large table where his turntables sat. From the floor it was impossible to see exactly what he was doing, so I wasn’t really sure what sounds I could attribute to him. To his right was bass player Jared Nickerson, fully pimped out in pale orange pants and a matching funky little orange hat. He laid low in the back for the show, but was a major part of the band’s sound. While his playing was not flashy, his tone was full and rich and he held down a solid groove with a deep pocket. Drummer Deantoni Parks was set up just behind Jared with a minimal drum set. He had only a snare drum, a high hat cymbal, a crash cymbal, and a bass drum but he played like a man possessed. His rapid beats were better than anything that could have been computer generated.
Latasha Diggs was set up just in front of the rhythm section and served as the main vocalist for the band. Her singing was anything but traditional, however. She sang high melodies or emitted chattered screechy yodeling, asserting her vocals as a major part of this band’s sound. Only snippets here and there were actual audible words. Her stage presence was almost soothing, however, as she smiled and swayed back and forth in the midst of this chaos of sound. She also had a little computer pad that was mounted on a stand in front of her and could add computer enhancements to her voice which helped to make things get pretty weird. Exuding sensuality with her vocals and samples of moaning women, Latasha made the thought of using Yohimbe root (natural Viagra) seem highly unnecessary. Keyboardist/Sound Sculptor Leon Grunbaum was set up on the left side of the stage, but just behind Vernon Reid. This guy was trippy! He had disheveled purple hair and a red shirt with big white polka dots. He almost looked like a member of an 80’s British pop band. He had a Korg organ and also played a little mouth keyboard occasionally. There was a small white computer contraption that he wore around his waist, and this made some of the strangest sounds of the evening. Finally, Vernon Reid, with dreads dangling in his face, played guitar in the front of stage left. But not just a guitar. His guitar ran through several “boxes” that were mounted on a stand in front of him. They seemed bigger than your average wah wah pedal, and I think they were helping to heavily synthesize his guitar. Most of his leads sounded like something from another planet. Sometimes his fingers flew across the fret board at lightning speed for thunderously loud leads, and other times he would sit back and help with subtle little licks and nuances.
The one aspect of the show I could have done without was when Redrum from Wu-Tang came out to do some beat-boxing and rapping. I am not a huge fan of hip-hop and rap, but the guy obviously had some skills. The first time he came out he did mostly just beat-boxing and he was really good at it. He wore full hip-hop gear with a baggy t-shirt, baggy pants that almost came down to his knees, and a visor that sat on his head skewed sideways. My problem was when he tried to "work" the relatively small crowd. The people attending were interested in taking in the whole experience more than waving hands in the air like they just don't care and chanting "OH!!" But, again, this made up only a small part of the show.
I suggest crossing musical boundaries to take in this truly improvisational melding of different styles of music. It’s a little bit jam, a little bit rap, a little bit electronica, a little bit funk, and a little bit soul. While danceable, the sound can be heavy at times, so this is not music for the faint of heart. It’s great to see bands really trying something new and pushing the envelope. If you don’t see one of the Yohimbe Brothers genre busting performances first hand, you’ll never truly know what you missed. As the show ended, Vernon informed us that we are all now Yohimbe cousins. I’m proud to be member of this freaky family.