NBFB, The Burren, Somerville, MA 4/8
What hooked me was the unflappable, unruffled ease of it all: Amherst, MA's No Bud for Bisson, better known as NBFB or "NiB FiB," has the hopelessly danceable groove thing down to a science. Tonight's show, for an enthusiastic, generously imbibing crowd as this sweaty little back room in Somerville's Davis Square, was the third time I'd had the pleasure in six months, and each time, this upstart quintet gets a little dirtier, a bit raunchier, a bit more loveably raffish and, seemingly, more assured of itself.
Funk and groove bands, especially in the Boston area or any city with a legitimate nexus of upstart music, form a crowded pool, so why do the basic tenets of effective, y' know, funk and groove, seem so dauntingly elusive sometimes? Answer: cause that sort of thing ain't nearly as simple as it may seem. "Groove" is a product of chemistry, which is in turn a product of individual chops, listening and certain intangibles that can be instantly pegged as fakes if they aren't 100 percent present.
That's how it used to be, anyway, and these days anyone brave enough to start a band with a funk foundation must contend not only with keeping those things in mind, but with avoiding the "formula" funk-isms that have long since permeated the music's original styles and left them shapeless messes, long having relieved those ridiculously supple licks and basslines that dripped from the hands of the Meters, Parliament/Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone of their hard-won purity and endless experimental possibilities. Newer bands blind themselves to the basics songs, playability, ensemble chemistry and end up funking their way right back into the walled-in box they came out of.
At present, NBFB has yet to jell a unique musical identity, but they've mastered so many of those crucial fundamentals in a comparatively short period that they will in good time be able attach meteoric gravitas to their specialized "space funk." And know that "space funk" is indeed the specialty of this house of players: where a lot of kindly instrumental but chemistry-deficient funk bands purport to have found the pocket between deep, grimy grooves and bouncy, often heady space flights, there's a lot more to chew on here than mere tension-and-release from the rhythm players bassist Dan Rehm and drummer Noah Bond — and meandering solos from the leads, who here include saxophonist and vocalist Bob Moriarty, guitarist Ron Peleg and keyboardist Darby Wolf. They licked those tendencies long ago.
It's a great time to be catching NBFB in concert they prowl the northeast corridor with regular abandon because the band itself is at a frustrating crossroads, during which support (pure, unvarnished fan enjoyment) and the ability to "click," will determine the continued strength of its resolve. It's long past the point of deciding whether they were going to make a serious run at the touring game, because by this time, they have three albums in the can, each more artistically successful and professional sounding than the last, they have a rigorous endorsement from the big leagues Soulive saxman and ubiquitous Boston area sit-in guest Sam Kininger can be counted among their fans and previous on-stage guests and the word of mouth machine has spread far enough that it isn't just friends, friends of friends and wander-intos that are ballasting their gradually expanding crowds.
Their originals, too, especially the tastily named "Ted Dancin'" and the hip hop-infused "Strictly Revisited," both offered tonight, are meaty and provide enough room for the soloing players to acquit themselves in un-cliched ways. Peleg leans heavy on sidewinding riffage his playing lands somewhere between the sinewy licks of Soulive's Eric Krasno and the way greasier stuff of a Leo Nocentelli and Moriarty knows how to paint with his horn, rarely, if ever, devolving into trilly blather or relegating himself to the runs and arpeggiation that scream only "Maceo" with no original twists. Wolf is the group's most invigorating improviser, able to snake organ and Moog melodies around thickets of rhythm section noise, instead of getting lost in shapeless series of blatty notes. Together, the band has enough homegrown tunes to support this musical intellect, including at least one legitimate failsafe, the mighty "Deep Analog," that closed tonight's show.
Obvious cover choices are a necessity at this stage of the game they draw non-believers in and keep both things moving and them dancing and NBFB's tonight ran the gamut from a pair of Zeppelin, "Ramble On" in the first set and "What Is and What Should Never Be" in the second, to a Sublime ("Badfish," which bled effectively into "Ramble"), a Stevie Wonder ("Superstition"), and an earnest, riveting take on one of the true bulwarks of any complete fusion-tinged funk band's repertoire, Grant Green's "The Windjammer," the latter abetted with a second saxophonist, tenor man guest Dan Friedman, and laced with a well-placed quote from Phish's "Bathtub Gin."
Even more interesting was a straight-up Soulive shout out one of the band's most proudly pronounced influences in which Peleg and Moriarty left the stage and the remaining keyboard trio took apart "Aladdin" to close the first set. This is the direction toward which NBFB should nod more often: their chemistry is such and their originals strong enough that they're quickly outgrowing the safety of playing a song like "What Is and What Should Never Be" straight. It's fun as hell, yea, but I found myself itching, say, for a round of the group's well-wrought take on Jeff Beck's "Led Boots," or more Grant Green, or, if we're staying on the Zeppelin, a more elastic take on "What Is" with a lot more of the group's own jammy stink on it. Seemingly disparate Led Zeppelin songs are beloved by funk bands for a reason, and this group has every reason to take them far out of the box and dirty them up.