The Freaks Ball (Metzgerville & Coxygen), Coda, NYC- 1/21
NYC ROLL-TOP: Freaks and Happenstance
Sometimes, it's really nobody's fault. Sometimes, there are just nights where it doesn't happen. That the not-happening happened on the night of the Freaks Ball — the annual jam/drink-off presented by the Manhattan-centric Yahoo group that launched Robert Randolph — was unfortunate. But, as has been said: it happens. Besides, maybe they were due. It didn't spoil a lovely night, however. The fifth installment of the Freaks Ball was held at Coda, the decidedly midtown club that — thanks to new bookers — recently hepped themselves to the hippie jamz (and seem to be doing a pretty chill job of it).
A no-bullshit answer to a post-Wetlands New York, the Freaks have been a dependable host to informal musical pairings for some time. The suspects this year, alongside Freak locals Secret Government, were a not-unusual crew, billed (one night only, maaaan!) as Metzgerville and Coxygen. The former were led by RANA guitarist-at-large Scott Metzger, grouped with longtime drummer Ryan Thornton, Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz, and former Fat Mama vibraphonist Kevin Kendricks. The latter were The Duo alongside Critters Buggin saxophonist Skerik and vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon. That there would be cross-pollination between the two "bands" seemed a given. That there wasn't is silly. So it went.
Before that, though, Metzgerville (as it happens) happened quite well. Thornton's already-sympathetic indie swing (sharpened by duty with Sam Champion) meshed warmly with Dreiwitz's brilliantly McCartney-touched basslines. Coupled with Metzger's inquisitively over-the-top soloing, it was Kendricks that made the band distinct over their too-short set. Making a left turn out of "Go Home Hippie" Metzger's recent self-aware favorite, the quartet sailed into a jam focused by Kendricks' two or three note patterns. The vibraphone cut crystalline flurries through the muck of the club chatter, sounding bright and immediate.
By contrast, Coxygen felt rudderless. Mixing Duoisms with Zeppelin riffs, Miles quotes with distortion, the quartet propelled themselves forward. None of the four musicians performed poorly. Sir Joe Russo's drumming was knight-worthy and Marco Benevento's analog keyboards grooved pleasantly, though maybe without some of his usual invention. Dillon seemed to play more percussion than vibraphone (too bad), and Skerik — whose gimmick is to play crazily and eventually scream into his sax microphone — played crazily and eventually screamed into his sax microphone.
Unlike the Minutemen, Coxygen didn't jam econo. They jammed sludge metal. They jammed atmosphere. Dillon and Russo built up massive rhythms, but rarely pushed them over the edge, too much groove and rarely enough content. Around two hours into their set, when I realized that no sit-ins would be happening, I decided to leave, knowing that I could spend the train ride home imagining Coxygen continuing, dependably unchanged, for sometime yet, possibly until after I slept and awoke the next afternoon. Before I could get my coat, though, the music stopped and Skerik made an announcement: the band would be taking a setbreak and returning shortly. After that, I knew I wouldn't have to imagine it. I would know it for sure.
Jesse Jarnow subscribed to the NYC-Freaks list several years ago while researching a story on Robert Randolph. Nobody has yet thrown him off. He blogs at wunderkammern27.com.