The Codetalkers, Cary Street CafRichmond, VA 3/5
The Codetalkers are experts at their craft. But while each musician knows his instrument’s ins and outs, the group's focus is on the immediacy and the urgency of the music. What matters most is intention. Of no exception to this philosophy was the evening of March 5 at Cary Street Cafn Richmond, Virginia. The Codetalkers brought their effusive rock and roll funk to the small, packed venue, selling out another show.
As they ripped into “Beggin” from their album Dee-Lux Uh-dish-un, the quick guitar fingering and sumptuous vocals of Bobby Lee Rodgers led the group in their signature funk-rockabilly bedlam style. They fused blues with high-energy rocking next in “Sword Crosser.” Upright bassist Ted “Thing” Pecchio busted out a thick solo, artfully constructing a low end mini-jam. He manipulated the richness of the sound into a simple, ingenious musical paragraph. The group melted into their next tune, “Time is Free,” as Colonel Bruce Hampton took center stage. Sitting at his pedal steel, Hampton wailed out the lyrics to the Aquarium Rescue Unit standard with bluesy gusto and the undeniable Colonel fashion. The band went pianissimo, barely touching their instruments yet still conveying a layered manifold.
The notes began on Rodgers’ guitar for “Lima,” a song with a salsa feel and a rocking flavor. Rodgers went to the microphone and scatted in sync with his guitar, a la Oteil Burbridge. Pecchio and drummer Tyler Greenwell barely touched their instruments, going into a delicate, muted duet jam. Their sound folded into a Caribbean sound infused with a rhythm echoing street trashcan and bucket jamming. The others joined in, creating the first frenzy of the night. People tried to keep up the rhythm with their dancing. Things slowed down, and Pecchio began telling a story and the unmistakable bass-line for “Turn on Your Lovelight.” They fooled us, however, as the band began “Isles of Langerhan.” Hampton sang as Rodgers effortlessly floated over his strings. His fingers were the most relaxed fingers I had seen, impeccably reaching every note whilst peering over his glasses at the raging crowd. His sound was carefully constructed yet free-flowing. The band went back into “Turn On Your Lovelight,” a Grateful Dead standard. Greenwell remained the backbone of the groove, but he particularly reminded me of Max Weinberg’s upbeat, effortless flow in this groove. The boys played with some funky fervor until they announced that they would return to the stage in fifteen minutes.
A moveable bass line and harmonic guitar strumming began the next set with “Saved By the Same Thing.” Perhaps the most exciting uppity blues song I have ever heard, “Saved” took the crowd places it was not expecting. Its swagger was unparalleled, and its rhythm was replete with funk. “Miss Hawaii” came next, a song from their first album. With cool Pacific Island swaying and a funk foundation, the new tune progressed as though an old standard. The moment was noticeably a crowd favorite.
Part of what defines the Codetalkers is their sense of humor. Amidst stories, shouting, and stage banter, the guys make the crowd feel a part of what happens on stage. “Outer Space” began in a session of humor, with a background of soul and funk. Rodgers led the others into a tumultuous jam, which I named “the depths of hell.” They brought everyone back to purgatory; then they exacted the audience into a broken record dance frenzy. Then the waves of sound began, and Pecchio yelled, “Someone call a paramedic!” The waves turned into alien, and Hampton began singing the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Complete chaos with a clear direction ensued. They quickly went into “LA Phil,” a song I remarked as Hasidic blues, before beginning “Something Wrong” co-written by Rodgers and Hampton. With Pecchio on bells, Hampton on vocals, and Rodgers on “trombone,” and the Falcon (Greenwell) holding down the fort, they performed so that those who lacked standing room were dancing in their seats. “Blow My Brains” came next, a song written by Greenwell. It returned the present to a general groove, but then they entered into a heavy metal-esque vibe, as each was literally shredding. Next, Hampton led everyone into “I’m So Glad,” a Skip James cover that began with the basic bones of the song and filled its way out into their layered style. They eventually went into a nasty progression, with Hampton very precise with his slide. He sang the refrain a capella then walked off the stage. The remaining three went into “Plate Hot,” a thick samba that kept the energy level at its peak.
The crowd begged for an encore after they left the stage, and the three returned for two treats. They first ran through “Speedway,” a spectacular song from their upcoming album. “Ike Stubblefield” came next, and who wouldn’t want to be like Ike? Named after the organist with whom they frequently play, the song funked out the room and made everyone want a bird named Stanley. In essence, the Codetalkers pulled the whole venue together into their groove, striving for the current and the immediate. Those values equal an amazing live experience driven by the funk of the room.