And what I loved about this party, in particular, was that it felt more like the part at the end of the night when only the closest friends have stuck around for one more drink/one more story.
The American soul group Durand Jones and the Indications, formed by college friends in Bloomington, Indiana, was welcomed back to Berlin as a part of their American Love Call tour. They are headed by vocalists Jones and Aaron Frazer, who also plays the drums, and is accompanied by Blake Rhein on the guitar, bassist Kyle Houpt, and keyboardist Steve Okonski. The five-piece, joined on stage by Jackie Coleman on the trumpet and Lynn Ligammari on the saxophone, has a tight sound, reminiscent of 70s soul with its funky basslines and vocals. It’s music for today that nevertheless pays proper homage to its roots – and yeah, it sounds damn smooth.
The Dip, the seven-piece ensemble from Seattle whose upbeat, debonair energy kicked off the night, had me swooning only moments into their first number. I was particularly impressed by their frontman, Tom Eddy, whose dulcet vocals were matched by the polish of the three-part brass section (trumpeter Brennan Carter, Levi Gillis on the tenor saxophone, and Evan Smith on the baritone saxophone). A highlight of The Dip’s performance, along with cutely choreographed ‘dips’, was that during each solo, whether drums or brass, the rest of the band completely dropped out, and isolating each part experimentally in that way was downright hypnotising.
The energy for Durand Jones and the Indications at the top was somewhat mellow – which I mean not as a piece of criticism, but rather to point out how steady and studied they are as an ensemble. Their energy crescendoed through the night so consistently that I didn’t even notice its building until the height of “Walk Away”, an explosive, longing love song nearly halfway into the set.
Part of what makes the group’s music so exciting is that they harness such a familiar retro sound to defy our expectations. They’ve flipped the way we romanticize Americana and the nation’s history on its head, and this modern take is fresh, hopeful. A lot of their inspiration comes from (of course) musicians like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, but their sound is also influenced by hip-hop, gospel and folk music – a blend that is uniquely American. This synthesis of genre allows the group to be more than a sum of their parts. Playing their recorded music at home, you’re reminded of something, but it’s not until hearing them live and seeing the group’s chemistry for yourself that the strength of this alchemy comes through. They’re beyond a throwback, beyond a tip-of-the-hat to the legends.
During a delightful instrumental number while Jones was offstage changing, Rhein brought in the iconic line from Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” (you know the one, it basically birthed hip-hop as we know it) and we had a chance to see how much fun they have jamming with each other.
(Here’s a link to their awesome Spotify playlist, “Indications’ Inspirations”.)
The set definitely included some heavy-hitting notes, too. Before beginning “Morning in America”, Frazer dedicated their performance to the victims of the last week’s shooting outside a synagogue in Halle, Germany with the heartfelt comment that “we’re all in it together”. The track, which opens their album, is among my favorites and was by far the most physical performance from The Indications, with a brilliant, shredding solo from Rhein. The lyrics of the song induce a kind of sentimentality set across the landscape of America, and yet, we are urged to tune in and hear what’s being sung. It addresses issues such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the nationwide opioid epidemic – we can’t use the excuse that we’re too busy tapping their toes to pay attention.
Of course, there is Jones himself, a natural, magnetic presence centerstage. His ecstatic dancing throughout the night was reminiscent of James Brown’s, at multiple points grabbing the mic stand and dropping to his knees. He was always in control, and any strain the band’s extensive touring has had on Jones’ voice only added to its authority. But the most compelling moments of his performance for me were always the most sincere, such as his steadfastness in “Long Way Home”, which has a very clear gospel influence (and incidentally features a very strong performance from Okonski).
Lido Berlin, with a pretty small, shallow stage relative to its capacity, was the perfect venue. We witnessed friends at play up close, almost as if we were flies on the wall of a garage band’s session. Each member of the Indications had a chance at the solo spotlight, including trumpeter Coleman. And with The Dip bringing out guests Jimmy James and Delvon Lamarr, the whole event really felt like a rotation of good friends. For the final encore, after the crowd cheered a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Okonski, I counted 15 people on the stage for a choral cover of “I Shall Be Released”. And with the spin of the enormous disco ball hanging over the venue, for a night, we were a part of the rotation, too.