in performance: dirty dozen brass band/chico fellini

Kirk Joseph (left) and Efrem Towns performed for Crave Lexington last night at Masterson Station Park.  Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

Kirk Joseph (left) and Efrem Towns performed for Crave Lexington last night at Masterson Station Park. Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

Crave Lexington couldn’t have chosen two more disparate acts to close out its first day at Masterson Station Park. Playing into sunset last night was New Orleans’ famed Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a favorite among local audiences that inches further away from its homeland heritage with every visit. Then gears shifted dramatically as Lexington’s own Chico Fellini mixed power pop, post punk, glam, psychedelia and more in its first formal stage outing in nearly five years.

The Dirty Dozen’s set was all sloppy fun that was far more concerned with retro funk and soul than native Crescent City grooves. Operating without tenor sax man Kevin Harris, which trimmed the band to a scant six members (The Dirty Half-Dozen?), the band placed the heavy lifting on trumpeter/flugelhornist Efrem Towns (who, in his more rambunctious moments, played both instruments simultaneously), baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis and trumpeter Gregory Davis.

The latter, on the band’s splendid Columbia albums of the’80s and ‘90s, was a prolific composer, fashioning often complex rhythms that expanded New Orleans jazz traditions. Last night’s show, though, was a loose – as in extremely loose – array of soul covers (“Superstition”), rootsy rumbles (“Lil’ Liza Jane”) and assorted jam vehicles that probably didn’t challenge the band the way Davis’ music did in the old days. “Use Your Brain,” delivered late in the night, was an exception and nicely approximated the joy and invention of vintage Dirty Dozen workouts. But even when rocking away in pure party mode, the Dirty Dozen offered an abundantly spirited soundtrack for a late summer Saturday night.

Emily Hagihara and Chris Dennison of Chico Fellini.

Emily Hagihara and Chris Dennison of Chico Fellini.

Despite its extended hiatus, Chico Fellini has lost none of its fighting form. The quartet played last night with a urgency and tightness that befitted a band that has never lost favor with (or interest in) stage work. Vocalist Chris Dennison still sang with remarkable drama and range, guitarist Duane Lundy continued to pilot tunes with efficient hooks and extended solos laden with psychedelia and even blues, Emily Hagihara remained the utility expert juggling duties on bass and percussion while regularly serving as a vocalist of regal beauty and drummer Brandon Judd kept all of the set pumping with a vitality that regularly revealed a preference for a playful backbeat.

The band’s original tunes, specifically “Electrolyte” (which highlighted Hagihara’s percussive colors) and “Hot” (where Dennison’s giddy range reflected the mood swings of a young David Byrne) were delivered with impressive clarity and drive. A selection of covers – the Iggy Pop/Kate Pierson convection “Candy” and, more robustly, a full tilt delivery of the David Bowie/Queen classic “Under Pressure,” rounded out Chico’s accomplished return to active service.

 



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