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Bitchin’ Brew

By Josh Potter

The Macpodz

Red Square, Sept. 4

It’s only natural, after cycling through new wave, postpunk, and grunge these past few years, that the hermeneutic spiral should deliver us back to the mid-’90s right . . . about . . . now. The time has, indeed, come for cosmically conscious groove bands to (again) get their proper due, and the Macpodz have taken it upon themselves to win back syncopation from the dark place it’s been pushed off to by the tight-slacked, flatfooted apologists of the late-’80s.

The Ann Arbor, Mich., quintet dub their sound “disco-bebop,” but it sounds a lot like New England 10 years back, namely the Moog-heavy and grossly underappreciated Percy Hill. The Macpodz are a dance band in the truest sense: Almost everyone onstage last Thursday took their turn on the mic, but the whole ensemble seemed to balance on Brennan Andes’ airtight bass lines. An ain’t-nothin’-but-a-party mentality underscored the two-set show, moving bodies first before launching into adventurous instrumental work. While most bands of their ilk rely on often-gratuitous guitar slinging, the Macpodz lean on a trumpet player well-versed in ’70s Miles Davis. It was clear, however, when keyboardist Jesse Clayton took a solo, that the band owe far more to Herbie Hancock’s brand of exploratory funk than they do Davis’. Tight disco grooves gave way to frenetic interpolations where alternate time signatures were suggested against the 4/4 pulse.

Despite a penchant for improvisation, Macpodz know what they do well and stick to it. Never did they jam into ethereal ambiguity. Instead, each tune kept its feet electric-sliding across the floor. At their best, knowingly sleazy shuffles literally had the crowd doing the worm. Some tunes went more the way of Philly griddle-funk, with none-too-timid forays into falsettoland. It was here that the band seemed to have more in common with white soul artists like Jamie Lidell than the bands Macpodz performed with the prior weekend at moe.down. But in a single turn, they dropped a straight Afro-Cuban tumbao to take their place with the likes of Mongo Santamaria.

As the night went on, the percussionist played a beat-box rendition of the Inspector Gadget theme through a flute, and a dirty rendition of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” gave rise to a good old-fashioned soul-train on the dance floor. Amid all the boogaloo and break-dancing, one woman took advantage of the moment to glissade in on a set of wheels, and effectively turned the party into a roller disco.

Whether they were nodding to New England bands of the ’90s or fusion bands of the ’70s (or the latter by way of the former), Macpodz undoubtedly were situated presently in the pocket. It’s lucky too, because in the game they play, it either works or it doesn’t. (Unlike the rock game, where posture often trumps musicianship.) The dance floor draws consensus, and Thursday night, the verdict was unanimous.

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