No BS! Brass Band
Cat's Cradle Back Room, Carrboro
Friday, November 11, 2016
If I had looked away for another second, I probably would’ve missed it. From a raised balcony in Cat’s Cradle’s Back Room, I watched the No BS! Brass Band
coolly take the stage. The band’s leader, Reggie Pace, hopped up from within the crowd, pressed his lips to the trombone, and began to play. The crowd’s chatter ceased. No one made a sound. Then the drummer, Lance Koehler, let out an unholy scream. A few beats later, and the eight-person band joined in all at once. No introduction. No mic check. No warm-up. They just started to play—a truly no BS way to begin the show.
With various members dressed in button-ups, T-shirts, ragged jeans, and suit pants, the No BS! Brass Band is a hodgepodge of people, illustrating the city they hail from—Richmond. From its close proximity to Washington, D.C. and its position between New England and the South, Richmond has always been a place where crossroads meet: politically, socially, and, in this case, musically.
In the same way that brass music from New Orleans reflects the city’s defiant, festive culture, No BS! Brass plays tunes that mirror its home city. Reflecting the musical history of brass and the musical tastes of Richmond, this band fuses that Big Easy flair with hip-hop beats, Michael Jackson’s energy, and Coltrane’s slick tone.
From the beginning, drummer Koehler opened up with an off-beat, a style distinct of hip-hop but rarely present in brass bands. Coupled with the trombone’s staccato, Koehler's rhythm in "Run Around"
provided a near-perfect underpinning for the unrefined Southern voice of trombonist and singer Bryan Hooten unrefined Southern voice. In “Act Like You Know,” the band’s forthright rallying-call, Marcus Tenney’s voice spews raps with the grace of an ocean tide, ebbing and flowing, adding beats in a sea of music.
But nothing quite illustrated the band’s passion like when they covered Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean."
As joy across the faces onstage, however, it became easy to Zeppelin through the eyes of jazz, and watching Stefan Demetriadis gracefully dance while playing a tuba might be the most impressive thing I saw this week. The band replaced Jimmy Page's guitar riff with the smooth flow of three trombones, further polishing the classic rock song.
The crowd continued to stir as the ensemble dipped back into New Orleans rhythm with “3 AM Bounce.”
The song uses the same raw sound and tension seesaw of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,”
and fuses it with an action movie intensity. Trombonists, Pace, Hooten, and John Hulley bounced in unison while playing the song’s finale.
No BS!'s closing jam, a fiery take on Michael Jackson's "Thriller," was so emotive that it made me question why the inspiring MJ didn’t add a few trumpets in the background of his famed song. But the truly crafty moment was when the band strayed from Jackson’s original beat to a funky tune. This unexpected twist capped off the night, and rocked anyone standing still into a sway.
An evening with No BS! Brass could teach anyone a little more about Richmond. In the same way that New Orleans brass bands like Rebirth and The Soul Rebels strike at the heart of the constant struggles and festive releases of New Orleanians, No BS! Brass gives a panoramic view of Richmond’s diverse music. Free of all limitations, this brass band’s repertoire retains an artfully cultivated sound.