Scene & Herd - Whoomp!
Where'd it go?
Last week, I attended the opening night of Umoja, a South African music and dance extravaganza. If you don't need pasty-white Elton John or whiter-than-paste Paul Simon to get you interested in African stories and music, you'll love Umoja. The production's story is just a thin narrative used to connect music and dance numbers that represent various time periods in South Africa's musical history. Things start off with pounding tribal drums that eventually give way to soca, jazz, gospel and hip-hop over the course of the show. The dance numbers are well-choreographed and a lot of fun. And if thundering drums and harmonic vocals don't move your soul, perhaps you don't have one.
After the show, one of the co-creators appeared on stage and told the story of how she'd gotten tired of all the bored, angry youth in her hometown of Soweto stealing, drinking and doing drugs. So she decided to use their energy for something more productive. Nine years later, Umoja hit the road. I chatted with a few of the cast members at a meet-and-greet after the show, and their smiles and energy, even after dancing for some two hours, were contagious. Umoja is at the Atlanta Civic Center through April 30. (A few of the numbers feature bare breasts, so if you don't want nipples in your entertainment, even when appropriate in historical context, the Sunday matinee features less revealing costumes.)
I doubt there are many folks who remember the old location of MJQ under the Ponce de Leon Hotel. I went there a few times and found the place charming, sort of a flashback to high school house parties. But the novelty wore off quickly, and I doubted a new space would hold the same charm, so I never got around to going to the current MJQ location. Friday night, I finally made the effort and landed at the Drunken Unicorn a bit before midnight, only to find the headline act, Blame Game, already on stage. Since the room is all-ages, shows start (and end) early compared to other intown live music venues. Blame Game features a typical four-piece rock lineup. But in place of typical rock, the band does instrumental stuff that wanders all over the place with no chorus or melody to cling to (something more akin to noodly jazz). Personally, I find that style of music hellish, but I can recognize talent and skill when I see it. Despite the young faces, Blame Game sounds like seasoned veterans.</
The staff locked us out of the room around midnight so we headed to the other areas of the MJQ "complex." The larger of the two rooms featured dance music firmly rooted in hip-hop. But the room was so dim, the only thing you could see were the patrons leaning over the backlit bar and a few dim flashes of light around the dancefloor revealing bodies in motion. At least I think there were people on the dancefloor. My photos the next day revealed nothing but impenetrable black.</
In the smaller room, a DJ played groovy, funky, R&B-style tunes, good stuff if you prefer dance music that doesn't sound like a robotic automotive assembly line. The dancefloor was lit by perhaps one or two more 20-watt bulbs than the other room, but apparently the DJ even found that trickle of illumination too much and wore sunglasses while he spun records. I've seen this fashion mistake a lot lately and I have to say ... it's stupid. C'mon, show them pretty peepers, people! Otherwise I'll assume you're high, cross-eyed, came out on the losing end of a domestic dispute, or all of the above.
Sunday afternoon, I found myself at the Earl for Dunch, sort of like church for the hipster set: It's Sunday, it's early for many in the crowd and there's singing. There's also drinking, smoking, boisterous conversation, tattoos and cute waitresses delivering some of Atlanta's finest bar food. Now that's the kind of church I can believe in. This particular Sunday was the second day of "The Second Occurrence of the Last Annual Mullet Fest." The Danny Family entertained the dining room, kicking off with a guest vocalist, the lovely and talented Patty Danny, doing a fine version of the national anthem. The band moved on into the country — music, that is — and honky-tonk sounds that were perfect background music for a plate of hangover helper huevos. In a joking reference to the headline act, the Family threw in a lazy country version of a chorus or two of Tag Team's "Whoomp! There It Is."</
John, the Earl's owner, had his hair cut in a ragged mullet the night before. He stepped up to the mic that afternoon and stripped to reveal a PBR muscle shirt and cutoff jeans, fronting his band of Earl staffers (some in mullet wigs), calling themselves Tag Team. The band delivers a sound somewhere between the Stones and Grateful Dead with lyrics about drinking and, well, drinking. Fine motivation to build up that afternoon buzz so you can stave off the DT's for another day.</