Blindsided in Buffalo: Turkuaz and Playonbrother Pack a Heavy One-Two Punch

Being blindsided usually means you’ve been attacked or hit when you’re vulnerable or uninformed. In the case of sports, it’s used in football when a quarterback is hit from behind when he can’t see the guy coming. Just like the quarterback, sometimes you have a feeling or inclination that said hit is coming, and yet you still can’t avoid it. That was the case this past weekend when Turkuaz and Playonbrother rolled into Buffalo for a show at Nietzsche’s. The combination of the two packed a heavy enough punch Friday night that nobody in the crowd, including myself, was sure what hit them when all was said and done.

Alan Evans' Funk Face
Alan Evans’ Funk Face

In typical fashion, Nietzsche’s began to get cozy as the start of the show approached and everyone was laughing and having a beer, unaware of what was about to go down. Playonbrother took to the stage around 10:30pm to kick things off. Now the band was just recently in town for a show on Black Friday, but there was still a lot of people who hadn’t seen them judging by the casual conversations throughout the crowd that night. As Alan Evans, Danny Mayer, and Beau Sasser walked up the steps in the front of the stage, it was time, and they planned to get things going right away with the late start. The band kicked off their set with “They Call Me Velvet,” blasting into the heavy beat and forcing everyone who wasn’t already near the stage to pack in and pay attention. Back in November, Sasser had an issue with his amp, but that was obviously fixed as the bass from his Hammond was the fattest sound I’ve ever heard coming from him. Adding to the infectious sound coming from the stage was Mayer’s syncopated riffs playing off of Evans’ hard-hitting beats. We wouldn’t know it until after the show, but these three guys somehow managed to make just as much noise as the nine that would succeed them. Throughout the entire night, I had my funk face on, scrunched up from how well these guys played.

After the first song wrapped up, Alan Evans graciously played host to his hometown and introduced his bandmates before letting everyone know who he was. One of the early highlights was a Frank Zappa cover the guys did in “Easy Meat.” Beau Sasser plays in a Zappa cover band known as The Z3, so it’s obvious where this one came from. What wouldn’t be obvious just seeing this in writing was how dirty and heavy these guys played this song. They might be generally classified as funk, but the commanding beat by Evans mixed with the heavy riffing of Mayer and Sasser took everyone by surprise; this was the first blindsided moment of the night. The song was darker and heavier than just about anything I’ve ever heard from them. Evans played at times like he had something against his drums, hitting harder and harder as the song progressed. One of their new songs, “Nothing to Say,” was also an easy favorite from their set. During this one, Sasser took the lead, showcasing his abilities on the Hammond organ. His Leslie speaker was spinning out the hottest licks all night, but on this song in particular, he took us on the funkiest of space odysseys with the throttle broken from being pushed too far forward. The band closed their set with “Cosmic Hazel Dust,” a personal favorite and song that sums up their sound and direction. After ripping into the first parts of the song, the band segued into a trance-like section where Sasser’s droney bass added the perfect texture to the funk-laden beat of Evans. In front of it all was Mayer’s searing wah tone coming from his guitar as he used his instrument as a vehicle for expression. With eyes closed, Mayer took one of the more memorable solos of the night and left the crowd begging for more. While it was Evans first time opening in his hometown in quite sometime, the band took the slot and proceeded to hit the crowd early and hard, setting up Turkuaz who would take the stage next.

Set List: They Call Me Velvet, Charlie Brown, Easy Meat, Ain’t No, Nothing to Say, Only One, Buffalo, Sunshine of Your Love, Cosmic Hazel Dust

Danny Mayer of Playonbrother
Danny Mayer of Playonbrother

Once Playonbrother’s gear was cleared, there was finally room for Turkuaz to take the stage. The nine-piece band from Brooklyn is usually tight no matter where they play, but with the smaller stage of Nietzsche’s, the only thing more cramped was the dance floor. The horns that set off the opening of their set were a clear indicator of how the night was going to go – intensely fast and tightly synched. The first song, “Chatte Lunatique,” went blasting forward while guitarist Craig Brodhead tried to keep pace on his first solo. The thump of Taylor Shell’s bass was the front car of this race, setting the pace alongside drummer Michael Angelo Carubba. The ladies of Turkuaz, Geneva Williams and Sammi Garett, took to the stage with tambourines in hand to close out the opening song. The look on everyone’s face at the first stop in the action said it all – “what the hell just hit me?”

To say these guys (and gals) are talented would be selling them short. As you can imagine, a nine-piece band has an enormous sound, but it’s not just nine instruments/voices, as most of the members pull double duty. Craig Brodhead plays guitar and synths, Joshua Schwartz plays saxophone, sings, and adds percussion, Chris Brouwers plays the trumpet and keyboards, and both of the Turkuaz girls add vocals and the tambourine. It doesn’t even stop there as the entire band has coordinated several dance moves, in complete synchronization, during a few of their songs which only adds to their outpouring of energy. The nine add so much that, unless you listen intently on one person, it’s tough to even distinguish where a particular sound is coming from. Drummer Michael Angelo Carubba was visually buried behind everyone, but still managed to stick out with his excellent percussion work, keeping the other eight in line. The self-proclaimed funk army is truly just that!

Throughout their entire set, the band would simply not let up. If the band was in the driver seat, then they were stomping on the gas and taking everyone in attendance for a mandatory ride; the band was musically relentless. It’s amazing how tight the band remained given the tenacity and tempo of their music. Regardless, you could tell they were doing something right as the crowd was packed from front to back and everyone was getting down.

Greg Sanderson ripping away on the sax
Greg Sanderson ripping away on the sax

One highlight of their set, and proving how closely knit these two bands had become over the course of this tour, was when Beau Sasser hopped the railing and jumped on stage for an impromptu sit in. He took over Craig Brodhead’s keyboard and his synthy slithering mixed well with Turkuaz’s deep funk. I’m not sure how Beau fit with everyone up there, but you could clearly see the camaraderie and friendship that was forged as everyone was having a great time.

The band closed with “Shape,” and you could literally feel the ground shaking below your feet. With the entire band jumping in unison, the crowd followed suit for the peak of the performance. The final bass and guitar showdown brought a funky blues solo to close out an incredible night of music. As they filed off the stage, one by one, the crowd beckoned for more. Lucky for us, the band appeased with an unscripted, off-the-cuff encore of “Monkey Fingers” to keep the Friday night party going. As the night officially wrapped up, there was a collective gasp for air as it had literally been knocked out of the crowd. I had never seen Turkuaz up until this point and I can say that they came out of nowhere and blew me away. Thankfully for Western New York, the band is slated to come back this Fall for the Night Lights Fall Music Festival.

Set List: JB Intro, Chatte Lunatique, Coast to Coast, Bubba Slide, Murder Face, Night Swimming, M’Lady, Tiptoe, Snap Your Fingers, It’s Hard, Honky Tonk Women, I’ve Got a Feeling, Back to Normal, 20 Dollar Bill, The Shape I’m In

Encore: Monkey Fingers

 

Photos by Thomas Sgroi