A stately stuffed zebra proudly greeted guests from the front of the stage as they entered Funk ‘N Waffles Downtown Saturday Oct. 24. The zebra, fondly known as Uncle Stremnf, abided as the reigning mascot for electro-jam band The New Daze, who opened for progressive soul group After Funk. Uncle Stremnf gazed longingly into the crowd, his soft muzzle begging to be pet by those dancing near the stage. A few patrons obliged, feeding into the mystique of Uncle Stremnf’s presence.
Though entertaining, perhaps silly to many, band members Max Flansburg (guitar/vocals), Jamie Knittel (bass/vocals), Steve Graff (drums) and Erik Hoffman (keys) take Uncle Stremnf’s existence very seriously. They harbor as much affection for their equine affiliate as they do for eccentrically accessorizing. Knittel dapperly sported a pair of vintage 100% acrylic grey plaid trousers he’d purchased at a thrift shop for a mere six dollars. Though a bit baggy, he paired the look with an equally loose-fitting grey beanie that would periodically either fall over his left eye or slide off the back of his head depending on the trajectory of head thrashing. Hoffman opted to rock a gold medallion imprinted with a cheesy smiley face. The bling nicely complemented his thick mustache that might at any moment take on a life of its own and flutter right off his face.
While expressive in their dress, the members of The New Daze were also extremely emotive in their musicianship. Flansburg and Knittel, equipped with instruments affording them greater mobility, were free to bounce around and animate their guitar and bass playing. Flansburg frequently flaunted a charming toothy grin, jumping up and down in place as he played. His buoyant expression was counterbalanced by Knittel’s straight-faced, almost scowling visage. With feet spread apart, he took on a wide, commanding stance, body rocking side-to-side rather than mirroring Flansburg’s vertical movement.
Speaking of fancy moves, a quick glance through the crowd revealed the rather zebra-like persona of a woman dressed in black and white striped leggings and matching tank top. With arms outstretched in front of her, they danced up and down to the music like a rearing horse might paw the air. Emulating her inner zebra, she danced on behalf of Uncle Stremnf, whose decidedly inanimate disposition prevented him from joining in.
The New Daze performed sequences seeking to take listeners on a journey, drifting between funk, jazz and experimental rock. Delivering a high energy set from the start, the crowd wasted no time breaking into a swell of swaying and head bobbing. The band’s last three songs featured the sexy saxophone playing of Robert Araujo, who added a warm dimension to their sound. Knittel thanked him on stage, perfectly demonstrating the band’s playful demeanor by stating sarcastically, “Thanks for coming here instead of the Nickelback concert.”
After Funk perpetuated a playfulness, with Yanick Allwood (keys/vocals), Jaime Rosenberg (drums), Justin Bontje (bass) and Phil Tessis (guitar) flashing an array of overstated facial expressions and synchronized dance moves. The band members instantly resigned themselves to lovable dork mode. They matched their efforts in humor to entertain the surprisingly thinned out crowd by serving up a musical feast of progressive techno funk. They soldiered through a mix of original songs including those off their recently released ‘Til the Sun Comes Up, along with some old school funk covers.
Throughout the set, Allwood repeatedly contorted his face into looks of seemingly utter confusion, staring off at the ceiling while furiously tapping away at the keys. Despite his confused looks, the sounds he produced made it clear he knew exactly what he was doing: which was communicating with aliens. Tessis’ animated smirks and grimaces often seemed in direct response to either his own wicked guitar playing or Allwood’s key work, appearing to be in near constant bewilderment at the magic developing on stage.
Adding to the crisp, golden soufflé of sound were Allwood’s savory soulful vocals. Opening their performance with an uptempo rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” set the stage for what drives their inspiration.
During a cover of Parliament’s “I Call My Baby Pussy Cat,” Bontje snapped a string in his furious bass picking. Knittel of The New Daze was quick to the rescue, offering his own bass to Bontje from the side of the stage. Bontje accepted the act of camaraderie with an appreciative nod, waiting until the end of the song to switch instruments.
Towards the end of the set, Rosenberg embarked on a heart rattling drum solo, momentarily vanquishing his bandmate’s worthiness to remain on stage. Allwood recoiled to the stage steps, staring back in appreciation and shaking his head in disbelief. Tessis walked off stage altogether, guitar in hand to grab a beer before the end of the solo. Their overplayed actions added an element of comedy to the obvious respect they have for each other as musicians. Before ending their set Allwood made sure to give a shout out to their opener, exclaiming, “Bass sponsored by The New Daze,” once again illustrating the sense of mutual support and companionship prevalent throughout the evening.