Philadelphia psych-rockers and Citrus City alumni Crumb drew a full house at The Broadberry and kicked off their latest tour with an excellent set that warmed the place up on a cool night. Kieran Cleary brings us the details.
On Friday, October 15, art rock took over the Broadberry in a sold-out performance. On my walk over to Broad from parking on Monument (because parking was crowded in the city despite the quiet sidewalks), I marched up a tree-lined cross street, Mulberry St. Chanting in my head, “And to think! That it happened on…” I saw a tree with a black and white flier with an abstract mandala and below, in meekish print, smallish and squarish – have you experienced something that disturbed you that you don’t understand? Call this anonymous number and leave a message telling your story.
I’m going to let that set the tone for my first impressions of Crumb and their opening act, Duendita, who traveled from New York to RVA for the show. Because, if I had been disturbed by an experience, these musicians would have brought me comfort and assurance. With musical and sometimes strange poetic phrases building up to great moment and ending abruptly, the opening performance by Duendita and the first few songs by Crumb felt like shuffling through a stack of photos that all bring a lump to your throat.
Duendita, an electronic duo, suffused the room with optimism during their opening set. The female lead singer’s vocals were effortlessly clear and round. Her message wound down to a statement about about “my body” that felt intimate; self-loving and loved. Her counterpart’s vocal contributions were all prerecorded. He seemed like someone who couldn’t speak, using only his buttons to tell the singer how he felt. The random phrases were in such a sweet Stephen Hawking voice, tapping into the calm wonder of the universe. He smiled as he played them, matching her spontaneous, beautiful song.
Crumb’s set, and the tour promoting their new album Ice Melt, kicked off with mention of rain, and going along with whatever the weather brings. The lead singer’s breezy and lilting vocals were mixed with an icy determination, provoking us to think. Mid-way through the performance, with the repetition of a phrase “I’ve just got this feeling,” my thoughts melted into the gentle beauty of the music, and I wasn’t afraid of being dissatisfied with the world or wanting change. For the first half of the set, I felt like musical themes were gently bumping up against each other with the slow magnitude of arctic ice floes, and I, the listener, was being compelled, gently yet heavily, making small hops from one to another on slushy, rumbling but solid footing.
Halfway through their moving set, Crumb lead singer Lila Bramani announced to cheers that this was the band’s first live performance in two years. Their tour is huge. In brief, they are southbound, but will be back at 9:30 Club in D.C. in November. They will perform in California at a festival headlined by War on Drugs, and overseas in Germany and France.
The Broadberry offers reservations for a couple of round bartop tables cozied against a wall behind the sound booth. Standing next to these sold tables, and hearing some of Crumb’s mellower, lilting numbers, I wanted to be under an awning at a Paris café, swaying with the trailing, repetitive half-melodies, hearing snare rain from the reserved jazz-flair of drums performed by Jonathan Gilad…
Or at least on the cobblestone streets of Shockoe Bottom, maybe two Marches ago, when restaurants collaborated, closed their alleys and set up twinkle-lit outdoor café-style dining (pop-up Paris!). Or maybe five decades ago when couples still dominated the dance floors. I was just beginning to think social distancing is really a thing — “Gone are the days of packed crowds and crammed festivals! Give me quiet romance!” — when the band broke the siren spell by introducing, just barely, rumblings of a hard rock breakdown, and interludes of heavy improv jam.
Gilad’s bass drum sometimes picked up on and amplified the heavy rhythm bass guitarist Jesse Brotter played all night. At one point, he too showed his jazz licks. Bramani’s vocals, though they set the tone for the whole performance, didn’t always dominate. Solos from Bri Aronow, who plays synth, keyboard, and saxophone, elicited screaming cheers from the mostly mellow crowd. At one point, early on, I thought he played trumpet, too. Many nearly reed-snapping screams issued from an instrument that never sounded tortured, just joyful. Quieter synth solos sounded like music box xylophone and steel drums, enhancing the cool rainy aura of the performance. The Broadberry’s blooming metal psychedelic daisies onstage also fit Crumb’s feel very well.
Why was I so inspired to see change in the world around me? Maybe it was the energy of a tour kick-off. Maybe the ice melt theme. But it suffused everything, even after the show ended. When I was driving home along Monument Avenue, I could almost hear the stained plinth of Robert E Lee insisting to no one in the darkness: “’tis but a scratch!”
Top Photo: Crumb at the Broadberry, by Kieran Cleary.