To paraphrase somebody 'r' other, reality makes strange bedfellows. Producer Adrian Sherwood has twiddled the knobs for some of the trippiest dub ever to emanate from the British Isles (African Headcharge, Creation Rebel, Prince Far I) and he's done production work for nominally more "pop" acts Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. And as hard for it might be to believe for anyone under 30, there was a trio of real musicians at the core of the earliest and most influential hip-hop records (Grandmaster Flash's "The Message," Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"): Keith LeBlanc, Doug Wimbish, and Skip McDonald on drums, bass, and guitar respectively. (They were also collectively known as Maffia when accompanying UK avant-funk-rocker Mark Stewart for a series of albums.) Together, in the 1980s, the above hepcats, along with singer Bernard Fowler (whose sung with James Blood Ulmer, Herb Alpert, the Rolling Stones, and Philip Glass) were united under the banner of Tackhead, with the aim of unifying hard funk, hard rock, hip-hop, reggae, dub and R&B. Alas, Tackhead did not set the world on fire -- but after seeing the reformed group perform at Chicago's Abbey Pub (w/ Sherwood at the mixing board), I came to an inescapable conclusion: The world in which we are forced to live is run by idiots -- narrow-minded, mad idiots.
The "opening act" for the night's festivities was Mr. Sherwood spinning and (re)mixing a selection of reggae, dub, and jungle discs -- with him, bass frequencies are lethal weapons. The bass went through every solid mass and did what it did: rattle, throb, and hum, as AS bend the heavily rhythmic, sculpted, and spaced sounds around us. Three musicians and a singer took the stage, and they through DOWN the deepest, most sinuous funk grooves I've heard since the glory days of Sly & the Family Stone and James Brown's JB's. And what made the whole thing such an intense trip -- aside from the players' top-notch musicianship, Fowler's deep-soul singing, and stirring, gospel-touched harmonies -- was the seamless and visceral fashion in which Sherwood molded/melded the group sound as a whole. It was virtually impossible to tell where the stage musicians left off and the contributions from the board-wizard began. Alas, the crowd was rather small -- wha' happen? -- but seriously devoted to what Tackhead were layin' down. Later this month, September 21, this lot will appear in a manifestation known as Little Axe, preserved in CD form, Champagne & Grits (Real World). The more of you that hear it, the more likely we shall truly be One Nation Under A Groove.