REVIEW OF A LIVE SHOW
Last Friday night, the gods of funk, jazz and calypso were pleased as Pawleys Island band Ten Toes Up opened up their set at Apple Annie’s with the sweet whine of a harmonica layered over a majestic bass line and a crooning guitar.
With the next song, Joshua Gregory, the harmonica player, switched to a percussion set complete with congas, timbales and snares. This is in addition to a full drum set manned by Adam Miller. Up front on the bass is Charles Freeman and on guitar and lead vocals is B.J. Craven.
The sound is something like a jam band, something like a jazz quartet and something like a rhythmic heartbeat booming from the next room.
Psycho-billy country riffs and slick bass lines
That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with music.
The song “Summertime” doesn’t even sound like it was written in modern times. The harmonization, bass line and lyrics feel like they emerged from the late ’60s.
The ethic of the band runs between party rock and jam music, often in a single song. For “Don’t You Realize,” Craven lays down his electric for a lap slide that bellows out deep psycho-billy country riffs, the bass lays down a slick line that moves up and down the fretboard invoking styles from jazz, blues and funk to get the message across, while the drums and percussion become an unwielding force that pushes the song ahead like a train zooming through the center of downtown Florence.
More ’80s than the ’80s
Although most of their set is composed of originals, Ten Toes dips into a wide variety of music when they do covers, a list made up of ’60s folk combined with modern hip hop, combined with ’70s funk and ’80s alternative rock. Add the group’s unique set-up of bass, guitar and two drummers, and their covers become creative interpretations.
“We always have our own take on what we play just because of our instrumentation,” said Craven. Their cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” sounds more ’80s than the ’80s original.
Their interpretation of Drive By Truckers’ “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)” is a classic rockabilly road tune, which a much greater simplification because of the instrumental set-up. For Kanye West’s “All Falls Down,” Gregory stepped out from behind the congas and took the mic with Craven and Freeman playing the role of Syleena Johnson.
Perfect isn’t always perfect
The guys are finishing up work on a second album that they expect to release soon. They note that, while they are satisfied with their first album, “Trip On Troubles,” many of those songs have grown into entirely different entities. The new album, they said, will reflect more of the progression they have made as musicians.
For them, the recording process is not so different from a live show. The second album is being formed more from crowd reaction than studio magic. That’s important, noted Craven, because shows need to be fun, and the desire to be absolutely perfect, whether in the studio or live, can ruin the music.
“You can’t take it too serious,” he said, “because if you try to make it too perfect it’s not going to come off with any originality or energy.”
After the concert, sweat glazing their tired-looking faces after more than two hours of performing, the guys were inclined to describe their sound as “more of a feeling than a genre. As genres become more and more diverse and all these different names are added to it, all we can do is play the different stuff that we feel.
“We guess it’s up to others to give a name to it.”
Nick Hilbourn – Eight days a week
“Poetry’s always best with a funky bassline.” – Stratton Lawrence, Charleston City Paper