Drums & Tuba

Howlin' Wolf

May 25, 2006


What's so special about a band with a Tuba player in New Orleans? Usually, not much. New Orleans has a plethora of brass ensembles that pack bars from Mid-City to the Marigny every day of the week. Drums and Tuba is not like any of these bands. The band even has a hard time characterizing their own sound. "Like Radiohead, I guess," answered Tony Nozaro in a post-show interview. They surpass easy classification, though as far as spacey mostly-instrumental post-rock goes, I'd say they are a more-energetic American Analog Set.

For 11 years, Drums and Tuba has been crafting their own unique brand of instrumental music. While they have seven albums, they chose to play newer material from their latest record "Battles Ole"(Righteous Babe, 2005) at The Howlin' Wolf Thursday night. The most visually distinctive part of their music is the use of a tuba to replace the bass guitar; however, in terms of sound, the Tuba fits perfectly into the rhythm section, so the listener doesnít even miss the bass guitar. During most of the set, I could close my eyes and only barely detect the distinctive timbre of the huge brass horn. Occasionally, tuba player Brian Wolff would substitute the long, languid notes for shorter syncopated ones. Only then did the presence of the tuba become quite noticeable. These pulsating rhythms also allowed drummer Tony Nozaro to play between notes, leading to some of the more interesting drum rhythms.

The second most noticeable aspect of the Drums and Tuba show was their heavy reliance on loops and samples. During one song guitarist Neal McKeeby looped the first guitar riff he played and continued to build melodies on top of each other. All three band members got in on the act as they utilized previously recorded samples of melodies and even spoken-word monologues, giving an ethereal quality to the music. These electric elements enhanced, rather than detracted from, the basic instrumentation of the band, a la Mogwai or early Radiohead.

Nozaro also took on the duty of vocalist. While most of the bandís new material features sparse vocals instead of strictly instrumental tracks, the long vocal lines seemed, at times, to detract from the overall feeling of the music(ed--this coming from a guy in an instrumental rock band). They almost distracted the audience from the rest of the music, instead of letting listeners focus on the continually building instruments and loops. Still, Drums and Tuba put on a show worth seeing many times over.

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