The aptly named LOVE party at Casselman's last night featured two epic sets by some of the very best names in house music, Doc Martin and Dubtribe Sound System. The headliners brought the energy up to a new level -- but first, the Tribe's own Jasun Lovejoy warmed up the crowd.
Lovejoy was doing a fantastic job holding down the decks. He spun deep, soulful house, utilizing whistling sounds, deep and gurgling sounds (much like a bong hit) and new-wave like organ lines. He worked in tried-and-tested crowd-pleasing favorites like "Disco to Disco" with bouncing bass and sibilant beats. He played among sub-genres, moving from progressive to disco house and dark to light, using:
- feel-good organ music well-suited to a happy sitcom song - big, brassy sounds - metallic pings - hollow bells and rising sirens - ominous basslines - echoing knocks - tribal drums - plaintive bagpipes
His sound was varied and exciting, and by the time Doc Martin took the decks at 10 p.m., the crowd was well-primed for his stylings.
The San Francisco-based house legend was a big draw for the night; I know several people who were there specifically to see Doc. He's been active in the house-music scene since 1986, was instrumental in bringing notice to several now-famous house DJs, and you simply can't argue with the man's popularity. He started out deeper and dreamier, with synthed-out keys, low bluesy trumpets and muted saxophones. We were treated to Eddie Amador's "Not Everyone Understands House Music," led in with wild indigenous flutes, meandering beats and a growling bassline.
Martin has eclectic tastes and can easily move from dark progressive house to uplifting tribal to jazzy disco sub-genres; he played with rock-style basslines, smooth R&B sounds (like Stevie Wonder's "For Your Love"), slightly dissonant tones, techno-style beats and barking, violin lines and inspirational speeches backed by snare drums. He moved from eerie, deep, moaning tracks to a more uplifting call-and-response track featuring Spanish-speaking children. His track selection and mixing are superb -- and Martin still uses vinyl when he plays, which is fun to watch, but probably contributed to the few glitches that marred the set. Vinyl is tricky, especially in a room full of bouncing, dancing people, and the couple of times Martin mis-matched a beat, the look of frustration on his face indicated it was an equipment issue.
Martin eased out of his set with some tribal drums, so that Dubtribe could pick up the beat without interrupting the grooves on the dance floor at midnight. In fact, the group settled in on the stage floor in front of the decks, so it was difficult to see exactly what was going on unless you squeezed right in up front. For those who didn't want to brave the crowd: Sunshine Jones held down the fort on his laptop, Moonbeam played with a sampler, they both used microphones to croon their gorgeous lyrics. Surrounding them were five drummers pounding out the beat on hand drums; occasionally, Sunshine would poach a drum from the closest percussionist and wail out a beat himself. They moved in, out and between several of Dubtribe's best tracks -- opening up, Sunshine growled spoken-word poetry (a combination of "Holler" and "So Much Love") over gorgeous, jazzy, tribal beats. It's easy to see why Dubtribe has made such a name for itself as a live act -- the recorded sessions are excellent, but you really have to see Sunshine and Moonbeam high-fiving each other (and the crowd), beaming at one another while urging the crowd to ever-higher heights with the music and the lyrics speaking of social justice, peace, love and unity. Candles burned around the equipment and the crowd went into a frenzy trying to keep up with the tribal rhythms and frenetic energy.
"I think the drummers got stoned too early in the night," Sunshine roared into the microphone, grabbing a drum to show how it was done while the temporarily instrument-less drummer danced purposefully on the stage. One of the most impressive things about this set was the live mixing. Many livetronica acts fade in and out between tracks, which isn't easy, but this level of moving from place-to-place -- neither the drummers nor Sunshine and Moonbeam ever missed a beat, seamlessly mixing from one track to the next -- is rarely seen in the livetronica world.
They moved into the crowd-pleasing "Wednesday Night," and right at a crescendo, dropped from this free-wheeling tribal number into true dub, Black Uhuru's "Leaving for Zion." The group effortlessly slipped into this dub track, and the crowd followed along, grooving to the slower tempo and eerie sounds, before Dubtribe slipped straight back into "Wednesday Night." They played other favorites from the bestselling Bryant Street, as well -- "No Puedo Estar Despierto" and "Samba Dub" after "Wednesday Night," Sunshine's signature voice bringing everyone in the building to sing along with his heartfelt, "Lord have mercy on my soul." "Samba Dub" faded into a drum solo, prompting Sunshine to exclaim, "This is some furious shit right here!"
Not only is Dubtribe skilled at actual dub sounds, but they also broke out a couple of live breakbeat tracks toward the end of the set, from a quasi-ambient number with tribal drums and distorted chirps to a darker, dirtier breaks set, reminiscent of the Prodigy's earlier work. As Sunshine implored us through his spoken-word poetry to take the planet back, the lights started to come up. "It's going to take all your love and more if you want to make a difference in this world," he rumbled, while Casselman's staff attempted (futilely) to disperse the crowd and get us moving out the door. Dubtribe played until the lights came all the way up and the sound was turned off at 2 a.m., and Sunshine Jones reiterated his love for the crowd, the people and the scene, gesturing with hands and heart before the crew began to pack up the stage and the audience dispersed slowly, moving toward the after-party.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I like house music. I like Doc Martin. I effing ADORE Dubtribe. Their set last night is now in my top-five all-time musical experiences ever; I haven't danced that hard in years.
By The Way: A big shout-out to the person (he knows who he is) who got Casselman's to turn off the overhead/Christmas lights before Doc Martin hit the stage -- the party went from feeling like an overlit high-school dance to an actual party.
Random Detail: The LED heart hanging above the stage was custom-built for this show.