ARTS TUESDAY: Band Embraces Crossover Genre

Indefinite Article rocks Quincy Cage with unique brand of music

Long gone are the days when bands produced definable music, music of a single genre that could be described by a mere two words. Leftover Salmon, a band that might have been described decades ago as “bluegrass,” now brand themselves as “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass.”

Even artists who try to simplify their musical methodology for listeners end up selling themselves short: to call the Derek Trucks Band’s style “world music” does the band a disservice by grossly generalizing and neglecting their predominant influences. And then of course there are the chameleons— artists like Beck and Thom Yorke whose muse leads them down different paths each time they head to the studio.

This evolution of music categories is by no means a negative trend since it ensures that music reaps the sonic benefits of numerous and varied influences. Boston’s The Indefinite Article (IA) is an act whose multi-faceted sound is clearly a product of this evolution, showing off the homologous features of their rock brethren while maintaining the ancestral traits of their hip hop forebears.

As the first act this past Thursday in the rather tropical confines of the Quincy Cage (in the basement of Quincy House), The IA managed to excite a crowd of several dozen students seeking live music and refuge from our latest snowstorm with their blend of hip hop, Latin, rock and all other permutations thereof. During the band’s half hour warm-up set, they displayed an uncanny feel not only for danceable rhythms and intriguing melody lines but also for sinuous hooks and exotic instrumental interplay.

At times, The IA’s full-bodied and soulful sound was reminiscent of classic fusion acts such as Medeski, Martin and Wood as well as more current genre-benders such as Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Galactic or Soulive. The Galactic comparison seems especially apt after hearing the band members stretch out on their 15-minute opening instrumental.

The IA proved themselves to be more than competent musicians as sprawling keyboard textures spiraled through twisted and dissonant slap-bass and steady, aggressive drums.

Though the jam lagged at times, there were more magical moments than duds, as the musicians improvised scenarios where all instruments blended together in a mesmeric swirl. The opener touched down with a half-time version of Miles Davis’ seminal hipster tune: “So What.”

Abe R. Kinkopf ’04 then kicked off the rest of the set with the remark: “We’re a professional band, but sometimes we don’t act like it.” Kinkopf distinguishes himself from the myriad hip hop poseurs with the lyric: “Don’t hit the crack pipe/never ran the streets at night/soft, preppy, privileged, rich, never hit a chick and called her a bitch/ no crew, no guns and my skin is pale, I never spent the night in jail.”

There were hints of the Beastie Boys in the rhyme constructions and vocal melodies and the choruses occasionally invoked the passion of Rage Against the Machine as did the twisting bass/guitar octaves when played in unison.

Additionally, the more funk-laden sensibility of the Red Hot Chili Peppers came to the fore on some of the more up-tempo numbers.

The majority of The IA’s songs consisted of Kinkopf’s lyrics flowing over the very tight rhythm section as the guitarist occasionally interjected assorted vocalisms while jumping around his corner of the stage.

It was often hard to catch the lyrics, but Kinkopf’s voice has a timbre that allows it to function as a lead instrument of sorts.

The IA made good use of stop time and breaks to keep the tunes from becoming monotonous or overly homogenous. The crowd seemed to greatly enjoy the show and the IA definitely had good stage presence and frequently asked for audience interaction.

After the show, as I listened to the IA’s four-track demo, Kinkopf’s rhymes were exposed while the band’s instrumental expertise was marginalized. While it was nice to understand the lyrics, something is lost when the band’s full, textured groove is checked.

The IA sounds vaguely like the Spooks on the demo but their other, more instrumentally interesting influences are nowhere to be found.

Maybe it’s just the enjoyment on the musician’s faces or the glance from drummer to bass player as they shift tempos, but the IA was far more interesting that night in the Cage than on CD. Perhaps with a slight cross-pollination of sorts, their next studio attempt can be as diversely flavored and as sonically interesting as their live performances.

Until then, be sure to catch their live act when you can.

—Reviewer Nathaniel Naddaff-Hafrey can can be be reached at nhafrey@fas.harvard.edu.