LIVE: Brand X @ Infinity Music Hall, 7/8/18
Review by Steven Stock
The pioneering progressive jazz fusion band Brand X reformed in 2016, some 41 years after coalescing at London’s Island Studios, and seeing the current line-up it’s immediately evident how much they enjoy performing live. Original guitarist John Goodsall and the extraordinary fretless bassist Percy Jones still remain from those initial sessions, joined in recent years by keyboard player Chris Clark and drummer Kenny Grohowski. At Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk earlier this month, percussionist Scott Weinberger, who performed with the group at The Egg last October and the Cohoes Music Hall in May, was absent.
The first set opened with an extended intro seguing into “Euthanasia Waltz,” Clark playing a lovely, melancholy, recurring riff, a distant cousin perhaps of Johnny Mandel’s “M*A*S*H” theme “Suicide Is Painless.” “Nightmare Patrol,” reprised from 1977’s Livestock, was doom-laden and intense, Grohowski pushing the beat, Goodsall grinning at Jones as the quartet navigated a particularly tricky stretch. The music, unencumbered by any lyrics, was challenging, yet the band was clearly having fun.
Goodsall spent much of the ’80s collaborating with Spinal Tap drummer Ric Parnell, and for better or worse Goodsall treated us to a couple of jokes. Brand X is not your usual dead-serious po-faced prog-fusion band.
Noddy went to a doctors’ office in Stockholm. The doctor said “What’s up Noddy?” Noddy said, “Well, I broke my arm in two different places.” The doctor said, “Don’t go back there again!”
Noddy shows up again, stark naked, covered head to toe in saran wrap. He says, “What do you think, doc?” The doctor says, “Well, I can clearly see your nuts.”
The quartet closed out their immaculate opening set with “Noddy Goes to Sweden,” “Disco Suicide,” “Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria” and a gorgeous version of “Earth Dance,” at first subtly propelled by Jones’ languid bass lines, then gradually picking up momentum. I first fell in love with Jones’ evocative phrasing via Brian Eno’s Another Green World and Before and After Science some 40 years ago, and it’s still thrilling to hear him in a live setting. How good is Jones? Good enough to session for Frank Catalano’s Love Supreme Collective, Steve Hackett, Roy Harper, Jon Hassell, Elliott Sharp and David Sylvian, among others.
The band’s second set was longer, looser and a touch less engrossing, with one notable exception. Goodsall again, perhaps referencing former Brand X member Phil Collins: “We had another geezer (on drums), didn’t quite have Kenny’s good looks, so we dedicated one of the titles to him. When he was born, the doctor slapped his mother. So this one’s called ‘Born Ugly.’”
This drew a modest laugh, exceeded moments later when Goodsall began the song without first plugging in his guitar. “We’ve been out here a bit too long, you can tell,” Goodsall confided sheepishly. Originally recorded for Brand X’s 1976 debut Unorthodox Behaviour, “Born Ugly” somehow anticipated the very white yet funky ethno-fusion of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and this rendition found the band firing on all cylinders.
If you missed the show but are intrigued, check out the band’s excellent new live CD Locked & Loaded.