Villain Vanguard and Father Figures: A Lesson in Duality

I’ve been mad busy with developments for The Crisman Show, and asked my favorite new music writer, Laurel Johnston to help me pick up the slack on the blog front.  Here is her review of a show I put together at Andy’s Bar in Denton featuring Fort Worth’s Villain Vanguard and New York’s own Father Figures.

When asked to attend the Father Figures show at Andy’s on Sunday night, I was told that the Brooklyn group played ‘zombie jazz’. The description stirred my curiosity and fondness for all things macabre, and I couldn’t wait to hear the specifics of such a genre. 

Villain Vanguard performed first, a band that wore many hats and changed them with ease. At first, I thought they were primarily a funk band. Then I heard traces of reggae, hard rock, Middle Eastern influences, psychedelic guitar and vocal effects. The lead singer was not only a solid guitar player but also toyed with a small drum machine. His hand motions were naturally expressive but not over the top, and they only enhanced the message he was trying to get across. His gestures coupled with his use of dynamics and phrasing made him a charming and engaging front man.

   The rest of the band’s skills seemed very evenly matched, and I really enjoyed the uncommonly cohesive feel of a band spanning so many genres. Every member of the group played their lines respectfully of the other members’, and they played so seamlessly together that it was almost difficult to pay attention to the individual lines until someone took a solo. The first solo I heard was that of the bass player, and he jumped into the melee with such vim and vigor that I felt sure he would break a string. Both the drummer and guitar player held down the rhythm section with the bassist, each of them playing peppy solos and fills at opportune times. The keyboardist doubled as their trumpet player, playing both instruments at once with surprising dexterity.
  I would love to see Villain Vanguard play a larger venue, or at the very least a Friday or Saturday night show. I have a feeling they would only be more compelling in front of a larger, more appreciative audience. They’re the kind of band that keeps you on the edge of your seat, poised and ready for their next musical thought. What they need is a hungry audience ready to eat everything they serve up.

  Father Figures took the stage next, holding up the same pillars of energy and enthusiasm that Villain Vanguard had carried throughout their set. Consisting of two saxophones, a keyboard, drums, and a string bass, Father Figures has a standard recipe with a not-so-standard result. Like the opening band, this group dabbles in many different genres but maintains their solid jazz foundation.

   Some people hear ‘jazz’ and run screaming in the other direction. Father Figures is the type of band that could coax unbelievers into the light, blinking and gasping in awe at what they see and hear. They are a group that seems to revel in duality, being equally attractive to jazzheads and non-jazzheads alike because they blur the line between jazz and everything else without diluting the message. They tiptoe through spectral, psychedelic lands and race through a forest of fusion with the aplomb of classically trained musicians. Father Figures’ members have taken what they learned in school and extrapolated that information to the furthest corners of music as is humanly possible, yet they don’t tip over the edge into the realm of nonsensical noise.

   As soon as I heard the drummer lock into a groove with the keyboardist and bass player, I recognized that signature New York jazz sound. Adding two sax players only added fuel to their already-crackling fire, and the musical repartee between the saxes was an absolute riot. If I could sum up their sound in a small phrase, I would say that Father Figures plays ‘a freight train of thought’. Their music mirrors the complexity of the human spectrum of thought and emotion, leaving no stone unturned as they barrel onward through their own psyches and into ours. 

   Like the fictional (?) creatures that lent their name to their musical style, Father Figures straddles the division between tangible reality and the intangible dream world. It’s as if their feet are on the ground but their heads, hearts, and fingers are in the clouds. As they grasp for gossamer strands of a musical phrase, they remember us mere mortals and graciously offer us a much-needed view of the possible worlds above us. I am determined to follow this group to see what new panoramas they will treat me to; after all, everyone could use more Father Figures in their lives.

Guest Blogger, Laurel Johnston, is a musicophile based in Los Angeles.

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One response to “Villain Vanguard and Father Figures: A Lesson in Duality

  1. Wow! Great review. I only wish I could do them as well as she has. Sounds like a show that I shouldn’t have missed. I hate having a job sometimes!

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