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Soundchecks: Julie Slonecki, Portugal The Man, Taj Mahal Trio, Matt Woods & The Natural Disasters, and War On Women

Get out of the Florence funk with live music

Vincent Harris Sep 12, 2018 4:00 AM

FUNK-POP | Julie Slonecki (single-release show)
w/ Get With It
Thurs. Sept. 13
9 p.m.
$5
Royal American

On her 2015 album Apogee, Julie Slonecki created haunting, skeletal electronic pop, taking a confessional folk-based lyrical approach and applying some modern technology to it. That album is inadequate prep for her new single, "Free From Me," a languorous, funky, midtempo workout based on electric guitars, live percussion, and a multilayered vocal hook that is infectiously catchy. It's a world away from what Slonecki was doing just a couple of years ago, and that's before guest vocalist RGB busts the door down with his smooth mid-song rap. The song, a calling card for her new album Emancipation, represents a definite change in approach for Slonecki. "I think what ended up happening after I put out Apogee is that I realized that I wanted to challenge myself to do the opposite," she says. "I wanted to use live instrumentation with no electronic effects at all. That's where this new group of songs originated. All the songs on the new album are in that same vein as 'Free From Me' with the same instrumentation, including live drums." —Vincent Harris THURSDAY

NEO-PSYCHEDELIC ART-POP | Portugal The Man
SHOW CANCELED DUE TO HURRICANE

The Wikipedia page for Portugal The Man identifies them as an "American rock band," and it's about as misleading a description as one can think of, other than the fact that they're American. The Grammy Award-winning group are more like recording studio alchemists. Take their 2017 album Woodstock as an example; there's not a vocal track they don't love to stretch, distort, or smear all over the place. The percussion is treated to sound like it's kicking down your door one second and retreating into a corner the next. These art-pop songs change structure from moment to moment like the end of a kaleidoscope, shifting textures and styles on a whim. It could potentially be distracting if the band weren't so good at propulsive rhythms and sparkling vocal hooks. Taken as a whole, Portugal The Man's music on Woodstock sounds like someone gleefully upended a musical toy box containing 50 years or so of pop music history and embraced the quirky, melodic chaos. —Vincent Harris SUNDAY

ROOTS-BLUES | Taj Mahal Trio
w/ Jontavious Willis
Wed. Sept. 19
8 p.m.
$39.50-$59.50
Charleston Music Hall

There's something down-to-the-bone authentic about Taj Mahal's take on folk and blues music. There's nothing false in what he does, whether it's forming a supergroup called the Rising Sons with Ry Cooder back in 1964 or teaming up with fellow blues warrior Keb' Mo' for a Grammy-winning duo album TajMo in 2018. In between those two auspicious career benchmarks, Mahal has simply done what he does year in and year out, working magic on his National Steel guitar and growling the blues like he was born to do. This show offers an interesting contrast with Mahal's recent tour with Keb' Mo' and a band, offering fans a chance to see him stripped down and firing on all cylinders as part of a trio. It's a bare-bones approach, to be sure, but all the better to hear Mahal's mellifluous blues-picking and gravelly howl of a voice ring out over a tight rhythm section. —Vincent Harris WEDNESDAY

ROOTS-ROCK | Matt Woods & The Natural Disasters
Wed. Sept. 19
9 p.m.
$7
The Sparrow

If you were simply to read Matt Woods' lyrics, it might be tempting to compare him to Bruce Springsteen. Woods has a populist streak in him, and he's a skilled storyteller who can spin heartfelt heartland tales about hard workers, small-town dreamers, and love affairs that are damaged but still alive. But these songs aren't set to inflated big-band rock like Springsteen would create; most often Woods' remarkably empathetic band the Natural Disasters creates a honky-tonk, country-tinged backdrop for Woods' honey-and-vinegar vocals and rough-hewn rhythm guitar. There's a crying pedal steel, a solid but subtle rhythm section, and the occasional bit of rock guitar muscle, all the better to frame a fatalism that's as startling as it is honest. When it really works, as on "The American Way" from Woods' most recent album, How to Survive, it's devastatingly effective. Over a rough roots-rock beat and wiry guitars, Woods' merciless viewpoint takes one's breath away. "Working harder for a dollar so we all can pay," he sings, "to die the American way." —Vincent Harris WEDNESDAY

PUNK | War On Women
w/ HIRS Collective, Never Gonna Happen
Wed. Sept. 19
8:30 p.m.
$10
Tin Roof

Let's put aside for a second that Baltimore's War On Women proudly call themselves a "co-ed feminist hardcore punk band" in a time where we need every word of that description more than ever. And let's put aside that they don't just play gigs; their singer Shawna Potter has written a guidebook on making venues safe spaces, they're happy to conduct post-show Q&As with their audiences, and Potter offers to help train people in bystander intervention to make people feel safer at shows. That's all awesome. But it wouldn't mean nearly as much if this band didn't play some truly badass, punk-inspired rock 'n' roll, which they do. Led by Potter's feral snarl of a voice, the band is a juggernaut, locking the rhythm section in with the guitars and turning their songs into two-to-three-minute piledrivers of sound. Add in Potter's sharp lyrical perspective ("I'll never, never be a quiet woman," goes the refrain on "Silence is the Gift"), and there are a lot of things to like about this band. —Vincent Harris WEDNESDAY