I despise white musicians who can't play in rhythm. Which means two things: I'm inferring black musicians generally can; and I dislike a lot of white musicians. Correct on both accounts. Sieg heil, baby!
  Thus it was at the Rumba Cafe Sept. 3 when these two main subspecies of whitey got together: one band with heaven in its loins; the other, the opener, rhythmically clubfooted, knock-kneed, subtle as a flying mallet and about as amenable to groove maneuver as the battleship Bismarck. I'm talking about the venerable Americana roots quartet The Blasters who own not only the biggest balls in the genre but possess as well as a juke-joint IQ perhaps unparalleled in extant American bands. Opener was from New York City -- a pedigree I'm suspicious of -- the egregious but properly named Gas House Gorillas. What assholes.
  The Blasters, aging but like the Stones not only nowhere near out of the game but in certain respects at the top of it, are built around Phil Alvin's one-of-a-kind post-gospel rock'n'blues belting gift of a voice; and Bill Bateman's rubber gloved drumming, as dependable as AC/DC's utterly hard metronomics of Phil Rudd. No band in Americana rocks as hard as the Blasters, still, nearly 40 years after their early '80s LA. inception. They are properly named.
  They plowed through their richly stocked catalog from the melting pot, with humor, with verve, with joi de vivre (been waiting all my life to use that) and as they got their groove on I did something I actually don't really very often do reviewing -- I got my drink on. Because I was experiencing, not so much reviewing. Because the Blasters are a band I can trust my soul to.
  Openers Gas Ass Gorillas beat the hell out of rockabilly and swing with all the panache of the Ramones gang-banging a porcupine. They had no real style and dressed like idiots, each guy looking like a rejected extra for a zombie movie. The lead singer projected a deranged egomania, a mixture of narcissistic criminality and no self-awareness. He was so creepy he frightened my penis. And if they really are from New York City then I'm the devil.


  They don't come any more exotic than this as they did Sept. 10 at the Wex: from Niger -- a West African country four-fifths uninhabitable desert, the rest savanna -- Bombino and his group. Their music deeply is inhabited by a joyful nomadic trance the likes of which we landlocked Ohioans have never heard.
  Using off-kilter time signatures (to these non-Niger ears), Bombino and his boys made it easy to get used to their time-zone changes. As one acclimated, you could hear the individuality of each tune -- the differences, the similarities, the various moods. An airy flow moved every song, Bombino guitar riffs dancing on top the essentially two-chord structures once or twice removed from the blues, the drummer accenting beats within beats, giving the night a genuinely multicultural transformation.
  Yet something deeper was going on, they were taking us to something. Bombino's joyfulness took on an intensity two-thirds through the set and suddenly there was a change in the headiness. Bombino power chords appeared with dramatic crashes. I flashed on how he and his band could've easily riffed into and then out of Zep's Kashmir. The power chords returned. Bombino was jumping. The stage was no desert, it was alive with life. And I seriously doubt no one in the clued-in crowd didn't have their imagination in play. This was a performance.
  Within another song or two, Bombino changed the mood yet again. Major statements had been made, now for the straight-up hardcore trance'n'drone, the climax of hard work's joy. The caravan was pulling into camp after a hard day's ride and the night's fires were lit. Time to unwind. Bombino and crew now seemed to be utterly themselves, having brought home the goods. We were just applauding the caravan's successful arrival. No bandits this time.
  As a desert-loving Englishman, er, American, I can attest to the beauty of Afghanistan's red desert, and the American West high and low deserts. There is something purifying to the soul about a desert--if it doesn't kill you. Bombino's version of the desert thrills. A tall, slender man with a pencil-thin mustache, he looks like a nomadic Musketeer. Perhaps he has some French in him. His spontaneous high-stepping half-steps were a hoot.
  Essentially, after 45 minutes of scirocco trance and drone at a variety of deceptive speeds, I realized Bombino had been channeling and creating desert winds, his shape-shifting dunes of bass, guitar and other-worldly drumming and singing saying what living in Niger must be like. So we traveled without moving, we levitated with no altitude change. There was a lot of smiling that night, on stage and off.
  Niger? Been there -- and recently.

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