Menahan Street Band at 7th Street Entry, 11/13/12

Menahan Street Band at 7th Street Entry, 11/13/12
Photos by Nicola Losik

Menahan Street Band
7th Street Entry, Minneapolis
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The close-knit community of musicians who make up Brooklyn's Daptone/Dunham Records family could be almost as incestuous as the scene based right here in our fair cities. Owned and operated by members of the studios' house band the Dap Kings, the indie label has spun off several side-projects in years since, including Sugarman 3, the Budos Band, and an imprint, Dunham Records, supervised by Dap Kings guitarist Tom Brenneck. As a soul label, Dunham naturally needed a house band, the Menahan Street Band. These six players blew the roof off the Entry last night.

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Slideshow: Menahan Street Band at 7th St. Entry

Menahan adds a bit of outside influence to the revivalist soul sound of their parent label. Guitarist Thomas Brenneck stands a bit like a bearded captain on stage left, subtly exercising his control as the band's leader through more prominent lead playing, even indulging in a shredding classic rock guitar solo every now and then. Anchored by Homer Steinweiss' hip-hop inflected drums and nimble bass workouts from Nick Movshon, the band lit up the stage with seemingly effortless chemistry and a groove that just refused to quit, even against the timid dance response of a Minnesota Tuesday night crowd.

Brenneck and Company are masters of the soul music's oldest and best trick: tension and release, and employed it to great effect. Swirling organ tones provided a bed for some sensational trumpet playing from Dave Guy, whose soaring solos had the power to force spontaneous and inappropriate testifyin' from a vocal majority of goofy white boys in the crowd. A particularly blazing jaunt during the band's smouldering take on "Karina" from their debut Make the Road by Walking left a couple of downrange fans clutching their ears in awe, only to lean in close to catch the song's rapid dynamic shift. Another highlight, "Home Again," married an achingly sweet trumpet and sax duet with latin strumming from Brenneck to paint as a vivid love song as is possible from an instrumental band.

Menahan Street Band at 7th Street Entry, 11/13/12
Menahan Street Band at 7th Street Entry, 11/13/12
Photos by Nicola Losik

Far from a joyless exhibition of precise musicianship, the Menahan Street Band has a wealth of personality for a group without a true frontman. Although the guitarist seems to be calling the shots, all eyes are on Movshon during the execution of the band's deft unison hits. Eye contact seemed key, and the players were relaxed and confident, shooting each other quick grins or nods of approval after strong showings. A familiarity borne of long hours sweating away together in Brenneck's Bushwick home studio was evident, and the band seemed comfortable enough with their new material to stretch out arrangements, calling fun audibles on songs like "Ivory & Blue." Like much of the set, the track features a drum pattern that many beatmakers would pay obscene amounts of cash for (in fact, Dunham Studios exists today for that exact reason).

While there's no way in my I could put a knock against Menahan's performance and personality last night, the group did occasionally seem to lapse into the self-assured too-cool-to-care stage presence of insufferable jazz bands everywhere. Soul music certainly doesn't require artifice, but showmanship and stagecraft have long been a pride of the genre, and a bit more of an effort from the band to engage vocally with the crowd could have taken the show even further.

Menahan Street Band at 7th Street Entry, 11/13/12
Menahan Street Band at 7th Street Entry, 11/13/12
Photos by Nicola Losik

Brenneck, ostensibly the group's leader, kept all of his talking off-mic during the set, leaving the responsibility in the enthusiastic, if not particularly stable hands of Mike "Dusty Blue" Deller, the group's organist. Swaying slightly as he gripped the mic stand, Dusty Blue provided a much needed deflation with such exploits as a botched band introduction and a spirited rant until his bandmates sheepishly ushered him back to his seat. The musicians certainly seemed engaged, grooving and bobbing in time, and Brenneck and Movshon even worked out a nifty little bit of two-step footwork, but night occasionally dragged without a lightning rod singer such as Charles Bradley, who Menahan backed in the Mainroom last year.

Still, this is a small complaint against a band who represents one of the strongest examples that the dusty R&B sounds of Stax and Muscle Shoals remain vital, organic and necessary in a live setting. Like a modern day Booker T. & The MG's, it's a distinct pleasure to witness superb players normally relegated to the background finally getting their moment in the spotlight.

Set List:
Keep Coming Back
The Contender
The Crossing
Home Again
3 Faces
Ivory & Blue
Lights Out
Make the Road by Walking
The Traitor
Montego Sunset

Critic's Bias: I'm a shameless Daptone records fanboy and soul music enthusiast, so this show was definitely tailor-made to please folks like me.

The Crowd: Mostly young hip honkies, with a older face or two in the crowd. To give you an idea, somebody heckled the band to "PUT IT OUT ON VINYL ALREADY!" with a straight face.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Tell me you're hiding Charles Bradley back there!" implored one fan who also missed the aging soul star's incredible charisma. Dave Guy seemed a bit miffed by the proposition and gave a terse "No" as the band's official response.

Random Notebook Dump: Menahan's footwear game was on-point across the board, with slick leather encasing every foot but the drummer's. He preferred the "white gym socks" look.

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