Any concert that starts with a jazz-funk cover of a Michael Jackson classic is going to be a good one. When the sweet sounds of "Thriller" blasted through the instruments of Hopkins' own DEFAWNK, I knew the rest of the show was going to be an energetic and, yes, funky ride. For the rest of their six-song set at Frazier's on the Avenue last Friday night, DEFAWNK maintained the powerful sound that commanded the audience's attention without being too in-your-face.
Unlike their appearances in basements at parties, the Frazier's show was an opportunity for the members of the band to showcase their finer points as musicians. Sophomore Ethan Ogilby and Peabody freshman Emma Stanley vigorously blasted out the notes on the trombone and trumpet, respectively, while the percussionist, sophomore JD Bagert, kept a strong beat going. Sophomores Julian Rosenberg and Raffi Wartanian, the bassist and the guitarist, both brought even more energy to the songs while subtly showing the kind of skill that requires years of experience on their instruments. While all of these instruments blended together, senior Paul Angelini brought an extra element to the melody with the keyboard.
DEFAWNK's talent was apparent, but unfortunately there wasn't much of a crowd to enjoy it, which presented a slight problem for the band, whose songs practically beg people to get up and dance. The sparse audience can be attributed to the fact that Frazier's is a bar, which turned down many underage fans at the door. "Our energy Friday night was pretty minimal,"Rosenberg said. "We always have fun playing, but on a scale of one to ten, our energy last night was maybe a four. At parties, the crowd is much more into our show; last night there really wasn't much of a crowd at all."
Wartanian disagreed with these sentiments. "It's so much fun to do a show like we did Friday night, where the stakes are
ow, and much is not expected from us. I think that is where we really shine," he said. "I loved Friday night and felt it had a really high energy. [We learned that] when we can't depend on a big, enthusiastic crowd, we let our music do the talking."
And that's exactly what happened -- the music spoke for itself, thanks to the high levels of talent and musicianship of the band mates. DEFAWNK's performance itself included a mix of easily recognizable cover songs (even the Ghostbusters theme song) and original pieces that the band composed themselves -- "Delicious Vitamin Blue," "Chop Shop," "Blackberry Turtle" and "Let Me Crazy."
"Blackberry Turtle" really shone through as a piece that gave Wartanian, Angelini and Bagert an opportunity to have the spotlight on their skills. This song had a fantastically chaotic feel to it, setting a mood that left me sitting on the edge of my seat.
DEFAWNK's performance ended with a bang, as they played a cover of Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie." Stanley's trumpet solo on this piece was flawless, and Ogilby's and Rosenberg's backup added to the overall build-up of tension throughout the song that led to an intense finish.
Considering that Rosenberg said DEFAWNK "got together about a year ago," and that their first performance was at the Freshman Formal last year, this performance makes it clear that they've come a long way. They gave a polished, powerful show at Frazier's, which has a scene that is arguably a far cry from a bunch of fancied-up Hopkins kids dancing in the Glass Pavilion.
Following DEFAWNK's performace was Jayakar, another band with ties to Hopkins. Drummer Shareef Taher is a senior at Peabody. Taher is the newest addition to Jayakar. When their previous drummer wasn't able to play with the band anymore, lead singer and guitarist Graham Summers looked to Peabody for finding new talent, and he came across Taher.
Jayakar has been together since 1999, when the rest of the band -- Summers, Alex Mekelburg (saxophone and flute), Ethan Montgomery (bass) and Alec Summers (keyboard) -- went to high school together. They took a break as its members went to different colleges, but recently most of the original members ended up in the Baltimore area, so they've been back in action since 2004.
"Our music has matured," Summers said. "We play more melody-heavy songs that are singable and hummable."
At the performance at Frazier's, Jayakar's jam band roots were still apparent. Their overall sound is very melodic and radio-friendly, with a pleasant mix of well-blended instrumentations and vocals by the Summers brothers.
They played an eight-song set, including seven original pieces and one cover -- Prince's "Musicology." One standout song was "House of Wind," a fast-paced piece with a harder sound that has more of a funk feel than some of their other songs. Also notable was "The Muse," a mellow piece that placed its main focus on the vocals and lyrics.
"Baltimore has a really good punk scene and indie rock scene, but I don't think there's a much of a community of funk and hip-hop," Summers said. "That's why I got DEFAWNK and Eyekon to play. The purpose for me was to put on an event that everyone would enjoy being at, get a good crowd, and lay down the foundation for a pool of musicians to draw from."
DEFAWNK has upcoming performances at The Relay for Life on April 8 and The Battle of the Bands on April 9.
Jayakar has an upcoming performance at The Recher Theater on March 23, and Summers has a solo performance at the opening of Café Latte Da on March 18.