Review: Dumpsta, Dickinsons and A HeadCount Blowout in NYC

HeadCount Participation Party @ Highline Ballroom – November 5

Words: Chad Berndtson
Photos: Jeremy Gordon

As we’ve often said in these pages, benefit shows with lots of announced special guests have a way of coming up short: packaged “moments,” awkward pacing, “super jams” that end up as little more than quick, haphazard exercises in pass-the-hat soloing on songs that aren’t so much improvisation vehicles as lowest common denominators.

[All Photos by Jeremy Gordon]

But heading into last night’s HeadCount Participation Tour finale in New York, there was THAT feeling: a night where there’d be room to dance, smiles to share and some gnarly magic. That it was a rager — and whoa mama, was it — shouldn’t have been a surprise, seeing there are few bands more adept at high-energy throwdowns than Dumpstaphunk, accommodating guests in often-messy succession.

There were good vibes all around, and despite repeated insistence to vote, almost no actual politics from the stage. And yeah, you had a damn good cause on top of a damn good cause; HeadCount had announced late last week that it would turn the benefit partly into a fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy challenges.

That was important. Pre-show chatter confirmed this show was many folks’ first big venture out since the hurricane ravaged most of NYC and the surrounding areas. Music needed to be had, what with the tension of the weather event that had just finished and the tension of today’s election firmly mounting. And even with the late-inning buzzkill of Anders Osborne’s abrupt withdrawal from the show — details are sketchy — you had a raw-energy audience badly in need of catharsis.

Mission accomplished. Luther and Cody Dickinson blazed into the Highline early and often, tearing through an hour of North Mississippi Allstars staples and quickly filling up the available stage real estate, first with Scott Metzger, and soon after, with Eric Krasno and Nikki Glaspie.

Metzger was surprisingly a non-presence, content to hang back and play rhythm while Luther D. handled much of the heavy lifting. Once Krasno got into it, however — he started out on bass for Shake ‘Em On Down — there were fireworks aplenty, including a torrid, psychedelic trip through the Po Black Maddie/Skinny Woman combo with an acid blues guitar duel on the back end.

By that time, Glaspie had pushed Cody out of the drum chair and into the bass stead, and soon after, Nigel Hall and James Casey slid in on keys to accompany Krasno on a brand-new song with a refrain of “Jezebel.” The protean Krasno revealed himself to be a sturdy singer, but better still was the fuzzed-out funk-rock jam that really opened up, with Dickinson playing paint-peeler slide off of Hall’s pummeling organ work. Questlove snuck in sometime during this song on a smaller kit next to Glaspie and the guitarists yielded to a brief showcase before Questo reburied himself in his phone and prepped for a DJ set.

Nearly an hour later came Dumpstaphunk, which has re-gelled following its replacement of former drummer Raymond Webber with Glaspie and remains the fiercest New Orleans funk outfit in a generation. Like the NMAS, Ivan and the gang stuck largely to staples, including Put It In the Dumpsta and the Zigaboo Modeliste deep cut Standing In Yo Stuff — complete with a stage full of hip shaking ladies — along with the event-appropriate romp through P-Funk’s One Nation Under a Groove.

Guests were brought on New Orleans-style, meaning with little announcement, gradually worked in and left to claim pieces of jams rather than be assigned parts. Casey and a trumpet player formed an ad-hoc horn section, and by the time the band slid into Meanwhile, Ivan was handing out guitars, loosely attempting to stage-manage and the slides and fingers were flying as Dickinson and Krasno made it back to the fray. Things got blurry, as they often do when hard-charging toward a guest-dappled finale, and Questlove slid in at one point and Nigel returned and was that Ron Johnson in the mix, too?

The night’s only miscalculation was Bela Fleck, who had what amounted to a 20-minute cameo right after Questlove wrapped his DJ set and just before the Dumpsta action began. There’s never a bad time, per se, for Fleck’s neuron-popping virtuosity on the banjo, but with the master rolling through, sitting down mid-stage and picking out The Star Spangled Banner along with assorted African songs picked up from his travels abroad then waving a quick goodbye, it was akin to dropping a recital in the midst of a roadhouse rave-up: almost completely incongruous.

It killed the energy — quickly restored as soon as Ivan and crew hit the stage — and also left plenty to wonder about what Fleck might have added as a guest of the Dickinsons or Dumpstaphunk itself (think of the adventure!). But this wasn’t a show where you quibbled with pacing or thought too much about what might have been. You shook your ass and enjoyed.

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