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Changing rooms

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, live at the Paradise Rock Club, October 16, 2010
By JON GARELICK  |  October 19, 2010


The only big difference between the Carolina Chocolate Drops' show at the Paradise Saturday night and the one at the Somerville Theatre back in January was the venue. But that difference meant the world.

"A woman told me before the show, 'You're taking me out of my comfort zone,' " said the CCDs' Rhiannon Giddens. " 'I usually wouldn't set foot in here.' " Then Giddens added, "I think it's a rather nice mix, don't you?"

The Somerville show — much like the one at the Paradise — had been a beauty. But the difference was in that mix. The Chocolate Drops are a folk-revival band, doing their own take on the Piedmont region's hillbilly tunes and old-time swing and reclaiming its African-American strains. This is acoustic fiddle-and-banjo music, and whatever its sources in house parties, church socials, hoedowns, and hootenannys — (and despite the unrelenting urgent swing and showmanship that the Chocolate Drops bring to it), these days, that means a sit-down concert.

Which would make me think that the move to the Paradise — home of a thousand electric-guitar/bass/drums rock bands — was the wrong move. But, said one of the folks working publicity for this co-presentation of the Paradise and World Music/CRASHarts, the CCDs had said that they wanted to play more clubs. So that's what they got.

The band knew what they were doing. The Somerville show was packed to near-sellout — they were warmly received by a seated audience that skewed older. The Paradise was mixed in ways unusual not only for the club but for Boston: racially and generationally, with an unusual number of mixed couples. Go figure. Oh, and add beer to that.

The crowd were standing and packed, and hooting and hollering from the beginning (ably warmed up by folk trio the David Wax Museum). When the band asked for sing-alongs, the crowd sang along. When they encouraged people to dance, they danced. The CCDs put the music in historical context, but maybe with a tad less explaining than they did at the Somerville, and with their requisite stagecraft and charisma. They played Noble Sissle's "Viper Mad" as a jug band (with rattling-bones percussion) but with "some of the jazz put back in." When they did the minstrel song "Boatman's Dance," Dom Flemons hung a snare drum around his neck and danced in place as he thwacked it with fast brushes. In his porkpie hat and suspendered trousers, he and the music easily conjured the riverboat life that had inspired it. When they played a Charleston, Giddens got up and Charlestoned. Flemons also had a tendency to get up and twirl his acoustic guitar around his head. And fiddler Justin Robinson beatboxed to their version of the Blu Cantrell hit "Hit 'Em Up Style" (in turn a hit for their own Nonesuch debut, Genuine Negro Jig). The playing all around was virtuoso, with Giddens and Robinson sharing the fiddle work.

The happy crowd were noisy, but they listened. They quieted down for the slow, mournful instrumental "Snowden's Jig," and when they cheered Giddens's fiddle solo, it was clear that — even if they didn't know what they were listening to — they knew what they were hearing.

Related: Review: La Roux at the Paradise, Photos: Yeasayer and Sleigh Bells, This bird can sing, More more >
  Topics: Live Reviews , Paradise Rock Club, Paradise Rock Club, Music,  More more >
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1 Comments / Add Comment


I, too, was caught between amazement at the versatile talents of this young, vibrant trio, and a similar dismay at the choice of venue. Much of my time at the Paradise Saturday (a venue I've been quite fond of in other shows) was spent dodging PBR-wielding stompers and standing on tiptoes trying to catch something more than just Dom Flemons' hat bobbing up and down.

Just two years ago, friends of mine were able to take in a free CCD show at a public library in Atlanta. And while I celebrate the band's growing success, with the new album and the nationwide tour, I'm also saddened that the days may be gone in which to really appreciate what they're doing in an intimate setting.

Not that it's not fun music to dance to; just maybe needs to be in a space where dancing to their music is really possible--not atop a hard, industrial looking floor in the dark.

And cheers to David Wax Museum for coming off the stage to play one song in the middle of the crowd--almost seemed like a different space in that moment.

Anyway, this review, forgive the pun, struck quite a chord. Thanks!
Posted: October 20 2010 at 3:56 PM
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