There is nothing like watching a live performance by a band that makes you want to dance. It’s a simple enough thing, and no doubt if you’re reading this you’ve been to plenty of gigs in your time. But the ones that stand out, are they the ones that made you want to move, even if your dancing skills are nothing short of horrific? Are they the ones that got the blood moving in your veins and made your pulse race, made you experience a bit of that drug-free ecstasy that you only picture happening in the aisles of small-town churches?
Watching Hypnotic Brass Ensemble perform isn’t a religious experience, but it sure feels like it -awakening a primal energy in the audience that has laid dormant for a long time. While watching the hot, sweaty, writhing mass of bodies flail about the dance floor in Cork’s Pavilion it was amazing to reflect on the power of nine young men wielding trumpets, trombones, sousaphone and baritone horn (and one kick-ass drummer). The Chicagoans, eight of whom are sons of Phil Cohran from the Sun Ra Arkestra, are proof that creating music that speaks to people isn’t about making things as complicated as possible – it’s about stripping things down to their bare bones and then using those bones to bang out an almighty, life-affirming racket.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble have come a long way from their days performing at El stops on Chicago’s inner city streets, selling homemade CD-Rs for a few dollars. Born with the sort of talent most of us could only dream of, they started off bringing music to the people, putting a smile on the faces of commuters, and now they’re working with musicians such as Damon Albarn, Erykah Badu and Mos Def. As proof of their leap in popularity, the band play not one but two gigs on the same night at the Pavilion, which is fast making its name as one of the premiere venues in the country.
When they bound onstage – telling us, of course, that Cork is their favourite city to play in – the sweat glistening on the young men’s brows is the only sign that this is their second show of the night. They’re introduced by Cork stalwart, DJ Stevie G, who promises us that this second gig is the one for the ‘true fans’, and that the band has saved the best for us. Over the next hour or so, the young men certainly prove that to be true, blasting through favourites such as -Balicky Bon’, -War’, and -Ayo’ with the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. It’s remarkable that they have the energy for two gigs in the same night, because they channel every ounce they have into their live performance – there’s not a hint of weariness here. When they bound about the stage encouraging us to shout ‘bang bang bang, skeet skeet skeet’ or ask who got the party started, it’s hard not to wonder if the audience will tire out before the band members.
After two encores, it’s time for Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – half undressed and dripping with sweat – to leave the stage, to the disappointment of the crowd and the band. No one wants them to finish up, and they don’t seem to want to leave either. It has been an exhilarating gig and one where we had been, well, hypnotised.