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Culture, Music

Night of the Living Dead

by Dave Durbach / 02.11.2010

“This is sooooo boring!”
“What the fuck?”

Comments from the peanut gallery in the midst of the type of show most of us aren’t used to. A midnight gig at the Bioscope, providing a soundtrack to the (appropriately titled) zombie flick Night of the Living Dead. The band: the Blk Jks, not the most riveting performers at the best of times, especially not for a seated gig like this one.

Just what the appeal of Halloween is, I don’t know. It’s an American day that few of us celebrated even as kids. Thankfully here in South Africa its relevance is largely relegated to an annual party theme to break from the usual 90s parties and dubstep nights.

But anyway, the Blk Jks did their thing, mixing their set with songs from their albums and extended jams. Molefi sat centre stage and kept the ball rolling. Mpumi seated on the left fiddling on his SG, close enough to reach for his amp every time it cut out.

Liberated of his drumkit, Tshepang alternated between singing – in a stunning falsetto, tapping on a drum pad on the floor, and chilling in the aisle chatting to his buddies. Lindani also took some breaks to hide on the side of the stage, but his acoustic guitar skills were another aspect of the Blk Jks resumé that audiences at regular gigs don’t always get to see.

Blk Jks

Midway through, perhaps sensing they were losing the audience a little, the band saw fit to crank up the sequencer to a d ‘n b rhythm, over which they continued jamming. Despite their intentions, the crowd filtered out steadily. Admittedly this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea for a Saturday night. Those that left early could at least now go and mill around outside, have a smoke, wip out their Blackberries and tell their facebook friends how much they dig the Jks, before getting the hell outta downtown Jozi.

With 60% of the crowd gone, and half of those remaining fast asleep, the music got most interesting in the final 20 minutes. Mpumi and Molefi stuck in the zone until the credits drew up the screen. Those that stayed till the end left grinning that they’d made it, and gotten the most of the R100 cover charge.

How many bands in SA could’ve done this better? Benguela, Closet Snare, Babu, almost definitely. Benguella’s gig at the same venue a few months ago, which included a guest session from Mpumi, was far more compelling. Babu side project Tonic’s “silent” gig here was also far better received than this one.

I’ll stick by what I said in my review of their latest EP Zol – the Blk Jks are a great band, skilled and far more ambitious in their sound than almost any other local act. But for all their success here and abroad, their live shows seldom fail to leave one wanting more. Perhaps it’s good that they’re not going out of their way to make “the fans” happy, but how long will it be until their cool appeal wears thin, and those wanting to party start refusing to cough up and head straight to the club instead of leaving early, while those who appreciate the cerebral ambient jazz in their music go off in search of something else, at gigs where hipsters don’t feel the need to provide idiotic commentary? The Blk Jks are traipsing a fine line between these two audiences. Soon they’ll have to make a choice between one or the other, or risk alienating both.

Blk Jks

*All images © Dave Durbach.

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