Blk Jks Storm the Statesby Andrew Thompson / 29.05.2009
Somewhere in the bowels of San Francisco, at a cold little venue called the Independent, on the exclusive bar, boutique and gourmet restaurant-lined Divisadero Street, just a cheesy hop-and-a-skip away from the Postcard Row and the Full House house in Alamo Square, a confident young bloke with a guitar hanging loosely around his neck leans into the microphone to do one last sound check at the request of the stage director. Rather than the “Two..two…two…” that the supremely average local warm-up acts used, he opts for a series of Xhosa clicks so solid and ear-achingly clear and quick that even Ma Brrr would’ve glanced up from her G ‘n T. They bounce and reverberate violently off the cold walls, through the rising smoke and deep violet mood lighting, and before the thinning ‘Frisco crowd can even begin to comprehend what’s just happened, drum beats so powerful they would’ve rattled Bob Saget and co’s windows a whole block away blast through the club.
Smooth, precise guitars follow shortly after, and within seconds much of the dispersing crowd is back in front of the stage, if only to give these dynamic, exotic dudes a chance. “We’re the Blk Jks, straight out of South Afrrriii…Kaa,” rolls guitarist Mpumi Mcata after a five-minute wall of music, before once again launching into a solid bout of their now trademark Africanised psychedelic dub rock.
Although sparsely populated with the wrong crowd, a gig like this would be snapped up by most local bands; the chance to headline any international performance, no matter how small or obscure, is never one to be sniffed at. But standing amongst the two-dozen or so foot-tapping locals I wouldn’t blame the Jks if they weren’t all that into it. Because, in just two days time, they’d be playing before a crowd of thousands, and their fellow acts would transform from two-bit local groups Foreign Born and The Music Lovers, into the Kings of Leon, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Decemberists, Bon Iver, Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, and TV On The Radio, among dozens of others. Because, as I write this from a sunny Seattle coffee shop, three hours east of me the Blk Jks have just wrapped up their performance at Sasquatch! Music Festival, one of the country’s, and the world’s, biggest.
Somehow the guys have given much of the South African media the slip; few locals will be able to tell you that the band is currently touring the States, for the second time, in two years, with a handful of gigs in LA, New York, Cambridge, Philly, DC and Brooklyn still to go. But that’s just how these boys roll, and it sure showed through on that night in San Francisco. They nonchalantly hopped up on stage with broad smiles on their faces, did what they do best, which is pretty darn incredible, and the rest will take care of itself. Which, if you consider a major international record deal and coverage in some of the America’s biggest publications, including the New York Times, Spin Magazine, and The LA Times, it already has.
*Pics courtesy Levi’s Original Music © Liam Lynch