Dave King Trucking Company’s idiosyncrasies delights Harper Hall

Sam Lewin

The hilarious and beautiful weirdness of last Wednesday’s Dave King Trucking Company show was evident from the moment the band walked on stage. The concert started forty minutes late, and after the doors to Harper Hall finally opened, it still took about ten minutes for the band to start playing.

This second delay was largely due to Dave King’s brilliant stage banter — a staple of one of his other bands, Happy Apple, which frequents Lawrence. Since many upperclassmen have seen Happy Apple concerts, they came to the Trucking Company show expecting King’s first-rate comedy and jazz drumming. He didn’t disappoint. Indeed, the audience was probably less surprised by King’s improvised shtick, which hilariously blurs the lines between fact and fiction, than King’s own band mates.

By contrast, when I saw the Trucking Company play in New York at last summer’s Undead Jazz Festival, King mostly shut his mouth. Although he made a few joking, passive-aggressive comments about the previous band, these went unappreciated by the square New York audience.

So the fact that King didn’t shut up last Wednesday speaks to his long-standing relationship with Lawrence. He jabbered to the point of exhaustion and had the audience cracking up — in Harper Hall, of all places.

When the beginning of the first tune seemed inevitable, he stopped his count off to take off his “Justin Timberlake hat.” This got him started on a tirade about being bald, which culminated in his asserting, “This is what a real man looks like!”

King later joked about trumpeter Dave Douglas’ nerdy affinity for “hi-tens” and reflected on his experiences at Minnesota Vikings games. He described Vikings fans as “decapitated pegasuses” and expressed indignation at their failure to read his 2004 feature in “Modern Drummer” magazine. Most impressively, he launched into a twenty-minute diatribe about how obnoxious kids biking in the middle of the street almost got him arrested.

But yes, the Trucking Company did eventually get around to the music. And they played great; the music was even better than the banter.

The Trucking Company hails from Minneapolis, and in addition to King, the band features bassist Adam Linz, guitarist Eric Fratzke, and tenor saxophonist Brandon Wozniak. The band’s other tenor player, Chris Speed, lives in New York and wasn’t at the gig.

Their sound is marked by fluid grooves, explosive improvisation and each player’s individual idiosyncrasies. Linz’s bass playing is prominent and defined, while Fratzke’s mastery of effects allows him to change the band’s texture on a dime. King’s drumming is scattered, unpredictable and conversational, and most importantly, he grooves really hard. Finally, Wozniak’s frequent use of shrieks and dissonance fit nicely over the rhythm section’s groove.

The fourth tune of the night, Linz’s “Do You Live In a Star City?,” provided a fantastic illustration of the Trucking Company’s sound. Linz started the tune with a four note bass vamp, which laid the foundation for the melody and solo section. He produced the first note of each measure by soulfully slapping his upright bass; it was painful to watch, but it felt great.

Fratzke took the first solo in “Do You Live In a Star City?,” playing angular and distorted phrases. Wozniak followed, and Fratzke quickly reentered and sparked a high-intensity, collective improvisation section. King’s busy playing and unexpected cymbal crashes pushed the tune over the edge, and many students responded with violent head nods.

After the song finally ended, there was a pervasive feeling of euphoria in the room. But luckily, King quickly picked up the mike, ranted for fifteen minutes, and allowed the audience to laughingly prepare for the next cathartic song.