The five-man rhythm section known as Toubab Krewe took concertgoers on an aural journey that lifted off from Newark, Ohio, and went ‘round the world during a stupendous, all-instrumental concert inside Thirty One West.
On a cold Monday night, the Ashville, N.C.-based quintet—Drew Heller (electric guitars), Justin Perkins (kora, kamelengoni, electric guitar and percussion), Justin Kimmel (bass), Luke Quaranta (percussion) and Terrence Houston (drums) brought plenty of heat. The quintet offered up a spellbinding mix of tracks from across its songbook, focusing heavily on 2018’s Stylo and infusing the numbers with an extra bit of oomph that doesn’t always come through on the studio recordings.
Though Perkins’ exotica gives the Krewe’s music a Malian dint, with bright flashes of sound ringing out from his ancient stringed instruments, the grooves—
and Toubab is all about the grooves—span from the Caribbean to South America as the band cranks out exquisitely composed instrumentals that fall in the four- to 12-minute range and never resort to noodling as they unfold. These guys don’t solo as much as they play as an ensemble. And when they lock in, it’s off to the stratosphere, where the air is thin and the music pours over listeners like solar breeze.
While their music is uniquely their own, Toubab Krewe’s melodies occasionally hint at Graceland-era Paul Simon, while Quaranta and Houston obviously spent some time listening to pre-1980s Santana as they learned their rhythmic craft.
The audience was fully engaged and appreciative of the sounds emanating from 31 West’s small, low-rise stage that gave the concert an intimate, living-room feel.
Sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller Lite beers and receiving occasional refills of Jameson whiskey from Quaranta—who also served as the band’s onstage spokesman—the five musicians felt the power of their music but remained grounded enough to give it the attention it deserves. Heller played stinging slide guitar on “Night Shade,” while Perkins pulled off some southpaw guitar work of his own on “That Damn Squash,” which might be the only instrumental, as Quaranta said, that’s “based on a true story.”
It takes serious chops and exceptional songcraft to hold an audience’s attention for two solid hours while never singing a word, which is exactly what Toubab Krewe exhibited on this night in Newark. Kristopher Weiss