The Budos Band played itself a dark fanfare Friday night before its five-person line of percussion fully kicked into its deft blend of funk, soul and Afrobeat rhythm.
The New York City group brought 10 of its members, nearly all of them dark-haired and black-shirted. Even the trumpet and baritone sax onstage looked worn to a dirty copper color, and sounded with a harsh buzz. The band's electric organ dotted the mix like the little prickles of oil that spring to a forearm tending a frying pan. Like the music itself, the crowd's dancing at the band's outdoor concert on King Street included both celebratory swaying and moves akin to a grim march.
The set spanned the Budos Band's three self-titled, Roman-numeraled albums, released between 2005 and 2010, plus selections from a planned fourth one. While the mix of genres has changed and expanded subtly over the course of those records, they always manage to sound like the same group's work, in part because a tinge of menace is common to all of them. While the instrumental band doesn't have a singer bemoaning social injustice or a charismatic leader chanting about shit, it does have its percussive weight and the occasional tremolo-picked growl from Thomas Brenneck's guitar.
Baritone sax player Jared Tankel seemed determined to set a cracked mood throughout the set. When he spoke between songs, he usually began his remarks with a hoarse cry of "Madison, Wisconsin!" (which began to sound strange after three or so times). Among his choice proclamations: "We are from Staten Island and we know no bounds of reality and reason!"
Tankel also said that many of the songs from the forthcoming album were concerned with different kinds of psychological disorders: "Let's face it, people, we all have psychological disorders, and the Budos Band is full of 'em! You name it, we got it!"
To judge from the new songs in the set, the band wants to turn its dark side into something overtly tormented. On "Seizure," the horn figures grew more terse and pointed than usual, and the organ whirred uneasily during the quieter spaces in the tune. Another, whose title wasn't clear when Tankel screamed it out, slowed the band to a creepy, distorted stupor. When the band's tall, slim touring trumpet player took a break to dance during a song, he kept his back straight, making the band's stage presence all the more ominous.
Toward the set's end, with The Budos Band III highlights "Black Venom" and "Unbroken, Unshaven" out of the way, the band scooted into some more friendly funk numbers. The crowd visibly began to loosen up, letting out some of the tension on which the Budos Band thrives.
Madison's Natty Nation opened with a set of the straightforward but reliable reggae they've been working at for years. The band began with the Martin Luther King, Jr., tribute "Civil Rights" and stuck with its overt social themes throughout, mellowing out some on "Cool and Proper."
Vocalist Jah Boogie still capably handles the tricky task of playing reggae bass lines while singing. The songs tended to get a little more interesting with Louka Patenaude's guitar solos, which sometimes went in a twisting chromatic direction, and with Aaron Konkol's organ and Moog solos, the latter of which had the tone of a smooth yet warbly electronic horn.