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article by: Michael Canter

19 June 2012

Tulsa Yesterday, Tomorrow & Forever (Part Two)

Tulsa yesterday, tomorrow....forever
Today I think I'll take my own sweet time
You can tell by my shoes that I am a believer
Or just look into my eyes....." 
~ Chris Robinson, Tulsa Yesterday

In our second part of the incredible music vibe emanating out of Tulsa, OK, we'll cover performances by Gogo Plumbay, Desi & Cody, Dead Sea Choir and Pilgrim, and we'll take a look at the newest addition to the city's great music venues, The Vanguard, which opens next month.

Tulsa is an amazing city, one that is geographically small but eclectically large and bighearted.  The music scene is simply unbelievable.  So great, in fact, that Aric S. Queen, who writes a travel blog for the National Geographic, predicts Tulsa will be the next Austin. 

I am on board with that exact sentiment.

One need only look at Third Street to see a visible comparison to Austin's famed Sixth Street, and Tulsa is throwing tons of money into new construction.  Imagine:  A city with such a rich musical tradition is not only embracing it's past but carving it's niche as the live music capitol of the Midwest.  With so many great bands there simply aren't enough venues to host them all.  Solution - build more venues.

Simon Aleman is architecturing one of those new venues, restoring the old Marquee on Main Street in the historic Brady District into one of Tulsa's premier venues.

The Vanguard Grand Opening featuring Dead Sea Choir 07/06/2012
222 N. Main Street, Tulsa OK

Simon Aleman is bringing live music back to the venue formerly known as The Marquee. When that Tulsa legend quietly closed its doors earlier this year, it left a giant-sized void in the city's vibrant music scene. Other than Fassler Hall and The Brady Theatre, The Marquee had been Tulsa's only mid-sized venue, filling that necessary iteration between playing the smaller venues on Third Street and jumping to Cain's Ballroom, while also providing an opportunity for Tulsa locals to go from grinding it out on the home circuit to opening for a number of touring bands that made their way through Tulsa.

The Marquee was the perfect midpoint for bands ready to take that next step. The Vanguard will act similarly and will do that with an artist-friendly attitude that is sure to win the hearts of local and touring musicians and fans of music alike.

I had a chance to meet with Simon and tour the nearly-finished music club.  Included in the renovation is a bigger stage, a green room and a couple VIP observation balconies that are almost directly above the stage, taking indie music intimacy to a whole new level.   Add to that a state-of-the-art sound system and an owner who is as big a fan of the local music scene as anybody in Tulsa, and you have a winning recipe for what is sure to be one of Tulsa's hottest venues.

Added bonus:  The Vanguard will feature EDM and deejays on Thursday evenings.  For fans of that genre in the area, that is certainly a welcome bonus. 

Have you ever sat in a monstrous music venue and looked down to a stage that, from a distance, made it difficult to identify visually with the performers?

The Vanguard is all about changing that perception.

The word Vanguard means "to be in front and on the edge" and that's what Simon Aleman promises. From bands to deejays and anything in between, The Vanguard will feature everything that is at the forefront of today's music scene. Artists ready to break out and great independent artists will find a home in their intimate venue.

For fans, The Vanguard is the place to catch the next big thing.   Simon has built an ambiance where  every seat in the house is great, whether you’re on the floor upfront or comfortably seated in the balcony.  You'll always be close enough to get a great, unobstructed view of your favorite bands, along with an unparallelled and state-of-the-art sound system.  Bookings are filling up quickly, which is not surprising.  Bands want to play The Vanguard.

Dead Sea Choir kicks off a new era for a very familiar Brady District hotspot with a new name and a fresh attitude.  Their performance at The Vanguard begins at 7:30 PM on Friday, July 6, 2012.  You can get tickets to the premier event through TicketFly.com

Gogo Plumbay at Fassler Hall 06/16/2012
304 S. Elgin, Tulsa, OK

Think of a Munich beer hall and you think of bright lights, loud tuba and accordion based German bands, lederhosen, Oktoberfest. Fassler Hall isn’t like that. It’s dark and spare, stripped-down with lots of German beer offerings and delicious sausages.  In fact, it's a sausage fest in the most literal description of the term.

Fassler Hall also features great music, and Gogo Plumbay held their album release party there on Saturday night with a truly exceptional performance, including a stirring rendition of their song Kevin Carter.  More on that in a bit.

Gogo Plumbay are serious musicians who do everything but take themselves seriously.  And everything they do, they do spectacularly.  I don't even know how to correctly describe their music because they are a genre-defying outfit.  There's definitely jazz, blues and rock and roll.  There's psychedelic trance. There's some rap and spoken word.  A little cajun influence here and there, combined with big beats and big sound at times and low-fi noises at others.  They play instrumentals.  They play non-instrumentals.

They make music out of silence, an effect that they've mastered remarkably. Hell, they may have invented the term "pause for effect" - or maybe at times they simply simultaneously forget which note to play next.

Okay, I'm kidding there.

They have two saxophonists because one is never enough, a lap steel guitarist and a guy on percussion who is non-stop pure, unbridled energy.

Let me introduce you to them:
  • Chris Combs | Lap Steel
  • Zack Elkins | Saxophone
  • Michael Staub | Saxophone
  • Josh Raymer | Percussion
The bottom line is that Gogo Plumbay is a genre within itself, so maybe, in defining the band's sound, we can just call it eponymous.  That works for me.  Moving on.

Their set at Fassler Hall started a bit late.  Brian Horton described that as "Gogo Time" so in addition to having their own genre they also have their own indefinite and continued progress of existence and schedule of unavoidable events.  Stay with me, it gets less complicated from this point forward.

The band was worth the wait.  Gogo Plumbay is extraordinarily good.  Their set at Fassler Hall was extraordinarily good.  It's the horns man......it's the horns.  Elkins and Staub have degrees in music and they are frighteningly good.  They killed it Saturday night.  Raymer may need to be chained up after hours just to slow his pace.

The highlight of the evening was the song Kevin Carter, a slow burning jazz number that segues into a spoken word coda.

There's a black boy frozen in the desert wind
Where the sand has bloodied his brown skin
And turned his white mouth like the ocean's foam.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words
I took the picture of the boy and bird
They gave me the Pulitzer Prize
Just to remind me of how a black boy dies.
You know I tried to chase the bird away
There was nothing I could do or say
I just sat there crying and smoking a cigarette
Haunted by all this violence.

From the Gogo Reader, a publication the band puts out in and around Tulsa:

"The picture alone arrested me. I saw it soon after it was first published in the mid 90s. I remember cutting it out with scissors then. That was the first copy I had. From time to time through the years I'd photocopy a new one.  The internet wasn't all blown up around that time.  I still have one of my old photocopies at home.  I guess everybody gets hold of things in their own way. Something got hold of me when I saw this picture.

Several years after seeing the picture and getting copies of it and being so impacted by it, I finally heard the story. Kevin Carter, just a few months after winning the Pulitzer Prize, killed himself.

So what? I guess it's depressing. But all it's ever done for me is to remind me..... to open my eyes and my heart.  To have compassion.  In the face of apathy and high minded bullshit.  To stop and fucking care.  And yeah, I do a horrible job at it.   I'm egotistical and self-centered and sometimes mean.  But that's why I carry around this picture and why we wrote this fucking song."


Desi & Cody at The Riverwalk Crossing Amphitheater 06/17/2012
300 Riverwalk Terrace, Jenks, OK

Desi & Cody have now become Tulsa's most acclaimed musical duo and are on the fast track to national recognition.  Desirae's powerful voice is the perfect counterpoint to Cody's intensely captivating guitar playing.  Together the combination is a nearly unforgettable mix of country, down home folk and acoustic blues.  Buoyed by an unbelievable sound system at the Riverwalk Amphitheater, Desi & Cody provided the opening set for headliner Dead Sea Choir and didn't disappoint.  Their interplay is magical, and the two have perfected their set thanks to tireless performances both in and outside of Tulsa.

Their 45-minute set at The Riverwalk was sublime.  As usual, Desi was pitch perfect and Cody was masterful in accompaniment, and the ebb and flow of their set was just amazing.  The weather was beautiful and the Father's Day, sunset scheduling couldn't have provided a better setting for the two. Both are gracious in their stage presence, with a wonderful, playful banter that is neither rehearsed nor forced.  And their music is killer.

Dead Sea Choir at The Riverwalk Crossing Amphitheater 06/17/2012
300 Riverwalk Terrace, Jenks, OK

Dead Sea Choir produces an epic sound.  I've heard and even stated the obvious comparisons to Radiohead and there is just no denying that.  And I hate comparisons because it leaves an awful lot for an indie band to live up to, it puts an awkward pressure on the band's fans, and it's just not good practice as a reviewer to lean on other works.  And though the comparisons are not without merit, the two bands do project some similarities,  Dead Sea Choir stands on its own as a powerful, progressive rock ensemble.  There, that's out of the way.

Because of time restriction and appointments to be elsewhere, I could only stay for the band's first three songs.  I can honestly say I did not want to leave.  Costa Stasinopoulos is the leader of Dead Sea Choir as well as it's producer and sound engineer.  His work is meticulously wonderful.  He has managed to produce almost every nuance of the band's sound in a live setting that he had created in the confines of the recording studio.  This band is hair-raising amazing and are as good in front of a live audience as they are on recorded media.  Maybe even better.

The highlight of the evening was a new song that will be on Brian Horton's New Tulsa Sound 2 compilation.  It's badass, for lack of a better term.  I even mentioned that to Costa as soon as the band had finished playing it.  I wished I could have stayed for their entire set.

Pilgrim at The Colony 06/17/2012
2809 S. Harvard Avenue, Tulsa, OK

The Colony is legendary.  The hot development on the local scene is a sound we've mentioned warmly and frequently in recent months, dubbed as The New Tulsa Sound and if one had to pick it's place of conception and birth, The Colony would probably be it.  At the very least, The Colony is it's focal point.

It's a dive bar with a small stage, tiny restrooms, mismatched furniture and a huge round table that holds it's limited floorspace mercilessly captive.  But it has an amazing sound and vibe and is everything that live indie music is and should represent.  It's underground ambiance works well with the product it presents night after night, mainly the best music Tulsa has to offer.  Everybody wants to play there, and everybody wants to see live music there.  Plainly put, The Colony rocks.

Speaking with Paul Benjaman during the course of the evening, he explained to me that his fellow New Tulsa Sound brethren (Cody Clinton, Bo Roberson, Wink Burcham, Dustin Pittsley, Jesse Aycock and Sage Flowers) and he have been playing The Colony for many years, jumping in on each others sets and really perfecting that sound that bears their city's name.  They call themselves The Colony Rats, and at any given point any or all of them may jump up on stage for an impromptu jam session with whomever has the stage that evening.  In fact, Paul played a few songs during Pilgrim's second set.

The Pilgrim show was the perfect night cap on an extraordinary weekend.  Pilgrim has a ridiculously big sound and runs at a feverish pace.  They played for nearly three hours and the night still went by far too quickly.  The audience was really into it from start to finish.  The Pilgrim show was probably the one show of the weekend that defines both the mission and the passion of those involved with putting Tulsa to the forefront of Midwestern Indie Music.  The Colony was packed elbow to elbow, on a Sunday Night no less.  On Father's Day.  On a day when the Oklahoma City Thunder was playing the Miami Heat for the NBA championship.


Perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

To read part one of this article, follow this link:  Tulsa Yesterday, Tomorrow & Forever (Part One)

For more on The New Tulsa Sound, check this out:  The Colony Presents The New Tulsa Sound

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