theme of the evening was “unsung heroes” – June 18, at Philadelphia’s TLA.
Text & Photos by David Iskra
The music business is a strange place. It is a world
full of both incredibly talented and talentless people trying to make a living.
There are many means to that end and every path is littered with the carcasses
of the weak. Some musicians continue to perform even if only to a half empty
bar at the Holiday Inn while others sell out stadiums and fly their own jet
from show to show while polishing their Grammys. In between those two extremes exists several levels of success and
failure. For some that success is quick via American Idol. For others
it involves endless nights sleeping on the floor of a smelly van as you earn
your stripes (and fans) one show at a time.
Black Dub might be the only band on the road this summer with both the industry
awards and the dirty van. With founding member Daniel Lanois, the proud
owner of several Grammys, and a resume that would seem forged if you didn’t
know better, you’d expect him to be on the private jet that U2 is currently
using to tour the U.S.
But that isn’t the case. Black Dub is doing things the old fashioned
way. While I’m sure their bus isn’t exactly the dirty van that many indie
bands currently reside in, he has his feet firmly planted on the ground.
He was spotted walking into the venue during the opening act, bag in hand
seemingly right off the bus from the previous night’s show. The stage was stark
and the light show theatrical but not flashy.
And unlike his Irish friends, he isn’t selling out arenas
and that right there is a shame. You see, that’s the strange part of the
music world. Here is a guy who by all accounts has the Midas touch.
Every artist he works with reaches a potential even they weren’t aware
of. Every album he takes part in seems to gather not only a cult
following but very often a huge fan following that pushes the artist into the
next income bracket. So why is he playing such small venues all across
It isn’t his choice in band mates. He was smart (or lucky) enough to grab
Trixie Whitley before she hits the big time as a solo artist, something that is
bound to happen, even in this strange business. I’ve seen Black Dub three
times and every show ends with the crowd chattering about how amazing she was
and how they didn’t expect that voice out of that frame. And as for the
rhythm section, find me a more versatile drummer than Brian Blade. No,
seriously, go ahead. I’ll wait here. Oh, you’re back? That’s what I
thought. The guy smiled the entire show and his arms never stopped
moving. Go to a gym and see if you can do that and sound good at the same
time. Daryl Johnson played bass on the album but wasn’t available to
tour. Jim “Sidepipe” Wilson
stepped in for the tour and again, Lanois knows how to pick them.
So what’s the deal? It isn’t marketing. I’ve
read countless interviews and the album had nothing but strong reviews when it
was released in the fall. It isn’t looks, Trixie brings a natural
feminine touch and raw sex appeal without having to embarrass herself or pander
to the audience. It’s just there. It can’t be contacts. Lanois has
a rolodex that would be the envy of any music journalist in the business.
So what is the deal? Is it the band name? “I’m going to see
Black Dub” is often met with a lot of “Who is that? Is it a
rapper?” but a band name can’t seriously be a hurdle to success can it?
Sometimes bands record great albums but can’t pull off a live show.
Again, that isn’t the issue. This might be the only show I’ve seen where
the photographers were in the pit grinning from ear to ear and moving to the beat.
This is a business of jaded, and I mean jaded,
and cynical people, and yet I saw industry types dancing, that’s right, dancing
at the Bowery show last year. So we can scratch that hurdle off the
So what is the barrier between Black Dub playing a theater
or an arena? Who knows? Who cares? Thousands of Marketing staff
have attempted to solve this equation and failed. It is a puzzle that
cannot be solved so just enjoy it when the right band does get the keys to
their jet and spend your $20 on a T-shirt to support those small bands that need
the gas money. I’m wearing my Black Dub shirt even though I know Lanois
has plenty of gas money and if he really wanted to could borrow Bono’s
jet. It’s just my small way of saying thanks for the music.
Black Dub weren’t the only unsung heroes onstage last night. Philadelphia lent one of
its local artists to the lineup in the form of Jessi Teich. She took the
stage and politely introduced herself and thanked the crowd for coming
out. If anything they should have been thanking her for giving us a peek
at her skills. She and her more than capable band treated the audience to
what can be best described as a funky Norah Jones batch of songs, demonstrating
a classy vibe that, with a little more edge, could garner the same kind of
attention fellow opening act Rocco DeLuca has been
getting since Keifer Sutherland (of all people) started championing this unique
artist back in 2005.
Standing alone on the starkly lit stage, DeLuca wailed over
his dark guitar playing creating a dark musical vortex that may have been a bit
heavy for a balmy summer night crowd but again, here is an obviously talented
guy who can sing, write and play not only the guitar but the Dobro as well. In
fact he has opened for John Lee Hooker and has even played with Johnny Cash.
His rolodex is also deep and yet, if you mention his name you’ll get the blank
stare from any of your friends that don’t scour music blogs daily.
Again, what a strange business.