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Exclusive: Tomas Doncker And The True Groove Allstars Final Rehearsal Before They Perform Endangered at The Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO, JUNETEENTH WEEKEND!!! Reviewed

When the rehearsal is over the executive producer of “Endangered” -a multi-media extravaganza with music by Tomas Doncker, words by Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Yusef Komunyakaa and art by Floyd D. Tunson- Marla Mase agrees that the True Groove Allstars are a rock and roll band. It is true that while they have more back then you expect in a rock band (except for Sly And The Family Stone), it features three guitarists and this allows the band to have a unified sound that travels from Phish, The Band, the Dead all the way to Sly, Curtis Mayfield and Gil-Scott Heron. Color blind dance music, with a band and sound that vibes of the multi-ethnicity of The Family, music that belies the struggles of the black man at the hands of the the increasingly white supremacism based GOP that Tomas and Yusuf have worked on together before but never more singleminded than on Endangered.

I was invited to the final rehearsal before the band, with Marla, and Tomas’s nephew Jonathan Doncker who is working on lighting, leave for Colorado to perform this Juneteenth weekend . So what I saw was what the band considered it would sound like less than look like. I had been disappointed that I couldn’t make the trip to see (and I quote)…

“Tomás Doncker & The True Groove All-Stars present Endangered, a live music, multi-sensory installation performance steeped in 21st Century Psychedelic Soul.Endangered premieres at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center on June 17th, as an intimate site-specific performance in the Floyd D. Tunson: Hearts and Mindsexhibition. On June 18th Endangered moves to Armstrong Hall for a full concert presentation.

Inspired by the Afro-Futuristic and politically charged artworks of Colorado’s own Floyd D. Tunson and powered by lyrics from Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, Tomás Doncker and The True Groove All-Stars chart a sonic journey to freedom, a modern day revolution of the mind.”

But the rehearsal was mindblowing anyway. You think of rehearsals in studios, you think maybe The Beatles bickering. That wasn’t The True Groove Allstars at all, perhaps earlier in the rehearsal stage it was less collegial, but on Tuesday afternoon the cues were needing a touch sharpening but otherwise the performance was set and the atmosphere was that of a band that knew where they were at.

I’ve seen several incarnations of the Allstars but this was the tightest of them all with Leroy “Lefty” Thompson on his own unique Leftronics holding the band’s bottom, Tomas and True Groove engineer and co-producer James Dellatacoma on guitar, Artur Uronen (you may remember him from Beverly Girl) on Gonzo Pedal Steel, and Mark Henry on keyboards and everything else. It isn’t rock and roll, though it does both, it is an electronic rethink of 60s black rock music through a distilled vision of party bangers and angry agitprop. When seen in full performance, with the visual elements in place, it will be a piece of political defiance by three black men trying to get out of this world alive. There is a take no prisoners element personified by Tomas performing an electrifying solo.

The vibe is all business even as the business is a pleasure, the ten song set covers the upcoming Endangered album in its entirety plus one of Doncker’s greatest moments, “The New Day” -the only song that looks back instead of in the now as it tells of the great migration of people of color from the South, northwards. It is the only time where the songs aren’t torn from not the headlines, but the distinct quality of life in 2022 where the abject silliness of the “great replacement theory” – the racist premise that white Americans and Europeans are being actively “replaced” by non-white immigrants- would be hysterically funny if it wasn’t terrifying. That’s the world where Endangered lives, a world where between the police, the GOP, and white racists it is open season on black America.

This is information ingrained in the True Groove Allstars performance, even in the studio, even with no one around, Doncker rumbles and pounces, he decries, he belies, he crests on top of the music and descends on the slower number, the singing makes him sound like a dying man in his final battle, it seethes with intensity and anger and the words that tumble out sound like paroxysm of rage: “ENDANGERED SPECIES”, “outlaw is the one and only law”, “Just another all-American”, “the naked metaphor is a black man”, “‘Cause I’m Too damn free- Ya better believe me”, “another man done gone” -they add up to both an anthem of rebellion and freedom and a freefall indictment of the treatment of people of color in the US.

Musically, you can hear Gil Scott Heron, Sly And The Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, Doncker himself circa The Mess We Made, you can hear the mainstream MOR horror of “In My Blood” and intense batterring hard rock of “Outlaw” and the beyond clever reversal of “Universal Bunnies”. What you don’t hear, for all the rage, is the “n-word”, what you don’t hear is the profane violence of OG rap. This is rebellion for adults, this is the world that Yusuf emerged from and Doncker, whose father was involved in Brooklyn politics, learnt to refuse to act like a cowed victim. I’ve discussed race relations with Doncker in the past and there is no one less willing to shift the blame, there is no one who doesn’t see the success and failures of black politics as clear eyed as Doncker, and throughout the songs he wrote with Yusuf there is a constant refusal to hide from the toughness.

The playing deviates from the self evident, Mark Henry’s sax solo on “Ain’t Nuthin’ Wrong”, Artur Uronen’s pedal steel on “The New Day”, the wild Funkadelica “Universal Bunnies” jam. The music is not just to back the pictures and the singing but they keep emerging upwards, they aren’t the icing on the cake, they are how the cake is baked.

The thing is art needs no reason other than itself but when it has a reason, a band like the Clash or The Wailers, it is more than an added plus. “Endangered” is literal, it is scary, it is a clarion call, and it is as important as it can be. In the 1960s, when CSNY released “Ohio”, rock and protest were directly linked. In 2022 everything is so diffused that Endangered is a brave and brittle rebuttal. Three great black artists, three of the endangered, working in concert to bring it home to Black America and anyone else with ears and eyes to listen, I haven’t written as much about Floyd D. Tunson as I would if I was watching it in Colorado, but the more I see I of his work the more I am impressed by his Dali like surrealism.

“Untitled 96 (Version 1)” is a mixed media by Floyd D. Tunson Tue Sep 16 13:53:09 -0600 2014 1410897187 FILENAME: 178518.jpg

Yusuf is a legend round are way, one of the great poets of 21st century and a man who has words like a fine brushing adding the shading to Tomas’s vicious performance. Though what I take away, more than anything else, is the litany of black men who have died at the hands of the police before the guitar solo on “Blue Dementia”. If you have a heart, feel this.

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