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True Groove’s Fourth Annual Throwdown At The Bitter End, Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 Reviewed


If all else fails, and on the strength of the fourth annual True Groove Allstars Throwdown last night that seems highly unlikely, Tomas Doncker could become the Master Of Ceremonies for a World Wrestling Federation Smackdown, from throwdown to smackdown might sound like a leap but halfway through Regina Bonelli’s gargantuan “Don’t Put Your Hands On Me” (“you can put your hands together when you pray…” she offers before slamming so hard on an abusive man that  the roof rattled), it seems more than possible. Tomas was towering last night at the Bitter End, introducing members of the True Groove family, as well as one of the best iterations of the Allstars, he brims with pride at the packed out nightclub. Doncker has one of those great rocker voices, like a Solomon Burke bass rumble with a wide range that can take you by surprise, and he uses it to force your attention where he wants it to go, Almost by sheer will  the Allstars are all and everything and  when Tomas claims they are the best band in New York today he is, if anything, understating the case. I’ve seen the Roots a number of times, and their biggest claim to fame is that they can cover the Stones when a classic rocker comes to town, ergo, they are protean. The Allstars are protean and then some: blues, funk, rock, indie rock, Americana, electronica, EDM: all this stuff, they write and they play, and while last night was a hardcore funk out, last week’s acoustic performance certainly wasn’t.

There is a pure muscle to the set, a sinewy pulsating go getness, a hard rock shot at Doncker’s “The Revolution,” to open the evening,  a song of outraged post-antebellum, shout of bullshit, with John Lennon’s “Revolution” interspersed: I’ve been following Tomas’ career since “Power Of The Trinity,” and this is the best band he has had since the Howling Wolf period: they are so poised and on point that they make everybody look great. They sound better on “The Revolution” than the original The Mess We Made  recording, on TMWM it precedes the title track, and proceeds “Some Ol’ Dolls” and “Church Is Burning Down” and, of the four, seems to be almost holding its breath, but it was pure fire and ice last night: it seethed the way “Church” seethes but it is more venomous, it’s like the Allstars started the evening where most bands finish it.

Unfortunately, that was the only time that Tomas took the lead, fortunately there were lots of great performances to make up for it. First up was Dylan Mars Greenburg, the renegade filmmaker you may remember from the glittery, art damaged, horror movie (think Hammer meets David Cronenberg meets Andy Warhol with zero budget) “ReAgitator: Revenge of the Parody,” she performed the self portrait “The Dreamer” with the hook ringing through the entire band, and at the end Dylan put her leather hat on top of Doncker’s head; it was a moment of tenderness between star and mentor, and defined every performers attitude towards Tomas and True Groove as a record, a crew, and a posse… as a family.

Marla Mase looked great in a red, white and blue coat that mimicked David Bowie’s Union Jack  on the cover of Earthling, if Doncker is the soul of True Groove, Mase is the heart, the broken heart,  who, 18 months after the loss of her daughter Lael Summer, whose reputation as a singer just keeps on growing,  looks both fierce and burnished in pain, she attacks “Truth Comes Down, the opening song off 2016’s Miracles -Lost And Found, with somewhere between bewilderment and vehemence, it’s as though she wishes it wasn’t so bloody true. Rumors abound that there is some Lael studio material left, we can but hope. The rebuked “A Gun” -which was featured on Now NY, was her second and final song of the evening. Marla will be performing at New Jersey’s White Eagle on January 24th, 2019, and we can hope that next year she may  begin the process of transmogrifying her pain, so close to the bone with the family play “The Pill,”  into her art and someplace where it can rest in sorrow, but rest nevertheless.

Who is the new True Groove find, Touchy Feely? “1.2.3” -a piece of electronic glam rock opens Now NY, and Doncker introduced him as a producer and an engineer, who has been recording with Chris Martin  for most of the year .  So mayby be it is Bono’s secret identity? Or at least Eno? Touchy Feely showed up, played he song, and disappeared back to Jamaica to complete work on Coldplay’s next album.

Regina Bonelli is the Italian spitfire whose Love Letter has been burning up the blues charts since its release, In a skin tight red dress, with blonde hair, and high heels, Regina gave the word voluptuous whole new vistas of meaning, but her sensuality stands as a rebuke of starts. Performing Doncker and Kevin Jenkin’s, a #metoo about woman empowerment, “Straighten My Crown”, Regina explained how she raised her children without a husband and without a family to lean on.  “I would have loved a knight in shining armor”. There is a lesson about the difference between theory and practice there, being strong and alone is only a matter of pride when you aren’t working all day, every day, when you are working so hard it is wearing you down and worrying you out. Regina has the toughness that comes from a life and a strength that scorns sitcom judgements. Among the power of her music, and certainly on stage (I’ve been dying to see her on stage for a year now), is the power of absolute self-knowledge: she isn’t playing, this is blues for keeps. She and Tomas shook and shaked and Regina went from a whisper to a scream,, taking a breather only to speak a few words.

As for Sam Huber, the Finnish phenom who closed the evening, he  was back to business after last week’s acoustic performance at the Finnish Consular General’s abode (here), this six song set was closer to his April  set  earlier this year, also at The Bitter End (here), with Keith Shocklee of Public Enemy and The Bomb Squad (Keith had recently remixed “NY#1”) in attendance, Sam was the force of nature we have come to take for granted though one of the great rock and roll sights of 2018 is Doncker battering his guitar and Sam singing straight at him, like Keith and Mick in their prime.

This has been a strong year for True Groove and if they didn’t manage to do what must be one of Doncker’s great dreams, give a rebirth in the village to the post-punk scene that first nurtured the guitarist, they did manage to establish True Groove as a one of the great indie label  stories that, once the story is told, will become a #NY1 legend.  See you next year.

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