Greater Tuba 

Drums and Tuba gets the sousaphone out of the B-flat basement

The life of a tuba player is one of tragic contrasts. In his secondary capacity as sousaphone player, he cradles the biggest and most exciting-looking ganglia of tubes and valves in the marching band. The one that all the little kids love; also the most cumbersome, the one that chaps his whole face when it’s cold out, the one that could kill him if he fell down the bleachers with it, the one that makes the best target for snowballs and apples, the one that hides the most booze on out-of-town band trips and the one that’s hardest to bathe when someone vomits into it. Never mind the boring rhythm parts—as a low-brass player, he is part of an impressive phalanx. He looks good. He has a sense of purpose. He is happening.

Back in the band room, it quickly becomes apparent to our protagonist that his secondary duty as sousaphonist is actually the main reason the band director cajoled him out of taking first-period Latin instead, for in a symphonic capacity he frequently finds himself a burdensome adjunct to music that was not written with him in mind. Oh sure, the works of James D. Ployhar and other composers of everyone-is-special boilerplate for high school band provide some consolation, but man cannot live on 4/4 oompah alone. When the tuba player looks upon the orchestral works of the masters and sees only measures of rest for him in two and three digits, a profound ontological angst can set in.

Little wonder, then, that tuba players are often driven to other means of self-expression. Strong drink. Playing Butthole Surfers covers in cockeyed bluegrass bands like the Bad Livers. Feather boas. Purple stretch pants.

And now: dance music! Of a kind that doesn’t involve knackwurst and lederhosen, even! Drums and Tuba just might be the tuba’s ticket out of the B-flat basement and into the stratosphere of sexiness where it belongs! Of course, there are a lot of prejudices to dispel—one of them being the whiff of “novelty act” that clings to any outfit with the big brass balls, says I, to haul this thing of beauty out of the oompah ghetto and incorporate its Stentorian flatulence into something new and exciting! Something that takes risks and makes them pay off.

Danceable music with tuba, more like: a loopy blend of electronica, funk and fusion elements folded into one smooth and creamy mix. Granted, that could be anybody these days, except for this matter of the tuba—when was the last time something with a tuba made you think of Primus, Miles Davis and Medeski, Martin and Wood all at the same time? The best thing is, Drums and Tuba don’t even sound like they’re trying to be an interesting blend of anything—tellingly, they don’t advertise their sound as “psychojazzthrashgrasstubacore,” or some such nonsense. They just do it, and it all goes down smoothly. Cool, pretty and weirdly hypnotic—Drums and Tuba just don’t sound like anything else out there.

Drums and Tuba take on the Ritz next Friday, March 23 at 10 p.m. Cover TBA.

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