Tonight I saw Zoocrü and Sidewalk Chalk at The Pinhook. I had bumped into Alan Thompson, sax and keys player for Zoocrü, at Dashi’s upstairs during Moogfest. My friend and I had been caught in the rain and needed a bowl of broth to recover. Alan, along with recent mayoral candidate and frontman for The Beast, Pierce Freelon, happened to sit next to us at the bar. We spitballed for a minute until they all discovered a mutual affection for anime and descended together blissfully into nerdom. I don’t know anything about anime, but I was content to kick back, observe, and enjoy my broth and mezcal cocktail. Alan invited me to the Zoocrü show at The Pinhook on Wednesday, May 23rd, and put me on the list. It was nice. Thank you, Alan!
I wandered over to the venue around 730PM and spent a few observant moments with the band before their set. Alan greeted me. We all had drinks and then the set started. “We’re Zoocrü. You can find us at zoocrüofficial dot com, #cruworldorder,” Alan spouted from the mic. They really know how to promote themselves. The necessity for self-promotion is a very real struggle for many working artists, but it does sometimes help when your shit is tight.
Zoocrü has been in and around the scene for about six years now. You have probably seen them at some point. (If you were at the Sam’s Quik Shop 70th Anniversary party, then you definitely saw them!) Like many local musicians in the area, they are involved in other projects as well, particularly the guitar player, Russell Favret, and the drummer, John Curry, both of whom are also in the band for North Carolina’s own rising star, Rapsody. Three of the members came out of the music program at NC Central here in Durham–a school known for churning out highly technically skilled musicians, particularly from their esteemed jazz program. Zoocrü’s sound definitely draws upon a heavy jazz element, but it is hardly quantifiable in those terms. “You know–it’s that millennial sound,” Alan said to me at the bar. Yes, indeed–I do know… it’s that fuck-a-genre-I’ma-make-the-noise-I-feel sound. That was very much the theme of the evening. Let’s see–saxophone, drums (oh the drums!), bass (fucking fuck yes, that six-string is beautiful!), keys, electric guitar–Zoocrü is an instrumental band, highly skilled musicians for sure, and masters of sound fusion.
As their set went on, their comfortability set in and made for some wonderfully expressive improvised solos. I spent their whole set in awe. And doing an Instagram Story–the bizarre fuck medium where y’all seem to enjoy eating live coverage. I’m happy to do it though–it feels like I’m constantly writing memes over scenes from everyday life, all in first person present tense–where live writing lives. First person present tense–yes, that’s where I’ve been living lately. Music lives there too in its own way–in the freedom of the moment… like when Russell fell into a lovely little interlude mid-set, eyes closed, moving his body with the sounds of the instrument. Later in the set it was all about the drums. Oh the drums! John is electric. My goodness. My father is a drummer you see, and I grew up falling asleep to sound of him practicing. To this day, I can sleep through anything thanks to the smashing noise of my dad wailing on his drums at 10PM every night. The drums speak to me. I am forever drawn to percussion because of how I was raised and John is a tremendous talent. During the last three songs of their set, the percussion was totally unleashed. I abandoned the Instagram story for a moment and let myself be drawn to the front of the stage to see exactly how that lovely racket was being made. It really was a night of high energy and unfettered improvisation. All of Zoocrü had moments like this throughout their set–it’s that totally raw in-the-moment expression of sound that you can only experience if you go to the show. Sure, you can listen to the music on an album, but seeing a live set… that’s something else entirely.
I had a conversation about that very idea with a gracious gentleman named Malik from the band Temple 5 behind the venue during a smoke break between sets. We had been talking about the stunted growth of hip-hop, its stagnant state of evolution, and struggle to grow beyond the adolescent stage of its former and current done-to-death trends. Malik asked me if I was at the show for Zoocrü or Sidewalk Chalk. I said I was here for Zoocrü but was staying for Sidewalk Chalk after listening to a few of their tunes earlier in the day. Sidewalk Chalk is one of his favorite bands he told me… his own music project being so similar in style and purpose.
Sidewalk Chalk hails from Chicago. They are, like Zoocrü, another millennial fuck-a-genre group drawing influence from many sounds, not the least of which being jazz, soul, and hip-hop. An emcee-fronted ensemble, complete with a brass section, Sidewalk Chalk takes “fuck a genre” to a whole new level. As Malik pointed out in our conversation, the instrumental un-genred music behind a rapper is an unique approach to breaking hip-hop out of the chains of its former trends. There is more room for improvisation, even freestyling (which has sadly waned in recent years), when combining the emcee frontman and the inherently in-the-moment style of jazz-influenced music. Synergy is the word that keeps popping into my head. The marrying of these movements, “fuck a genre” and “breaking hip hop out of its adolescent chains” seems to be a natural evolution in contemporary music, one that is obviously being explored in local scenes from Durham to Chicago. Sidewalk Chalk is an excellent example. Their set was fire. And if you’re reading this, then you likely know that Durham Beat does not cover visiting acts; we are all about the local–but the thing is, Sidewalk Chalk… they vibe with Durham. They could have easily been a band from the local scene. Durham is rich with artists of all types, so much so that the colliding of genres and styles and projects is inherently inevitable. It’s no wonder Sidewalk Chalk has built a bit of a following here.
By the time the show had finished, the fire from those sets was now inside me. Inspired, feisty, and full of energy, I made my way over to Accordion Club–one of my favorite writing corners–and immediately penned this thing you’re reading. That’s the kind of night it was. Between the music and the conversations and the Natty Bo, I had a wave of words dying to get out of me, a bizarre combination of antsiness and focus… I had to get the words down right then and there… yes, I carried the energy of that show with me. Talk about inspiration and the collision of artistic mediums… this is why I love what I do. It jives.