Oh Snap Festival: T-Bird and the Breaks

Last night I went to my first open mic in Austin. I didn’t perform or anything, I was just supporting a friend who was playing there (quite wonderfully, I might add), but it was interesting after going to so many shows with full bands to hear a night of music from people alone with their acoustic guitars. Barring a few artists (Mountain Goats, Shakey Graves), solo acts with acoustic guitars tend not to be able to engage me for more than a few tracks. I’m trying to keep an open mind because I recognize that there’s some great music being made in that genre, but it’s hard when there are groups out there like T Bird and the Breaks.

Based around a core of five musicians, last year’s Never Get Out of this Funk Alive features no fewer than 20 different contributors to this funky sound. T Bird and the Breaks lay down the funkiest of grooves on nearly every track and have upbeat, interesting arrangements to match. You could describe what they do as “funk music,” but they have a better word: Chunk music. Chunk, as they define it, is based in funk, but also incorporates a lot of rock n’ roll and hip-hop. It’s that last element that is the most innovative, because while hip-hop draws heavily from funk, the reverse hasn’t seemed to happen until recently. It’s perhaps most evident on their song “Rock That Skull,” as T Bird lightly raps (sounding kind of like Bob Schneider in his Scabs moments), develops some call and response with the rest of the band over a stomping rhythm accentuated by a stand-up bass, and references the Beach Boys in his lyrics.

T-Bird and the Breaks - 'Clap Hands Song'

It’s not all hip-hop-ish, though. “I Gets My Boogie On” is delicious, classic mid-tempo funk. “Fuck it Up” incorporates squealing electronic sound effects into the traditional call-and-response. My favorite, though, has to be “The Clap Hands Song.” I love covers – all the better when they offer something wholly original in them. “The Clap Hands Song” starts as a slightly more uptempo version of “The Clapping Song” by Shirley Ellis (she of “The Name Game” fame). For the first minute or so, it remains fairly true to that original. At the second verse, though, T Bird comes in with a verse from Tom Waits’ “Clap Hands” from his classic Rain Dogs album. As the vocals switch back and forth between the two songs, they meld flawlessly. Waits has never sounded so funky – it’s remarkable. In and amongst everything, each musician squeezes in a micro-solo, reminding us how tight this band is, and what great musicians they are. Everything about this song points to a high degree of difficulty, and T Bird and the Breaks make it look effortless.

Tonight, they are headlining the Oh Snap Festival at the Parish, going on sometime around 1 a.m. I have yet to see them live, but by all accounts, they are fantastic and I totally believe it. Be sure to check it out, and if you want their latest record (which apologies for completely missing when it first came out), visit their site here.

– Carter