As the instrumental mastermind behind Seattle’s indie-rap power act Grieves & Budo (and Macklemore’s first album, The Language of My World), Josh Karp, aka Budo, has earned a sizable local following and a huge amount of industry cred (he’s since produced beats for national acts like Cunninlynguists, Brother Ali, and Slug (of Atmosphere), and turned heads in 2009 with his outstanding independent solo debut One Bird on a Wire). Last night in the Croc’s back bar, alone on stage with a black Fender Jaguar, trumpet, Nord Electro 3 keyboard, laptop, effects board, and about a dozen pedals (also a light-up moon, animal antlers, and a pretty fantastic mustache), Karp debuted a load of new material from his upcoming album Finger in the Moon, which was as experimental as it was emotionally revealing.
Both musically and theatrically, this was an entirely different Budo. Usually reserved behind the decks, the artist was uncommonly energetic in this solo format; where One Bird on a Wire—an album that grew out of a day-break recording session—felt emergent and warm, these new songs were deeply introspective and dark. Given the time between his debut to today—aided by a bunch of cool gear—it appears Budo has dug deep into his psyche to write these songs and appeared completely comfortable—excited, really—to bare the products of his work. “This song is about traveling the world, developing a drinking problem, and coming to terms with that,” he remarked before a new track.
Natural by-products of this kind of exploratory approach are the strange and occasionally exclusionary moments where the audience has trouble latching on. This was especially true given most of the audience had never heard the material and was unsure what turns it would take from moment to moment. The slow and ever-changing rhythms were not especially conducive to dance, and despite his overly bouncy efforts (“Will you jump?” “You’re not jumping?!”), the audience was disengaged. He also talked a lot, which broke the flow substantially. If he could streamline his segues between pieces, the audience would be far more locked-in. This was, again, the public debut of this material, so I’m not going to put too much weight on his presentation, as it’s still in the early stages and he’s too good of a musician to not get it down.
Unsurprisingly, there were some amazing moments, which I can’t wait to hear on record. The back-to-back songs with choruses like “He circles around me” and “I will abandon you,” were incredible pieces, each taking unexpected turns and having hugely moving crescendos. In these moments, his creative songwriting and impressive musicianship meshed perfectly, and I was taken aback. He also didn’t over-use his vocals during those songs, which even he admitted is not his strong point, saying at one point, “Come on, you can’t sing any worse than me!” When his voice is used as an instrument as opposed to a centerpiece, either in a harmony role or as a filtered element (as he did often on Wire), it’s at its most effective.
On the whole, the night was a success; when Budo irons out his live set a bit, he’ll be in even better shape.