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Shark Week now a power quartet and still biting
There is essentially one trick to being a power trio: You either bring it or you don’t. There is no middle ground. When drums, bass and guitar are all you have, you have got to be especially good or it falls apart pretty fast—but if you ARE especially good, the results are often sublime and masterful. That’s how I was going to introduce this piece on semi-local band Shark Week, until I discovered they were no longer a trio at the photo shoot the other day. It was disappointing. Not because being a quartet makes them less of a band. They are fantastic, but I felt like I had a good intro there and have been unable to come up with anything better.
I spent some time with the boys on one of Chattanooga’s many scenic downtown rooftop parking garages talking about music, life and what a long damn walk it was to the top of this particular parking garage.
The first thing that struck me was that these fellows are younger than I would have guessed. I don’t think any of them has cracked 30 yet. Until that day I had never actually met them, I’d only chatted with Bijan Dhanani online and listened to their music, so my impression of their age came entirely from the maturity of their music. They play with a kind of precision and focus that a great many musicians learn the hard way, through trial and error over many years. It’s more than that, though. Their music is smart, smarter than a great deal of what’s going around these days; smarter than the music of people I know who are twice their age and have been playing the whole time. I tell you truthfully that a group of people that young with that much talent makes a tubby middle-aged half-rate guitar player such as myself want to appreciatively slam his fingers in a car door.
They’re really quite good.
Sonically, they are straight out of the late-’60s/early ’70s, with center stage being an ebb and flow between guitar and vocals a la Page and Plant. Bijan’s guitar work moves seamlessly between crunchy, crunchy power chords and a lighter, more ethereal touch, depending on what’s needed at the moment. At least as impressive as his guitar work is his ear for what works best in a given situation. He plays tastefully. There are a great many so-called guitar gods who twang when they should crunch, crunch when they should wail and wail when the rest of the band is trying to tune (and could you please shut the hell up for a minute? Dhanani, by contrast, exercises control and discipline and again this speaks to the uncanny maturity of the band’s sound.
Kip Smith also slings an axe and I’d probably write a little about that as well if I weren’t so blown away by his vocals (and clever lyrics for that matter). When I listened to the first track the band sent me, I thought, “Huh, that guy sounds like Lou Reed.” By the second track I was thinking, “No, really, that guy is kinda nailing him some Lou Reed.” By the third track I started wondering if maybe Lou Reed was playing with Shark Week. Through the awesome power of journalism and investigative reporting I confirmed that Lou Reed isn’t playing with anyone these days and that it was in fact, Kip. To be fair, he isn’t a “sound-alike” in the Velour Subway, he just happens to share some characteristics with an iconic vocalist. Honestly, there’s a dash of Trent Reznor in there too, and occasionally some Billy Bragg. That’s a pretty disparate group of gents, but Kip has discernible elements of all three in varying degrees depending on the tune. But mainly he’s got soul. Strong stuff.
This brings us to the rhythm section: Adam Swafford and Nate Smith. Jokingly, Swafford expressed the sentiment, “No one ever remembers the bass player” in a voice that made me feel like maybe he’s accustomed to always getting a rock in his bag at Halloween, but the bass in this band is perfectly suited to the music and that’s saying a lot given the rather sophisticated sound of it all. The drums take the standard 4/4 rock beat and turn it sidewise with some very clever, pleasing and occasionally surprising ornamentation. Essentially the rhythm does precisely what it is meant to do, providing a foundation for the rest of the band rooted in strong fundamentals with just enough flair to remind you that they are just as talented as the frontmen.
The themes behind their clever pop culture satire are…not uncommon, but then the themes of great art are universal and oft-repeated. It is the execution of those ideas that defines the artist and in that respect Shark Week is new, refreshing, and a band to watch, particularly after their killer performance to a packed house at J.J.’s Bohemia on Feb. 15 when faces were melted and panties were moistened.
If you don’t know about Shark Week, you’ve clearly skipped to the last paragraph of this article and should quit wasting everyone’s time, but for everyone else I will say this: In a city that is fairly bristling with talent, here are four young, talented guys who shine, who play like they’ve been together for at least a decade and who are undoubtedly on their way to bigger and better things. There is a new album coming soon. Get it. You can thank me later.