Some might call a one-man show meant to recreate a “full band” experience the work of a megalomaniacal control freak. In the case of Henry Roland’s Henry + the Invisibles, the show was underway before he even took the stage. He arrived early for his Friday night gig to set up his elaborate rig of synths, delay/effects pedals, guitars, basses, a percussion kit, live mixing software, and a wild assortment of props. Naturally, he had put together a playlist to get bar patrons in the mood for his eclectic mix of funky “rock and soul,” and he showed me how to manipulate the house music from his iPhone. As we listened to some Tribe Called Quest, he rubbed his thumb on a vinyl icon on his iPhone and we listened to him “scratch” the track in real time. I laughed, the moment was pure Roland: Any opportunity to show off is a good one.
He certainly knows how to strut his stuff. Roland, also the frontman and creative center of Starchild, appeared comfortable and cocksure in the center of his “onemanphunkband.” He cued drum loop, plucked out bass licks, wailed about being “a soul shaker,” and shredded on his guitar like so much taco cheese.
Roland’s kitchen-sink approach didn’t hurt his audience appeal, either. Going strong for two years as Henry + the Invisibles, Roland brings not only a DJ’s precision but also a diverse ear. The set was a veritable world tour of all genres worth dancing to. He remixed Starchild rocker “Power of Ten” to a mid-tempo hip-hop beat and switched between Latin jazz and dance hall reggae with ease on “The Island.”
Then there were the theatrics. Roland already exhibits a crunchy style befitting a slightly stocky Bootsy Collins, but he rotated through props for each tune wearing oversized sunglasses, a fleece hat with bear ears, and, at one point, hid under a rhinestoned blanket while singing through an ET-lookalike puppet. He played drums on Rebar’s walls and congoed through the club, cowbell in tow. More than once, he displayed more-than-competent skills as a rapper. The crowd ate up every attempt to entertain them, which made me feel like I was missing something in the Henry + the Invisibles formula.
Roland’s performance was the work of a “capital P” Professional, but I found myself yearning for the music of his power trio Starchild, hungry for more humans onstage with a greater capacity for error (and, hopefully, inspiration). There’s no question that Roland’s one-man band attempts to minimize what can go wrong during a live performance. He exhibits total control, trying to pursue a particular and consistent creative vision without the complications that other band members may provide. But something about seeing him as “the man behind the curtain” takes a little magic away from the art of live performance. Henry + The Invisibles is fun, entertaining, and ass-kicking, but not enduring.
Fri Sept 17
8134 Broadway St.