“What’s your favorite Stevie Wonder song?” Michael Brouillet, frontman for multiple 2008 Rammy Award winners Dog Men Poets asks the crowd. “Superstition,” someone answers immediately, as many of us would, but the band’s not about to perform a cover song, at least not technically. “You might like this song then,” Brouillet says before launching into DMP’s own “Black Magic,” and his amazon.com-style recommendation comes nearly satisfaction guaranteed. The structure of “Black Magic” — its rhythm, bassline, and keyboard riffs — sounds like it was derived from a Rivers Cuomo-esque mathematical analysis of Wonder’s bad-luck masterpiece. Needless to say then, it bounces with an undeniable ass-shaking swagger, but “Black Magic” is so utterly dependant on that other, superior song, it’s hard to get excited about it, and lines like “I met her back in the day/ She really blew me away/ And I think she’s here to stay” don’t add anything worthwhile.
But “Black Magic” is maybe the only time in around 90 minutes worth of music — including three actual covers — that the Poets sound much like anybody else. Considering Brouillet’s brand of white funk-hop and and temporary fill-in Jorge Palomo’s abusive six-string bass slapping, the first instinct is to write them off as Red Hot Chili Peppers disciples — a charge I was preparing to defend them against until their versions of “Give It Away” and “Love Rollercoaster” (most definitely not the Ohio Players’ original) pretty much sunk my case. Ironically, DMP most channel RHCP in their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but otherwise they play a pretty personalized hybrid of reggae, fusion, and Latin rock — party starters all. Maybe it’s the surefooted genre-hopping that frustrates DMP’s bid for chart domination — Brouillet sarcastically dedicates “6 Song Rotation” to Clear Channel — but the trite lyrics of bitter-hearted “Liar,” P-funk-meets-Matchbox-20 greeting card “Wonderful Life,” and for that matter the tired radio-sucks protest “6 Song Rotation,” don’t posit DMP as some great underground hope.
Live, goofy larks like show closer “S.U.V.” (hook repeated ad infinitum: “I can’t see over your S.U.V.”) transcend the limits of their lyrics and stripped-down studio arrangements, though, thanks to some truly virtuoso playing from G-Smiles and Palomo. (Brouillet’s keyboard and harmonica add some needed color splashes, but he never really takes off on his own, and drummer B.J. Shuler is a clearly gifted timekeeper, but he admirably keeps his fills unobtrusive). Seriously, I’d listen to Palomo and G-Smiles jam for hours, and that’s not a claim I’d make about many artists, local or otherwise. Watching skilled musicians having fun (especially when it’s cover-free, like tonight) is pretty much always a good time, but considering their talent level, I can’t help but wish that DMP would play something more substantive, or at least more creatively weird, than a musical interpretation of that “Brown Chicken, Brown Cow” joke, reimagined as a frat-daddy dance party, complete with samples of “Jump Around” and “Play That Funky Music.” At least they beat me to the Wild Cherry reference, I guess. — Jeremy Martin