Review: The Constellations at DC9

Words and photos by: Chris Williams

The first thing I noticed walking into DC9 this past Monday was a tall man with a rather large Afro. I wasn’t sure where I knew him from but he looked familiar. After talking to a few people at the downstairs bar, I realized the band I came to see, The Constellations, were drinking at the bar. It turns out the big guy with the Afro was the Bass player and I then remembered seeing him in some promotional photos on the band’s website. As I grabbed a beer, I watched the band relax and chat it up with the locals. Bands that have drinks at the bar before the show instead of using the backstage room earn points in my book. True to their nature, The Constellations turned out to be a down-to-earth group of musicians churning out high-energy psychedelic rock-n-roll with a side of blues and a dash of hip hop.

DC9, with its dark lighting and hole-in-the-wall vibe, was the perfect backdrop for The Constellations to belt out a near dozen ominous, yet playful songs, mostly about the underbelly of their hometown Atlanta aka “the dirty dirty”. They played every song from their album, “Southern Gothic”, which is going to be re-released on June 22, 2010. As a young man from the South, I felt right at home grooving with a Schlitz canned beer in one hand while my other hand was up in the air feeling the vibe of this tight-knit band. Through spoken word, rapping and soulful singing, lead singer Elijah Jones led us on a groovy journey into the streets and neighborhoods of the Dirty South.

Versatility was name of the game and Jones played the part. Drinking whiskey, Jones and his band churned out a series of blues and soul inspired rock songs. When he was rapping, his lyrics were grimy and he held the microphone like a true MC. When he wasn’t rapping, he was laying down heartfelt vocals. Halfway through the show, I forgot where I was and fell into a trance. I felt like I stepped out of DC9 and stepped inside a freak-show circus tent where Jones was our ringleader and his band mates were the main attraction. From the bass to the keys, this eight-piece band was well rehearsed and had a crisp sound.

Jamie Gordon, the lead keyboardist, was straight-up sexual on the keys: sweating, pulsating, and thrusting his body. Along with the other keyboardist/guitarist, Ryan Davis, the duo seamlessly provided a layer of jazzy synthesizing and electric tones that only added to the funked-out dance trance that had taken over my body. With their Mona Lisa eyes and mysterious curves, two female back-up singers (Alaina Terry and Shab Bashiri) banged on tambourines and contributed pop-style background vocals that kept the music playful. The camaraderie between band members was genuine; you could easily see they were having a great time on stage. Trevor Birdsong on guitar along with Wes Hoffman on Bass, and Nackers on drums rounded out the band with their frantic yet melodic style of playing.

Sip after sip of whiskey, Jones became more freakish and animated. The band played a great rendition of “Felicia”, the standout track on their album. When the band began playing “Step Right Up”, a 10-minute remix of an old Tom Waits song, I knew the climax of the show was nearing. During the song, Jones guided us through his Atlanta neighborhood: pointing out the late night hot spots, nodding to all the hookers working the strip, and shooting the breeze with the bouncers at the door. At the end of the song Jones ended up on the floor on his back yelling, laughing and screaming and I noticed I was screaming wildly, too.

Abruptly, the band hopped off the stage and went outside for a smoke. The show was over and I was left there wondering what just hit me. Some of the best music out right now is the type that you can’t easily classify. You can’t put your finger on it because it is a combination of all great musical styles: Rock, Rhythm and Blues, Soul, Hip-Hop, etc. The Constellations are exactly that. The music was infectious, the energy was through the roof, and I will be buying their CD when it comes out June 22.