Brick+Mortar at the Black Cat

Eclectic rock duo from Toms River, New Jersey performs Backstage at the Black Cat in Washington DC. Photo: Brick+Mortar

WASHINGTON, January, 4, 2012 —Brick + Mortar are often classified – or at least as much as anyone talks about them – as a drums and bass duo. This is a mildly simplistic way of looking at the band, and for the most part it’s inaccurate. It’s not that they don’t incorporate drum and bass wildly into their set. But, as they showed backstage at the Black Cat, they’re so much more than what they attempt on stage that it’s really unfair to label them merely “drum and bass.”

This is a band that doesn’t seem to have any shame, at least from a musical standpoint. They’re not embarrassed to continually bark orders to the audience to move forward or to incite participation from various crowd members, whether that includes handing a woman standing in front of an instrument to play or studiously getting everyone to participate in a shout along of a particularly goofy chorus. All this is simply an extension of the type of the music they play and the kind of atmosphere they intend to create through that music.

Their offbeat mentality becomes apparent early on, erupting as soon as they launch into their first song. But their mindset becomes front-and-center the moment they tell the audience where they’re from; namely, Toms River, New Jersey, where Bricks + Mortar initially formed. That’s something they admit in a self-deprecating fashion after first claiming they’re from tonier Ashbury Park. Their actual ancestral home doesn’t really matter to the audience. But the way front man Brandon Asraf presents the information—fibbing about it and then correcting it—speaks volumes about this band while giving everyone an important clue about what they’re trying to accomplish with their music.

That said, what they are trying to accomplish with their music is… well, it’s in the ballpark of practically everything. It becomes quite clear that nothing is off limits for the duo, whether it’s Asraf playing guitar, bass, keyboard, or tambourine or John Tacon blasting away on the drums and throwing out fusillades of electronic samples.

Normally when a band seems to be throwing whatever they can against the wall musically speaking, it’s usually a sign that the musicians lack a coherent musical identity. That really isn’t the case with Brick + Mortar though. Their unpredictable, kitchen-sink approach is essentially their real musical signature. If the band were to state their mission statement, it would probably be something like: “We’ll Try Anything.”

For the most part, this approach works for them. Given this line of thinking, other bands attempting this approach might present a set that’s disjointed that it starts losing the audience, either by confusing them or allowing sheer boredom to set in. Brick + Mortar have their moments where confusion does indeed reign supreme – either in their heads or in the minds of the audience – but never once during their set could they be accused of boring the crowd that paid to see them.

The duo moves between typical drum and bass to noise rock to angular post-punk, and they segue into all of this effortlessly. It’s not that they don’t acknowledge the musical differences inherent in their approach. In fact, their shifts are rarely subtle because Asraf is so in the face of the audience and clearly honest in expressing what the band’s objectives are. In the end, the duo seems to have decided to incorporate the various elements of their musical mélange into a single, giant tapestry, which, at times, causes their set to strongly resemble a uniquely quirky piece of theatrical performance art.

Brick + Mortar is very clearly trying to push as many boundaries as they can musically, and they do it in such an abrasive and earnest way that they come off as charming and eclectic instead of disorganized and unfocused—characteristics that could have sunk their recent set at the Black Cat here in DC. At any point during their set, it’s nearly impossible to guess what they’ll try next. But it’s also just as likely that because of this creative unpredictability, anyone taking in their performance will be entertained.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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