Deep Space Six
by Charmie Gholson
I must admit that I changed out of my jammies and drove to Leopold Bros. at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday because I was broke. Not because I knew anything about the cult groove band Deep Space Six. Not because I wanted to have a beer and dance at one of the coolest bars in town. I just needed to hustle a story.
On my way in, I pass a group of stoners heading out. There's a predictable number of tie-dye-wearing longhairs spinning out on the dance floor, but there's also a fair turnout of white-collar, beeper-on-the-belt types nodding their heads at the tables. I get a drink and sit down.
Up onstage are three guitarists (one of them barefoot), a keyboard player, and two drummers, one behind a kit, the other playing congas. They groove from a Bob Marley song to Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" and then play three Grateful Dead tunes. No pause, no "between songs" patter just a layered stream of improvisational groove.
An old friend appears, and we chat for a bit. She gets up to dance; I look around and sip a yummy Leopold raspberry thingy. When she returns, I ask how long she's been coming. She thinks for a minute and says, "Since Steve had parties at his house and they'd play in the basement." How long ago was that? "Oh, shit." She leans both palms against the table and puts her head down to think. "Ten years."
Wow. These guys have been together for ten years? No, she says. Different members come and go and then she's off to the dance floor, catching a hug on the way. As I drink more of my raspberry thingy, another friend comes by, surprised to see me. I'm surprised, too, by the number of people I know here folks I don't run into nearly enough. And they ain't all hippies, either.
Before very long I'm on the floor, too.
There still are no spaces between the songs, just a seamless flow, like the long chiffon sleeves of the smiling little hippie girl on my right. We're all dancing in rank now, lined up carefully to give each other space. The band members have stopped interacting on stage and now look extremely focused. They must be focused, after an hour and a half of improv.
I'm not a Deadhead, so forgive me if these observations seem obvious, but I have performed improvisational modern dance, so I understand what it's like to "tune in" to others while performing. It's a high, like the one you get after running for forty-five minutes. And those guys are plugged in. So is the audience. It's easy to remember in a genetic way why music was first created: to sing for a spirit, celebrate community, and help the plants grow.
Deep Space Six is at TC's Speakeasy in Ypsilanti on Saturday, July 12, and at the Club Above on Saturday, July 19.
[Originally published in July, 2003.]