NOMO at the Ark
by Whit Hill
Vampires don't dance to the music of NOMO - the warm blood of the living courses not through their veins - but pretty much everyone else within, say, 100 feet of this A2-born-and-bred post-Afrobeat horn-heavy band will be getting quite seriously down.
I first saw NOMO last summer at one of the Art Fair stages. The namby-pamby little country act that preceded them seemed to sense the presence of greatness and scurried quickly off while the NOMO folk - and there were a lot of them - piled the plywood stage high with drums and mike stands and amps and whatnot. Then they took their places and blasted Church Street with sound.
This is fun party music. Fun party music with brains. Fun party music with brains and soul. And what more can you ask for at a party?
Now me, I don't get invited to a lot of fun parties, so one-half of my own day-to-day NOMO experience takes place in my car, where I have discovered that the key to long, lonely road trips is to attempt to learn to sing NOMO horn lines - and once that's done, to harmonize with them. It's hard, and I suppose I look dorky to the drivers who pass me by, but it eats up the miles. There's just nothing as rousing as a rock-solid horn section (there might be six horn players onstage at any given time), and NOMO's cool originals boast horn lines that are both complex and utterly accessible. Best of all, they're like puzzles. You can figure them out. And balancing them is a sweet tumble of percussion (as many as four players onstage at any given time) on instruments as unexpected as an "electric saw blade gamelan" - all planted firmly in the fertile soil of African polyrhythms and American free jazz.
The national and international buzz on our own, homegrown NOMO is rather deafening these days. They're touring a ton on
both sides of the Atlantic and getting glorious reviews from rags like Playboy, the Chicago Reader, and Time Out (in NYC). It's hard to say precisely who these people are; they're like a tribe of fifteen or so Detroit-area musicians - I'm not going to list all their names - who come together in various combinations for gigs and recording. Saxophonist Elliot Bergman leads with a light touch. The result is a tight-knit, disciplined sound that feels free and spontaneous. NOMO's sophomore release is called New Tones, and it's a thin, simply packaged little number with cool cover art, stuffed with sound.
The other half of my own day-to-day NOMO experience takes place in my kitchen, where I blast New Tones and dance around maniacally on the green-and-white-checked linoleum I picked out myself yet somehow slightly regret. NOMO makes me dance, sweat, and run into the dog dish. For I am no vampire.
NOMO is at the Ark Saturday, August 12.
[Review published August 2006]