A fan in Santa Fe once called The Constellations a real-life version of The Royal Tannenbaums. That sentiment is true.
This band of Atlanta brothers and sisters agree. The Constellations embody the highly intelligent nature of the disillusioned Tannenbaum family. All they’re trying to do is carve a path and find themselves in the process.
The Constellations have a two and a half year rotating line-up change to blame for their eclectic approach to music making. For frontman Elijah Jones and the rest of the gang, the studio is the playground and the instruments are the toys.
It’s their youthful approach to music making the define the antics of their live show. Wide-eyed and eager, The Constellations utilize the stage to improve upon their improv act that, at this stage in the band’s career, is equivalent to the likes of Dizzy and Charlie Parker circa the Be-Bop days with L.L. Cool J at the mic – straight ahead ornamented acts of funky, blues driven, soul dominated, hip-hop inspired rock n’ roll dancin’ music. They get away with it because of an extensive knowledge of those who came before them.
“There’s a constant pressure from within the industry to pinpoint and maintain a distinct and refined sound,” Jones. “We do everything against that,” and they’re damn proud of it.
The Constellations have been granted complete creative control by their record label, play like children in a musical jungle gym of studio time and touring. They’ve even got a random cult-like college following in Milwaukee of all places.
“Yeah, it’s funny how that happened,” bass player Wes Hoffman said. Thanks to the world of college radio, The Constellation’s debut record “Southern Gothic” receives plenty of prime-time air play in Milwaukee, allowing them to sell out shows in the Midwest.
“Playing there was like an Atlanta show. Everyone knew every word to ever song,” Hoffman said.
After seeing The Constellations live at DC9 on Monday night, I learned three things: one – I don’t know how all those kids in Milwaukee learned every word to every song, two – I’m very impressed by both those fans and the band. It’s hard to learn all the words when rhythmically heavy songs are doused with hip-hop inspired lyrics (all hail those who have the ear for such a talent and trait) and three – Elijah Jones is one hell of a poet. If you put this guy up against Bob Dylan, it’d be a quite the showdown.
To watch The Constellations live is to time travel. DC9 was my Delorean, The Constellations were the band at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, and the year circa the 1970’s. I wasn’t stuck in time at the birth place of rock music like Marty McFly. Instead, I was livin’ it up Sly and the Family Stone style (sans the horn section, with a touch of Snoop Dogg flair) while feeling completely groovy in the process.
Inspiration for the record and live show hail from decades worth of musical history pile-up in the collective brains of each member of the band. This random assortment of melody mongers started Elijah’s studio project two and a half years ago back in what Jones called “the dirty dirty” aka Atlanta.
“It really was a long time coming,” Jones said. Long time coming, indeed. The act is tight and performed with precision but before getting together, Jones was held up in the studio with a revolving cast of temporary band mates.
There was never any intention of these songs to see the light of day on tour. “We weren’t really looking for it,” Jones said, “If everything was happy go lucky life wouldn’t be interesting. The things that make life interesting are the people who find each other … people all against the grain.”
All eight members of The Constellations are proud supporters of going against the grain. There’s Ryan Davis on keys/guitar, Nackers pounding the set, Trevor Birdsong on guitar, Jamie Gordon on keyboard, and Alaina Terry and Shab Bashiri on auxiliary percussion/background vocals.
If anything stands out from my short time spent with this funky family it’s that Jones has got a voice quite reminiscent of Isaac Hayes circa his South Park days singing songs for Chef. Sexy, soul driven, part spoken word, part melody, and all-natural. That combined with a tight backing band complete with the collective imaginative world of a live psychedelic jam session is enough to keep any audience entranced until the plug on the night pulled.