On the Rise: Opposite Box
Photographer David Lee and I were covering The Big WHAT?, Big Something’s annual party, in Mebane NC in June. One of my great delights is in “discovering” bands I’ve never seen before, and that happened a dozen or more times while we were there, but perhaps none so much as Opposite Box. Here is what I wrote while we were there:
Opposite Box was astounding. Like Camel Filters, they’re not for everybody, perhaps, but, OH DAMN. For this show, they were a quartet plus a singer (sometimes, a Sousaphone player and sax man are there). They opened with a screaming rock starter, “The Russian,” with Richard Long shredding while wearing a half-mask the entire show, and Dave Graham looking like a thrash-metal star on bass. And they were bad, in the very best sense of the word. Badass. The prog-rock tune morphed into “Hall of the Mountain King,” driven by Ryan Long’s keyboards. Then it went crazy.
The setlist says “Pirate — Sex.” It started off full-frontal punk metal, turned into driving reggae, became “16 men on a dead man’s chest,” featured a segment with a woman introduced as Isaac Hayes’ daughter, and then became a demonstration song (not that kind) about the P and the V (penis and…). They did apologize briefly if any tender ears were offended… and kept right on going!
Ryan Guza was keeping everybody sort of in line on the drums, and then Ryan Long, quite a vision himself, grabbed a trombone and showed more mad skills. They played an excellent swing tune, which somehow became metallic. For every second of the set, the band displayed insane energy and awesome talent and a true eye and ear for the weird. It was so cool. I understood why they called their music “belligerent jungle funk.”
At some point, I walked over to David Lee. “I know what you’re going to say!” he stopped me in my tracks with that grin. “Bath Salt Zombies!” He nailed it. Bath Salt Zombies on punk metal. (That’s our Florida point of reference and a very positive one.)
In the middle of another song (“Devil’s Lettuce,” perhaps?), Long donned a full lion-head mask and played his trombone. THEN he jumped off the stage and started parading around. Somehow, right when he was parading near David and me, he stepped into a hula hoop on the ground, picked it up, and hooped and played for a bit! PANDEMONIUM!
Some spacey keyboards, harmony vocals, and scat singing were featured on a very soulful song I thought was “My soul is shattered by fire,” except that’s not on the setlist. This band can do anything. Anything. Told they had time for one more song, Long said, “This one’s called ‘Back in Black!’” So of course they played “Frankenstein.”
Richard Dick Long kindly explained some of the songs in that set.
“Pirate – Sex” is titled “Afternoon Sex,” but we segue into it with a tease of “Sirius” (Chicago Bulls Theme) by Alan Parson’s Project, followed by a metal/reggae “16 men on a dead man’s chest.” The “official” version of Afternoon Sex is available for free on our new EP, but of course we like to spice it up live. The EP version also features Lili Hayes (daughter of Isaac Hayes), Maria Sable (Smooth Dialects) on vocals, as well as James “Just Billz” Bryant on rap vocals co-written by local Chattanooga legend Sparkz.
The swing song is titled “Wormwood” and is about a boy who sells his soul to the devil, thinking he can reap his rewards and then best in him some kind of game later on to get his soul back — just like in all the songs. Unfortunately, the boy loses. Because — come on — it’s the devil.
The lion mask/hula hoop song is titled “Anteater Molly” and is about a girl who is made fun of for her physical deformities. So she joins a circus and becomes a type of exotic dancer. She ends up “taking all the money from the ones who used to laugh at her nose.”
The song spacey keyboard song is titled “Creatures” and is available for free on Make a Jungle Noise Here. The quoted line is “Creatures escape the heat; So distracted by fire.”
Bassist Dave Graham was the one that said, “This one’s called ‘Back in Black’” when we played Edgar Winter. It’s also a running joke at current shows to start the song off and say, “All right, everybody! Sing along to the next song if you know the words!”
It was brilliant. Positively brilliant. I was certain I needed more, and Opposite Box has kindly delivered.
First up is a five-track EP released on Oct. 31st, 2015 titled Make A Jungle Noise Here. It features guest appearances from Lili Hayes (daughter of Isaac Hayes) and Matt Owen (tuba, Andy Frasco Band) and also features some of OB’s local friends and other talented musicians from Chattanooga TN. (And it doesn’t hurt to remind you of Frank Zappa’s album Make a Jazz Noise Here.)
Make A Jungle Noise Here tells the story of a man waking up in a foreign jungle with no recollection of how or why he is there. Each track can be a standalone single for the listener, but, incorporated into the story, the songs act as the man’s thoughts and soundtrack to his actions.
Track 1, “Dreamworld,” begins the journey, replete with jungle sounds. The bass walks in first, then keyboards, then guitar strings being scraped. After the drums introduce the rhythm, spacey tenor saxophone and powerful, pleading vocals sing about the “Dreamworld.” The song builds power into a great guitar solo, punctuated by interludes with bass and drums, then a sax solo, synthesizers, and a return to the head. And more jungle sounds.
Jungle sounds also lead into “Afternoon Sex” (discussed above). Funky bass, spacey keyboards and a real spacey female vocal turn this into a funk romp, full of sax, trombone, and male hip-hop vocals. It’s a blast.
“God, Jr.” begins as an almost country-ish guitar feature, but quickly that descends into Les Claypool-like vocals, then reggae-ish vocals, female vocals and a tremendous funk vamp.
Jazz, swing and Latin music intertwine in “Jaguar” (track 4). Trombone and tenor sax lead the way, followed by keyboards and guitar. The percussion is strong, and there is a great guitar solo.
Finally, you get to “Creatures” (also mentioned above). Bass and really jazzy electric piano find their way to female voices in harmony, much like the Brides of Funkenstein (or Parlet) effect with Parliament. The hot guitar solo is very Zappa-infused. Then male vocals with female backup lead to a slow instrumental vamp with trumpet, guitar and electric piano. Then all of that disappears, leaving only the two female voices, eventually fading to jungle sounds for a long time, then some jungle drums and, finally, a rain storm. Our man has had quite a journey.
The bass and drums of Dave Graham and Ryan Guza power every tune, just as they do on stage. Richard Dick Long’s guitar work ranges from sublime to soaring, and Ryan Long is excellent on keyboards (especially electric piano) and trombone.
There is a rule about “comedy music:” the music has to be stronger than the comedy is amusing. Opposite Box absolutely succeeds in this regard.
The album is a precursor to the upcoming Octopus Hotel full-length album that will begin pre-production in spring of 2016.
Opposite Box describes themselves as “a genre-bending experimental rock band from Chattanooga, TN known for high energy live shows and a seamless blend of jazz, rock, funk, punk and prog – dubbed ‘Belligerent Jungle Funk’ – that is often compared to acts like Frank Zappa, Mr. Bungle and Parliament Funkadelic. Opposite Box presents theatrical live performances with an over-the-top, psychedelic atmosphere that can include dazzling light shows, off-the-stage interaction from performers and a spectacular cast of characters that ranges from belly dancers and fire eaters to live painters and costumed freaks.”
I would call that 100% accurate!
Opposite Box has been together since 2001, but the current touring band has been performing together since 2012. They have criss-crossed the U.S., flaunting their irreverent, tongue-in-cheek style married to post-punk and progfunk grooves in some of the nation’s most respected clubs.
Regular performers with OB included members of the Chattanooga Fire Cabaret, headed by Aubrey Henriksen, who has also performed with OB on several dates as a solo fire dancer and traveled with OB on our first major tour in 2012 up and down the East Coast.
Suzanne Rambo is the mystical belly dancer who regularly performs with OB, and she has also traveled all over the eastern United States with OB.
Richard Dick Long, guitar:
“One of my favorite things about playing in this band is the sharp dichotomy between dedication to musicianship and the total irreverence for everything else. I love writing and playing music, but I can’t stand a lot of what the world deems as important these days. I don’t care that K-hole Kardashian’s face puffed up, turned into an exploding sun and now whatever B-list actor playing Superman in the 50th reboot has to fly into it because Rush Limbaugh is on life support and the current President is trying to take away our gun-flavored toothpaste. We don’t write many lyrics, but when we do, they either tell some kind of whimsical story or lambaste what the public holds dear… but in a catchy way!”
Ryan Long, vocals, keyboards, trombone:
(Discussing concerts today, and why people go see live music) “How many people were there for the actual music and show is the question. Or ‘I gotta go cause so and so is going’ and it’s a popularity contest to make sure you’re seen at the show.”
Ryan Guza, drums:
“I hate adaptation to suit the current music climate, especially in a band’s image. I like bands that like performing, no matter the audience and no matter the consequence. Bands that do what they do. That don’t have to make a certain face or tone to make a presence that’s over the top. I wanna play and book with real people that like real music that want to change the overall view of music. I hate bands and any person that forwarding the movement of what music ‘should be.’ We have the classics, and we have what you should know as a learning musician, but I want that real music to stand out. And whether you know music or music equipment, there’s a fakeness to a lot of it.”
Speaking of The Bath Salt Zombies, Graham Woodard of BSZ wanted to bring Opposite Box to Florida for a joint tour. He explains why:
I saw Opposite Box for my first time at a little Irish Pub in Daytona Beach called Tir Na Nog on a Tuesday night. The venue does a great job of booking out-of-state bands on weekday nights. Seeing bands like Cutthroat Shamrock, Vive Le Vox, The Goddamn Gallows and Filthy Still at Tir Na Nog has made me a weekday night regular with high expectations. Opposite Box blew me away. There were only three people in the bar when OB started their first song, and from the get-go they played like it was a 1000-person room at max capacity.
The horns players (tuba included) immediately leapt from the stage to the first table and started dancing. From there they made their way from table to table until the reached the booth in the back of the room that I was sitting at with my date. They cat-walked across the back of the booth and played down at us for the rest of the song. Opposite Box’s stage presence made a huge impression on me. Their music is incredible — they jump genres often like Mr. Bungle and keep listeners on their toes. Everything is high energy, and their stage antics bring them a step or two above most traveling acts I have seen.
Opposite Box will be featured on WMNF 88.5 jamband show In the Groove on Tuesday, February 16, from 10 to midnight. The station is in Tampa and is available on the web (wmnf.org).
Then the fun really begins, with The Bath Salt Zombies and Opposite Box on five successive nights in Florida. First up is The Gator Club in Sarasota on Wednesday, February 17, with Dealbreaker opening. Thursday, BSZ and OB play The Dunedin Brewery. On Friday (19th), Oranga Tanga joins them at The Boondocks in Melbourne.
Saturday (20th) is a free show at Beachside Tavern in New Smyrna Beach, and the tour ends Sunday in Jacksonville, details to follow shortly.
The January itinerary for Opposite Box find them in Georgia and North Carolina:
January 14 – Nowhere Bar, Athens GA * with The Bath Salt Zombies
January 15 – Buffington’s, Milledgeville GA * with The Bath Salt Zombies
January 16 – The Hummingbird Taproom, Macon GA
January 29 – Murphy’s, Boone NC
January 30 – One-Stop Deli, Asheville NC
Make A Jungle Noise Here is available for free/Pay-What-You-Want on Bandcamp. http://oppositebox.bandcamp.com
Also check out the band’s official website.