eye (2006-28)

I, Audience

Imitation is the Sincerest…

Two Turntables and a Coffee Mug

I, Audience

Some have called the doe-eyed young English jazzhunk the next Harry Connick, Jr. But Cullum is smaller, faster, and crazier. Playing grand piano, Cullum started out slow, with some fusiony stuff, but was soon looping in and out of old standards like “What a Difference a Day Made,” rap songs rendered as blues, his Radiohead cover “High and Dry,” and several of his own alternative-rock radio songs, “London Skies,” “I’m All at Sea,” and “Get Your Way.”

He’s a showman, of course, and full of himself, a manic genius leaping around the stage, climbing onto the piano and playing it as a drum, using the music rack to clap a rhythm, barging in on the horn section to take a turn with jazz trumpet, whaling away on a kettle drum, and, in response to a request, singing a solo ballad with acoustic guitar—an ostensibly true story about being mugged by a Spanish prostitute.

Flipping between hip-hop, bebop, funk, fusion, earnestly rendered torch songs, alt-rock, old and new, loud and quiet, sometimes mid-song, Cullum is a one-man rift in the time-space continuum. His band of older musicians watched him carefully, with a collective what-the-hell-is-he-gonna-do-next gape.

Cullum remarked on the Bijou’s “incredible” acoustics, and among the weirdest moments in the theater’s 97-year history was when Cullum stepped off the stage, then climbed into the audience, walking above them across seat backs, pausing in a small vacant patch in Row H—where, by himself except for his stand-up bassist in the aisle, he sang “Nature Boy”— Nat King Cole ’s oddball hit of 1948—or hollered it, hands cupped around his mouth and unamplified, at the ceiling. The flabbergasted crowd was, for the only moment of the evening, silent.

Imitation is the Sincerest…

Funny how time and pot smoke can smudge the distinctions between a pop band from Oxford, England and one from Knoxville, Tenn., both of which achieved commercial heights during the mid-’90s. Some diehard Superdrag devotees, however, are working hard to keep the ’Drag’s dream alive.

For a band that, relatively speaking, hasn’t even been broken up that long, Superdrag has already racked up an impressive set of tribute albums. In fact, the first one—an independent effort compiled by Louisiana fan Michael Molero —was released while the band was still together. Hard copies of it are nearly extinct, but MP3s from The Superdrag Tribute Project: Volume II , released in 2004, can still be downloaded from http://bomberpunk.com/superdrag . The submissions hail from around the world, including rock bands from Switzerland and Israel. Their devotion is clear. “Simply put, Superdrag is the greatest band that has ever graced rock and roll, period,” the web site declares.

A newer homage, A Tribute to Superdrag , arrived July 4, care of Nashville’s Double D records. We stumbled into it while checking out the MP3s of a Murfreesboro band, Farkus (formerly Spiderfighter ), that’ll be playing Sassy Ann’s Sunday, July 16 with Goodbye Ohio and Ross the Boss . One of their songs, “Staggering Genius,” sounded way too familiar.

Our ’Drag-dar went off, and Farkus bassist/vocalist Chad Arnold ’fessed up to the cover. “Most of us in the band have been Superdrag fans since high school or younger,” he explains. “It’s one of our favorite bands.”

Two Turntables and a Coffee Mug

Colorful characters trickle in and out of the funky coffee shop’s doorway, faithfully hefting huge, steaming white mugs. There’s the 20-something in the corner bouncing his head to the beat; the tattooed regulars, who schmooze with Sanabria in the center; and the obvious new arrivals, watching the show wide-eyed and incredulous.

Spinning and smoking, DJ Wigs mixes musicians from Al Green to Mos Def and sees to it that listeners have something to appreciate in every song. Introduced by his weekly Edutainment Show with WUTK, DJ Wigs’ music, a out-in-the-open slice of Knoxville’s underground hip-hop culture, makes the perfect backdrop for a night out with friends or just hunkering down with a latté and a good book. The show is free and open to all ages.