Planet Drum. At the Lobero Theatre, Wednesday, September 20
Reviewed by Josef Woodard
Rhythm genuinely ruled the Lobero Theatre last Wednesday, when the Mickey Hart-led project Planet Drum returned to the accommodating venue and filled the house with tumbling, jam-happy rhythmic energy from the four — or more — corners of the globe. Meeting in a steamy and hypnotic middle, the traditions included those of India (the great Zakir Hussain), Latin America (Giovanni Hidalgo, the hottest soloist that night), Africa (Sikiru Adepoju, underused here), and the alt-world-beat-Deadhead outskirts of the United States (Hart, the ringleader and cheerleader).
Purists might balk, and reasonably so, at this melting and melding of specific cultures into a musical cauldron where traditional details are surrendered to the eclectic whole. But it’s an excusable conceit, given the mesmerizing and richly musical party the group summons up, especially live. Hart was the most plugged-in of the bunch, triggering sounds, samples, and loops from his gadgetry. Hart was also the most mobile, leaving his central outpost to rove the stage and check in on his comrades in the rhythm factory, behaving like a smiling, benevolent foreman. At one point, he roamed among the players with a thumb piano, checking cultural fences, so to speak, and finding everything in tip-top shape.
Hart, one of the few rock drummers familiar with a multiple drummer format, is especially well suited to a project such as this, having shared drum chairs in the Grateful Dead with Bill Kreutzmann. Other drum traditions, especially the African and Latin American contingents, are rooted in the idea of many voices contributing to a richer collective entity, which is the basic model of Planet Drum. This season’s Planet Drum tour pays homage to two legendary members of the global drumming community who have recently passed, Babatunde Olatunji and Hamza El Din. Large portraits appeared ceremonially onstage, and the driving musical energy embodied the undying spirit and primal appeal of great drumming, past and present.
In all, the Lobero show was another one of your basic virtuoso Afro-Latin-Indo-Bay-Area jam band happenings, an invitation to the primacy of rhythm which ended in an encore of chest-slapping intimacy and audience participatory zeal. No extra coaxing was necessary to get the crowd involved. By then, they were essentially a captive, thoroughly hypnotized audience.