Different Drummers, Same Song

Planet Drum. At the Lobero Theatre, Wednesday, September

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

Planet-Drum.jpgRhythm 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

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.


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