‘Soulclad boogie funk’

Common Center brings gypsy jam spirit to Trolley

By Miranda Brooks

At the core of Common Center is a dynamic balance of sound. And the dynamics are such that, musically, the band’s strength lies in their non-traditional configuration, and incorporation of each player’s sound—ranging from a 12-string acoustic guitar to saxophone to keys to violin and hand drums. Add bass and a kit, and Common Center’s live show is where it’s at.

“While we have seven people, and we all kinda make a lot of noise, we end up keeping the frequencies balanced, which, dynamically, allows everyone to be heard,” keyboardist Lewis Connell says. He then commented on the dreadful ‘wall of sound’ that can separate an audience from the existential connection, which makes live shows so unique and personal. Because when a band plays too loud, or too crowded-like, the listeners don’t have much room to interpret or participate in the experience.

“We balance our three leads, harmonically, very purposefully, avoiding that disastrous wall-of-sound type of deal,” Connell says.

The lead instruments, aside from vocals, are keys, violin and sax. The band boasts two drummers working rhythmically with guitar and bass. The band makes conscious choices when it comes to arrangements, where specific pieces will drop down or out to open up for another. And although there is a lot going on, it’s not a total free-for-all. More like a methodical chaos that translates well for superior dance and grove-ability.

The Covington-based seven-piece is on tour with their first full-length debut, Gypsy River. The album originated years ago by Common Center’s lead singer Liam Hall, who happens to be a Dayton native. Their upcoming show at The Trolley Stop will be somewhat of a homecoming. The album’s material spans an extended timeframe, incorporating sounds and ideas from day one of the band’s formation through current.

“When you listen to the album, you can hear these differences between the older and newer material,” Connell says. “And it’s an evolution, where it becomes more progressive, and even a little darker.”

The band attempted to create a flow for the compilation in light of this ranging aspect, and, collectively, the songs work well together. The title track, “Gypsy River Wade” has an underlying blues feel, and is sonically reminiscent of early Modest Mouse.

The specific genre-labeling for Common Center is not exact. And very well so. The realm in which their music lives is, perhaps, best described as progressive. Though on stage (and maybe even off) the collective might appear as a jam band, but they tend towards more of the indie side of things.

“The genre talk can be hard,” Connell says. “Really, we’re based around structure.”

Pulling jazz and rock with a hint of folk, the band is loose in using the long-winded description “psychedelic gypsy rock soulclad boogie funk” to summarize their work. “We do have a lot of powerful components, but those elements will break down within any given song into something more tranquil, where you could possibly close your eyes and vibe out, before returning to more sound,” Connell adds.

The idea of space and rest set alongside intricacies and motion is the basis for any good composition. Although, and unlike true jam music, their solos don’t last until tomorrow. Connell admits that the band’s sound is continuously being refined, and therefore being redefined. And the gypsy aspect is meant with good intentions. By modern day standards, a gypsy could be equivalent to a hippie. But it is the reference to middle-eastern sounds that primarily sparks the word’s inclusion among the band’s brand—even if, linguistically, the term has come to hold negative connotation, it is not meant offensively.

“The term gypsy refers to the fact that we use gypsy scales semi-often, where we use half-step intervals,” Connell explains. The result of such provides, at times, a more mystical, meditative sound.

The band tours regionally throughout the Midwest with hopes of broadening their market. And so far their DIY attempts have paid off. They were able to generate enough funding through pre-sales of Gypsy River to help with production costs, which also allowed the music to be distributed directly to listeners upon completion. And though they are very proud of their current studio release, Connell admits that Common Center’s live show is something to be consumed. As much as the album is treasured, it is, after all, only a specific snapshot of a moment in time. The live show adds a level of accessibility by gleaning from the recorded material an overall gist that is then transcended.

Common Center will play at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 29 at Trolley Stop, 530 E. Fifth St. in Dayton. Grover is also on the bill. For more information, please visit commoncentersounds.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Miranda Brooks at MirandaBrooks@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Miranda Brooks at MirandaBrooks@DaytonCityPaper.com

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