Fikus is the newest addition to the growing New Jersey jam scene. Featured at the Pony this Sunday afternoon, the group immediately impressed me as they performed stand out material, showcasing a superior knowledge of funk, rock and soul in a fresh and enthusiastic presentation. Utilizing a five-piece ensemble, Fikus took the nice sized crowd (mostly their fans) through a solid set of originals culled both from their latest CD, entitled Fikus, as well as selections from previous catalogs.
Standouts included the tune “Marvin Gaye,” an old school soul-themed song led by cool Rhodes-styled piano and funky guitar wahs. Singer Pete alternated between vocals chores and percussion up front, while Travis and Kito laid the beat down and dirty. Keyboardist Jon was literally bouncing off of his stool as he hammered his keys throughout the performance. “Chicago” is another complex tune, featuring a very eerie Steely Dan feel, utilizing great mixed vocals, echoing guitar octaves, walking bass lines, and jazz inflected synths.
“Spoken Word” wreaks Genesis havoc in its ultra progressive feel. Synths here go complex and crazy, orbiting dirty guitar comps and heavy rhythms that dodge between the Rage Against The Machine-styled vocal attacks.
“Atonal,” another tune from their self-titled CD, rains down soul upon the listener with dynamic edge ala Brothers Johnson or Curtis Mayfield before getting into a curiously charged vocal. The between pieces are awesome in design and then the band kicks into a ripping Frank Zappa coded passage, which is the real Frankenstein monster, and shows their awesome compositional expertise. Their version of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” was also a well-done, sick funky interpretation and tight as hell.
“Puddin” was yet another fun inspired number that reminds me of ‘70s wild men Shugie Otis and Rick James. Utilizing wha-chugged guitars dropped in amongst soul train synth lines, vocalist Pete moves between singing and playing a vast assortment of percussive instruments and drums up front.
Complex, classy and loaded with fans, Fikus seems to be well on their way to jam recognition in the tri-state and beyond. You can catch Fikus live this Sept.18 at Pub 17 located at 1315 Route 17 S Ramsey, NJ, 07446 (201) 258-4802. For further info go to myspace.com/fikus.
Billy Williams is the gentleman songwriter of the Garden State. Humble and soft-spoken, Williams tells you right off the bat that life was no picnic growing up in a poor neighborhood where people treated you harshly and were swift to prejudice. He learned early to find solace in music through the oldest of ways. He found a beat up old guitar and learned to play it and he hasn’t stopped since those early days. If that sounds like a familiar song lyric, it probably is. Williams is as traditional as baseball and apple pie but don’t let that fool you, his style is decidedly dark with rustic shades of Americana, folk, and ‘70s country that only he’s capable of creating.
Roads is a colorful ride through those variations and styles, recalling yesterday’s great road dogs and all seen through seen the eyes (and voice) of Williams. He calls the theme for this record “songs for the highway,” a human element missing in the music of today and he’s probably right as he goes about fixing that particular hole in the roof.
“Analog” catches me first on the disc—solo acoustic and harmonica, Williams’ low voice, sparse phrasing and stark pictorial storytelling set him light years apart from The Springsteen and Dylan wanna-be’s, instead shifting him closer to the Waylon Jennings crew, which is alright in my book. “Last Thing I Seen” is a gritty romp through guitar heaven with Eric Lichter laying down deep and dark reverb beds, dual lead lines, harmonies and classy chord structures throughout. Williams belts out his gruff and raspy vocals with the road weary perfection of a certain Silver Bullet band member.
“Last Thing I Seen” is old time religion at its finest. I can picture the dust in the streets as onlookers stare as he sings about the tightening noose around his neck. Regret, redemption and salvation play hard here. The vocal harmonies here are eerie in their genuine feel. Tin pan alley banjos, violins and ragged strum guitars half step this song right up to the gallows platform. This song alone should be turning heads in this dopey industry.
“Stalking Mable” is a cool rambling Allman Brothers-meets-Levon Helm smoker, bouncing with funky bass and drum lines alongside greasy hot slide work and dusty dirty vocals. Williams’ great lines, “Mable I’m sorry that I took those pictures of your backside/I did not mean to put them on the Internet for a one time fee” and “Mable darling cant you see, this restraining order’s killing me/how can I be close to you if I can’t go within 10 feet” make the song hilarious and raunchy.
Other standouts are “Desperate Moon” with its piano arpeggio runs and Warren Zevon-vibed melodies. Stark instrumentation holds off until the chorus and lush backing vocals. Roads is the great unsung disc of the year as far as I’m concerned and if you want to know the reason original music is still great you can catch Williams at Googies Lounge in NYC on Sept. 19. For info go to williamsboy.com.