Featured Music: Wednesday February 13, 2003
Jam, Baby

Though the band attracts devotees like the Dead, Spoonfed Tribe is a lot more rock.


Confronted with the phenomenon that is Spoonfed Tribe, one may initially respond by echoing Francois Truffaut’s character from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: “C’est un phenomenon sociologique.” How else can you account for a band that attracts huge crowds of ecstatically swaying twentysomethings by playing long, percussion-heavy jam songs without hooks, ignoring every mainstream rock convention in this MTV-, Clear Channel-dominated world?

Together for 10 years, originally as a metal band before becoming the Tribe, these Arlingtonians with cartoonish stage names self-release their c.d.’s (there are three now) and play about 160 shows a year, ranging as far from home as New Orleans and Las Vegas. As if that weren’t enough, there are the side projects. Guitarist/singer Daniel Katsuk leads A’hummin’ Acoustical Acupuncture, which has been a longtime Monday night regular at the Wreck Room. Jerome 57 fronts All Braves, No Chief and the fire-and-juggling group Kuma. The seven folks who make up the band have written hundreds of songs (although not all of them have been performed). Currently they’re taking some time off from live work to record an album with producer John Congleton (Baboon, 90 Day Men, the pAper chAse), which they promise will be more accessible to non-initiates than were their previous recordings. The Tribals plan to release the album in the spring, then expand their scope with shows from coast to coast.

A Spoonfed Tribe performance is a total experience, capturing all of the senses. At the Ridglea Theater late last year, the Tribe’s stage was an explosion of color and movement. The Ridglea’s Laser Ed provided back-projected films, while the band wore colorful attire and were occasionally joined onstage by masked “scene contributors.” Lead singers Katsuk and Egg Nebula worked the mics like a hippie version of Run-DMC, and their fellow bandmembers switched instruments more adroitly than anyone I’ve ever seen since, I guess, Gentle Giant. Jerome 57 was particularly adept on bass, guitar, and drums. Brothers Chad Geoughfahtz and Gouffautts (we’ve never heard a first name) anchored the tribal beat, although there were intervals when all seven members were playing percussion instruments. The boys climaxed the show with a fire-drumming extravaganza that left the Ridglea’s stage somewhat scorched and the crowd rapturous. “We want to do whatever we can that will involve people’s eyes, ears, and feelings,” said Geoughfahtz.

At an earlier Wreck Room show last fall, local artist Jesse Sierra Hernandez, who contributed artwork to the second Tribe c.d., joined the band onstage to create a painting while the musicians jammed. They’ve also had “scene contributors” shooting water pistols full of watercolors onto a backlit sheet at the rear of the stage to create mindblowing light and color effects.

What Spoonfed Tribe is not: a Grateful Dead clone band. While the devotion the Tribe inspires is similar to the Dead’s fanatical following, the local band’s brand of rock is a lot heavier than that purveyed by the San Francisco jam-masters. “Between the seven of us,” said Jerome 57, “I think we own one Grateful Dead album.” The Tribe’s music has more echoes of George Clinton’s P-Funk juggernaut, Faith No More, reggae, hip-hop, and even Balinese gamelan music than of the folkbound Dead.

When they hit a town, the Tribe and their “scene contributors” will hit the streets, banging on drums while wearing outrageous costumes and masks to pique people’s interest. These “guerilla performances” have been very effective in attracting a broad cross-section of listeners to the shows. “When we played the Main Street Arts Festival in downtown Fort Worth, I could see older people and cowboys patting their feet to the music,” said Jerome 57.

Their first three c.d.’s — KolacheCrunch, Ulikdiseegeough, and The Legend of Supamonkey — were dominated by psychedelic rock and vibe-heavy percussion. In the past, said Jerome 57, they’ve deliberately avoided writing pop songs with hooks. “If a song has a cool chorus in it, we’ll only play it once. Play it twice, and it’s a pop song. We didn’t want to do that. This time, we’re going to make a record more like everybody else makes a record. We’re not going to worry so much about telling a story.”

While the Tribe has a legion of guitarists and drummers lined up hoping for an opportunity to become part of the experience, the core members don’t anticipate any lineup changes. Besides, their approach to handling personnel issues is as organic as their work process. “We had another [second] drummer, and things didn’t work out with him,” said Jerome 57. The solution: Hire the current drummer’s little brother, whose own band had just split up. “They used to rehearse at my parents’ house,” said Geoughfahtz, “so I’d been around them since the beginning.”

The group is looking to do some overseas touring, but only if labels, distributors, and promoters can be found. The Tribals have been in touch with King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, who’s also played on hits by Mr. Mister and the Rembrandts (including that notorious Friends theme). The high-profile percussionist has expressed interest in taking them to tour Japan with his band MasticA, although no solid arrangements exist yet. “We’re finally arrogant and egotistical enough to allow people to carry our amps,” said Jerome 57. “By now, we’ve actually earned the right. A few years ago, we hadn’t.”

The Tribe’s booking, marketing, and merchandising are all handled by an extended family of friends, which eliminates as many middlemen as possible. While the musicians admit that doing what they do takes a lot of work, they’re justifiably proud of their uncompromisingly DIY status. “It’s hard,” said Katsuk, “but it feels good to be masters of our own destiny.”

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