Featured Music: Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Switching seamlessly from funk to bluegrass to blues to reggae to rock, Villain Vanguard turns every show into a party-slash-pop music history lesson.
Villain Vanguard\r\nFri with Josh Weathers at The Moon, 2911 W Berry St, FW. 817-926-9600. Sat at the Curtain Club, 2800 Main St, Dallas. 214-742-2336. Sun at J&J Texas Roadhouse and Blues Bar, 937 Woodward St, FW. 817-870-BEER.
It Takes a Village (Vanguard)

A local genre-crossing band of Villains summons the spirit of the legendary Big Apple jazz club.


At the end of a recent show, the six guys in the funk-rock outfit Villain Vanguard opted to funnel all of their remaining energy into a group drum jam. With each member adding his musical voice to the larger conversation, the band displayed a unique collective vision. Even though Villain Vanguard is only a couple of years old, its members play as if they’ve been together for years. By staying disciplined and paying close attention to the nuances of one another’s playing, all the while focusing on the big picture of trying to succeed as professional musicians, Villain Vanguard has become something definitely beyond your average “new” band.

Even if you’ve never heard them, you’ve probably heard of them — in preparation for the recent release of their debut full-length, Enter the Age of the Platypus, the guys of Villain Vanguard have been gigging just about every week over the past year. With a heavy dose of originals laced with surprising covers and a sound that seamlessly transitions from bluegrass to funk to reggae to rock to all points in between, a Villain Vanguard show is basically a party and popular music history lesson rolled into one.

Formed two years ago as an extension of their music classes at TCU, the Villains have spent countless hours in a soundproof cube, detailing, carefully crafting, and embellishing the talent and experience that each brings to his respective instrument. Bandmembers chose the group’s name in honor of the famed New York City jazz club, the Village Vanguard. But musically, the band is nearly impossible to categorize.

Villain Vanguard, however, reflects the Village Vanguard vibe in one significant way: Justin Barbee, keyboardist, trumpeter, and the band’s emotional glue, wants fans to approach each VV show as an organic experience that differs from night to night.

While each band member gets an opportunity to shine in the spotlight, the focus invariably shifts back to guitarist Bryce Harp and his textured, bluesy tone and fleet fingerwork — he flies all over the fretboard with hot-tempered ease, never coming across as flashy or arrogant.

Each bandmember plays a part in the creation of the music. Here’s how Barbee describes the process: “Someone brings an idea to the band. We work with it, then get six different interpretations.”

At a recent Sunday night show at J&J Texas Roadhouse and Blues Bar, Villain Vanguard’s careful system of checks and balances played itself out onstage during warm-ups: As the musos discussed ways to enhance certain songs, there was a lot of bonhomie and good-natured ribbing. The members reached agreements swiftly, with no one person taking over as bandleader.

Sacrificing the self in deference to the whole is nowhere more ... well, non-apparent ... than in Dino Villanueva’s unobtrusive yet dynamic and driving electric basswork. He describes his desired sound as “one where if you were to listen to a track recorded without the bass, you would wonder what was missing.” His playing is nicely complemented by drummer Bobby Friesen’s peaceful, easy grooves, which are full of open hi-hat accents, flams, and salty double-stroke rolls.

Metal and air infiltrate the band’s sound via the metronomic precision of Jeff Dazey’s saxophone work and the bright pulses of Barbee’s attention-grabbing trumpet and bounciness on the keys — no matter what he’s doing, he always finds a way to encourage listeners and concertgoers to get up and dance.

Singer Justin Williams (a.k.a. Beefcake) has a sugar-sweet and — dare we say — friendly voice that gives you the feeling that he’s singing to you rather than at you. He eschews any preconceived notions you may have about frontmen. Curly-haired, baby-faced, and unpretentiously likable, he relies on an affable smile while singing and hip gyrations while pounding the congas. Williams is one of those singers who considers his voice just another, equally necessary instrument — he may be centerstage, but he never seeks to be the center of attention.

Harp says the band “wants to make music for people who love music.” Villain Vanguard’s goals are to keep working, keep being friends, have fun, and eventually become a constantly touring band. They’d like to spend time on the European summer jazz and blues circuits as well as play music festivals close to home, like Austin City Limits. The Villains view being musicians as “a calling,” not a hobby.

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