The Nostalgics headline ARTS FIRST
Editor’s note: The Nostalgics will be the featured artists at the ARTS FIRST Party on the Plaza “dine and dance” event, 5-7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26 on the Plaza (near the Science Center). Free admission with HUID and $15/general. ARTS FIRST takes place April 25-28 at Harvard and is (mostly) free and open to the public.
My bandmates and I agree that an unforgettable highlight of our soul/Motown band, The Nostalgics, was, like many great
things, a mistake. We were playing Earth, Wind, and Fire’s September at the end of a late-late-late show at a hostel in snowy Nowhere, Vermont. The band was deaf and drowsy. A sizable crowd huddled inside from the subarctic winds, dancing to bring feeling back to feet.
We reached what the majority of the band thought was the last chorus of the song, but we saxes, ever the iconoclasts, thought it was the second-to-last. The rest of the band went quiet, but we continued playing our ascending rhythmic line. At first we were tentative. The band exchanged wide-eyed glances. Then we took hold. The band joined in with a crash. Everyone in the crowd beamed and danced, and our faces had gone from yikes to we totally, definitely intended that. Ever since, our cover of September has gone on for a few choruses too many.
Glorious mistakes like these are what make music breathe, and they encapsulate what has made The Nostalgics such a learning experience for me. Group interactions are inherently accidental, in music as in life. When Charles Gertler and Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey, the founding members of The Nostalgics, started auditioning musicians for an implausible band they had in mind, they had no idea how we were going to sound together, let alone behave. The way we’ve learned to interact socially during our three years together often seems as uncanny as the musical telepathy at that Vermont hostel. The Nostalgics’ hive mind takes over whenever we gather, leaving outsiders reeling to catch references that may have lost their referents months ago.
Due to my experience in jazz bands, I always had a Hobbesian view of music-making: Music is every man for himself, and a band is nothing but a sum of its soloists. The Nostalgics proved me wrong. When a group of 10 musicians plays together long enough, a new musical organism emerges, infinitely happier, messier and more creative than a group of individual musicians playing in parallel. Chemistry happens, and, at a certain level of complexity, there is no difference between chemistry and magic.
Our ARTS FIRST performance is sure to show plenty of concrete growth from our very first gig at the Dudley Co-op in February of 2011: an expanded stage, a working sound system, at least four times the songs and 10 times the audience. One thing that I hope hasn’t changed is the nervous energy of a group of musicians not quite sure what’s going on, but loving every moment of it.