Rethinking Music with 8in8, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, and Julia Easterlin

What do you get when you lock 3 musicians and 1 author in a recording studio for 12 hours? Nighty Night, a sharp collection of 6 songs, churned out by Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds, Damian Kulash of Ok Go, and Neil Gaiman, which was debuted on the stage of the Berklee Performance Center in Boston last night as part of the Rethink Music conference. I was lucky enough to see the performance, and was floored by everything I heard. It pays to know a guy, you know?

Julia EasterlinThe evening started with a 2-song set by Julia Easterlin, a soon-to-be Berklee graduate & upcoming Lollapalooza performer, who performed accompanied only by a loop pedal. She used the box to sample, loop, and layer her voice, creating a complicated, beautiful, building sound. I’ve seen KT Tunstall use something similar in concert before (she called it her “little bastard”), but it was nowhere near this level of sophistication. Imagine Bj√∂rk’s Medulla album rendered live, and you’ll begin to get the picture. I tracked down her MySpace page and listened to some studio creations, but they don’t compare well to the live experience: there’s something magical in that there loop pedal. Keep your eyes and ears on her: she’s performing locally in Boston through May, and then at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August. Head to her website for a free song download.

Black Joe Lewis and the HoneybearsNext up was a frenetic shot of Stax and blues from Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, who blew the doors off the joint. Opening up with a vital rendition of the Robert Johnson classic “Stop Breakin’ Down,” they spent the next half hour burning through James-Brown-meets-Muddy-Waters songs mostly from their excellent new album Scandalous. The saucy call-and-response of “Booty City” was a highlight, as was the heavy stomp of “You Been Lyin’,” but the band was a total revelation: the rhythm section was tight, the horns were consistently funky (their almost-coordinated dance moves were good fun, too), and Lewis’ guitar playing was out of control, displaying surprising dexterity and ferocity, at one point playing it with his teeth. The venue sadly had too many seats bolted to the floor: this is a band that demands to be seen in some sweaty club somewhere. Can’t wait for their next trip through town. Head to Amazon MP3 to download the deluxe version of Scandalous, which includes that great cover of “Stop Breakin’ Down.”

Amanda Palmer, Damian Kulash, Ben Folds and Neil Gaiman, a.k.a. the band / via amandapalmer.netThen it was time for the main event: Palmer, Folds, Kulash, and Gaiman (“the band,” as Palmer put it) took the stage in very good humor but in a near-delirious state thanks to the hectic songwriting/recording schedule of the preceding 24 hours. Their intent was to record 8 songs in 8 hours, hence 8in8, but as that became unrealistic, they settled for 6 songs in 12 hours: still a very respectable output. After a single solo number from each of them, including Gaiman reading his back cover prose from the Who Killed Amanda Palmer? album over the melody/rhythm of Folds’ “You Don’t Know Me” from Way To Normal and a performance by Palmer and 17-yr-old piano wunderkind Tristan Allen, the band got down to business: a slightly weary but very good-humored runthrough of 5 of the 6 completed songs from the resulting album, Nighty Night.

8in8, Nighty NightThe results were unsurprisingly great: “Nikola Tesla” has one of the most clever choruses I’ve ever heard (“Nikola Tesla/I wish you’d invent a/current that could activate my heart”), Folds added reliable dashes of silliness and maudlin to the Mockingbird Song-esque “Because the Origami,” and Gaiman even took the mic to provide an appropriately British voice to the Joan-of-Arc-themed march “The Trouble With Saints,” but the real standout of the evening was the Kulash-fronted “One Tiny Thing,” with its dark, spare arrangement (it recalls Ok Go’s “Hello My Treacherous Friends” in a very good way) and heartbreaking poetry about the end of a relationship: it’s a hell of a song, and it could/should be released as a single. Stream it below:

Head to Amanda Palmer’s Bandcamp page to download 8in8’s Nighty Night: the minimum donation is $1 to download the all 6 songs, and for the first 2 weeks of release, all proceeds are going to Berklee City Music Network, “a charity which provides kids with every opportunity to see their musical potential.” It’s great music, a good cause, and the price is right: do it!