Jeffrey Butts’ parents came down from New York Saturday to see their son at work. They picked a good day — his band, Shock Lobo, happened to be playing in front of 3-4,000 folks at the Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta. It was an impressive sight — framed by the skyline behind them, a sea of bobbing heads in front, the band’s compulsive, percussive rock sound had old fans and new ears bouncing. The songs from My Wicked Soul , the band’s latest record, gained an extra edge live — the show opener, “Insomniac,” flat out smoked. Butts sways at the microphone as if in a hurricane, his shoulder length dreads keeping time, and drummer John Speaks (who plays sideways “…so people can look at me…”) is a heavy hitter with a definite funk background.
A three-piece rock and roll band is rare enough, but add the fact that all the members are black, and you really only have one precedent: Living Color. (Who I considered a trio with a singer…) While that ensemble seemed to be more a device to allow guitarist Vernon Reid show off and burn, Shock Lobo is truly a band. Make no mistake — Jeffery can shred, if need be. Part of the excitement of a live Lobo show is when the trio make eye contact and drop, for a few bars, into a jazz riff or a touch of a Santana-ish passage, only to roar back into whatever song they were playing without missing a beat. Musically, they strike you as a more melodic Bad Brains — without the strident politics and without losing the beat.
Since releasing My Wicked Soul in July of 1998, the band has been playing steadily, and the disc has sold about 2,000 copies, according to Jeffrey. Not bad for a local release. Time may be soon approaching for Shock Lobo to advance to the next level, and follow the Marvelous 3 and Billionaire out of Atlanta and into the rest of the lower 48. Maybe the next time Jeffrey’s parents want to catch a show, they can do it via cab — from home in New York City.