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Art-damaged groove

Omaha outfit Thick Paint is a well-oiled machine that still shoots sparks

Thick Paint’s sense of joy at drawing you into their wiry dance is their strongest trait. Photo credit: Youtube

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If you've never seen it before, I urge you to check out a Talking Heads video -- in general, but also this specific one of the band performing "Born Under Punches." The video, which is available on YouTube, captures the band at a very specific time in their career, at a venue in Rome in 1980. If you've seen Stop Making Sense, you'll recognize some of the musicians from the extended band that joined the Talking Heads in that film, though, here they're shown in a much more primal mode than the refined presentation they'd find in later years.

Over the course of eight minutes, Talking Heads and company find an unrelenting groove that mixes their prickly art-rock sensibilities with elements of funk, disco, and tightly controlled experimentation (most of the latter coming from Parliament-Funkadelic's Bernie Worrell and King Crimson's Adrian Belew). It's a singularly exhausting performance to watch, mixing so many disparate artists all performing at the absolute peak of their powers to create a typhoon of energy that is almost shamanistic in its gravitational pull. In the days since the Talking Heads dared to compel music nerds to dance, it's become not so unusual for art-rock to venture onto the dance floor.

Now, go and find a video of Thick Paint performing in Athens, Georgia, from about two weeks ago. As of this writing, it only has 18 views, and it really just shows the band playing in a fairly standard venue called the Caledonia Lounge. But why does it instantly remind me of those sweaty, writhing musical geniuses in Rome in 1980? There's a sense of glee on the faces of the musicians the minute the drummer and the guitarist team up to create an irresistible rhythm, and that glee only intensifies as the rest of the band joins in to expand this off-kilter, stutter-step groove into something that works its way deep into your joints and muscle tissue. As the song builds in power and steam, there's an organic inevitability at play that makes you subconsciously want to follow the band wherever they're going.

Thick Paint is an Omaha group that began its life as a solo project from frontman Graham Patrick Ulicny, who also serves as frontman for popular alt-rock band Reptar. Ulicny's voice is sometimes presented as an affable yelp, reminiscent of a gentler version of the adenoidal slurs of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Alec Ounsworth; other times, as on recently released single "How Did It Happen?," his voice is a steadying force in the imbalanced center of a wobbling stomp. As a band, Thick Paint seems dedicated to finding and living in these compelling pockets of rhythm and angular melody that can be endlessly repeated -- perhaps a call back to Ulicny's days of creating loops and samples for what was then a solo project.

One gets the impression that the roster of members of Thick Paint is in a state of flux, but as of the recording of "How Did It Happen?," at least, the band was made up of Ameen Wahbba, Sarah Bohling, Kevin Donahue, Jake Newbold, and Ulicny. As reflected in that video of them on tour in Athens, Thick Paint feels like an echo of Talking Heads on tour in Rome, functioning like a well-oiled machine that nevertheless shoots sparks in its drive to make you move. The degree to which they play off each other, giving off the vibe of a jam session even if everything is acutely synced up. This pure joy is the most infectious aspect of Thick Paint's art-damaged bid to get the nice people dancing.

Thick Paint, w/ Oh, Rose, Anna McClellan, Media Jeweler, Generifus, 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 29, donations accepted, Oly Underground, 109 Legion Way SW, Olympia, 360.352.7343

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