TWRP at El Club in Detroit

A good stage performance has the power to transcend any other negative factors surrounding a concert. With the right energy, charisma, and some serious chops, the right band can successfully navigate the murky waters of a less-than-ideal live situation and avoid certain disaster. Would TWRP be able to pull that off? 

Walking through the doors of El Club on Monday evening, it felt as if the cards were already stacked against them. Situated in a part of town off the beaten path from the usual Detroit venues, El Club offers impressive street cred and a beautiful cultural heritage, all at the cost of being a total logistical nightmare. Nonexistent parking, oddly-shaped layout, and in a part of the city where one false turn can accidentally send you irreversibly to Canada (don’t ask me how I know), I was audibly groaning as I made my way into the bar and tried to push forward through an endless sea of bodies towards the stage. The venue was far too small for an act like TWRP, but we were all making the best of it and getting uncomfortably close in the process.

El Club has a habit of booking like this. Having seen the likes of Yeasayer and The Midnight at the venue, any show there is guaranteed to be cramped and uncomfortable if you actually want to see the band on stage. I got a drink and started my efforts towards the stage relatively early in anticipation. Luckily the crowd was a high point of the evening. Looking around, I could see folks in leather jackets sporting Motorhead patches chatting up raver girls, goths chilling with polo-clad bros, and everything in between. With a crowd as diverse as it was cramped, I was seriously enjoying the vibe of the place. This sentiment was cemented when I heard someone in front of me shout “It’s TWRPin time!” before the headliners took the stage. I had found my people.

Nelward was up first on stage. Sporting a purple tiger-print bodysuit, he took the stage alone and used his tremendous energy to keep us pumped for the duration of his set. Described best in my notes as a “synthwave, art-pop crooner,” he alternated fluidly between playing guitar, synth, and backing tracks/sample pads. The net result of this frantic multi-instrumentation was a series of bombastic and fun tracks that kept us dancing and grooving throughout the early evening. His standout of the night was the laughably titled “I hope my pants don’t fall down.” Clocking in at only 30 seconds, the track got us all up and chanting along with the earworm chorus of, you guessed it, “I hope my pants don’t fall down!” 

Trey Magnifique was up next. Equal parts standup act and smooth jazz one-man-show, Trey managed to turn the grungy Mexicantown bar into a swanky jazz café–at least for his set. Quipping off one-liners and music theory puns with a level of cool detachment and panache that only added to his “Trey” persona, we were serenaded with such smooth jazz “experiences” as the iconic “Daddy Lawbreaker” and “DTF (Down to Funk)” while popping regular doses of comedy and crowd work that had us wondering what he’d pull out of his bag of tricks next. The standout track of the set had to be “Staten Island Time” rebranded to “Jazz Trap Fusion.” The track kept us laughing with every iteration of “This is Trap” superimposed over the original track– all “played” by Trey on a handheld soundboard with impeccably hilarious timing. In the words of Trey, “Hell yeah, man.”

With two fantastic openers down, the main event was quickly approaching and the crowd could feel it. We all packed into the live room adjacent to the bar, and eagerly awaited TWRP’s appearance. When they finally took the stage and launched into their opener, Digital Nightmare, we all did our best to dance (or really, wiggle) in place. Drenched in the funk and nostalgia-driven sound, the atmosphere transported me back to the joy of being a kid seeing a beloved team of costumed characters on stage. That vibe carried through for the first few tracks of the set, and by the first “plot break,” I was totally enraptured. 

Speaking of plot, TWRP wove an intricate storyline throughout their show, firmly committing to the bit at every turn. Centered around the new, enigmatic “IBX” social media network, Keyboardist and Vocalist Doctor Sung walked us through the new and revolutionary system. Hailed as “a fully blockchained person-to-person business interface,” and powered by numerous microtransactions of “Grobbcoin,” each interlude between songs was highlighted by a giant, yellow face appearing on the screen behind the band, asking for additional microtransactions to continue the show. Without spoiling too much, the entire stage show acted as a powerful complement to TWRP’s new album, satirizing the “creator economy” and social media influence, all against the backdrop of funky danceable synthpop.

The focus on plot and schtick was not at the expense of musicianship, however. Beneath the solid veneer of cheese and antics existed a group of competent, masterful musicians who administered jazz fusion and funk with perfect execution. Strip away the lights and costumes, and the music would have been just as impressive. But why have to choose? Jumping into the cult classic “Atomic Karate,” TWRP’s chops were fully on display with Sung blazing his way through synth solos while Commander Meowch was holding down a seriously funky bassline. Meanwhile, Lord Phobos gave a masterclass in funk rhythm for the song. Later, Phobos would blow our minds with searing fusion leads during the pre-encore track of “Ladybug” as the night built to a climax. 

The encore, predictably, took the form of 2018’s wildly-popular Starlight Brigade in a bombastic effort that had the entire club up and moving. For a moment, we all forgot the cramped surroundings and stagnant air. For one moment, we all simply grooved. TWRP succeeded in pulling off their show, and what a show it was.

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