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'The Wrong Crowd' hits the right chords

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Dave Dabney provides the vocals for the group, rapping to the band's original tunes like "Animal" and "We Never Split" (top left). On keyboard and keytar, Nick Froelich plays out a melody (top right). The band was joined on Saturday by trumpeter Lee Shibley (bottom right). Photos by Bo Brueck.

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It's a Saturday, and there is a sign on the front door of 504 South College street.

"Hello // Welcome to the Show," it reads. "Glad to Have You Here // Please Go in Around Back // -- Angus."

If it wasn't for the mention of a show -- and the rainbow of pulsing light spilling out through the covered windows -- you might think the serene note was an invitation to a dinner party. Or a book club.

You'd be wrong, but not by much.

Follow the path around the back of the house and you start to hear a baseline. Step through the open back door and you enter another world entirely.

Welcome to the Funk School of Business -- only this FSB doesn't charge an extra $100 surcharge per credit hour. They don't even charge cover.

The faculty here call themselves The Wrong Crowd. They're a group of musicians (all undergraduate students) who got together last fall. Since then, they have been developing their own mix of funk, jazz, rap and R & B. Among the seven of them, they have more than 70 combined years of musical experience.

"So, think again about getting oil again // I've already lost enough ken to prescriptions and poisonous // chemicals just ask Flint, Michigan," raps junior Dave Dabney. The lyrics are original but they don't bear the clunkiness of the amateur rapper you knew in high school.

Sophomore Angus Cady (the one from the note) is tall and stoic in the back of the room, thumping on the bass. Smiling wide from behind the drums, junior DK Dews carries the rhythm section.

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Senior Sanchit Ram Arvind is hammering an acoustic upright piano. It has a mic on it, and it sounds incredible -- warm and loud and round. Hanging around the neck of junior Nick Froehlich is a second set of keys: a mini Korg keyboard, fashioned into a keytar with duct tape and rope.

Senior Noah Dean and junior Nick Sabet trade licks and solos on guitar. Froehlich describes Dean's style as "just the right amount of spice," and Sabet plays like a machine -- fingers flying with no other visible bodily movement.

The Wrong Crowd's debut show was on Sept. 30 and their second was on that Saturday, Nov. 4. They packed the house both times and brought an easy and humorous energy, unusual for house shows in Oxford.

"It's a feedback loop where we play and then the audience gets into it," Froehlich said. "The crowd's very, very lively and that gives us a lot more energy, so we play better and that makes them even more excited, which gives us more energy, which makes us play better."

The group began to coalesce last October around a Thursday evening radio show where Dabney freestyled and Froehlich and Cady improvised rhythms. They kept picking up members and, by spring, The Wrong Crowd was solidified. The musicians began to work out original tracks, but it took Dabney until summer 2017 to come up with the politically-charged lyrics on display in much of the band's set.

"I had the summer and I thought 'What am I going to rap about, what am I going to write about?' I had to find something to inspire me," said Dabney.

He found his inspiration in Naomi Klein, a Canadian activist and writer. He sped through "This Changes Everything," her criticism of capitalism's effect on the climate.

Most of the The Wrong Crowd's original songs -- of which there are currently a handful -- take a hard leftist stance against American politics and governance. However, all the members feel that making and playing live music for an audience comes before a specific, activist end-goal.

They're not an activist band, insists Cady, but a "band of activists."

"We don't have the goal of spreading the message," he said. "That just kind of happens because that's who we are -- the music comes from the people in the band."

And, just from a snippet of conversation, it's clear the people in this band know their music:

"I also want to focus on harmonization, unison lyrics," said Cady. "If we started doing harmonization and chord extensions within the band..."

"We're just trying to make our sound more complex," said Froehlich.

"Can we get a horn section where we just play 'The Chicken'?" asked Cady.

Dabney leans back a little during this exchange. Out of all the members of The Wrong Crowd, he has the least musical expertise, the weakest chops in terms of explicit, technical, music knowledge. Instead, his skill lies in lyrics, which he slips into delivering every time he tries to explain them.

"I wanted people to be aware of what's going on and what we can do about it. And not just going out and voting or something like that," he said. "One of my lyrics is 'It'd be stupid for us to wait for another vote,' you know what I mean? 'Cause the crown is secure but we ain't.'"

The Wrong Crowd's next public show is Dec. 2 at the Loft Society jazz club in Cincinnati. They plan on holding a Christmas show in Oxford before the end of the semester.

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