REVIEW: No BS! Brass' "Undying"

The city's wildest brass band performs a free show with the Richmond Symphony on Fourth of July.


At some point, No BS! Brass Band became a Richmond institution.

Those of a certain age can remember when it was a scrappy opening act, sometimes setting up in the crowd so that when the music started, there was no distance between audience and performer. At least once they had a high school band open for them at the Camel, ensuring the place was packed with parents when they took the stage.

Now more than halfway through their second decade, they’ve had records reviewed in Downbeat, marched through Forbes Magazine in New York, been featured on the NPR Tiny Desk Concert, played with the Richmond Symphony (which it will again this Fourth of July), and performed a set at the venerable Monterey Jazz Festival in California. And through it all, the members always wore their “RVA All Day” hometown hearts on their sleeves.

Their evolving sound is contrapuntal mix of funk and rock riffs, sweeping arrangements cut with jazz astringence and hip-hop vocal flow. The latter gained an entirely new dimension with the addition of Sam Reed, perhaps the only singer in town with the sonic power to stand up to the bands huge metal gut punch.

In the studio, there is always a challenge to scale their big sound to little earbuds. The group’s latest album, “Undying,” recorded in No BS! drummer Lance Koehler’s Minimum Wage Studio, does a credible job. The emotional fire of a live performance is banked, but the cleverness of the underlying arrangement shines through. Lyrics that might be delivered onstage through a bullhorn reveal their poetry. It’s sophisticated music, reflecting the fact that most of the players studied or teach in the VCU music program.

Also, the album does something no live performance can really do. It's a concept album, spanning cuts from “Fanfare” and “Applause” to “That’s a Wrap.” The songs have a clear unifying theme of survival and perseverance. And, at approximately 40 minutes, roughly the length of most classic rock LPs, it is both long enough to be a satisfying investment and short enough to go through in a single listen.

In other words, it’s its own creature, a wily, intimate companion to the band’s giant onstage monster.

NO BS! Brass will appear at the Red, White, and Lights 2022 performance with the Richmond Symphony, conducted by Chia-Hsuan Lin, on Monday, July 4 at Meadow Farm Museum for Crump Park, 3400 Mountain Rd. in Glen Allen. Gates will be open from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Guests will need to be in the event area to see and hear the show. The show is free to the public.