Arts Desk

Why the Music Stopped for The Five One

The mood was celebratory at Jammin' Java last Friday. There was free cake, and blue balloons were scattered across the carpeted dance floor. On a nearby table were stacks of black T-shirts, each one with a giant blue square across the chest. The liquor flowed; the crowd was decent.

The man responsible for the party was no stranger to the venue, yet his usual co-stars were nowhere to be found. This was the first show for BLUE, the former rapper/drummer of The Five One, without his long-time band mates. The Reston quartet were regulars at the Vienna music club before they disbanded last year.

"I told myself I wouldn't smile today," BLUE said jokingly to the crowd. "I appreciate everybody that came out. We work really hard."

That certainly showed, even if the faces on stage were totally different. There was no bearded Romanian on bass. No tall, dreadlocked guitarist. No Haitian-American vocalist at the helm of it all. Instead, there were five others—all wearing solid blue t-shirts and all playing under tight control.

And the results were impressive: BLUE efficiently delved into alt-rock, hip-hop, funk, and soul. There were the pace changes and Caribbean rhythms one would expect from a Five One song, even if the melodies were new. Well, mostly: BLUE managed to sneak in a verse from "Mandatory," the lead single of the Five One's unreleased RED BLUE GREEN GOLD album.

It's a shame no one will hear that project. For the album, the band traded in some of the genre-hopping excess of its early recordings for a constrained approach. RBGG was the band's most enjoyable and focused project to date, with introspective jams that examined self-worth ("American Apparel," "May To June") and flaunted their eccentricity ("Monsters Mutants Vampires," "Patty Mayonaise"). There were more straightforward standouts, like the hard-hitting "Cornbread" and "Girls," and others that grew on you, like the dancehall-inspired "Sorry" and the cheerfully romantic "That's Where I'll Be." On "COLORfornia," the album's quiet closer, the lyrics are downright eerie in hindsight: "As far as I'm concerned, the band is just a step to a solo career and a royalty check," BLUE mocks over faint drum taps and rolling synths.

Details of the breakup are somewhat sketchy. As GREEN explains, The Five One dissolved over creative and personal differences, which stemmed from the group's productivity last year. "We had differences in what we wanted to do, and that created a rift," says GREEN, now a member of RDGLDGRN with former Five One members RED and GOLD. "There was never a conclusion. We just decided not to do it anymore."

It's not like they hadn't broken up before. Years ago, GOLD left to pursue other ventures, but he eventually came back. The band would enjoy fluid creative surges, then recede from public view just as suddenly. BLUE and RDGLDGRN are looking to release their respective projects this year.

Still, I can't help but wonder what could've been for The Five One. I remember watching them perform three years ago outside the Sankofa Cafe on Georgia Ave. NW. As a mostly black band playing rock music in a go-go town, they drew mostly baffled looks from onlookers. Once, I sat in on band practice and was blown away by the rough sketch of "Girls." I was never quite clear on the band's color philosophy and the songs' interior lexicon. But it was that oddness that eventually drew you in.

Oh well. "It was kind of a shock and kind of crazy for all of us," GOLD says of the breakup. "It's not like we were planning for this. We're all moving forward and we're all doing good things."

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