It's a long-established music-industry joke to refer to a washed-up act as "big in Japan." But for Seattle rock-soul-funk juggernaut Maktub, it signals an upward spiral. Last week, the band had the No. 6 single on Tokyo radio with "So Tired," from their newest album, Khronos. They've also recently entered the Commercial AAA (adult album alternative) Top 30 in Radio & Records, an industry trade magazine.
None of which will surprise any of the folks who voted Maktub Best Soul/R&B Band in the first Seattle Weekly Music Awards. Not only did Maktub beat runner- up Nu SolTribe nearly two to one, they also garnered more points than any band in any of the 17 other categories. Undoubtedly, the band's success lies in its broad appeal. Khronos, Maktub's second album (originally issued by the small Ossia Records and picked up earlier this year by the respectedand, notably, better distributedNew York indie Velour) incorporates smooth R&B, metallic crunch, jazzy balladry, brazen funk, and unabashed pop smarts into an instantly ingratiating stew that never seems to strain at including any of it. Frontman Reggie Watts has a powerful voice that slips easily from Isaac Hayes baritone to Al Green falsetto, stopping frequently at the Chris Cornell power-howl filling station in between.
And the band's audience is a direct reflection of its stylistic brew. "The crowds at Maktub shows are all over the place," says Showbox booker Chad Queirolo. "You get old people, young people, black and white, men and women, hippies, college kids, hip-hop fansa pretty diverse mix, which is pretty unique for a [rock] show."
Watts also keeps his voice limberand keeps himself in the local eye outside of Maktub's frequent local gigsby sitting in with . . . oh, who hasn't he sat in with? Whatever the answer is, it's probably safe to say that the rest of the banddrummer Davis Martin, bassist Kevin Goldman, keyboardist Daniel Spils, and guitarist Thaddeus Turnerhas done so instead. As with their own music, these guys work every available angle.
Right now, though, Maktub are working their own angle harder than ever. "We've been on the road for a month, and for six months total this year alone," Watts says by phone, following a sound check in a Lexington, Ky., club where Maktub recently headlined. "Sometimes we play three shows a dayat some points, we'll do an in-store at Border's, then we'll do a radio spot and set up all our gear to play there. Then we'll play at night in a club. Some shows we headline, and some shows we open. It's pretty draining. But you know, we see the results, and as long as we see results from all the work, it gives us strength and makes us want to keep going."
"Strength" may be the least of it. The band is gaining supporters in high places. For example, Ahmir Thompsonaka ?uestlove, the drummer of critically acclaimed hip-hop band the Roots, as well as a key collaborator with D'Angelo, Common, and Erykah Badu and the one man in pop music with a bigger and better coif than Watts'recently raved about the band on the OkayPlayer.com message board. "[At first] I hated (I'm the only 'fro in town). I was dead wrong," Thompson wrote. "These cats are the shizzzznit. They kill the shit outta [Led Zeppelin's] 'No Quarter'make me wanna do [Zep's drum-solo showpiece] 'Moby Dick' for my own show." The fact that the leader of the most acclaimed live band in the business is thinking about altering his set list after catching a Maktub concert speaks for itself.
Between touring, promotion, and working with other artists, it's difficult to imagine that the band has time to do much else, but Watts has also recently released a solo album, Simplified, on his own NonLinear label; the disc is selling briskly at local shops. Simplified's summery feel cuts back on the ferocity that marks Maktub's live shows in favor of a more streamlined sound. "I really like new wave and popreally poppy stuff, like Hall and Oates," Watts says. "So I intended to capture that spirit. I wanted to coin a phrase, 'new wave soul,' and try and capture what that sounds like, to see if it works." Still, he has no plans to cut loose from the band that is his hub. As Maktub's powerhouse showing in the poll demonstrates, there's no place like home.
Matktub (www.maktub.com) perform at Bumbershoot, 8:45 p.m. Fri., Aug. 29.