Ultraviolet Hippopotamus & Jimkata Two Nights in Michigan
Words and Photos by Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)
The business of live music is a numbers game. There are many skilled, capable acts across the country competing against one another for passionate followers, and because of so, the difference between long-term success and failure has little to do with the notes being played on stage. Time and money constrain us...it’s the undeniable nature of the beast, and musicians have to play the game too. As two young bands in a critical period of growth, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus and Jimkata recently decided to form a strategic partnership and take their talents on the road in order to gain more exposure for both groups in markets untapped. Promotionally, this was a smart, calculated decision by both bands.
For me, the best feeling in the world is hearing a group that I love for the first time, and these double-billed tours make it possible for anyone to experience this feeling by simply coming out to experience bands which they have not previously seen. Before last week’s shows at Mac’s Bar and The Blind Pig, I had heard some recordings of Jimkata but didn’t know what to expect from its live show. This run was a great chance to learn. Representing a perfect scenario to penetrate new markets, the same idea applies to Ultraviolet Hippopotamus as well. Although I’m quite familiar with its music, UV Hippo had an incredible opportunity to show its merit to Jimkata’s faithful following on the East Coast. Co-headlining tours not only benefit the bands but live music fans as well. We all win...what a concept!
Night One - 2.9.11
Mac’s Bar - Lansing, MI
The first night of the tour greeted the bands with open arms and smiling faces. There is much joy among the Michigan crew for Ultraviolet Hippopotamus and its quest to become a national touring act. The anticipation has been building for some time now, and the boys are looking hungrier than ever to take the next step towards becoming nationally recognized. Mac’s Bar in Lansing has been good to UV Hippo with regards to having energetic audiences in the past, and this night proved once again that Mid-Michigan knows how to represent itself properly in the live music setting. Cheers to all of the beautiful people who attended! Before the Hippos took the stage both nights, Jimkata opened each with a set of its own, warming the crowds for the inevitable Ultraviolet Hippopotamus meltdown.
Based out of Ithaca, New York, Jimkata is Evan Friedell (guitar/vocals), Aaron Gorsch (guitar/synth), Dave Rossi (bass) and Packy Lunn (drums). I’m appreciative for having two nights to see Jimkata because I couldn’t put my finger on its sound and mission from its Mac’s Bar performance. The group has a heavy, electro sound rooted in rock and roll but takes an introverted, melancholy approach to its songs. The band relies on new-wave influences more than any improvisational act I’ve seen...while refreshing, the band’s output left me scratching my head befuddled at the unexpected wavelengths traveling through the air. Make no mistake, these dudes can play. Equally impressive at their respective craft were guitarist Evan Friedell and drummer Packy Lunn as both showed soulful inventiveness throughout the set. Friedell’s blistering efforts during guitar solos led the band to solid peaks that undoubtedly helped Jimkata gain new followers this evening. Still uncertain about my interest in the band, I decided to give Jimkata another night to show me what it represents.
After Jimkata finished, it was business as usual for UV Hippo. As I’ve stated before, I’ve never seen a regional act consistently and continually blow crowds away as much as these Hippos do. The five-piece drove it home yet again with a monster “Yin Yang > Rest of Set > Yin Yang” sandwich; included was a new ballad, “Sinking to the Side”, and a dynamite “Welcome to the Machine” that Roger Waters would love to hate simply because it stylistically expands on the original in so well. Sorry Roger... Ultraviolet Hippopotamus has made this song its own.
The band has written just enough music that it can bust out huge selections every night. This element cannot be understated when one frames it in terms of growth and setlist selection. “The Game” and “The Marine” are perfect examples of songs filled with pinpoint compositions and improvisational space which, in combination, allow the band to build momentum into captivating exploration each night it performs. Next time you see UV Hippo, notice the crowd during the last few songs of its final set. Seemingly every UV show I attend, there is a packed dance floor by night’s end because the band has won over the hearts of any new faces and non-believers. However, a band in its infancy is never done working...we are officially on tour.
Yin Yang > Square Pegs Round Holes > Bob the Wondercat, Cream Soda, Sinking to the Side, Georgie > Zelda > Run Rabbit Run, Medicine, The Game, The Scar, The Marine
Encore: Welcome to the Machine > Yin Yang
Night Two - 2.10.11
The Blind Pig - Ann Arbor, MI
In order to not end this review on a sour note, the fact that Ultraviolet Hippopotamus was screwed once again by The Blind Pig must be mentioned now. Notorious for being assholes to the greatest degree, The Blind Pig staff cut short a UV Hippo set once again for no apparent reason. Matt Altruda, one of Ann Arbor’s best promotors, worked to get the band fifteen more minutes near the end of its set, extending finishing time from 12:45 A.M. to 1:00 A.M. Despite his kind efforts, I couldn’t help but find disappointment in the situation. There is absolutely no reason for any band to finish at The Blind Pig by 1:00 A.M. on a Thursday, especially Ultraviolet Hippopotamus. The result was unfortunate when considering the solid size of the crowd that had paid money to attend. I don’t understand it...the crowd was civil, people were drinking, and the bar was making money... I’d be shocked if the band plays The Blind Pig again, and I hope it doesn’t.
Contrary to their goals, our scene will NEVER let haters spoil the celebrations we enjoy, and although these spreaders of decay tried to ruin the fun yet again this evening, there was much good to take away from this night. Jimkata, who again opened for UV Hippo on night two, turned even more heads than it did the previous evening in Lansing. I realized during its set that Jimkata’s current output doesn’t take me to the place I need to be when seeing live music. Although the band’s has its talents, the instrumentation and vocals were too inconsistent for me to gravitate towards a number of musical idea Jimkata presented. The band has an overall lack of identity in my opinion, but that’s not to say that another might find that identity within him or herself when listening. As always, check them out for yourselves, and at the very least, support them as people as much as you would like to be supported.
Following Jimkata once again, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus performed admirably given the circumstances it faced. Tiredness coupled with venue bullshit could be a recipe for disaster for many groups, but UV Hippo took the shortcomings in stride and pushed through for fans with a sense of determination that will be required for the band to take the next step. The shortened set was still enough to get the dance floor bumpin’ thanks to some choice takes by the quintet. As an opener that often sets the band up for success, “Dusty’s Trumpet” delivered the message of rock early and often. The sandwich of “Head in the Trees > That 1 Jam > Head in the Trees” featured smooth segues throughout which was impressive considering how different the two songs are in nature. This goes to show that UV Hippo is avoiding staleness by courageously trying new ideas each night, and what ultimately draws me back, to the band’s credit, is how well these ideas are presented on the fly time and time again.
The musical moment that defined the two-night run for those who attended occurred during “Cheshire Cat”. Halfway through the funky improvisational section, all instrumentation other than drums and bass stopped for a mid-song lineup change. Keyboardist Dave Sanders and guitarist Russ James dropped out of the mix and local musicians Jesse Clayton (keyboards) and Laith Al-Saadi (guitar) joined the band to the delight of the Ann Arbor crowd. Clayton and Al-Saadi are professional musicians who have busy schedules of their own, so it was an incredible moment to experience time and space collide for this impromptu collaboration. The jam started with Al-Saadi and Clayton trading solos and escalated when Sanders rejoined the party to add some keyboard work of his own. I love seeing musicians sharing on stage, and this beautiful moment reminded me why I live the life I live. As the show ended shortly after the collaboration, I left with my head held high walking proudly through the front doors of The Blind Pig.
Dusty's Trumpet > Kindred Spirits, Head in the Trees > That 1 Jam > Head in the Trees, Cheshire Cat, Verlander