Acorn Project 2.5.16

Seattle, WA
Nectar Lounge

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By J. Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

Bellingham, WA-based electro-funk outfit, Acorn Project, returned to Seattle’s Nectar Lounge for another stellar two-set show on a Friday evening. The psychedelic sextet is comprised of Sam Lax (saxophone, electronic percussion, laptop production, vocals), Andy Pritiken (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Oskar Kollen (keys, vocals), Scott Vaillancourt (bass guitar), Kevin Chryst (drums) and Sammy Eisen-Meyers (lead guitar). This was the group’s first Seattle appearance since the Fall of 2015, and they made sure to deliver to a great crowd of regional fans.

This group is a jamband that tastefully integrates funk, electronica and rock into their material. Their improvisation is a wild, groovy ride that often features direction from Vaillancourt. Without detracting from the band’s groove, Vaillancourt was able to effectively use the bass guitar as a lead instrument throughout a surprising portion of the show. His chops were on-point, and his tone was booming and thick. His driving style helps him to authoritatively steer the ship through even the murkiest of improvisational waters.

As I watched them perform, one other band I notice similarity to is the Disco Biscuits. Pritiken’s vocal work bears a number of similarities to that of Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig, including his smooth, spoken-word style delivery and narrative-style lyricism. This similarity is also felt in their improvisation, which often features Kollen’s synthesizers over bouncy, powerful drumming from Chryst.

Comparisons aside, their sound is definitely still very guitar-based. Eisen-Meyers and Pritiken spend a decent amount of time playing dual leads, but generally Pritiken focuses more on rhythm and his singing. His rhythm playing was usually very funky and I really admire the way he is able to syncopate his vocals with his playing. The scope of the guitar work in this band is impressive, ranging from big, bluesy, psychedelic riffs all the way to more ambient, minimalistic parts. Eisen-Meyers seems very at home on the fretboard, and it was a pleasure to see how relaxed his approach to playing was. He was very even-keeled, and always gave the impression that he had mastered his part completely.

I was also really impressed with Lax’s versatility. It seemed like every time I turned my ears in his direction, he had prepared something new and different. His multitasking skills were critical to the band’s ability to get spacy and weird. In general, his job in the band is to fill out their sound and keep things exciting. His delay-pedal sax work was marvelously expressive, while his electronic percussion and production helped to add a different facet to this guitar-driven ensemble. He reminds me a bit of STS9’s Jeffree Lerner in terms of the variety of aural textures he is able to add to the band’s sound.

This was my third time seeing the group perform, all three of which have come since they returned from their recent hiatus. I have to say that this particular performance was the one that hooked me and motivated me to spend more time digging into their studio material. As the band gels back together, I can see their hard work and practice paying off as they demonstrate marked improvement at every show. The hiatus seems to have served its purpose well, as the group seems refreshed, focused and relaxed onstage.

Acorn Project is definitely making a unique contribution to the scene here in the Pacific Northwest. Their musical interplay is thrilling to watch and listen to, and their show has something to offer to all types of music lovers. Look for their continued improvement and growth as time goes on!

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