Brothers Gow 1.28.16
The Goodfoot Pub & Lounge
Words & Photos By Coleman Schwartz
Brothers Gow is one of the hardest-touring young jambands on the scene today. Unlike most of their contemporaries, they call the west coast home and tour it extensively several times per year. Hailing from San Diego, this five-piece group plays progressive jam-rock music that delves extensively into electronica, reggae, jazz and g-funk influences. The band is comprised of Alex Gow Bastine (keyboards/vocals), Nathan Walsh-Haines (drums/vocals), Ethan Wade (guitar/vocals), Kyle Merrill (guitar/vocals) and Carson Church (bass guitar). Lighting designer Matt Collier is the unquestioned sixth member, bringing the entire show together with his top-notch visuals.
A rainy Thursday in Portland saw the band playing local hotspot the Goodfoot Pub & Lounge. This venue is well-known for its support of up-and-coming local talent by enlisting local bands (recently including Shafty, Yak Attack, and Asher Fulero Band) to play a month of weekly Tuesday residency shows. The Gow held court in this storied, cave-like room for a full two-set performance, with a full light rig.
They opened the show with “Shadow,” off 2014’s Reflections album. This track starts off light and airy, but quickly gets into some of the band’s deeper and more introspective lyrical content. Merrill sweetly crooned the lead vocal part for the beginning of the song, then after the midpoint jam his vocals became rawer and more emotionally charged. As Merrill screamed out his part, Bastine tastefully arpeggiated chords that became the track’s outro.
Now warmed up, and firmly gripping their audience’s attention, the band launched into perhaps their most polished original track, “Reflections.” Merrill’s piercing, soaring guitar tone gave way to Wade’s deep, growling lead vocal. Bastine, Merrill and Walsh-Haines hit a nice three-part harmony between Wade’s lines, and then the song reached its beautiful octave-pedal breakdown. This involved Merrill’s expert usage of an Electro-Harmonix Micro POG (Polyphonic Octave Generator) pedal, which makes the guitar sound a bit like a steel-drum. Often times when this effect was in use, I found myself comparing his sound to Jake Cinninger of Umphrey’s McGee. This infectious section features Merrill trading off with Bastine on synth, and the crowd could not believe their ears. This was just the first of several amazing electronica-based segments to be played this evening.
The light show was consistently on-point throughout the performance, with Collier locked in and focused in spite of the fans trying to talk to him during the show. Their light rig was absolutely huge for this venue, it felt like they had lights setup all over the room and coming at me from all directions. This rig seems like it would hold up well in a venue 2-3 times this size quite easily, so it was a real treat to see it put to work in such a tiny space. Collier is already a crucial part of their product, and I expect his work to only improve as they are able to play larger venues that can more easily accommodate his many tools.
One of the most unique aspects of this band has to be their lead vocals. Whether Merrill or Wade handles them, they are consistently powerfully executed. Their style of singing has to be difficult to pull off night-to-night on tour, because they simply give it all they have, every take. They rely on passion, emotion and spontaneity to make their vocals sound distinctive, embracing the inimitable sound of their own voices. Bob Dylan comes to mind as another artist who has had success in this vocal style.
Another first-set highlight was the jammed-out cover of Tupac’s “California Love” that showcased the band’s g-funk chops in addition to their rapping ability. Bastine perfectly emulated the original with his vocoder, informing the crowd that “California knows how to party.” Merrill and Wade both demonstrated impressive flow and comfort with the song, before a lengthy full-band funk jam emerged. The set closed with another cover, this time “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. This one was ridiculously authentic, with Wade channeling Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals perfectly. The cover was tight instrumentally, giving both guitarists plenty of space to flex their muscles. After only one set, the band had already left my head spinning from the diversity of material performed.
The second set only continued to demonstrate the breadth of their catalog, starting off with an excellent pairing of “Brittle Bones” > “Wake n Bake.” The former features Wade belting some of the most stereotypically bluesy lyrics and guitar work in their discography, before an ending section featuring brilliant four-part falsetto harmonies. I’ve always had a soft spot for this track, and seeing it live only makes it better. The latter tune is a dub/reggae-inspired number about the benefits of smoking cannabis in the morning. Church’s bass work here stood out as some of the more tasteful reggae bass playing I have heard recently. This song definitely earns the band some Twiddle comparisons, which are not at all unfounded.
The next mashup was “Can’t Touch This Super Freak,” combining MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” with Rick James’ “Super Freak.” This was a great opportunity for Wade and Merrill to take turns one-upping each other with their vocal parts as the songs switched off. The band had no trouble getting back into their g-funk groove and whipping the audience into some faster, funkier dance moves than had been seen during the previous jamband mashup.