Thursday, November 30, 2017

Leftover Salmon & The Drunken Hearts 11.25.17 (Photos)

Everyone Orchestra 11.17 & 11.18.17

Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
Denver, CO

Words by Kristin Zachman (Direct Attention)
Photos by Blake Barit (Direct Attention)

It’s always a party when Matt Butler brings his Everyone Orchestra to town. The ensemble played three sets over the weekend in Denver and Fort Collins, serving up some Grade A improv. As usual, the lineup was stocked with heavy hitting festival regulars familiar to any seasoned music lover. Dressed as the psychedelic band leader he is, and equipped with his instructional iPad and whiteboard, Butler, the musical Mad Hatter was ready to give Colorado his best.

Night One, the Orchestra performed at Denver’s Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom. The main room was equipped with all the microphones, instruments, and music stands that the band could need. Before the Orchestra’s performance, the crowd was warmed up by Denver band, Rastasaurus. These local boys obviously had a lot of support in the crowd, who was pumped up from the start of their set. Their white-boy reggae had a good mix of classic rock, reggae coolness and funky jams, with on-key transitions and tight vocals. The five piece band had the audience more than ready to dance when Butler burst onstage.

While Denver crowds are blessed with one of the best jam scenes in the country, it’s a treat to see such talent sharing the same stage. Joel Cummins, keyboardist of the popular progressive rock band Umphrey’s McGee, had a large fan presence in the audience. Fans lovingly heckled him while he served up hot funk from his corner of the stage. Cummins was joined by Lotus’s Mike Rempel on guitar, as well as bass legend in the making, Zdenek Gubb from Twiddle. The String Cheese Incident’s Michael Travis accompanied them on one drum kit, with superstar drummer, Claude Coleman Jr of Ween and Amandla, on the other. Adding to this already star studded crew, Shira Elias of the funky collective that is Turkuaz brought her vocal flavor. Shira’s bandmate Josh Schwartz came along with her, bringing his baritone saxophone. Matt Bricker of Fort Collin’s own Euforquestra rounded out the horns section on trumpet. Though the show billed Chuck Garvey of Moe. on guitar, due to a family emergency he was unable to make it. While we send our love to Chuck, his absence meant that Longmont local and guitarist for Colorado band SunSquabi, Kevin Donahue got to pop his Everyone Orchestra cherry.

Butler’s ever boisterous presence riled the crowd up as the musicians trickled onto the stage. The conductor made a promise of magic tricks before the band dropped into a fully improvised and extremely groovy set. Following his best instinct, Butler scribbled instructions for the musicians on his whiteboard and Ipad. He also conducted with his hands, body movements, and even by jumping into the air. It is a unique experience as a music fan, as most of us are used to bands we love ripping through songs we know and recognize. Instead, the Everyone Orchestra takes these musician’s strengths and styles and applies them to the outfit’s best advantage.

As with any improvisational performance, the band is faced with a possibility of dead end jams, repetitive riffs, or even the risk of playing music reminiscent to songs we all know. This edition of Everyone Orchestra did a great job of blending their styles into a jazzy funk masterpiece. Though Shira’s vocals were applied sparingly, her lyrical additions brought a beautiful texture to the session. She showed off her vocal range with a mixture of sultry singing and scatting, beckoning to the audience to “move to the music.” SunSquabi’s Kevin Donahue got his initiation into the orchestra when he was asked to start his very own jam. During Donahue’s heavily funk driven jam, Todd Stoops (RAQ) an E.O. veteran, stopped in to back up Joel on the keys. When considering the 16 years Butler’s been touring with his dream project, it’s no surprise that he’s got friends in all the right places. Lucky for us, they like to come out and play.

Blake's Photo Gallery

Aggie Theatre
Fort Collins, CO

Night Two took the Orchestra a couple of hours north to Fort Collins and the Aggie Theater. Whatever this venue lacked in size, the crowd was ready to make up for in energy. Saturday night’s opener was another local Denver band, The RunniKine. This trio performed a great set, with an unusual set up. One member sang and wailed on keys, while another was ripping the bass, and the final member held down the drumkit. The RunniKine brought their friend Kevin Donahue out to collaborate on their closing song. Another great opener set the stage for the Fort Collins edition of Everyone Orchestra.

While the lineup was largely the same as Denver’s, there were a couple absences. Euforquestra’s Matt Bricker and Michael Travis from String Cheese sat out for this incarnation of the Everyone Orchestra. While the venue and the stage size were much smaller than the previous night’s, it worked out for the better. Night one, while packed with people and delivering a longer show, wasn’t nearly as electric as the second night, which had a much larger degree of crowd participation. The audience packed onto the floor quickly, making it difficult to get back and forth to the bar, but there was plenty of room for dancing.

The standout jam of the night was spearheaded by Zdenek Gubb, Vermont based bassist of Twiddle. The musicians gave him room to work out a spacy bassline which was quickly bulked out with a familiar tone from Mike Rempel. Lotus has such a chill, defined sound which translated clearly throughout the night from Rempel’s guitar riffs. The second night’s jams were more diverse than the first, Claude Coleman Jr. started another song with a more aggressive rock beat on the drums, which strayed even more from the funk centered music the band had been playing. Eric Luba, The RunniKine’s keyboardist, was lucky enough to fool around with Joel during a couple of the Orchestra’s songs. The encore was another standout of the weekend, reminiscent of a Staples Singer jam with Josh Schwartz and Shira Elias bringing out their most soulful vocals to top off the weekend’s sets.

This edition of the Everyone Orchestra came to play. Butler set the show up for success when he billed yet another ensemble of diverse musicians. As Claude Coleman Jr. said in an interview before the Aggie Theater show, “I think Matt has the talent to pinpoint a musician’s strengths, he does a great job pairing people up.” It is clear, as an audience member, the band is all about having fun and making it work. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we can be grateful that this past weekend’s shows did not disappoint.

Blake's Photo Gallery

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Toubab Krewe 11.25.17 (Photos)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

High Ceiling & DBST 11.25.17 (Photos)

Leftover Salmon & The Grant Farm 11.24.17 (Photos)

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Motet & Dopapod 11.18.17 (Photos)

Variety Playhouse
Atlanta, GA

Photos by Julie Hutchins (Tipping Point Designs)

View Julie's Full Photo Gallery Here!

The Disco Biscuits & Break Science 11.18.17 (Photos)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Shook Twins & Oly Mountain Boys 11.17.17 (Photos)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Slowdive & Soccer Mommy 11.17.17 (Photos)

Dopapod & The Motet 11.17.17 (Photos)

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Floozies, Cloudchord & The Widdler 11.17.17 (Photos)

Hangtown Music Festival 10.26 - 10.29.17

El Dorado County Fairgrounds
Placerville, CA

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Will Howard

Hangtown is a unique music festival, to say the least. It begins with the odd location, both spooky (Placerville was dubbed “Hangtown” due to its frequent hangings during the gold rush) and convenient (Ever walk to Denny’s after a late night set?) After that, and perhaps more importantly, come the odd people. Delightfully bizarre and interactive, the crowd exhibits a frightening playfulness that could only be found around Halloween.

While one group of folks runs around demanding that you participate in their impromptu game of Twister, another plays “party police” and does their best to stop your fun. This was just one night, of course, and it ended in both groups participating in a pizza party where everyone danced to a portable boombox in front of the pizza cart and cheered on those who made and purchased the pizzas. The final crucial ingredient in this wonderfully weird weekend is a host band as consistently captivating as Railroad Earth, whose Saturday night set left those at my campsite, literally, speechless.

Thursday, October 26:

While Hangtown’s music schedule is abbreviated down to just three bands on Thursday, don’t mistake it for a pre-party. Host band Railroad Earth has headlined the night every year since the festival expanded to four days in 2013, even performing a silent movie score on that inaugural Thursday night.

Northern California’s rootsy rock & roll band, Achilles Wheel, opened up the festival around seven o’clock in Hangin’ Hall, the festival’s late night venue. The main stage area wasn’t opened up until Friday morning so all of Thursday’s music took place inside Hangin’ Hall, which is cool because the late nights are by ticket-only so it gave people the opportunity to check out the impressively decorated venue.

Railroad followed with one long set that brought everybody into the venue, whether they had set up camp yet or not. This, of course, made for an interesting post-show experience, but that’s another story. Emmylou Harris’ “Luxury Liner” appeared out of the rare Russ Barenberg tune “Magic Foot,” the first real surprise of the night and the early highlight until “Mourning Flies” came midway through the set.

Bassist Andrew Altman’s “12 Wolves” followed the hauntingly beautiful “Mourning Flies” with a much more aggressive jam that began with some sound issues as Altman’s microphone was turned off for the first couple of verses. It was a bit of a bummer since we rarely get to hear him sing lead, but they more than made up for it with the intense jamming that most have learned to expect from this song.

The always beautiful “Birds of America” made an appearance toward the end of the set, just before their rockin’ ode to wartime, “Warhead Boogie,” whose psychedelic outro will more often than not lead into something interesting, this time a set-closing “Moonshiner” which hadn’t been played since last year’s New Year’s run in Portland.

Fruition followed with a late night set from midnight until two that seemed like a “greatest hits” set at first, until I realized the next day after their second set that they just have that many recognizable songs at this point in their young career. Older favorites like “The Wanter” and “Spliff” spanned just as much of the setlist as newer songs like “There She Was” and “Death Comes Knockin’,” which was just recently covered at Red Rocks by Greensky Bluegrass and a few members of Fruition

Railroad Earth’s uber-multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling joined the band on saxophone for a cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” and Fruition’s nod to their rainy hometown, “Portland Bound.” I inexplicably neglected to mention this while touching on the Railroad set, but I can’t stress enough what a treat it was to see Andy back with the band after being out due to illness the last couple times I saw them this year. I can’t overstate how much this man’s talent and versatility means to the band.

The Fruits did as they have done all tour since Tom Petty passed, encoring with a different cover of his each night, opting for the 1994 hit, “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” with Jay Cobb Anderson pulling the necessary double duty on guitar and harmonica.

Friday, October 27:

Shook Twins opened up the main stage, the El Dorado Stage, I guess it is technically called. Inside the stage area they’ve got some spooky Halloween-themed decorations and at the opposite end of the field, around the corner, is the Gallows Stage where music is held in between sets at the El Dorado Stage. Just outside of that is a row of food vendors, which featured everything from pizza-stuffed dumplings to chocolate and fruit-topped pizza. Go figure.

The first Gallows Stage set I caught was Reno’s Mojo Green and damn, they’re funky! I didn’t know I wanted funk with my afternoon dumpling but they decided it for me. More funk followed with Monophonics, a soulful and funky band that is certainly enjoyable, but eventually I grew a bit funked-out and walked back to camp to gear up for Fruition’s upcoming set.

Conveniently enough, it was only a thirty second walk to the campsite due to Hangtown’s “camp wherever the hell you want” policy, which I am all for. There is the occasional “No Camping!” sign, but other than that, it’s a free-for-all, in the spirit of the wild west in which the city was built upon.

Fruition epicly strolled onto the stage backed by a live rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme song, while running in slow motion with PBRs in their hands and cigarettes hanging from mouths, a diet that has never seemed to fail the band.

Another onslaught of hits filled this set and, as I mentioned, helped me realized how deep their catalog is. Also, how much it’s progressing. New-ish song “Fire” has become my favorite song of theirs to hear live due to its dark and psychedelic nature, a direction in which the band has consistently headed recently. I’m a fan. The Petty cover, if you were wondering, was “American Girl.”

Next, I wandered down to the Gallows Stage to catch supergroup, The Contribution, for the first time. Led by Tim Carbone’s rock & roll fiddle, these guys put on one of the more impressive sets of the festival. Definitely my sleeper pick.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood took over El Dorado Stage and kicked off a very “Dead” themed night, which began with CRB and DSO (Dark Star Orchestra) and extended to the costume theme of the night, “Nothing Shaking on Hangtown Street,” where attendees were encouraged to dress up as their favorite Grateful Dead song.

CRB’s set went from pedestrian to excellent almost as soon as the sun went down. Guitarist Neal Casal took over around “Vibration & Light” and keyboardist Adam McDougall’s eerie sound fit the festival’s nighttime Halloween vibe perfectly.

After another “tweener” set from The Contribution, the night’s headliner, Dark Star Orchestra, took the stage for two sets. Known for choosing a Grateful Dead concert and playing it all the way through, DSO performed the October 29, 1977 show from Dekalb, IL for the California crowd.

A ripping “Let It Grow” closed out the first set and was the obvious highlight to me. The second set got pretty far out, especially during the “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes Of The World” > “Space” > “St. Stephen” > “Drums” segment, which extended all the way through the rest of the set until “Sugar Magnolia” wrapped it up before a Friday night encore of “One More Saturday Night.”

Hangin’ Hall’s late night this time around was a funky pairing in MarchFourth Marching Band and Turkuaz. Both bands are as much of a visual spectacle as they are a dance party. MarchFourth has to be the most unique “marching band” I’ve ever seen and never fail to trick me into enjoying the show more than I thought I would.

Turkuaz, well, they’re the ideal late night band and they proved that once again, pumping the room full of energy that I figured was gone by three in the morning at this late October fest. While I was initially skeptical, the festival’s ragers eventually assured me that no shenanigans were lost as they quickly snapped into mid-summer form by Friday night (i.e. impromptu, involuntary Twister games and rowdy pizza parties where nobody ate.)

Saturday, October 28:

Todd Snider, one of music’s most talented and unique storytellers, kicked off Saturday’s El Dorado Stage schedule and was a perfect early afternoon start to what became the most wild night of the festival.

Down at the Gallow, Railroad fiddle wizard Tim Carbone hosted a workshop with the talented Joe Craven, who actually (and hilariously) hosted the festival as MC. The workshop focused on, well, I guess that part was up to your discretion. A lot of it had to do with playing the fiddle, some of it focused on playing percussion, but the main theme of the workshop seemed to be spontaneity and performing in the moment.

A young child must’ve taken that to heart and pulled out his violin while in the crowd, which prompted both Carbone and Craven to ask if he could come on stage. The result was cute and inspiring in the fact that it really went nowhere, but that was the point of the whole workshop. Brilliant? In a way.

Multi-genre Americana Soul act, The Dustbowl Revival, performed next and are always enjoyable with their progressive take on traditional music. Another Turkuaz set followed and was actually more of a dance party than the first. It’s not often enough that I get to see them perform a day set and it almost seems as if they fit that late afternoon slot just as well as the late night ones.

Two sets of Greensky Bluegrass were next, fresh off of two shows earlier in the weekend three thousand miles away at Hulaween. Dressed as hippies, I guess? I’m not sure. Dobro player Anders Beck looked like Wavy Gravy and mandolinist Paul Hoffman’s costume fell somewhere in between the guy from Duck Dynasty and Fast Eddie. Maybe they were various members of Dead lot. Who knows?

Greensky’s first set focused mainly on newer material, with all but the last two songs coming from their last two albums. Never shy to trying out new tricks, they sandwiched “In Control” into the middle of “Leap Year.” Both great songs but this particular transition was a bit sloppy and maybe unnecessary. It was soon forgotten after the fan favorite “All Four” segued into the weekend appropriate “Bring Out Your Dead” to close the first set.

Set two brought upon a few surprises and overall, left me more satisfied than the first, which was no slouch in its own right. Taking off at “Tarpology,” a favorite of mine, and segueing into Pink Floyd’s “One Slip,” which brings us our metaphorical slip down the rabbit hole as it was nothing but psychadelic darkness from that point on.

They took the slip seriously, following the jam with “I’d Probably Kill You,” guitarist Dave Bruzza’s evil throwdown, “Kerosene,” and the aptly-named, “Demons.” More wordplay came within the setlist as the band then closed the set with “Burn Them” > “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone,” with the latter of which going down as the highlight of the set.

After a quick stop back at camp, we returned to the El Dorado Stage for the premier set of the festival, Saturday night Railroad. This is where things got weird. Uncomfortable, if you will. But in the most pleasant way.

Opening with the unexpected debut of Ernesto Lecuona’s 1928 Cuban composition “Malagueña,” and following up with “Drag Him Down,” it was clear that this was going to be a dark set, a Railroad specialty.

Dressed as spooky as the music in which they played, the show held a decided theme throughout its entirety and never let up. Beginning with “Adding My Voice,” the set took off into a realm of it’s own, leaving its imprint on me more so than any other show I’ve seen all year.

John Skehan busted out his Irish bouzouki for a segue into the intense instrumental “1759,” during which I first realized I was witnessing something special. “1759” then segued seamlessly into the most spaced out, and at one point even funky, version of “Goat” I’ve ever seen. Correct me if you can think of better examples, but this set possessed a level of exploration within the band’s music that I personally had not witnessed before the night.

Their creepy ode to the history of Placerville, “Hangtown Ball,” followed and eventually segued into “El Cumbanchero,” a delightfully sporadic Puerto Rican instrumental composed by Rafael Hernandez Marin that busted straight into the dark and aggressive “Walk Beside Me,” finally slowing back down with “Captain Nowhere.”

The calm didn’t last long, eventually taking off again with a wildly psychedelic “Spring-Heeled Jack” that appeared out of the jam following “Captain Nowhere.” The improv took this set over to the point where they weren’t even able to encore at their own festival, due to a curfew restriction they had mistakenly passed. Nobody was too upset about it since most of us just needed to sit down and regather ourselves after that performance.

When I got back to camp, that’s just what everyone was doing. We all communicated to each other with just our eyes at first, unable to find words but assured that we were all on the same page with what we had just experienced.

After an hour or two of recovery, we decided we were ready to head down to Hangin’ Hall for Leftover Salmon’s late night set. Another band who fits perfectly as either a late night or afternoon act, Salmon also got both slots at Hangtown. Their late night was a bit more of a zydeco and blues-themed set and featured several songs with Tim Carbone, who by this point had all but solidified himself as MVP of the festival.

Sunday, October 29:

More MarchFourth started off my day on Sunday and like usual, lured me way deeper into the show than I expected to be. Surprises such as their thunderously funky cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” to close this set are why this band is always worth checking out if you get the chance, especially at a festival.

Rising California jam act Brothers Gow played the Gallows Stage next and won over a plethora of new fans, even prompting MC Joe Craven to call it “the best use of thirty five minutes at the Gallow Stage all weekend.” Things were apparently a bit more complicated than it seemed, and Brothers Gow shedded half of their members just a week after the festival, choosing to continue on as a power trio.

Lukas Nelson & the Promise of Real followed and that man can shred. They were definitely the loudest band at the festival but their impressive chops allowed them to fit in just fine and led into a Salmon set that made for a fun, amped up afternoon, most of which featuring Nelson.

Nelson joined Salmon after two huge jams in “Breakin’ Thru” and “Aquatic Hitchhiker,” the latter of which spanned nearly twenty minutes and included all of the band members leaving the stage except for bass (Greg Garrison), keys (Erik Deutsch), and drums (Alwyn Robinson), with Andy Thorn eventually joining in on banjo followed by a group of woman bringing out a birthday cake with candles for him to blow out as Vince Herman reappeared and wished Thorn a happy birthday.

“Down By The River” was the first song to feature Nelson and boy, it was a scorcher. Hearing Thorn and Nelson play off of each other was a unique experience and a memory I won’t soon forget. Nelson stayed up for “Higher Ground” and “Alabama,” solidifying the Sunday afternoon Salmon set as one of the best sets of the weekend.

Railroad’s final set of the weekend came next and very quickly let you know they were taking things in a different direction than the night prior with an early set “Happy Song.” This dichotomy in their sound and songwriting is the main reason that I love the band so much. Not many bands can shake you to your bones one night and have you dancing around with a huge smile on your face the next.

The emotional “Grandfather Mountain” made an appearance out of “Farewell To Isinglass” and after an uplifting “Colorado” came my personal favorite segment of the set, “Where Songs Begin” > “Fisherman’s Blues.” “Head” eventually closed the set before a beautiful cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” bid us farewell and closed the book on another wonderful weekend of shows from the festival’s host band.

For those who still had the energy to dance, there were two bands who sure as hell knew how to make you do that in Hangin’ Hall as Polyrhythmics and Scott Pemberton Band’s late night closed out the festival. I, unfortunately, was not one of those people and had to begin preparing for the long haul back to Portland. Once packed up and ready to roll, we made the obligatory California stop at In-N-Out, about a mile from the fairgrounds. That, unlike this pleasant mindwarp of a music festival, was quite average.

Will's Photo Gallery

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Hot Buttered Rum 11.16.17 (Photos)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

MusicMarauders Spotify Playlist - Volume 40 (11.22.17)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Eufórquestra & The Burroughs 10.28.17

Aggie Theatre
Fort Collins, CO

Words & photos by Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)

Every year as the leaves turn and fall, Eufórquestra makes a pilgrimage to The Aggie. An inauspicious box smack dab in the Choice City, the Aggie has suffered the trials and tribulations of being a boozy music venue in a college town. With the transfer of the day to day management the Aggie has emerged as a solid place to see a show. Having migrated to Fort Collins from Iowa City, Eufórquestra has spent many nights working the crowd at the Aggie. This show was a special one with both bands celebrating Halloween very differently. The Burroughs hail from Greeley, Colorado and this year they opted to perform the music of Space Jam.

The Burroughs arrived onstage adorned in the full regalia of the Looney Toons team ready to take the court in the seminal film Space Jam. They appropriately opened with the “Space Jam Theme” featuring both Johnny Burroughs and drummer Mary Claxton ripping it up on vocals. At first I was a little perplexed by their schtick, but as the show rolled it became obvious that this band has some serious chops. After a short but spot on version of Cheech and Chong’s “Basketball Jones," they wove in some originals. A new track entitled “Solid Gold” was a funky disco tune featuring the amazing horn section consisting of Alec Bell on trumpet, Hayden Farr on Baritone Sax and Briana Harris on Alto. “Jungle Boogie” was a highlight as was the explosive love song “You Are My Joy.” They invited local phenom Grace Kush who is just 13 to join in on the Seal-sung version of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle.” They continued the spooky theme with covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” and the “Ghostbusters Theme.” They gave the MonStars a chance with a perfect take on “Hit ‘em High” which segued nicely into a “Monster Mash” jam. They wrapped up the whole shebang the same way the film did, with “I Believe I Can Fly.” After this show most in the room believed they too could in fact fly.

Eufórquestra never disappoints, especially when playing to their adopted hometown crowd. This night was billed as Eufórquestra performs Led Zeppelin. With the departure of long time drummer Craig Babineau, Eufórquestra has called upon Jeff Peterson, best known for his work with Night Phoenix aka Roster McCabe and Turbo Suit. Now, a lot of times when bands announce a cover show, they sprinkle in originals or limit the covers to their second set. Eufórquestra came out from the start blasting the tunes of the greatest rock and roll band to ever take any stage. Sax player Austin Zalatel emerged adorned in a massive blonde wig a la Robert Plant. His vocals on “Song Remains The Same” left people wondering if Eufórquestra had bit off more than they could chew. The materialization of powerhouse singer Kim Dawson put those fears to rest.

Dawson set the stage on fire during an Earth-shattering “Immigrant Song.” The set lasted just under two hours and represented the entire catalog of Zeppelin quite nicely. The members of Eufórquestra would get chances on the mic including a solid rendition of "Hey Hey What Can I Do?" sung by Mike Tallman. The show really took on speed around “The Ocean” which segued beautifully into a deep and dark “No Quarter.” Peterson got a chance to sing on a transcendental “Black Dog” that got everyone moving. The “Moby Dick” sandwich was another high in a show full of peaks. “Fool In The Rain” was a nice touch as well. They closed the set with a perfectly positioned “Kashmir.” Dawson returned to the mic for the encore with an unbelievable “Whole Lotta Love.” Taking on the music of Led Zeppelin is no easy feat. There are a lot of horrible Zeppelin covers spattered all over the internet. Eufórquestra took their time to learn the music and they employed ringer Kim Dawson to fill the immense shoes of Robert Plant on vocals. They did it right. My hope is that we continue to see some of these songs sprinkled into future shows. Eufórquestra and Zeppelin is a combo I can certainly get behind.

Setlist: Song Remains The Same, Immigrant Song, Misty Mountain Hop, Dyer Maker> Babe I’m Gonna Leave You> Hey Hey What Can I Do?, Trampled Under Foot, The Ocean> No Quarter, Black Dog> Moby Dick> Rock & Roll> Moby Dick, Dazed & Confused, Fool In The Rain, What Is & What Should Never Be, Kashmir

Encore: Whole Lotta Love

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Conversation with Chris Pandolfi (The Infamous Stringdusters)

Electric Forest
Rothbury, MI

By Kevin Alan Lamb

Our time here is precious; as are our gifts; and who we choose to share them with will determine the quality of life we live. Countless musicians grow their gifts like seeds from the earth, hoping one day their harvest will feed hungry, hurting, and happy hearts long enough to enjoy the passing present at the precipice and collision of a banjo string strum, note delivered, and joy internalized. Artists pound pavement 20 hours to perform one; but God it is sweet and among the holiest of sacrifices that I am grateful to be a part of in all the ways life, intentionality, and hard work reveal.

Every conversation has the potential to be the first building block and foundation of a great cathedral; as a result I must express my gratitude to Chris Lewarchik for connecting me with The Infamous Stringdusters prior to Electric Forest where I was joined by The Godfather of Groove himself, Norm Kittleson for a special interview with Chris Pandolfi. This conversation is a credit to the pervasive power of connectivity, the reach of our music community, and a reminder to be thankful for those who share their time and gifts with you long enough to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to inspire those who wish to follow.

KAL: Ladies and gentlemen it is Sunday, day four of Electric Forest, week one. I am 6’7” Kevin and I am here with Chris of the Infamous Stringdusters. How are you doing today brother?

CP: I’m doing great man thanks for having me, good to meet you.

KAL: Hey, it’s a pleasure. You were just kind of diving into the energy that is put into the forest. As a musician you guys put a lot into your craft and what you love and you go to a show and you have a crowd who reciprocates that. Can you talk about coming to a place like this that takes so much labor put into it and how that translates?

CP: Yeah man, we reference Electric Forest as one of our favorite festivals. It’s one of our favorite festivals for a lot of reasons. The music line up, the amazing fans, all these great things, but the energy that Madison House puts into the production is just incredible. They have this sense of bigger experience; bigger than any one part of it. Like I said the music, the fans, they are here, but they sort of put them together with their own touch and it just creates a very memorable festival that’s more unique than any festival that we go to all year. I mean we love coming here. We’re used to playing at festivals where there are a lot of bands like us, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re string bands or even bluegrass, but roots music bands and bands that cover a lot of the same genres that we do. It’s just great in all these different ways. But yeah, you come here and like you do with the Cheese guys, it gives you a bigger vision of what’s possible. You see them thinking outside of the box and thinking big, and it inspires us all on all different levels to take it up a notch.

KAL: Who are some of the other musicians that help you along the way to sort of kick it up a notch and steer you in a nurturing way?

CP: Well, you know Yonder Mountain String Band was a big influence on us just with regards to seeing them do the thing in the way that they do it and realizing that you know - we’re a bluegrass band. We got our start in Nashville and cut our teeth on legit bluegrass and a lot of the bands in our extended scene they have a lot of bluegrass influence, but they didn’t necessarily emerge from out of the tradition as much as we did. So for us, that was our starting place. But I remember opening for Yonder five or six years ago and just seeing their thing; their crew, their music, the venue, the way the show went down, the fans, the vibes, the things that they were creating. It had a big influence on us. Cheese in the very same way, just referencing Electric Forest and getting to see these things in the same way. It really is the essence of inspiration just to see this thing that sort of makes this light go off and makes you think, “Oh wow, that’s possible.” For us, we had that moment with Yonder and opening for them at Red Rocks. You come out of this world because bluegrass is really a niche genre, it’s so heavy on the musicality, but it’s not necessarily great at finding exposure to a large audience even though people love it. It’s like one of those types of music that people love, but they just don’t know it yet until they hear it. So coming to a place like this, you get that exposure and Cheese, like Yonder, has had that similar exposure just showing us what is possible.

KAL: We opened Otus Supply in Ferndale near Detroit just a little bit before Christmas and it’s really the first place to hit Detroit that’s doing the bluegrass/americana jam. Like you said, people do love it but they just don’t have that exposure and they’re not aware that they can go to a bluegrass show and have all these crazy effects with all these rock and roll elements.

CP: But that’s roots music man. One thing that we love is that music changes and notes evolve but roots stuff, it’s just always going to be there and there is a legacy to that music that even as all the trends change and all the electronic stuff that ten years ago, this stuff wasn’t even going on. But even as these thing sort of come and go, the landscapes of bands and music shift, I think that the roots stuff will always be there.

KAL: What is the last song you would like to hear before you die?

CP: Oh that’s a deep one right there. Well, you know my Holy Grail stuff that I always go back to is Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. That was my real inspiration to play banjo and I still think that the Flecktones are the best fusion band and the best jam band of all time. They brought together diversity and unbridled creativity from some of the best musicians in a world where there are a lot of great musicians and musicianship. But when you have four forces of nature who can be their own entity unto themselves, that’s sort of a once in a lifetime kind of thing.

KAL: If you guys could talk about how you got started with Yonder. So I know that some or all of you guys met at the Berklee School? Could you talk about that a little bit?

CP: We didn’t really meet at-two of us went to Berklee College of Music, myself included. I got my undergrad degree and went right to Berklee for a two year program to be the first ever banjo principal at Berkelee College.

KAL: Yeah that’s what I was gonna ask; did you originally go to Berklee for something else then it transitioned into banjo?

CP: Well, I knew that I wanted to be a banjo player, but I actually hadn’t been playing that long. I started playing when I was eighteen. So I had only been playing for a few years when I graduated from college. I really wanted to reward myself with the opportunity to learn and connect with other musicians and have a few years to shred and get better and just learn what was up. I looked around at music schools and this was 2001, bluegrass wasn’t on the map like it is now. It really wasn’t that common. Berklee had nothing. They had a few enthusiasts, but no set program; no banjo teacher. So I went and I actually studied with guitar professors. They weren’t showing me the techniques, they were showing me the notes and what to play. I was sort of transposing all that to banjo.

KAL: I mean, you don’t have a totally pure traditional technique.

CP: Yeah my main influence is Bela Fleck and he’s as wide open as they come. So to me I try to take all the things that I think are really powerful and convincing about bluegrass which is that really hard driving rhythm of the right hand, the tone of the instrument, and just the attack and the sound and try and take that and apply to a wider sort of musical view. A very similar thing that Fleck did and he came out of that bluegrass tradition too. When you move to Nashville you’ve got your guy who delivers your mail who can play ten instruments better than you can play one. You get your butt kicked pretty well, but that's what it's all about. Again, coming back to the inspiration of seeing something that’s outside yourself especially at a festival with your fans, when you’re hearing a guy like Bela.

I was there and I studied for two years and about two years after I finished at Berklee they came out with a roots program. So I’m taking full credit for that roots program. I’ve been back to do a couple days with the students and I’m about to go back again next fall. It’s just awesome. We do private lessons with the kids because there are only ten at a time. We’ll try not only to share some intel with them from time to time about the music and the business, but also life as a touring musician. I didn’t play when I was three years old, I wasn’t a child prodigy or anything like that like a lot of the bluegrass pickers, but I’ve been really lucky to team up with the Dusters. It’s opened so many doors, as you know we did our Bluegrass Generals thing with the Cheese guys yesterday. So yeah we’re just so lucky to be plugged into the scene that has sort of one foot in that bluegrass world and also this kind of festival. This is what I did when I was in high school. Grew up wanting to see the Flecktones and Phish, being in this musical experience that I didn’t exactly know what I was seeing, but I knew that what I was seeing was significant. The guys in my band as well knew that going to see the Grateful Dead and bands that were a much bigger experience than just the music. Combining that with all that musical stuff plus what you get when you come from the bluegrass tradition you sort of get all of these different worlds that other bands are apart of as well.

Did you play any other instruments as a kid? How did you get exposed to music?

CP: I played piano when I was a kid and took lessons with my grandmother because she was a full time musician. She was an opera musician actually. She was a voice coach and an accompanist. So we had music going all the time when we were kids. But like a lot of people I found it on my own terms and discovered it through my older brother. He was a bass player. We started going to see the Flecktones when I was getting really excited about music. I’ll be lucky to feel something that even approaches that level of inspiration. I saw the Flecktones at the Knitting Factory; three nights, two shows a night. I bought my banjo the day after that last show.

KAL: Are you from New York?

CP: Yeah, but you know the banjo is not an easy instrument to play. There is a level of technique that you need to have in order to get over the hump when playing this music versus something like a guitar or piano where you can strum a couple of chords and make good soulful music without a lot. But I feel like it was a blessing in disguise that I started at a time when I just found it on my own and thought to myself, “this is my thing.” I started playing it all the time and that got me relatively quickly to a point in music where I was enjoying it. That was the summer after my senior year in high school. A lot of people will say this, you get into it when you figure it out on your own that you want to do that.

KAL: Can you speak to any of the other guys?

CP: It’s an amazing mix, like Jeremy our fiddle player, he was playing bluegrass fiddle since he was three year old. He’s crazy he’s all by ear. He’s all feel. He’s probably the least classically trained out of all of us. He came out of the bluegrass tradition all the way. Andy, our guitar player, was an electric blues player playing six nights a week in New York City, something like four sets a night something stupid like that.

Yeah we had music in the house, but my brothers and I all played. I got into and I was still so young, right out of school that I didn’t have this master plan to be in a band and do what we’re doing. But it was just very serendipitous the way that I met the other guys in the band and they are all such intense players as well. Once we all got together it was sort of like there was nothing stopping this thing. It was going to have a bite. The luckiest thing for me is that playing music is such a joy and giving yourself the opportunity to see how good you can get playing as a career. But to me sharing the experience with other like-minded people who I love and care about is really absolutely the best part of it all.

KAL: Just being around people who love each other that much is awesome. Being able to spend that much time together and traveling and living on stage.

CP: Yeah, it takes work man when you have five guys who are all artists in their own right and they have all these diverse ideas for different side projects. To meaningfully combine those energies and have them add up to something that’s greater than the sum of their parts, I think that’s very rare. Sometimes the parts are very natural for us, but also it does take a lot of work and you have to foster that and figure it out, it’s just like any other relationship that you have with family, friends, it can be challenging, but it’s worth it.

KAL: Can you recall a time when a fan or someone who really appreciated your music shared a time when it got them through a really rough time?

CP: Absolutely man - Facebook, one of the really nice things about it is that it really does connect you to people and I see those messages and there have been a lot of them. Fans who express to us that our music got them through a dark time or this certain song has been really meaningful to them. I mean, I cannot think of a more rewarding payoff. Sometimes you spend these long hours practicing, playing, traveling and it feels a little inward sometime. For every hour we’re on stage there’s fifty hours where were working on that stuff, traveling to get to the gig, and learning the music and writing the music. So when you have these people telling you these things, it gives you that real honest connection with the person. It’s all those things put together that have helped someone out and enriched their life, that’s what it’s all about.

KAL: This is always a corny kind of question to ask people - do you guys have some sort of overarching goal of what you want to accomplish?

CP: We have a few pretty consistently stated goals I would say. I would think that the main one musically, we are on a mission to be a bluegrass band in this day and age given our influences, take all those things and do it in the bluegrass style that we know. We love bluegrass, that’s where we come from. It is a very underappreciated style of music but man, like I said, when people hear it they connect to it and love it, it’s real, it’s timeless. So we want to keep that in tact, we’re still just a five piece acoustic band. We try different things, but as far as the music goes I think that’s sort of our mission statement that has got us where we are, that natural acoustic way. We take those instruments and see what we can create on a stage in front of a bunch of people. I also think that the real overriding mantra that we have is that it’s always about being present and in the moment and the music. You know we play music where it can get a little overwhelming on the technical fronts and we all had our issues that we’ve had to work through physically when you play. A banjo is a lot harder to play than an electric guitar physically, or a laptop. The physical aspect of it is no joke; they’re heavy, they’re loud, and people make fun of them all the time. When we get on stage it’s all about being present in the moment with each other and the crowd and not being too inward and focused on the music just trying to be present and let things flow. The more that we can follow that rule, the more you connect with people, the more these shows count. I always say you travel twenty hours to play one.

KAL: Do you have any personal side projects going on?

CP: I’ve done a few banjo albums and we do the Bluegrass Generals thing which is Andy Hall and I. We sort of bring together all the different guys from our scene. But a year-and-a-half ago I released a record called Interference and that’s just me and a drummer, a lot of samples and virtual instruments. It’s kind of banjo reimagined and in some way it still holds onto that mantra I was saying, being derivative of bluegrass and being creative in a much wider contrast. I love rock bands, indie bands, some of these electronic bands I think they’re awesome. Not because I think it, but because I feel it. I love some of the sounds. Just like the Dusters, I try and take all of our influences and condense them into one meaningful thing. That’s really what Interference is all about for me. Taking all of the stuff that is me from the Flecktones to all the different music that I’m into. Nowadays I listen to Tycho, one of my favorite bands. Little People, other stuff that sort of rides that line. Maybe a little less electronic and a little more ambient and melodic stuff; less heavy and more pretty for lack of a better description. Bands like that, I love that stuff so I want to try and take from it what I can and combine it with my sense of writing. It’s a challenging task, but I work with it. I have another album that will follow up Interference, but that’s sort of a labor of love project that’s coming just because I want to get it out of my system. All the guys have their own versions of that. We’ve got a lot of that going on just so that we scratch all those itches. We can do the Stringdusters thing, and it can be what it will be without each guy having to force out all these creative needs.

Yeah it’s an intense groove man, we never stop. I’m going home this week and coming back to the Forest next weekend and I’ll be in the studio for two days producing for a band from Colorado’s record. Then an additional day of sessions on my own for licensing stuff for T.V. and a film company that I’m working with in L.A. You know it’s a mix of our vision, our work, our talents being used for other people’s needs. We’re just so lucky to be able to do it full time and have these opportunities to make all kinds of music. That’s what it’s all about to me.

KAL: Thank you for coming out. We’re grateful to have family that’s in your family and looking forward to seeing your set coming up here. For all of you keeping score at home this is the end of the first weekend of Electric Forest. We are with the Infamous Stringdusters, Chris Pandolfi, and just in case you were listening for one, This is a Good Sound.

CP: Thanks Kevin, appreciate it!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Orgone 11.15.17 (Photos)

Parliament Room at Otus Supply
Ferndale, MI

Photos by Kevin Alan Lamb

View Kevin's Full Photo Gallery Here!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Infamous Stringdusters & Wire In The Wood 11.14.17 (Photos)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Lotus 11.11.17 (Photos)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Bad Plus 11.8.17

Star Theater
Portland, OR

Words by James Sissler
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

Portland's jazz fans filled the Star Theater Wednesday night for a soul-stirring performance by the ever impressive Bad Plus. Both the upper and lower levels of the small theater overflowed and the walkways were lined with people by the nine o'clock advertised showtime. It was impossible to move through the crowd without saying, "Excuse me," and patrons were lucky to find a spot large enough to stand alone, much less with a friend. It felt as if the band was too big for the venue, or that the show had been oversold. Luckily their music is more for listening than for dancing anyway, since no one on the floor had much room to move.

The crowd was a little older than a normal Star Theater audience, and because it was a weeknight, a lot of attendants were still dressed in their office attire, giving the event a slightly formal atmosphere. This is not unusual for the band, who have played in larger, seated venues when they have come to town in the past, but it was unique for the Star Theater, which tends to attract younger crowds and rarely hosts jazz performances.

People were beginning to show some agitation by showtime because of the crowded conditions, but the mood in the room was quickly elevated when PDX Jazz Vice President and Reed College Professor Pancho Savery, stepped onto the stage to introduce the band. After acknowledging the event's sponsors, including PDX Jazz and Portland's renowned jazz station, KMHD, the emcee announced to the audience that they were about to witness the band's final performance in Portland with all three original members. As bassist Reid Anderson explained, this is because the group's pianist, Ethan Iverson, will be pursuing other projects while the Bad Plus continues on with pianist Orrin Evans. This announcement took the crowd by surprise, and it likely contributed to the intensity with which they savored the performance and showed their appreciation for the band.

The crowd was elated when the band took the stage and launched into their first tune of the night. Stillness overcame the audience as everyone’s attention was consumed by the trio of piano, bass, and drums. Known for their technically complex yet viscerally moving compositions and expert improvisation, the Bad Plus combines the unique voices of jazz virtuosos Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass), and Dave King (drums) into a cohesive musical unit that has produced some of the best jazz recordings of the twenty first century. The three musicians share an undeniable chemistry on stage, and although each contributes their own compositions, their sound is very consistent and easily identifiable.

With a balance of natural groove and complicated time signatures, a huge dynamic range, and lots of unexpected twists and turns, their music covers the entire emotional spectrum, from the harmonically rich and sweet, to the most far out, raging dissonance. Their performances blur the line between composition and improvisation just as their songs somehow bridge the gap between avant-garde and popular music. In fact, their latest album, It’s Hard, features eleven creative interpretations of hits like Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” The group has long been known for performing such covers, imbuing each with all the best qualities of a Bad Plus original while drawing heavily from their classic versions, and they are often high points of the show, perhaps because of the peculiar way in which they mix the familiar with the strange and unexpected.

One of the most refreshing attributes of the Bad Plus is that despite their esteemed position in the jazz world, they refuse to take themselves too seriously. Throughout the show, their deep and exhaustive sonic explorations are punctuated by humorous stage banter from bassist Reid Anderson. He introduced “Time After Time” with a riff on how society has collectively decided that mint toothpaste is so good that no other flavors should exist, for instance, adding that coconut might be a good one, and he commented before the song “Dirty Blonde” that it was “named after one of the all-time greatest hair colors.” The band’s sense of humor can also be seen in song titles like “The Umpire Strikes Backward” and “Neptune (The Planet),” and in Dave King’s series of hilarious instructional videos called “Rational Funk.” This humorous side keeps the mood light at their performances and shows the band members to be grounded and relatable people—and of course it is very entertaining.

The audience’s attention was rapt from the beginning of the show till the end. Hardly anyone moved or spoke, even between songs, because they were all so captivated by the band’s performance. The setlist included covers of Ornette Coleman's “Broken Shadows” and “Mandy” by Scott English and Richard Kerr (and made famous by Barry Manilow), as well as Bad Plus originals like “Gold Prisms Incorporated,” which was a crowd favorite, and “Pound for Pound,” which closed the show. After that, the band returned to the stage and played a cover of Black Sabbath's “Iron Man” for the encore, but the crowd wasn’t done yet. They demanded a second encore and the band obliged with another cover, this time of “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. About half the crowd still refused to move after the double encore, leading the band to come out once again, but rather than play a third encore, they took a triumphant bow and bid the audience goodnight.

The crowd seemed satiated to the point of euphoria as they spilled out of the venue and onto the street. It might not have been the most comfortable concert experience, but it was more than worth it. Every Bad Plus show is unforgettable, and the fact that it was the last time the three original members would perform together in Portland made the night extra special. Ethan Iverson will continue to perform with the group until the end of the year. If you have the chance to see them, you absolutely should not miss the opportunity. It’s hard to imagine that the new lineup will be as incredible as the original trio, but who knows, maybe it will be even better.

Coleman's Photo Gallery

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades & Kitchen Dwellers 11.4.17

Mississippi Studios
Portland, OR

Words by James Sissler
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

If it was possible to doubt the strength of Portland’s live music community before, it isn’t anymore. Following sold-out performances by Twiddle and Tedeschi Trucks Band, Stumptown’s music lovers flooded Mississippi Studios Saturday night for yet another sold-out show. The bill featured three young and burgeoning string bands from different parts of the country: the Kitchen Dwellers, from Bozeman, Montana; Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, from Wisconsin; and Portland’s own Cascade Crescendo. The size of the crowd was remarkable considering that neither Horseshoes nor the Kitchen Dwellers had headlined a show in Portland at a venue that size. In fact, it was Horseshoes’ first time playing in the city. But far from anomalous, it was actually the bands’ fourth sold-out show in seven days.

Cascade Crescendo opened the show for their hometown audience with a short but sweet 45-minute set. The crowd quickly thickened as the Portland foursome busted into the first of the night's boot-stomping bluegrass jams. Featuring Hunter White on guitar, Taylor Skiles on bass, Harrison Olk on banjo, and Aden Beck on mandolin, Cascade Crescendo has a classic Americana sound and some of the sweetest vocal harmonies in the Pacific Northwest. The band stands out for their high levels of energy and musicianship, as well as their timeless songwriting, which is featured on their debut release, Caught in the Rain.

The crowd showed their love for the home team as those on the dance floor quickly got to grooving. The chemistry between the audience and band certainly felt like a hometown show, which was a great way to start the night, and a great way for Cascade Crescendo to finish up their eight shows with Horseshoes and the Kitchen Dwellers. The place was full and it felt like the party had just begun when the band ended their opening set. The crowd was primed and ready for a night of electrifying American bluegrass, and that's exactly what they got.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and the Kitchen Dwellers played equal sets about an hour and fifteen minutes each. The bands alternated who played first throughout their extensive joint fall tour. In Portland, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades played first and the Kitchen Dwellers closed the show. The crowd was stoked to welcome Horseshoes to the stage, and the band seemed just as excited.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades have been at it since 2010. Like Cascade Crescendo, they boast fantastic songwriting, solid vocals, and a folksy bluegrass sound, perhaps with a little more country twang than their Portland counterpart. Their musicianship is undeniable, and they perform surrounding a single vocal mic, which gives their show an old-time vibe. One of the band's more unique features is their multitalented harmonica and squeeze box player; it isn't often that you see either of those instruments in a string band. They were also the only band on the bill to feature a fiddle.

The Kitchen Dwellers closed the show with a rip-roaring set of their eclectic, psychedelic bluegrass, or galaxy grass as they call it. The Montana-based group has been making waves around the country, and especially the Northwest, as their ticket sales show. Having supported acts like Twiddle, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, and Keller Williams, the Dwellers are now proving that they have no trouble selling tickets as a headlining act.

Members Joe Funk (bass/vocals), Shawn Swain (mandolin/vocals), Torrin Daniels (banjo/vocals), and Max Davies (guitar/vocals) each contribute their own material to the band’s repertoire, often drawing from genres outside of traditional bluegrass like rock, funk, punk, and even heavy metal. Their tasteful use of effects adds a layer of psychedelia you won’t get from your average bluegrass band, and, despite the group's youth, they are one of the most cohesive bands on the scene, masterfully navigating difficult tempo changes that have the crowd stomping excitedly one minute and frozen, awestruck the next.

The high point of the night came at the end of the show when Horseshoes and Hand Grenades returned to the stage and joined the Kitchen Dwellers for a riveting rendition of their song “Mountain,” with “All Along the Watchtower” sandwiched in the middle. Cascade Crescendo then joined both bands for an unforgettable encore that included a lighthearted cover of “Kryptonite” by Three Doors Down. The show ended on a high note with a stage full of happy, tired musicians bidding farewell to a happy, tired audience.

The Kitchen Dwellers and Horseshoes and Hand Grenades tour is quickly wrapping up, with only a few shows remaining. Be sure to catch them if you can, and keep your eyes peeled for all three bands’ future dates. You really don't want to miss any of them.

Coleman's Photo Galley

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The New Mastersounds & Kung Fu 11.9.17

Neptune Theatre
Seattle, WA

Words by Erica Garvey (Funk E. Bitch)
Photos by Chris Davis

If I could just walk into a concert like it was a five-star restaurant and order my favorite gourmet comfort funk, I would get the New Mastersounds with a Kung Fu starter. And Seattle got the finest made-for-pleasure funk available at Neptune Theatre last Thursday night.

Connecticut funk group Kung Fu earned at least a hundred new instant fans with an opening performance that could have stood on its own as a complete show. Dressed like a bunch of friendly neighborhood mechanics, Kung Fu’s joyride set utilized a base of old-school funk with thick modern electro-fusion layers on top. Robert Somerville’s saxophone (and well-placed vocals) tied it all together and kept even the lukewarm funk fans engaged. Kung Fu’s last few visits to Seattle have been at smaller venues, and at Neptune they proved their ability to morph into whatever version of themselves is needed for that particular room. Thursday night’s version of Kung Fu gets Seattle’s highest stamp of approval.

Not surprisingly, Thursday was another rainy night in Seattle. Neptune Theatre is a beautiful old mid-sized venue with just the right floor space for a dancing crowd. It took a few songs into Kung Fu’s set before the audience could really be described as a “crowd,” and the room’s sound improved in quality with each body that filed in. As many live music fans know, these rainy nights during the workweek can be a blessing: the venue is not overly crowded, but filled with happy people immersed in the experience; there are no elbows in your face or ribs; no loud, distracting off-topic conversations nearby. All eyes and ears are on the music.

After a brief intermission, before the concert goers had really even caught their breath, the four-piece New Mastersounds came out and launched right into their continuous series of funk masterpieces. In fact, the evening’s setlist felt a bit like a funk symphony: each song was a distinct movement yet generally flowed together seamlessly. This was my first time seeing this band, and I lost my mind for the first two songs until I remembered where I was and that this was in fact real life.

Eddie Roberts’ guitar-playing is a definite highlight, switching effortlessly from sing-song melodies to expert rhythmic chords. But in no way does Roberts steal the show. The band has an enviable balance between the instruments (and they all contribute to the occasional vocals), and each bandmate (Simon Allen on drums, Pete Shand on bass, and Joe Tatton on keys) is hyper aware of his fit into each particular phrase. They exhibit an incredible knack for matching each other's tempo, feel, tone, and volume instantaneously.

The collection of songs (chosen on the fly based largely on the audience’s vibes) were mostly pure funk, and it was hard to believe this level of funk mastery could be from England. The band commanded the attention of the crowd with subtle flourishes, like a few time signature changes, quick turnarounds in tempo, and moments of mesmerizing jams that may have spoiled this particular funk fan for life.

Towards the end of the New Mastersounds’ set, they brought members of Kung Fu up for a performance of “Windjammer.” The blend worked well, with Roberts and Kung Fu’s Tim Palmieri trading guitar licks and Adrian Tramontano looking right at home on drums for the larger group. The encore took a slightly slower, sexier turn for a minute, reminding the audience for the umpteenth time that the “masters” in New Mastersounds is no coincidence.

In a town that never lacks high quality music, it can be difficult to impress Seattleites. This pair of bands did not even break a sweat getting us moving and smiling all night. Many thanks to the New Mastersounds and Kung Fu for coming way out west, and we look forward to many return visits.

Chris' Photo Gallery