Garage à Trois & DJ Blind Bartimaeus 1.31.19
Words & Photos by James Sissler
Like a young phoenix emerging from its own ashes, Garage à Trois manifested at Portland’s Star Theater Thursday night in the band’s “OG” form, featuring Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, Seattle's demented soul king and saxophonics pioneer Skerik Sin Carne, and eight-string guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter. Twenty years after first getting together during the recording of Stanton Moore’s debut solo release All Kooked Out, the experimental trio proved to a sold-out crowd that they are one of very few live acts to both qualify as a supergroup and live up to the name. Having grown from a studio project to a premier festival act that at times featured members Mike Dillon on percussion and Marco Benevento on keyboards, the group was inactive for several years before reviving the original trio lineup in 2015 for a one-off performance. They continued to perform very sporadically after that, leading up to this limited run of shows in Seattle and Portland, which was extended to three nights after tickets for the first two sold out.
The small theater was packed from front to back by the end of DJ Blind Bartimaeus’s opening set. A warm round of applause then welcomed Garage à Trois to the stage as they opened their first set with a groovy rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm.” The band sounded tight and funky, yet pleasantly subdued, like a great rhythm section that happened to consist of three outstanding soloists. Charlie Hunter's mellow guitar supplied plenty of low-end for the technically bassless trio, to which Skerik’s electronically effected sax added a layer of shadowy psychedelia. Skerik also played a synthesizer and a Fender Rhodes keyboard with effects at times, adding textures to fill the space once occupied by Mike Dillon’s vibraphone and Marco Benevento's keyboards.
The audience especially liked when Skerik played sax and keys simultaneously—a technique he used to both double melodic lines and improvise complementary parts in two voices. Another high point came when Hunter, who was teased by Skerik for never using his microphone, played an extended solo while singing what he was playing on guitar into his otherwise unused mic. This isn’t an uncommon soloing technique, but it was made all the more impressive by the fact that he simultaneously accompanied himself with a perfectly pocketing bass line. Stanton Moore held up his end with a seemingly endless stream of engaging, groove-oriented drum solos. He also kept things lively with his animated performance style, though it was Skerik whose dance moves stood out as he took on the roll of default frontman, probably in part because he was the only member of the band not sitting down.
Garage à Trois finished strong with a bluesy encore that highlighted the voice of each musician, and they seemed ready to keep playing when it was through. With no shows on the calendar beyond this weekend, it is unclear when (or if) the band will play together again. Skerik did announce at one point in the show that they were debuting a new song for the first time, perhaps indicating that there is something in the works, but this is only speculation. If these shows were a way to test the water before considering a longer comeback tour, then they definitely succeeded in proving that the world is ready for more Garage à Trois. If they were just a fun reunion run, then they were still a smashing success.