(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Concert review - The Jonestown Potion, Good Gravy

22 January 2010 (Aggie Theater, Ft. Collins CO)"Hey! You got modern jazz in my jam grass." It's rare to catch two such dissimilar bands on the same billing and even rarer that it works. Still, I always come back to my motto: Dedication to the groove. The groove was strong last night.

The Jonestown Potion
Simply put, the Jonestown Potion blew my mind. Their songs seemed to orbit Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and early King Crimson (Court of the Crimson King), but it was an eccentric orbit. For the most part, they avoided the standard 2-5-1 jazz progressions, opting for more chromatic changes. Eli Cagen's sax is central to the groove, but left plenty of room for the other players.

The partnership between guitarist Devin Morse and keyboard player Nathanial Marshall is an equally important element. On some songs, they set up a call and response, with twinned guitar and keyboard providing a springboard for the sax. When the guitar exuded a little distortion and wah, the jams evoked Zappa songs like Trouble Everyday and even some of the Joe's Garage material. When the keys got more reflective and the melodies were more outside, that was their King Crimson extreme.

In between, though, they nailed some sweet jams, from a Take 5 influenced groove to Ghost Burrito's progressive rock drive. There were lots of odd time signatures and surprises that kept the crowd engaged and dancing.

Drummer Vance Leggett nailed this down with tight syncopation. Dusty Ray's bass work occasionally evoked Phish's Mike Gordon. Even when they played some more standard modal jazz, the breaks slipped into other styles, like art rock, dance, or funk.

It was a pleasant surprise to see how well they pleased the Good Gravy crowd. Even though their music was quite different, their energy and sense of play meshed well. I picked up a copy of their CD, too. If it's anywhere near as good as their live show, I'll be reviewing it soon.

Good Gravy
Good Gravy's show last November impressed me with how much they had improved. In a mere two and a half months, they've beefed up their performance even more. Their sound has tightened up, even when they had guest musicians sitting in. Also, their stage presence was stronger, in part because they were interacting more with the audience during their jams. Ross (mandolin) and Jeremy (guitar) had great chemistry sharing front man duties.

Even though Good Gravy is still rooted in bluegrass, they stretched out in last night's show. The more rock and psychedelic jams served as a slight common ground with their openers. Much like their earlier shows, they slid into improvisational sections, but always slipped back to the root of the song cleanly and easily. The jam during Laughing at the River had some Phish-like elements and the crowd ate it up.

To The Mine layered in some Latin rhythm and drifted off into a great space jam, with some trippy guitar (E-bowed and echoed) and a cool percussion solo. The complexity built up along with the intensity. The audience danced with abandon. This was what live music is all about.

Another part of Good Gravy's development was the excellent light show. They had a guy in from Denver with a whole set of special lights who added a sheen of professionalism to the show. More importantly, though, was his skill at playing the lights to accentuate the music. This gave the jam sections more of a dance groove feel. I hope this is a permanent part of their stage show.

When the band took a break between sets, they had a DJ, Auditory Elements, throw down some beats. He kept the energy up for the second set, which exploded into full jam. They had some keys sitting in, which really opened up the sound, even allowing for some Ike and Tina Turner style build ups. The song transitions were smooth and the set flew by. Their encore, a cover of Free Ride, was a perfect topper for the night.

Last night called for an IPA or two. Some citrusy Cascade hops and a firm malt backbone -- fitting together like an evening of jazz grass.

More photos available at my Flickr.

1 comment:

  1. As a follow-up, Good Gravy had Ryan Yaffles sit in on keys and Adam Radford on guitar. Both these guys added some nice touches.