Featured Column: Garaj Door Closes
Closes may be a bit strong because a version of Garaj Mahal will continue to play, but Garaj Mahal as we know it comes to an end in just a few short days. If you wanted to see Fareed Haque play with the band one last time, you better have been in the Northwest at the very end of 2010. After a small tour in the Northwest that culminates in the band’s annual New Year’s Eve gig in BC, Fareed is moving on. If you love Eric Levy, Kai Eckhardt, and Sean Rickman you need not worry as it sounds as if they will continue on as a trio. But after all these years as a band with Fareed’s distinctive guitar and sitar-guitar playing taking center stage, the new Garaj Mahal will most likely be vastly different from the old one.
I saw Garaj Mahal only a month or two ago at the Goodfoot in Portland. When I read that they would be playing The Fez again in December it seemed too soon. But then I remembered that the band does an annual pilgrimage to BC each year to ring in the New Year. The Portland show would be held at The Fez, a venue that the band knows and loves, having filmed a DVD there a few years prior. They hadn’t played The Fez in a few years as the crowd sizes kept waning, and had recently been showing up only at the smaller Goodfoot. The Fez is a very cool venue with comfy seating, a nice elevated stage, a big dance floor, and pretty groovy lights. Although the show was on a Monday night, I was psyched to go. As the show approached, I was curious to know what time they would hit the stage, if there was an opener, etc., so I hit the intrawebz. First I searched on the band’s website, but there were no details available other than the date and venue. Next I figured I’d try the venue’s website. That’s where I found the information I needed: Doors at 9pm, show at 10pm. But then I read on and became shocked and dismayed! The graphic said this would be the last Garaj Mahal show with Fareed Haque! I called and texted some friends, but many people were out of town for the holidays or simply could not make the show, so I ended up seeing my last Garaj Mahal show with Fareed solo.
My history with this band goes back to the late 90s. When I moved west and started branching out as far as seeing different bands. Garaj Mahal was one of the first new jambands that simply blew me away. Fareed is a monster on the guitar and can play technically, can bring the mean funk, but also plays with as much soul as anyone on the scene. Being an amateur guitar player, witnessing Fareed play over the years has often made me think twice about ever picking up a guitar again…he’s just that good. Kai Eckhardt on bass is also a master and can proudly sit in the pantheon of bass legends. His technical skills, musical knowledge, and use of slapping and tapping are amazing. Former drummer Alan Hertz was mind boggling in his ability to flail like an octopus behind the kit. His polyrhythmic style is truly a sight to behold and is hard to comprehend. He rolls and shimmies and keeps time to all sorts of odd-metered compositions as easily as breathing. And Eric Levy on the keyboards is also a virtuoso. He plays complex jazz but can also groove and funk out while filling the room with sound and crazy effects. And when Alan Hertz left to pursue other interests, the band enlisted Sean Rickman who is also a monster on the drums. I thought no one would be able to replace Hertz, but Rickman is rock steady and is quite the octopus in his own right.
I’ve seen these guys play in so many places over the years and they will always be dear to my heart. From High Sierra Music Fest late night jams, to regular shows at The Fez in Portland (I was front row and can be seen in their DVD Live at The Fez ), to shows in Colorado and New England, this band has accompanied me through many changes over the years, which is appropriate considering their complex, fun, and experimental music. Their unique brand of funky jazz-fusion with Middle Eastern influences could always be counted on to blow your mind and get you up and grooving. Songs like “Meatless Patty” can make you smile and dance while the tune “Poodle Factory” can make you scratch your head in amazement at the crazy chorus and seemingly steroid-enhanced syncopation. And it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. When you get four guys who are all arguably virtuosos on their respective instruments, tempers will flare. I’ve seen many Garaj Mahal shows where a certain level of tension was palpable between the members and there have always been rumors of sporadic in-fighting between the members. I believe they even stopped mid-show one night in New England due to a disagreement or colliding egos. But any relationship is going to have its ups and downs and they always seem to stick it out and resolve differences to keep the band on the road.
But the Garaj door is finally closing. These four guys will not take the stage together again after the New Year. Knowing this, I let it all hang out the other night at The Fez and really soaked up my final show with Fareed. And just like every other time I’ve seen them, they amazed me yet again. There was no tension on stage whatsoever as the band seemed to be at peace on their final New Year’s run as a four-piece. Fareed dazzled with his usual guitar wizardry, Kai was a monster on the bass, Eric grooved out and took some awesome extended solos on the keys, and Sean held it all down with his serious drumming skills. During set break I asked Eric Levy about the rumor I had seen on the Fez’s website, and he confirmed its truth and that the band will continue on as a trio under the same name.