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Published: 2002/01/24
by Kevin Ford

Juggling Suns/Scarecrow Collection/Cousin Fungus, Tobacco Road, New York City, 1/18

While a cold front swept the island of Manhattan on Friday evening, a hot party was taking place inside New York's Tobacco Road. An eclectic crowd, including one exuberant birthday celebrant, came out to enjoy the triple bill. Cousin Fungus (formerly Stash) opened things up with a fluid set that ran heavy on the jams but left one waiting for more vocal depth and tighter melodies. "T.A.P.E" was as an early highlight, with a pleasant, Allman-esque melody that got the crowd on its dancing feet. "Gambler's Delight" and "Corner of my Eye" tended to drag, though, relying on the same repetitive electronic-style beats that sometimes seem to be the Disco Biscuits' Achilles' Heel. The dynamic "Dosia" showed the most promise of the evening. The composition starts on a countrified note, descends into Frank Zappa territory, then rises into a stratospheric jam with just the right mix of wah-wah and jazzy riffs. The encore of Men at Work's "Land Down Under", with Henry Stanziale's guitar playing the flute parts, put a wide smile on the audience's face. Cousin Fungus has a way to go before shedding its roots as a Phish cover band, but Friday's set showed glimpses of promise.

Scarecrow Collection played what could best be described as a musical cornucopia, offering something for everyone. They started off with the Spanish-laced "Hey My Friend", featuring an excellent mandolin solo from Rob Csapo that brought a taste of Pamplona to Hell's Kitchen. Gerard Fee's earnest vocals and Nick Setteducato's powerful guitar on "Final Problem" were reminiscent of some of Blind Melon's best work. The laid back "Authentic Liquid Reggae" was just that, its watery melodies dripping out of Tobacco Road's PA system to wash the crowd in Caribbean vibes. "Armadillo" was strong technically, but veered a bit too much to the Phishy side – think "Chalkdust Torture". The last song of the set proved the best: "When the World Blows Up". Ominous as the title sounds, the melody lifts one up and takes the listener on an aural roller coaster ride. Joe Fee's drums and Csapo's mandolin laid down an infectious bluegrass rhythm, over which Setteducato and Gerard Fee played some truly inspiring guitar – utilizing their effects pedals without relying on them. One thing you couldn't call Scarecrow Collection is static. The ever-expanding styles of their repertoire ensure that this band will be turning heads for many years to come.

Headliners Juggling Suns kept the electricity alive with their opener "Spin Song". This old fan favorite got the New York audience spinning immediately. The "Wicked History" that followed switched gears and brought a touch of metal to the peace and love crowd, before the band got the crowd dancing again with the one-two punch of "The Coast" and "Hungry Moon". Two more recent additions to the Suns' repertoire, "When Everyone Knows" and "Vortex in Sedona", segued nicely while displaying the group's ever maturing songwriting skills. The one cover song, Kingfish's "Jump for Joy", elicited smiles of recognition from some of the older members of the audience while allowing keyboardist Gus Vigo to flex his vocal chops. The cream of the crop, "Laced in Silver", was a hard rocking paean to an aqua borne temptress. Bruce Wigdor's bass anchored Vigo's wild explorations on the synthesizer, which drove the spinners up front into wild contortions. Unfortunately, the late start time to the Suns' set caught them off guard – draining them, after almost two hours, of their usual fever-pitch energy. The strain began to show in the "Forbidden Fruit"> "Shelter" segue, and by the time the final chords of "Jungle in my Heart" were played, it was clear they were going through the motions and needed a rest.

The break reinvigorated the newly determined Suns, though, as they kicked off the second set around 3:15 a.m. with the cosmic dance anthem "Into Tomorrow". The latecomers who were wandering in from the earlier closing clubs were immediately swept up in the song's electronic hypnosis. "Mountain Marlane", a fast, driving melody in the vein of "Mystery Train" and "Possum", let guitarist Mark Diomede tantalize the crowd with his legendary string work. The second set seemed to reverse the effects of the first – the band playing with increasing intensity and fluidity on each new song. Things seemed to be winding down during the final chords of the fearful lament "Restless", until the band turned on a dime and without hesitation, segued into their signature set-closer, "Festival". Whether outdoors in front of thousands or in a small club of 20 or 30, this electrifying song can whip a sleeping audience into a roaring, twirling mass, and tonight was no exception. It was a declarative finale to the Suns' first visit to New York since last summer, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

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