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Published: 2002/02/12
by Joshua Dunsky

The Zen Tricksters / Nomadic Design, The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ- 2/1

It was a frigid February night at the Jersey shore. However the weather did not hold back a packed crowd at the Stone Pony. What's more, as the musicians took the stage, everyone warmed up real quickly.

Nomadic Design set the tone of the evening, taking the stage at around 10 o’clock. This local band from Howell, NJ really got the crowd going. These guys seem to blur the lines of numerous genres, from straight up rock and roll to off beat Zappa-like jams, often in the same song. Keyboardist Dave Zuckerman, exhibited some serious chops in “Dazzling Monkey,” a Nomadic original, which was an all out sonic collage with some cool time changes and driving rhythms. Drummer Justin Malo and bassist John Walby supply the backbone of this talented quintet, keeping the beat and filling in all the gaps. Nomadic Design finished up their set with a rocked-out version of the Temptations “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” during which Steve Sherak’s strong vocals and lead guitar really shined. A fine way to get the night started.

The Zen Tricksters began their set around 11:15. With Jeff Mattson on lead guitar and vocals, Tom Circosta on rhythm guitar and vocals, Klyph Black on bass and vocals, Pete Levin on keys and vocals and Alan Lerner on drums, the current lineup of The Zen Tricksters may be their best. The Tricksters manage to captivate the warm familiar feelings of an era gone by yet are talented enough to mold those vibes into something new, something very much their own. The first set was filled with some classic Dead tunes such as “Althea” and “Hell In a Bucket” as we and Trickster originals “Down the Road” and “Got A Light?” The highlight of the first set was an intense jam that started with "Goin' Down Slow," a Mattson original that slowly morphed into a Klyph Black original, "Light of Life”, in which Drummer Alan Lerner displayed his strong sense of time as well as his considerable chops. The boys jammed straight on through, finding there way into a very upbeat “Scarlet Begonias” during which Jeff Mattson’s guitar rifts hit just the right notes. There is something about this song, you cannot help yourself, you have to smile and shake your bones. The musical flow continued straight into a powerful rendition of “Looks Like Rain” to end the set. It is such a seemless segue of music that one can expect from The Tricksters.

As the second set began, the Tricksters jumped right into Gamble & Huffs' “Expressway (to Your Heart)” which brought back images of Jerry and Merl. So much of the Tricksters' vibe feeds off the connection between the band members and the audience. There was also something very captivating about wandering through a crowded room of smiling people, swaying and twirling, while the sweet sounds of “Pride of Cucamonga” drifted through the smoke and patchouli filled air of the Stone Pony. For me the highlight of the second set was the epic “The Other One” in which the band bared their teeth and proceeded to take it up another notch. Then just when people thought they were winding up the set, they segued into Chuck Berry’s “Tore Up Over You” that showed why when it comes to good time rock n roll there are few that deliver with the exuberance of The Zen Tricksters. The second set was a marathon, leaving folks exhausted and sweaty with satisfied smiles on their faces.

The Tricksters encored with a funked-up rendition of “Shakedown Street”, the crowd when absolutely crazy from the moment that Mattson played those first few licks. Some of the women in the audience could not control themselves any longer and the next thing you knew is that the stage was filled with dancers as the band played on. From the smiles on the musicians' faces I do not think anyone seemed to mind. That moment pretty much summed up what The Zen Tricksters are all about, playing great music, sending out great vibes and making the party last.

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