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Published: 2003/06/19
by Dan Alford

Garaj Mahal, Tobacco Road, NYC 6/13

By the second song, Weapons of Mass Destruction, the band and the audience were already deep into the show. Fareed played a finely cultivated, rich solo, a slight reverb added to his sound to great effect. After another round of the anti-war chant, a new and fantastic jam erupted. The band members were interacting with the music as a whole rather than with each other as individuals and the holistic approach allowed the song to extend beyond itself. Kai had a strange, possessed look in his eyes- he was staring out at the packed house, but was seeing something more, like he was looking into a wholly other place. Garaj Mahal was back in town.

Unfortunately, due to the sudden death of his father earlier in the week (the show was dedicated to Rick Levy), Eric Levy was not with the quartet. When they perform without Fareed, the group is known as the Geo Trio, but in this case Dan Nimmer of the Fareed Haque Group was able to step in on keyboard duties and maintain a foursome. Throughout the night he played a number of fine leads and led some of the most cataclysmic jams, but at other times he sat out entirely, choosing to lay low rather than clutter a mostly unfamiliar sound.

Perhaps it was the space afforded by Dan; perhaps it was the waxing moon above; perhaps it just was, but Kai spent the entire show unraveling the most interesting thoughts and developing the most creative lines, licks and solos. Time and again he shot perfectly placed fills into Garaj Mahal's many stops, breakdowns and gaps. It was entirely his show and at times Fareed leaned on his stool, not playing but just watching his band mate go, go, go.

Aside from Kai's exceptional playing, the first of two nights at Tobacco Road (a venue known amongst NYC musicians for is warm and respectful treatment of artists) featured many suites and wonderfully evocative transitions. The first set included The Shadow, with a cow's tail intro (the fast rhythmic chanting of tabla players). While the early going was rough, Alan entirely overwhelming the rest of the band, a second movement strolled along a chill jazz promenade. After the tune ended, Fareed continued to play all alone, forceful but graceful, and eventually arrived at a very nice, very stoned Guitar Slut.

The second set closed with a lengthy run of Poodle Factory (complete with a mid-song rant about assembly lines and just what gets shaved on a poodle) > The Chicken > Celtic Indian. Fareed began to create the transition to The Chicken about a minute before the end of Poodle Factory, allowing the band to work its way up to a drop into the old classic. Of all the eight million bands that play The Chicken (I'm pretty sure N'Sync plays it too!), Garaj Mahal does it the best. Fareed began his solo with Guitar Slut licks, but quickly freed the jam and let it go wild and grow fevered. Yet when the tune ended, Alan kept playing, shifting the direction toward a spectacular (auricular?) lullaby improvisation- a truly beautiful piece of spontaneous composition.

The highlight of the night, however, was the Never Give Up > Mercy , Mercy Me early in the second set. The former tune reached critical mass early, a mid-song mega-funktion going down. The groove was insanely deep, the band hitting yet another egoless jam and slipping into an oh-so-smooth version of the Marvin Gaye number. It was just beautiful, Kai's vocals just right, everything just right. When it finished the crowd cheered, then cheered louder, then louder still- so loud, in fact, that Kai seemed surprised and bowed, his smile beaming.

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