Zen LiveTronica Festival, Webster Hall- 7/20
Honestly speaking, the potential for failure was overwhelming. A great idea
in theory, but in practice? It was $40, it was at Webster Hall, and it was on
a Sunday night. A Sunday night?? Surely, there aren't enough people
who love this music enough to come out on a Sunday, pay $40 and make this worth it?? Boy, were there ever.
Webster Hall is a four-level club located down in Manhattan's Union Square,
and, while I had been there sporadically in my high school days, almost ten
years ago, nobody I know had been there since. That's not to say I stopped
going to clubs, that certainly isn't the case. However, Webster Hall never
quite regained the stature it had back in those days. Therefore, the irony
of celebrating my 26th birthday at the club wasn't lost, at least not on me.
To try to describe the decor and ambience of Webster Hall to someone who has
never been there, or never to a NYC club would be fruitless, however I can
note that its one of those places where getting lost is most definitely an
option as the night progresses, especially if you are newer to this sort of
place. But Zen took advantage of the club's size, putting a variety of
music in virtually all the rooms, giving fans a choice of music that would
run constantly from 9:00 Sunday night until 4:00 Monday morning. However,
you would be hard pressed to find someone to say that anyone but but
Sucker Punch was the most anticipated act of the evening.
As you walked into the club, you were handed a schedule of who would be
playing when and where, leading a fan in front of me on line to joke, "Wow!!
This is like Bonnaroo!!" And while Zen wasn't quite Bonnaroo, it still
provided fans with more than enough electronic ear candy with which to play
with on this evening.
Brothers Past got things off on the right foot, playing in the room directly
across from the club's entrance. Entering, it was hard to avoid going into
the room as the band, who have sounded as good as ever lately, was pumping
out their take on the live-tronica style. Opening with "Machine", which
segued into "Catharsis" before returning, the band worked through its
material as if they were on a mission. Playing a gig such as Zen in a club
like Webster Hall, is a big deal for everyone involved, whether you are
Brothers Past, The New Deal, or Ming + FS. By the time the band was
finishing its first of two shows with, I believe, "YOTH", the crowd and band
alike were sweaty messes, and it was only 10:30.
Working my way upstairs to the main room for Sucker Punch, all my concerns
about attendance numbers were put to rest. The main room was filled,
somewhere over one thousand people on the floor, and the overlooking balcony
had people shoulder to should to get a glimpse of the stage. Sucker Punch,
comprised of Jaime Shields (New Deal) on keys, Zach Velmer (STS9) on drums
and Marc Brownstein on bass and Aron Magner on keys, both from the Disco
Biscuits, was about as hotly an anticipated collaboration as you could put
together. However, virtually no one knew what to expect from the band, or
what style or styles they would explore. By the time the band was done,
almost an hour and a half later, they had touched on several styles, notably
Jungle and Dub, thanks in part to Zach's drumwork, and the decision to cover
a song or two of the Hallucinogen in Dub album. Their set began with nearly
fifteen minutes of "feeling out" if you will. A concerted effort to start
slow was underway, laying the ground work for everything from the fifteen
minute mark to the thirty five minute mark, a piece of music that should be
in the CD players of everyone and anyone who considers themselves a fan of
livetronic music. At the fifteen minute mark, spearheaded by Zach and
Marc's decision to speed things up, the band as a whole took off on a twenty
minute sonic assault on the crowd. As well, Matt Iarrobino's work on the
lights cannot be understated, as he made full use of the extensive lighting
rig, constantly adding to the vibe and energy of the crowd. As the band
sped up, Matt did the same, as the swirling reds and greens increased both
in speed, and intensity. The pulsating groove from the rhythm section was
danced upon by fascinating teamwork from Jaime and Aron, as they alternated
lead and rhythm roles, while really doing both the whole time. The two
keyboard players drove the jam into overdrive with sounds that, normally
relegated for dance halls, were finally being played in one. While the rest
of the set was definitely enjoyable and quite good, the twenty minutes
described above were truly inspired.
As their set came to a close, greeted by very enthusiastic cheers from the
crowd, Darren Shearer came out and joined on a second drum kit, giving fans
a brief "duel" between him and Zack, as their eyes almost never left each
other for the ten minutes they played together. Marc exited, dancing the
whole way off the stage, and soon Dan Kurtz joined on stage, and briefly
there were two drummers and two keyboard players, and Dan on bass. While
not quite reaching the highs of the Sucker Punch "twenty minutes", the time
these members were on stage was definitely something special, certainly
leaving fans with the desire to see more from the Jamie Shields/Aron Magner
duo. Eventually, the jam dwindled down, as did the number of people on
stage, until only The New Deal remained.
Playing for nearly an hour and a half, to a slightly less crowded dance
floor, The New Deal seemed perfectly at home at Webster Hall. I've seen the
band so many times at this point, but never quite in an environment like
this, and the band took full advantage of it. Working through both older
and newer songs, the band thrilled the crowd, and thoroughly confused the
bouncers (as they were all night), with their take on live house music.
And, as if to prove they wouldn't be an afterthought to Sucker Punch, The
New Deal performed, quite possibly, one of the best concerts I've ever seen
from the band. So many factors can be cited to attribute this to, notably the
venue and Matt's stellar lightwork, but whatever the reason, The New Deal
threw down at Webster Hall. In one instance, as the band was dropping into
a song out of a jam, the band held the drop for what seemed like forever,
inciting the crowd to throw their hands even higher in the air and yell even louder than they
already had, until the tension was released, the band dropped in, and the
crowd went berserk. Looking around at that very moment, one would NEVER
have believe it was 12:30 at night on Sunday.
I drifted around the club after "the peak", and found myself in the room
watching Ming + FS, who I was advised to definitely check out. The room,
the same one as Brothers Past earlier, was virtually empty, which is a shame
because this was the type of act everyone should check out, being that you
can't see them with any regularity. Experts in Jungle, Ming + FS wowed
those that did manage to check them out, both with their choice of beats,
and with their dexterity on the turntables. Even if it was a little too
loud, it was enjoyable nonetheless. I worked my way back up to the main
room to catch the end of The New Deal's set and applaud them for a job well
All in all, Zen was a complete success from every vantage point. Perhaps
this night will be the start of something, perhaps not. But if nothing
else, this little niche within the jamband and electronic world came
together and threw their own little party. Not everyone was here though.
Lake Trout would've been nice. Sound Tribe Sector 9 would've been nice.
Did I see everyone?? No. But we can save them for next time. I couldn't
have thought of a better way to spend my birthday and hopefully, the
promoters and everyone involved will use the success of Zen as inspiration
to do this again. Maybe in the traditional summer festival format, thus
alleviating the costs of renting a club like Webster, no doubt an expensive
endeavor. But judging by the response on this night, with so much working
against it, you can bet something like this is going to happen again. What
do I say about it??
Just tell me where and when.