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Published: 2003/10/17
by Mike Greenhaus

Addison Groove Project, Bowery Ballroom, NYC

Next time Addison Groove Project plays your neighborhood, don't complain about the inclement weather. Instead, wish guitarist Brendan McGinn a fabulous fall.

Freely discussing his nasty habit of sweating from the stage, McGinn might be autumn weather's most outspoken aficionado. Along with his Addison Groove band-mates, McGinn helped usher in New York's frigid October atmosphere with the project's first headlining performance at the Bowery Ballroom. But as the guitarist admitted early on, chilly weather is choice when you're covered in sweat; and self-precipitation is a sign of success for the funk-driven sextet.

In fact, Addison Groove Project always seemed to thrive in a snowy setting. Flashback four years: It's February 2000 and upstate New York is buried beneath three feet of winter wonderland. Yet, standing on the Skidmore College Green are three hundred dancing students. Performing in wooly coats and amongst heat-lamps, the four year-old groove project staged one of the most unique winter summits Saratoga Springs, NY has seen, inflating a hot-tub and raising the outdoor thermostat a few degrees through their up-tempo party soundtrack. With the sextet still hovering around their sophomore year, Addison Groove Project's sound was hardly professional. Though their mixture of jazz, funk, and rock was slowly gelling, and traces of trance and hip-hop were beginning to emerge from keyboard master Rob Marscher's electronic arsenical, the sextet's sound was sparse. But their energy and concert charisma was anything but childish and, for a few hours, it felt fine to sweat in the snow.

A collegiate cycle later, Addison Groove Project are once again approaching winter's wrath. Armed with a tighter, more layered collection of songs and a more professional approach to performance, Addison Groove Project have fully graduated from frat-parties and college clubs. Having circumvented the northeast for four years, with a quartet of national summer tours to their credit, Addison is a fully weathered groove project. Despite adjusting to their rigorous full-time tour schedule, the group still delivers a great winter workout. Throughout their four week early fall outing, Addison Groove Project has also debuted a healthy amount of new selections, ranging from Stevie Wonder's introspective "Contusion" to Marscher's ode to his fallen cat "Wolfgang."

Part club-gig culmination, part enlarged house-party, Addison Groove Project celebrated the close of their first full-scale club tour in style, with headlining gigs at Boston's Somerville Theater and New York's Bowery Ballroom. Like a basement gathering, the sextet and their young, energetic management company Go Time Music invited top-line openers to sweat down the club's floors. Starting the show were Drums and Tuba, a tuba led trio that approaches jazz with punk edict, who entertained a sparse crowd for forty-five minutes. But perhaps the evening's most entertaining appetizer was DJ Spooky, a New York based hip-hop hero closely aligned with turntablism. Mixing avant-garde sounds and traditional samples, DJ Spooky's set transcended trip-hop, jam, and techno. With strong political-themes running through his selections, Spooky began sampling from a Star Wars book on tape, and continued to use R2D2 to guide audiences through his experimental approach to spinning. With background projectors displaying flags from across the globe, especially from current warring nations, DJ Spooky's at times dissident sounds acted as a direct commentary on the world's aggression. At one point, Spooky hooked into a phrase from Star Wars about "Bush," a salesman who pawns machines for a living. Though at times danceable, DJ Spooky presented a more intellectual cocktail party than groove gateway— fitting for an academic who studied French and hip-hop in college. DJ Spooky also drew a considerable crowd to a "showcase style event," as he dubbed it, allowing much cross-pollination between admires of hip-hop and hippie music.

As the evening's hosts, Addison Groove Project cordially thanked their opening acts before stealing the show with a mature mix of funk covers and equally funky originals. Opening with a cover of David Bowie's "Fame," the quintet unleashed one of their canon's newest selections. Quickly finding "Fame's" funky underbelly, Addison displayed their refined approach to grooving, with McGinn's deep vocals often taking center stage and the twin horn playing of Dave Adams and Ben Groppe adding color and character. Though still without bassist John Hall, who's undergoing cancer treatment, Addison Groove Project's sound remains bass-heavy, with Marscher playing the low end on his organ. A true act of ventriloquism, Marshcher's strong, low-notes manage to recreate thick, bass-guitar lines gluing the quintet's grooves together. Mixing in both old and new material, Addison Groove Project have aligned themselves with Northeast comrades Soulive and Miracle Orchestra, intellectual jazz-cats who know how to party. Particularly on "Turning Points," the quintet's quick time signatures showed the group's rapid growth. A choice cover of Wonder's "Contusion" also displayed Addison's mastery of seminal seventies funk, which is weighty, but flexible.

With more time allotted to practice and performance, Addison Groove Project has perfected their party. Throughout the show, Adams joined in on vocals, adding nice harmonic touches to the group's increasingly, well-composed songs. Though Addison Groove Project's tighter sound tends to be a bit more melodic, it's still dance able. McGinn has also come into his own as a guitarist, ripping solos like a rock star and also adding more subtle, rhythm notes. While the Bowery's dance-floor could have been more crowded, Addison Groove Project's energy helped fill the spacious theater-like ballroom. Standing on the club's raised stage, and bantering with the audience, the recently emancipated academics balanced composition and improvisation nicely, dipping into spacey waters on the political "Waiting For the Polls to Close." Doubling as a trumpeter, McGinn, along with Adams and Groppe, showed how far they've matured as a horn section, especially on "Beantown," a cover that's been among the group's live staples since that snowy, Saratoga evening.

Addison Groove Project's energy hasn't waned since they formed six years ago. In fact, their basement party repertoire has matured along with their bodies, professionally channeling their youthful energy. Next time they return back to the Bowery Ballroom the sextet will likely slow even more signs of growth. And, with any luck, they'll be plenty of snow for their sound to melt.

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