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Published: 2004/04/14
by Mike Greenhaus

Laverneus Cool, Coda, NYC- 4/9

Laverneus Cool is the culmination of jam-rock's decade long flirtation with trance. So it makes sense that the super group's first performance took place at a Syn sponsored soir

Sampling from both basement gatherings and jamband gatherings, Syn events aren’t quite concerts. Instead, they are unique party experiences, combining live improvisational music, club culture, and DJ Motion’s wax hybrid of turntablism and tape trading. A completely improvised mixture of trance and psychedelia, Laverneus Cool provided a perfect Syn soundtrack, completely phasing out songs while still filling Coda’s crowded dance floor with live music. While the line between concerts and parties is already thin, Laverneus Cool further blurred these two social settings. Depending on where one focused their eyes, Laverneus Cool could either be a Coda main event or the club’s background music, a sign of the quartet’s incredible synchrony.

Initially conceived for an ill-faded Syn party last spring, Laverneus Cool is, simply put, the strongest electronic super group yet to surface. Rounding up representatives from hippie-rock’s most visible late night dwellers, Disco Biscuit bassist Marc Brownstein, moe. guitarist Al Schnier, New Deal keyboardist Jamie Shields, and Duo drummer Joe Russo, Syn created a super group in the truest sense of the term. Sure fellow electronic mega bands Electron and JM2 play more precisely, but Laverneus Cool created a more unique mixture of music. While Shields still sprinkled video game teases over his synthesizer licks and Brownie still bopped his head to a Bisco bass line, Laverneus Cool, as a unit, didn’t really sound like the sum of its parts. Not that experimentation always out ways precision. Compared to Electron’s BB King performance the following night, Laverneus Cool sounded a bit sloppy. Without songs to hold their jams together, the quartet also struggled to pace their two and half-hour performance, using a few breaks to give their jam session loose sections. But, as a dance party soundtrack, Laverneus Cool certainly fit the bill.

As with any party, location is a key ingredient in the Syn experience. A midtown club, complete with fancy chandeliers and a myriad of mirrors, Coda usually oozes a cold, futuristic feel. Yet, something about Syn’s Pharmer’s Almanac roots and Phantansy Tour VIP room gave the entire event a cozy, Wetlands’ sense of comfort. A two-story venue, with a spacious basement lounge and crowded side-room bar, on this night Coda could almost pass for a bizzaro version of the fallen Tribeca music Mecca. Enhancing this communal feel was Laverneus Cool’s Friendster style connections. While the quartet avoided practicing before its performance, Brownstein served as Syn’s Kevin Bacon stand-in, never more than a degree from any of the evening’s key players. During the Disco Biscuits inverted New Year’s run with the New Deal, Shields and Brownstein birthed JM2, solidifying a longstanding musical friendship dating back to 2000’s Maui Project power jam. A member of Brownstein’s sideband Electron, Russo has the most extensive performing history with the bassist, allowing the duo to quickly link up rhythmically. Russo’s roots in early electronic-jazz hybrid Fat Mama also made him an important addition to the evening’s trance-fusion super pack. Ironically, Schnier, whose band moe. has the ability to draw the largest audience of any name on Coda’s marquee, seemed the most distant cousin in the Laverneus Cool family. But, Schnier’s electronic dabbling and longstanding friendship with the Disco Biscuits made the moe. guitarist a natural fit in Laverneus Cool

Descending from a wooden staircase that overlooks Coda’s small stage, Laverneus Cool confirmed their rock star status, greeted with drunken hoots and hollers from a crowd three hours deep into their Friday night party. Spending the early part of their set riffing on some down tempo techno, Laverneus Cool paced itself slowly. As the evening’s unofficial curator, Brownstein clearly led the group’s early jams, immediately linking with Russo’s electronic rig. Shields, emerging from his New Deal hiatus with a Rumple-Still-Skin style beard, also grooved along, but Schnier seemed to shy away from even more understated solos. Taming his trademark psychedelic riffs in favor of the electronic experiments of, Schnier seemed the least comfortable as a member of Laverneus Cool, though his guitar did add some nice, coloring to the quartet’s jams.

But sometime after 1 AM, everything started to make sense. As Syn’s crowd digested their drinks, and become more comfortable on the club’s wooden dance floor, Laverneus Cool found their groove. Lights began to flicker, and smoke began to rise, and Laverneus Cool used their songless set to recreate the experience of a New York club environment. Schnier rightfully continued to shy away from his rock star solos, but started to emphasize his guitar lines with more gusto and truly became part of the evening electronic experiments. Using his trademark bullhorn for some added theatrics, Schnier soon emerged as Syn’s VIP, touching up Laverneus Cool’s jams with small, precious riffs. Watching the crowd from a raised bar, one could also watch certain facets of concert goers adjust into more comfortable concert settings: bouncing replaced smoozing and all eyes seemed to shift focus from the party to the evening’s musical players.

Playing two sets, DJ Motion Potion remained an important part of the Syn experience as well. Mixing live tracks from Phish, moe., and even Cake’s catalogue into his sampling, Motion Potion reinterpreted jamband recordings as dance source music. Extracting exciting riffs and musical phrasings, the California based DJ also served as an anthropologist of sorts, the notes and phrasings that truly excite a jamband audience. When placed over an electronic groove, the sing-along chorus of "Tweezer" seems just as physically exciting as a carefully produced drum-machine beat.

Under the guise of a great Friday evening party, Laverneus Cool gave music fans a look into trance-fusion’s songless future. Either that or the quartet foreshadowed a jamband future for dancehalls.

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