Buddha’s Belly, Skybar, Somerville MA – 4/17
When I showed up at the Skybar in Somerville MA, a very small venue virtually empty on this beautiful Saturday evening, the Bruins were tied 1-1 with Montreal in game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Watching the game at the bar occupied my time before Buddha's Belly, a Chicago based blues/rock/jazz band, set up their equipment on stage and started their set. The Skybar is a great place to see a lesser known band on the rise; it appeared that the bulk of the tiny crowd had randomly ended up here without foreknowledge of Buddha's Belly and their music. Only a few people placed themselves before the stage as the music started, most of the people in the joint were content to stay at the bar.
There are only four members of the band, Evan Cobb on tenor sax, Dan Golden on guitar and the majority of the vocals, Pete Wojtowicz on Bass and Jason Hanggi on drums. Don't let the smallness of the band mislead you into thinking that their sound is simple; the first song made it clear that the compositions are complex mind bending proactive pieces that exercise the listener's ability to separate lucidity from music. There were no vocals in this song; it was mostly devoted to a lead riff played by the sax over a thumping bass line and crunchy guitar power chords. The guitar then melded with the sax for a dual textured solo and a slap bass solo ended the song. An aberrantly funky guitar and bass amalgam appeared out of nowhere to start the second song. A screaming sax solo and throbbing drumbeat maintained the hysteric atmosphere as the guitar dipped a little into the surreal with some underwater effects.
Following this, the band threw us a changeup by breaking into a cover of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." It was played exactly like the original except a sax line replaced Eddie Vedder and his lyrics. While this song was an interruption from the frantic spirit of the other songs, it was very tight and well performed. This also gave me a chance to swing my head around to the bar and check on the Bruins. They were losing of course. The dejected feelings I felt toward the Bruins were wiped away with the onslaught of the next piece. A slow, vocal driven intro paved the way for a high energy bass and sax composite solo. The middle part of the song was the climax of the entire show; a boisterous and absonant crescendo shifted the song into high gear before it quickly slowed down into a compact reggae section. The small crowd and the people at the bar cheered loudly during this impetuous but effective permutation from fast to slow.
Incubus's "AntiGravity Love Song" was next. This was another cover where the band stayed true to the original, but this time had a guest vocalist to sing the lyrics. As "AntiGravity" wound down, the intimate character of the venue caused Evan to ask the audience to come closer to the stage. The band proceeded with an accelerated ho-down type song that brought the level of intensity in the room up a notch. The first part of this song was very fast, standard and vocal oriented, but the second part let the musicians take off the gloves in an explosion of solos and haphazardly improvised bits of music. A berserk drum solo underneath all of this ended the last song of the set.
As the band was removing their equipment from the stage, I glanced at the television over the bar to find that Montreal had forced a game 7 with a 5-2 win. The feelings of discouragement and frustration returned, but not for long. After a little thinking, I realized that I would rather experience a small show of a talented band such as Buddha's Belly than experience a win from one of my favorite sports teams any day. (And hey, the Sox beat the Yanks earlier in the day, so it's not all bad.) Buddha's Belly is certainly a band to check out if you like piquant music of an experimental nature. The best way to describe them is that for a jazz band, they play a lot of rock and for a rock band; they play a lot of jazz.