Everyone Orchestra, Pangea Project Benefit, The Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR- 5/1
The Everyone Orchestra came together again with a fresh new line-up for two shows in Oregon on April 29th and May 1st. The band is made up of core members and a revolving cast of guest musicians who jam together in support of a social or environmental cause. This time around the shows were fundraisers for the Pangea Project, a Portland area group that educates low-income teenagers about different social, economic, and environmental issues of non-western countries. This education is in preparation for a visit to one of these countries where they learn about the culture first hand. The teens then come back with a fresh perspective and a new set of skills to offer their own local community and peer group. With a stellar line-up of musicians including Jon Fishman (Phish), Kai Eckhardt (Garaj Mahal), Tony Furtado (American Gypsies), and Jans Ingber (formerly of the Motet), the two shows delivered not only awareness and fundraising for a great cause, but some stellar music, too.
Shortly after settling in to my seat near the front right hand side of the stage inside the Aladdin Theater, some folks emerged from backstage and started clapping. In no time at all, almost everyone in the audience was clapping in unison as the entire band came out on to the stage and stood in a large semi-circle. Well-known activist and tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill started off the evening with a speech about the earth, air, water, fire, and our inner selves. Unexpected guest and presidential nominee Dennis Kucinich surprised the audience with a brief but powerful speech about creativity, unity, and the Pangea Project itself. The introductions to the night summed up the entire concept of the Everyone Orchestra: social activism, people coming together for a good cause, creativity, and music.
As the first set of musicians got into place on the stage, Libby Kirkpatrick quoted Star Wars, "Help me Obi-Wan, you're my only hope" which was a humorous reference to her Princess Leia-like hairdo. Tony Furtado and Jon Fishman started things off with some banjo and drumming and soon a tall male vocalist with red hair began chanting like a Gyoto Monk. Of course, Fishman had to join in and added his vocal stylings to the ohm chant while Furtado switched over to some acoustic slide guitar. As the chanting ended, the band broke into an upbeat bluegrass tune. Meanwhile, up above the stage in the "royalty-viewing box," someone was painting to the music. I peered up from time to time during the evening to see him painting and adding to the creativity each and every time. Then Tye North, Asher Fulero, Scott Law, and Libby Kirkpatrick joined Tony and Fishman for a traditional sounding version of the tune "Stagger Lee."
As is the norm for an Everyone Orchestra show, the band quickly morphed yet again. This time Libby Kirkpatrick, Jan Ingber, Tony Furtado, and Scott Law (with Law on mandolin) stood at the very front of the stage to play some un-amplified acoustic numbers. Soon the entire audience was singing with along with the quartet, "I ain't got no home in this world anymore." Jans then broke into a funky syncopated tambourine solo before the rest of the players emerged from backstage to take part in the large, set-ending group improvisation that is the signature of the Everyone Orchestra. With Asher Fulero on keys, Matt Butler on drums, Scott Law on guitar, and Damien Erskine on bass, the core-tet backed all the guest musicians including two horn players.
Tye North laid down his bass and began his enthusiastic and animated conducting of the group jam. He held up a sign with "C" written on it, and the band was off. Next he pulled out a card with the word "freedom" written on it and Libby Kirkpatrick, Jans Ingber, and Maya Dorn began to chant and sing freedom over the music. Kai Eckhardt then emerged for the first time of the evening to add his excellent playing to the mix. The jam ebbed and flowed as Tye pointed at different players to give them solos, raised his hands up or down to signify how intensely the band should play at any given time, and held up signs for the crowd to yell in unison including "Wow!" and "Yes!" At one point, Tye signaled for just Fishman and Matt Butler to play and they traded solos and rolls back and forth on their drum kits. Then Julia Butterfly Hill slinked back on stage in her peace symbol emblazoned black tank top, tight pants, and short hair to recite some more of her poetry before the set ended.
Slides of the people and places with which the Pangea Project is involved were projected on the wall while Matt Butler played some didgeridoo in the background to kick off the second set. The eye-candy and soothing sounds of the didgeridoo were well received and a nice intro to a short speech by the two women who founded the Pangea Project. They spoke about more of how the Pangea project works and some places they intend to have the teens in the group visit like Mali, West Africa. Both women seemed very happy with the great exposure for their cause the shows provided, and they were both overwhelmed when presented with flower bouquets by the band.
The show then continued on with some more girl power as Libby Kirkpatrick played a few solo acoustic numbers. Her song "Garden" was sung soulfully with impressive vocal range including some nice falsettos. Then the other female vocalist of the evening, Maya Dorn, took front and center to perform a sort of rap backed by a few band members that spoke of empowerment for women. Libby and Maya's opposing styles started the set off in a unique way before the jams kicked in again.
Fishman then explained the concept of "Passing the Hey" that Phish used to use in band practice where everyone listens intensely to what the other player is doing until a repeated riff is locked in upon by the group. At that point, someone yells "Hey!" and the groove or riff is altered and passed on, causing the jam to keep morphing into different styles and textures. This was an excellent jam to watch unfold as it rolled its way through all sorts of varied musical terrain. There were vocal chants, lots of changes in tempo and key, and different people taking turns leading the jam. Ultimately, though, the jam intensified and peaked with Kai Eckhardt laying down a very funky riff to finish things off.
Kai remained in the spotlight for the next few minutes by starting the next piece off with a slow and majestic bass solo that eventually sped up and showcased his excellent bass playing techniques including popping harmonics, quick flourishes, and scale runs. He then turned around and walked back to Fishman's drum kit and the two began a drum and bass funk jam. After more spoken word from Julia, Kai took yet another solo before passing the baton over to guitarist Scott Law who lead a group jam as Tye North conducted the crowd again. Law played a nice solo that began as a slow psychedelic meandering, but that eventually intensified and got funkier with lots of distortion and wah-wah effect until all the players kicked back in behind him. At this point everyone was back on stage again for the group improvisation to finish the show.
Fishman started the next jam with a drum solo before Kai and the horns joined him and played a nice little funk groove that went on for a few minutes before abruptly stopping. That's when Tony Furtado stepped back into the picture for the first time since the first set to rip off an acoustic slide guitar solo. Jans Ingber began vocalizing at this point singing, "Shoo-fly don't bother me, George Bush don't bother me!" Julia came back on stage again to recite a poem about how we are all connected while the band brought it down a bit behind her. Then Tye started leading the band again with more signs. He was doing interesting things with his directing of the band like having them slam in unison on the offbeat and having certain people take solos. Tye signaled for just Fishman to play and then he added Jans to the jam on his congas. The jam intensified before he signaled for the horns to kick in over the syncopated rhythms. Next Tye signaled six string bassist Damian Erskine to trade licks with Kai Eckhardt. The jam was going around and around and it evolved into a cacophonous and intense fluttering of sound from everyone on stage before coming to a close.
The encore started with a round of introductions to all the members of the Everyone Orchestra, and the crowd applauded each graciously. Fishman busted into a very Llama sounding beat and the band followed along in playing a very quick, jazzy number that thoroughly rocked. Scott Law provided some seriously high-energy shredding as Kai laid down the groove with his solid bass playing. And just when we thought it was over, the jam kicked back in as if coming back to life before racing again to its real finish. A mellow second encore of "We Bid You Goodnight," sung by Libby Kirkpatrick and Matt Butler, soothed the crowd and was a pleasing end to a very fine evening.
Overall, the show was excellent. With equal parts of activism and music, the Everyone Orchestra a unique and extremely entertaining show to see. The fact that one gets to see a different and unique set of musicians interact on stage, usually for the first time, gives the entire concert an experimental feel – you never know exactly what to expect. While the entire evening definitely spotlighted Fishman as a sort of guest of honor, the evening varied enough so that everyone got to feel the warm glow of the spotlight at one point or another. Tony Furtado was showcased in the first set while Libby Kirkpatrick, Maya Dorn, and Kai Eckhardt were the featured attractions of the second set. With such a large group of musicians playing together, the smooth flow of the entire show was an impressive thing to see. But that's how improvisational music is: when everything is clicking and the players are tuned into one another, you can hardly tell they are making it up as they go.