Juggling Suns, Wild Wild West Gambling Hall & Hotel, Las Vegas, NV- 9/4 & 5
The term "jamband" now reaches far and wide into the worlds of techno, jazz, funk, rap and beyond. But in the beginning, in the early-to-mid 90s before Flash websites and 70,000-person annual festivals, the most recognizable jambands looked and sounded like the Grateful Dead. Rock music with poetic lyrics and loads of psychedelic improvisational noodling stretched the listener's brain to maximum capacity (unless, of course, the drugs did that already,). Almost 40 years after the Summer of Love, successful nationally touring bands directly inspired by the Dead are few and far between, their maturing fans perhaps content upon leaving their tie-dyed pasts behind. While classic rock acts strive to recreate their earlier successes (i.e. Doors of the 21st Century), and cover bands command big club audiences, new music in a pure psychedelic vein is hard to find and even harder to base your career on.
A smattering of bands still pulls it off however, tie-dye and all. One such group is the Juggling Suns. Started as a side project for, naturally, a Grateful Dead cover band, the Suns continue to move East Coast audiences regularly with an occasional swing through the West. For Labor Day weekend 2004, the band returned to Las Vegas for a two-night stand at the Wild Wild West Gambling Hall & Hotel's sparkling pool venue. More like a motel, a smattering of fans viewed the concerts free of charge from the outdoor hallways leading to the guest rooms and "Trucker Showers". The Suns also treated the approximately 75 or so paying customers to 2 days of their trademark brand of mind-expanding jams and hip-swiveling rhythms.
The band was without keyboardist/vocalist Gus Vigo, so Mark Diomede pulled extra duty on lead guitar. Good thing he plays his guitar like he was ringing a bell, since guitarist Tim Morris plays rhythm on every song leaving Diomede to guide the ship a majority of the time. Along with drummer Ivan Funk and ex-Solar Circus bassist Kenny Cruize, the rhythm section kept everyone's hips moving, especially the two folks who brought their hula-hoops. Diomede frequently found himself hidden behind the monitors twiddling with his pedals and knobs, all the while keeping the music moving forward. While a keyboardist surely would not have subtracted from the weekend's festivities, it also did not hold the fearless foursome back as they rarely missed a beat or a chance to ride a jam deep into the funky reaches of outer space.
At their best, the Juggling Suns lay a mean groove and layered with spacey guitar, all building to crescendo which drops triumphantly back into the chorus or falls apart and reforms into their next jam vehicle. And unlike many so-called "jambands" today, these guys definitely jam. Heck, they made it 7 years into their existence without a studio album! At their worst, they provide a loose cosmic landscape for which to insert a bathroom or bar break and reenergize for the next song. Luckily for Las Vegas, the Suns were on point a clear majority of their four sets, using a team effort from all four members to help make Labor Day 2004 a fun one for the spinners, newbies, bootyshakers, and old-school Deadheads alike. Psychedelic freakouts made not be a sound business plan for a burgeoning band, but thank goodness nobody told the Grateful Dead, or the Juggling Suns. Thank you, for a real good time.