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Published: 2005/03/28
by Brian Ferdman

Bonerama, Tribeca Rock Club NYC- 3/18

Bonerama's pilgrimage from New Orleans to New York's Tribeca Rock Club has become a rite of spring. Their two-night stand at the small venue always seems to fall close to the Allman Brothers' annual run at the Beacon Theater, and this year the city was abuzz with not only the Allmans and their various side projects but also a vast coterie of shows featuring Jimmy Cliff, Charlie Hunter, Van Morrison, Steve Earle, Adam Deitch, Percy Hill, and a few stealth gigs by the recently reunited Black Crowes playing just outside of the city limits. Amidst all this musical bliss, could Bonerama hang with the heavy hitters?

Playing a CD release party almost a year to the date of recording their fantastic live album at the same venue (_Live From New York_), Bonerama opened with a curveball in a new arrangement of Quincy Jones classic, "Soul Bossa Nova." Known by many as the theme to Austin Powers, the band took a laid back approach to the bopping opening number. The tone changed a few songs later when a raucous "Whipping Post" was unleashed upon the crowd. With a ripping lead by Craig Klein, the band rocked into high gear and took the crowd along for the ride. The "Smylin' Myron" that followed featured some exploratory jamming and a bizarre sousaphone solo from Matt Perrine atop a cool breakbeat. Once again, a major shift occurred as the rhythm section took a break while the trombones reveled in the gentle Dixieland swing of "Dan's Dilemma." Just when the vibe was nice and calm, a truly psychedelic "Bone Up" was busted out, courtesy of a deliciously liquid-like guitar solo from Bert Cotton.

Set One had ended without any sense of a throughline. The songs were all over the stylistic map, and much of the jamming had meandered out into the nether reaches of space. The hard rockin', bones-in-your-face version of Bonerama was AWOL. On the other hand, the rhythm section had definitely tightened up and had moved leaps and bounds forward with the addition of new drummer Eric Bolivar. Despite only having previously played a handful of gigs with Bonerama, his commanding presence on the kit seemed to rally and inspire those around him. Suddenly, Bonerama had become much more than four trombones and a backup band. Both Perrine and Cotton were now getting their fair share of raging solos, and Bolivar was pounding the skins with authority.

The second set delivered what the audience wanted to hear. The New Orleans classic "Hey Now Baby" brought forth that familiar second-line beat and segued straight into The Meters' "Cabbage Alley." Suddenly, everyone was on their feet and grooving hard before Bolivar's tenacious drumming on "The Wizard" had fists pumping across the room. A brief "Sunshine of Your Love" jam brought approval from the crowd before moving right into a "Crosstown Traffic" that delighted the audience.

Unfortunately, New Orleans-themed shows in New York seem to bring out of oodles of Tulane grads who majored in Alcoholism and minored in Obnoxious Behavior. This night was no exception, and while the band got quiet as Mark Mullins took a spirited solo, I was treated to the conversation of a young lady who screamed into her cellphone, "They're awesome! They played War Pigs! You know, dahhhhh-dahh-dah! Da-dah-da-dahh-da-dah-da-da!" (She sang this to the tune of "The Wizard.") Her conversation was one of many, and as the chattering grew louder and louder, Bolivar stepped up and saved the day. He started banging his drum sticks together in time with the beat of the solo and encouraged the audience to join him. Within seconds, the entire club had shut up and was now clapping along, transfixed on the music. Seizing the opportunity, the band whipped into crowd-favorite "Shake Your Rugalator" and the dance party was in full swing with Klein's fun-loving composition. The crowd was back on board and stayed with the band through a sit-in by trombonist Todd Londagin (where do they keep finding these trombone players?) and a tight "Blues For Ben." The show closed with a raucous "War Pigs," but unfortunately, Obnoxious Cellphone Girl had already departed.

While not quite generating the heat of last year's Tribeca Rock Club barn-burning, album-recording performance (a gig that had the bandmembers sweating profusely), this show featured the many facets of Bonerama, a band that can swing, churn out the funk, or rock your ass off. Amazingly enough, Mark Mullins played the entire show with a 9-volt battery inexplicably jammed in the bell of his horn, but that didn't stop him from tearing it up in some heavily distorted solos. Regardless, with the addition of Bolivar, Bonerama has now solidified into a true band with all members contributing. I have a feeling that this performance only scratched the surface of Bonerama's potential, and I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

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