Garaj Mahal & Superstar Bingo, Moondoggie’s West, Las Vegas, NV- 7/23
Superfly Productions announcement of a new destination festival called Vegoose has sent the nation's live music fans scurrying to make Las Vegas their Halloween party spot. But in the meantime the city's residents have experienced a bit of a funk lately. Actually, a lack of funk more accurately describes the situation. While big name jambands continue to ignore Sin City, smaller acts on the scene have had little luck landing gigs themselves. Strapped with the financial burdens typical of seemingly every non-profit arts group in the country, the Las Vegas Jamband Society did not produce an official gig in the first 6 months of the year. Help for starved fans was in the cards however, as the LVJBS returned on July 23rd with their first event of 2005 featuring local up-and-comers Superstar Bingo and the West coast's Garaj Mahal.
Fans overflowed out of surf bar Moondoggie’s West for the first time in a while, the little bar with the littler stage that has seen its fair share of jambands, including headliners Garaj Mahal last year. The 300-plus person crowd showed up early in support of two guys featuring eight strings, one drum kit, and bucketful of dirty funk. Superstar Bingo features Kevin Andreason on 8 string guitar & bass, and his friend Rob Burns on drums. Comparisons to Charlie Hunter abound, if just for the fact that the bass/guitar combo is so rare. Andreason proves quite deft at not letting the instrument intimidate him, and while Hunter provides more jazz sense and experimentation, he more than ably deliver the hard dance grooves Charlie does not for those who want to shake their ass without the pretension.
Highlights included "The Hustle", which started off slow before blasting into outer space on the wings of a driving techno beat and Andreason’s furious fingering. The crowd appreciated Superstar Bingo’s efforts, demanding a rare support slot encore. They came back with "White Nasty", and a more apt description of their sound does not exist. While not the most cohesive duo on the scene today, with Berns sometimes letting his enthusiasm get the better of him, their pure energy and excitement carried them through a solid set.
With the table properly set, Garaj Mahal took the stage around 11:00 PM and fed off the crowd’s energy with a particularly funky first set. Sometimes the group’s individual skills and successes impede their band dynamic, creating four gifted yet disparate sounds. Their Moondoggie’s set last year reflected this very phenomenon, but good reviews out of the High Sierra Music Festival had the crowd buzzing. Plus, how you can fault them for not always fusing decades of various jazz experiences into one seamless entity? Saturday’s performance did enough to silence this critic, and went a long way to warrant this band’s place on the national radar.
"Meatless Patty" kicked off the first set and from the get-go the crowd got a taste of what was to come. Following this upbeat and challenging ditty was "Hotel", which personified the group’s sound for the night. While "Patty" challenged the listener’s head as well as its feet, "Hotel" sounds as if it could exist in any number of other jamband repertoires. The reason it does not is because these guys are the real technical deal, and each band member puts their own flourishes into the song without overpowering the theme or someone’s solo. A fan can focus on guitarist Fareed Haque, keyboardist Eric Levy, drummer Alan Hertz, or front and center on bassist Kai Eckhardt and follow their progressions and changes intensely, or lay back into the groove and let the music speak for itself.
It was clear after Eckhardt’s solo to open "Massive" that the band had brought their "A" game to Las Vegas. "The Paladin" and "Alvin" kept the fun going in Set II, and the band slipped into more jazzy territory by mid-set. Vocals, a no-show for the first two-thirds of the performance, emerged for "Breakout", which kicked off a rollercoaster ride of wacky lyrics and rocking music straight through to the show’s finish. "Poodle Factory" weaved through complicated passages and Fareed’s ramblings into "7 Connections", featuring Kai on the microphone. Triumphantly, the band returned to "Poodle Factory", replete with barks and stop-starts. Lost in the all the excitement was an encore, even with most of the crowd making it to the 2:00 AM finale, as Garaj Mahal left everyone smoldering on the dance floor trying to get the license plate off the truck that kept running them over all night long.
The Las Vegas Jamband Society returned, Superstar Bingo emerged, and Garaj Mahal dominated. Not bad for a night on the town. As the rest of the country waits patiently for Vegoose, the locals will have plenty to brag about when they arrive, starting with this Saturday show at the little surf bar local heads call home.