Mojo Farmers, Sail Inn, Tempe, AZ- 7/30
Pre-Gig: Fire in the Audience
I walked through the door and was almost blown backwards. Has it already started? Nopejust the soundcheck. Soon, the powerful rush blew up and dissipatedgone. The sound dude put on a very sweet GD “Dark Star” from the early 1970sa good omen as I went to the bar to sit and wait for the return of the band to the Sail Inn. The Inn can be an acquired tasteequal parts biker bar, cool tunes (Tea Leaf Green packed the joint five months ago and almost leveled it with its Cali-quake hard rock thrust) and dark aura which is ruled by female bartenders that will kick your ass if you get out of line: 21st Century pirate hangout offering music in a cozy cave.
A little band background. The Mojo Farmers were featured as an “On the Verge” band in Relix magazine’s December 2004/January 2005 issue. Since then, they have moved around the Southwest while continuing to expand upon a loyal following. Four nights before this gig, they played the Marquee Theatre, also in Tempe, opening for Rusted Root. I wasn’t at this show as yet another voyage home from yet another festival abroad had grounded me while I finished a 10,000 Lakes Festival review. The Marquee show would turn out to be a turning point. “That was our return to the scene,” explained guitarist and vocalist Bill Baker. “We played in front of at least a thousand people and it was one of the highpoints of our career. Somebody lit a fire in the audience and it pushed us into a validation phase. We followed the crowd wherever they wanted to take us.”
The Gig: Amsterdam Calling
The Mojo Farmers have changed bass guitarists and this drastically alters their soundfor the better. Jim King replaces Dave Anderson. Unfortunately, the band is currently playing without keyboardist Dave Entz; however, King seemed to eliminate those colors by locking the band into quite a different opaque landscape. The sound was much hardergone was the flippant and humorous philosophy as the transition moved into deep, serious grooves and new modern Mojo hooks had arrived with a sharp edge. “Party”>“Thief” laid down the crunch rock as Kevin Gordon straddled the Congas and mike with non-stop energy moving back and forth and exhorting the crowd. “Planet”>“Naptime” bled ABB with a Duane Allman/Dickey Betts-linked guitar duet melody, “Still” settled things down for a while as melodic harmony vocals were emphasized while Chris Losey played some very cool slide guitar. Suddenly, the band segued into three new songs that really ripped away the old skin and laid down quite a different texture. “Change,” “Story,” and “Godspeed” were the highlights of the set and I have to say it was because of King. He often left the stage and stood in front of the band and learned the complex breaks while drummer Tim Olson locked in some pretty tight fills. “I’ve played in a lot of Arizona bands like Lazy Jade and Triple XXXLa metal band,” said King. “I’m a big fan of String Cheese Incident, moe. and Widespread Panic and I was a fan of the Mojo Farmers when I joined. I’m a big fan of guitar and I’m always trying to stay in the pocket.”
When the Farmers harmonized on vocals such as on the aforementioned beaut “Still,” they were definitely in their scenic element. However, when the band also lays down a really heavy rhythm section anchor and the guitars Technicolor the walls with ambient space rock while Gordon enhances the beat, you get “Summertime” which ended Set I.
An “MT Space” trio roared out of the gates as “Pancho’s Dream” led to “Grasshopper”> “Cats in Tuxedos.” Pretty much nirvana at this point. And if you’re keeping score, “Cat’s” is the Phish-like number that gets transmorphogized by Le Farm Mojo. My seasoned sonic ears got dumped with some really spicy ingredients that came out of nowhere: “Platform 6”what the? Where did this one come from? A new one, for sure, but a subtle little masterpiece penned by Losey: song about Amsterdam with a “train on the track” refrain that was both a fiery jam rocker and yet another great shout out Gordon vocal performance. “The Amsterdam trip was a 40th birthday present that I took in early December 2004,” said Losey. “I wanted to get away from Arizona for a while. The lyrics were written in Amsterdam and they relate to a train platform as a party platform and a dual meeting placeparty also meaning political’ party. I spent my time playing and writing music, taking notes and writing poems. Particle was playing there at the time which was really great; although, I didn’t know they were going to be there until I arrived.” I asked about another new tunea keeper from Set I. “Godspeed” was written before the Mojo Farmers. When we formed, initially, we wanted all new material. Plus, at the time, it didn’t fit with the other things we were doing. I worked on it with Bill and Kevin and the arrangements came together after that.”
The “MT Space” track showed up late in Set II and smiles lit the dance floor and rolled throughout the Sail Inn. Always an exploratory number. Always a trip. A symbolic link to the pre-show “Dark Star.” I mentioned “MT Space” after the gig to Losey: “I always love that number.” He just smiled with pride. “Wake o Moon”another new Mojo Farmers tune was a behemoth rockasaurus while the lights did a dance of their own: the Mojo magictrippy multi-colored lights pushing the band as if, again, they were playing in front of 20,000 at the Garden. Nothing pisses me off more than seeing a band play down to its crowd: “Only 200 here tonight? Fine. Let’s play our Bay City Rollers cover song set.” Not the Mojo Farmers. These guys play as if the EMTs are waiting outside: veins popped out into upraised mountains on Mars, sweaty brows, arms flaying, legs askew, heads rolling north and south, notes hit, lines drawn.
Post-Gig: 85 kids doing STOMP’
If Baker, Losey, Olson and King are the brains and limbs of the band, then Kevin Gordon is easily its heart. “I teach music to K-8 grades,” answered Gordon when I asked what he did when he wasn’t playing for his life. “85 kids doing STOMP’!” Gordon is 100% energy and his eyes will burn right through your skull if you hint at a negative vibe. The man cures depression! Whereas Baker reminds me of a great friend who also happens to play like Hendrix; Losey, his soul brother in arms; Olson, quiet power; King, just plain damned heavy; Gordon is Neal Cassady rebornwords a mile a minute, paragraphs of rapid-fire wisdom chunks and the theoretical musical patterns all make sense to me.
“These are all new beginnings for the band,” concluded Gordon. “We’re on a vision quest to write cohesive musicnot noodling music with space. We share a non-verbal communication and, with it, we have a new found rhythm section with Jim on bass and Tim on the drums. I know we’ve got a long way to go but we’re energy feeders who want to keep it simple. We’re a little bit like Audioslave with big modern rock influences. At the Marquee Theatre, this week, it was the first time we had a big exchange of energy with a crowd that size. We want to take a deep breath and say: “LET’S GO!”
Their limitless energy does not translate to my own fatigued frame as I start to gather my things to head home. 2:30am. Long week. Lot of great music in a short period of time. Door opened and I can still hear the echo of “Platform 6”: TRAIN ON THE TRACK!