Brainchild, Plank Road Pub, Peoria, IL- 9/24
Notes From The Underground
The day I met Roy Ponce in a STAT111 class at ICC back in 2002, I felt an immediate sense of musical passion. Our conversations about “real” music left me with a lasting impression, and a new friend. In the years since then, I have shared the front row at many Umphrey’s McGee shows with Roy, studying our favorite musicians. It was in the front row that I was informed that Roy’s band, Brainchild, would be playing this years’ Summer Camp festival in Chillicothe, IL. Not only did Brainchild play the festival, they quickly became a whisper in the ears’ of late-comers trying to catch what they missed. Yet, it wasn’t until after Roy and fellow band-mate guitarist Jake Schultz played in the “Super Jam,” alongside Jake Cinninger (Umphrey’s McGee) and Al Schneir (moe.) on Summer Camp’s last day, that people really wanted to know who this band was. So, naturally, when Roy asked me to attend an upcoming gig at The Plank Road Pub, I thought it would be a great chance for me to use the mighty pen to share the word.
By the time I arrived at Plank Road, the band was set up and ready to groove. I had just enough time to grab a beer and get to the front. The opening song, “Fantastic Forgotten” immediately grabbed me. The free flowing jazz that ensued sparked my brain into thinking, “Hey, this is what they should play at Bergner’s Department Store, instead of that drab elevator music!” Before my thoughts on how the tune would inspire shoppers to buy more clothes were complete, the band had already shifted gears into a much more up tempo style of fusion. Drummer Andrew “Pony” Busch and bassist Brandon Mooberry led the attack with a solid rhythm. Pony played the back beat on his snare drum and peppered in some crash cymbals, while Mooberry dropped some funky slap. The two traded eye-contact several times, hammering out the details, amidst the improv section. Without skipping a beat, the band segued into their next song, “Bomb Tom.” Displaying his chops, as well as his showmanship, Roy began to bounce so high mid song, that I thought his cranium was doomed for a run in with the low ceiling.
At times, I thought that some of Roy’s arpeggio’s were gratuitous, which led my eyes to guitarist Jake Schultz. Jake reminded me of the quiet kid in class who never raised his hand to talk, but still aced every test. Although hidden behind dark rimmed glasses, I could see his eyes watching the chord changes Roy made. Schultz would then turn slightly to ensure that the band followed suit. I very much liked the band’s patience with each other. One song in particular, “Thelonius Funk”, evoked this image of Stevie Ray Vaughn sneaking into a Monk recording session and shredding some guitar. The dual guitar attack of Ponce and Schultz could seemingly have formed a life of its own had it not been for the discipline of Busch and Mooberry. Likewise, during “Fluidia>Phantazmik”, I felt that the band was about to lose focus of the progression they had established. Right before the song derailed, the guys faced each other to regroup and segued the song nicely. The first set left a slight void in my soul, that which begged for a bit more funk and a little less space.
As I entered the pub before the second set, I felt an eagerness to get the word out on this band, which seemingly needed little help getting noticed. However, my spirits were slightly dampened when I began to talk to the players. Finding out that they had fired their only manager, had no set tour, and just introduced a new bass player 2 months prior, I truly thought I had come at the wrong time. I next inquired about their website. “It was shutdown”, Roy quipped. “We have info at Myspace.com/brainchildjam, bassist Brandon Mooberry informed me, quickly. I was left wondering about how this band could even get off the ground in the high-tech music world. Then it hit me as strong as any vibe I have ever felt. The urge to write about the niche that Brainchild has carved for themselves in Peoria became a mission to bypass the lack of technology and rely back on good-old word of mouth.
An original, “Pretty but Not Simple,” followed much in the footsteps of Scofield. With a lounge style drum beat and thick, punchy bass lines providing the rhythm, Ponce and Schultz combined for a two guitar harmony and traded solos like they were going out of style. After what seemed to be the set closer, the band jumped into another medley that seemed riskier than the previous. This time Umphrey’s McGee was the choice of costume. The “Glory>Miss Tinkle’s Overture>Mulche’s Odyssey” that ensued was a definite crowd pleaser, despite containing only the second half of Tinkle’s and a lyric-less version of Mulche’s. Brainchild proved their versatility by re-shaping these challenging covers and ended the set in rocking fashion.
Before the start of the third set, I had already heard enough to be convinced that this band was bound for bigger things. This was a good thing. Had I needed more convincing, all I could have based it off of would be a set made up of only cover songs. Due to time restraints, the band blistered through “Words” and “The Dump” by Lettuce before settling in with “Aladdin” by Soulive. Oddly enough, if I had to choose one band that Brainchild would be most comparable to, it would be Soulive. So, when I heard “Aladdin”, I thought it was an original tune until Roy straightened me out. A nice instrumental rendition of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” left the crowd to sway back and forth, taking in the ache of a three set marathon. The set would draw to a close with “4 on 6” by Wes Montgomery sandwiched between a couple more Soulive tunes, “Azucar” and “1 in 7”, respectively. With all these cover tunes spun in such a crafty fashion, I wondered if anybody else thought some of these tunes were originals. Before the encore, I asked a friend, Terry, how he would describe Brainchild. “Jazz Insanity” was the phrase he used, I liked it. The encore brought the weary crowd to their feet one last time, with an original, “Flip Up”. The tune was like a roller coaster ride. It had a slow climb to the peak, but once the band went over that initial hill, the song was full of looping guitar duels and a break neck jazz rhythm. When the ride was finally over, I had a sore neck and was ready for another turn.
Now that I have had a few sets of music to reflect upon, I realized that I came at the right time to catch this band. They had a great sense of adventure, with plenty of space and time to grow. Was this a transitional period for the group? Yes. Would anybody have known it, had it not been for my prying? Well, maybe a few locals would have. Then, I ask you, the reader, should it matter if a band is struggling through hardships on the path to creating a unique sound? In my opinion, Brainchild would flourish in any pub in any town, and someday, they will.