Lotus, The Jewish Mother, Virginia Beach, VA- 11/19
The “jamband,” at least as I first came to know it, is a dying breed. Few bands coming up through the ranks still play the rock-centered hybrid of blues, reggae and bluegrass that came to define the term in the post-Dead era. In their place have come a new subspecies of genre shifters whose influences are less prominently displayed, save one: electronic music. The term itself tends to raise hairs, some out of Pavlovian anticipation and others from a thinly veiled contempt born out of the often-but-not-never mistaken assumption that making music with a computer requires little to no talent. These new tenants in the house the Dead built have (or at least maintain) few connections to the original landlord, and most grew up through high school and post-adolescence too late to catch much of Jerry & Co.’s last gasp. Rather than the open roads of American highways, their roots first sprouted under the cement sidewalks of urban America, many in Philadelphia.
It is a bit unfair to call Lotus just one drop in this deluge of live electronica jambands that have flooded the scene and redefined the genre. Sure, they play music that sounds like electronica, and sure they came out of the greater Philadelphia area, but every band has something that makes them unique, right? Two years ago, after a show in Harrisonburg, VA, I was pretty sure of the opposite. Ironically, they were the first of the new breed I had heard display much affiliation with the old-school of jam-rock. They combined wanky guitar vamps and pseudo-funk with their own trancier fare, placing themselves in the “missing link” category: while they formed a bridge between Jambands 1.0 and the newer version, I was sure their place in the evolutionary chain would be resigned to the numerous ranks of the generic remember-whens.
A later album review has been a source of sadomasochistic pride ever sinceit inspired my first batch of hate mail. Now, two years later, all those faceless internet voices whom I so heartlessly offended can take pleasure in my complete reversal. Saturday night at the Jewish Mother, which has been the place for many a musical epiphany since reopening its late night doors a few years ago, Lotus redeemed themselves, and me in the process.
No longer a straight instrumental jamband stealing chops and hooks from their influences, Lotus have found their own voice and the confidence to raise it high. Opening with the playful joystick mischief of “Sift,” the Pennsylvania quintet rode guitarist Mike Rempel’s guitar vamp engine over Jesse Miller’s subterranean bass track before chugging off a high bridge into the light, sample-sprinkled funk of “If and When.” The dancefloor bubbled and shook without breaking the beat, even through some tricky changes, and the band held onto the groove as it shifted into the aptly titled “Point/Electric Counterpoint.”
It seems that in my absence, Lotus has learned the subtle distinction between songs and grooves; while the latter has a great beat and I can dance to it, the former is where the meaning lies, and “P/EC” is thick with it, weaving a drum n’ bass beat into a dark but friendly West Coast hip hop vibe before sinking into the more pensive “Umbilical Moonrise.” Like “Stairway to Heaven” at a middle school dance, this one’s not quite danceable, but after wearing the floor down a few inches, the audience had a hard time not boogying anyway, especially with Rempel’s gorgeous leads bathing the room with sonic light. “Jump Off” rewarded their dedication by getting under the skin and shaking bones one last time before closing the set.
After the generic groove of “Juggernaut” opened the second set, the bright melody of “Lucid Awakening” got the crowd moving again, and while the evening’s second half lacked the infectious energy of the first, Lotus kept things lively enough on shorter takes on “Spaghetti” and “L’immueble.” What Lotus proved this evening, regardless of any quantitative assessments of energy or groove, is that they’ve finally learned the secret of restraintwhen to do and when not to do. While they’ve always been able to move a crowd to dance, they’ve since learned how to move a crowd, period. There is a substance that wasn’t there before, and as it grows, Lotus’s audience, as well as their spirits, should grow with it.