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Mike Mirro and Friends, Kinetic Playground, Chicago, IL- 12/30

The last time we checked in with Mike Mirro he was a busy man doing a juggling act with a couple of side projects and throwing in med school for the final trick. The John Wasem and the Sparrow 4 project has wrapped up its initial recording effort and provided a great outlet for the drummer. With that under his belt, Mirro took the combo of Marcus Rezak (guitar) and Kyle Meyers (bass) and focused on a power trio as his main project. The band has been hard at work on new material and has a recording in the works. This hard work has been transposed from the studio onto the stage at recent Chicago shows. At a December show at The Store, Mirro and Rezak informed me that the band was called “Cobra Kai Joe.” Now, I don’t know if this inside joke will stick as a band name, but what I do know is that on this night the band was being billed as “Mike Mirro and Friends.”

The Kinetic Playground had its storefront lined with many “friends” waiting to get into the show, which was slated to start shortly after the Umphrey’s McGee show across the street had ended. I have to say that it was apparent quite a few Umphrey’s fans wanted to see what the drummer was up to. After a bit of a wait outside, the place was full and ready to rock. The band took the stage and wasted no time getting the crowd moving. Opening with a cover of The Police’s “Regatta de Blanc,” it gave me a sense of where the band was coming from. Incorporating the smoothness of jazz with the bounce of reggae and adding in some rock n roll, the tune could have easily been mistaken for an original, had the listener not known its origin. Kyle Meyers displayed his growth as a bass player on this song, communicating well and making tight changes. Mr. Mirro led the charge through the song, lending lead vocals and sending the song into a nice jam. This was all before guitarist Marcus Rezak took the reins and segued the opener into one of his originals, “Au Jus.” The tune comes out with some funk riffs from Rezak, bending each note nicely alongside Meyers’ punchy bass line. Mirro chimes in with some nice high-hat work, sometimes doubling-up, before adding some fills and crash cymbals. After reaching the songs climatic end, the band brought out the first guest, a former Berklee classmate of Rezak and Meyers, Christian Rogala. Rogala brought a very unique and interesting element to a song entitled “Juicy C.” His vocals sounded to be improvised at times, but he sang with such soul and spark it didn’t seem to matter. “Juicy C” was a very lively song with plenty of danceable rhythm and blues and even a few James Brown inspired shouts.

The furious start to the show was slowed down a bit with another cover. This time the band chose to rework “Aliens” by world-famous DJ Paul Okenfold. To see a DJ stand on stage and spin a record is of no interest to me, but to see the band give life to this song was impressive. The added help of Andrew Toombs on synthesizer allowed Rezak to place some eerie notes over the top of a trance atmosphere. Mirro kept a hypnotizing beat, utilizing some soft cymbal work that left space for Kyle Meyers to fill in the low end. The song melted into a slow jam before the next tune, “Spanish Armada” picked things back up. The band showcased how tight they had come by bouncing between Latin beats and jazz-fusion guitar and bass rhythms. Marcus Rezak danced around a nice melody as Kyle Meyers chased closely behind with Mirro picking up all the remaining pieces like the garbage man he is. Following in the footsteps of the opening song, the band did their take on another Police tune, “Synchronicity 2.” Again, Mirro gave lead vocals while doing his best Stuart Copeland on drums. Meanwhile, Rezak and Meyers offered a bit more grit to the song than the original, which gave a dark and unique spin to it. To close the night out Mike Mirro invited his old Umphrey’s McGee band mate Joel Cummins to sit in on keys alongside front man John Wasem. The band performed “Nothing to Loose” from the upcoming Sparrow 4 album, to much delight from the crowd. Although they don’t get the chance to play as much as they used to, Mirro and Cummins had immediate chemistry that elicited many cheers. While John Wasem strummed on the acoustic guitar and sang lead on this song, it made me wonder if this is what Tom Waits would sound like if he woke up on a good day. Marcus Rezak once again showed his prowess, giving some sharp Latin riffs for Kyle Meyers to layer on some equally crisp bass lines. Before the band let the tune spiral into an all night improvisation, they converged to make a grand ending highlighted by Mirro nearly coming out of his seat as he put the punctuation mark on the evening.

The show was, without a doubt, a great step for the band. It represented the closing of the year and, also, what the upcoming year held for its members. There is still plenty of room for growth, but that will come with time. Regardless, after this evening’s event, any fan who had doubts about Mirro should have laid them to rest. The man is clearly on top of his game and ready to forge ahead with his current project, and do it alongside med school. It seems now that I finally realize why this show was billed as “Mike Mirro and Friends.” Not only did that name help draw in the after-show crowd, it drew a picture of what that crowd represented for Mirro and his “Friends.”

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