Cerulean City / Oshe, The Alphabet Lounge, NYC- 2/4
The Upstate Hits Downtown
Three bands, three blocks away, six bucks. That was my self proposition this past Saturday night, and I easily answered yes as I headed down to the Alphabet Lounge, a cozy-ish, dimly lit, long bar, whose main fault is succumbing to the Manhattan sin of five dollar Budweiser’s and eight dollar weak Maker’s and ginger ale. An early show for a Saturday, I missed PVD’s 8pm opening set, but got to talk with old friend Pat Van Dyke about a gig they have with some of the Antibalas guys next weekend.
The first of two bands from Ithaca, Cerulean City got the early crowd going with songs from their new release, Saturn Return, produced by Joe Ferla (John Scofield, Charlie Hunter). “Saturn Return 1” and “Saturn Reprise” showed off the band’s technical skills without boring the crowd. Yet at their conclusion, the bar faithful gave the customary “play something funky!” request, to which CC laid down a Scofield-esque pocket groove. While not creatively innovative, it nonetheless served the purpose, allowing guitarist Christian Smith to let loose over his solid rhythm section.
It has been said that when playing in a trio, there is “no room to hide,” and Cerulean City has the musical discipline to fill space with the appropriate sound, allowing each member their time to rip as well as complement. They ended their short set with the not so subtly titled but crowd favorite, “J.Lo’s Ass.” Drummer Lars Burggren took an extended solo where he finally broke out some excellent bass drum work, layering the thunder of his four piece jazz kit and really getting some “oohs” and “aahs,” from the crowd, breaking through the bar room chatter. Overall, a more than solid trio, and a nice change of pace from the many cluttered acts we have all had to sit through in our day.
While I was hoping the bands would be able to break from schedule and play extended sets, they pretty much stuck to the one-hour showcase format, which is a great way to get a glimpse, but not much more. This is not to say one can’t get a good idea of what a band is about after one hour, but if you’re really digging the show, it’s hard to force things to a stop once they’re just getting cooking.
This brings me to Oshe. I had seen their name around and had really dug some of the stuff I had heard from their recent album, The Good Book. That being said I was a bit surprised when I saw a massive Marshall stack being lifted onto the stage. Surely this cannot be for Oshe, I thought to myself. But oh yes it was. Their sound was much more guitar driven than what I heard on their website. Not at all a bad thing, as their guitar player Will can definitely shred with complete control. He would lean over the bridge of his guitar, looking back at the drummer, bobbing his head up and down with the beat, almost pulling the sound along.
Very much hard hitting, most songs had the drummer laying into crash cymbal rock beats with heavy bass and guitar distortion, met by flying synthesizer licks over top. While a little less ear-friendly then Cerulean City, the passion for what they were doing was absolutely there, and no one seemed to mind. I don’t know if it was just this show, but I never imagined them to be this rocking, and I liked it. Many of their compositions appeared to be a series of vamps, flowing in nature and lacking the common jamband quality of forced together stop and go changes.
“Texas Funeral,” one of the few song names mentioned, featured a head eerily similar to the Black Crowe’s “Remedy,” but then completely changed direction into a more laid back syncopated groove. However, there was little downtime in their short set as the music went almost continuously minus some here and there stage banter from the shirtless drummer. Everyone in the group seemed to be on the younger side of the game, all members not looking to exceed a quarter century in age. While I definitely saw elements of the 1970's Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock ensembles that they cite as influences, they caught me more as an instrumental version of some of the more popular rock bands making waves these days such as Secret Machines or even a heavier version of what the Slip has been doing recently.
Whatever they’re doing, it seems to be catching on. Oshe and Cerulean City clocked in over 100 shows each around the country last year. Both are young, eager and making a statement on stage that while may not be ground breaking, at least presents more than a few elements of freshness mixed with some serious musicianship.