New Monsoon / Hot Buttered Rum, The Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA- 1/26
Seattle's Tractor Tavern has a capacity of 350 with the stage large enough to fit comfortably four, maybe five musicians. With both New Monsoon and Hot Buttered Rum String Band in the house (and plenty of talk about cross-fertilization) I questioned how New Monsoon boasting seven members and plenty of instruments would fit, let alone any guests. Two nights earlier Matt Butler from the Everyone Orchestra had conducted both groups for an encore in Eugene and I was beginning to wonder if the Seattle crowd would be gypped on account of sheer logistics.
New Monsoon took to the stage first drummer Marty Ylitalo and guitarist Jeff Miller sharing a long hug before proceeding to their respective positions and immediately jumped into "Sweet Brandywine" with such charge and blistering energy that it seemed the band had never left the stage from its closing set the night before. Tabla player Rajiv Parikh banged on a cowbell, Phil Ferlino provided a little boogie-woogie on keys and Miller rendered a hard-rockin' riff that would prove to be his theme all night. Based on Miller's anthem-esque solos it seems New Monsoon's sound is more often progressing into downright rock, as demonstrated with "Patato's Mission" and "Spanish Moon" later in the night, which could possibly be linked to working with Santana's drummer Michael Shrieve on its latest album.
Parikh performed a jaw-dropping tabla solo, scatting along with his feverish drumming, before the band launched into "Traveling Gypsies." As Bo Carper turned his banjo into a Middle Eastern instrument, a man approached me and whispered, "Get ready. Hold on!" before disappearing into the throng of fans. Hold on was right. Percussionist Brian Carey seemed to produce a new sound every two seconds, first waving a tambourine around then slamming both palms onto his congas, reaching a startling crescendo before transitioning into a new beat, tapping on his congas with drumsticks in hand as the band seamlessly moved from one sound or speed to another. The dark and dirty "Another Night In Purgatory" found Ferlino making love to his keys before the septet ended with "Continental Divide," Miller picking up his mandolin for the first time all night, at one point hollering out "Scream if you love bluegrass!" leaving everyone craving some butter.
Hot Buttered Rum String Band emerged drinking tea, and with a big grin on his face Aaron Redner said, "We're feeling festive here at the Tractor." The group started in with "Firefly," Bryan Horne delivering some nasty solos on his upright bass right from the get-go. Horne has always exhibited a solid level of musicianship but he was simply ablaze, thumping away, thick and syrupy all night. Two songs into the set Zac Matthews revealed it was Mozart's 250th birthday and in homage the band immediately dove into a quick rendition of "A Little Night Music," before segueing into "Ginseng Sullivan." "Riversong" began a cappella, and that's one thing about HBRSB that really stands out all five musicians can sing as they constantly share vocal responsibilities.
Ready to blow full-steam ahead, the band invited Ylitalo to the stage for a rhythm-heavy take on John Hartford's "I'm Still Here" followed by "Always Be The Moon." Ylitalo returned to the crowd and HBRSB dished out three blissfully twangy tunes "Kissing Cousins," "June Apple" and "Wedding Day." As the hoedown hit a high, Redner exclaimed it was "becoming a bit of a barn dance," and by the time they fell into "Green Drop" a tune dedicated to Missy Baron, a friend of both bands who was killed in a car accident on January 11 the floor was physically rolling.
Just when it seemed the show was about to climax, Ylitalo returned to the stage, this time bringing along Miller. Thanks to the overexcited (i.e. loud) audience it took a minute to figure out what was happening before recognition crossed the faces of all in attendance. Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage" received a downhome treatment, with Erik Yates jamming on his accordion, providing soulful "heys" and "whoa-ohs" while Horne leaned in every now and then to add the most talented lunatic giggles I've ever heard, creepy and hilarious all at once. HBRSB finished with the almost spoken-word "In These Parts," Yates confirming that his lungs must be made of iron as he blew on his flute for at least five minutes at one point laughing during his experimental solo and then managed to sing his share of the song.
It didn't take long for HBRSB to return to the stage. Matthews immediately thanked everyone for their "good energy" and then Redner piped up, "The buttery monsoon is slithering to the stage." Sure enough, members from both bands (save for Parikh) appeared, smushing against each other until all 11 were miraculously in position. They plunged into a version of Jimmy Reed's "East Bound and Down" (aka the Smokey and the Bandit theme song) although "West Bound and Down" would be a more appropriate title. With various members holding scraps of paper containing revised lyrics scrawled in blue sharpie, it's likely the two bands came up with the idea while chilling backstage before the show. Each stanza was sung by a different individual, and it was apparent the song had been rewritten to specifically describe their current tour. At one point Carper sang about how they would "rattle the rafters in Seattle," and everyone joined in for "West bound on the buttery monsoon run." Just when it seemed it couldn't get any better the super-sized group charged into "The Weight" and the joyous cheers that sprang up from the audience were deafening. Again, a different musician sang each stanza and separate solos were taken in between.
For the fourth stanza Horne sang one line while New Monsoon's Ben Bernstein played Horne's bass, and then the two performed a split-second swap so that Bernstein sang the next line, while Horne played the bass. The bassists continued to repeat this trade-off until the stanza was completed, and no one in the room could wipe the goofy grins off their faces.
Unlike the near record-breaking 27 consecutive days of rain in Seattle a couple weeks ago, this downpour I welcomed with open arms. May the buttery monsoon remain in the forecast.