Addison Groove Project, Higher Ground, So. Burlington, VT- 02/24
Burlington: The smallest of towns with the biggest of magnetic musical souls. Part history, part attitude there’s an untouchable coziness here that draws bands from Ween to Wu-Tang into calling it a second home. Addison Groove Project knows about this comfort better than anyone. For nearly a decade, every couple months you could count on the boys from Mass. coming up and turning Higher Ground into an all-night quivering sweat lodge. You could always expect a local mock-star to hop on stage be it a friend only the townies would recognize, or Trey ripping it with AGP to celebrate the closing of the old Higher Ground. With a flawless record of Northern Vermont wonder, and with the band finally calling it quits, last Saturday’s farewell show was bound to be a night to remember. Right?
Unfortunately, two and a half feet of snow buried the town a week prior. So much snow in fact, that Burlington’s absurd tradition of a winter Mardi-Gras party was pushed back a week. What this means is that people start drinking when the parade starts up about 1 o’clock or so. Come 8 or 9 o’clock, the general populace is seeing triple, if even seeing at all. Now this wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Higher Ground weren’t in South Burlington. So not only did Addison Groove Project walk on stage to a half empty ballroom but also to a crowd in serious need of being woken up.
The first few songs were truly disheartened. Be it the crowd, or the imminent end of an era, this deep pocket crew seemed to be dry running the motions. A precision cover of Bowie’s “Fame” came off empty, and failed to spark the coming rapture. The band seemed stiff, but the dance-floor seemed stiffer. It would be an old fan-fave, “Nuggets the Shaker,” that finally got everybody comfortable.
One of the top ten rules in live rock has come to be: NEVER put the word groove’ or funk’ in the name of your all-Caucasian New England band. “Nuggets” proved why’ve you never heard anybody rake on Addison for this cardinal sin. Once they get locked in, they hold that groove like a pit-bull with lockjaw. With a truly admirable respect for space, these guys have known for a long time how to keep the channel bubbling. It’s no coincidence that there’s never been a standout front-man in AGP, the movement of the music has always been the leader no ten-minute guitar shred-offs in this band. Nevertheless, with Brendan McGinn heading off to med-school, he wasn’t shy to show what’s going to be missing from this group of musicians. On the first set closer, “Sing Sing,” the usually timid Brendan poured out his last rites on the guitar. Eyes closed and machine-gunning his way through the solo, the rest of the band shot blissful smirks across the stage to one another. Skinjer, the remaining guys’ new band, will surely be a hydra down one head.
Addison Groove Project, however, has pushed through being a man down before. Nearly two and a half years since the passing of bassist John Hall, AGP have been poignantly dedicated to keeping the energy moving. Honorably choosing to not find a replacement, bass duties have been split between sax-man Ben Groppe and keyboard wonderboy, Rob Marscher. The catch-22 of this situation was painfully clear Saturday night. While the truly underrated Marscher can impressively split his brain in two in order to pump the bass funk with his left hand, it definitely takes something away from the freak rage of his right. When it comes time for him to branch out, Groppe is able to hold it down admirably, but he is not nearly as talented on the low end as he is on the saxophone. Ergo the question: do you trade killer bass grooves for interstellar keyboard fire? It’ll be interesting to see how they handle it in Skinjer.
While the crowd had thinned out by the second set, those who remained were more than ready to shake off a few pounds. Opening with a “Phish Who?” version of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” it was time to fully abandon any remaining inhibitions. Old pal Jen Hartswick quickly joined the boys on stage for a popping version of “Cross the Tracks.” A thunderous “What is Hip?” soon developed and by then it was far past the point of looking back. With buckets of blissful sweat blurring the line between performers and audience, Higher Ground hopped and gamboled like it has so many raucous nights before.
So was it a night to remember? Thankfully not. For if it had been a memorable evening, something would have been terribly wrong. This was no farewell show. This was yet another timeless night of Addison Groove Project having fun with their friends specifics being squandered by the collective ether of perpetual joy. Anyone who tries to tell you their favorite AGP moment over the years is lying there has always been just one moment with these guys, and it lasts forever. With the scene shaking late into the night, I had to leave before the encore I was too worried about the potential burden of remembering the ending. Three shows to go, but hundreds already locked in thousands’ hearts.