Avalon Allstars, Mexicali Blues, Teaneck, NJ- 4/7
What happens when you gather the finest sidemen of the Californian-Americana scene, and give them the run of a retro-hippie, exceedingly jam friendly club? Fireworks. This certainly has proven true when Mexicali Blues hosted any number of Steve Kimock outings, and the pyrotechnics did not fail to fly for Avalon Allstars- Bobby Vega on bass, John Molo on skins, Barry Sless on guitar, Ray White on guitar and vocals and Mookie Seigel sitting in on keys for an absent Melvin Seals.
The show opened with a deeply dripping, psychedelic jam, like the spaciest “Truckin’” you can imagine. I don’t usually quote my notes, but the first words on my paper are “People should be breaking down doors to hear this.” Nuff said.
When not oozing with lysergic energy, and often while gurgling out great gobs of the stuff, the music was deeply funky. Ray and Bobby gelled just right, the former popping into open spots with half second mirroring of the lead or little rhythm bursts- his timing is impeccable. Meanwhile Bobby was just off center, stage right, leaning over Molo’s kit, eyes wide and hips shaking in a little dance. The band set in on “If 6 Was 9”, Ray’s vocals strong and stirring. His voice is an instrument, not because it’s pretty or full of flourish, but because when he wails, like a lead guitar, he pulls the whole band along with him.
They crushed the Hendrix cover and followed it with another jam, this one glimmering with that warm KVHW sound, definitely a piece with Bobby in the driver’s seat. There is something amazing in the way the bassist will slap out a phrase and punctuate it by popping a short high note with his pinky- it’s like he’s playing counterpoint with himself. He guides the music with great grooving ideas that he confidently presses and molds into real themes- this jam, though an improv, had all the elements of a composition. Bobby walked across the stage to Ray and showed him the fingering in real time, speaking with his eyes. The group’s sound was flexible, elastic, but so was the sound of any individual player, making for an intricate, shifting landscape. But mostly it was funky fun.
The first set closed with a great version of “City of Tiny Lights”, with a verse or two of “Born Under a Bad Sign” sandwiched in the center, a song choice that referenced Mexicali’s pulsating, night-of-a-thousand-stars backdrop. The second set opened with a low, grinding “Use Me,” the real, slow, shuddering sex, and a devastating “Superstitious.” There was a time when space funk and jammed out acid jazz ruled the scene, but that was before the current state of world affairs, which seems call for the more aggressive indie rock edge that colors so much of modern music. This show, however, was the nastiest thing I’ve seen in years.
It was also loaded with a million classic rock references, everything from Led Zeppelin to The Grateful Dead to The Jackson Five to The Rolling Stones, so that what at first appeared to be just another tease in fact developed into a full blown jam of the orchestral “Hall of the Mountain King”. The movement stretched and opened, but Barry pushed it right towards “Slipknot!” to begin a long suite of GD jams, a medley a la early Jazz Is Dead. Before long Barry and Molo were feeling out “King Solomon’s Marbles” then leading the quintet through the composition. The music raced and dipped and swerved and melted into the jam from “Unbroken Chain” with Barry and Mookie shining over the crests. Molo was riding low on the slow build, with Ray and Bobby driving the whole mass into a monster that stomped off into the cataclysmic, Spanish themed “Penumbra.” A devastating explosion of force and power, it gave way to “The Eleven” and then “The Other One” with Ray singing “Whipping Post,” a tip of the hat to the final Allmans’ shows happening across the Hudson. Even though it finally landed in James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” it was an epic, head-spinning suite, the perfect peak for a truly stunning show. If these guys show up anywhere within driving distance, do not miss it.