Goat Fest 07, The Goat Head Saloon, Mesa, AZ 9/27-28
Think Globally, Jam Locally
The recent four-star review of _Live at the Murat_the first two-disc live set from Umphrey’s McGeeby Rolling Stone Senior Editor, David Fricke, led one to believe that the demise of the jamband has been greatly exaggerated. And to be sure, the genre is continuing to evolve in a multitude of different ways and perhaps one of the critical methods to witness that growth is to see an upcoming band or veteran outfit hone their act in a small venue. Wellwe got a large heaping of both types of bandsdebut outfits and road warrior journeymenat Goat Fest 07 where New Monsoon and Delta Nove headlined a two-day festival of art, food, fun and good old fashioned jam music.
The Arizona Valley is a tough market but at the Goat Head Saloonan establishment opened in early April 2007they have been booking local and national acts for about six months and hosting Thursday night jam sessions with a group called Endoplasmic. Indeed, I caught one of these sessions in late May and the opening jam consisted of a 35-minute section that had three transformations before returning to a unified theme. “Welcome to the Goat Century,” quipped frontman Kevin Gordon.
The Arizona jam supergroup, Endoplasmic, consists of a rotating lineup of local musicians and is led by Gordon, a multi-instrumentalist and former member of the Mojo Farmersa 2005 Relix On the Verge band. It was Gordon’s brainchild to organize the festival and he worked with Dave Biederman to solidify the event’s stature by adding two national headliners to the bill. Biederman is probably the key promoter in the Valley for national jambands and has been a major factor in bringing numerous bands to the scene, including a recent RAQ appearance at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix. It was Biederman’s influence and promotion that brought New Monsoon and Delta Nove on board and with the fine lineup of local acts that Gordon gathered a two-day festival was born.
On the opening day, September 28, Joe Mama and TapWater began the festivities. Joe Mama plays shut up-get up-and-party music and appeared to be a very appropriate band to kick off the festivities. TapWater is a band out of San Diego that combines rock, funk, Latin, jazz, bluegrass, country, blues and pop into one giant mix of well-played jam music and they are a consistently enjoyable force on stage.
Baraka followed and they are a band that has been covered on this site beforeactually, they had two shows canvassed in one review as their sets have the type of appeal that one show can feel quite different from another in a most subtle yet enjoyable fashion. It had been over a year since I had seen this trio of funk/electro/nu-jazz musicians and their sound has expanded even more to include many different transitions within their jams sandwiched around more straightforward songs that highlight a unique ability to match melody with a clever lick. The band excels at heavy grooves, which borders on trance and deep pocket funk and they aren’t afraid to lock into a tight crackback rhythm when the groove demands a rich anchor.
The group’s guitarist has a very warm and complex sound that is most addictive and I commented on his playing after their set. “That tone took me many years to develop,” said Brendan Shannon. And you could tellhis playing isn’t so much effortless as it is like watching some natural process happening, a long arc of water falling down a cavern, resting on some much larger pool of water. He also occasionally plays in Endoplasmic and he was there the night I caught the act in a wonderful twin-guitar jam sequence which featured Steve Allenresident guitar hero with Gelatinous Groove who would play Goat Fest 07 on the following night. Jelani Canser plays bass guitar in Baraka and is fairly adept at making the building shake with a round, loose sound that never strays from the band’s carefully-sculpted sonic architecture. Their drummer is a major kick in the assMarc Gunnand he continues to find new ways to propel both Shannon and Canser into new territory while holding everything down in the boiler room. His technique allows for his bandmates to improvise at two parallel peaks within a jam without any unnecessary noodling“Sasha Raptor” was a fine example of that ability.
New Monsoon closed the first day of the festival with a late night gig that featured the San Francisco act as headliners in their new quintet format. This was my first time seeing the band without the percussionistsBrian Carey and Rajiv Parikh. They also replaced their drummer, Marty Yitalo with Sean Hutchinson while bassist Ben Bernstein has left and Ron Johnson is now in his place. The constants remainPenn State alumni Jeff Miller on lead guitar and vocals and Bo Carper on acoustic guitar, banjo and vocals. The other original member, Phil Ferlino remains a very pleasurable fixture on keyboards.
The latest New Monsoon live sound echoes their strong new studio release, V, which features less of the initial mixture of jam music with a heavy Eastern overtone that hooked so many fans. The band now emphasizes tight song structure with a much more rock appeal and a heavy dose of that acoustic splendor that distinguishes their sound. Miller, if he wasn’t already before, is clearly the leader in this band and directs their music in a fashion that never strays too far from a relaxed yet tight sound. Carper has always been the group’s secret MVP on various acoustic instruments and he continues to have a stage presence that helps lift a set into the desired X factor. If the Eastern influences are not as prominent as they once were, the band has certainly replaced any noticeable gaps with a passionate desire to explore more of the heavy hard rock terrain that was never too far outside of their initial grasp, anyway.
The first set featured new material like the funky “Greenhouse” and the bluegrass instrumental “Romp,” old classics and very crowd-pleasing covers like the wall-shaking “Bron-y-Aur Stomp,” by Led Zeppelin. The second set offered older material that continues to sound fresh as the quintet explored more of the central jam melodies in the songsset pieces like “Velvet Pouch,” “Daddy Long Legs,” “Rock Springs Road” and “Bridge of the Gods” are full of boundless energy but controlled by a focused momentum that holds the set together. The new quintet in a nutshell? A great opportunity to explore the essence of what a live band can be with, yes, some rough edges to round out the mix.
Pachanga is a type of Latin American music and dance originating from Cuba. It is also the name of a pretty solid group of musicians who play great music and they opened up Sunday’s portion of the festival. Nobody’s Foe followed and the band calls themselves an experimental jazz/jamband but it would be safe to also call them a pretty solid improv outfit that isn’t afraid to swing quite a bit. Brewed to Perfection offer reggae music via the Arizona Valley and they were a fine addition to the proceedings while offering a different look at how that genre is also wedded well with the blues.
Gelatinous Groove features Mike “the Dude” Hatley and Steve Allen on guitars and with the exception of the two festival headliners, the band was the highlight of the two-day affair as their long, patient seamless jams are really quite adventurous. The journeys are never directionless, appear to have a point and then, before you know what hit you in the face, the entire band returns on a dime to the main theme and fades out. They reminded me of early Phish before the tension-and-release led to deep funk. G-Groove also offered structured jams that intermingled with a tight groovethat heady word, groove and all of its connotationsthe groove dictated the flow and dominated melodic tune-based jams.
The cleverly titled “The Nother Ones” (think ex-Grateful Dead, pre-Dead band) was the high point of their set and, perhaps, the festival as the song was well-written, well-executed and pretty damn exploratory without a smidgen of pointless wankery. Bravo to whoever the heck came up with the arrangement as this old veteran writer was knocked out by the easy way in which the musicians segued from one passage to the next.
DJ Seduce, a local turntable maestro, spun tunes for about an hour and his expert blending and seamless segues within a variety of music stood out in what can sometimes be a very tiresome activitynot so with this talented cat. Just Add Waterthe brainchild of promoter, Dave Biedermanfollowed and was the debut performance of a jam supergroup which covered material as diverse as “Lawyers, Guns & Money,” “Chalkdust Torture,” Hey Pocky Way,” “Let’s Get It On,” (!) and a very jammy and welcome “Wolfman’s Brother”their second nod to jam giants, Phish; although the freestyle improvisation appeared more akin to the Grateful Dead than Phish but it was still strong.
Endoplasmic fronted by Kevin Gordon and featuring a barrage of local guitarists including Steve Allen from Gelatinous Groove and Baraka’s Brendan Shannon offered some very cool improvisation which served as a fine prelude to the headliners from Long Beach, CaliforniaDelta Nove. The festival concluded its two-day run with another high energy performance from the band that can bend-and-tweak-and-funk-the-Latino-hard reggae-jam rawk with the best of anyone on the national road warrior circuit. I’ve seen Delta Nove on many occasions and no matter how tired or just plain sleep-deprived I am at the time, the band never fails to give some sort of weird and positive soul transfusion that reinvigorates me. On this evening, I could tell that attribute was shared with the dance floor as the long saloon/bar/dance joint was packed and ready to continue the party until the early morning dawn.
It was while I was enjoying all of the various colors shooting from the stage during this weekend that I met Katie Fox, one of the founders of MoBoogie.net, which is a local social network for the “good people who dig live music,” that it all fell into place for methat hook that I had been missing as I chased national figures and followed old, tired stories from veteran voices; seemed so simple but, oddly enough, I had forgotten to remember an important component of being not only a writer but a fan. Supporting local music is critical in a scene that thrives on live music to emphasize its artistic point. The Goat Fest 07 proved that as David Fricke continues to champion jamband music in major mainstream zines outside of the normal hippie-and-dread circle, musicians are fighting to get their art heard in new, exploratory ways, bringing the numbers into the clubs, bars, theatres or, in this case, on this splendid little Autumn weekend, the Goat Head Saloon.