The Heavy Pets, The Knitting Factory, NYC- 2/23
Upon entering the tap bar downstairs at the Knitting factory on Saturday night, one had to be surprised by the number of people inside waiting for Florida’s The Heavy Pets to take the stage. The dingy, low ceiling-ed room holds quite a few people, and the Pets had just about filled it to capacity helping to fill the room with billows of smoke and playful laugher from an enthused crowd. This is, for all intents and purposes, a very small band in terms of name recognition, with very few high profile shows to their credit, and yet here they were playing to a high profile-ish crowd in NYC and like many in the room, this was my first time seeing the young band.
Taking the stage a bit after 10:15, The Heavy Pets launched into “Help Me Help You,” a catchy bouncy number with sing-a-long lyrics, and all my preconceived notions were instantly confirmed; this is an unadulterated jamband in the truest sense of the word and fans looking for bouncy rhythms and blistering lead guitar work are going to be plenty satisfied by the Pets, just as they probably are by RAQ, U-Melt, Tea Leaf Green, Particle, Moonshine Sill, Perpetual Groove, The Breakfast, New Monsoon, Signal Path and the myriad other bands that have absorbed elements of Vermont’s Finest and attempted to go their own way. And in the case of each, they succeed to one degree or another, and like many of those other bands, one cannot help but hear Phishy influences throughout The Pets’ set. In the case of the Pets, they have chosen high octane, balls out jam rock as their path and with that in mind, they succeeded even if more than a few licks from more than a few songs can be traced directly back to Phish.
By the end of the first set though, what was clear was that The Pets have a penchant for falling into a comfort zone. Upon beginning the jam section of any given song, say the first set closer “Sleep,” the band eschewed the notion of building up the jam (a vital part of jamming), selecting instead to go full steam ahead, often at the behest of lead guitarist/vocalist Jeff Lloyd. While there is no denying Lloyd’s skills (nor those of second lead guitarist/vocalist Mike Garulli), his forte is going fast and going fast often. While this could be the function of a young band’s (and young guitarist’s) exuberance, I later found out the Pets have played quite a few shows together (perhaps over 400), and thus one wonders if the band has spent any time on dynamics, relaxation or the art of free form jamming rather than just the act of jamming. Jamming is a journey and if you start off at your destination, you’ve got nowhere to go but you sure are going to spin your wheels. As such, it’s more than a lightening fast five minute guitar solo over a repeating two or four chord progression. Assuming the band has played that number of shows, Lloyd should certainly be at the point or past it where he’s calming down but there is no denying both guitarists’ lead work thrilled the crowd repeatedly. Unfortunately, too often I was watching each guitar player spend minute after minute soloing (not endlessly, but seemingly so at points) which didn’t always serve the song as much as the ego. That is, ultimately, the problem with leaving out the ascending part of the jam. If you don’t build up to a peak, then the whole jam section is a peak and the jam can become masturbatory. Optimally, the crescendo would be the shortest part of the entire jam (please see Jordan Crisman’s wonderful review of the last ten minutes of the 97 Hampton Halley’s http://www.jambands.com/apr01/features/voyage.html ). Finding the right balance between building up a jam and peaking it is what takes a band years to accomplish and what separates The Phish from Vermont from ______________ (insert band you love to hate).
At the same time, any review of this show must make note of the fact that the Pets, apparently having recently parted ways with their drummer, brought in drummer Julius Pastorius (if you aren’t familiar with his last name, do some research) to fill the void and he did so with reckless abandon, even going so far as to use the pipes lining the ceiling and the walls themselves as instruments during, I believe, “Operation of Flight.” Such improvisation from the drummer is unexpected and helped fuel the song, and others, to soaring heights on occasion. Fitting in perfectly with the band’s hyper, Ritalin-absent-rock, Pastorius powered the band forward, gelling with bass player Joe Dupell who very well might have been the band’s MVP on this night. As well, one cannot over look keyboardist Jim Wuest’s contributions, whose coloring and accents helped lay the sonic groundwork on which each of the lead guitarists danced. Unfortunately, Wuest was buried in the corner behind some speakers, a casualty of the Knitting Factory Tap Room’s smallish stage.
That all being said, the Knitting Factory show was a blistering, hyper take on jam rock and the crowd was undeniably thrilled with the band at points, as was I. But there is no denying that the band needs to calm down and perhaps spent time developing some patience by listening to each other (it sounds clichut that’s how it goes). The vocals, song construction and quantity of songs are there (their debut release is a double album) and the musicianship is there. While finding your own sound is going to come over time, spending time building up a jam would go a long way to developing the band’s live ability and perhaps deliberately dedicating an entire set to half as many songs in an effort to work on the jamming section would benefit the band, assuming they as interested in the jamming as they are in the songs.
Any way the band benefits, the crowd benefits. Who can argue with that?