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Published: 2009/05/05
by David Schultz

U-Melt- B.B. King Blues Club, NYC – 4/10

The return of The Dead and Phish’s upcoming summer tour have brought a lot of attention towards the fans whose ardent love shrouds those bands in a near-mythical aura and transforms each individual concert into an unmissable event. While the music still remains the primary drawing point, the nomadic band of loyal followers that populate Dead shows and Phish performances has evolved into a pervasive and remarkable force, inextricably intertwined with the whole “live experience.” For many jamband fans, the communal spirit and familial love of their brethren parallels the importance of the passion and ingenuity of the group around which it developed. The Deadheads and Phish phanatics are legion but they are not alone; fan bases of today’s up-and-coming bands are following in their footsteps, forming their own communities around their favorite groups and creating their own lore and traditions unburdened by a history in which they were too young to participate.

One such band is the New York based U-Melt, who is currently at the epicenter of their own wellspring of enthusiasm and support. Being amidst the fans that flocked en masse to the B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square for U-Melt’s after hours showcase and listening to them reconnect with old friends and celebrate the experience of an another shared U-Melt show, you can’t help but be swept up in the excitement of being part of a burgeoning scene. The welcoming vibe and palpable electricity of the crowd is not all that dissimilar from early 90s Phish shows which, at that time, took place in college gyms and on club stages. Turning Good Friday into a Great Friday, U-Melt held court on the cabaret’s main stage, seamlessly interlocking their two sets with one from Chicago-based DJ Wyllys. Over nearly four hours, U-Melt delivered an explosive dose of their self-proclaimed progressive groove, a wicked blend of electronica-style dance riffs, prog-rock intricacy and wildly compelling improvisation from guitarist Rob Salzer and keyboardist Zac Lasher.

Opening with an uninterrupted run through “Marvin The Pussy,” “Escape” and “Pura Vida,” U-Melt wasted no time firing up the late-night crowd. George Miller’s drumming springs from a fountain of endless energy and the pace he set at the outset never dipped or waned even as the hour grew late. Besides pushing Lasher, Salzer and bassist Adam Bendy, who, as of late, has taken to periodically dropping a funky bass solo or two, Miller kept the crowd engaged and dancing. Providing the beat for Lasher’s catchy hooks, the relatively new “Pura Vida” and “Clear Light” are the equal of anything generated by hipster dance acts like MGMT and Hot Chip.

There are bands that specialize in finding a groove and working a crowd into frenetic jumble of dancing limbs and others that amaze audiences with virtuosic displays of technical proficiency by moving through the many stages and movements of progressive rock suites; U-Melt is among the rarefied few that can do both. Robert Fripp may have awed and dazzled an uncountable number of fans and inspired innumerable musicians but he never provoked any of them to bust it out on the dance floor. The same can’t be said for Rob Salzer. During second set runs through “Elysian Fields,” the middle-Eastern tinged “A Portrait of Kismet” and the swirling rhythms of “Tiny Giants,” Salzer lived up to his reputation as one of the most electrifying young guitarists by blazing through a series of lengthy guitar solos that exhilarated those who came to party and intrigued those who appreciate complex guitar work.

U-Melt’s arrangements often derive a great deal from the fastidiously precise song structures of Frank Zappa and Zappa’s own material, which U-Melt handles with deft aplomb, makes frequent appearances in their set lists. Springboarding into Zappa’s “Apostrophe” out of “Clear Light,” Salzer and Lasher ran wild with the song’s pulsing march, putting a slightly modern slant on the mid-Seventies instrumental. For their encore, U-Melt returned to the stage for what seemed their most straightforward offering of the night, a cover of the Rush classic, “Tom Sawyer.” However, like most things with U-Melt, they have a knack of making the difficult seem easy. After the show, Lasher deflected praise for the Rush cover by putting their take on it in perspective. “It took Adam and me to do what Geddy Lee does all by himself,” he explained in his typical affable manner.

With the North Indiana All Stars, an Umphrey’s McGee side project featuring Jake Cinninger, Joel Cummins, Kris Myers, Willie Waldman and Greg Koerner jamming only yards away at the adjacent Lucille’s, expectations ran high for a sit-in or two. U-Melt peaked interest with a couple teases of Umphrey’s “All In Time” but alas, no intermingling occurred. In hindsight, a well timed collaboration, on either stage, would have surely provided something memorable but in the end it would have been a footnote and deflected attention from U-Melt’s fantastic set.

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