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Published: 2011/03/01
by Dave Smith

The McLovins, Nectar’s, Burlington, VT – 2/19

Fans arriving late to The McLovins show Saturday night at Nectar’s were greeted with a near-zero degree wind chill and a wait in line to get into the sold-out gig. Nectar’s is right in the sweet spot for The McLovins, a legendary venue packed with savvy and musically knowledgeable fans. This was the teen-age trio’s third trip up to the iconic Burlington club and they pulled out all the stops with an energetic two set show that thrilled the capacity crowd.

The first set kicked off with “BeadHead Crystal Bugger,” a prog-infused instrumental featuring a biting Jeff Howard guitar attack and a throbbing backbeat. “Purple Trees” and “Tokyo Tea” were next, two of the more traditional and jamming of the band’s compositions, though improvisational guitar flourishes from Howard urged each piece forward. The show took on a bit of a somber tone as drummer Jake Huffman dedicated the show and the next song “Bri, (In Memory Of)” to McLovins fan Jim Cypher who had passed away earlier in the week. “Milktoast Man,” a reggae tinged chiller, featured bassist Jason Ott on lead vocals and was followed by “This Town” a bouncy ballad that was inspired by Huffman’s stay at a local inn during the band’s last trip to Burlington. The set closed out with a stirring rendition of “Cohesive” a song co-written by the group with Anthony Krizan and Phish lyricist Tom Marshall.

Following a short break, The McLovins took the stage and lit into the first cover of the night, Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” This sing-along confection showcased Howard’s more delicate playing and led right into “Virtual Circle,” an infectious piece with a progressive edge; a melodic tour-de-force. Huffman jumped into a drum solo leading to Guillotine Machine, another harder-edge compostion off of their debut album, Conundrum. “Caravan” broke out of a sublime jam and led into the group’s new ballad, TETOP. Ott then stepped up to the mic and handled the vocals as the band lit into a relentless version of The Door’s epic “Break On Through.” “Deep Monster Trance” was pulled out next and featured some snaky string interplay between Howard and Ott.

A cover of Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” closed out the set on a high note, the crowd bouncing and singing along. The energy ebbed to a trickle with the tune coming to a near stop and then ramping back up again. For an encore, the band launched into the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street,” quickly turning it into a Bisco-esque dance number with Howard and Ott repeatedly cycling through an electronically tinged lead. “Little Wing” was the last song of the night, with Howard’s guitar pyrotechnics on full display as he ravaged this Hendrix staple.

It’s hard to deny that The McLovins have grown musically in the 7 months since their last trip to Burlington. Where they once dominated a crowd with emotion and raw power, they now bring more technique to bear. The effect is the same, though their dynamic range has significantly increased. Surprisingly, the band chose not to feature a Phish cover this show; a gutsy move for a band that showed up on most people’s radar due to their YouTube performance of “YEM.” Still, The McLovins’ return to Nectar’s was a snapshot of the band as it tears into 2011, playing to sold-out crowds and sticking to its game plan – looking ahead to the Main-Stage festival appearances of summer. Their consistency is even more remarkable when you realize that the trio is still in school and only play an average of one show a week. Last summer’s festival thieves have returned and they’re taking no prisoners.

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