Rumble Dogs (Feat Erik Deutsch, Scott Metzger, Andy Hess & Joe Russo), Cameo Gallery, NYC – 9/3
Every so often a show is announced and you know you just have to make it. Sometimes it means breaking plans or calling out of work sick, but one way or another you know what has to be done. It’s not always the marquee acts that demand such action as was the case when it was announced the Joe Russo would be playing with Scott Metzger, Andy Hess and Erik Deutsch in the extremely intimate Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. After seeing Joe play with Furthur in stadiums, amphitheaters and festivals it was very exciting to have the chance to once again witness him blowing the roof off of small Brooklyn bars as he did so often early in his career. That being said, with Russo, Metzger, Hess and Deutsch the right group of guys were present (or dogs as the group goes by the name Rumble Dogs) for a night of loose instrumental jams, serious improvisations and tasty covers.
After opening the night with a nod to The Meters, the tone quickly shifted as the group went into the laid back dub reggae inspired “Banana Dub.” Scott Metzger and Andy Hess layered a pair of infectious grooves on top of a swirling organ line as the crowd instantly began to bounce and sway. All the while Joe Russo was as reliable as ever working the rims and hi-hat in a quintessential dub style. Not that anyone would ever doubt Joe’s abilities behind the kit, but there were definitely a few surprised faces in the crowd who may not have known just how versatile he really is. One fan who has been around the scene for a while was overheard proclaiming that “Joe is by far the best drummer in New York,” a statement that can definitely hold its weight.
With some straight up funk and dub starting things off the Rumble Dogs quickly switched gears and went into a genre defying version of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” The tune began with a jazzy feel to it but was sprinkled with some blues and soul throughout, courtesy of Erik on the keys. As was the case with many of the tunes the group played, Erik really stepped up and had me wondering what a Russo/Deutsch Duo would be like. The original “Take Me Down To Pony Town” was a straight forward groove based jam that had an early yet brief solo by Joe where he laid down a steady but intricate beat. As the tune opened up a bit Erik went off and got pretty psychedelic while Scott absolutely tore up his guitar as the jam got really deep and ultimately had to be ended. With the house lights turned real low Scott teased some of the most hauntingly delicate blues riffs over sparse snare drum fills until “You Shook Me” finally began to take shape. The atmosphere made it feel like we were back in time down south watching Muddy Waters take a stab at the old Willie Dixon tune. Out of nowhere Joe let loose and wailed on just about every drum at his disposal in a matter of 10 seconds before things dropped way down low again. At this point in the night Joe was really getting loose. His playing and body language conveyed a sense of playfulness and at times he looked like one of those inflatable wacky arm guys as he bounced and grooved around behind the set. With the guitar lines more pronounced and gradually building in intensity so to did Erik with his organ until he literally stole the spotlight once again with a couple measures of soulfully chaotic playing. There was definitely no shortage of appreciation being showed by the crowd during the tune.
Before getting into the next tune Erik gave a little insight into the “creative” process that lead to the song. He explained how he is positive that Joe and Marco Benevento, longtime friends and band mates, get together with hundreds of song ideas or simple themes mixing and mashing them until they come up with something super composed and “impossible” to remember. With that they jumped into “Japanese Spy Car,” a crazy surf type of jam that would fit perfectly into a wacky scene from the Pink Panther. Propelling the groove throughout the tune were Andy’s bass lines which constantly pulled the rest of the guys in various directions as the tempo, time and intensity bounced back and forth. Knowing that Joe was never a huge Deadhead, one question that remained unanswered was whether or not he would play any Grateful Dead tunes during his time off from Furthur. As Andy laid down a rolling bass line with a nice bounce to it Joe joined in and really got the beat hopping. With a huge smile on his face Joe played conductor as well as drums. Giving cues to the band, he motioned to the others to let them know when to come in, kick it up or lay off. In a matter of moments, those who found their way to the show hoping to hear some Dead tunes were in luck as the vocal line of “New Speedway Boogie” played out on the organ filled the air. The overall feel to the tune was much funkier than the typical blues based manner in which it is played most frequently.
With the night winding down to a close, those still in attendance (given the late start) were treated to a couple more choice covers. First off was the Steve Miller hit “Abracadabra” which was played to perfection. During the song, Joe was going to town on the Hi-Hat showing some serious chops. At times it sounded as if prerecorded produced drum beats were being used but no, it was just Joe. Equally as impressive was the guitar work being done by Scott who seemed to be channeling the great Ernest Ranglin as hints of ska floated off his fret board. Bringing the night to an end was a very energetic take on Ike Turner’s “Funky Mule.” Beginning the tune on his own was Joe whose drumming was quickly matched by the steady yet swift rhythm guitar playing of Scott. Andy and Erik splashed a bit of texture onto the song here and there but the meat of it all came from the drums and guitar. Maybe it was due to time constraints but it felt like the song was cut short after a brief stand alone section for Joe. Unfortunately, this came as “Funky Mule” was taking off and could have gone somewhere really special.
Given the preexisting commitments that these in demand musicians must respect, it is uncertain what the future holds for the Rumble Dogs. However, one thing that will remain a no brainer is that if they do happen to stroll into a venue near you, you’d be sorry not to be there.