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Published: 2012/03/16
by Steve Brienza

Flannel Church, Iridium Jazz Club, NYC – 3/9

Photo by Vernon Webb

The congregation is steadily building as Flannel Church makes their way out of the swampy south and spreads their good word up the east coast and beyond. Give these guys a stage to work and they will give you a reason to believe as they recently proved during a brief New York City run.

Already rather seasoned musicians in their own right, several members of the group including Duane Trucks (drums), Kevin Scott (bass) and Gregory “Wolf” Hodges (guitar) have put in the time and paid their dues as members of Col. Bruce Hampton’s current and previous bands. Sacred steel (lap steel guitar) virtuoso AJ Ghent brings the soul to the group with the musical knowledge and insight of past generations embedded in his genes. His direct relative, Willie Eason, is credited as being one of the first church musicians to replace the organ in worship services with the sacred steel and later actually recording the new style on record for the first time in the 1940’s.

Finding their place on the stage at the Iridium Jazz club the members of Flannel Church moved about as if they had nothing on their mind and had done this pre-show scramble a millions times over. However this was New York City and an undeniably special show especially for drummer Duane Trucks, brother of Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks. In addition to the weight of a New York City show in general, it was the first official Allman Brothers after party of the bands traditional Beacon Theater run. After a few measures of raw soulful blues the chatter throughout the venue subsided and not a person in the building could keep their eyes off the stage. One of the first tunes of the night was a dirty take on the Bo Diddley classic “You Cant Judge A Book” where Wolf immediately got to work with some wild chickin’ pickin’ in and out of the choppy riffs he was holding down. With Duane steadily working the kick and snare drums, Kevin just walked his bass up and down the neck hopping along all the while. During the beautiful “Corrina”, the band left the bayous of New Orleans and seemed to have found their place some where in the open hills of the Virginias. The Taj Mahal gem, delicately phrased and not over done, gave the audience its first real taste of AJ’s abilities on the sacred steel. Summoning his inner demons with a series of groans, AJ, with a keen sense of the vibe developing, frantically worked the fret board like non other (partly due to the fact that he holds the instrument like a standard guitar and not like a traditional lap steel guitar player) ultimately bringing the tune to a close.

As a general hush and sense of calmness fell over the crowd Wolf threw out quintessentially funky New Orleans riff that could have spilled off a record from The Meters had it not been an Alan Toussaint groove. You can’t blame the band for taking a stab at “Get Out My Life Woman” considering it remains one of the most sampled tracks in history, and given the way the night had progressed it was no surprise when Flannel Church nailed it. Between the slinky guitar work, thumping bass, and Duane rocking the drums the Iridium was bumping. With just two notes of the infectious groove that permeates “Who Knows”, AJ conjured up a lively “HENDRIX!!” yell from someone in the crowd. However, towards the end of the song, and after several choice solos, it was Ghent who was on the receiving end of some well deserved hollers. In addition to the well deserved hollers, AJ also received the acknowledgment of a lifetime as Derek Trucks, who showed up to support his brother Duane, became entranced while watching the young steel playing wizard at work. As a testament to just how impressed Derek was with AJ’s playing, he immediately called his Allman brethren and secured AJ a spot on stage at the Beacon as the first guest of the Brothers run.

Moving away from the cover tunes that dominated the set list, the Wolf original “Stones Throw Away” followed. A cool vibe permeated throughout the song as Wolf’s smooth vocal lines floated above the soft shuffle of his guitar; everyone played their supportive role appropriately as all that stood out was the tune itself. A choppy, semi distorted guitar riff worked its way from the stage to the back of the venue like a subway car moving through the tunnels. Paying homage to the master of the blues, Mr. B.B. King, the guys in Flannel Church took “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” and gave it a fitting resurrection while undeniably enjoying themselves as they did all night. It’s apparent that these guys aren’t going to be satisfied just sitting back and regurgitating the music of others note for note. Actively listening to Kevin running up and down the fret board- in, out, and all over the groove, it is obvious that these guys like to play and are plenty capable of doing so.

As the night came to a close smiles were abound. Family and friends mixed with fans as the members of the band mingled stage front before taking off through the side stage door. With their first New York City gig under their belts the big “batman” logo painted on Duane’s bass drum seemed a natural fit. If audience reaction can be used as a barometer of success the band officially conquered Gotham and took its identity with them.

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