Aqueous, the crooked i, Erie, PA- 12/29
On this cold winter night deep in the snow belt, Buffalo, NY’s hottest up and coming, prog-rock influenced jamband Aqueous was an hour and a half away from home and prepared to take the stage. The spawn of heavily rock-influenced jambands such as moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, the quartet has been touring heavily throughout the northeast and Midwest, riding high on the momentum gained from playing multiple sets on the side stage at moe.’s annual end of summer festival moe.down.
On this night the band was on familiar turf at the crooked i, a 400 capacity, 21 and over music venue that has been steadily gaining notoriety amongst the jamband scene as one of the best venues to see live music this side of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. Aqueous has made regular stops to Erie over the past several years and the city has now become a second home of sorts for the band. Erie fans love Aqueous and on this night they were eager to shake off the cold. The band, in the middle of a five show New Year’s run, seemed happy to oblige.
The band kicked the night off with “They’re Calling For Ya” off their latest album Willy Is 40. For the first half of the set Aqueous was warming up, playing solid versions of other original compositions and throwing in a fun cover of “Synchronicity” by the Police which got both the band and the audience revved up. From there the night truly took off. The highlight of the first set was raucous version of “Dr. Brox,” also off the latest record. The band kicked into the reggae influenced verse, the audience bobbing and bouncing along while guitarist, synth player, and vocalist Dave Loss sang about the wonders that the good Dr. Brox could do for someone in need of his unique capabilities. However, the song eventually abandoned the feel good reggae feel and wove its way into the realm of psychedelia, reminiscent of Phish’s pre-hiatus “ambient” period. Lighting designer Karl Osterman, who ran the venue’s house light system like a champ, used a backlighting technique that made the band look like soft silhouettes. However, this musical cool-down didn’t last long before Osterman made with the strobes and the band tore into some nasty synth laden electronifunk. The bass was deep and the “womp-womps” blasted through the sound system, making one feel like a sasquatch stomping knee deep through the funk swamp. After playing extended versions of 8 songs in nearly an hour and a half, Aqueous left the stage promising to be back for another long set.
After a short set-break spent mingling with their fans and back stage sneaking in a slice or two of pizza from the spot next door, Aqueous returned for set two. The band kicked out a quality trifecta starting with fan favorite “Strange Times” off the latest. The fist-pumping sing along rocker drove its way into another crowd pleaser: “Uncle Phil’s Parachute” off the band’s currently out of print self-titled EP. The jam in this beloved instrumental featured some genuine guitar pyrotechnics from guitarist and vocalist Mike Gantzer. While still in his very early twenties, Mike can clearly hold his own as a guitarist and is continuing to learn and hone his craft. The trifecta ended with a bouncy country ditty called “Coyote Run,” a fun song that set the tone for the rest of the night.
After a rip-roaring version of another Willy song called “Origami” the band busted out a surprise cover: a true to original version of Coolio’s 1995 hit “Gangstas Paradise.” The Erie crowd went crazy at the opening notes and loudly sang along with the band through every verse and chorus. With sweaty brows and smiles on the faces of both audience members and band members alike, Aqueous ended their set on an extreme high note, with a smoking musical sandwich with long time favorite “Dave’s Song” serving as the bread and “Eon Don” off the band’s first official full length album Giant Something suppling the meat. With that the group thanked the frenzied Erie crowd and left them begging for one more song.
Without leaving the stage Aqueous thanked the crowd and kicked into their encore with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Gantzer nailed Freddy Mercury’s vocal melodies on guitar as the Erie crowd provided the words. The band took the tune all the way through the familiar operatic section and just before Wayne and Garth would start head-banging in the Mirth Mobile, they launched into one of their most popular songs: “Warren In The Window,” written about a guy Ganzter saw at one of Aqueous’s previous stops to Erie. After “Warren” the band picked right back up with the ending of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” thus bringing the night to a close. Despite a highly intense display from Aqueous, the Erie crowd wasn’t ready to see the night come to a close as they called out for yet another encore until well after the venue’s curfew. The fans would just have to wait until March for their next local fix of this stellar band.
While the members of Aqueous are all very young, these guys are definitely the real deal. My advice is to take the opportunity to see these guys now. You’ll want to be able to say, “I saw Aqueous way back when…”