It is difficult being a “critic” when everything is going right. At some point, you run out of superlatives, and even the hyperbole no longer seems that over-the-top. And music is in and of the moment. You can try to compare it to something that happened yesterday or last month or 40 years ago, but ultimately it is all about how the music makes you feel “at this time, in this place.” We view everything in terms of time, more recent memories often stronger than older ones.
I just needed to get all of that out of the way before shredding what little is left of my credibility by telling you that last night’s show at the Crowbar in Tampa, the CD release party for Displace, with guests Voodoo Visionary, Row Jomah and DJ K-Slat, was the greatest night of my musical life. POOF! There it goes! Like dust in the wind.
Assuming you’re snorting but still reading, here goes:
No, I might as well keep tilting at windmills for a moment. I HATE top [pick a number] lists of concerts, guitar players, faceplants, whatever. Especially the guitar player thing. There are thousands upon thousands of amazing guitar players everywhere. We’ll never hear but a tiny fraction of a percent of them. Case in point: last night, three great players, no, four, really, make that five great guitar players. And that was just at one small bar on a Friday night in April.
Row Jomah is a really solid jam quartet who meld fusion, funk and rock into a very enjoyable mix. (Be sure to catch them Friday, May 1st, at WMNF’s Tropical Heatwave and Thursday, May 14th, at Orange Blossom Jamboree.) They shot out of the gate with two strong songs from their upcoming June release. “Tell Me” segued into “Fire and Ice,” and heads were already bobbing. Leader Joe Roma plays acoustic guitar which comes through really well in the mix (and a big shout-out to both soundmen – great mix and no earplugs needed). His acoustic matched up well with some excellent solos from Melbourne Walsh on electric guitar.
The keyboards also really stand out for Row Jomah. Austin Llewellyn gave his electric piano and organ extended workouts during the set. Somewhere in the midst of the last two songs (“Choke” and “Cat People”), Walsh took a monster solo, followed by a great bass workout from Jason Berlin, sitting down on the job due to a recent motorcycle accident. That led into the Star Wars “Cantina Band” song, eventually into a great drum feature showing off Dylan Chee-A-Tow’s talents. It was a very well-received set and a harbinger of the magnificence that would follow.
Music between sets was provided by my favorite local DJ, K-Slat. If you’ve encountered a number of DJs, then you know there are all types of styles, from EDM and dubstep to “lighter fare.” K-Slat specializes in deep house music, and once again he was on top of his game. Dance music makes you feel good. I’m not so sure about that other stuff.
Voodoo Visionary hails from Atlanta, and they are managed by Bret Peretz, who also manages Displace when he’s not falling through roofs. VV had just released their debut album at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta on March 12th, and this was their very first foray into Florida. (It won’t be the last.) I had watched a couple of videos, so I knew I was going to like this. A lot. But…
It took Voodoo Visionary all of three whole minutes to bring the really deep, deep funk. Just WOW! I was hearing elements of Phish and Widespread Panic and… they just crushed it. CRUSHED IT. My thought at the time: they can play with anybody. Anybody. I also confess I thought they should cover some Eric Quincy Tate songs. Well, somebody should, and they sound like just the guys to do it. Never mind.
VV played a number of songs from their album Spirit of the Groove. The rhythm section of Jimmy Lynch and Mac Schmitz pushed the pace the entire set. Add Mike Wilson to your list of fabulous guitar players; he blistered solo after solo. And keyboard wizard Dennis Dowd was simply amazing. This band is so strong.
I love Scott MacDonald’s vocals (and it’s not just because he has a great first name). MacDonald’s face reflected the sheer joy he and his bandmates were having in this environment. VV closed their great set with “Testify” and “Take the Wheel” from the new album.
DJ K-Slat kept his end of the bargain, keeping everyone grooving while the equipment was changed. This was the only glitch of the evening, an overlong set-up and soundcheck before Displace would hit the stage. Finally, the band was ready, playing a short song to get the sound right. And then they walked off stage!
Only to walk right back out! Chris Sgammato said, “This is Eureka!” (the name of the new CD). What followed will always seem legendary – to me. No matter how great I thought the new album was, this was in another galaxy.
“Generation Sloan” clocked in at about 17 minutes, and it was evident by then to the mob in front of the stage that this was simply going to explode. “I Want to Sing” kept everything in check – briefly, but a beyond-sick 20-minute version of “Fog” returned the crowd to its frenzied state. Vinny Svoboda was having another monster night on bass, and Tucker Sody had everything anchored on drums.
“Old Bread” provided the opportunity for the band to “displace,” as Sgammato picked up a bass, Sody went to synth pad, and Svoboda moved to the drum chair. Then, there was a brief paused, as the three went back to their regular instruments.
Every time I write about Displace, I make some mention about “Geonosis Shuffle,” because it is my favorite of their songs and because it is one of the greatest dance jams I’ve ever heard. So, yes, I AM obsessed. I was sitting on the riser at stage right, close to guitarist extraordinaire Sam Dobkin. Dobkin leaned over and said, “This one’s for you.” Melting into a puddle, once again, thank you very much.
The “Geonosis Shuffle” that ensued was insane, off the hook, wonderful, and I sure hope this show was recorded. Sgammato shifted from guitar to alto sax and back, and the groove was just so deep. The brief “Accidental Necessity” and the other main vocal tune, “In Plain Terms,” followed, and then the boys went off for a very short break. Within minutes, they were back for a tumble through “Hillsborough River Rapids.”
Beatrice made a brilliant observation. Drummer Tucker Sody was on stage left facing his band mates. This allowed for even better interaction among the band members, adding to the enormity of the performance. He and Svodoba were constantly grinning at each other, clearly swept up in the groove and the moment (all 150 of them!). She also reminded me to shout the wonderful laser show during the band’s sets. It was awesome!
Somehow, Displace managed to maintain this superb performance through the fun of “Don’t Fret” and “Needles (Pts. 1 & 2).” At this point, my notes failed me, because I was numb. Fortunately, they didn’t get enough money for their Kickstarter-like promotion to get naked, although Sgammato continued to promise they would.
With the encore songs, the band managed to stretch one album to two and a half hours, and the Crowbar folks were truly kind to allow the music to go on so long after normal quitting time. As I walked to my car, I continued to reflect on the evening’s events. And I thought:
MUSIC IS LIFE.
MUSIC IS THE BEST (thanks, Frank Zappa).
THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS.