New Monsoon at Last Concert Cafe, 5/10/2014
Take them or leave them, jam bands have been a steady force on the touring circuit since the touring circuit has been the touring circuit. Thanks to the grandfathers of the genre, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, plus arena-filling predecessors like Phish, Widespread Panic and Dave Matthews Band, the scene has continued to thrive thanks to rigorous touring schedules and rabidly loyal fan bases that continue to buy up tickets to every show they can.
And while these bands will never share the commercial successes of more radio-friendly rock bands like Coldplay and the Black Keys, their fans don't need that. They crave the live experience that has kept jam bands alive and kicking for so long.
Because jam bands are the best players around. They care more about what they're doing onstage with their instrument than any other type of genre. They don't need to look cool, they just want to be happy playing the music they love with as many talented improvisational musicians as they can.
And this was all evident at Last Concert Café this weekend where San Francisco noodlers New Monsoon took residency for their second annual GaryFest. In honor of their former manager and operator of Houston-based Tapir Productions Gary Hartman, who lost his life in 2012, New Monsoon took the stage at LCC for several sets of music over the course of both Friday and Saturday evenings. With a slew of guests slated to join the band for a promised weekend of unique collaboration, LCC was the place to be whenever you were finished with any Art Car festivities you might have found yourself a part of earlier in the day.
The rain and a busy Friday kept me away from LCC for the first night, but I couldn't go without seeing New Monsoon at least once when they were in town. Regularly coming to Houston for more than ten years, NM have steadily developed a nice little home-away-from-home fan base in town and always do well when they play here. Walking into LCC's packed backyard, and even despite the threat of rain, it seemed as if nothing had changed.
"Countless" is the only term to describe the amount of shows NM has played here, so it almost feels as if you're seeing a local band. The group members are friends with just about everyone who comes to see them, which helps with the local-yet-not-local feel even more. You can tell the band also gives a little more than usual when they're in Houston as well, making it that much more special. The anything-goes vibe at LCC doesn't hurt either.
And then there's the music. New Monsoon is the definition of a jam band, building songs on the spot while adding solos and extended grooves to fill them out. For this performance, they re-imagined their classic live album, 2005's Live at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, with the help of a few friends. Although going through a few personnel changes over the years, specifically in their rhythm section, for this performance they reunited with original percussion duo Brian Carey and Marty Ylitalo. Also, just for the festival, they were joined by guitarist Dan "Lebo" Lebowitz from Bay Area bretheren ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) and fiddle player Tim Carbone from bluegrass jammers Railroad Earth.
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