When Phish comes to New York City for their customary 4-night New Years run, the city is always overrun with pre-shows and after-parties that bring some equally extraordinary music. To help ring in 2017, we have compiled our five favorite non-Phish shows of the weekend, with galleries of each.
Aqueous w/ special guests Mungion
Aqueous has been making some serious noise recently, winning over fans in the followings of bands like Dopapod and Twiddle with their jaw-dropping rock shows.
They took hold of DROM-NYC on night one (12/28), and got it kicked off to a funky start, with a well-developed improv jam. This gave the feeling that they had jumped into a jam, skippiing the build-up, simply attesting to the band’s level of their comfortability with one another. Riding the pervading funk feeling early on, they went into David Bowie’s “Fame,” played extra slow, and extra gooey, the band waltzed through it with some real bravado.
As an awesome little surprise to the room, the band invited Turkuaz’s Craig Brodhead to play on one of their originals, “Origami.” Thanks to Brodhead’s specialty playing, the resulting blues-style jam coasted along nicely.
Aqueous, at the heart, has a steel-edged, hard rock sound, propelled by wizard guitarist Mike Gantzer, who shreds like no other around. During their next tune, the band all landed on this wicked improvised riff, the kind you can coast on for a time because it’s just so crunchy. But it was on top of this riff that Gantzer really let loose, with a classic-sounding guitar solo that shook DROM’s basement walls, and vied for top solo of the entire weekend.
For their huge debut on the Phish post-NYE scene, Mungion, the four-piece jazz-tinged jamband booked it down that day, from their home city of Chicago, and threw down an amazing set, then immediately packed it into the tour van to head directly for Ohio. Mungion is a unique new entry into the jam world, with incredibly focused live playing that displays the breadth of their intricate, sometimes dizzying compositions. Ending their set on a strong note, guitarist Justin Reckamp took some stride and led the band into a breezy, uplifting jam that stocked the crowd’s energy for the night at a very high level.
Kung Fu can be referred to aptly and fairly as a band of five frontmen. They have a guitarist, bassist, saxophonist, keyboardist and drummer, all playing and improvising in a constant dance and whirl around one another, rather than fully settling into the typical zones of these instruments. They never step on each other’s toes musically, rather, it all manages to coalesce into one beautiful, chaotic, but locked-down, burst of sound and musical color.
They played a Phish after-party on December 29, at The Cutting Room. Opening with a Kung Fu classic, “Hammer,” the band conjured up a crazy level of energy immediately, as is their forte. After this first banger, saxophonist says, “The name of the band is Kung Fu,” in a way that puts a name to the wild explosion of sound just experienced by all the new fans. To play for a crowd of fans amped up by a night of Phish must have been a big deal to the band, and they could not have rocked the golden opportunity any better. Their set, in it’s jazz-spastic manner, was fearless from the first not to the last.
In the middle of their late night show, Kung Fu dropped two back-to-back covers, the first being the Edgar Winter (and transitively Phish) staple “Frankenstein,” and the second was a version of Phish’s “Gumbo.” The Edgar Winter number soared out of a nice segue from their own tune, and was played double-time, and that classic, hard rock riff, played at double tempo, was stellar to behold. Keyboardist Beau Sasser let loose for the first time of the night here. Saxophonist Robert Sommerville precluded “Gumbo,” by saying the band was going to try something first the first time ever, and they nailed it, also playing in a faster tempo than the original.
Amidst the surging, frenetic energy that takes over the city on Phish New Year’s runs, Holly Bowling’s solo sets were a perfect contrast of musical style and mood for the lucky, intimate audiences. Intimate in feeling, although the crowds were literally piling inside to see her performances, one at 4pm on Friday afternoon, and the other later that night, post-Phish.
Her first set was a tribute to one of Phish’s most celebrated albums, 1996’s Billy Breathes. Fans will readily attest to the breathtaking quality of this record, and to hear it handled with the sounds and styling of Bowling on piano was a special treat. Her way of playing, which is sometimes delicate, but other times full and staggering, put that much more sparkle on what are some of Phish’s prettiest songs.
“Free,” for whoever plays or covers it, will forever be hard to beat as a show opener, and Holly jumped right into weaving her tapestry of sound, with a huge and resounding take on the first track of the album. But modulation of speed and mood is something Holly also does very well, such as when “Character Zero” was dialed way back into a lush version of “Waste.”
“Theme From The Bottom,” saw Holly start to have some fun on the inside of her grand piano, plucking and vibrating key strings for a bizarre effect. This built into her longest and most adventurous jam of the night, for a grand take on the song. Her own creative improvisation here on “TFTB” might have been a slight nod to the way Phish jammed out the tune, one night previously.
The Magic Beans
The Magic Beans play a pure form of funk and rock, which has been drumming up praise in many of the touring circles in which they exist. Their commitment to a sense of refinement in their sound, and an overall rhythmic tightness, makes for a refreshing revival of an awesome, old-school feel. It’s like a band transported from the 1970s, that has quickly learned how to dominate the jamming appetite of today.
They played multiple nights at American Beauty NYC, December 30th seeing “Jabu,” as the opener, demonstrating that the band could modulate a repetitive groove, in succinct manner that made their elongated playing style continuously mesmerizing. They can also splurge into some sonic distortion, and their jams are not without the occasional soaring climax of intensity.
The notes of every single solo Casey Russell played on keys fit perfectly in the various pockets of groove created by the guitarist and rhythm section of the band, and the man never seemed anywhere near off, not even once. Then midway through their jam on “Five Points” they invited up Formula 5’s keyboardist Matt Richards, who nailed the opportunity with some inspired soloing.
The Magic Beans’ style played first rate takes on two Prince tunes, first a bubbly, hoppy “1999,” (often welcomed as an end of the year jam) which was sandwiched within their own tune, “Night Games,’ then “Kiss,” which overjoyed the already thriving crowd.
The music of Stafford is a pretty wonderful mixed bag, a concoction of multiple types of heady musical styles, from stellar prog rock to psychedelic space to cow-funk. While the range between these styles might sound on paper like a lot to handle, the jams of this group are often long, sprawling and patient, forging these various ends seamlessly.
The opener “Eyes of Thieves” set things off on a funky path, puppeteering the entire crowd in a dance craze with “Bee Jam,” and ending on “All In.”
Quickly enough, Spafford brandished different musical shades, intensifying their jams with peak after scaling musical peak, that bowled over the crowd again and again. The crest of these moments were highlighted by shredding, thrilling guitar work of Brian Moss. “Electric Taco Stand,” probably their most popular tune currently, sandwiched a jam on “Dis Go in 5,” a glorious synthesis of everything they had to offer; first channeling along a hypnotic, undulating trance groove, then surging into some serious jamming heat.
They capped off their first night at American Beauty with a really heartfelt rendition of “Beautiful Day,” a slow but soulful and powerful original song. It’s sung on lead vocals by keyboardist Red Johnson, who dropped the jaws, of some first-time fans at least, with his pristine voice.
Written and Photographed by Miles Hurley