New Monsoon makes triumphant return to Memphis

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New Monsoon / Honeytribe
Newby’s
Memphis, Tennessee
March 8, 2008

Some things in life are sure bets.  Death is one, and taxes are another.  Add New Monsoon’s perseverence over a calvacade of line-up changes to that list.

honeytribe_1.jpg Last time they played Memphis was October of 2005.  Newby’s is a sizable room, and you could have heard a pin drop – roughly 20 people were there, and that’s no exaggeration.  This time through, though, the crowd had multiplied 7-fold.  Drawing 150 people is generally nothing to brag about, especially for a band with their skill that sells out venues in music-rich cities out west.   However, going from 20 to 150 is a definite victory for the band.

  Devon Allman’s Honeytribe opened the show, and as people filed in, they certainly took notice, albeit from the back of the room.  They opened the evening with the scorching instrumental "Mahalo," off of their album Torch, setting a pattern for the bulk of their set list – most of the tunes the band played were from their CD.

Allman is at times a vocal dead ringer for his father Gregg, but clearly inherited some decent guitar chops from his late uncle Duane.  The set included songs like "Nothing To Be Sad About," "Perfect World," and "Mercy, Mercy."  They closed with "Why You Wanna Bring Me Down," which had a neat little "Jessica" tease during it, followed by a nod to Allman’s heritage with the Allman Brothers Band’s "Midnight Rider."

nm_080308-1.jpg New Monsoon opened up their set with a killer version of "Greenhouse," and never looked back.  They followed it with a blistering version of "Song For Marie," a song driven by the top-notch guitar work of Jeff Miller. 

This was a different version of New Monsoon, a more streamlined version than graced the Newby’s stage last time.  Last time through, they were a seven-piece act.  Gone are Brian Carey and Raj Parikh on percussion and tabla.  Drummer Marty Ylitalo is now on stages nightly, painted blue as a member of the Blue Man Group.  They’ve gone through two bassists as well –  Ben Bernstein is now playing with Drew Emmitt, and Ron Johnson has come and gone.

The band’s opus, "Traveling Gypsies," was one of the songs that the old line-up really shined on, and fortunately, the smaller, streamlined band still blasts through the instrumental tune with all the vigor that the old unit had.  It opened with Bo Carper’s banjo runs, and Miller joined in, slowly building the tune to a head, at which point all hell broke loose and as if hitting a switch, the pace doubled, maybe tripled.  The subtle nuances of the song are much more noticable now that there are less "voices" on the stage.  Miller’s intricate, rhythmatic colorings were more obvious with less instruments to mic up and contend with.  The lead guitarist’s solo was stellar as well, and garnered whoops and hollers from the audience.

nm_080308-2.jpg After tearing through covers of the Who’s "Eminence Front" and Tom Waits’ "Get Behind The Mule," they offered up a new tune, "Seven Rivers."  Drummer Sean Hutchinson opened up the song on tabla, adding a little of what used to make New Monsoon so unique – the juxtaposition of instruments indigenous to so many different genres of music.  Hutchinson was possibly the unsung hero of the show.  His drumming was phenomenal all night.

After a take on the lesser-known Jimi Hendrix track "Izabella," they ran through a great version of V‘s "Copper Mine" before devlng into the Talking Heads’ catalogue with "Slippery People."

nm_080308-3.jpg Chugging ahead like a freight train, New Monsoon’s interpretation of "Slippery People" is a song that begs to be listened to with the windows down; fortunately there was a taper in the house to make that possible.  Miller and Carper shared the vocal duties, and they were as spot on as possible.  After another balls-to-the-wall Miller guitar solo, played over the perfectly timed drumming from Hutchinson, the band eventually meandered into "En Fuego."

Carper’s banjo leads here were great.  He’s a solid banjo player who plays within himself, which says a lot.  Sometimes banjo players seem to try to overplay, but he’s always well in control of his notes.  Phil Ferlino followed Carper with a phenomenal keyboard solo.  He’s another vastly underrated player in a terribly underrated band, and shows it every time he get the chance to shine.  Miller broke out the slide for a nice little solo, and not to be outdone, Carper did as well, adding some slide banjo to the song.

New Monsoon came back out for a quick one-song encore, "Stagger Lee."  Bands tend to play the Mississippi John Hurt song quite a bit when they come through, so this choice of cover was no shock.  The band did a good job, and it was a great way to end a stellar show.

Memphis is a very tough market to break into for non-local acts.  The San Francisco-based quintet should be quite pleased with the large jump in attendance numbers; the fans were definitely pleased with the music that emanated from stage.  

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