July 21, 2007
Words by Michael Kaiz
With New Monsoon touring as a five-piece (percussionists Rajiv Parikh and Brian Carey are only performing at Bay Area shows while they watch their newborns grow,) and the release of the band’s new album V, five o’clock seemed to be an appropriate time to arrive for the band’s visit to Chicago. The skies were clear and the temperature mild when the band’s bus rolled into the parking space that banjo/guitarist Bo Carper was holding right in front of Martyr’s door.
Opening up for New Monsoon was a relatively new band on the Chicago scene. The Hue is a quartet of hard rockers. Having formed five months ago, they have already played some high profile shows in Chicago, opening up for MMW at the House of Blues being the highlight to date.
Playing bass for The Hue, Geoff Shell has the ability to shape a band with his technique, and guitarist Marcus Rezak’s leads are crisp and focused. During “Hot Giardiniera,” a tight groove jam, Rezak provides the sound of a keyboard with the right combination of effects while the band’s other guitarist, Jared Rabin, flashed some fancy riffs. The lone sore spot on the band’s sound are drummer Brian Gilmanov’s over aggressive fills, which can collapse the melodic texture that the guitarists are trying to propagate before the movement reaches realization.
While the septet of New Monsoon has become a quintet, another change has taken place in the band’s lineup. With a professional career spanning 15 years, Ron Johnson brings a new level of experience in playing the bass to New Monsoon. Without the percussionists, it’s up to him to pick up the slack in supporting Phil, Bo, and guitarist Jeff Miller. Drummer Marty Ylitao and Johnson have developed some great chemistry in their time playing together, and the bassist is often the spark that ignites the tempest that rages on the dance floor.
As the lights went down, the band faded into “Song for Marie.” The difference of the band’s sound is apparent right from the start. In the intro, Ferlino has more room to inflect his own soul on the performance. Carper’s acoustic can be heard as a part of the whole, rather than having to focus to catch pieces of his playing. The band can let the highs float and ease back, giving a feel of more control.
The four main components of music are pitch, rhythm, timbre (the voicing of an instrument), and dynamics. In a band performance, dynamics can be used to stimulate audiences in the same way that a melody can convey emotion or the rhythm can instill fury. New Monsoon has had a flat dynamic in the past, not varying the intensity or loudness of different parts of a song. With the new lineup, the band can hold back or crank it out at will, providing them with more control of the environment of the performance.
Carper led the band into “Romp” by way of a magnificent banjo solo, and as he carried the rhythm into the main song, Miller’s licks ran around the banjo theme. This tune feels like it could be playing as you walk into a saloon while traveling the old west with Butch Cassidy. “Other Side” is a funky twist on a more modern San Francisco sound; during the tune the band’s new sound man had to run on stage to tend to Ferlino’s keyboard monitor, saving the day just in time for his solo.
In “Patato’s Mission,” a distortion of Ferlino’s organ intertwined with Miller’s riffs while Carper provided some percussive support with a shaker made from three pipes. “Sunrise” started off with Miller playing backwards feeling riffs, probably through the use of a slight swell. Carper tapped out a funky accompaniment to Miller’s lead, and then the solid chords of “Dark Perimeter” emerged from Carper’s Martin.
Carper brought the band into “Country Interlude” with a Michael Hedges-esque finger tapping intro, and in an instant, the well-rounded notes gave way to a tune that makes you feel like you’re on a horse’s back, traversing the Great Basin. At times the horse lopes along at a slow pace, and then he’ll take you to a gallop. Carper’s marvelous finger tapping theme returned as Miller and the rhythm section held the chords of the tapping progression for one bar each, reprising the intro with a fuller character to the sound. As the horse returned to a gallop that could only be spurred by Pinkertons on your tail, Miller’s jazzy riffs started soaring by like bullets blazing past the rider’s ears.
“Alaska” is a song that begins with a finger-picking acoustic sound, Miller’s inflections supporting – not altering – the tune’s feel. The song, written after New Monsoon toured in Alaska last summer, tells the story of crime, family, and desperation that America. A wanted man is jailed as his daughter’s fame, through music, brings to much attention to his whereabouts. Telling her audience that he was wrongly imprisoned, the crowd storms the jail and sets him free. Fleeing through Canada, back to their home of Alaska, father and daughter find themselves free to live out their days, courtesy of Alaska’s pardon.
The low mystical hum of Johnson’s bass gave Ferlino the freedom to stretch things out on the way into “Traveling Gypsies.” As the signature lick of the song found its way from Carper’s banjo, Jeff jumped in, the combination of banjo and electric guitar making for a psychedelic Celtic jig. Spinning like a mad hatter is about all one can do to keep up with this wild ride of a song. The band took it back a notch, and the subtle notes gave way to the set break.
The second set kicked off with a healthy dose of Carper’s acoustic stylings, which lead into “Sweet Brandywine.” Ferlino’s Leslie took this song to new places, the hopeful outlook of the song intensified by the freedom that the musicians have on stage.
Later in the set, New Monsoon paid tribute to one of Miller’s biggest influences, Santana, the day after Carlos’ birthday by playing "Incident at Neshabur." The band really pinned down the extended up and down flow of the tune.
While “Drivewheel” lends itself to the sound of a harmonica (like at the Petaluma Theater with Peter Lachs, back in April of this year,) the audience member playing blues harp in the front row was a bit intrusive at their Martyr’s show. Regardless, the title really sums the song up; it feels like your rolling down the highway with the top down.
To close out the show, the band’s attention shifted to one of Carper’s strongest influences when the play ed “Stagger Lee,” a song made memorable by Mississippi John Hurt’s 1928 recording of the classic blues tune, about a dispute between old friends that ends in gunfire. The tune was a perfect choice to finish a great night.
Set 1: Song For Marie, On The Sun, Romp, The Other Side, Patato’s Mission, Sunrise > Dark Perimeter, Country Interlude, Alaska, Traveling Gypsies
Set 2: Sweet Brandywine, Water Vein, 3 Tenors, Neon Block, Incident at Neshabur, 2:19, Drivewheel
Encore: Stagger Lee