ZEN TRICKSTERS | 6.16 | NY

Tribeca Blues is a gem of a venue in the midst of a huge city that has a thousand other places to hear live music. What separates Tribeca from most of the others is how "house-proud" its owners are and to what extent they consider the comfort and enjoyment of their patrons. The place is small-it can't hold more than 200 people-it is also clean with a nice, comfy ambiance communicated through ubiquitous dark woods and brick walls with inset candles giving off just the right warmth and light. Last Saturday night, June 16, those brick walls were nearly torn down, candles and all, by the Zen Tricksters, who performed three incredible sets of music. This band has been around for a while and they not only are superb, seasoned musicians, but they know how to write songs, and they know how to put on a great show.

They started with an acoustic set which displayed, among other things, the versatility of both Trickster guitarists, Jeff Mattson on lead, and Tom Circosta on rhythm. They began with the Johnny Cash classic, "Folsom Prison Blues" and Mattson's basso voice boomed out the vocal while the rolling train groove got everybody dancing. Circosta then sang Grateful Dead chestnut, "Mama Tried" which was followed by a deeply pleading blues ditty, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," sung by bassist Klyph Black. This number threatened to rock the roof off. Switching from deep, throaty blues voice into one that was melodic and sweet, Black then brought the crowd near tears with an emotional "Box of Rain." The three-part vocal harmonies of Mattson, Black and Circosta were magical.

Mattson then sang the beautiful Garcia tune, "To Lay Me Down" and provided a signature guitar solo featuring melodious note streams which increased the emotional impact of the song tenfold. The beat picked up again with Black's original, "Down the Road," a road-house rouser that once again had the room hopping. They completed the set with a beautiful "Bird Song" that went way out in an ethereal jam, then melted into Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna," and then traveled back into a "Bird Song" reprise. The crowd was delighted and psyched for the two electric sets that would follow.

The Tricksters began the second set with Mattson's song "Eilat," from their second CD, A Love Surreal. This is a spirited tune with a lot of jump and an intense instrumental break that featured an amazing, Pete Levin on piano and organ. "Eilat" ran right into a rollicking version of Dylan favorite, "Tangled Up In Blue," enhanced with Zen Trickster magic. The room was vibrating with its collective racing pulse as Mattson brought the tempo and mood down to a mellow place with his tune, "The One," which is a beautiful love song of opportunity nearly missed. That segued into another Trickster original, "Say That I Am," sung by Black, with an incredible, searing guitar solo by Mattson that evoked the Allman Brothers at their most raging. The last half of the set featured "Scarlet Begonias" which had the floor and walls vibrating into a Black original, "Light of Life." Drummer Alan Lerner displayed his incredible sense of time as well as his considerable chops.

"Light of Life" blended into "Fire on the Mountain", which traditionally segues from "Scarlet Begonias", and the band had a feeding frenzy jamming the piece to bits! As if that weren't enough for the set, the Zens slipped from the end of "Fire" into a glorious version of "Morning Dew." Mattson's vocal on this tune imparts an emotional level that is difficult to describe. His singing is pleading, crying, and urgent at the same time. His guitar work on this song has become nearly legendary-it is a quiet solo, full of pathos, demanding silent attention. When you are standing in a roomful of people that have just been rocking and bopping and see them become suddenly quiet as a whisper in order to hear this solo, it is really something. The band left the stage to huge cheers from the crowd.

The third set of the evening began with the funky "Minglewood Blues," sung by Circosta and including some great, raging organ sounds by Levin. "Not Quite Enough," from the first Trickster CD, The Holy Fool, followed. This tune featured more great vocal harmonies from the band, which were right on target all night. A spacey jam ensued, and then several numbers featuring Black were played. His tune, "Hoodoo," is a screaming, swampy, and very jumping tune that had the room romping. He followed this with a raw version of blues classic, "Back Door Man." A melodic "Sugaree," sung by Mattson, was played, and then his original, "Warm Heart," which ran into a way-out-there jam. This interstellar piece wound down into a lyrical and heart-felt "Comes a Time," which again featured Mattson's sweet vocal and sweeter guitar solo. The tone of each string and every note seemed perfect.

A mighty "Samson and Delilah" completed the set and the Tricksters left the stage to tumultuous roars of approval. Despite the late hour, and the house music being turned up, the crowd made them come back for one more. The gathering was rewarded with an encore--a dripping, psychedelic version of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." There was an astonishing feeling of joy and satisfaction present in the room as people began to leave, some just smiling and shaking their heads in wonder.

by M. Bennett

[Published on: 6/19/01]

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