Words by: Josh Potter | Images by: Andy Hill
The Join, Steel Train, Alta Mira :: 12.28.07 :: Revolution Hall :: Troy, NY
For music lovers who know that you don't need a guitar for a good time, this post-Christmas, pre-NYE gig with The Join was a veritable wet dream. Two hours before show time, the giddy array of drums and keyboards Marco Benevento and Joe Russo (Benevento/Russo Duo) had amassed next to those of Darren Shearer and Jamie Shields (The New Deal) had set the crowd to a healthy titter. A boxy, two-level room, Revolution Hall can feel like the setting for a cage match, and with two keyboard/drum duos set up in perfect symmetry, it didn't seem entirely inconceivable that the venue would actually provide an announcer to explain the rules of engagement.
| The Join :: 12.28.07|
Instead of an announcer, two opening acts graced the tiny vacant sliver of stage. Local favorites Alta Mira started things off with a collection of proggy pop-songs. Odd time signatures propelled (and sometimes beguiled) melodramatic vocals with obvious nods to both Pearl Jam and Incubus. Rising indie-tweakers Steel Train piled in next and proceeded to hit hard with their uber-infectious brand of mop-top-rock. Jersey to the core, the Boss clearly had their backs, even when U2-esque intros gave way to Strokes-style abandon. Most surprising were their lengthy, driving, Band of Gypsys conjuring blues assaults.
The Join is a sporadic project put together by Shields and Shearer, born in the absence of New Deal bassist Dan Kurtz. The rotating cast of support musicians has featured members of The Disco Biscuits, Umphrey's McGee, STS9, The Duo, and Brother's Past. As Shearer would later elucidate, this mini-tour was the first time these four artists had played together since their performance at this past summer's Re:Generation Festival, and, like always, the material was entirely off-the-cuff. It all started with a bass groove from one of Shields' synthesizers. Without hesitation, Shearer followed his bandmate's lead and launched a hallmark house beat that lasted, through various incarnations, for 45 minutes.
| Jamie Shields - The Join :: 12.28.07|
The first set began with intense communication between like instruments. Shields would offer a motif while Benevento would ease his way in with ambient, delay-affected Rhodes, hovering organ, and circuit-bent gadgetry. Shearer began in telepathic fashion, as the template was his familiar, high-octane live-house. While Shields gestured changes to Benevento, Shearer signaled instructions to Russo. Russo was reticent at first, unsure of his place within the mix. With Shearer skating about on the high-hat and snare, Russo pulsed away at his floor tom and occasionally added tinny accompaniment on a metal salad bowl he had mounted next to his snare. Sporting gents, the band would occasionally cut away to feature Russo alone, in compensation for his reserved role early on. But slowly, the formula was established. As Shields' motifs were handed around from keyboard to keyboard, the low end gave way to the thunderous drum line. Pretty soon full genres were being passed back and forth, with house beats birthing post-rock celebrations, and organ-driven soul grooves building into reggaeton. Before the first set came to a close, it was clear that this was more than a celebrity jam or a battle of the bands. And while traces of the Duo's "Hate Frame" might have been evident at times, this was a pure "mayhemical, havocal groove" as Shearer put it.
Set break appeared to be just the thing to reboot The Join's chemistry. Shields started with markedly more patience, and while acute listening eliminated the necessity for hand-gestures, a wholly organic set emerged. Russo stepped up from the get-go, forcing the quirky, off-kilter grooves that are his bread and butter into Shearer's techno traffic. The result was an athletic responsivity from both drummers. Benevento favored his organ from the start, working his left hand in counterpoint to Shields' robotic synth lines. As the first piece fizzled, Benevento dug in on Rhodes, launching a climactic Duo-esque coda that set the standard for the rest of the show and earned the admiration of his fellow musicians.
| Marco Benevento - The Join :: 12.28.07|
The set continued with an upbeat, melodic theme. But in symphonic fashion, the music-box keyboard tones grew dark and Shields drove a sci-fi, space-rock groove into nebulous territory. While ideas in the earlier part of the show were addressed and abandoned, here full songs were being fleshed out on the spot. Through sheer repetition and responsivity, a repertoire-less band was amassing a catalog. All had become loose and intuitive. After one groove dissolved into a drum duel, an abstract Led Zeppelin romp was enough to remind listeners that these guys weren't, however, flying entirely without a net. Shields did, after all, substitute for Benevento during the Bustle In Your Hedgerow set at this summer's Camp Bisco.
By the end of a lengthy encore, marked by Russo's clowning and Shields' beaming contentment, the results had come in: both guitars and heroes were obsolete here. While hope for a future New Deal tour is not entirely grim and the likelihood of Join/Duo collaborations is decidedly modest, this was a show of music born in the moment - something bound to erupt amongst musicians who know how to make it happen.
JamBase | New York
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