New Monsoon/EOTO | 02.09 | SF

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Susan J. Weiand

EOTO/New Monsoon :: 02.09.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA


Bo Carper - New Monsoon :: 02.09 :: The Fillmore
As the parent of a 16-month-old boy, I've become quite the student of human development. Evolution unfolds before me daily, like a time-elapsed flower in a nature documentary opening to full blossom with shaky determination. I might not always see it coming but it's unmistakable when he reaches a new plateau. Suddenly the world opens up and what was impossible for him a few days before becomes commonplace. Hitherto unknown muscles flex and fresh possibilities open up to delight him.

The same halting development takes place in bands, too. It's not always easy to pick up on the subtle, incremental steps as they're taking place but when a crucial new gestation is complete there's a similar exultant feel, naked joy unfurling with surer, swifter fingers calling the tune. Last Saturday night New Monsoon took some mighty big steps in front of a wall-to-wall hometown audience in their finest Fillmore showing yet.

First, let's spare a few thoughts for opener, EOTO, the post-SCI project of percussionists Jason Hann and Michael Travis. Focusing on instrumental improvisation and the shape-shifting opportunities of live mixing, EOTO merged synths, programmed beats and loops with live instrumentation propelled by Hann's clockwork tight trap drumming. Travis largely eschewed percussion in this setting, instead juggling electric guitar, keys, bass and whatever else the muses drove him to.

Michael Travis - EOTO :: 02.09 :: The Fillmore
EOTO began like a heat wave on the horizon that slowly formed into a pleasant mirage. A particularly elfin Michael Kang joined them for this performance, and his silver tipped mandolin exclamations and sharp violin jaunts filled in the overall sound nicely. This is electronica in much the same way STS9 or Lotus play it. There are too many human hands on the notes to be pure machine music but it owes something significant to technology. Glitchy little clicks and blood warm wooshes pushed many sections along, and one picked up on a profound sense of freedom in their playing. By improvising every moment, every night, EOTO completely escapes the enormous expectations that surrounded String Cheese. As such, the music flowed with an exuberance I hadn't heard at SCI shows in some time. It's not a particularly groundbreaking sound - The Orb and Steve Hillage & System 7 got here in the early '90s – but for an hour and change they made the molecules dance, and you can't ask for much more than that.

New Monsoon have always been stupid good musicians with compositions full of interesting changes and compelling musical ideas, but only a few minutes into this performance one picked up on a special kick inside the music, something with great reach and vitality being born before our eyes. New-ish instrumental "Seven Rivers" sliced away the occasional excesses of the past and provided a sprightly launching pad. When they aren't singing New Monsoon come across like worthy descendants of Return To Forever or Traffic, or perhaps the ballsy, electricity riddled children of Michael Hedges. Great skill intermingled with undisguised passion on each of the many instrumentals, but the wordless singing in their compositions sang out with more direct force than at almost any NM show I've ever seen, and I've seen plenty.

Karan & Miller :: 02.09 :: The Fillmore
The change comes from the basement up, with drummer Sean Hutchinson and new bassist Marshall Harrell hitting a thick, smooth groove that pulled us forward with serious gravity. It was refreshing to have a pocket player on bass after Ron Johnson and Ben Bernstein, both talented guys but also both players who hankered for the spotlight in a way that Harrell doesn't. Instead, he served the songs in a way that gave them body and uplifted the frontline of Bo Carper (banjo, acoustic guitar, vocals), Phil Ferlino (keys, vocals) and Jeff Miller (electric guitar, vocals). Hutchinson has fully settled into his role now, coming off the blocks with greater restraint and confidence. That same athletic vigor fits the rest of the band, too. The hungry focus I picked up on at Las Tortugas last October has become more refined, with the whole group trimming away the fat and revealing only the best parts of what they do.

That same insightful instinct carried over to the covers at The Fillmore. The Talking Heads' "Slippery People" found Carper singing with enormous confidence while the band bounced hard to the NYC-meets-Afrobeat pulse. They shined just as brightly on The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus," which closed the first set, and Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Dark Star" in the second set. New Monsoon, like the best bands that take on other's material, inhabited these tunes in a way that expanded the originals with nuances of their own. In a sign that music is always shifting for them, the version of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" late in the show contrasted wildly with the Freddie King-like drawl they brought to it in Yosemite. Played in front of a panting full house, Miller poured the nitro glee of Buddy Guy into it while also tapping into Young's delightful guitar meanness. Perhaps the highlight of the covers was the encore of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with guest guitarist Mark Karan (RatDog) etching Harrison/McCartney worthy lines in a near perfect take on a song most just mangle. "Guitar" is melancholy gold bands usually just smudge but Karan and New Monsoon delivered a full-bodied interpretation that wasn't mimicry but retained The Beatles' spirit.

Harrell & Carbone :: 02.09 :: The Fillmore
Karan wasn't the only superlative guest at these proceedings. Railroad Earth violinist Tim Carbone proved a devilish catalyst throughout his many appearances in both sets. Carbone is an elegant, entrancing player who simply makes things better on an intrinsic level. His presence, both musically and personality-wise, was a continual spark to the Monsoon boys, especially Ferlino and Miller, who share palpable chemistry with the violinist. The second set opened with all of EOTO and former New Monsoon tablist Rajiv Parikh onstage for a massive but never messy "Hanbonne Improv" that resurrected the vibe of Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band - a trundling juggernaut that remarkably never toppled over or ran too far astray despite ten musicians cooking away with obvious abandon.

It's that kind of exultant expertise that New Monsoon exhibited on every selection at The Fillmore. Passion remains strong but the confidence, candor and clarity of their playing and singing has reached a new level. More than a few longtime fans (and a number of band spouses) came to the same conclusion all on their own: this might be the best performance of this band's career. Like pro football, we'll have to go to the tape to be absolutely sure but they soared again and again like hawks catching currents in a blue sky, diving with sharp cries and rising with unspoken grace. New Monsoon redeemed the whole idea of "fusion," where jazz mastery meets the mood and fluctuations of rock, and the best parts of both birth something new and exciting. At The Fillmore this new thing took a leap into the unknown future but there's little doubt it will plant the landing with twinkle toed flair.

02.09.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA

02.09.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
Set I: Seven Rivers, Slippery People, Southern Dew (1), Velvet Pouch (1), Mountain Air (1), The Other Side, Song For Marie, I Am The Walrus *(1)
Set II: Jam (1,2,3,4,5), Dark Star **(1,2,3), Daddy Longlegs (1), Alaska (1), Modus Operandi, Don't Let It Bring You Down, Lotus Dreams (1,4)
Encore: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (6), Bridge of the Gods (1)
Notes:
1 with Tim Carbone (RRE), fiddle
2 with Jason Hann (EOTO), percussion
3 with Michael Travis (EOTO), percussion
4 with Rajiv Parikh, tablas
5 with Michael Kang, electric mandolin
6 with Mark Karan, electric guitar
* first time played, Beatles cover
**first time played, Crosby, Stills, and Nash cover

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[Published on: 2/12/08]

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Comments

Sizlunt starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/12/2008 07:22PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Sizlunt

I was at this show, and I agree, it was kick ass. I think in a couple years, New Monsoon will be a large crowd drawing band. Now, myself and several people in the audience who were strangers to me, noticed that too often it is hard to find something to grab onto in the music. This comment should not be misinterpreted to mean that they played badly; they didn't. The played very well. What lacks, for me at least, is that their jams and songs don't completely gel into the magic zone. It is a milimeter of difference between a good, competent performance, and a magical one that you won't ever forget. It's that last milimeter of difference that I don't think that they have quite reached, but that I could hear wanting to come out throughout the night. Couple more years, it'll be there and they will have large crowds. Right now, enjoy it while you can while it is new, experimental, intimate, and quite good.

Justin Gillett Tue 2/12/2008 07:22PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Justin Gillett

HELL YES!!!

Diongoma Tue 2/12/2008 07:48PM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Diongoma Tue 2/12/2008 08:04PM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
PooDolla starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/12/2008 10:40PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

PooDolla

This show was really good. From start to finish. EOTO killed it as well. Kang started off the set on electric guitar, then picked up his violin, then ended the set on his mandolin. All good stuff. I went to the show really hoping to see everyone get up on stage at once and sure enough it happened. Fuckin' stellar!!!!

PooDolla Tue 2/12/2008 10:41PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

PooDolla

EOTO needs to do some more shows with Kang.

Sizlunt Tue 2/12/2008 10:56PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Sizlunt

Poodolla, 100% agree, good call.

androckguitar starstarstarstar Wed 2/13/2008 04:02AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

androckguitar

Great Review. I heard good things about this show...I see New Monsoon every time I have the chance to, but missed this one due to being in Europe. an't wait to see the new line-up this summer!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/13/2008 04:56AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

you californians are so SPOILED. we never see stuff like this in the southeast. damnit!!!!! I am a frustrated MF right now.

"it will plant the landing with twinkle toed flair." <<<< thats funny.

grtwent1 Wed 2/13/2008 11:45AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Diongoma - you might want to put down the flamethrower. You don't even sound like you were at the show or a fan of the band. I've been seeing the band since 2000 and thought the band went from having some guy who looked like he was having fun playing bass (Bernstein) to one who was bored at best, pissed off at worse (Ron). Happy trails to both, but the future of the New, New Monsoon is here and I for one am psyched!

gmoo Wed 2/13/2008 12:26PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

gmoo

New Monsoon puts a smile on my face. I hope the come to the midwest soon.

Diongoma Wed 2/13/2008 03:17PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Diongoma

grtwent1- Ok, I don't want to get into a pissing match, but The Flamethrower has been fanned out by Jambase's take on the 1st Amendment. Look near the top of the comments and you'll see where freedom of speech once lived. I have to say that I'm now concerned that any critique of Dennis Cook could be removed. I've always loved Jambase, but now saddened by their use of censorship. Just to be clear, I am a fan of New Monsoon. I even ended my comment with 'New Monsoon in 08!' That's why we went to the show. I even got a POSTER! Seeing Raj again was great! And Mark Karan and Tim..it was all good! Loved Sue's pictures and was I cool drodging through the metaphors when suddenly, like the rawhide striking Mighty Casey’s bat, wham!! The Ron statement. Where did that come from. I like the new bass player and I liked Ben. But Ron is a great guy! Always makes time for fans after the shows and is one the most humble players on the scene (and nastiest). He's also one of the reasons we went to the show this year, and last January. To throw a negative swipe at a guy that is ALL about ‘the pocket’ was just wrong and doesn't make much sense. If you ever met him you'd know. Also, just because a guy has a serious look on his face doesn't mean he's bored or pissed. Take a look at Kai Eckart, Garrett Sayers, John Scofield or Charlie Hunter's 'Game Faces' when they're playing- They look mean as hell!! But are all really REALLY nice guys. Sure they smile every now and then, but when the groove is DEEP the face reflects it. If you need smiles to make the music sound better, then maybe you should stick with Up with People. Jambase censoring comments?? Rewriting articles? What up with that? You're killing my high from a really special night...

Oh, and the EOTO with ‘the elfin Kang’ (??) was great!

Sizlunt Wed 2/13/2008 04:36PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Sizlunt

I didn't have a problem with what you said. You were critiquing the writing, not making fun of the band. Maybe should have been said a bit more tactfully is all.

I agree in a way actually. These articles almost always just fawn over the artist, I always feel like the guy writing them is putting on a pitch for the band instead of giving an honest review of the show.

And ya, the elfin Kang comment. WTF is that.

ProfFrink starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/13/2008 04:47PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

What, you've never wanted to put Kang in your pocket and take him home? I know I have. He's so tiny and adorable.

mojowrkn starstar Wed 2/13/2008 05:18PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

mojowrkn

Seriously fun crowd, seriously mediocre Monsoon.

EOTO was great.

trini. starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/13/2008 06:01PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

trini.

I'm so very sad I missed this show.

I love me some NM.

willydog Wed 2/13/2008 06:58PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

willydog

Instant Kang...just add liquid.

Sure he's elfin...sure his keen sense of fashion is alway a crap shoot...but he can make it do what it do. EOTO was shaken'. Monsoon...they are gettin' there...anyway I went to dance not to judge...I think we should all do more of that. Kang/Travis for prez 08.

bgcompt Wed 2/13/2008 07:12PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

bgcompt

What about Kanvus in the poster room. I hear those guys rock. Especially the lead guitarist. Does anyone know his name? Let me call my friend real quick...she knows him REALLY well. Hold on...........................Got it. It's Gary Schillinger! Keep your eyes out for that guy.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/14/2008 06:02PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

RedHeaven

Good article. Im glad Dennis Cook is here to write so intricately about the west coast community and music.

Suggestion: when Jambase does Fillmore SF write ups, these days its time to, if possible, include a little tidbit about the poster room shows on the second floor. Blue Turtle at ALO i 06 was amazing, and I heard Kanvus at this show threw down in that cool room. Just a suggestion, if the writer has time to go up there, its becoming a hot spot it seems.

Ive been seeing NM for years, and FINALLY, at Las Tortugas, I saw a deep depth in them that I had never seen before. Whereas I used to say New Monsoon was too serious sounding to me, saying that they lacked personality, I realized this serious stance WAS their personality, and it IS unique....its like an eclectic version of bands I would of never imagined really enjoying.....I love it when something finally grows on you. Im so stoked to see them at home in Nevada City tomorrow night, and at High Sierra this year. I just wish I could of made it to this kewl untz fest in SF. Fun times!!

happydestiny Tue 2/19/2008 11:35AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

happydestiny

'elfin Kang' that line made me laugh my ass off and embarress myself at my schools computer lab. I love me some kang but why does he always dress... well like an elf-fag?

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