Words by: Jeff Sampson | Images by: Mr. Bloom
The Grift :: 08.09.08 :: Nectar's :: Burlington, VT
Vermont's own jam titans The Grift returned to the hallowed grounds of Nectar's, the venerable Burlington club of Phish fame and the site of The Grift's popular own Live at Nectar's release. Taking the stage at midnight for a long set characterized by their trademark high-energy, turn-on-a-dime musicianship and shimmering layers of vocal harmonies, the local boys wowed the crowd.
|Clint Bierman - The Grift :: 08.09 :: VT|
Opening with "Bloom," from 2004's Life Beyond Aluminum, bassist Peter Day surveyed the room with a smile as he called down some sonorous thunder while drummer Jeff Vallone clipped off an angular rhythmic figure, which was in turn neatly mirrored by a distorted run from guitarist Clint Bierman. Before they even sidled into the first verse, "She moves me through the room chasing shadows away," the floor was packed shoulder to shoulder with dancers. This piece features some rather sophisticated changes in style and tempo. Organ tones from keyboardist Ryan Erskine that began with an almost Doors-like feel evolved to a delightfully choppy, growling '70s Philly funk sound with Day offering giant rubber band bass riffs and Bierman eliciting a progressively nastier tone as he picked some blistering runs.
Playing upward of 200 nights a year, The Grift are consummate entertainers, lending their musicianship to the higher service of the song while remaining adept at harnessing the energy of the crowd. The tune "Gettin' Some" about, well, getting some, is humorous on the face, a would-be pop confection replete with finger-popping bass, but brought to a delicious element of barbeque joint sleaze by Erskine's deeply funky organ, who plays with a refreshingly natural looseness that is not unlike fellow Vermonter Ray Paczkowski (Trey Anastasio Band).
"Too Bad" was darker in lyrical tone, featuring some impassioned vocal interplay between Day and Bierman, as well as some extended soloing from Bierman, who favors a deep, slightly dirty tone with massive sustain. Considering the maturity he displays, it is not surprising to learn that Bierman started his musical tutelage at the age of three (on piano). It is particularly satisfying to see a guitarist with the requisite monster chops take the time to develop a dynamically balanced solo and not succumb to the inclination to fill every second with sound. Additionally, his technique with regard to pedal effects is so discrete that entirely new tones are arrived at by what seems a totally organic means. That, and the guy can shred.
"Check One," an absolute romp infused with a tight hip-hop rhyme scheme and vocal flow, has more hooks than the local Lake Champlain pro fishing tournament and is such a signature Grift piece that many a hip bumper in New England was festooned with a sticker that simply asked, "Check One?" To give an idea of this song's popularity, I heard more than one person scream for it this particular evening literally hours after they had played it.
|Ryan Erskine - The Grift :: 08.09 :: VT|
Taking it down to an easy simmer, "Come a Long Way" is a classic reggae number with a strong message of struggle, hope and pride. The Grift were actually the house band in a bar in Negril, Jamaica for a spell, so they know their way around a blackstrap molasses-thick down-tempo anthem. It is hard to imagine Jeff Vallone not behind the kit - he was actually the original bassist - because he displays such a gorgeous supple musicality to his drumming, eminently tasteful here and throughout the entire evening.
More than one lovely reveler swooned at "Stay With Me," a sumptuous new song penned by Peter Day about the joys of spending the whole day in bed with a lover. Day won a statewide songwriting competition presented by the Higher Ground last year, and it is not hard to see why. He crafts outstanding lyrics and melodies and works closely with Bierman to map out complex vocal arrangements.
Keeping with the theme of love, longing and sensuality, "Day and Night" allowed Bierman to step forward. A tricky call and response vocal conjured memories of Phish, so redolent in this space and Vermont in general. In fact, both Bierman and Day also play in the trio Honeywell with monster drummer Russ Lawton (Trey Anastasio Band, Strangefolk). You can't toss a stone in this little mountain community without arriving at some connection to the boys who made Nectar's more synonymous with music than gravy fries and the enigmatic and genial former owner, Nectar Rorris.
|Peter Day - The Grift :: 08.09 :: VT|
As they launched into a flawless version of the Allman Brothers band classic "Jessica," a huge wedding party wandered into the main room and neckties suddenly met tie-dyes, big shiny dresses met dreads, the floor heaving with motion. Erskine followed Bierman's classic melody lines with a clean, straight piano solo that was so perfectly delicate and rollicking that you could have closed your eyes and assumed that Chuck Leavell was astride a Steinway nestled in a clear mountain stream.
I think is says something important that many folks I spoke with mentioned the quality of the Grift's vocals and songs first and foremost. Frankly, they simply sing better than pretty much any band toiling under the jam moniker. Really. Add to that precision arrangements and high-end instrumental artistry and one can see why this band is so popular on the East Coast touring circuit and poised for the next step up.
When I left, the wedding party was presiding over an arrangement of shots that would have made a sailor genuinely nervous, accompanied by outcries of "Could you just get us a few more orders of gravy fries, please?" Great music, flowing drinks, and the famous fries are still very much alive in the Queen City.
JamBase | Vermont
Go See Live Music!