By: Adam Eshleman
The Blue Method :: 12.13.08 :: Zene's Pub :: State College, PA
Your typical bar band is, at best, a cheap mode of late night entertainment. With repertoires of songs worn out by years - or perhaps decades - of continual radio rotation, they're likely to leave you feeling like you've heard Nirvana or Tom Petty more times than can be considered healthy. Often they're better than nothing, but only rarely will a bar band leave you with something to write home about. That said, The Blue Method is not your typical bar band. So check your preconceptions at the door, because this Philadelphia-based five-piece will surely give you plenty of fodder for that letter to mom. They describe their genre as "power soul," and true to that description they offer an enticing conglomerate of unflagging funk, biting blues, sonorous soul and good ol' fashion rock 'n' roll. Outfitted with horns, an uncommonly potent vocalist and a grove tighter than the stubborn lid of a pickle jar, The Blue Method delivers a fan-funking-tastic performance.
A humble $5 cover granted access to an all-out frenzy of funk at Zeno's Pub, a tiny venue that could hardly contain The Blue Method's feel good energy. Built in a small, low-ceilinged basement, Zeno's has great acoustics. So great in fact, The Blue Method recorded a live album here last summer. Over the past few years, they've garnered a vivacious following here in Pennsylvania's largest college town, and it seemed every last one of them packed into the bar for this performance, making the evening a lively - albeit sweaty and crowded - affair.
After a simple drumstick four-count, The Blue Method plunged full-force into a decidedly funky interpretation of Hendrix's "The Power of Soul." While lead guitarist Mike Patriarca couldn't replicate Jimi's guitar work exactly, he scorched the fretboard with a style all his own. And once Brian Williams spread his monitor-overdriving vocals atop the granite-solid foundation provided by the rest of the band, all discrepancies were easily forgiven. Next up was James Brown's "Hot Pants." They played this funk standard so well, so incredibly tight, The Godfather himself would be proud to know his music was in the hands of such capable stewards. For this tune, Williams and rhythm guitarist Tom Long picked up the horns, and The Blue Method unleashed their full fury. There's no garnish more musically delicious than some crisp horn work, and when the explosive timbre of harmonized sax and trumpet sang through the air, I swear my mouth watered. It's hard to tell whether Williams squeezed more soul juice from his trumpet or from his voice. But either way, his towering presence filled the room, vibrating beer glasses in the farthest corners.
They followed up with an original, "Other Family," a feel-good track that speaks to their songwriting potential. A major highlight of the first set was an extended and soulful rendition of Neil Young's "Down By the River." This was a very well chosen song, both for Williams' drilling vocals and the fact that it had everyone in the place singing. What was particularly notable about this one was a crafty instrumental invocation of Pink Floyd's "Breathe" – a "Breathe" tease, if you will - in the tails of the song. This was no Floydian slip. The haunting guitar melody and spacey open chords were unmistakable, fooling some audience members (myself included) into singing the opening lines of "Breathe."
The Blue Method by Philly Music Network Bands|
I'd estimate each of their songs to have been in excess of 10 minutes in length, so I guess you'd toss "jam band" into The Blue Method's mash-up of styles, though none of their jams felt protracted or repetitive. They always found a way to keep them fresh, whether through audience call-and-response, snappy horns or solid riff progressions. Also, Long's soaring sax solos kept things interesting. I'd say this is one of the more enjoyable facets of The Blue Method's sound. The guy can play with a virtuoso's command.
Early on, I felt the phenomenal synergy between bassist Rah Sungee and drummer Theron Shelton. The two are so keyed into each other, so firmly locked into the same groove, you'd need a crowbar to pry them apart. So, during the second set, when they played an incredible drum and bass duet, things got crazy. Like I said, the two are bolted together, and when it's their time to shine, they shine like a binary star, the light of each fusing to form one brilliant, white-hot beacon of beat.
Later in the set, we got a comprehensive lesson in interplanetary funksmanship by way of a hopping cover of Parliament's "Star Child." Also worth noting was "Fool for Your Love," a bluesy classic featuring the mean six-string soul of Patriarca's guitar work. Williams' vocals for this song were flooring as well. They resonated somewhere deep within my soul, drawing up chills and goose bumps. Last, but miles from least, they capped off the night with a rousing version of Floyd's "Have a Cigar," leaving all in attendance begging for more.
|The Blue Method|
By this time the floor was sticky with a night's worth of spilled booze. Even so, not a single foot was stuck, at any point, to the tiles. People shimmied and jived with a lightness of spirit, under the irresistible influence of this wonderful band. I don't like to classify The Blue Method as a mere bar band. The association is degrading. But at the same time, that's what they are: a band that plays a lot of covers in mostly small bars. Sure, they have two albums of original material, and yes, they do make it out to some notable festivals and larger venues; but really, I can't imagine a more perfect venue for this band. They truly thrive in intimate settings, where every spot is close and no fan is out of reach. And should they ever graduate to larger venues, Philly's best-kept musical secret would be lost.
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