By: Kevin Schwartzbach
Lotus/Perpetual Groove :: 03.27.09 :: Higher Ground :: Burlington, VT
Religious experience comes in many forms. There are those that believe this type of experience is only possible via one of the world's many organized religions. Simply put, these people are wrong. For many of us music possesses an extraordinary ability to uplift us to a sublime level of spirituality creating a wholly unequivocal religious experience that no church or synagogue could possibly rival. Few bands excel more in this capacity than the Philadelphia-based quintet Lotus. I knew from experience that Lotus' music is capable of creating uplifting and spell-inducing moments that seem utterly divine. When I walked into Higher Ground I was not merely entering some commonplace concert venue, I was entering the Church of Lotus, where the band were my ministers and the general admission floor my sanctuary.
There is a flipside to this religious coin, which co-headliners Perpetual Groove seemed to fittingly represent. Drudging through their meandering set often felt like those occasional dreary mornings when I was forced to sit through droll synagogue services where I found myself continually looking at my watch while asking my parents, "How much longer until this is over?" After seeing several PGroove shows, I have yet to quite figure out the appeal of these Georgia peaches. Though they put on a tight, occasionally very energetic performance, it was hard to overcome their devastatingly generic sound. Just about every tune seemed to be a tasteless reworking of hackneyed major scale and/or funk-rock progressions.
Bassist Adam Perry was the sole luminary in an otherwise dim cast, stealing the show with his deep resonating thumps. Sporadically it seemed Brock Butler (guitar, lead vocals) was onto something interesting, but a poor sound mix rendered it hard to hear amidst the other musicians. The set though was not without its highlights. "Digging in the Dirt" and "Teakwood Betz" offered some of the more glimmering moments. Most of the set however closely resembled any number of bland alternative rock songs played on the radio ad infinitum between 1995 and 1998. That being said, this was probably the best set I have ever seen by these guys, but that's not saying much. Higher Ground has a way of bringing out the best in bands.
Lotus kicked things off with the aptly named "Spiritualize," promptly re-sanctifying the venue. Their rich blend of jazz, rock, world, and dance music instantaneously absorbed the crowd, taking control of their limbs, tossing them in every direction. Mike Rempel gradually took hold of the song with his soft, caressing guitar tone. With good guitarists being a dime-a-dozen these days it can be hard for even the most talented ones to stand out, but Rempel's genuinely unique sound continually amazed me as I watched his limber fingers slink up and down the fretboard. Even when his normally crisp, jazzy sound was doused in effects, his distinct style of playing was thoroughly unmistakable.
|Lotus :: 03.27 :: VT by Butler|
All the members of Lotus seem to harbor a unique sound despite all playing rather pedestrian instruments. Brothers Jesse (bass, sampler) and Luke Miller (keyboards, guitar) switched back and forth between their respective string instruments and an assortment of gadgetry, creating a kind of amalgam of organic and synthetic sounds. When Jesse swung over to his sampler it was anybody's guess as to what noises would come out, while Luke's keyboards produced a myriad of timbres I had previously never heard before going to a Lotus show.
Chuck Morris (percussion) and Steve Clemens (drums) were stunning over the course of the night. Morris did everything from providing worldly bongo hits to electric vibraphone solos on songs such as "Livingston Storm." Clemens showed off his diverse capabilities as well on the kit, playing beats that were straight up rock and roll on "Hammerstrike," while infusing the jovial guitar and bass in "Nematode" with a backbeat that closely resembled hip-hop, leading to a mix that sounded like The Grateful Dead if they'd been produced by Dr. Dre.
Hammerstrike's "Age of Inexperience" contained a foray into the full extent of Lotus' dance music influence. An authoritative bass, unusually synthetic timbres and a pounding beat accompanied by strobe lights made the place feel like a rave. But, there was no thieving DJ standing complacently inside a little booth – this music was being pumped out by the blood and sweat of authentic musicians.
One of my favorite aspects of Lotus concerts has always been the light show that accompanies the music. Throughout the night the lights closely mimicked the aesthetic of the music. When the music became jubilant the lights would turn a bright red or yellow casting glory onto the whole audience. But, when the music took on a more ominous feel, the lights would dim, leaving only flickers of dark purple or green crawling across the room.
The set ended with Lotus delivering their "Flower Sermon" sandwiched between two halves of "Sunrain." Roughly 2,500 years ago, Buddha delivered the wordless Flower Sermon to his disciple by presenting him with a lotus flower, thus transmitting the ineffable key to nirvana. That lotus flower evidently was reincarnated in the form of a five-piece instrumental dance-fusion band from Philadelphia several millennia later. Over the years, "Flower Sermon" has developed into one of their tightest and most riveting numbers. The gradual escalation the song begins with creates an aura of anticipation, but just as an explosion seems imminent the bottom drops out, leaving only a short lick from Rempel's crisp guitar. That lick subsequently swells into an energetic explosion finally fulfilling your expectations. Essentially, the song feels like it was modeled after one of those roller coasters where the car stops for a split second right before the initial drop, leaving you teetering in limbo for what feels like an eternity. Just when you think all anticipation has been shattered, the car lets loose, barreling down the sheer drop at 90 miles per hour.
|Lotus :: 03.27 :: VT by Butler|
The band snaked along a track of peaks and valleys, with the occasional loop de loop and spiral helix thrown in, until the car unhinged from the tracks and shot off into the stratosphere upon the seamless transition back into the ending of "Sunrain." A look of supreme bliss seemed to have spread onto every face as they basked in the "Sunrain."
Finally, an encore of "Jump Off" led the congregation to the auditory Promised Land. Thanks to Lotus, Burlington's Higher Ground, in the most religious sense, had literally become higher ground. An immaculate evening from Lotus gave us all the spiritual uplifting humans so desperately crave. Every Lotus show I venture to seems to be exponentially better than the last one. In my opinion, these guys have become one of the best live acts out there today. I know not if there is a God, but if he (or she) does exist, he/she would probably listen to Lotus.
Lotus :: 03.27.09 :: Higher Ground :: Burlington, VT
Spiritualize, Tarasque, Age of Inexperience > Juggernaut > Age of Inexperience, Hammerstrike, Livingston Storm, Invincibility of Youth, Dane Jeer Us, Nematode, Sunrain > Flower Sermon > Sunrain
E: Jump Off
Lotus is on tour now, dates available here. Perpetual Groove is also on tour, dates here.
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