By: Ryan Dembinsky
Macpodz :: 05.12.09 :: Sullivan Hall :: New York, NY
In a sense, this review is pointless. The Macpodz, for the time being at least, will likely not see a bad show review. The guitar-less Ann Arbor five-piece lacks any semblance of a weak link and bleeds with talent, and not just raw talent despite only being together just over three years, but tight, organized talent. Combine this gift for the game with their hard work and this rising jam band has achieved an almost Benevento-like critical invincibility.
Given their ability to turn off-the-wall time signatures, byzantine salsa/bebop/funk/electronica/fusion compositions and ceaseless call-and-response audience requests into a Prince-like dance party, no right-minded on-looker would see fit to question. Fortunately, with the exception of percussionist/lead singer/flautist Nick Ayers, whose shirt came off by the second song and provided the crowd with a mean case of snow blindness, this "emperor" is fully clad.
Oddly, despite being one of the more forward thinking small cities in the Midwest, with a fanatical music base, long-standing jazz tradition, unmatched cultural diversity and great music venues, Ann Arbor bands have never really made much of a dent in the jam scene, perhaps until now. The last band to really gain any acclaim outside the A-squared home turf would probably be Smokestack, which is no mere coincidence considering Macpodz bassist extraordinaire Brennan Andes was in that band.
Andes attempted to win over the New York City crowd at Sullivan Hall on Tuesday night by sporting a Yankees hat despite his Tigers affiliation. Turns out the Tigers fans were in full affect, generating a bigger response than the native Bombers fanbase. Looking around, the Ann Arbor scene was well-represented with a number of folks apparently on the road with The Macpodz.
With little more than an hour to work with at their Sullivan Hall set sandwiched in between SuperFrog and Family Groove Company, The Macpodz stepped onstage, pulled the cord on The Snapper and proceeded to mow the lawn. Musically, The Macpodz are not really a band for categorization, but to help paint the picture think perhaps of a mishmash of artists like Garaj Mahal and Greyboy overlaid with more classic jazz sensibilities like Miles, Brubeck and Monk that incorporates the higher energy portion of the Osibisa catalog.
A new number called "The Truth" proved to be a high point for the evening, where keys man Jesse Clayton provided a barrelhouse piano background that filled the room with what felt more like a tri-piano orchestra, laying the foundation for sharp dressed trumpeter Ross Huff to let loose into blazing falsettos and rug-cutting melodies. The Macpodz' rhythmic subterfuge, consisting of Griffin Bastian on drums, Nick Ayers on percussion (as well as flute and vocals as noted before) and Andes, by no means just hold down the fort. Any one of them is capable of taking the lead and running the floor at any point in time. The band climaxes when Clayton hits the Hammond B3 duck-squawk funk tone and the crowd reacts with uncontrollable dance moves. You'll hear this theme repeated ad nauseum with The Macpodz, but these boys know how to get a crowd moving.
With a big summer ahead that includes stops at more than a handful of major festivals, including Mountain Jam, 10,000 Lakes, Rothbury and an exciting upgrade to the big stage at Summer Camp, The Macpodz look poised to take their carnival up to the next level. Armed with industrious management, an eager fanbase and a troupe of world class musicians hell bent to make some noise, don't expect this momentum to slow. Perhaps the only thing left that could speed up The Macpodz' ascent to preeminence is the obvious affiliation - an iPod commercial.
The Macpodz tour dates available here.
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