Mountain Jam | 05.29 - 05.31 | New York

Saturday :: 05.30.09

Mountain Jam 2009 by Ainsworth
Saturday's lineup was the most diverse of the weekend, and to go with that diversity we had glorious sunshine and blue skies. It was the perfect setting for California-based singer-songwriter Brett Dennen, as well as a throng of young, short-skirted female fans, armed with cell phone cameras, who gathered in front of the East Stage at 12:30 p.m. I was familiar with Dennen's brand of pop having heard an earlier CD and his most recent ubiquitous single, "Make You Crazy," but this was the first time I'd seen him perform. Opening with the reggae tinged "Darlin' Do Not Fear," the barefoot singer impressed early with his presence, twisting his hips in rhythm and moving from side to side and enticing the crowd to sing along and clap their hands. Later, he brought a huge cheer from the crowd when he ad-libbed about it being his bass player's birthday. Just as the band had decided what to play next, a female fan called out for "She's Mine" and Dennen looked up with a smile and strummed the notes on his acoustic. Mid-set, he broke into the radio hit, and much of the crowd responded with an "Oh, he sings this song, I love this guy" reaction. Listening to Dennen's music on the stereo you get the sense that it's rooted in pop, but having seen him perform now I'd say it has much deeper roots, and I'd even go as far as to label his music "Cali-Funk!"

In the early afternoon, British band Gomez took hold of the crowd with oceans of psychedelic swirl. The band opened with trippy songs such as "Shot Shot" and "Rex Kramer." On "Hamoa Beach" vocalist Ian Ball sang with a boyish charm, while keyboardist Tom Gray performed on a melodica. But, the energy really lifted as the band moved into its more recent material, such as the dulcet guitar intro for "Little Pieces," inspiring more than a few dancing fans to stroll down the slope for a closer look and listen. Guitarist-vocalist Ben Ottewell's husky Waits-ian warble was a strong contrast to the band's sweet harmonies. His solo vocals on the introduction to "How We Operate" echoed about the mountain range, and he and Ball shredded on guitars awash with effects. The mellower, acoustic "Sunset Gates" featured haunting keys from Gray, and the three-part harmonies of the band's three frontmen on the closing chorus of "Everywhere She Goes" concluded with Ottewell bellowing the refrain, "I will follow."

Coheed and Cambria w/ Haynes :: Mountain Jam by Chapman
Rhett Miller gave a lovely acoustic performance of both his solo tunes and classic Old 97's' fan favorites over in the Awareness Village. He also threw in a few from the upcoming solo CD he'll release in the coming weeks. After many years performing with both his full time band and solo, he still sings with a youthful, emotional, boyish charm.

By contrast over at the West Stage, Jackie Greene (who at just 29 really is young) sung with the gravitas and confident stage persona of a grizzled veteran. Late afternoon sets from The Hold Steady and the Gene Ween Band each drew reasonable crowds. Coheed and Cambria, maybe the most odd band booked, nonetheless drew huge cheers from the crowd moving in to secure a spot for the next Gov't Mule set. These fans were rewarded with a guest sit in from Haynes on a touching version of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."

Saturday's Gov't Mule sets were markedly different from the previous evening. While Friday focused on guitar-centric rock, Saturday Haynes brought in more melodic songs that focused the attention on his songwriting. In the first set, tunes such as "Brand New Angel" and "About To Rage" could have been leftovers from the previous evening's performance, but then they played a lovely interlude that wove verses from Prince's "When Doves Cry" into the Mule's own "Beautifully Broken," which then seamlessly moved to the gorgeous "Patchwork Quilt." Songs such as these bring out the aching soul at the root of much of Haynes' blues based music and characterize what a strong singing voice he has.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe :: Mountain Jam 2009 by Chapman
Gov't Mule's second set on Saturday seemed to be the fan favorite of the weekend. They opened with "Morning Dew," a song that both The Dead and The Allman Brothers have performed. It was done with such elegance and beauty that it left a fan next to me asking, "How do you follow the 'Dew'?"' Warren had things covered with an equally moving and near perfect rendition of The Doors' "When The Music's Over." Haynes eerily nailed Morrison's vocals as if channeling the late poet/musician. Saxman Karl Denson joined the band for Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" and then again on the Mule's own "Devil Likes It Slow," where Haynes and Denson went toe-to-toe, guitar vs. sax, note for note. The Mule closed out the night with a beautiful reading of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic "As Long As I Can See The Light" that had a mountain full of people singing along.

Saturday night boasted a fine lineup of late night selections as well. New York's U-Melt grabbed my attention first, performing indoors at the Colonel's Hall, a cleared out cafeteria. They began with the highly improvisational instrumental rave-up "Schizophrenia," and the hall began to fill immediately. They then opened things up with "Air," a catchy tune that had fans twirling and raising their hands above their heads. Sticking around for one more song, I was delightfully rewarded with a dandy cover of Billy Joel's "Pressure." Keyboardist Zac Lasher's vocals were not far off from Joel, though just different enough to make it sound like a U-Melt original. Many of the youngsters in the room probably thought it was. While the sound in the room was not too great, the visuals included a vast array of lighting effects and projections.

Back outside on the West Stage, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe was tearing it up. "Satisfied" had fans pumping their hands to a solid funk backbeat. Not only did Denson let loose on the saxophone but he also added a flute solo. On "Front Money," guitarist Brian Jordan had a very fluid style, rooted in rhythm and blues but fortified with pure funk. And Haynes returned Denson's earlier favor and joined KDTU for a late night sit in.

Continue reading for Sunday coverage...

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