Words by: Jarrod Dicker | Images by: Jesse Borrell
U-Melt :: 02.20.10 :: Bowery Ballroom :: New York, NY
"There's definitely a central theme to our new record," U-Melt keyboardist Zac Lasher said before the group's official album release show at New York's Bowery Ballroom. "We set out to intentionally write a bunch of songs about the search for universal truth. There is a lot of existentialism going on in it, and it's really philosophical. It's about trying to cut through the bullshit and get to something honest and real about our existence."
Universal truth proved more complicated to convey than originally envisioned. As U-Melt faithful already know, the tracks from the new album Perfect World (JamBase review) have regularly been performed on the live circuit for nearly two years. Their first album under a label (Harmonized Records), the group left no strings untied in terms of perfection, as they restructured the original tracking sessions via overdub one instrument at a time in search of excellence. A year and a half later, fans are offered a Perfect World, celebrated in U-Melt's home base of New York City.
However, perfection comes at a cost. On December 9, 2009, lead guitarist and U-Melt co-founder Rob Salzer announced that he would be leaving the band to pursue other ventures. Releasing an album in the impending months and departing on a winter tour, U-Melt had to act fast to name a replacement.
Who they found was beyond a substitute. In newcomer Kevin Griffin the group found spiritual renewal, as U-Melt drummer George Miller explains: "He is a different guy with different influences, so he approaches everything completely differently. It's a fresh take on the new stuff and it has rejuvenated us, putting new life into old tunes."
With a rejuvenated band and a new album to commemorate, U-Melt arranged an evening no fan in attendance will soon forget.
|Consider The Source :: 02.20 :: New York|
The group selected fellow New Yorkers Consider the Source as their opener. This was U-Melt's third attempt to team up with Consider the Source in recent months, and luckily on their biggest night, they were able to incorporate the trio. The opener's scheduled start was at 9:00 p.m. sharp, and Bowery Ballroom was wall-to-wall packed by 8:30.
Consider the Source highlights three musicians who are spiritually and physically immersed in their playing. Guitarist Gabriel Marin surrounds himself with pedals and effects to administer a resonance inimitable by many peer players on the jam circuit. The bass work of John Ferrara evokes as much bodily emotion as it does musical passion, and drummer Justin Ahiyon serves as spokesperson for the group. Incorporating bells, synthesizers, sound boards and other effects, this group delivers something innovative in an electronic genre that sometimes seems repetitive in its modern shape.
Fans were beyond pleased as the hour-long performance covered all musical aspects people value in the group. Marin's improvisation and in-depth guitar solos invited the crowd aboard a fantasy ride transcending them to musical nirvana. The audience stood in awe as Marin manipulated his double-neck guitar throughout the performance, exhausting every note that could possibly be unearthed. Before announcing the second to last track, "How Am I Not Myself," Ahiyon shouted, "Now go ahead and drop some acid," leaving many who were already in an instrumental trance to ponder, "Why not?"
U-Melt took the stage with no direct intention (okay, maybe a little) of putting on one of the greatest shows they've ever performed. But, the result was just that - complete musical matrimony and a salutation to their fans, who'd been waiting impatiently for the new album's arrival for some time.
|Zac Lasher - U-Melt :: 02.20 :: New York|
Kicking off the first set with "Pura Vida," U-Melt invited the crowd on the proverbial magic bus that traveled on a mystical journey through jovial, soothing and quick vocal patterns. As the drums took center stage in what would eventually become a blending fusion of all their instruments, the lyric "everyone's connected" hit ever so softly, creating a virtual family of all gathered parties.
The following tracks welcomed the familiar electronic element of U-Melt. "Disclaimer" presented consistent drum rhythms stroked softly by intrusive keys and eventual group vocals. It was at this moment when the audience accepted Griffin as the official guitarist of the band. The chorus of "Disclaimer" allowed Griffin to display his heavier elements using distortion and speedy, strong playing that amplified the senses.
Having had to learn the entire U-Melt catalog in a month and a half (this was only his fifth live show with the group), Griffin is still on his way to getting entirely acclimated with the formula. However, I would be lying if I didn't say that his presence has truly transcended the band onto a whole 'nother level.
The transition from "Disclaimer" to "Disillusion" shot me into the Pink Floyd zone. Through the utilization of keyboard effects, electronics and front-and-center guitar leads, "Disillusion" drew close to Dark Side of the Moon territory. Griffin's concluding solo made even the soberest person in-house see trails.
|U-Melt :: 02.20 :: New York|
Fan favorite "Eternal Groove" came next, revealing the salsa and Spanish influence in U-Melt; a true heavy hitter for all U-Melt faithful. The title track "Perfect World" gave the audience a moment to relax and offered a slower disposition. The "Question Matters" slingshot revisited the loudness of the guitar and drums as Griffin utilized a variety of ascending and descending guitar patterns throughout the track.
The first set closed similarly to how the second one opened. Covering Robert Palmer's "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On" to close set one, the band stepped back onstage for set two and opened with Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," covered for the first time to the audience's acute pleasure.
"Green Paper Society" served as a perfect instrumental set-up to launch fan favorite "The Fantastical Flight of Captain Delicious." As the title hints, this lengthy non-LP track takes you on a fantastical and spiritual journey incorporating a wide range of dissimilar, unique note progressions.
Another oldie, "415," dragged me back to the story of U-Melt's inception. One of their more "Phishy" tracks, one can witness firsthand the influence of Phish over the band since their formation at 2003's "It" festival in Maine. Lasher's free form, complex keyboard rhythms hint at Page McConnell, which sweetens the air and pleasures all auditory senses.
And if there was a genre that U-Melt hadn't covered this night, the three songs that followed filled the gap: "Panacea" highlighted jazz, "Elysian Fields" offered an electronic hoedown, and "Clear Light" spit the blues.
It seemed only appropriate that the foursome would close their album release show with "Almost Perfect." For a band that spent the last two years in a musical search for truth, honesty and excellence, "Almost Perfect" symbolized a sigh of relief from creative exhaustion. Perfection can never truly be found, as no one or no thing in this world is entirely perfect. For U-Melt and their fans on this celebratory night, "Almost" proved more than adequate, as the band played their final note and exited the stage with no regrets.
U-Melt :: 02.20.10 :: Bowery Ballroom :: New York, NY
Set I: Pura Vida, Disclaimer/Disillusion, Eternal Groove, Perfect World > Question Matters, I Didn't Mean To Turn You On*
Set II: Sledgehammer^, Green Paper Society, The Fantastical Flight of Captain Delicious, 415, Panacea, Elysian Fields > Clear Light
E: Almost Perfect
*Robert Palmer cover
^1st time played - Peter Gabriel cover
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