Three guys from New York City played in Disneyland on Wednesday in front of a full Southern CA audience, and though the acronym on the House of Blues marquee read “MMW”, the setting was nothing like a Mickey Mouse World. The jazzy trio, fresh off their latest effort Uninvisible and some time apart with respective solo projects, brought material that spanned the last several years and also threw in plenty of new school funk. Aiding John Medeski (keys), Billy Martin (drums and odd-sounding toys) and Chris Wood (Acoustic and Electric basses) was DJ P Love on turntables and effects.
The trio started the evening off fittingly, as Medeski began working the Clav and the guys immediately got the dance floor going. Love, who can be heard on four tracks of Uninvisible, was a compliment to their sound all night long, stepping up and scratching hard in some spots, and being a subtle presence at other times. The second song was “Pappy Check”, track 4 on the new album and a good example of what this record’s vibe is about. The oft-overwhelming funk slowed down as Martin and Love began dueling and trading off fills, before Wood shifted to his upright and worked his bow across the strings. This segued into the familiar “Last Dance to Dance Trance”, a real highlight of the set. Medeski turned his attention to the grand piano behind him and played an inspiring solo during this tune off Friday Afternoon in the Universe. This led to another solid Martin drumming workout, resulting in some fun moments with a whistle, a duck call, and even a moose (?!?!?) call.
The show then moved slightly downtempo into another new abstraction, “Where have you been?” There was more bowing on the upright from Wood here, and a good breather with Billy (a.k.a. illy B) playing some interesting finger drums. This was just a slight relaxation because a fast, crazy tune ensued. Medeski got really into it, sending loud shockwaves of energy through the crowd. The set closed with a song that had me thinking funk, thinking gospel, and thinking blues all at once. John has definitely picked up some new gospel sounds from playing in The WORD (Robert Randolph and the North Mississippi All-Stars) and let them flow without reservation. MMW will always be the top band I enjoy seeing him play in, but the side projects are surely helping to push horizons further.
The second set reminded me quickly of why these guys are the essence of a trio. Medeski Martin & Wood opened with the catchy organ riff and start/stop rhythm of “I Wanna Ride You”, yet another new song. The end of this tune got nuts when Medeski walked out front and began to play the theme on a small green keyboard. He played with one hand while he held the instrument in the other and blew thru a connected tube to keep the great sound coming out loud and clear. (My one friend referred to this thing as a “hooter”, since it was once popularized in a hit 80’s Hooters song- you know, “We were liars in love and we danced”? Just think about it.) Martin joined Medeski out front playing a tambourine. Of course, Billy Martin can entertain for a long time on almost any percussion instrument, so the tambourine was quite welcome. Add Wood’s acoustic bass to this mix and we had an encore-like scene already! I am a big fan of “I Wanna Ride You” now.
Then Billy played around on even more fun stuff, a tribal sounding xylophone instrument, several cowbells, you get the picture. Soon thereafter they wove into “Lifeblood” from Shack-man. I was really happy to see this album get some play tonight, and I would continue to “get my Shack on” as the set continued. Billy also experimented with his small talking drum during this chill song. The sounds coming from the stage at the end of this journey reminded me that sometimes, MMW can perform the most indescribable music around.
The set continued with the hard groove and almost “street sound” of the title track, “Uninvisible” from the new album. The energy in the crowd was very high at this point in the night. Martin and DJ P Love had a serious face-off here, trading drum fills for scratches and wowing the audience. Martin then slowly built the drums up into a furious funk/blues number that quickly shifted into a jam on Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” Man, they were getting into it. One of the definite highlights of the night. I know that Wood has played “Good Times, Bad Times” with Stanton Moore recently, and I wonder if some of those moments may have influenced this hard-rocking choice. Another new song called “Smoke” followed. Wood leads the direction of this rather simple GROOVE fest. This song is less then 3 minutes on the album, but it became a longer experiment onstage. While they did jam it some, “Smoke” was abandoned in favor of another Shack-man favorite, “Night Marchers.” This got lots of people moving to the classic MMW funk.
Finally the guys came back out for the encore, and they came back strong with the old-school “Think.” Medeski took one more spin at the grand piano, and soon after went back for the “hooter”. Having some fun, he kept puffing out the familiar melody while Martin came up front on the talking drum for more front-stage madness that completely brought the house down.
A strong performance in the Disney- surrounded House of Blues in Anaheim is just the start of a long MMW tour. DJ P Love will be a welcome addition for many upcoming dates, including this Friday, April 19 at the Wiltern Theatre in the heart of Los Angeles. Special guest Steven Bernstein, slide trumpet player from Sex Mob, will also be joining the trio and directing a local horn section. It will no doubt be nice to hear some of the selections from Uninvisible supported with horns in a live setting. The following night MMW bring in 4/20 at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco. Make sure you catch MMW this tour! They are bringing their great new album to the forefront of their shows, but also keeping long-time fans happy with plenty of old songs.
JamBase | So-Cal
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