PH BALANCE | BASEMENT | UMPH

All I wanted to do was go to the Engine Room for a drink. I swear, that is all I had planned on doing on this Thursday eve. Instead, a groove rock girlfriend of mine convinced me to join her at one of Athens finest musical venues, Tasty World. The crowd that inhabited the bar/theatre was on a bit of the older side- for Athens, and a bit of the earthier side for anywhere but Athens. But that's cool; the looks of the others will just make me shine all that much more.

The band took the stage, and this girl, I mean; I should maybe say lady, or even better woman, sat down in front of a keyboard. Her style was something to be spoken of. And I don't just give out style props to any old hag walking by (even if that hag is dressed superbly). However, with this singer, this front woman of the band pH Balance, her style was poignant.

And when she started singing her style eased right in through her music. It was as if her dressing style was her walk, and her musical style an escalator. She walked right on up to that escalator and let it take her higher. And then she would walk on that upward moving escalator towards the smooth clouds, with a sultry voice and dynamic smile. Her keys were soft but with purpose. My groove-rock chick friend educated me on her name, Pam Howe.

Hmm? Ah ha. That is why the band goes by pH Balance. There is no silly Phish reference here, just straight up Pam Howe reference (or so I think). At any rate pH Balance impressed. Their drummer, and percussion players filled the rhythmic part of the soul funk they played quite impressively. And the bass was exactly what a bass should be in this kind of outfit- funk. Pam then stepped out from behind the keyboard and moved over to guitar. She played it with as much beauty as she sang, letting her right hand flail (out of an exaggerated down stroke). The band played a style of laid back, relaxed boogie that I may have never heard before. There was nothing forced about it. Pam set the tone and the others knew exactly how to follow with style. Pam's presence kept the attention of all in the crowd, even this pop rocker chick.

The music did not stop though. Well actually it did, for a little while. That little while was when the band broke down their equipment, the next band set up theirs, and when I, the lovely and sought after Madeline Modeliste paid a visit to the barkeep, "Hey Barkeep, get me one of those Stolie on the rocks will you?" Ahhhhhh, Stolie on the rocks.

And then the music started back up. It was different than when it stopped. This music was not that of pH Balance, possibly not even of the same genre. But the transition was smooth nonetheless. The new band's name was Basement. The outfit consisted of China Flats on the feet (or Mary Janes), smokey gray honeycomb tights, olive drab long skirt, wool gray turtleneck, pumpkin tinted sweater, and an amber dome ring. Oh shit wait- that is what my outfit consisted of. The musical outfit that now embodied the stage was made up of a drummer, a percussionist, a bass player, a keyboardist, and a guitarist. From everything I had heard the band's lineup recently went through a tune up or two. My ears heard no such hints of new musicians trying to learn their way. No, in fact this band was tight. You know that bottle of ketchup I just couldn't get open because it was so damn tight, well Basement was even tighter than that. Of course, the bottle was not really all that tight, I pretended not to be able to open it up, just so you could feel needed. Now, I do not mean to give off the impression that Madeline Modeliste did not feel that the band Basement was tight. They most certainly were tight. However there was something more to them that just their tightness.

Everyone likes to group bands together now a days. Everyone likes to get all genre'd up. For the folks that need that kind of musical organizing I will say that Basement falls into the same genre as Sound Tribe Sector Nine and the Disco Biscuits, the trance-rock genre if you will. However Basement does indeed have their own niche within this group of talented musicians. The boys in Basement never feel like a jam or a part of a song should last for too too long. Parts in their songs seem to know just how long to walk till it's time to make that right hand turn. Their music will build and ease till the new direction they move seems exactly right. But a listener shouldn't get too comfortable because before they realize it, the pulsating sound might make a veer left (which I like to call a "Sleft"). The guitar work spins web after colorful web in this new direction before the song takes a veer right (which I like to call a "Slight") and will rage with the rest of the musical make up towards the ever clear and victorious end.

Basement's music had this here, "retired" hippie chick grooving. The thing I really dug about this band was that there wasn't much fluff. They didn't spend all that much time on the happy, sappy parts of their songs. Basement's music most certainly spent serious moments on the darker side. The thing that really took to me, however was, how balanced the band was when dealing with any particular feeling. They never spent too much time or not enough time on one section. I call it trance rock for the short attention span.

The night ended, but the weekend was just starting. Although I never made it to the Engine Room that Thursday night, I was out again on this Saturday night, and I was feeling like tonight would be the night that I would be able to get a drink over there. That all changed when a friend dragged me into the Georgia Theater. The band on the stage was apparently calling themselves "Umphrey's McGee". I looked in and it smelled like my past, so I tried to continue walking on, but my friend would not let me go on. She paid for my ticket and all.

"Give them a chance Madeline, they are fun." My friend assured me. And then I thought to myself "self" I thought, "just the other night, you went out and saw some music that you thought you would not dig, but guess what Mad Mode? You did, you did dig it, so go in open minded..."

Wise words from a brilliant mind, (my own). Now, going into the dark dank theatre of Georgia, I walked with hope of witnessing another memorable night of music. The band started, and my optimism shrank. The band played it's own style of rock and roll. But not the kind I have fallen in love with. Not the dirty Athens, leave a little feedback for the kids, kind of rock and roll. This here Umphrey's McGee was clean. Clean transitions, squeaky-clean guitar licks, clean rhythms.


By Jon Leidel |jonleidel.com
"This building is too dirty to be playing this music!!" I screamed, but to no avail, the kids from the mid-west just kept on playing. And I am glad they did, because there were parts I began to like. Like a part of the song "All In Time." I really dug a part of this song. It got a bit dirty. The kind of dirty rock and roll that Athens likes. But just when it was getting deep into the dirtiness, it stopped. And it was then that I found one of my major problems with this band. They seem to change parts too much for my liking. As soon as I understand a part, they change it. And I know what a lot of you are thinking right now, "But Madeline, no more than seven paragraphs earlier you stated how you like Basement because they never stay in one part for too long."

This is true, I did state something like that, but that is because Basement's music did not force their way anywhere. They moved where the music wanted to go. Umphrey's McGee forces it's way into musical room after musical room without the slightest warning. Basement's turns were that of 90 degrees or 45 degrees or even slighter. Umphrey's McGee takes turns of 770 degrees or even 890 degrees. No knock. No phone call, no nothing. All of a sudden here they are.

Not to take anything away from UM, they can play their music making objects, and most in the crowd seemed to be having the time of their life. The dueling guitar work, at times, impressed the hard to be impressed. But for me, Ms. Madeline Modeliste, seven songs, was three too many. It was time for me to finally get that drink at the Engine Room.

Ahhh, Stolie on the rocks!!!!

On an Athens Scale of Five:

pH Balance got four. Not too shabby for a band from the other side of 316. They get four of the coolest threads from Uncle Albert's thrift shop.

Basement also gets a four. But Basement's four is four fatty burrito's from the Clayton St. burrito joint Barberito's. These four, however, were the four free burrito's the owner of Barberito's; Downing gave out rewarding the winners of the "find me at the S.E.C. championship game and get a free burrito contest."

And Umphrey's McGee gets two and a half. Not all that bad for a band from so far away. Two tickets to the upcoming North Carolina Phish shows, and the half empty glass of water I obviously was starring at while writing their review.

Madeline Modeliste
JamBase | Athens
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[Published on: 2/19/03]

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