Who would've thought that a decidedly American sub-genre of rock ‘n’ roll called "jamband" could be effectively exported to Europe? Also, who would've thought that a group of kids from Germany would master the genre to such a degree of specificity? I sure didn't think so, but then again, I guess I never even considered it.
With Throwdown, the first live offering from the Nürnberg-based Mars Mushrooms, it's all there: positive and playful lyrics, thumping bass, bopping drums, brawny organs, wacka-chicka wah-wah guitars, clinking and clanking percussion accents, frenetic guitar solos, and a didgeridoo to boot. I'm compelled to think that these gents from Germany have the complete Homegrown Music Network record collection. Bits and pieces of all the streams of past, present - and possibly future - jam styles are represented here: trancey Bisco-inflected workouts, bluesy shout downs, hippie funk, Makisupa-reggae, Dead-styled rock Americana, Meters-influenced Galactic funk, a smorgasbord of Phish-isms, odd-metered boplicity. Yes, the whole shebang... and it’s all sung in English, too.
The first words of stage banter are spoken 45 minutes into Throwdown; in German, which will most likely catch the uninitiated completely by surprise. That's how convincingly "American" the Mars Mushrooms are.
From what I hear, this band is pretty much one of only a handful of acts in Europe doing "jam rock," and they do it very well. My only beef with the sound of the Mars Mushrooms is that they do remind me so much of their American counterparts. I'd love to hear a bit more European influence (Kraftwerk, CAN, and other more progressive rock) in their sound. Although certain European flavors do sneak in on some of the more classically inclined piano flourishes, my ears are left feeling cheated.
I guess these guys have plans to tour places beyond Europe, and chances are they probably will. In fact, it is rumored that Dave Schools of Widespread Panic has taken a personal shine to their sound. And that's all well and good, but what this band must remember is that they've got stiff, almost daunting competition in the in the good old U.S. of A. Having said that, though, I'm amazed how well these guys know their stuff. On first listen, I thought I was hearing The Big Wu. But these guys are better, more youthful, wacky, creative, challenging, yet not particularly avant-garde.
Is there a downside?
Notably, the weak points on Throwdown come with the eleven-minute excursion, "Martian Meat Eating Society," which I'm guessing is a vehicle for jamming and not much else. On this offering, it falters where most standard fare jamband music falters: it's seemingly directionless, noodling around bits and pieces of strung together, Phishy riffs. More importantly, it sends the CD on a trajectory that doesn’t exactly fit its greater whole. "Get On The Bus," "Rubberball" and "Goin’ By," on the other hand, feature fantastic jams that, in "best of" jamband style, cut off at their peak. Also mentionable here is some really nifty didgeridoo playing throughout the disc's entirety. The primal roil and growl of this instrument lends a fitting warmth for this earthy music, as these Teutonic rainbow makers attempt to connect with their tribe. On the overall, they seem to have done so quite well.
Yes, Mars Mushrooms’ Throwdown is just that: a throwdown. With material like this, it's just a matter of time before they turn it into a knockout. The road to this particular goal, however, won't come without training, preparation and letdowns. Beating Yanks at their own game can be a difficult task.
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