Reid Genauer and the Assembly of Dust | 11.28.03 | B.B. King Blues Club | New York, NY
I follow the groove, of a chosen course, the wheels are in motion with a notion of deafening force. "Revelry" -Reid Genauer
Expectations and speculation were definitely high for me and everyone else on the night of November 28 at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City. There is an ambiguous mix of cultish dedication and curious doubt that surrounds this band. Tonight the dedication manifested itself as shouts of enthusiasm and praise--the glow of die-hard fans reveling in their music of choice. The doubt appeared in the far more subtle but equally powerful body language of disgruntled fans here to prove to themselves that this is not Strangefolk, not as good and never will be. As a fan of Strangefolk I must say I have empathized with both the dedicated and the doubters. I saw Assembly Of Dust a couple times a year or so ago and while I had enjoyed the band and saw potential, it felt to me that something was unglued. It felt like a bunch of guys scrabbling to support Reid and his songs--cool but not "religious." On the night of 11.28.03 in the bowels of Time Square my ambivalence was knocked on its ass by a newly found and unified band. I'm not sure what these guys have been doing over the last year but it's working. They are officially a cohesive band with a power and purpose in their playing. At the risk of sounding cliché and as a huge Strangefolk fan, I am surprised and pleased to report that lightning has somehow struck twice. "Raise High the Roof Beam," everyone. Here’s what I saw.
Reid Genauer and The Assembly of Dust
First and foremost I have always been amazed with Reid's ability to take each and every concertgoer through a lyrical and emotional journey. B.B. King's proved to be one such journey. Reid can take a seemingly inane night of drinking and rabble rousing and transform it into a profound musical experience. To do that he touched on some of his old Strangefolk hits while also showing the world that he has much more to say with an array of fresh and compelling new songs. "Sometimes" (an old classic) opened up the show, followed by "Samuel Aging," a B-side Strangefolk number that has been reborn as an A-side AOD song. It's neat to see Reid's songs reinvigorated, in some cases with a whole new musical palette. As is the case with "Samuel Aging," there are songs that seem to have lain dormant for years and are only now realizing their full potential. Other old hits included marquee songs like "Roads," "Westerly," and "Sidestep Blue."
The new songs in the band's repertoire fascinated me the most though, tunes like "Tavern Walker," "Revelry," "Francis Graves," "Amplified Messiah" and "Zero to the Skin." Since the band's inception I've hoped that Reid and The Assembly of Dust would write some new stuff, material which the band could truly make their own. Once again these guys did not disappoint me. These songs range in tempo and feel in a way that makes them diverse and unique from one another. I have heard Reid and John Leccesse describe their desire to create a sound for AOD that is "Farm Rock" or "Blue Eyed Country Funk." While I wouldn't really say there's a ton of real funk in the mix, this band does capture a thumping mixture of groove, rock, folk, jazz, and country. "Tavern Walker" exemplifies their sound with a funky groove for the verses, a hillbilly stomp for the chorus, and a Hornsbyesque organ funk solo in the middle. Somehow, amazingly, it works. "Revelry" seemed to me more of a folk rock version of what could have been an Allman Brothers tune while "Amplified Messiah" feels like the 70s meets the 60s meets the year 2003! "Francis Graves" is one that I am still struggling to get my head around. It's got a lot of moving parts and seemingly a shit load of chords. This one has a cool story about a girl from West Virginia but it feels a little herky-jerky start-and-stop in terms of how it unfolds. What's cool about this song is that it has both a guitar solo and a keyboard solo, and no matter how the song's frame is built, both of these sections are easy to dance to and the crowed definitely responded in kind to the agitation.
No matter how you cut it there seems to be a burst of creativity happening within AOD. In chatting with some of the guys from the band I was told that it's largely driven by the fact that Reid and Nate Wilson have recently found a groove as songwriting partners. This makes complete sense to me. I've also been a fan of Nate's playing and songwriting in Percy Hill (Nate and John's original band) for many years. Beyond the obvious observation (which is that Nate is a monster of a player), he writes with a musical sophistication that Reid's songs often lack. The flip side is that Percy Hill often lacked a soulful hook, a central voice, a gateway from the technically proficient to the emotionally sublime. I guess what I'm really saying is that Reid and Nate balance each other in a very powerful way as songwriters.
Adam is to me the glue in this band. You can tell from his playing that he's part jazz head sophisticate, part ass-kicking rock 'n' roller, and part laid back feel good country/folk rocker. If you placed Nate at one end of the musical spectrum and Reid at the other, Adam seems to fit in right in the middle. He's a musical interpreter. In songs like "Tavern Walker" and "Samuel Aging" it's almost as if Adam's guitar whispers in Reid's ear, "Nate is playing the sickest shit I ever heard! Let's try and rise to the occasion rhythmically," and then whispers in Nate's ear, "Reid is singing one of the coolest, simplest songs I have ever heard! Let's try not to overplay or be to 'notey.'" The best part is that after interpreting what's going on during one of Nate's solos or Reid's vocal passages Adam steps up and rips our heads off with blazing guitar solos. He can sound like anyone: Santana, Jerry, Clapton, Grant Green...but I do look forward to hearing more of the voice of Adam Terrell in the years to come.
So I have focused on the first and second floors of the "House that silence built." I should tell you a little about what I saw in the foundation. John Leccesse is a great bass player. He uses a good blend of melody and rhythm in his playing. There are passages where he sounds like Paul McCartney or Phil Lesh (very melodic) and others where he is very percussive and almost plays like a he is in fact in a funk band or a disco band. I once read an article that referred to John as the Larry Bird of bass players. I think that was both an accurate and great compliment. If you were to get at the heart of what that says it would probably translate as, "John is an empathetic, mature, team player." You can tell he puts the song first for the band's greater glory and tailors his playing to suit the mood and the moment. He locks in with Andy Herrick (drums) to create a bubble that the rest of the band seems to float on... very supportive playing. Only complaint from the show was that on one occasion where he tried to stretch out and solo he used an effect on his bass that seemed almost out of place in the mix and sonically foreign to the band. Hard to find anything bad to say about this guys playing though.
Andy Herrick is the heartbeat of this band. Mostly what I see in the jam band scene are great drummers or guys trying to be great drummers who rely on intricate fills and other flashy BS. While some of them pull it off with amazing brilliance, most do not. I think what so many drummers forget is that the pocket and the tempo should be the number one priority and that fills are just that: "fillers." Andy has not forgotten this basic rule and does a great job establishing a tempo and a pocket that he and the band can comfortably ride throughout the course of a given song. So many of the songs felt effortless and easy to play and watch. I know I have talked a lot about "Samuel Aging," but that's a perfect example of a song that you can groove to for hours. There is a calmness and confidence in this music that I think is largely due to Andy and his interplay with John. There is also an unusual use of dynamics in this band. They can be serene and quiet one moment and raging the next. While I think these dynamics are built into many of Reid's songs Andy does a great job of bringing them to life and managing the volume. That said, there are times when I yearn for a little more fire and brimstone flashiness--not necessarily volume, just more dramatic transitions from section to section within the song and the solos.
While every band has things they could work on and moments that are less than you hope for (as this one does), I was still fully impressed by the show. B.B. King Blues Club is a little bit of a different venue than I am used to--almost has a rock 'n' roll goes to Disney World vibe--but these guys transformed it. Their songs and their musical voices lifted the audience and made for a dynamic, entertaining, and arguably otherworldly musical ride. They speak to me in a way that only a few bands ever have. Take two of the best songwriters on the scene, add in three other articulate, mature, and empathetic players, and you get one mothaf$#%er of a band! Go see these guys and you will not be disappointed.
Words by: Christian Brown
Images by: Warren Churgin
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