31 October 2000
After a long, music-filled weekend in New Orleans, we were back in
New York, off to the Beacon Theater once more - this time to catch
MMW on Halloween night, proper. First, I'd like to apologize for not
knowing all the names to the songs. I've seen and hear my share
of MMW shows, but still didn't recognize or know a lot of the songs
Word in the crowd was that Phish's light man, Chris Kuroda, would
be the special guest on lighting for the night. A large projection
screen was behind the audience for added visual effects. These
were just part of what turned out to be another epic evening on
what is fast becoming the best live music holiday, even surpassing
New Year's in all-around nastiness.
The lights went down and the sounds of MMW filled the air. A
basic groove that may or not have had a name. Problem was, the
band was not on stage. While the music meandered through the
crowd, semi-psychedelic splicings of Blair-Witch-style-edited band
footage, odd home movies, nature films and more were projected
on the screen. Finally the band slithered onto the stage in full
costume - Medeski was clad in a silver jump suit with a simple-
faced mask on; Billy Martin was a Swami with a fake beard and a
shimmering cape to match his turban; and Wood looked like a
member of Spinal Tap with a big wig taboot.
The band quickly became Starship MMW, hurtling through a
spacey noise jam for what seemed like an eternity. Some was
head-bobbable and other times it was the band at it's most
inaccessible. Finally, the speck of light in the far reaches of space
grew to become the Milky Way galaxy, then the solar system
came into view and finally the spaceship's journey was complete
as it landed on the Third Stone From The Sun.
This was the first of three Hendrix covers and quickly brought
coherence to the mix. The playing was excellent and the band
was locked tight into each other's playing. The song fell into an
absolutely haunting jam and came back to the theme once more.
Medeski took over and slung Last Chance to Dance Trance over
the audience, note by note. This jazz-blend was a nice change of
pace from the blistering cacophony of the first 20 minutes or so.
After that one, Chris Wood picked up the electric bass and the
really funky groove was afoot. I don't know the names of the next
two or three songs/jams/sections, but needless to say, they got
me dancing very hard. Although all three played off each other
marvelously at nearly every turn, each member got their own
chance to shine.
For the first "tune," Jon Medeski displayed the uncanny ability to
not just play two different keyboards with each hand, but to twist
complex rhythms and melodies with each, sometimes playing off
each other and other times just going their own direction. Here it
was clavinet and the oft-played organ that were blended to
Next up, Billy Martin fuelled a groove with techno-like beats that
defied the gravity of natural abilities. It was drumming that would
make a programmable drum machine turn green with envy. Finally,
Chris Wood took the reins and got down and nasty. I've been
super-impressed with how much better over the past 3 or so years,
Wood has become on the electric bass. At one time I thought he
was the weak member of the band, but now I'd have to say he's my
The set ended with Hendrix song 2 of 3. This time it was Manic
Depression. It took me a while to figure this one out - it was the
bass line that gave it away. It was an interesting interpretation that was characterized by odd, mixed tempos.
Set break provided a nice break and a realization that my first ever
MMW show was Halloween weekend exactly 5 years ago in Detroit. That show was literally in a living room and Tuesday night they had sold out the Beacon Theater. Just goes to show that talent and kick-ass grooves still count for something.
Second set started with a parade of percussion - Billy Martin lead a
handful of drummers around the orchestra area of the theater,
passing right in front of us lucky folks who had front row seats.
The parade made it's way onto the stage as Billy directed them
through wild rhythms. Marc Ribot also joined the band on stage
and they launched into a slab of wild grooving to get things rolling.
The percussionists left after the first song, except for one - Sera
Baptiste is what I think his name was - he was out on stage for the
remainder for the show. He added some wonderful flourishes as
well as some whacked out vocal sounds at some key moments.
Marc Ribot stayed out for the entire set as well. I was afraid that
his presence would bring out more of that noisy side of the band
that they had teetered towards in the first set. But instead, it was
just the opposite. Ribot seemed to be the catalyst for some of the
most straight-up boogie-fuelled jams of the night. For the first few
songs of the set he stayed back, adding embellishments and rarely
taking the lead. The best example of this was in Dracula where he
added some wonderfully spooky riffs to augment the date-
The first set and the first part of the second set were just killer, I thought. The jamming was excellent. The drifting towards the
incoherent psycho-babbling that can sometime overwhelm even the
most open minded audiences was kept to a minimum. Each
member did their part to completely blow me away, individually and
as a member of a tight-knit ensemble. I believe to make the "trio"
work really well must be incredibly difficult, taking not only top-
knotch individual talent but keen listening and on-the-spot
comprehension by the group as a whole. The best work I've seen
in the trio format seemed to come from three individuals that
somehow manage to play rhythm and lead concurrently, using
each of their god-given appendages to their maximum. MMW
showed me that prowess and then some Halloween night.
Another thing to mention was the lights. During the first set, the
projection screen continued to stutter through some bizarre visuals
that I tried to ignore (the music is dense enough as it is, I don't
need any distractions). This lessened any impact the light show
had, for me. Second set, the costumes came off, and the
projection screen remained blank. Suddenly, Kuroda became a
special guest in his own right, showering gorgeous hues on the
stage. It really made an impression on me during the second set
and added some more magic to an already grandiose event.
Halfway through the second set, things were taken to a new level.
First off, Marc Ribot opened up a whole new side of himself. As I
mentioned, he had stayed in the background (even though he was
sitting at the front of the stage, dead center). He was doing mostly
subtle fills and adding eerie effects by employing some weird
devices like hunks of oddly shaped metal (magnets maybe?) and
something that looked like car keys to me on his guitar. From
Dracula on, he became an integral part of the mix, ripping some
mean guitar solos that strayed from his normal jazz leanings to
some serious "rocking out" and groovalicity. I thought he was the
centerpiece to the most directed jamming of the night, forcing
Medeski into some terrific interplay and taking some of the onus off
the rhythm section, allowing them to just relax and have some fun.
Of course, in between songs there was plenty of time for short, but
attention grabbing bouts of bass soloing, percussive acrobatics and
ambient mood music.
As Ribot showed off his goods, the rest of the band spit back the
regurgitated free-jazz/fusion/funk/bop buffet that had been sloshing
in it's stomach for the past 6 years or so. Groove made it's way
into a slow blues number that was a nice change of pace. It had
some wonderful builds and falls in it, featuring great work by Jon
Just when it seemed that the audience had gotten all it could take,
another guest wandered onto stage. Robert Rudolph is what I
recall his name being - he plays the pedal steel. I have long been
a fan of the pedal steel - it's not just for country music, believe me. This guy did some shit with this instrument that you just have to hear to believe. As he got plugged in and ready to roll Medeski got a rocking riff going that harkened Lovelight or possibly Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The full band launched into an all-out jamfest that could have been an early 70's Allman Brothers foray into a 45 minute Mountain Jam. The change of pace and tone of the show blew smiles onto the audience as they roared with delight. The
name of the game was the pedal steel playing. Gorgeous, clean
tone with well-timed trills, slow builds and climactic explosions.
Ribot did his best to keep pace with some rocking solos of his
own. Medeski hugged the organ tight as Wood and Martin just
smiled and revelled in the joy of simple rock and roll. It was a jam
like no other I had seen this band play and it flat out blew me away.
And this was just the beginning of the highlight run of the show.
The encore that followed the well-deserved ovation was icing on the
Halloween cake. Ribot and Rudolph rejoined them on stage and
Wood thumped the opening notes to Chubb Sub on his stand-up.
First Medeski set the tone with more of the same-old genius he
had sparkled us with all night. Next, Rudolph caught on and got
downright soulful. If he wasn't vamping on some Stevie Wonder
song, it certainly did sound like. At this point, I'm basically
thinking - who is this guy and where can I see him next? Ribot
picked up the ball just as the pedal steel whistled the last notes of
its solo and added some funk-ity-funk of his own. Medeski
rounded out the musical gyrations with yet another mind-whipping
and finally harnessed the energy into the final section of the song.
That certainly would have been more than enough, but Jon nodded
to his compadres in crime and Hendrix song number three was
Hey Joe. This was a chilling, somber, beauty of a cover. Again, it
was marked by gorgeous solos on both pedal steel and guitar. It
ended rather abruptly at the end of Ribot's solo, but it had been
that last piece of Halloween candy that made you realize you had
more than enough of that good stuff for one night. A truly special
night and easily the best Medeski, Martin and Wood show I've seen
in the 5 years I've been listening to them.
New York City
Go See Live Music!
Go See Medeski, Martin and Wood!