Tom Marshall’s Amfibian and the rest of the Furry Thug label scurried from the pond last Saturday night, playing to a full but not uncomfortably packed house at New York City’s Wetlands Preserve in TriBeCa.

Suffice to say, the energy level was nuclear, but the temperature was not (thanks to the Wetlands’ shiny new air conditioning system), with Marshall’s melodic keys leading the seven piece all-star band comprised of Pete Cottone on Drums, Matt Kohut on bass, Scott Metzger on lead guitar and vocals, Andrew Southern on acoustic guitar and vocals, JP Wasicko on percussion, and Chris Harford on guitar and vocals.

Half of the band members are old friends from grade school. The other half are young musicians with other bands from the Princeton scene that are either on the label or in a touring alliance with Furry Thug: Harford of Ween fame and his new project Band O’ Changes and Metzger from Rana, a four-piece band that plays “stretched rock & roll.”

Amfibian rolled out two tight sets consisting of some the band’s seamlessly constructed originals and a slew of choice covers. Make no mistake: Amfibian is markedly different than Phish, a whole other animal—or phylum, as it were—yet Marshall appropriately acknowledges his roots with dynamic interpretations of some of the less trodden Phish tunes that he helped pen: "Dirt", "The Wedge" and "Olivia’s Pool".

They gelled incredibly for a seven-piece outfit, with a near prescient musicality that wove a complex wall of sound. The crowd was a refreshing mix of knowledgeable fans and virginal first timers who caught wind of the band by way of Marshall’s Phish affiliation—but they would all leave as "smilers" by the time the evening drew to a close.

Tom warmed things up with a ‘pass the jam’ instrumental groove providing each band member with ample riff time to get their thing on. Guitarist Scott Metzger proved to be a veritable fireball of energy, as he shredded with reckless abandon and atomic licks; the intensity was contagious and his contortions stirred the audience’s sympathy as much as their energy (those notes must hurt!).

With cogent arrangements like "Appreciate"—exemplifying Marshall’s poignant metaphysical phrasing and that elusive signature dark side—his constantly evolving, maturing and refining lyrics have found a suitable outlet outside the Phish pale.

They busted an ambient interpretation of Tom Petty’s "Face in the Crowd" to close the first set—a particularly inventive cover, with heavy Floyd undertones that get into your head and screw with it, leaving you feeling kind of helpless in the structured chaos of the jam. The other non-Phish cover, Pavement’s "Elevate Me Later," seemed to build and build and build until it almost popped.

The second set opened up with "Back to Mesopotamia," an intense new song that has not yet made it onto an album but pleased the crowd nonetheless and featured the vertigo-instilling chops of guest guitarist Sharif Coakley on a southpaw Stratocaster.

"The Wedge" — which Amfibian recently announced it will be covering on the forthcoming Phish tribute album—was fantastic, with a couple of new verses and a funked-out ending in which the chorus is chanted on into oblivion.

"Onion" is the kind of song that would lend itself nicely to cinema. It's very fluid and rhythmic in a slow, patient, momentous way; and, coupled with some truly phantasmagoric lyrics, it establishes Kohut and Wasicko as talented songwriters in their own right.

They proceeded to breakdown and build up again an especially scorching rendition of Trey Anastasio’s "The Way I Feel" that the crowd would have been happy to hear jammed out all night long. The evening ended with an upbeat rock & roll version of "Olivia’s Pool" (a.k.a. Oblivious Fool), reminiscent of Phish’s summer ’97 tour.

Indie-Folk band The Saras opened up—also featuring Chris Harford on guitar (who, along with Tom and Furry Thug, helped produce their new album), Dave Dreiwitz on bass (also of Ween) and Sim Cain on drums (who spent several years as the drummer for The Rollins Band and did a stint with J. Geils). Fronted by the lovely and talented singer/songwriter duo of Anna Soloway and Steph Sanders (enigmatically, there’s not a Sara to be found on the band roster), their set was highlighted by sensual harmonies and rhapsodic narrative lyrics that reward a close listening.

On the downstairs stage, Liqwid — an instrumental trio featuring Chris DiStasio on guitar and timbales, Paul Hemmer on bass and congas, and Shawn Drogan on drums and percussion—played continuously throughout the main stage events and into the wee hours, serving up a tasty repertoire of original songs with a strong emphasis on improvisation (and a handful of surprisingly random covers to boot).

It cannot be stressed enough how refreshing the whole evening was. I can’t remember the last time I’ve witnessed that sort of collective audience/performer energy—the groove flowing between the two like binary stars in mutual gravitation.

Collectively, Furry Thug represents a sort of musicians’ farm team—but these guys (and girls) are definitely not bush leaguers—with a lot of fruitful interbreeding and various individuals free-agenting their respective talents to each other’s projects. It seems to be as much of a musical community as it is a record label. And the results—if they are at all reflected in Saturday night’s performances—are phenomenal.

Peter O’Reilly
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 11/9/00]

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