The Emma Gibbs Band played The Wetlands on Saturday night and wow! I must say I got a lot better an evening than I had anticipated. These guys are GOOD! They had this very Panic-esque feel to them but were rooted heavily in bluegrass, country and folk music. They weren't afraid to stretch things out a bit, but everything was very tight and every once in a while the jams would reach these hectic, intense moments where everyone melded into one buzzing sound - I couldn't help of thinking of Panic. But they are also, in many ways, the anti-Panic, different instrumentation, and Panic doesn't really play any bluegrass at all (nor do they cover the Beatles or Bob Dylan which is a travesty). David Blackmon is like the wormhole that connects the two universes and makes it all add up.

Blackmon was unbelievable. He is definitely a different person than the pre-accident David Blackmon. He sat slouched in a chair for the entire time and seemed to have this medicated expression on his face. But when he played, if you close your eyes you could tell no difference from the tall, erect fiddler in overalls. During a killer cover of Tangled Up In Blue, Blackmon took a solo and stood up for it... when he did it, there seemed to be some purpose to it, like it was the first time he had played standing up or something. I don't know, but that's just the gravity the solo seemed to take. He was also super-appreciative of the crowd whose down-and-dirty energy made up for it's lack of size. The whole band seemed to dig on the energy as if surprised that there was a crowd for this type of music in New York City.

The rest of them were no slouches either. The frontman Will Straughan played mandolin, steel and trumpet of all things. The bass player Jeff Remsburg was very tight the entire time and showed his hand with his influences. He had no trouble flipping between traditional bluegrass playing, jazzy running bassline, moderately funky slapping and Paul McCartney impressions on the absoultely phenomenal Beatles cover Rain. The lead guitarist Drew Cannon wasn't the typical axe-wielding frontman that many a jamband is rife with these days, but his solos were just fine. The drummer George Wallis and acoustic rhythm guitarist Richard Upchurch meshed well and were integral parts of the band. Individual talent aside, this band was all about chemistry and interaction.

I can only elaborate on the cover songs because those are the only ones I can remember well enough. I'll just mention the I Know You Rider which sort of exemplified everything that was good about the band. I think they segued out of the previous song and laid down a very respectable bluegrass version of this song (as opposed to a Grateful Dead version). Each member got to solo and did an adequate job with their 30 seconds. Blackmon then launched them into a completely full-band explosive jam where each member twisted their playing into the mix at the perfect level. It built up coherently and climaxed at just the right moment.

The only other recognizable cover song was Subterranean Homesick Blues, another Dylan song, although I'm sure there was some bluegrass covers in there somewhere. Let's face it, when you see a band for the first time, it's hard not to judge them by the cover songs they play. It's a window into their likes and their influences and the aura with which they'd like to be perceived. Not only that, but it's how they interpret these songs that will make the surest impression. Along these guidelines, the Emma Gibbs Band did a bang-up job of impressing at least this live music addict.

That's the view from here,
Aaron Stein
JamBase New York Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 12/18/00]

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