HOT BUTTERED MONSOON: HOW FUN IS THIS?

Words by Dennis Cook :: Images by Dave Vann

New Monsoon & Hot Buttered Rum :: 02.04.06 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA


Brian Carey :: 02.04.06
Few entering The Fillmore last Saturday would have predicted they'd witness quite possibly the finest version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" anyone has ever pulled off. With all of New Monsoon and Hot Buttered Rum on stage, NM's Latin percussionist extraordinaire Brian Carey stroked a gong unwholesomely, conjuring a desert wind that blew in visions of kaftans and sweetened rosewater, clearing sand from our eyes and taking the sold-out crowd across a "sea of years." This is precisely where you steer a 12-man Tarkus. A beckoning low end took us without permission as tabla flew with cello and violin black birds, and the guitars, especially the stinging attack of Monsooner Jeff Miller, confirmed something a few of us have known for ages – these are rock n' rollers.

Just listen, and the music will tell you what it is. Seems simple enough, but it isn't. Things are categorized and stacked where they'll sell best. Ambiguity causes consumer confusion, but art isn't about neat encapsulations. It wants to stretch its legs and to see what's on the other side of the fence, or better yet, to tear down the whole white picket illusion. The best stuff, the enduring stuff, rejects borders and stakes its own territory. In front of 1100 people who get this, New Monsoon and Hot Buttered Rum played in a way that can only happen when there's this human battery to draw on. They played bold, confident, and hugely entertaining, the energy coming at them inspiring some of the best work of their long road.

HIGH ON A MOUNTAIN TOP


Hot Buttered Rum :: 02.04.06
Hot Buttered Rum turns blues, jazz, rock, and bluegrass into a no limits, constantly evolving vision of what a string-driven acoustic band can be. Ending their joint tour (which began late January and snaked through Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington before returning home to California) with a first-ever co-headlining gig at The Fillmore had to be a healthy buzz all by itself. To look out and see the room fill up halfway through their set probably felt pretty good too. They have all the showmanship and solos of Yonder Mountain or Leftover Salmon, but these Bay Area pickers swing so much more. They possess the same indescribable bounce that keeps new generations listening to Django Reinhardt and Bill Monroe.


Hot Buttered Rum :: 02.04.06
Lyrically, they're the bastard sons of Woody Guthrie and John Muir. They wear their politics on their sleeves, but it's not just for show. These are their core beliefs, and as they mature, the tone becomes less strident, more persuasive, and nuanced so the music comes first and the message sneaks in later. To wit, "Poison Oak" from their ace new record, Well-Oiled Machine, worked like a hoedown grenade at The Fillmore. Following "Poison Oak" with "Honey Be" speaks to the better balance of things now. Cautionary tales are joined by warm sentiments like "Honey Be," where the band members proved none of them are scared of a mic. The creamy blend and growing complexity of their vocal arrangements sets them apart from many of their peers who treat vocals as an afterthought to their instrumental prowess.


Hot Buttered Rum w/ New Monsoon :: 02.04.06
They trip out marvelously too. These quite-psychedelic tangents are increasingly woven into the main cloth as on "Dovetail Joint" > "Water Pocket Fold," which shined like silver moonlight on a dark lake. Going eight miles high isn't something folks expect from an acoustic band, but those are just expectations and Buddha knows those never get us anywhere. Even better was the multi-colored group grope with all of New Monsoon on the set-closing "Sweet Honey Fountain." A standout on the new album, live "Honey Fountain" flourishes, the middle jam section shooting fragrant pollen into our ears between the tall grass of a Ry Cooder-esque pop tune. What I'd say to both bands is "Embrace your natural weirdness. Let it flow. Plant freak flags at every tour stop, and reclaim this land for the strange and warmly wonderful. It's in contrasts and contradictions that depth is born."


Hot Buttered Rum :: 02.04.06
Brian Carey joined them on "Metrosexual," a new one that bites hippy and hipster hands, something I heartily endorse. With cries of "love the new tattoo" and hints of polyamorous hook-ups, it's funny in a way bands haven't been since Dr. Hook and Commander Cody hung up their spurs. They should shoot an MP3 to Doctor Demento immediately! Carey brought out a South American lilt that makes me want to slip HBR copies of Brazilian classics Gil e Jorge and Domingo just to steer them further into Tropicalia. Their skin may be white, but with Carey they played like their souls are brown.

Carey stepped off, and HBR welcomed New Monsoon's commanding trap drummer Marty Ylitalo and fleet-fingered Phil Ferlino on keys for a winning cowboy bar shuffle called "Honkytonk Tequila." Somewhere in the comings-and-goings, I heard one of the Buttered ones yell, "How fun is this?" I lifted my newly purchased beer in their direction and replied out loud, "As fun as they come." Meant it, too.

A MOSAIC IN THE MIND


New Monsoon :: 02.04.06
New Monsoon has their act together. This observation came to me during the particularly mercurial "Downstream" that flowed out of Ylitalo's trancey didgeridoo introduction, which also featured great atmospheric acoustic guitar from Bo Carper that recalled the otherworldly glow of Ralph Towner (Oregon). Seven people, electric and acoustic instruments, and a monstrous phalanx of percussion, well, it's a lot to maneuver. Watching them try to make it all fit is akin to an octopus attempting Kama Sutra positions. There are only so many holes to go around. Yet fit it does, and any awkwardness or confusion about their sound is behind them. Only a handful of bands (The Black Crowes and Widespread Panic spring to mind) can take so much raw sound and make it coalesce into such beautiful shapes.

Thinking about a song as the rhythm moves along
Through my muscles and my bones
Through my spirit growing strong
Feels like a river as it carries me and takes me to the other side


New Monsoon :: 02.04.06
I always feel like I've gone somewhere when I hear New Monsoon. They take me out of normal time and transport me to a place of reflection and refreshment. As many times as it's happened, I'm still always surprised as I'm swept off in the first minutes of a show. This night was no exception as they opened with a nod to Fillmore veterans the Allman Brothers on a spot-on cover of "Jessica" that changed the ceiling to a cerulean skyline full of shapely, happy clouds. Instead of pouring on high energy as one might expect, they immediately downshifted into aboriginal ambiance. As I've noticed at other recent NM shows, their setlist construction is growing more subtle, more engaging, and more unpredictable all the time. As their store of originals and covers expands, so too does their imagination in telling a musical story.


Rajiv Parikh - New Monsoon :: 02.04.06
My guess is the story at The Fillmore was what stays with us over the years and how we keep finding a smile in spite of what we've faced, what we've done. The Who's "Eminence Front" has improved with touring, Miller really nailing the Townsend vocal sneer now while the whole enterprise growls behind him. It's a dark one, full of disappointed understanding, and it fits nicely with the themes on their grand 2005 release The Sound. "Rock Springs Road" seemed especially wistful, the miles and bad news clinging like dust to the chorus. I found myself singing without realizing I'd opened my mouth, choking a bit on my own dust. It was made all the more moving by the inspired touches added by Hot Buttered Rum, the whole band joining them on this set closer.

The new material is coming along nicely too. Carper is stepping up on lead vocals regularly, and his turn at this show had the gruff richness of J.J. Cale, further bolstered by his tasty lap steel licks. "Traveling Gypsies" and "Water Vein" have the quality, if not the feel, of Grateful Dead songs. Though still in their infancy, they stand a chance of becoming indestructible and as instantly timeless as Garcia-Hunter cuts like "Ripple" and "Deal."


New Monsoon :: 02.04.06
The rest of their set comes back to me in bursts that are more feelings than distinct memories, with Jeff Miller, a modern descendent of Jeff Beck and Robin Trower, crawling inside my brain and massaging away some nasty knots. That's in there. I recall Ben Bernstein's hammer-of-the-gods bass and KISS-worthy stage antics. The yellowish bruise on my left thigh brings back slapping along with Ylitalo's freight train beat. I remember peels of unhinged piano, Indian-flavored banjo, the heartbeat of hand drums, smiles, levitation, joy on a bun with all my favorite toppings. These last three are where metaphor overtakes reporting. With this band I am fully present in the moment, focused on what they're doing, fed and fluffed by their music. There are only a few other groups that put me in this mindset. I'm not often able to live in the moment. The evening was elevated by the presence of another band (HBR) that's well on their way to having the same effect on me. A look at the audience told me I was not alone in these feelings. Folks don't glow like this too often.

LET'S JOIN TOGETHER IN THE BAND


New Monsoon & Hot Buttered Rum :: 02.04.06
The last 45 minutes brought everyone out for a three song encore that was nothing short of spectacular. "Kashmir" was followed incongruously by a revamped version of Jerry Reid's "Eastbound And Down" from the Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack. With new verses, I believe penned by Bo Carper, it became "Westbound And Down" and kicked like a moonshine-fed mule. The last number was The Band's indefatigable "The Weight." They played the opening chords just as I was writing a note about how much the gaggle of shaggy-haired musicos on stage reminded me of The Last Waltz. It's not just their look but their dedication to music. Overwhelmingly together, this lacked any of the usual "Super Jam" sloppiness where too many hands make the soup taste like crap. This was singleness of purpose working towards power and maybe a little glory.


New Monsoon & Hot Buttered Rum :: 02.04.06
To hear them described, Hot Buttered is a bluegrass band and New Monsoon plays world music. Neither description is remotely accurate except in the broadest, laziest terms. These bands don't make sense under the modern definition of rock, and their instrumentation and nice-guy reputations further exacerbate the matter. Both groups have made artistic choices that separate them from the well-crafted haircuts that usually get across today. But in their earliest days, War, Fairport Convention, and the Allman Brothers didn't conform to any previous models of rock bands either, and as such, were often misunderstood. The glorious thing about rock is its infinitely expansive nature. Where another genre might have rules that don't allow certain things, rock says bring it and we'll sort out whether it works or not after a listen. Rock has lost a good deal of that largess lately, but it's exactly why the best stuff endures.

All of this occurred to me during "Kashmir" in one of those stretched-out seconds the universe tosses us from time to time. As all-powerful drums walloped me, I surrendered to the seductive, surprisingly hungry lead singing of Hot Buttered's Erik Yates. No live performance that I've ever heard by Plant and Page or Zep themselves even approaches it. And while New Monsoon may incorporate island rhythms and complex, jazzy passages, and Hot Buttered Rum sometimes hews closely to what other string bands do, this song announced that the heart that beats inside these boys is pure rock. It drives music that is pure and real and so goddamn enjoyable at times it makes me twitch. If they can be patient, let the music do its work and find them the right ears, then there's no doubt in my mind they'll grow into the "elders of the gentle race" that Plant wrote about in 1975.

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[Published on: 2/10/06]

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Comments

mikemix starstarstar Fri 2/10/2006 07:37PM
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mikemix

How about a Monsoon butterd rum. Its most tasty

VWFiend Sat 2/11/2006 11:22PM
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This show was fucking insane, the best I have ever seen either of these bands play. I never thought I would see anyone cover Kashmir and make it sound good, they pulled it off.

mindyfromlawrence starstarstarstarstar Sun 2/12/2006 03:42PM
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Aw yeah ~ this crazy combination is worthy of everybody's attention!

I happened to be in Portland the weekend of the HBR/NM show at the Wonder Ballroom, and I was just blown away. Have not had that kind of show in ages. It was like seeing my first Phish show ~ in that I knew, from the bottom of my feet (rarely on the ground) to the base of my spine (tingling with raw energy) that I was experiencing a thing that will stay with me and which I will seek out for new adventures as long as it exists. They threw in a rollicking 'After Midnight', and put the room in a trance with a beautiful 'Echoes'. Wow.

Seriously, if you haven't heard New Monsoon, the instrumentation and phrasing is incredibly tight, sounds fresh, and they ROCK. Throw in Hot Buttered Rum and it is pure magic on stage. I can only pray that they will both find their way out here to Kansas City/Lawrence and give all us thirsty hippies a nice long drink of that fresh, cool water. Its been a long winter, and we need it.

Thanks for the review I'm off to get the Fillmore show!
MindyMae

mindyfromlawrence starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 02:43AM
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OH I forgot to mention the craziest thing about the Portland HBR/NM show ~~~ it was January 28th and the Chinese New Year, and some of the fans brought in this huge white and red Lion.

It was the sort with a 'head' person and a 'tail' person. The head had big blinking eyes with huge red eyelashes and a big wide mouth that opened and closed with an orange and red tongue!!! First it came out of backstage and went into the crowd, through the whole Ballroom, everyone just freaking on it. Then later a couple of the guys from Hot Buttered Rum got inside it and they were up on the right side of the stage with New Monsoon while they did 'Gelstream', with some of the other guys from HBR playing too. The Lion danced, nodding and blinking and its mouth gaping open and slamming shut to the music....

It was something to behold, truly. Props to the folks who brought the Lion out that night. They really made the show for everyone!!!
MindyMae

Flat5 Mon 2/13/2006 05:16AM
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Flat5

you know when the highlight was a zeppelin song that the band relied on the audiences hunger for music.

pgeano Mon 2/13/2006 08:45AM
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http://www.archive.org/audio/etree-details-db.php?id=33599

crescentvale starstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 10:27AM
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crescentvale

Great pictures and writing, thank you for this article. The buck stops here, when it comes down to it these bands take risks and it pays off. If more bigger bands did this, it might be worth to pay over 40$ a ticket. Or if your are at festival do you want one band or two on stage. I have seen jam music for 5 years now, its better now with more risks then it was at the first bonnaroo, where there was one big risk at the superjam. Buy your ticket now for wakarusa.

southernhippie starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 10:31AM
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BRING IT DOWN SOUTH!

treemama starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 11:55AM
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Awesome review! This is one of the best shows I have seen in a long while. I'm a huge fan of both bands and it's great to see them coming together to pull off a night of superb music. Looking forward to more collaboration.

Go see HBR and NM as much as you possibly can while they are still playing smaller venues.

rpmills starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 12:40PM
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Damn Cook, you absolutely nailed that review bro!
The Fillmore was most definitely floating on this night. The guys were up there and they gave everything they had. Who cares if the peak was an original or cover? What matters is that the show was killer, bottom line. Check out the link below. The source is little fuzzy and the crowd a little too noisy (if you were there however crowd noise was not an issue). But it gets across the point that these two bands made; that they are on the path to potential greatness.

jedijam starstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 12:50PM
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These guys get better every time we see 'em. NYE was great and NW tour validated HBRSB are growing to be some fine California grass (bluegrass that is.)

HGMN starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 01:55PM
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HGMN

Wish I could've been there - sounds like magic.
Check out clips from HBRs new CD "Well Oiled Machine" (release date 2/21/06) by clicking here.

rowdiex starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 04:18PM
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rowdiex

Sweet, great article, thats what im talking about jam base. Great job! Keep up the good work! Speaking of good work, check out that nasty cover for the HBR cd, my good friend and local tender at my watering hole did the artwork for them, hes a really chill guy. Anywho, hope to see them performing together soon!

Blake4 starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/23/2006 06:19PM
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WOW! MONSOON BUTTERED RUM. TALK ABOUT THAT ON THE ROCKS!!!!