JACK STRAW | 2.23 | CHAMPAIGN

The Grateful Dead, Phish, Allman Brothers... do any of these names ring a bell? Put them together with some solid original music and you have the hottest band in the midwest, Jack Straw! I have been fortunate enough to see JS seven or eight times and have yet to be disappointed. This review is intended to clue you in on the good times and great tunes surrounding this up and coming band.

First of all, let me introduce you to Jack Straw. On guitar and vocals is Jon Gram. One of the founding members of Uncle Jon’s Band, Jon also brings JS a group of original songs written by himself. Holding down the keyboards is none other than Barry Brown. According to the JS website, Barry is a “music a-phish-ianado” having experienced his first Phish concert in 1992! Fresh off of a month stint with Dark Star Orchestra is the bassist, Kevin Rosen. Kevin brings JS a vast knowledge of the Grateful Dead having seen his first GD concert way back in 1971! Last but not least is the drummer, Jim Farmer. Jim has played in several different bands in the Chicago area throughout the past few years.

Now on to the show...

We arrived at the Canopy Club about an hour before show time. First things first, this venue is great! If you ever have a chance to see any band there, GO! Anyway, we sat in eager anticipation for around an hour and an half before Jack Straw took the stage. Their fashionably late arrival worked out well as it gave time for a larger crowd to begin to congregate. As I heard the first few notes of music, I knew that the band had not come to mess around. The show opened with a rousing rendition of Scarlet Begonias which was played to perfection. Several minutes into the jam, the crowd experienced it’s first segue of the evening. Without missing a beat, they transformed the smooth sound of Scarlet Begonias into the funky sound of The Meatstick! Now that is a Dead > Phish transition that you will see few bands, if any, ever accomplish as well as Jack Straw. By this point in the show, quite a group of phans were gathering who were willing to participate in the infamous Meatstick Dance. A good time was being had by all. After finishing up Meatstick, the band once again morphed the song back into Scarlet Begonias in order to give it a proper ending.

Having already masterfully played tunes by the Dead and Phish, Jack Straw moved on to cover another band familiar to us all. Next on the list was a version of the Allman Brother’s Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More. After hearing them cover these three different bands, their diversity and great taste in music should have been obvious to everyone present. Next was the first original song of the evening. This tune, called Nothin’ But Trouble, was written by Jon Gram himself and appears on his CD titled Gramville Stories. This blues-like tune is definitely worth checking out. The band then proceeded to play Gotta Jiboo. This one seems to be a band favorite and for good reason. Jon Gram nails the guitar riff every time through and midway through the jam he was able to show off a bit with a small solo. Before long, the Jiboo jam began to slow down and eventually transitioned into an amazing version of Sugaree. This song allowed the audience to take a much needed breather after the frenzy which was Jiboo. However, the audience was not able to rest for long because next was a version of Stevie Wonder’s Boogie On Reggae Woman. If Jon controlled the Jiboo jam, for this one he passed the torch to Barry on the keys. Equipped with Stevie Wonder sunglasses, Barry put both his keyboards to work throughout the jam. After another Jon Gram original, Don't Call Me, their next cover was the fitting Jack Straw. This would seem to be the perfect set closer for this song but instead they went into The Rolling Stone’s Loving Cup. This new addition to Jack Straw's repertoire was flawless! It closed the set perfectly. All in all, the one hour and twenty minute first set was sweet! Everyone appeared to have a great time and the music was unbelievable!

After only twenty minutes of set break, Jack Straw once again took the stage. Set two opened with a cover of Bathtub Gin. Complete with crowd participation and a nice jam that lasted around 13 minutes, it got the crowd right back into the show. After Bathtub came a cover of the Grateful Dead favorite, China Cat Sunflower. I especially enjoyed this one because it was the first time I had heard Jack Straw play it. Rather than transitioning into the expected I Know You Rider, they instead morphed China Cat into another Jon Gram original. This one is called Pocketful Of Jewels and is my personal favorite of his originals. The chorus to this song always puts a smile on my face.

Next came the Pink Floyd cover of Wish You Were Here. Jon was once again able to shine on his guitar on this one. At the end of Wish You Were Here the band started a spacey jam which lead to one of the highlights of the night. The jam soon became the Phish-style version of Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001), once again, played to perfection. The crowd was going crazy and were completely into this song. When it drew to a close, the band broke into Samson and Delilah! This song was accompanied by one of the many quality drum solos throughout the show. Unfortunately, the show soon had to come to a close. Jack Straw ended set two with their version of the Phish tune, Suzie Greenburg. A jam which proved it to be a worthy set closer. This set wrapped up at just under an hour. While shorter than set one, I believe set two packed a little bit more punch.

After only a couple minutes offstage, Jack Straw returned for an encore. The first song was a quiet version of the Grateful Dead’s Monkey And The Engineer. Jon Gram played solo guitar and sang with accompaniment by both Barry and Kevin. This song was in stark contrast to the song that followed. The show closed with a perfect version of Harry Hood. Each section was performed flawlessly. It was very fitting to close the show.

Overall, the show was a blast. These guys never fail to put on a good show! Anyone who likes music should definitely check them out anytime you have the chance. You won’t be disappointed. Check their schedule! I hope my review has encouraged you to check them out, but as you know, a concert can’t always be put into words. I hope you go see them for yourself.

Take it easy,
Ross Leduc
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 2/27/01]

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