Words by: Nathan Rodriguez :: Images by: Robert Foster
MSMW [Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood] :: 12.03.06 :: Liberty Hall :: Lawrence, KS
The lights at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas dimmed as John Scofield walked out, accompanied by John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood. The band spent a minute or two working a few stray notes, as Billy Martin conversed in sign language with the sound engineer. After working the kinks out, the sound coalesced and Scofield slid into the immediately recognizable hook to "A Go Go." The cramped crowd of 500 roared in appreciation, and it seemed to satisfy most people's biggest request for the night.
MSMW :: 12.03 :: Kansas
The song's hook is the epitome of "playing in the pocket." As they began to branch out, Scofield's pinching, angular guitar worked its way to the edges of musicality before backing off. About ten minutes in, Medeski pushed the song ahead as the other three dropped out of the mix entirely. Medeski soloed for a few seconds and with a slight nod to the band, Scofield jumped in and leapt to the bridge. Within seconds they returned to the hook and let the song leave with a flutter - the perfect execution of a fan favorite.
An improv titled "Down The Tubes" started with the usual Martin "bells and whistles" cacophony but after a few minutes of clatter, Chris Wood zeroed in on a simple, powerful rhythm. Billy Martin toyed with the beat, forcing it ahead at times and catching up to it at others. Scofield and Medeski took turns in the driver seat, each laying it on pretty thick for a few minutes before the song achieved a soft, smooth, gliding flow. The band stayed with the theme for several minutes before landing squarely in "Tootie Ma."
Medeski - MSMW :: 12.03 :: Kansas
A maniacal, screaming request for "Bubblehouse" was met with a laugh and a dismissive shake of the head from Medeski, as "Little Walter Rides Again" quickly followed. "Walter" has a bit of an attitude problem. This cranky, stomping feel makes it the perfect opening track for Out Louder, the quartet's recent studio release. Martin and Wood relentlessly thrashed away, churning out a propulsive beat as Medeski and Scofield took turns leading the fray.
The band leapt into "Miles Behind" to close the set with a seeming tribute to Miles Davis. Scofield played with Miles in the '80s, and according to Miles's autobiography, he "liked the subtlety of Scofield's playing." It's also worth noting that after playing on multiple tours and albums together, Scofield had enough talent and confidence to tell Miles he was leaving the group. Choosing to title the song "Miles Behind" becomes a little more interesting with that knowledge.
Scofield & Martin - MSMW :: 12.03 :: Kansas
"Miles Behind" starts with Billy Martin erupting into a thunderous, hyperkinetic smashing of everything within arm's length. Scofield jumps in and the band takes off without looking back. It has a self-propelled, trance-like quality to it that blends right in with Bitches Brew. A fiery finish led to a hoarse Scofield informing the crowd they'd be back in a few. It was a good first set marked by quality musicianship that lost focus occasionally.
"In Case the World Changes Its Mind" was a solid opener for the second set, but the crowd reaction indicated a clear desire for calypso with the blissful, mindlessly exotic arrival of "Tequila and Chocolate."
Martin & Wood - MSMW :: 12.03 :: Kansas
"Hanuman" was the first real opportunity for Scofield to comfortably sprawl out. MMW focused their energy on providing Sco a tight platform, and it seemed as though the band had found its collective groove. That cohesive sound ebbed and flowed as Medeski introduced a variety of effects and distortion to the theme.
The crowd erupted when the notes of "Little Drummer Boy" forced their way into "illyB." They toyed around with the holiday theme (and subtle tongue-in-cheek nod to Billy Martin) for a few minutes before slipping back gracefully into "illyB."
"What Now" was a rager, a swinging beat with swagger that gave Medeski an opportunity to pound away on the Howitzer. Meanwhile, Scofield eliminated all traces of pensiveness and cranked out a howling blues solo. Chris Wood kept the bass thumping, as Billy Martin forced the drums into hyper-drive. The whole band latched on as the pace hastened. Scofield anted up and proceeded to deliver a heart-racing, fist-pounding solo that sealed the deal and drew riotous applause at the finish.
Scofield & Martin - MSMW
12.03 :: Kansas
MSMW played 10 out of the 12 songs on Out Louder. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Actually, if you check out the setlists from this tour, they are virtually identical, changing only the order in which the songs are played. Again, nothing wrong with that but don't expect to hear much off A Go Go or vintage material from MMW or Scofield.
That being said, this may go down as one of those rare tours that music lovers will discover and rediscover for years and decades to come. It's impossible to predict what audiophiles will deem "classic" 50 years from now but the music created at Liberty Hall — particularly the final half hour — was inspired. And, while the entire band was "on," it was Billy Martin who delivered one of his most memorable performances in awhile. MSMW is a supergroup for the ages. The fact that it wasn't a set of Scofield, a set of MMW, then a collaborative set, speaks volumes. This isn't MMW with Scofield. This is a brand new beast.
MSMW :: 12.03.06 :: Liberty Hall :: Lawrence, KS
Set 1: A Go Go, Down The Tubes (Improv) > Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing, Little Walter Rides Again, Telegraph > Miles Behind,
Set 2: In Case The World Changes Its Mind > Tequila & Chocolate, Hanuman > illyB > Little Drummer Boy > illyB > What Now Chank
E: New New Orleans
JamBase | Kansas
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