Superfrog at The Blue Mermaid--The Wire

Written by Matt Kanner   
Thursday, 15 May 2008

In many respects, Superfrog is like a live, retro jukebox filled with records hand selected by stoner hippies of the late 1960s. During the band’s two sets at The Blue Mermaid in Portsmouth last Friday, the six members covered songs by Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, to name but a few. The only thing that keeps Frog outside the realm of a “cover band” is a smattering of original tunes, which the group will soon convert into its first full-length album.

In a demonstration of its musical training, Superfrog tuned its instruments and loosened up with “So What,” off of Miles Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue.” Once the band members were satisfied with the sound, they kicked off the show with “Badfish,” the first of two Sublime covers of the night. Midway through the song, guitarists Andy Mendola and Jeremy “Fuzzy” Grob dueled playfully on their six-strings, the former on electric and the latter on acoustic. Meanwhile, bassist Nate Proper and drummer Shane Comer maintained the beat, while trumpeter Tony DiBurto ornamented the tune with his horn. 

It was quickly evident that the musicians, most of whom are in their early 20s, strive to replicate the frolicking party atmosphere that Sublime imbued in the 1990s. While the band paid frequent tribute to its classic rock forefathers, it also tipped its cap to modern jam acts like moe. Interspersed between the covers were occasional originals that carried a similarly jammy, funk-rock sound.

In many respects, Superfrog is like a live, retro jukebox filled with records hand selected by stoner hippies of the late 1960s. During the band’s two sets at The Blue Mermaid in Portsmouth last Friday, the six members covered songs by Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, to name but a few. The only thing that keeps Frog outside the realm of a “cover band” is a smattering of original tunes, which the group will soon convert into its first full-length album.

In a demonstration of its musical training, Superfrog tuned its instruments and loosened up with “So What,” off of Miles Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue.” Once the band members were satisfied with the sound, they kicked off the show with “Badfish,” the first of two Sublime covers of the night. Midway through the song, guitarists Andy Mendola and Jeremy “Fuzzy” Grob dueled playfully on their six-strings, the former on electric and the latter on acoustic. Meanwhile, bassist Nate Proper and drummer Shane Comer maintained the beat, while trumpeter Tony DiBurto ornamented the tune with his horn. 

It was quickly evident that the musicians, most of whom are in their early 20s, strive to replicate the frolicking party atmosphere that Sublime imbued in the 1990s. While the band paid frequent tribute to its classic rock forefathers, it also tipped its cap to modern jam acts like moe. Interspersed between the covers were occasional originals that carried a similarly jammy, funk-rock sound.

Superfrog formed about two years ago in South Berwick, Maine, where Proper and Comer played in a high school band together. Equipped with an acoustic five-string and electric six-string bass, Proper serves as front man, showcasing a voice that is not far removed from Sublime’s Brad Nowell. Proper splits vocal duties with the able-voiced Wendy Crosier and the two often harmonize together, with both guitarists pitching in occasional vocals, as well.

Over the last year, the group has heavily increased its gigging schedule, playing shows throughout the greater Seacoast. The band completed an album for the RPM Challenge in February and is working with producer Aaron Katz (of Percy Hill) on a new CD. According to Proper, the studio sessions should be completed by the end of May. There is also a live recording in the works, consisting of several monthly shows played at Bourbon’s in Portsmouth. The band added a second guitarist last month in Grob, of the recently departed Funkfoot. Superfrog seems poised to occupy the local jam slot recently vacated by Grob’s former band.

The second song performed on Friday was an original with a breezy, psychedelic opening that paved the way for Crosier’s introduction. Like the rest of the band, it took Crosier a little while to capture the music’s spirit and reign in the audience, but she kicked her vocals up a notch for a slick cover of Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” and later killed the room with a growling rendition of Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”
Proper played the first set seated, thumping the five strings of his ivory-colored acoustic bass on his lap. After roping in the crowd with covers of Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er” and the Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain,” Proper switched to his six-string in time for a fast-paced moe cover, followed by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Mendola played an invigorated solo in the style of the late legend, prepping fans for Crosier’s channeling of Grace Slick on “Somebody to Love.”
After a short set break during which the musicians seemed unable to stray too far from their instruments, Frog dove into the second set with a hyped up ska version of Paul Simon’s “If You Be My Bodyguard.” Grob sat out most of the second set, while Proper rose to his feet to sing and play with renewed tenacity on Sublime’s “Santeria.” Next came “Piece of My Heart,” which may have been the single biggest crowd pleaser of the night. Another original followed, featuring a rapid fire high-hat rhythm from Comer, who played a drum set with one cymbal that looked like a shark had taken a bite out of it.
The next tune, a cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” featured a simmering vocal exchange between Proper and Crosier. Mendola launched into a heavy metal intro to The Kink’s classic “You Really Got Me,” playing more in the style of Eddie Van Halen, who famously covered the song. Mendola later pulled off an admirable solo on Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” to close the evening.
If you’re hungry for an evening of hippie rock, Superfrog has upcoming gigs at The Grog in Newburyport on Thursday, May 15, and at The Barley Pub in Dover on Saturday, June 7. Visit www.superfrogmusic.com.

Fri 6/27/2008 1:42 PM