Words by: Jay Flemma
Images by: Bryan Lasky
Ominous Seapods :: 1.12.18 :: Cohoes Music Hall :: Cohoes, NY
Everything’s in motion,
But they remain the same,
A picture, forever
Etched, into my brain
— “Too Much Fire On The Brain”
These weren’t just reunion shows or a revival that Ominous Seapods threw down for a pair of nights at the Cohoes Music Hall outside their former hometown of Albany. They were a reminder, indeed a clarion call. They were a papal bull from the pulpit shouted to all Christendom that if this band ever decided to return, they would once again assert their rightful place as an alpha predator of the jam scene.
Part Talking Heads, part jazzy prog, and a lot of southern rock and bluegrass, the Seapods were, in their day, the Clown Princes of Rock ’n’ Roll, (a torch now taken up by Texas rockers Bowling for Soup). At times tight and precise, at times wondrously explorative in any number of directions, and always a laugh-a-minute, they made you sing, they made you dance, they cracked you up with their madcap antics. You may have seen a billion bands in your life, but you never forgot Ominous Seapods, and no matter what festival you went to, they always, somehow, stole the show. When the scene lost them in 2001, a great light went out.
There were reunion shows before – 2003, 2008 and 2011, but those were what you’d expect from a retired band – more of an alumni weekend meets friends and family vibe than a world-class, kick-ass, blow-the-doors-off rock concert. Not this weekend: If the previous reunion gigs were “dust off those rusty strings just one more time, I’m gonna make ‘em shine,” this weekend was “OOOOOOOH! THERE’S GOES TOKYO! GO, GO, GODZILLA!”
The tone was set the moment Max Verna sang his first lyric of the run, “That golden arm chair hasn’t called me yet. I’m too young.”
The room rang with the cheering.
Indeed, Max’s song selection all night was full of heartfelt gratitude to his friends and family. “Theme For Another Enlightened Rogue” and “Guardian Angel,” (referencing Max’s sister who was at the show), overwhelmed you with their sincerity and vulnerability.
“Theme for Another Enlightened Rogue” also lit the fuse on the first jam of the run, a bouncy groove that led unexpectedly into “Roadside Ecology,” the second song of Dana Monteith’s “Mike Murphy Trilogy” and which featured a completely rewritten middle section.
Here’s a band that’s been gone almost 20 years, yet they took the time – separated by half a world by the way, and with just six weeks to prepare – to rework some songs. That’s both commitment and raw talent.
In something many fans never saw the Seapods do before, Max then played his early classic “Millworker’s Lament” solo acoustic. This rarity had even old Seapods soundman Marty Racine wide-eyed with wonder.
“I’ve been waiting years to see that,” he confided.
The instrument juggling continued for a number of songs. Tom Pirozzi grabbed his stand-up bass and rejoined Max for “Long Black Veil,” a debut for the Seapods. The rest of the band rejoined the stage for the jam out of “Guardian Angels” and after teasing “Gunshot Static” (with Brian Mangini playing metaphoric quarterback doing a play action and the crowd biting on the fake) they smoothly slid into “Candy Cane Flame,” another unexpected selection from deep in the playbook, yet infectiously danceable driven by Dr. Ted Marotta’s impeccable timekeeping.
You read that correctly, by the way. In between gigs, Ted got his Ph.D. in history.
The jam out of “Candy Cane” saw Dana and Max smoothly switch instruments – Dana to acoustic and Max back to his Strat – and the band landed in Tom’s first song of the night, “Branch’s’ House.”
Perhaps because it was Tom’s birthday, perhaps because these shows were his idea in the first place, or perhaps it was just one of those magical organic moments that happens spontaneously at a show, but the crowd went full-on nutso, and it turned into a sing-along, reverberating from the rafters. It was the first moment of sheer, uninhibited joy and from a completely unlooked for place. It was also an unmistakable signal that this band was in top form, and that far from merely recalling the glory days, we were being transported back there, and as the band landed in “The Pull From Adirondack Blue,” with the right kind of eyes, it was 1996 all over again, and we were all back in the North Country, kickin’ it on the porch at Billy Allen’s Waterhole, the heady, halcyon days of a nascent jam scene.
Set one closed with what is known in the Seapod lexicon as “Sally”->”Cali”-> “Sally” – where the band plays The Who staple “Sally Simpson,” but as they reach the penultimate verse and sing “Sally got married to a rock musician she met in California,” they bust into “First Day in California.” Since its introduction into the rotation, it’s always been an enormous crowd favorite as well as a litmus test into how deep the mutation – the Seapod term for their inimitable jamming – will go. This night both Max and Dana each drove the “Cali” jam, at times dark trippy, at times wildly frenetic. It was energetic, intelligent, and complex, as interesting as any you could pull from archival recordings. Then as they hit the final crescendo of “Cali,” they busted smoothly into the end of “Sally Simpson.”
Dana’s songs continued to be the engine that drove much of the second set. Sure, we got Max favorites “Leaving the Monopole” and “Sneakin’ Sally,” and those were, as expected, crowd favorites. Yet the second set saw two distinct peaks. After “Monopole,” Dana chose the poignant, softly-lilting “Sitting Up Counting Time,” and in what was one of the great strengths of the Seapods – the ability to smoothly move the groove however they liked – the outro jam began grew more country-esque, and to everyone’s astonishment, the Seapods broke into “Cumberland Blues,” another debut, and a nod to Dana’s new profession as a miner in Perth, Australia.
The other highlight of the second set was “Schizophrenic Rain,” which sandwiched bluegrass favorite “Oberon and Titania” and Pirozzi’s groove-tastic “Passengers en Route” and featured three distinct teases: “John Henry’s Hammer,” “Mike Murphy 3,” and The Allman Brother Bands’ “Jessica.” Here’s where the Seapods truly proved they had not only kept pace even though 20 years had passed, they had evolved and grown musically.
“The way they went in and out of songs, teased the hell out of everything, and hit killer musical peaks during the jams shows that even though 20 years may have passed, the Seapods are as relevant and as important to the scene as ever,” said Syracuse-based fan Gary “Happy” Lopez.
Now here’s the staggering fact – the one that makes you stop dead in your tracks even if you’re a seasoned music industry veteran – they pulled this all together and played shows as good as any they ever played in their history in six short weeks. Tom got the idea he wanted a birthday party, Greg Bell offered a sterling venue, and with some loving hectoring from Mrs. Deb Monteith, Dana agreed. But that was just the beginning. They had to relearn their music separately, sometimes under strange circumstances. At 10 p.m., with all the house supposedly asleep, Max would play his electric guitar unplugged, whispering lyrics as quietly as possible, but still his daughter Elle would patter down the stairs and chastise Daddy for playing too loudly. And Dana’s Paul Reed Smith custom was on the other side of the world from him.
“None of us expected them to be this good,” gushed an ebullient Bob Kelly, in his day one a college concert promoter and the band’s former tour manager. “Look what they put together in six weeks!”
Still, the greatest success of the pair of weekend shows was the rekindling of the unconditional love between band, family, friends, and fans. For two glorious nights, that warm North Country vibe had returned, and everyone felt it from the newbies seeing their first show to the Plattsburghers who saw how it all began. The band cares so much about their fans, they stay close to them, and that makes the fans that much more loyal. Max and his family, for example, stayed at the same hotel as the fans and their respective families watched sports in the hotel bar together. Meanwhile the Manginis hosted one party, while Pirozzi hit as many gatherings and visited as many friends as he possibly could. It was a love-in.
“Every step you take, there’s someone else from your life,” Tom said gratefully, speaking not just for band members, but for everyone. If there’s one indisputable truth about Ominous Seapods it’s this: no matter how many miles lay between you or how many years pass, they never leave you, and you’re forever better for it. When you’re a Seapod, you’re a Seapod for life.
Photos (by Bryan Lasky)
Videos From The Weekend (Assorted Videographers)
Set One: I Hope I Shall Arrive, ¼ lb. Hotdog -> Theme For Another Enlightened Rogue (with outro jam) -> Roadside Ecology, Millworker’s Lament (Max solo acoustic), Long Black Veil (Max and Tom acoustic) -> Guardian Angels (Max acoustic) -> Gunshot Static tease-> Candy Cane Flame (Max acoustic) -> Branch’s House (Dana acoustic) -> Pull From Adirondack Blue, Waiting For The Bomb To Drop, Sally Simpson -> First Day in California -> Sally Simpson
Set Two: Greg Intro -> Old GP, Leaving the Monopole, Sitting Up Counting Time -> Cumberland Blues, John Henry’s Hammer tease -> Schizophrenic Rain -> Jessica tease -> Oberon and Titania -> Passengers en Route -> Mike Murphy3 tease -> Eggbeater Jam -> Schizophrenic Rain, Sneakin Sally, Hey Donnie Osmond, Why Do You Walk That Way?
Encore: That’s How They Got Along, Mike Murphy 3
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