U-Melt | 01.01.08 | New York

Words by: David Schultz | Images by: Jeremy Gordon

U-Melt :: 01.01.08 :: Highline Ballroom :: New York, NY

U-Melt :: 01.01.08 :: New York
U-Melt‘s annual New Year’s Eve after-hours show has emerged as one of New York City’s most exciting options for city dwellers who consider the Times Square ball drop to be the beginning, not the end, of the evening. Since their first in 2004, U-Melt’s late night celebrations customarily run until the wee hours of the morning. They’ve always attracted a sizable crowd but this year at the Highline Ballroom the scene exploded. If this performance was any indication, 2008 is poised to be a breakout year for Zac Lasher (keys), Rob Salzer (guitar), Adam Bendy (bass) and George Miller (drums).

U-Melt has always relished the freedom inherent in late night shows, the open environment affording them the opportunity to experiment and let their songs evolve naturally. Spurred on by the crowd’s seemingly endless reserves of energy, U-Melt kept the audience dancing until 6:00 a.m. Well schooled in musical theory, their lengthy odysseys, which averaged between 15-20 minutes, were intricately arranged with many twists and turns. Rarely does this band get mired in one groove for very long. It’s this adventurous spirit that led them to cover Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe album in its entirety earlier this year.

Rob Salzer :: 01.01.08 :: New York
Playing in their preferred half-circle configuration, U-Melt put forth an outstanding set, as memorable for its musical complexity as it was for its improvisational creativity. With the rhythm section building a solid foundation, Lasher and Salzer had plenty of room to work in a varied array of inspired solos. Hitting the stage at 2:30 a.m., U-Melt launched into their cover of Fatboy Slim‘s “Praise You,” with Lasher drawing a warm response as he sang, “We’ve come a long long way together.” For the next three-and-a-half hours, U-Melt created a high-octane blend of blues, jazz, psychedelia and electronica that included high-spirited versions of well-traveled tunes like “Green Amber” and the Latin-tinctured “Carne,” newer songs like “Clear Light” and the two-part Tom Robbins-inspired “A Robbins Tale.”

One of the most electrifying guitarists playing today, Salzer worked his magic without ever deviating from the established musical themes. Though he possesses the ability to dominate a show with his chops, Salzer never draws undue attention onto himself. During the last hour of the show – which featured a nicely measured version of “Go,” a high-octane run though “Escape” and a version of “Red Star” that completely unhinged the crowd – Salzer turned in a series of absolutely stunning guitar solos. In the midst of “Go,” he segued into “Auld Lang Syne” and, much like Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, drew great power out of the traditional tune by simply stripping it down to the bare essence of its familiar notes.

Zac Lasher :: 01.01.08 :: New York
If Salzer’s guitar evoked a visceral reaction, Lasher’s keyboards triggered a cerebral one. Playing off of Miller’s accelerated drumming, Lasher set the electronica aspect of U-Melt’s music soaring on the wings of his synthesizer. He gave a carnival feel to “The Fantastic Flight Of Captain Delicious” and recreated the swirling melody of Seal’s “Crazy.” Lasher and Salzer are able to work their magic because of the exceptionally potent rhythm section of Bendy and Miller. On “Clear Light” and “The Eternal Groove,” Miller’s impeccable sense of timing set the tempo and repeatedly spurred the band forward, especially at key points in the jams. This rhythm team took just one solo – Bendy’s nifty little bass run during the bouncy “Air” – yet their presence was felt in each song.

Bendy received a well-earned bit of recognition right before the encore. When the bassist was late returning to the stage after the brief break, Salzer, Lasher and Miller played the opening chords of Kool & The Gang’s “Get Down On It” until he returned. Upon receiving a hero’s welcome from the crowd, the soft-spoken bassist took a moment to bask in the love and slap hands with the front row.

Jim Loughlin :: 01.01.08 :: New York
moe.‘s Jim Loughlin, fresh from his band’s second straight New Year’s Eve show at Radio City Music Hall, joined U-Melt for the middle two hours of their set. Playing like he’s been with the band for years, Loughlin added additional percussion and vibes to live U-Melt staples like the aforementioned “Carne” and newer grooves like the Salzer-penned “Elysian Fields.” U-Melt’s shifting time signatures and tempo changes hardly threw Loughlin, who seemed to thrive in the environment. Without interfering with Miller’s beat, Loughlin deftly found the right spaces to add color. And their cover of “Dancin’ Fool,” where Miller channeled Zappa’s smarmy, charming vocal style, took great advantage of Loughlin’s skills with the MalletKat.

With their first show of 2008, U-Melt has set the bar for themselves at an extraordinary height. Not worried about blowing their wad too early, Lasher set the tone for U-Melt’s upcoming winter tour by promising, “We’ll top it. Don’t you worry.”

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