Friday, September 27, 2013

U-Melt Rides Again

U-Melt at Brooklyn Bowl 9/21/13

Last Saturday, the New York based improvisational-progressive band, U-Melt, played their first show in nearly three years to a packed house at the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. Being a band that had always had a tight connection with its fans, and those fans to each other, it was a reunion in a very classic sense. The night was truly a gathering of old friends, both onstage and off.

In a sense, though, it was considerably more than that. In spite of the fact that it was advertised as a one-off gig, there was a feeling that the band was experiencing its own revitalization and reinvention. This was due in no small part to the fact that the show marked the first time that the band performed with five full members, with founders Zac Lasher, Rob Salzer, Adam Bendy and George Miller being joined by new member Kevin Griffin, a long-time friend of the band. Griffin had filled the role of U-Melt guitarist for a period in 2010 when Salzer bowed out just after completing the band’s final album, Perfect World. At those shows, Griffin’s technical abilities made him more than able to recreate Salzer’s intricately dazzling guitar parts, while at the same time demonstrating his own energetic and somewhat looser style of playing. Now, with Salzer and Griffin playing together onstage for the first time as bandmates (Griffin had often sat in with the band in earlier years), they found a powerful new sound combining Salzer’s fluid, wizardly lines with Griffin’s exuberant style, often featuring breathtaking harmonic lines, often played at breakneck speed, displayed on the show’s opener, “Elysian Fields.”

With an additional member to tackle some of the harmonic parts, keyboardist Zac Lasher now had greater freedom to create the ethereal sonic dreamscapes that have come to be a cornerstone of the band’s sound. Indeed, he had his work cut out for him (or rather, he had cut it out for himself) as the band’s last recordings featured some of Lasher’s most dense and layered parts. Lasher and the band had clearly come a long way from the sparse sounds of their earlier live-tronica influenced jams when the band was in its infancy. This is not to say that from the outset, the band did not always seek to combine danceable grooves with elegant and intricate composition, they simply got better at it.

Drummer George Miller and bassist Adam Bendy showed once again that they had the unique ability to hold down a danceable groove when playing music replete with complex meter and key changes, ensuring that the music would be as satisfying for the body as for the head. As George’s deft, thunderous playing weaved between propulsive and jazzy, Bendy displayed his combination of straight in-the-pocket playing with acute harmonic intelligence

To be sure, it was not a standard U-Melt setlist. One thing conspicuously absent was the occasional throw-in of a classic prog or 80s cover song to contribute to the party atmosphere. But this was not just a normal U-Melt gig. There was clearly a sense of occasion, and they had no time for anyone else’s music. While the setlist included  a few favorites from the early years, including the band’s early rave-up “Schizophrenia,” it largely favored the most recent material composed and recorded just prior to their breakup in 2010, including live favorites such as “The Fantastical Flight of Captain Delicious” and “Clear Light.” Songs wove together with others, and in places where the band might, in days past, have thrown in a tease of a song by The Police or Steely Dan, they would reference a song of their own which they did not have enough time to play in its entirety. These guys had a lot of lost time to make up for, and a lot of material to cram in.
The evening had high expectations and the band delivered. The band was coy about future plans (Lasher: “Maybe we’ll do this again some time”). However, to listen to the tightness of the band, one would never think that they had been apart for three years. To see the anticipation and reaction of the crowd, one would think that they had been apart for much, much longer. One thing is for sure, they don’t want to have to wait that long again.

Photos by Jeremy Gordon (as if you couldn't tell from the watermark)

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