The moon was nearly full last night in Boston as The McLovins came to town and howled. Playing their Boston debut at the fantastic Cafe 939, the band played a blistering set in front of a very receptive crowd. Cafe 939 is a music venue and coffeehouse run by students of Berklee College of Music, with capacity about 200, this state of the art room has high end sound and premium lighting equipment. For their first performance in Boston, they picked a perfect room to play. Coming on stage right on time, Jeff broke into the opening riff of Shakedown Street, and the die for the evenings performance had been cast. Not satisfied with covering this tune, they chose to re-interpret it, stretching the chorus, adding a flurry of solos and bringing the crowd to a frenzy. In the hands of a musically less talented band, this would have been a fine encore and the fact that the band chose this song to open the show showed just how savvy they are becoming. Bri followed, an intensely personaly and moving song, the haunting lyrics and vocal performance just mesmerizing the crowd. Cissy Strut, dedicated to loyal fan Steve H, was also re-worked and turned into a showpiece for the band, allowing each member to break out solos and re-making the song their own. One of their newer songs Stencils Of A Landscape is a clean and stylized song, first time with vocals and is a brisk but meandering tune that flows right into Sea Of Wisdom. At this point the band was just completely in the moment, with a solid rhythm propelled by Jason and Jake, synchronized and mirroring each other and Jeff's transportive guitar work combined to make this song shine. This was the spot in the show when I realized we were witnessing something magical. Jake is usually an enthusiastic drummer but tonight it was bedlam, with his Octopus t-shirt and new McLovin's drum head, he was just a force of nature, forging a percussion assault. Jason is less flashy, more focused and deliberate though tonight he was just manic, rising to the ocassion and answering each challenge from Jeff and Jake with a rumbling response and anchoring the audio attack..
At this point I'd like to commend the sound of this venue. Lauren Caso is the Production Manager for Cafe 939 and was meticulous during the sound check and her attention to the sound contributed to what has to be the finest McLovins performance I've seen yet. This is a loud band and they frequently overwhelm smaller venues with their clamor, however Lauren and her crew staged a remarkably clean and forceful show. As evidence of this, Killing Time put the sound system to the test, brutal and intense culminating in a shower of sheer force and sound. Guillotine Machine continued the punishing pace of show, with soaring solos and a pummeling rhythm. Rhyme and Reason has been missing from recent sets and made a welcome reappearance bringing a chill and melancholy vibe to the show. Although tempering the pace it also boosted the emotional tenor and it was the perfect cool-down to the set. Now another new song reared it's head, Deep Monster Trance which has managed to live up to it's name. Inspired by "Where The Wild Things Are" this is a worthy addition to the stable of musical allusions they've created as big, beefy and wild as it's name. Dynne stretches it's muscle, spotlighting the theme of force of noise and sound on life, bringing another brilliant climax and leaving the audience just spent. The band jumped next into YEM, choosing to bend and tweak the song though still hitting all the marks that a good cover should hit. The peak of the song finds the three engaged in a sonic free-for-all, ending only when Jeffrey breaks a string on his guitar. After a quick triage, Jeff leaves the stage to tend to his wounded instrument.
This leaves Jake and Jason to break into an impromptu debut of a song they've been working on this week, a bluesy composition stretched to a 5 minute thrash fest. Jason and Jake were explosive as they flex some jazzy musical muscle. Jason, normally stoic just shined during this song. Jeffrey returns to the stage and they rip into Virtual Circle, the first of four (!) new songs they've written in the last six weeks. Giving this torrid tune everything they have, it's speed oppressive as it ballistically hammers through a series of peaks to a final, smashing end. Purple Trees spotlights a series of band introductions and a penultimate climax to the show. Conundrum ends the night, shifting between swing cool and jammy exuberance, a fitting end to truly remarkable show.
Mention also has to be made for the performance of the opening act Vassal. Led by a friend of the band who now attends Berklee, Lucas Bickford. A quartet featuring Lucas and Brit Ness on guitar, Nick Coletti on bass player and percussionist Connor Grant, Vassal played a dreamy jazz and funk infused set. Among a selection of originals, they also covered Pat Metheny and also a couple John Schofield tune. This was their set list: Prelude >>> Blue, Untitled 1 (Funk Tune), Untitled 2 (Jazzy Tune), A Go Go (John Scofield), The Red One (Pat Metheny), Untitled 3 (Progish Tune), Everyone's Party (Metheny/Scofield). Lucas and Brit shared lead duties during the night, each with their own unique tones. Though just starting to perform live, this is a combination that worked and I would love to see them perform again.
Check out Vassal online - VASSAL
I feel The McLovins shine in these more intimate rooms, they are always loud as hell and in these settings they can just cut loose. Soon enough they won't be able to play these smaller venues, so we have to savor what we have now while we have it. Saturday night's show was just lightning in a bottle, raw and ripping from start to finish, and it'll be one I plan on revisiting over and over.