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Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Mabel Brown Room - Keene State 11/21/09

I’ve decided to focus on the idea of composition in relation to last night’s show. The McLovins stormed into Keene State last night, and in a growing sign of maturity, reset their paradigm yet again..they are now headliners and they have arrived. There have been a few game-changing performances in their short but prolific career, the first Sullivan Hall show, The Gathering of the Vibes 2009, The Barn Show and now Keene State. The Mable Brown room is on the second floor of a very modern student center building on campus with hard wood floors and a cavernous ceiling possessing a first class sound and lighting system. Ian Galipeau ran the board, and he was on the same page with the band, very responsive to the vocal effects and paying close attention to the levels. I'd also like to give a quick shout out to Dagan Broad, who along with Graham Miller spent the night running around and video-taping this show for a later broadcast on FACT TV Channel 8 Bellows Falls, Vt. The opening act was the local Keene group The Lake And The Lion.

Following the quickest stage turnaround I’ve ever seen, The McLovins bounded onstage and waded right into Deep Monster Trance. The sound system last night was just fantastic with Jason’s bass pealing clear through the mix, Jeff’s soaring leads led the way, Jake anchoring the rhythm with his vocals easily sounding the best I’ve heard in a month. The DMT was deep and expansive, really a very smart move coming out with a strong punch to lead off the set. This was followed by a gorgeous blues jam allowing Jeff to just rip some really soulful licks, Jason and Jake floating in-between the leads, a really emotive jam that led right into the best Summertime I’ve heard them play. Bri showcased a haunting vocal arrangement and just stuns the crowd. 20 In A 35 galloped along, growing ever more frenetic as it takes off. Shakedown Street was a nice first set surprise and toward the end of the extended jam, Jeff breaks out Hava Nagila, now this is a favorite of Jeff’s in rehearsal and he’s always threatened to use it! Dynne brings the vibe right back down, deep and with a ropy rhythm. Guillotine Machine follows, another showcase for Jason’s massive bass lines. The first set closes with a surprise cover of Voices by The Police, given a fine treatment focusing firmly on Jake’s vocals. The band slowly begin to drop and leave the stage one at a time. Jake pulls out first, then Jason, leaving Jeff alone on stage as his last sustained note evaporates away.

Now I mentioned composition before and I feel this is one of the secrets to the band’s success. The choice of a set-list is one of the easiest ways to control the composition of a show, and last night’s 2 sets were tailored for effect, a musical journey offering ample space for exploration and improvisation. How the band handles their choice and interpretation of cover songs is another way that they can exercise their control. I love how they take advantage of their strengths when interpreting a cover, they don’t have to ape another’s band style, and they can take the song and make it their own.

The 2nd set kicks off with another jam and I think the lyrics to another unfinished song are peppered through the tune and then they drop into the night’s second cover. Jason starts snapping off the opening riff to Break on Through by the Doors, and then takes over the lead vocals, the song just soars, Jeff nailing the guitar licks and emulating the keyboard part. Purple Trees has become the band anthem lately, allowing the pace of the set to slow and giving the audience a chance to catch it’s breath. They slide into Cissy Strut and halfway through the song, Jake all of a sudden starts in on Rapper's Delight by the SugarHill Gang, this is a 1979 rap song, one of the first, and just totally captivates the audience. I've heard him sing this in rehearsal but never thought it would work in concert, but now it's worked it's way into a set. Playing a rap song is a bit of irony, because the previous night, Asher Roth performed his preppy white-boy rap act in the very same room @ Keene State. They drift back into Purple Trees and band introductions and a nice vamp by Jake finish up the song; the next song is set up by Jake as “a little song about butterflies”. Killing Time languidly builds step by step and by the closing of the song the audience is awash in the thick sea of sound. Virtual Circle is up and it starts out speedy and just gains velocity, the audience is with the band dancing and jumping, twirling and bouncing.

YEM is the set capper, the crowd explodes, streamers and foam balls fly, people crowd surf, this was just magical stuff, the grins on the crowd’s faces were reflected back by those of the band. They pull the jam back into a reprise of Deep Monster Trance and breezily finish up the song. Conundrum and then Backwards Down The Number Line close out the set and the show.
This was a great and crowd-pleasing show, full of dynamic showmanship and amazing musicianship.

The Lake And The Lion was the opener and after a very easy sound check for both bands, they came onstage a little after 7:oo pm. Lead man George Barber took center stage alone and played solo acoustic guitar for the first 2 songs of his set, Tulsa Burmah and All You Ever. Barber is a confidant front man, a troubadour, avuncular and charismatic; he is a bundle of manic energy and passion on stage. Calling up the rest of the band, they proceed to charm and cajole a very attentive audience through a set of emotional and lush originals. The band features acoustic guitar, violin, cello, bass drums and piano, they call to mind ensembles such as Arcade Fire, but with the folksy charm of The Low Anthem or the solo work of Jim James, the singer songwriter of My Morning Jacket. They were a great opening act and really set a tone for the night’s show. Their set included Ocean Street, Explanations, Highest Hopes, Breather, 11/11 and Sing His Praise. I’d really like to see these guys again they have a new EP or Album on the way and are really working at making a go of it.

The die has been cast, the gauntlet thrown down, after the Café 939 show in Boston, and now Keene State, The McLovins are headliners. They have paid their dues and plied their craft, they are students of music and they are just rolling forward. This band is just killing right now, lean and hungry and absolutely on the top of their game, there’s no way to under-estimate this band now, if you do, it’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight…that’s The McLovin’s way.

This one's for Jake

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