If we use a hockey metaphor, than it’s a hat trick and if we were talking bowling it would have been a turkey. However, we’re talking about the first 3 McLovins shows of 2011, as remarkable a 3 show set as the band has ever played. All 3 were sellouts, pushing the capacity of each venue, and each was an individual in tenor and tone.
Black-eyed Sally’s was the dark horse of the three, a homecoming and a return to touring after a 3 week winter layoff. Black-eyed Sallys and The Main Pub have become the two Hartford area home courts for The Mclovins and the familiar confines of BES seems to bring out the best in the band. The noted blues club pulls out all the stops when The McLovns come in to play and slowly but surely the venue filled to capacity as the band prepared to plow their way through a torrid 2 set show. This was to be a night of stretching and pushing, almost a warm up, as the band pushed themselves, testing if you will after their short sabbatical. Tetop into Milktoast Man kicked things off, clean and strong, setting a dreamy vibe for the night. First set standouts included the remarkable Jam->Caravan that the band have been perfecting since late summer, the continued evolution of Cohesive, and the Purple Treeprise without the customary Rappers, though Jake managed to scat and rap his way through an lithe Shakedown Street to close the set out.
The second set started off with a funky Cissy Strut and through This Town and a tense and near-lethal Deep Monster Trance. The inclusion of Ghost is a savvy move, giving the crowd another Phish cover without having to pull YEM out of the bag. Old school ruled the second half of the set as Virtual Circle, Guillotine Machine and Conundrum unspooled. Killing Time as an encore brought another pyrotechnic flourish from the band, an exclamation point on the end of another solid show.
Not a sign of creakiness or rust showed through as the band was on top of their game, bringing another balanced attack. I did note that Jason has a bit of a different tone, his sound knifing through the mix a bit more, punchier and crisper than he had been playing, pure power not distortion.
One week later and it was Northampton Ma as the McLovin army descended upon the bucolic winter calm of the Pioneer Valley. Pre-sale buzz was on their side and there was a definite crackle in the air as the chilly crowd filed into the classic Iron Horse Music Hall. This was the band’s first trip to this legendary music town as Northampton counts Pearl Street, The Iron Horse and The Calvin Theater among its many music venues, with a lineage of supporting live music stretching back decades. This was to be one of those special nights as the guys were preparing to play before a crowd that was perceptive and receptive. A crowd that was familiar with musical dynamics, familiar with the band’s repertoire and a crowd willing to follow wherever the band chose to lead.
Leisurely, the band walked up the steps from the downstairs green room, wide grins on their faces as they took to the stage; and then it was game on. A mammoth Jam->Caravan opened the set on a frantic note and expansive renditions of Tokyo Tea and Cohesive, each pushing 10 minutes in length; carried the crowd along. Milktoast Man allowed a bit of a chilldown before the second half of the song ratcheted things back up again. Killing Time was a monster as a near 20 minute YEM and Guillotine Machine brought the curtain down on the first set. An overview of the set shows Cohesive as the most notable song of the set as it continues to morph. This night it was bouncy and bright, tense but smooth, delivering a powerhouse funk sucker punch, easily the “it” song of the first set.
The second set opened with BeadHead Crystal Bugger and from there on it was take no prisoners as Deep Monster Trance and a near epic Purple Trees->Rappers led into a strident YYZ and then Break on Through. The set cooled down a tad with Conundrum though Hell Yeah closed things out in fine style. The band came back to play a most severe Virtual Circle. Looking back I'm drawn to the Purple Delight as the real moment of the second set, a near heroic effort clocking in at a staggering 18 minutes. This was probably the most intense version of this song that I have ever heard.
Similarities with the BES show abound, near-flawless technique, controlled use of power as they never let things get away from them, the band playing on an interpretive next level; always aware and always listening. Watching this band is exhausting as they weave and bob, each next step as assured and confident as the last. Jeff and Jason were continuously touching base with each other, watching each other’s fingers, Jake debasing his kit, urging this ponderous beast forward, further and further. These two shows set the table for what was to come at Cambridge, as The McLovins were joined by Otis Grove for a night at The Middle East Upstairs, promoted by The Nateva Music and Camping Festival.