The Aggie usually draws a strong college crowd that doesn't build critical mass until the opening acts are wrapping up their sets. Last night's show broke the mold. The age spread was quite a bit wider -- I might have even seen a grandmother or two -- and local stars Muskateer Gripweed had a good full audience for their hot set. The Led Zeppelin music between the bands was an interesting choice, but it was a night for joyous dancing and rhythmic excitement.
Muskateer GripweedIt's been a while since I've seen Muskateer Gripweed. They weren't weak before, but now they've honed their show into a high energy tent revival. Their frontman, the Reverend Monkey Paw Patterson (Jason Downing) took a seat at center stage but rarely sat still. He stayed as focused as an ADD eight year old on Red Bull and Pixie Stix.
Bouncing around the stage, Downing was in constant motion, jumping from guitar to tambourine or from the stage to stand on his seat. Even when others could have stepped forward for a bass jam or guitar lead, he scampered around and air played along. The interplay between the gyrating Reverend and his tightly focused band was a study in dynamic contrast. It was as if the band channeled all of their stage movements into their frontman.
Downing may have played the goofy clown, but he and the rest of Muskateer Gripweed were perfectly serious about setting up a sweet pocket in the groove. Like the best blues bands, they whipped through intricate arrangements with a casual aplomb.
Laid back soulful jams, bluesy shuffles, and Southern rock all meshed together as the band skipped through their hour long set. Several of their songs had a Little Feat bounce, especially with the drummer's tight syncopation. The straighter rock tunes offered a small taste of Bad Company's guitar/bass drive. But it wasn't all retro '70s sounds. The hyperkinetic beats and vocals recalled Blues Traveller, even if the harp playing wasn't quite John Popper. For all of the comparisons, Muskateer Gripweed have their own sound and personality.
Muskateer Gripweed will be back next month, hosting their CD release party for Straight Razor Revival at the Aggie on April 7.
Los LobosLos Lobos ambled out on the stage and kicked off the set with a rollicking Mexican folk sound that got everyone dancing. A steady bass throb, syncopated guitars, and accordion fills bounced along as the crowd shouted their encouragement. After this warmup, Cesar Rosas warned us, "We're doing the acoustic thing tonight" before the band kicked into Saint Behind the Glass from their classic album, Kiko. Los Lobos would dip back to Kiko several times during their set.
Maybe it was the wider age range of the audience or the casual camaraderie, but everybody surrendered themselves to the easy, waterflow melodies and tight harmonies. This was backyard music writ large. From Conrad Lozano's easy grin at the enthusiastic shouts to David Hidalgo's shut eyed focus as he played his bajo sexto, the band created a relaxed vibe and the crowd could feel the love.
But this didn't translate into sleepy seranades. Instead, Los Lobos created a party atmosphere. Uptempo classical runs, interlocking rhythms, and even electric guitar kept the crowd dancing. While they often returned to the traditional Latino folk music of their roots, they stirred in a host of other sounds: meandering jams (accentuated by Stever Berlin's flute), solid funk rock grooves, Latin jazz, and some New Orleans rhythms.
That's really the beauty of Los Lobos. Their roots may stay true to the Latino music they were steeped in, but they are a truly American band. Louis Pérez's jarana huasteca and Lozano's guitarron meld with electric guitar and keyboard to create a fusion sound that connects across cultures and eras.
Maintaining the same players since the beginning (although younger drummer Cougar Estrada now joins them) has imbued their music with a rich depth. The songs could be deceptively simple, but that effortless flow is the result of countless hours of playing.
When the band came out for their encore, Rosas teased us with a couple of Led Zeppelin snippets, referencing the music from the set break. But that was just a feint before they launched into the Cuban classic, Guantanamera. Then, a last upbeat jam (Mas y Mas) kicked it up before sending us out.
More photos on my Flickr.