The first night of February seemed doomed for a mediocre turnout. For reasons unbeknownst to me, this incredible musical collaboration that included Eric McFadden, Norwood Fisher, Willie Waldman, Paulo Baldi, & the legendary Mr. Herman Green was moved across town to Donkey OTs. You may remember in 2012 when Banyan opened up Sunday at Summer Camp with Green and Waldman. That live collaboration including Stephen Perkins, Rob Derhak, and Clint Wagner as well.
This lineup performed an early set the previous night opening for Stir Fried with Michael Kang and Allie Kral. The move for Saturday seemed silly for a number of reasons. Let’s take a step back. Firstly when a bar is known as Quixote’s why on Earth would anyone name another venue Donkey OTs? (Say it phonetically, I know it took me a second too. DON-key-0-Ts). Well apparently that complaint has not fallen on deaf ears, as it will be transitioning to the name of Darkstar Lounge at some point in the not to distant future. Secondly, as usual this show was so under promoted that the turnout beyond friends and family could be counted on two pairs of hands. This is nothing new of course, but when they had a perfectly good model from Friday night why change it up? I can only believe that someone actually cares about the venue and wants to provide good talent. It isn’t exactly clear to me what situation caused this show to be moved.
So for the record lets take a second and evaluate who was in the room to play music. Eric Byron McFadden is a guitar virtuoso from the psychedelic school of San Francisco. His background in traditional jazz, Gypsy, Flamenco, Punk, Rock, and more has given him the ability to play with absolutely anyone. McFadden’s history with drummer Paulo Baldi, of Cake and Les Claypool’s Fancy Band, fame goes back to 1994 when they were in the group Liar. Baldi and McFadden currently play together in the Eric McFadden Experience when they get the chance. Willie Waldman is a founding member of Banyan and an amazing musical collaborator who has performed live with everyone from Jane’s Addiction to Snoop Dog. One of the founding members of the seminal west coast cult band Fishbone, John Norwood Fisher was there to lend his flawless bass skills. Last but most certainly not least Herman Green, this guy has played with everyone from Dave Brubeck to Miles Davis to John Coltrane. He is the founder of the influential Memphis group Freeworld, which was a band from Waldman’s formative years. I said all that to ask why would you move this group to club on Federal with no advertisement? That’s too much talent to waste on a show that literally no one knows about.
That being said, the room itself was a spectacular place to see a live performance. The bar was being refurbished so bottles of beer or mixed drinks were the only option. That was of little concern. The venue is also home to the New Speedway Burger, which isn’t half bad. The back wall of the room is one long row of windows giving an unmatched view of Sports Authority Field and the Denver skyline. The nondescript wood paneling façade in the front did very little to indicate the picturesque scenery. In fact they have had their most profitable days when the Broncos were playing across the tracks. The room has plenty of space and if they finish the bar and get a few local micros on tap this could be an extraordinary place to see live music.
This impressive collaboration began around 10:30 PM and it was a primarily instrumental journey into the musical madness of these five players. The rapport between Baldi and McFadden was palpable and indicative of their two decades of experience playing together. Waldman has been sort of chaperoning Green around the country on a tour that began in early January. The pair had a performance with Wilco’s Nels Cline in New York and have been continuing out west. This tour has been an unusually lengthy run for the aging duo. Waldman appeared a bit more subdued on this particular Saturday than his normally boisterous self. That may or may not have been a result of the turnout.
The show began with a huge bass solo from Fisher, which served as a launching pad for Baldi. McFadden gave us searing guitar solos throughout the night. His incredible technical ability and versatility with his instrument are simply something to witness. He has been called a ‘modern day Hendrix’ and I don’t feel that’s too far off. Baldi was given the opportunity to jam on the dirty funk jazz for two sets while Fisher continued to systematically slap out the rhythm. Green and Waldman took turns lending their horns to the fill. Even at his ripe old age of 82 Green can still nail the solos that he has been playing live for sixty years. Waldman bounced in and out occasionally riffing with his old mentor.
The two sets of music were inspired and went well past 1 AM. At one point a local guitarist joined the group for a few jams. Waldman once told me, “I don’t mind playing to the dirt.” Meaning he’s down to play whenever and for whoever shows up. However I can’t help but feel this band would have been better utilized playing a co-bill with Stir Fried and Genetics supporting. All that being said and despite the lack of a crowd this show was awe-inspiring. These five talented performers fell into a freeform rage and the venue was an experience in itself. I look forward to a time when this room will be properly promoted and the day when music of this caliber will get the attention it deserves
Stephen Perkins and Tony Franklin with Willie Waldman at The HoodLab
This tight formation of Banyan consisting of Stephen Perkins, Willie Waldman, Tony Franklin, and Brian Jordan was smack dab in the middle of a two night run at Quixote’s True Blue. Banyan had a history with Summer Camp, having performed twice at the festival. Last year they performed the opening set on Sunday morning at the Moonshine stage.Perkins and Franklin arranged for a short drum and bass jam at the multi-purpose space known as HoodLab. Distributer of HoodLamb Hemp coats out of Amsterdam, HoodLab is also an art gallery and a space for live performances. Curated and owned by Adam Dunn, this place is one of the hidden gems in Denver. Opening up was self-described funk metal group Herb N’ War. They were without lead singer Eutimia Cruz Montoya. So, they played as a power trio and basically blasted through an improv set that featured heavy riffing and some tight drum work by Carter Casad. Without their voice they were left to focus on the music, and honestly this was a perfect fit for the Perkins Franklin jam.
There was a modest gathering, many of which seemed to be regulars and friends of the proprietors. Originally billed as just a drum and bass jam with Perkins and Franklin, Waldman added his horn to make it a full-blown Banyan show. Perkins unleashed his fury on the drums as the crowd settled in for thirty minutes of freeform rage. Franklin tickled his fretless bass to the delight of the audience as Waldman, without any effects or petals, created a cacophony of sound with just his horn and a microphone. At one point Waldman created distortion by inserting the mic into the bell of his trumpet. Franklin went wild on the bass causing the roof of the HoodLab to rumble as the Perkins broke into a raucous beat to blast off on another jam tangent. All in all, this entire musical journey was short but powerful. As they finished up, Herb N’ War took the stage again to close out the evening. If you get the chance spend some time at the HoodLab, this place was special, and worth the visit.
Banyan with The People’s Abstract at Quixote’s True Blue
No one puts together a lineup quite like Jay Bianchi. As I entered the newly reformatted venue, which has moved to the old Bender’s Tavern, the band Tick was warming up in the main room. Quixote’s is two stages split by a large wall. Each room contains their own bar, and it actually does work quite well. I opted to watch some docile covers by The Mighty High Band in the front room rather than get bitten by the Tick. The Mighty High Band is a basically a Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and Legion Of Mary cover band pulling out deep cuts from Garcia’s side projects. This band was a fun way to ease into the night. Performing songs like “Tangled Up In Blue,” with amazing accuracy I was happy to have caught a bit of The Mighty High Band.
As Tick cleared the stage it was time for something completely different. The People’s Abstract could be called a Zobomaze side project. However I prefer to think of them as another side of the same musical coin. With Zobo’s Sean Dandurand, this tight four piece at first glance has a lot in common with Zobo. When they start playing those similarities disappear. The People’s Abstract is a instrumental blend of jazz, funk, rock, and more. As people slowly filtered in, it almost seemed that they were caught off guard by the incredible music coming from the stage. I too found myself blown away but this unassuming quartet. Given their warm take on jazzy funk, they were a perfect fit to open for Banyan.As I mentioned earlier, this was a tight four-piece version of Banyan. I have seen this group bloated with as many as seven members, however this amalgamation of Banyan had laser focus and impeccable back and forth. With Franklin and Perkins holding down the rhythm, Jordan and Waldman were left to fill in the musical gaps. Performing two sets, over the course of a few hours, Banyan proved once again why they are not to be missed.
Banyan Live at Quixote’s True Blue on February 9, 2013.
Weaving their way through jazz, rock, and Middle Eastern inspired jams, Banyan is as fluid as any group you will see live; in essence with a rotating pool of players you have to see. Perkins just wows the crowd as he slowly peels off layers until he is left in his signature black wife beater. Watching Stephen Perkins in a tiny room playing jazz to forty of fifty people is something everyone should experience. He is a force behind the kit that literally unleashes an all out attack on the skins. Waldman back on stage with his effects is able to paint sonic murals that fly around the crowd. Franklin too is a beast who simply shreds. Brian Jordan, continues to impress with his virtuoso guitar work. They sounded fantastic together and I would love to see this lineup continue to tour regularly, as it was too much fun. If you’ve never heard of them, download the show, take a listen, and get inspired. This type of free form musical exploration is a rare treat in today’s paint by numbers scene. It’s definitely worth checking out and it could change your perspective on what jam can be.