On an unseasonably warm Friday night last week, the 9:30 Club hipped, hopped, bipped, bopped, swung, grooved and sometimes even rocked a long night of Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood. For two consecutive sets that clocked in at around three hours, these gentlemen gave their fingers and a dancin’, clappin’, shoutin’ audience a good workout.
It would be accurate to say that those lucky enough to attend the sold-out show got to watch a super-group in action. After all, normally keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood perform as a trio. Fusion guitar guru John Scofield makes four on the tour in promotion of the quartet’s second collaborative effort, “Out Louder” (Indirecto Records).
In interviews they have referred to this album as a true collaboration, a product of the chemistry of each man’s considerable talents and creative inputs. Their first effort together, however, was mostly a product of Scofield’s vision; he wrote all of 1997’s “A Go Go,” with Medeski Martin & Wood providing his back up, and the show tended to reflect Scofield’s dominance. That being said, of course this show would have been nothing without MMW’s psychedelic output and incredible energy – but Scofield really made himself the star.
This didn’t really surprise me – I’ve seen Scofield before, and to put it frankly, he’s insanely good – but it seemed to disappoint some of the MMW faithful. MMW, whom I had never seen before this concert, tour a lot and tend to have a loyal following that knows that every show will be a brand-new experience. Two of my concert-going companions, whom you could place into this archetype, expressed to me between sets their hope that John Medeski might pull a little more weight after half time. Unfortunately for them, this never really happened. Sure, everybody was able to grab some spotlight during frequent and extensive solo sections, but Scofield seemed to be giving all of the cues, MMW dutifully taking them.
Not that any of it mattered to the first-timer, and even those who might have been skeptical of Scofield’s apparent dominance couldn’t avoid being hypnotized by the sublime tapestry of sound that the quartet would weave. There were times when the whole club was enraptured by the notes and rhythms filling it and time just stopped. Look down at your watch and 35 minutes may have passed but the band hasn’t really stopped playing since the set began, their brilliance having rendered you slightly catatonic with a goofy grin on your face.
Sometimes you’ll hear them stop on a dime and start running in a completely new direction that might lead you thinking, if you didn’t know any better, that you’re listening to a completely different song, even a completely different band. Maybe they don’t even know when one song ends and another begins – they certainly weren’t announcing it. Rookie that I am, I couldn’t recognize anything they played from the albums I had listened to. But I completely gave up all hope of writing a set list once my more experienced companions admitted they couldn’t really tell me either.
Shows like this are more about the entire sensory experience than what songs you might recognize. They’re about your ears being flooded with a mighty river of exotic sounds that move your feet and your ass and your hands while your eyes are fixed on the funky colors twirling in front of you and a hint of cannabis in the air gets your spidey-sense tingling. And you might not remember many specifics. But it sure was a good time.