What’s The Deal With Jam Rock? (Or, What Happened to the Tuesday Rock Show?)

As one or two of you may have noticed, the Tuesday Rock & Roll show has gotten a little weird over the past couple of weeks.  Gone are any semblance of verse-chorus structured songs, or even any song structures at all.  Instead, long, meandering jams, seemingly devoid of any purpose, often lasting well over ten minutes, seem to have taken their place.  So what’s going on with this spaced-out music and why is it a part of the Rock Show?

Vermont-based jam band Phish (http://phishthoughts.com/tag/new-years/)

Jam rock has deep roots in rock music; there is no genre that describes it more closely, hence its name.  But listen a little more closely, and you may hear the country-blues-rock-jazz fusion of the Grateful Dead, the Zappa-esque funk grooves of Phish, the “jamtronica” of Lotus (peep Jessica’s recent review of Lotus at Park City Live: http://kuteradio.org/tag/lotus/), or the progressive influences in the music of Umphrey’s McGee.  This is an eclectic genre that truly shines in its most unrestrained form, live performance.  Jam bands, in a practice that is not widespread around the live music scene, never perform two shows with the same setlist.  More importantly, though, no two songs are ever performed exactly the same.  Jam bands perform their shows “without a net”, that is to say, they have no set plan for how any single song will be played. Instead, their extended musical explorations, which often branch out of rehearsed song sections, are reflections of a single moment in time which will never be replicated.  Such is the beauty of jam rock: it is an endless supply of new music due to the fact that no two performances will contain the same music.  Though it may be a hard concept to explain, there is no greater musical gift than to be able to constantly hear totally new versions of your favorite song, with familiar parts where they should be, and totally new pieces elsewhere.  Thus, live recordings (apart from going to concerts!) represent the best way to consume jam rock, which each unique performance captured as a musical snapshot of a particular moment.

Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead (https://www.pinterest.com/farrelltimlake/homegrown-dead/)

So you might be thinking, “Just because they jam doesn’t mean that it is good!”. You would be absolutely right.  With such unplanned, improvisational music, flubs and truly aimless jams are bound to happen.  But when all elements come together and bands are firing on all cylinders, amazing moments occur.  At their best, for example, the legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia can be heard weaving flowing melodies throughout the rhythmic tidal wave of the Grateful Dead, and Phish’s legendary ability to turn jams on a dime gives them an ability to bring frenzied musical-freak outs to soaring, totally focused peaks.  Often, audience reactions can be heard slightly on recordings, and there is a clear sense of mutual exchange of energy between the bands and their audience as each push each other to continue exploring musically.

http://www.dead.net/fanphotos/jfk-stadium-7-10-87

Before you dismiss jam music as only for spaced-out hippies and freaks, give it a listen.  It works equally well in the background or for focused listening.  Let the bands take your ear with them wherever they decide to go, and recognize the depth of musical theory, knowledge, and experience that allows these bands to step onstage without a set plan.  You may begin to notice clear signs of totally unspoken musical communication between band members, and you may be surprised to hear the return of familiar chords and lyrics after particularly meandering or intense jams.  Should you enjoy the music and continuing listening, you may begin to get the sense that there is a huge community around this music, but that topic is for another day.  In the meantime, you might be able to start to understand how a little Vermont band like Phish can sell out four nights in a row at Madison Square Garden nearly every New Years weekend, or how a bunch of hippies from late-60s San Francisco, called the Grateful Dead, were able to fill football stadiums well into the 1990s.  There is truly more to this music than first meets the ear.

Lotus: A Park City Live Review

When there’s nothing happening in Salt Lake City, it’s often worth checking up on SLC’s smaller neighbor, Park City. While packed during the Sundance Film Festival, Park City has a toned down local feel for the rest of the year. With the size of city being so small, it’s surprising that it still manages to pack a strong punch when it comes to booking top quality bands. Park City Live is a concert venue in the center of historic Main Street. Their Winterfest concert series helps people like me who dread the winter to have something to look forward to during the year’s darkest months. This year the venue booked current big names like Major Lazer and Marshmello, but also has some more eclectic picks ranging from Bluegrass bands to Reggae in the lineup. No matter what your tastes, its likely Park City Live has booked some serious talent within your favorite genres.

Last Saturday the venue hosted Lotus, a band formed in 1999 that has since been heavily touring venues and music festivals across the country. They’re pioneers in a genre best labeled as “jamtronica”. A mixture of classic jazz band jamming and improvised electronic music. The combination of the two leads to a unique sound and a wide range of tempos from get up and dance or sit back and chill.  While the band worked as a well-oiled machine with each musician playing off one another, the guitarist Michael Rempel really stood out. The riffs he provided often brought the funk to their songs, getting the greatest reaction from the audience. Near the end of the set the band played their song Greet the Mind, during which Michael’s playing brought the filled venue to a state of boogie.

The crowd Lotus brought together is a testament to their music. It’s free of any labels of classification and requires only a mind open to good music. Just looking into the crowd you could see a range of people from those dressed in full costume to elderly couples swing dancing. Going solo to a Lotus show like I did only means there’s a greater opportunity to meet friendly and interesting people. Among the crowd I met a group of real estate agents from San Francisco, a raver chick from California, and a nomad who shapes his travel itinerary according to the touring schedule of the band. After questing him more, I realized that he was hardly an anomaly. Lotus has a grouping of roadies that follow them from show to show particularly for the open-hearted scene their music creates. This following is also due to the jam aspect of their set. No two Lotus shows are the same, providing a unique experience only available in the present moment of their concert.