June 3, 2011
When you know of a band, but haven’t really seen them live yet, it can go either way. The freshness of the moment can pick you up with unexpected potency, or leave you uninvolved with the lack of familiarity. New Monsoon has been part of the jam scene for over 10 years and my first show Friday at The Mint had me from the beginning. Playing to the expected jam-rock devoted and male dominated audience in the intimate confines on Pico Boulevard, New Monsoon brought creative, driven arrangements that never wandered without destination. I am admittedly new to the NM set list, but recognized originals such as Friendly Ghost and gems of covers like the Talking Heads Slippery People.
This is a team effort, the whole much bigger than the parts. The acoustic guitar/banjo, SG/Strat frontline of Bo Carper and Jeff Miller, the constant interweave of Phil Ferlino’s solos and texture, and the rhythm section of Marshall Harrell and Sean Hutchinson, kept moving and pushing, not straying. Towards the end of the first set, Bo Carper’s banjo led New Monsoon into raga-jam territory, transforming that most traditional of sounds into a burning bluegrass sitar that elevated the whole band. Neat trick.
New Monsoon topped a bill that included a strong opening set by Pasadena’s Old California, followed by Spider Gawd covering the likes of The Band and folk-blues standards older than all of us, such as Sitting on Top of the World, in a keyboard/bass/drums trio. Three bands of original voice and excellent musicianship, 4 hours of music, for a cover that won’t get you a craft cocktail at most places. Neil Young was right, “live music IS better, bumper stickers should be issued. For my first New Monsoon show, it couldn’t be fresher or more satisfying. For sure, it won’t be my last.