Local Rhythms – Finding the Sweet Spot

dubac.jpgI don’t envy tavern owners faced with the task of booking talent to their establishments. How do they know what their clientele want? From what I’ve gleaned, it’s a hit and miss affair where “learn from your mistakes” tends to be the operative phrase.

Sophie & Zeke’s, the downtown Claremont hot spot du jour, tried everything from shoe-gazing singer-songwriters to unplugged heavy metal when they began offering music last year. For some reason, jazz, with an emphasis on crooner styles popularized by Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme, seems to get people moving towards, and not away, from the stage. There’s also a serious bluegrass contingent that turns out every third Friday to hear the Spiral Farm Band play.

On Washington Street, the opposite’s true at Bistro Nouveau, where “solo on a stool” acoustic musicians hold sway, and not much more than a microphone requires electricity. Performers like pianist John Lovejoy and singer/guitarist Jason Cann regularly entertain appreciative diners.

It’s even harder when you’re trying to fill a 700-seat room like the Claremont Opera House, which is why it was so gratifying to see a sellout last Saturday night for Bob Marley’s stand-up act. This is the third or fourth time that comedy has drawn a big crowd there. That’s encouraging news, because the next Opera House show, on Thursday, February 8 also features a very talented comedian.

Robert Dubac transformed his club act into a one man show, “The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?” I’m a long-time Dubac fan, going back to the days when he used to warm up crowds at Eagles and Jimmy Buffett concerts. When I learned he was coming to Claremont, I immediately blocked out the date.

Dubac’s that rare combination of funny and smart; during his show there are as many “ah-hah” moments as “ha-ha” moments. “The Male Intellect” is a 90-minute, multi-character look at the differences between the sexes, offering hilarious insights like this:

“What do women want? They want men to feel more and think less. Feeling more will take some practice, but we can think less right away.”

Maybe it’s cabin fever – laughter warms the body as well as the soul – but comedy seems to be the sweet spot for the COH. Hopefully, that means more funny folks like Bob Marley and Robert Dubac are on the way.

What’s coming up this weekend?

Thursday: Billy Rosen Jazz Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s There’s been a lot of different music here, but for some odd reason, this is the first time a saxophone has ever made an appearance. Rosen’s a fine guitarist, and a veteran of the Upper Valley supper club circuit. Tonight, he’s joined by Norm Yanofsky on keyboards, Jim McNutt on drums and Nick Scalera on sax. Tomorrow, another new duo – Have Blues Will Travel – stops by S&Z’s.

Friday: Stonewall, The Underground – Chester native Brendon Thomas started this club in a space below the music store where he worked. It’s become a magnet for area musicians, many of whom learned from Thomas (who performs live and on record as foreverinmotion). Tonight, rising stars Stonewall headline a three-band show which includes political metal from d’Brotherhood, who are kind of an anti-Hanson, and Orange Juice.

Saturday: Spare Change, Salt Hill – One of my favorite bluegrass bands, led by multi-instrumentalist Joe Stallsmith of Joe’s Waterworks fame. When anyone asks me to name the one kind of music I can’t live without, it’s inevitably a combination of acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle, because you can’t fake any of those instruments. If you’re awaiting word on Newport’s Salt Hill Two in the old Eagle Tavern space, wait no more. Opening day is February 5.

Sunday: Roger Marin, PK’s Tavern – I mentioned in my blog a couple of weeks back that Ezra Veitch, an angel of the Bellows Falls scene, was still in town. Lately, he’s mixing a Mr. Burns album while he recovers from hand surgery. He also sent word that he’d put together a quick show this weekend with Marin, the longtime Fred Eaglesmith guitarist who went solo about 18 months ago, and Adam Carroll, a Texan with the gift for weaving a story into a song. By the by, Boccelli’s February calendar is filling up – check out flyingunderradar.com for more info.

Wednesday: Jason LeVasseur, New England College – This is the future of music. Not this guy, though he’s very talented, but the way he brings his music to the people. MySpace, mailing lists, independently produced records made on a shoestring with musicians who are equal parts hired guns and fellow travelers, and a ton of solo touring. The aforementioned foreverinmotion is doing it, as is LeVasseur, a Nashville-based singer/songwriter with a touch of sandpaper in his voice, and a nice balance of pop and plaintive.

Working Class Gully Boys Celebrate 13 Years

groundhog.jpgThe Gully Boys, a ragtag group of friends who found common ground in the music of the Grateful Dead, Phish, Little Feat and other jam bands, celebrate 13 years together next Friday. “Together,” however, doesn’t quite describe their many permutations.

Says leader and vocalist Bill Temple, “there’s been at least 20 guys that have come and gone, and come back and left, and come back again” to the Gully Boys, who typically hit the stage as a five-man combo. The “Groundhog Day Reunion Jam” February 2 at Royalton Academy came about after a friend of the band assembled eight years of live recordings together. The fan, JoJo Levasseur (who also does the band’s artwork), then pressed the compilation into a CD and gave it to band members last Christmas.

Listening to it, says Temple, “really got me thinking. For each song they put who was in the band at that point. This idea began percolating in my head that we should get everybody back together and just have this jam.”

The original Gully Boys lineup formed in the mid-90’s at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock. “A bunch of guys were living on the Gully Road, which runs along the back of Suicide Six,” says Temple. To blow off steam from their various day jobs, “we just started jamming down there, they weren’t paying us much. We knew a few songs and we’d make it up as we went along.”

When Jerry Garcia died in August 1995, Temple organized a memorial at Quechee Gorge, which drew a surprising crowd of over 300 people. Afterwards, they headed over to Seven Barrels Brewery in West Lebanon, where Temple tended bar, and plugged in. “The manager said we could just bring the whole thing down there … that was really the first official gig as the Gully Boys.”

The Gully Boys motto is “if you can’t make it up while you’re playing, you shouldn’t be playing,” and an improvisational spirit still guides the band. “We’ve always been about the jam,” says Temple. “Just throw a basic musical structure out there and get your rocks off, take it as far as you can.”

“Sometimes, it’s a train wreck, but not THAT often,” he says. “But other times you get to that point that makes Deadheads Deadheads – where that bubble pops in your head, and you go, ‘wow, that’s so awesome!’”

They’ve released only one studio album. In 2005, Temple and drummer Tod Moses took charge and, with eight other musicians, made “Diluvian Dreams” in a home studio. They’d already tried to make a record “at least four times, and hadn’t finished because someone would quit or get fed up,” says Temple. When that happened, “they’d either say we couldn’t use their tracks, or because they weren’t in the band anymore, we didn’t think it was right to use them.”

“Diluvian Dreams” features nine original songs, all emblematic of the footloose Gully Boys sound, including the bluesy “Big Rocks,” the Dead-flavored “Cosmic Love” (a sped-up “Scarlet Begonias”) and a soulful ballad, “Beautiful.” A highlight is the humorous “Flatlander Song,” a playful dig at tourists – “you’d think they’d never seen two or three trees in the same place,” sings Temple.

Gully Boys bassist and archivist Dave Clark has also posted numerous live shows on his website, www.yellowhousemedia.com, which is an unofficial but pretty reliable band home page.

There should be between 15 or 20 people at next Friday’s show, says Temple, who hopes that kismet and organized chaos will guide them. The plan is to perform four sets. “I’m just gonna say at the start of the night, OK, who wants to play what tune,” he says. “The drummers will be the biggest challenge. There are so many, but we’ll have two drum kits. You know, the classic Dead/Allman Brothers setup.”

With any luck, the Gully Boys will reunite again in a year, but in the meantime the band’s shifting lineup will convene once a month at Seven Barrels, as well as places like Middle Earth and McGee’s. They’ll play, says Temple, “anywhere that will have us,” but they try to schedule only one gig a week. They don’t want to burn out on making music; it keeps them sane after toiling at a regular job.

“It’s something to look forward to,” he says. “When you’re pounding nails or making steaks, if you know on the weekend that you’re gonna be a rock star for a few hours, it gets you through the week.”

Upcoming Gully Boys shows:

Saturday, January 27 – Seven Barrels Brewery, West Lebanon
Friday, February 2 – Royalton Academy Building, Royalton

Middle Earth Music Hall Soundboard Recordings (2/06)

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