The Hype: After building a reputation over the past two decades as one of the most inventive jam bands on the circuit, Medeski Martin & Wood could engage scruffy, neo-hippie Phishheads as well as a packed venue of jazz enthusiasts. The band's latest project is the three-disc Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set, issued on their own Indirecto label.
The Show: Somehow unique and euphoric, shit always happens when you put keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood together. The harmonic blend of cowbells and beating cymbals intertwined with the piano keys is something you could definitely jive with Friday night at the House of Blues in Anaheim. Wood turned around slowly, stirring through marijuana-scented air. He grabbed his guitar, fingers tightly cupped around the neck. Two vertical lines scored his brow. Glancing over his shoulder, he smiled at Martin and gleamed at the throbbing, sweat-filled crowd of around 400 people. Everybody was dancing to the vibe, embodying the music.
The first one-hour set navigated from ethereal improvisations to soulful funky tunes while every hue of light geometrically trimmed their percussion. The music moved along the crowd's body in waves, their feet shuffling in small steps, arms swaying like palms atop raised heads. Wood turned from his guitar to the bass, simmering down to a slow rhythm with Martin clunking the bells and Medeski hunched over the keyboard making stimulating sound effects. Wood's rousing string work glided in and out at just the right moments paving into melodic tempos of the drums. The sound was explosive and soulful, echoing Coltrane.
The slick beats were unpredictable. Before intermission, Wood tapped, strummed, and plucked his upright bass during a breathtaking solo. During his keyboard solo, Medeski dug deep into the gospelly chords, Martin and Wood dropped their notes, and the free-jazz dissonances began. The crowd melted into a constant groove of energy. After MM&W exited the stage, relentless applause brought the trio back for a funky nightcap of "Bubblehouse," the perfect way to end the show.
The Crowd: An eclectic blend of middle age stoner dudes mixed with hippie kids crammed the fog-cloaked venue. From grunged-out flannels to older men in button downs or band T's, Medeski Martin & Wood's following is something comparable to a Dave Mathews Band or Pink Floyd concert.
Overheard: Rocking out in slow circles with a flaming orange wig, a sullen and stoned beatnik with a tied-died T-shirt said to his friend, "I'm high and I'm fucking loving this!" as MM&W finished their set.