Just weeks before one of New England’s premier music venues shut its doors permanently, Winooski, Vermont’s Higher Ground pronounced their last month standing would be a memorable run. The club booked many of the familiar favorites that helped make the rather unassuming club an identifiable name during its six years in an old shopping plaza on the Northeast side of Burlington. Though Higher Ground vets like David Gray, John Mayer, Interpol and Norah Jones had outgrown the club’s relative small capacity, there were more personal final performances from local bands that had graced the stage numerous times. Strangefolk, Belizbeha, an Easter Jam that featured a surprise “Chalkdust Torture” performance by Phish, and hometown favorites, Grippo Funk Band and The Unknown Blues Band.
Therefore, it was only fitting that two bands that have played some of the most memorable shows in the club were invited back to draw the Higher Ground curtain one final time. The Seth Yacovone Band has played at Higher Ground a possible record 22 times – more than enough to call this Winooski venue it’s home stage advantage. Having headlined numerous shows there, they have also served opening stints for the Trey Anastasio Band, John Entwistle Band, North Mississippi Allstars and Derek Trucks Band. Needless to say, the Seth Yacovone Band certainly helped make musical history within the club’s mirrored and postered walls.
After a gracious opening introduction from one of the club’s owners, the scandalously overlooked power trio wasted no time bringing their adventurous blues rock to the stage. Playing an hour long set, the three displayed energetic bravado, with little rest in between songs, clearly pushing as much music into their opening set as time allowed. A newly bearded Yacovone, giving a splash of age to his renowned baby face, helped to shake the overplayed prodigy label from his namesake and let his experienced guitar and gritty vocals do the talking. Bassist Tom Coggio and drummer Steve Hadeka’s kept the tempo and helped lay the “togetherness” in power trio. As the crowd quickly filled into capacity and the set rolled on, SYB hit their high mark amongst the ferociously bitter anthem- “What Will I Do When Winter Comes.” Along with the upbeat rocker, “Cheer Up” that never fails to get the crowd involved, the band played respect to Neil Young, with an honest to goodness version of “Roll Another Number (For The Road).”
Label mates, Amfibian, with a revamped lineup, showcased a brand new look and feel from its prior jammy beginnings, as displayed on their January release – From The Ether. Featuring a female vocalist and a lead guitar player with rock star tendencies, this band drawn together by chief Phish lyricist Tom Marshall proved to be quite a focused effort. Playing an assortment of more dynamic Phish tunes this time around, versus the tunes that didn’t make the Phish cut as in prior tours, Marshall, along with new musical collaborator Chris Metaxas, drove the band intro fresh territory. The addition of former Spin Doctors guitarist Anthony Krizam was an immediate catch, with his lush rock guitar leads that border on the heroic – quite the contrast from former Amfibian guitarist Scott Metzger’s fiery improv licks.
From the Beatles, “I’ve Got A Feeling,” The Band’s “It Makes No Difference,” and Steely Dan’s “My Old School,” the tall graying Marshall made like a karoke star, with a full-fledged band by his side. With a voice a far cry from Bono and stage moves even further from Jagger; the lyricist at times resembled John Kerry up on stage. But beneath the stiff exterior, Marshall made a sincere effort to make the show as special as possible on his own, even prior to the much anticipated arrival of special guests.
Yacovone reappeared early in the second set for “Blood on the Cactus,” while Jamie Masefield of the Jazz Mandolin Project laid in his mandolin talents for the bouncy “Augustine” and rocker “Has it Really Come to This?” As the night was approaching 2:00AM, Amfibian was still going strong, and Marshall invited Phish bassist Mike Gordon up to the stage, as he was busy mulling around with fans at the packed bar. An interesting, yet familiar tasting version of Phish’s “Gumbo” led into an earnest cover of “Theme From The Bottom” that easily got the eager crowd pumped. A stellar guitar solo from Krizan was only matched by a clever vocal go around that featured Gordon’s unique vocal help in the song’s concluding moments.
Yacovone emerged yet again for an epic version of Neil Young’s “Down By the River” followed by “Isolate Reprise.” The second Neil Young song of the night was truly curtain call worthy, featuring a biting solo by Yacovone, and Gordon on guitar, that brought the song up from cover attempt to set rager. As the night rolled towards 2:30AM, Marshall steered the band into uncharted Higher Ground territory – rarely does a band play past 2:00. A Beatles’ Abbey Road medley, that fittingly concluded with “The End” made for a late and satisfying second to last evening at Higher Ground.
Amfibian photos courtesy of Ben Fournier
Seth Yacovone photo courtesy of Nick LaVechhia at sethyac.com.