Review: Some Cat From Japan in NYC

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After seven minutes of muscle flexing in “Changes”, the band tossed a meatball right in Nigel’s wheelhouse – Manic Depression – a song he’s been covering with Eric Krasno & Chapter Two. The musical push & pull between Scott & Will was evident in their physical behavior on stage, the two guitarists playing off each other’s riffs, beginning to dig deeper into the catalogue. As the rock solid rhythm section of Ron Johnson & Erik Bolivar held court, the three soloists brought another classic to life, straight into 2010.

Gabriel Gordon took the stage, & Metzger’s place on guitar, for the evening’s first sit in, to sing Castles Made of Sand. While Gabe shone on vocals, with an entirely different sound & style as compared to Nigel, the ballad also gave Johnson the opportunity to demonstrate some muscular bass playing, his command of the low end evident as the rudder steering the ship. After a humorous, almost Lebewski esque intro – “lot of words, lot of deep words with Jimi”, Some Cat launched into their first cover of a cover, the famous Hendrix arrangement of All Along the Watchtower. There may have been some bluffing through the verses, but instrumentally, the song felt perfect. The band tweaked dynamics, to successful effect, dropping the jam down to almost dead quiet before Will & then Scott built it back up into the rager you’d expect.

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The familiar kick, kick, ki-kick, snare, kick, kick snare introduced an instrumental version of Little Miss Lover, complete with snarling guitars. Will picked up the slide to mimic the verses, and another call & response section went off between him & Scott. About half way though, Will hit overdrive, just burning before the band dropped the tempo down to hand off to Scott. Metzger’s solo burned just as hard & it was at this point that I knew the band would gonna succeed in burying my expectations. Tempo and time felt like mere playthings in their hands, as each member carefully crafted solos from the ground up. Nigel’s first major solo of the night left me grateful that he decided to both sing & play organ.

Riding the wave of confidence, Bolivar immediately counted off Fire and the fivesome leapt in to the classic riff. Nigel took the opportunity to capitalize on the audience’s familiarity to call and response the refrain, to great effect. Again the two guitarists traded leads, leading back into the second verse, culminating in another call & response sing along with the audience. The second instrumental break set fire to Fire, before the band returned to the head, and then started deconstructing the tune. Nigel’s organ & Ron’s bass again aggressively asserted themselves in the outro jam before it gave way to a perfect segue into Who Knows.

By this point, Will’s Strat joined the fray, and Nige & Erik shouldered the vocal duties on the Band of Gypsies classic with a little more audience assistance. Will remained particularly sharp, reminding me exactly how brilliant the two lead guitars concept worked in this band. By now the musicians all dwelt in their perfect comfort zone, Bolivar trading fills with the vocal improv, before the 2 guitarists did the same. The audience too, fell into the zone, acting as Nigel’s choir as he riffed off their “da dada dada da da da”s. The groove slid through the mesmerized room with Scott & Will ripping across the top.

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Introducing Spanish Castle Magic, Bolivar half jokingly called it “another one we didn’t write”, before coyly adding “but wished we did.” This instrumental version came straight into Ron’s kitchen, as his 10 years with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, who frequently covered the tune, left him immediately locked in perfectly. Both guitarists played off Johnson’s rock solid bottom with inventive solos, including first an up & down the fret board scorcher from Metzger that gave way to a standout slide workout from Bernard. Returning to the head, Erik & Scott ripped through the theme, again & again, Ron continuing to steer the ship.

As high level as the playing had been throughout the set, the best was yet to come. Hey Joe represented the pinnacle of the ensemble’s offerings on this night. Again, Nigel may have bluffed his way through some of the verses, but the ad libs only added to the power of the performance. The fact that he took us straight to church, vocally & on the organ, as he delivered the angry and anguished lines probably didn’t hurt. Ron went to the walking bass line famously taught by Jimi to Noel Redding during the original recording sessions earlier than in most Hendrix versions, but his employ of the famous bass riff worked perfectly.

The Purple Haze that followed might represent the musical low point of the evening, as it didn’t really come together during the structure of the song. (So much so that Ron edited out of the SBD copy I sent him that he tracked.) However, after the flawed beginning, the band found a spacey jam that went places, before reprising the refrain. Then, Rev. Nigel again preached from atop the mount – the band almost automatically dropping into classic gospel double time behind his preaching – in another instance that may feel rehearsed, but really wasn’t. Hall ended the revival & the set, with a perfectly placed “Konichiwa!”

The encore saw the return of Gabriel Gordon, to sing Little Wing, with Eric Krasno sitting in on Will’s rig. Harkening back to the first time I heard Scott play Little Wing, as my friend Joyce walked down the aisle at her & Bret’s legendary wedding in Sept, ’05, left me with a smile on my face. Kraz took the first solo, a burner that stayed relatively true to the original – one of those Kraz solos that I just love – all church and blues and fearlessness. Metzger followed with one of his patented rearrangements, coming at the solo obliquely, and taking Kraz’s fearlessness to a new level. Proving once again why I consider him one of the most inventive and cleaver players alive, Scotty absolutely blew the room up with a fiery solo of his own. Hall completed the trinity, taking us back to Sunday services as the clock neared 2:00am, this time making the VK7 sound like a full bodied B3 with 2 Leslies. Electric Church – Magical.

They considered ending there, a beautiful soft landing to an excellent night of music. But more discussion followed. Will grabbed Scotty’s Les Paul and Krasno stayed up, they fruits of the conference yielding a Soulive infused, wah pedal workout on a “song about New York”, Crosstown Traffic. With that, it was over – just another night of high level musicianship in this little town we call New York City. Look for another show in a different borough over then next couple of months. This band won’t play a lot, but when they do, you can rest assured those in attendance will know just how special it is.

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