Hot Buttered Rum and New Monsoon teamed up to tear the roof of the new Portland groove zone, the Wonder Ballroom, and what an evening it was. Both bands seemed to play their hearts out, and left the impression that this one-two punch was a match made in musical heaven.
Each band has a high energy approach to their jams, that is very conducive for getting down, but they approach their music from different perspectives. The HBR takes traditional bluegrass and adds some high octane fuel to the tempo, as well as a little humor to the mix. While New Monsoon has a world feel, with varying time signatures and polyrhythmic layering, but even these globally influenced jams have a sprinkling of good old American funk and rock and roll that keep the folks grooving. As a tag team, their differences in focus acted as a perfect compliment.
Hot Buttered Rum was up first, and brought our collective heart rates higher. Clearly adored by the local Portland fan base, there was nary a head that wasn’t bobbing along with their hyperactive bluegrass interpretations. After a few songs, including a spirited version of the show opener "I’m Goin’ Up," and the Bill Monroe bluegrass classic "Walls of Time," the first of many collaborations took place. HBR invited New Monsoon’s rhythm guitarist, Bo Carper, up on stage to add a little of his flavor to the buttery soup. This was a world debut of a song entitled "One Little Riddle," and as announced from the stage, all of this took place before 10 pm.
As the set continued, more and more of the New Monsoon compatriots appeared from off stage, and the sound just kept getting thicker. Both Marty Ylitalo on drums and Phil “the pianimal” Ferlina on keyboard joined in the musical mayhem for a humorous rendition of "Honkeytonk Tequila." This was followed by a solid version of the Darnell Hawkins classic, "The Thrill is Gone," that even featured Zac’s Cousin Ben on guitar. A ragin’ version of "Sweet Honey Fountain" finished the collaborative rampage by bringing Ben Bernstein out on bass. I was a little worried that the sound might collapse under the weight of all these talented musicians, but the set was already built up on a solid foundation, and nothing was going to derail this musical freight train before the set’s close.
Following a brief set break, New Monsoon took the stage using the old trick of bringing out some classic covers to showcase their chops in a familiar form, before bringing their own brand of world funk to the table. This time around it was The Allman Brother’s "Jessica."
Since this was the Chinese New Year, we were delighted to see an incredibly beautiful dragon prancing around the venue during the deep percussion jam (Thanks Turtle!). The dragon even got on stage to frolic about for a short stint, while the percussion jam rolled on. After leaving the stage the dragoneers stripped out of costume, and the set continued on. During "Gelstream," both Nat Keefe and Eric Yates from HBR decided to adorn the dragon costume, and joined New Monsoon on stage to celebrate the New Year in style.
The absolute highlight of this night from either band was the monstrous Pink Floyd masterpiece of "Echoes" that closed the set. Both Aaron Redner and Bryan Horne of HBR joined in for this musical journey, and left us all gasping for air following the final refrain. The night ended with a double encore of "Bhangra">"En Fuego," the latter of which featured both bands in their entirety.