Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pigpen Theatre Company - Morningsiders -- Jammin Java - Aug 30 2016

by John Miller

Morningsiders - Sounds great tonight, drums especially. They are loud, vibrant, and sharp. For a band that has a fiddle, the drums are quite present. Normally, this genre tends to have softer, subdued percussion. There is a sense of something improvisational as Morningsiders’ set doesn't appear concrete. Worried their audience isn't inebriated enough to truly enjoy the faster bits, they ask for suggestions. However, without much response they insist on something slower and do a cover of one of Stevie Nicks' softer songs. The pieces feel more approachable and for that matter, appropriate for the venue. I can't imagine many folks come out to Jammin’ Java to really jam. Crowd participation can be difficult, so I don't understand why lead singer Magnus continues to ask for the crowd to clap along. I can't imagine it's any easier to play with a room full of people that can't seem to find the beat. The drummer is even trying to cue us but after a moment of failure it appears we have all had enough. Though what really sticks out is the brevity of their compositions. These post-Americana bands tend to be somewhat long in the tooth but everything is quite tight tonight. I'm not sure a song has gone over four minutes. This is refreshing. In addition to the spectacular drums, far to the right of the stage there is a trumpet and occasional keys. It's not often that I hear trumpets with this genre and it is a welcome edition. I'm surprised that more bands of this ilk don't incorporate more brass as it seems to be a natural fit. In no way is it overpowering but punctuates the pieces, adding occasional soft rock flair. Lastly I would be remiss not to mention the crowd work. It was exceptional, brief and funny. For what it’s worth bands booked at Jammin’ Java are generally very good at this.

Pigpen Theatre Company - Like Morningsiders before them, these players are from New York City. Playing together for almost a decade now they have received some serious praise not only for their music but also their plays. That's right, they moonlight as playwrights. Just thought that was beyond interesting. They begin with a longer composition, punctuated by a seven man harmony. What they lack in fiddle, they more than make up for it with a banjo. Though I imagine that with the amount of people on stage it won't be long before one makes an appearance. It's difficult to keep track of all the instruments; well it's not that difficult, but in my defense there is just an abundance of stuff. A cover of Signed Sealed Delivered follows soon after the instrumental acrobatics, complete with dueling guitar and keyboard solos. The lead guitar sounds phenomenal. In fact everything sounds really good tonight. Considering the amount of musicians and variety of instruments, the sound guy did an amazing job. And keeping with their theatrical leanings, Pigpen Theatre Company breaks the forth wall so to speak. Slowly making their way off the stage they set up near the bar for a few songs. For the most part we just sat and watched but the unpredictability of such a performance is the most exciting part. It's clear that Pigpen Theatre Company are more confident but that can be said of the people that surround them. During a quick break two men ran past to use the restroom. The first two songs on the floor were accented by an accordion adding a certain melancholy to the quiet. Not to knock Morningsiders, but this is the type of audience participation that works; though I can't really fault them for our lack of rhythm. Returning to the stage, they finally give us a taste of the music they are composing for one if their plays. There is a clear difference in style. It's so much more about evoking a feeling rather than the traditional. It almost sounds if they are running through a medley; sadness, dread, nostalgia. I always second guess coming to Jammin’ Java and I am more often than not pleasantly surprised with interesting and varied performances; tonight was no exception.

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