Following the two-set shake ‘em on down by his Mad Skillet, keyboardist John Medeski stood at the merchandise table signing posters and CDs. “Setlists are for cowards,” he proclaimed. “I want you to quote me on that.”
Start with an intrepid and quirky quartet, already unique with its appetizing basslines flavored by Kirk Joseph’s sousaphone; big lungs diligently keeping the bottom end groovy and moving. Double down with an all-instrumental, unplanned repertoire that tracked their creators’ every impulse, splaying multiple genres on the plate – funk, blues, jazz, soul- that couldn’t help but raise obvious equivalences to gumbo, jambalaya, and stew, given the New Orleans origins of the group. Drop that into a 1920s Masonic lodge in Highland Park, a Metro train stop about halfway between downtown Los Angeles and suburban Pasadena, on the Saturday before the Oscars, and it becomes one provocative and tasty tour finale.
Medeski did, indeed, work without a proverbial recipe, calling out each of the evening’s selections as they went; his keyboards spinning cogent phrases in a perpetual whirlpool, speaking in exotic tongues or barking percussively in response to Terence Higgins’ seamless flow of drumbeats. An intuitive conductor, he often held up a fist or patted his head; sign language to his three improvising bandmates to close out the song or return to the theme. On guitar, Will Bernard proved to be a terrific accomplice to Medeski’s flurry of keyboards as he ran angular chord shapes, or offered crystal clean funky complements and charred solos, including on steely slide. Heavy downbeats buttressed the funky excursions, or flexibly followed wah-wah reggae as it transitioned to baroque ballroom, with Medeski dabbling on melodica, and then lush B-3 organ.
Whether evoking hot, greasy steps on the dancefloor or offering a swinging kiss of Jelly Roll Morton, the ensemble kept the nearly-full room engaged through a pair of 60-minute stanzas. In the crowd, an artist painted a canvas, inspired by the ever-shifting sounds, in colors mostly blue and grey, as Medeski suggested coded meaning in the imagery on the walls of the second-story temple. Post-midnight, the show came to a satiating close, as the four turned off the burner and climbed out of the frying pan, perfectly rendered and done cooking for the night.locked0 Co