Oteil and Friends played a recent makeup show at (le) poisson rouge in New York City as a result of their fall tour being cut short. Despite having time apart they showed no signs of rust, but were rather full of spirit.
The Oteil and Friends experience is both nostalgic and progressive. It resembled an old Gospel tent revival with a dash of hippie thrown in, which could only happen with the right musicians who have been impacted by the spiritual side of music. The music also addressed our current state as a people, which again can only occur with the right musicians who are aware of current events. Their strength as a unit is in their diversity which is probably a direct result of Oteil Burbridge’s leadership.
The invitation to participate in this highly emotional charged evening was largely thrown out by powerhouse vocalist Alfreda Gerald who authoritatively urged us to be a part of this by coercing us to raise our hands and say “Yes!” It made me feel like I was back in North Carolina in the Pentecostal churches I grew up attending. At times, Gerald was on the verge of having what we call in church a “praise break.” It’s hard to describe such an experience, but think Thelonious Monk jumping up and dancing in jubilation to the music.
A similar occurrence happened with African percussionist Weedie Braimah when he jumped out of his seat during John Kadlecik’s original, “What’s Become of Mary” and began dancing by himself. Even Oteil was in on it as he frequently referred to organist Melvin Seals as Reverend Seals through his aggressive organ playing, but like a master he knew when to push and to let off. It was largely wild and at times on the verge of uncontrollable, but kept in time by Oteil and drummer Jay Lane. Oteil and Lane were both in step with one another and make a great rhythm combo that provided some restraint to where the music was going.
Guitarists Scott Metzger and John Kadlecik added an idiosyncratic element. Both guitarists sound come from different spokes on the musical wheel than an Alfreda Gerald, but that’s just what makes this experience so special. Metzger and Kadlecik were a great tandem that played off of each other on multiple occasions and incorporated beautifully improvised twin guitar harmonies. Their addition was a welcomed mashup that added so much depth.
Judging by the responsiveness of the crowd, Oteil the bandleader is something fans could get used to seeing more. It is a treat to see him explore his own thing slightly outside of the umbrellas that he has been under. His level of bass playing, scatting, and singing is in full array in a way that is not as evident in the context of Dead and Company. He still very much honors the traditions he has come from by revisiting the catalogs, but we get so much more from him in this context.