Still crazy, after all
Crazygrass and the Klezbillies blend styles for an eclectic night at Moxie’s
The audience was still trickling in the door at Moxie’s as the opening Klezbillies began. The doorwoman was announcing that the cost of the show “was $8 if you bought tickets in advance, $10 now, but also on a sliding scale of whatever…”
Two of the three Klezbillies ("Klezmer and hillbilly meet in a dark alley,” was the explanation given by Klezbilly organizer and guitar/banjo player Sid Lewis) seated themselves on the stage lit by alternating red, blue and green lights. Lewis on guitar and clarinetist Julie Quarterman performed a little duo number with a Middle-Eastern feel that morphed into a jaunty Irish tune. Cellist Gus Peterson, toothpick in mouth, joined Lewis, who switched to banjo, and Quarterman for the rest of the short opening set. They performed a pleasant version of jazz standard “Blue Monk,” the melody slightly altered by Quarterman.
There was also more Middle-Eastern-sounding stuff on which Quarterman was at her best. Lewis picked some clever banjo solos, sometimes playing percussion on his instrument with his hands, and he and Quarterman did some nice call-and-response. Peterson sometimes plucked his cello like a bass, and he also bowed it, creating a gravity that I liked (though occasionally he was out of tune). Likewise, I liked Quarterman’s clarinet’s full tone in her middle and lower registers but thought her upper end, when her arpeggios led her there, needed oomph, an issue which could partly be resolved by miking her clarinet better.
Crazygrass—Lewis on banjo, guitar and lead vocals; New Orleans transplant Smokey Brown on lead guitar and harmony vocals; recent Philadelphia transplant Jason Ganis on electric bass; and “Super Dave” Breed on drums—began taking the stage at about 9 p.m., which is when the bulk of the very eclectic audience arrived (seemed like they knew!).
Lewis was first up, playing solo guitar. Joining him shortly, on the dance floor, were local dancers Pamela Huggins and Susan Baker, dressed in Hawaiian and belly dancing attire respectively. Together, the three performed a loud piece that had Lewis controlling the dancers’ moves with his stop-times and guitar motions. The piece was brought down to silence, and the dancers went to their seats. Toward the end of his next tune, Lewis, alone on stage with his guitar and many pedals, looked to the rest of his band to join him.
Brown and Ganis came in for the last notes of “Mercy,” which moved into “Elvis Einstein” by way of a drum-solo segue from a barefoot, open-shirted Breed, who had apparently hopped into his drum seat through Moxie’s front window unnoticed by me until I heard him play. Breed’s drumming provided an effective, driving canvas over which the kinetic Brown could nicely wail through a spacey, distortion-pedal-assisted solo.
Brown’s playing especially caught and kept the attention of the visually interesting couple in the doorway—she in a red cowboy hat and longish red leather coat and he looking like an Asian version of Indiana Jones. They, along with the tall woman in men’s shirt, hot pants and fishnets who strode through the building at one point, were part of the varied mix of types and ages in the audience who stayed for the loud, driving, often funky (in that good funk machine way, thanks to the chops of Ganis and Brown) jam band performance.
Crazygrass’ music is eclectic, a mixture of rock, reggae, ska, funk, but in its current incarnation it really cannot be called bluegrass, so I have to say that the band’s name is somewhat misleading. My 26-year-old friend who accompanied me suggested "crazyass" as a reasonable alternative.