15 June 2008

Bad Plus @ Rochester International Jazz Fest

If I don't see these guys at least once a year I have an empty feeling, like my year was missing something. It's been over a year since I last saw them at the MFA in Boston, so it was about that time. Luckily they were coming to town for the much heralded Rochester International Jazz Fest. As this was my first RIJF experience I wasn't quite sure how it worked and had read somewhere that the Club Pass (which gets you into all the venues) wasn't the way to go. That and the fact that I wouldn't be around for any of the 2nd weekend lead me to my decision to skip the Club Pass. Next year though I will definitely go that route. Without it, there's really not too many options. So I was left to pretty much see the Bad Plus and not much else.

The Bad Plus will make you laugh, whether from their onstage demeanor, the dryly humorous banter, or because the music is just so damn good you can do nothing in reaction but laugh. The Bad Plus also keeps you guessing. They never seem to be touring for their last album, always pushing through to the next, even if it is still a year off. So it is always fresh, no matter how many times you see them. So for their next album they dropped a pretty damn big surprise on us... a singer! I have long wondered what they'd be like with a guest, like a guitar or horn of some sort. Never have I considered what they'd do with a vocalist. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Her name was Wendy Lewis and this was her first ever performance with her on stage. Well second, I was seeing the late set. Her voice wasn't too powerful (ie not commanding all the attention) and mixed well with the band.

So they came out, played a few originals, Let Your Garden Grow, Empire Strikes Backwards, 1980 World Champion, and Knows the Difference. A decent cross section of their stuff. Not my favorites, but oh well. Then enter Lewis. Let the onslaught of covers begin. Started off with Nirvana's Lithium. Then Radio Cure by Wilco(with backing vocals by Reid Anderson!), Long Distance Runaround by Yes (AYFKM?), something I didn't know next, pretty slow jazzy number, and finished with Feeling Yourself Disintegrate by the Flaming Lips. They played one more with her, encoring with Heart's Barracuda.

Their interesting choices of covers get them a lot of press, but as I have said before, their originals are what makes this band great. I like a choice cover sprinkled into the set here and there, but this was a bit of overkill. Still, very fun and interesting to hear their takes on all these. With the vocals their interpretations were a bit more straightforward and it left Iverson to play parts other than covering the melodies as he usual does. They were filming it for WXXI's Onstage show so I look forward to seeing this again. From reports I have heard/seen, they apparently played even more covers in the early set, including U2's New Year's Day, Comfortably Numb, Blue Velvet, and the Bee-Gees' How Deep Is Your Love...this may have been the question mark I had in the late set come to think of it, I just don't know my Bee Gee's too well. Well, they've stated again and again that the covers they choose are not in any way ironic or silly, they seriously like everything they chose to cover... Anyway, I wonder if their next album is a straight cover album? That would be unfortunate if so, but hey, they can do what they want as far as I'm concerned.

Took a few small bites of sets by the Buddhahood (more fun the more you see em), Saturday Fish Fry, Downchild Blues Band, and the late night jam at the State Street Grille, which were all pretty standard fare for the short while I caught them. Looking forward to next year already.

Keep up with the rest of the fest over at the Jazz@Rochester blog, where in addition to great coverage itself, will also link you to many others covering the fest.

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