Lettuce & The Alan Evans Trio at Higher Ground, South Burlington, Vermont, 2013
South Burlington, Vermont
September 5, 2013
Two of the most prominent members of an organization dubbed, with little false modesty, The Royal Family, Lettuce and The Alan Evans Trio are ideal tour mates, especially for the intimate environs of a venue like South Burlington's Higher Ground. While the music began past its billed start hour, the threesome headed by the once and future drummer of Soulive made up for lost time, while the seven piece unit including his erstwhile partners, guitarist Eric Krasno and keyboardist Neal Evans, executed an absolutely brilliantly paced set earmarked by almost equal parts precision and spontaneity.
To some ears AE3 may have marked time a bit too often during the course of their hour on stage, when the namesake of the group told shared backstories for his original songs like "Thor." But the interlude preceding "Cosmic Hazel Dust," led directly, and with a flourish, into "Drop Hop," like most of their opening set, a fluid amalgam of funk and rock. Playing a white Stratocaster similar to that used by the late guitar icon, guitarist Danny Mayer judiciously avoided the clichés of the instrument throughout the performance, while his melody instrument counterpart, keyboardist Beau Sasser, while not quite so stylish, helped cement an impression that The Alan Evans Trio's two records don't do them justice.
The same might be said of Lettuce's latest album, Fly (Royal Family Recordings, 2012). Yet it's a splendid studio counterpart to the live band, at least based on its Vermont show, in large part because the group understands the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the two different milieus. On stage, the septet barely stopped playing during their two hours, and spent next to no time vamping without direction: they deconstructed songs like the title tune, which then reappeared in modified but recognizable form, as the band moved through them one after another.
And Lettuce moved in unison too, steered through one after another- faultless turnaround, by drummer Adam Deitch. Plunging in and out of deep grooves, ascending to upper altitudes of breezy melody lines accented by the three-piece horn section, such as those sublime moments during "Madison Square, " Lettuce did justice to influences ranging from Stax to Philly soul, without sounding the least bit derivative. On the contrary, the group sounds wholly contemporary and authentic, suggesting in no uncertain terms that, hitting its twenty year anniversary, this is a young but seasoned band just beginning to hit its stride at a time when their public profile is elevating in direct proportion to its evolution.
To say the atmosphere in the South Burlington venue was charged from the start is to understate the anticipation for the band from a crowd that appeared almost like a flash mob just prior to the group ambling across the stage in an utterly relaxed manner. Weekends around Burlington invariably begin on Thursday nights whether or not the student community is in residence, but September 5th nevertheless constituted a perfect confluence for Lettuce and the near-capacity crowd that, most of its number staying the course till the near one-am conclusion, their collective attention wavered no more than the intensity of the playing: the audience was on the same wavelength as the instrumental (no vocals!) dynamics.
Bringing the formal set to an emphatic close, Lettuce bounced back and forth between Bob Marley's "Get Up Stand Up" and War's "Slippin' Into Darkness." There arose a consummate logic to a performance in which Krasno's guitar solos, such as the one on "Lettsanity," tied together the sound the band embroidered with ever increasing detail as the single set progressed, just as often through intervals such as trumpeter Ryan Zoidis' spotlights. Meanwhile, Kraz' long-time keyboard compatriot, Neal Evans, kept a low profile, the one marked exception his grand swoop of organ leading to a concluding crescendo the likes of which might've raised the roof of the edifice more than a little bit.
If the encore solicited from the maximum darkness of the room seemed superfluous, it's only because, just as there are rare occasions when the perfunctory return of the performer becomes compulsory, so are there instances like this, when the artist's extra occupation of the stage is punctuation on a statement delivered so resoundingly its intent, not to mention it's impact, is unmistakable.