Another Step in the Evolution of Sound [Lotus - Charlottesville, VA - April 17 & 18, 2015]
Words by Leo A. Jennings IV
The Jefferson Theater - April 17th
My most recent sojourn to see what I consider to be the most fulfilling band in the world brought me to the absolutely beautiful town of Charlottesville, Virginia. Home to the University of Virginia, the town's rolling hills and unique vibe are a near perfect setting for two nights of amazing live music. From the quirky and cool shops to the awesome pizza pubs that were open late into the night, Charlottesville has a lot to offer for the live music experience, not to mention the kind and helpful local population. The town's classic architecture and historical landmarks such as Monticello create a very nostalgic feel in a place you can tell is evolving with the times as well.
After getting organized and enjoying the hotel and company of good friends made on the road, we made our way over to the Jefferson to prepare for an evening with Lotus. This was one of few shows I have attended without an opener, making for a longer set and usually held in a more intimate venue. Indeed, the Jefferson was quite intimate and even as the night was in full swing, plenty of space was left to move around freely. The true highlight, for me, was seeing so many of the friends I have made because of Lotus. For a short time, I stood by the door and hugged one after the other as I spotted them amongst the flow of incoming fans.
Lucid Awakening, the show opener, was an absolute perfect way to open the night up. This song has a lilting guitar melody and high speed rhythm with a very positive feel, and in my opinion, is one of Lotus's best openers. Break Build Burn was to follow, which to this day is my favorite track off of the Build album. Simply put, a FUN song. L'immeuble followed, which is one of my favorite tracks from Lotus that ties several elements of the band's sound together. This segued into One Last Hurrah, usually a standalone song in the live setting. However, this was the first time throughout the weekend I noticed the band's next step in their evolution. Their more minimalistic, but still full sounding approach to jamming, started to make itself apparent. With a more harmony focused jam out of L'immeuble, One Last Hurrah was executed perfectly and still remains one of my favorites to see live. Two fan favorites were served up and segued next, Spaghetti>Comptroller. This was the deepest Spaghetti I have witnessed in a live setting, with a deep, intense jam leading into Comptroller, a personal favorite of a very good friend. Kalea followed up. Several of my friends know not to even approach me during a live Kalea. A complete tear jerker and a tune I tie closely with very resounding memories, it did not disappoint as my emotions ran rampant in time with the music. As if the band knew I needed to soothe myself a little bit and dance it off, Intro to a Cell graced our ears upon the closing of Kalea, and, as usual, the Intro turned into a wild dance party. The pattern forming of Intro to a Cell being played at some of my favorite shows is a common epidemic amongst Lotus diehards, although a complete cure has yet to be found.
After a short set break, and a drink refill, the new hit Tarot opened up the rest of the night's journey. When Lotus starts playing new songs, I refuse to listen to them until I see them live. Tarot was worth the wait, to say the least. A three song segue that was nothing short of amazing followed. Travel, one of my personal favorites, started it off, going into a major key jam, which is my favorite format for this song. It led straight into Zelda, a cover which I have witnessed umpteen times live, but of which I never tire. This particular Zelda cover was something special. Seeing this extended jam riddled with improv after the main themes, it's very clear that Lotus can make a cover their own. The heroic Zelda jam led into a personal favorite -- Soma, a very old track in the band's repertoire. Lotus has been reviving several previously shelved tracks in the live setting, and Soma has been one of my absolute favorites for years. Completely blown away since seeing this live in Columbus at the most recent Newport Theater show, I was not complaining in the least about hearing it again. Soma is an extremely blissful song with a melody that gives me the chills every time I hear it. A well chosen set of segued songs were to close out the second set, starting with Lead Pipe. Lead Pipe is typically used as a launchpad to fluid and long set lists these days, and Luke Miller, once again, did not disappoint. Lead pipe found itself with some cool and calm vocoder work, and a rocking jam straight into fan favorite Sunrain, an amazing composition in its own right. However, the jam out of Sunrain was something unlike I have ever heard out of Lotus. An extremely minimalistic jam grew out of the main melody, dominated by the percussion work of Chuck Morris and Mike Greenfield. Backed by ambient synth echoes and blips of delayed guitar from Mike Rempel, this was one of the most organic improvisational jams I have heard from any group to date. While sticking to the original feel of the song, they made one of their oldest hits sound like something completely new, while still reaching back to their roots. This ambient jam was one of the most unique things I have witnessed in a long career of live music attendance, and will stick out as such for years and years to come. This jam melded seamlessly into funky favorite Bubonic Tonic, marked by especially fancy synth work by Luke Miller and slick guitar play from Rempel. The set was closed out with a cool jam back into Sunrain, leaving the crowd blissfully charged for a beautiful encore.
Rarity, crowd pleaser, fan favorite, many monikers may grace it; Colorado is Lotus's undisputed classic slow jam. An unexpected hit to witness on this weekend, I swayed, vibed, and cried just as I did almost two years ago when I last saw this performed at Mr. Small's in Pittsburgh. Never to leave its crowd unfulfilled, Lotus closed with Wax -- odd for a closer, but leaving us in raw anticipation for night two.
nTelos Wireless Pavilion - April 18th
Being a little bit older (27) has its perks. I have a mental alarm clock that wakes me up at 7 AM if nothing else does. This means I have a tendency to be on time. After night one of Lotus, I woke up at 7 AM feeling somehow refreshed, reloaded, and damn near ready to get to the show. After a long day of exploring Charlottesville a little bit more, dining on local cuisine, and enjoying the day with some amazing friends, it was time to go to the end of the walkway, where the nTelos Pavilion lies.
Lax security aside, this was one of the most aesthetically and acoustically pleasing venues I've had the pleasure of attending since I have been to Red Rocks in Colorado. A large, open grassy space leading into the covered venue was a second-to-none space to host a Lotus show. I was very impressed, and definitely reassured that Virginia is a close second to Ohio to catch Lotus in a live setting.
This was not the first time I had seen a split show with Lotus. Conspirator warmed up last year at the Royal Oak Theater, and they played a hell of a set to open up the night. Marc Brownstein really knows how to have a good time, it seems. Returning to the 18th of this year, I expected The New Deal to leave just as good an impression. They certainly did not disappoint. The band's signature sound resonated well throughout the venue, and had the crowd moving early on as the sun went down over Charlottesville. I started listening to The New Deal just as they were going on their previous hiatus, and I was left feeling stimulated and ready to really get down. As their killer set came to a close, I refilled my beverage and prepared for another amazing night of Lotus.
One of the band's most well known tunes, Spiritualize, opened up the second night. The band's maturing sound and unparalleled musicianship were really showing on the 18th. A wide open jam into Tip of the Tongue could prove that no better. Always a funky dance party, Tip did not fail to please even us diehards who have heard it more times than we can count. Jesse's bass maneuvers on this song's jam have been making me boogie my ass off when I've seen it live recently; Chuck also sticks out on percussion here. Basin to Benin, a track recently introduced to live set lists and set to be on the band's next album came next and did not let us down at all. As with Tarot, I avoided listening to this song until I was able to witness it in a live setting. I feel like the band gets a true "road test" out of a fan this way. A pulsing, funky jam littered with horn melodies and driving guitar rhythms, this track has put me in high anticipation of Lotus's next full length release. Expired Slang, a favorite amongst diehards, was next and was absolutely mind-blowing. The band displayed an extreme sense of harmony while maintaining an extremely intense jam. No band member was taking a back seat to another and this particular performance has gone down as yet another standout memory from Lotus. Greet the Mind crept its way into our ears next. this track is a favorite amongst Lotus fans old and new, with a very funky intro and insanely intense jam. After the initial funk, the infamous accelerando kicked in, and was especially impressive this time around. It seems every time I see this song live, the jam goes to a place higher then before. The set closer was In an Outline, off of the self-titled album. This song has continued to grow on me the more I see it live. The epic, happy, major-keyed climax continues to be irresistible. Thus, the first set had come to a close, and energy was bided to use for the rest of the night.
A cover of The Traitor by Herbie Hancock kicked off the second set, with a sit-in from Jamie Shields of The New Deal. The Traitor is an exceptionally fun piece, written in the mid-70's at the height of Herbie's funk/jazz fusion experimentation, which included a wide display of the abilities of the ARP synthesizers available at the time. Jamie blended in with the band perfectly, not sticking out too much at all and sitting perfectly in the groove. Lotus has traditionally been resistant to sit-ins until the past couple of years, but the wait has been well worth it. From horn sections to Mr. Shields, the band can now meld very comfortably with musicians from other settings. Bush Pilot was presented next. Although I seem to hear it at every other show, I really never grow tired of it. I feel as if not every song should be a jam fest, and this track proves to be a perfectly cool hand to throw on the table. Reeling off the minor scale outro of Bush Pilot, It's All Clear to Me Now echoed throughout the pavilion. Mike Rempel's guitar work really stuck out to me on this particular song, and he almost seemed to be leading the entire band at points, although Mike Greenfield's unbelievable work on the kit was truly the driving force here. Tightly grouped cymbal flams and tom rolls melded with a continuous beautiful percussive pulse highlighted several tracks this weekend, this one especially apparent. After a long stretch of heavenly instrumentation, the long jam began to hint at some samples that sounded something akin to vomiting aliens, which could only mean 128. Surely enough, 128 was broken into without a hitch, and kept the whole crowd moving throughout. After an epic jam, another "cooler", The Surf, graced our ears. The common Lotus crowd seems split on their opinion of this song, but I've always been partial, having witnessed it at my first show. The calm of the jam turned out to be a perfect preparatory song for one of my favorite covers, Inspector Norse. Musically a pretty simple song from Norwegian producer Todd Terje, Lotus really makes it fun and throws a cool improvisational jam into the track, highlighted by bouncy synths from Luke and virtuosic lead guitar work from Rempel, leading to a crowd dancing as ecstatically as they had all weekend. Norse led itself back into Spiritualize, making the whole Lotus performance one giant sandwich and really tying the night together, the song itself being both a functional opener and closer. Never to leave its crowd hungry, the band appeared for one last tune, Gilded Age, and absolutely made the most of it. The last non-festival show of the tour allowed this to be the perfect closer, and Rempel really took the closing solo to new heights, refreshing my ever present love for this song.
The rest of the night was spent amongst good friends, both old and new, which has come to be the true highlight of seeing Lotus live. Of course, the music is what brings us all together, and one cannot experience one without the other, thus creating a beautiful trinity of an experience for each fan. As for the band itself, they are firing on all cylinders. A continuous evolution in sound is what attracted me to Lotus in the first place, and from the Germination era to now, the Gilded Age, the band continues to show a constant evolutionary understanding of synchronicity amongst themselves. My best recommendation is to get out and see Lotus live as soon as you can, and make it a regular habit. The constant evolution in their sound, while not always apparent, is always present.