JJ Grey & Mofro opening for
Phil Lesh’s – Terrapin Family Band
Brooklyn Bowl, London – 30 July 2015
The venue adjacent to the entrance of the O2 arena and under the structure of the Millennium Dome, Brooklyn Bowl is becoming the favoured venue for American bands playing London gigs. This is a venue where you can eat, drink, play bowls and listen to live music in the same space. The bowling continues as the musicians play so occasionally you have an out of beat staccato of a bowling ball hitting the pins. Though tonight all the strikes were definitely from the stage as both sets were delivered up tempo and full of energetic live music. JJ Grey accompanied by his latest Mofro tonight ripped up the stage with his unique blending of sounds to bring together a harmonic cocktail that is shaken into a smooth blend with an edge as soul, roots, jazz and blues pour across the stage and weaves its magic throughout the Brooklyn Bowl. JJ Grey leads from the front with his vocals full of passion and a love of life, creating freedom that the band builds on that despite his efforts he never catches them out as they are beat perfect. The trumpet playing from Dennis Marion is stunning adding a layer of sound of a horn section augmented by stylish saxophone playing by Art Edmaiston. Into the mix is Andrew Trube a Stetson toting guitar player who stayed cool throughout the show, with Anthony Farrell on Hammond and keys providing a perfect foil to JJ Grey’s voice that soars above the band and ensuring that there is a structure and anarchy does not take over is a snazzy rhythm section of Todd Smallie on bass and the percussive drumming from Anthony ‘AC’ Farrell.
This is a band that wants to entertain you, and that they do from the off the quality is high and unbelievably as the set moves on with changes in tempo the music keeps getting better, you just have to love this foot stomping sound. JJ Grey played the music people had come to hear in a set that was a warm up for Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family, was only and hour too short but great to hear him back in U.K. The set included The Sweetest Thing; This River; Orange Blossoms and Slow Hot Sweaty, we heard JJ on guitar, tambourine and keys but tonight the harmonica remained silent, so we say come back soon and tour outside of London so more people get the opportunity to hear this formidable live sound.
After a break, time for a quick game of bowls and refresh your drink the main act stepped on to the stage to be greeted by a roar from the fans now crushed in front of the stage, with many wearing brightly coloured Grateful Dead T-shirts, Phil Lesh was greeted as the conquering bass player before a note was struck. The Deadheads were in seventh heaven as they stood in front of one of their hero’s and the set list included many of the tracks they wanted to hear, and could compare with previous live renditions from the night before and back through the Grateful Dead’s considerable number of live performances. Tonight at the Brooklyn Bowl the music was played with authenticity and close your eyes and you could imagine yourself back at a Grateful Dead gig.
Phil Lesh was master of the event leading with his sublime bass playing on a mean black six string; he has now been playing for sixteen years with friends who change but his playing is the constant that keeps the music alive. The Terrapin Family is not a tribute band to Grateful Dead as into the mix of classics are unusual covers, and original music into the set; keeping the sound fresh and exciting for today’s audience. The interplay between the musicians for me created a wall of sound that was full of a nuanced beat that made you feel good as the two guitarists licks and riffs played off each other this was not a competition of who could play louder faster add in more notes, it was two different styles and approaches enhancing each other creating a whole sound, Ross James and Grahame Lesh both took turns as lead and rhythm guitar and moving in and out throughout a track. The Terrapin Family is a band that plays like life is one great fun-time jam; as they deliver track after track of what is best about live music the excitement being you are never sure what is coming next. The band deliver a complex mix of musical tone, texture and shapes that refuses to be trapped into a time warp of any particular style or genre. Emily Sunderland adds her fantastic vocals into this mix tonight on two tracks, alongside Ross James one of the guitars tonight on West LA Fade Away from the Grateful Dead’s In The Dark album and solo on the wonderful cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman. One of the drummers Alex Koford who played exceptionally well throughout the night also had a fantastic voice and the version of Band On the Run’s McCartney number Let It Be was something special; also beefing up the rhythm section was Jordan Levine on the second drum kit. To this mix Scott Padden added the sound of keyboards and Hammond organ so that the tapestry of sound was complete. We also heard originals with the lyrics written and sung by Ross James, demonstrating this is a band that is full of surprises and is creating music that moves the music on keeping it fresh and relevant.
Tonight five of the bands added their voices above the instruments to bring the songs to life with meaning and emotion with Phil Lesh combining intricate bass guitar with his voice on tracks such as Viola Lee Blues and his son Grahame on Turnaround. The encore was an impressive five tracks four of which were from Blues For Allah and left the audience wanting more but sadly the lights came up and the show was over till another time. Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family, multi-task and deliver quality, they are fun to watch a delight to listen to, the band definitely came, played and conquered The Brooklyn Bowl in London tonight.