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There is Nothing Even Remotely Like an Andy Frasco & the U.N. Concert
I saw a colleague right after the conclusion of the Andy Frasco fiasco in the Stardust Theater on Jam Cruise about 3:45 AM early Thursday morning, January 18th. Commenting about how titanic I thought the Frasco set was, I opined,“Everybody’s now playing for second place.”
“Oh, that? That was just a frat party band. The Cleaners killed it out on the Pool Deck,” he responded.
The Cleaners is a collective of massive talent: Eric Krasno, Marcus King, Kevin Scott, DeShawn Alexander, and Duane Trucks. Their first set on Wednesday in the Spinnaker Lounge was so slammed that I envied sardines; we couldn’t see and actually could barely hear. I saw the first portion of their Pool Deck set Wednesday night (well, Thursday morning). They are such great players, and when the magic works, it’s very powerful. The “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” that they offered was superb. As “They Love Each Other” gave way to the opening of “Mountain Jam,” I felt the need for something else.
The plan, as our writer Dalia Jakubauskas will confirm, was to check out the Jam Room briefly, then Frasco briefly, then call it a night. George Porter, Jr., was holding forth in the Jam Room as they began, Joe Marcinek on guitar and a fine young drummer at kit. After a bit, we headed down to see what Frasco was up to.
In my jumbled brain, Andy Frasco & the U.N. is what you get if you throw March Forth, The All-Mighty Senators, Hoots & Hellmouth, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong into a room directed by Frank Zappa. I know lots of people reject Zappa as “comedy music,” simply not seeing the astounding underlining musicianship at the core of the process. Frasco et al. have the comedy dialed way up… but the music dialed up even higher.
We caught the tail end of Sammi Garett (Turkuaz) playing drums. She went off, and Steve Kimock came on. My notes correctly indicate TOTAL MADNESS INSANITY. Whatever the song was, they were ripping along, when Frasco stopped the proceedings (get used to that) to tell band guitarist Shawn Eckles and Kimock to play free but so hard that it would piss off the horns — Ernie Chang on tenor sax and Arno Bakker on trombone — who were now joined by Big Sam — replete in a magnificent pink suit — and his trombone. Then a skeleton (Matt Butler??) came out with a whiteboard with BATTLE written on it, and the battle was ON.
One of the band’s greatest abilities is to make abrupt 90-degree turns at the drop of a hat. Suddenly, Eckles played the opening chords of “Money,” which he sang. After they blew that up, they paused — briefly — so that Frasco could invite the viola player from The Sweet Lillies, Becca Bisque, out to destroy some bluegrass. It was so sick. At one point Frasco, apparently a Butler/Zappa devotee, directed Big Sam and Bisque to duke it out. Brilliant.
Drummer Andee Avila took over vocals for the old Johnny Taylor hit “Who’s Makin’ Love.” There was punk; there was thrash metal; there was deep R&B; there was swing jazz. A couple of the Turkuaz horns came on as things turned rock ’n’ roll total gonzo, at which point Frasco encouraged everyone to pinch in so that he could crowd surf all the way up to the sound booth and back, which, of course, he did. His dancing was a manic delight, matched by Eckles, Elmer Olsman (bass), and Bakker.
There might have been 15 people on stage at this point, as Eckles once again instantly changed direction into “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” but that immediately turned into “Smokin’ Dope and Rock and Roll,” which somehow became, briefly, “Purple Rain.” It was mass hysteria, and we all went willingly along. Dalia had much earlier headed for the rail.
Stanton Moore (Galactic) came out and, with drum sticks, soloed on Eckles’ guitar strings. Matt Jalbert (TAUK) and DJ Williams (KDTU) came out with guitars on either side of the stage and began to shred as Frasco directed them during “Not Enough Money in the World.” It got stupid, as Jalbert, Williams, and G battled it out, before, naturally, Eckles turned it into “Livin’ On a Prayer.”
Before beginning “I’m Addicted to You,” Frasco had Moore return along with Michelangelo Carubba (Turkuaz), and they took turns at drum kit with Avila, the others on percussion and cymbals before Avila grabbed the bass for a solo! It got really jazzy during the “Pink Panther Theme” segment, but of course that finished out with a couple bars of “We’re an American Band.”
At precisely the moment they finished and we were raving, Frasco grabbed the mic and said, “Does everybody know where The Spot is? (It’s a spot on the promenade deck where musicians of all stripes meet late night into the sunrise.) Let’s everybody Second-Line up there!”
And that’s precisely what happened, as hundreds made their way up the Stardust steps and then from Deck 6 to 7 and outside to The Spot. I could hear it from my room. Shortly before I fell asleep.
You, however, should NOT sleep when the Frasco freight train runs through your town.