It’s Saturday night in downtown Austin, without doubt one of the liveliest music scenes in the nation. There are songs coming from everywhere and all kinds of people are out and about looking for a good time. Just another Saturday night in Austin for most, but it’s much more for Lotus.
The instrumental jam rockers are rolling into the legendary Antone’s (a blues club made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s regular performances in the ‘80s), at the end of a two-month tour that concludes here tonight. Some bands don’t put much thought into where they start and end tours, but most jambands seem to sense that significant locales for opening and closing tours can have a noticeable effect on their musical mojo. Antone’s clearly makes for just such an appropriate venue, with its photo shrine to Stevie Ray looming large near the entrance.
SeepeopleS—a quartet out of Asheville, NC—open the show with a lively set that doesn’t pack the house but certainly keeps the attention of those present. This is always a commendable feat for a band without much local name recognition. The band mixes an indie rock vibe with a jam-oriented sound that goes over well. Bassist Dan Ingenthron makes a particular impression, laying down some great lines where he moves up the neck of his instrument to grab notes that most bassists don’t chase.
The men of Lotus are earning full road warrior status here, with a cross-country tour to support their sizzling new album Hammerstrike. Mixing elements of electronic dance music with organic rock instrumentation is a formula that’s winning the quintet an increasingly higher national profile. Formed in 1999 while members were attending Goshen College in Indiana (a Mennonite school that had banned on-campus dancing as recently as the 1980s), the band managed to transcend the Footloose-style atmosphere.
Most of the group now calls Colorado home, where they’ve hooked up a recording deal with SCI Fidelity. This means they share a label with prominent jambands such as Umphreys McGee, Sound Tribe Sector 9, New Monsoon, the Greyboy Allstars, Tea Leaf Green and more. Such association seems to be inherently helping the band’s word of mouth appeal as a good crowd has gathered to witness this tour-closing show. Brothers Jesse Miller (on bass) and Luke Miller (guitar and keys) make a formidable front line alongside guitarist Mike Rempel, while drummer Steve Clemens and percussionist Chuck Morris lay down polyrhythmic beats that keep the crowd moving to the rhythm of the swirling, psychedelic light show.
The band delivers a series of crowd-pleasing jams, with one early tune featuring an up-tempo groove assisted by some tight cowbell work, slashing funky chords and some truly cosmic sounding synthesizer work that sounds like a descendent from George Clinton’s Mothership Connection. The band’s sound at times recalls such groups as STS9, The Slip, Tortoise, the Orb, the Disco Biscuits, and moe (when Luke Miller switches to guitar for a two-axe attack). It all melds together for a groovy, futuristic vibe with a strong electronic atmosphere, yet with an organic sound that’s based in some funky retro roots.
Those funky influences seep out strong on “Tip of the Tongue”, with quick cutting chords that get the crowd into a deep groove with a sound that recalls the Talking Heads circa Remain in Light. The set-closing “Suitcases” ups the ante with a monster jam that sees the group really locking in as the music starts to play the band. The Miller brothers demonstrate a tight chemistry while drummer Clemens lays down some fierce drum work. Guitarist Rempel knows just where to pick his spots as the music and the lights blend together in perfect harmony to elevate the crowd into an ecstatic state of bliss. This is the kind of serious Saturday night entertainment that makes true believers out of any who are uninitiated.
A half-hour break gives way to another high energy set with the dance floor remaining packed until the end. It’s getting plenty hot inside, but the ice-cold Shiner Bock sells briskly and keeps the crowd cool. As the band continues to jam out, the crowd seems to dance harder, as opposed to being drained of any energy. There’s a palpably positive vibration that no one wants to let go of and the music provides one dose of energy after another.
The faithful are rewarded one last time with an appropriately titled encore of “Shimmer and Out”, one of the most turbo-charged jams of the night that sounds as if it could be opening the second set rather than closing the evening’s festivities. The guitars take on a truly shimmering effect, as the music seems to glide and sparkle, putting everyone on a cloud. They may not be as well known yet as some of their label mates, but there’s clearly a rising new player on the jam scene and its name is Lotus.