It’s one more Saturday night in San Rafael, California, where the thriving music scene always seems to have some action for the insatiable appetite of the local music mongers. New Monsoon may not have quite the national profile of some of their regional contemporaries, but the band has kept it together for almost two decades now and has become something of a Bay Area institution in the process.
New Monsoon toured nationally with jamrock peers like String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, Spearhead and Keller Williams on the “Big Summer Classic” tour in 2005, and seemed like they might be on the cusp of a breakthrough. While the band has stepped back from national touring efforts in recent years, they’ve remained a valued regional resource. It doesn’t necessarily make financial sense for all bands to tour nationally these days, while some may also have commitments to family and/or careers that prohibit extensive travel, But by staying together and continuing to kick down the jams, New Monsoon helps the Bay Area music scene maintain some continuity during a time when the local housing crisis has posed an existential threat to the regional music and arts scene.
A Saturday night in the Grate Room at Terrapin is a primo slot and there’s extra anticipation amongst the “storm chasers” for this show as the band is presenting a “Rhythm Reunion” with departed original percussionists Brian Carey and Rajiv Parikh. The percussion duo add an extra polyrhythmic layer to the band’s already dynamic classic rock-oriented sound, leading to high praise from luminaries such as original Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. “They have a collective power that comes off as a real unified force on stage. It’s not just a band, you know? It’s something transcendental,” Shrieve has remarked.
This uplifting power has been a hallmark of New Monsoon shows throughout the years, with or without Carey and Parikh. But having them back in the fold here adds an extra energy to the proceedings that infuses the music throughout the night. Parikh’s tabla adds an Eastern influence to the band’s sonic landscape and leads to some deep grooves. This is evident early on during “Greenhouse”, a funky jam with an environmentally-conscious theme that gets the room going. “Tombo” is a hot world music influenced jam and it’s clear to see from the frequent smile on lead guitarist Jeff Miller’s face that he’s having a blast delving back into this expanded sonic realm with his old mates.
Miller, rhythm guitarist Bo Carper and keyboardist Phil Ferlino have remained the core trio behind the band and New Monsoon has continued to retain the chemistry that suggests the band could be a much bigger force on the national music scene in some alternate reality where things played out just a little differently. But Bay Area music fans are still loving the band as a regional treat, yet another delight amongst local sonic treasures. The Santana influence has always been strong with New Monsoon and pops up here in the form of a big jam on “No One to Depend On”, where the percussionists get another chance to step out. Carper then stars on banjo during “Country Interlude” for a fiery jam to close the first set.
The second set features a hot jam on “Traveling Gypsies” that leads to an inevitable tribute to the Grateful Dead with an ultra funky jam on “West LA Fadeaway”. The band re-arranges the song a bit to boost it up from the bluesier original version into a groovy jam that has the storm chasers getting down. Bassist Marshall Harrell and drummer Michael Pinkham really lock in here while Miller steps out with a hot solo as he does often during the show, but always playing tastefully rather than showing off. Carper’s “Alaska” is another peak moment, an anthemic song about a girl who’s mom dies during birth, leaving her musical drifter dad to raise her on his own. The song is a highlight for the band’s vocal harmonies, yet another element which separates New Monsoon’s dynamic sound from the pack.
The band cuts loose on the set closing “Rattlesnake Ride”, taking the audience on a journey as Miller and company lock in with the percussionists to conjure a sonic power that is akin to a genuine force of nature ala the band’s namesake. They push the show over the top in the encore with their classic cover of Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon”, an all too rarely heard classic rock gem that benefits immensely from the extra percussion. Another big instrumental jam on “En Fuego” closes the evening, leaving the storm chasers well satisfied with tonight’s sonic deluge.
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