Medeski, Martin and Wood

Austin City Limits Festival

September 19, 2004

A Medeski, Martin and Wood concert is one of a few sure things in the live music world. If you go see your favorite rock band, chances are you’ll leave happy. But, will you leave satisfied? Probably not. Did they play all the songs you wanted them to play? Did they have the same passion you associated your initial love for them with? Maybe not.

Even though it was my fifth or sixth MMW concert, I had no expectations for the band’s performance at the Austin City Limits Festival Sunday night. Why? Because I had no specific needs(favorite songs) to be met. I had no reason to believe they wouldn’t be great because they never let me down before. Well, then, how have they been able to instill this lack of need in me and keep up their quality of live music output? They’re groove kings and great improvisers. When I go see Papa Grows Funk at The Maple Leaf, I’m not going for the songs. I’m going for the concrete groove. When I go see Rob Wagner play with Kevin O’Day, I’m going less for the jazz compositions than I am for the magical things they conjure up out of their strong musical connection.

Keyboardist John Medeski, drummer/percussionist Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood played avant-garde jazz, but there was always an accessible groove underneath. And, there was a road waiting to be traveled for the first time. Sure, the band played definable songs from their albums, but those definable songs are pasted together concepts created during jams. The band’s main strength is and was their musical telepathy. They’ve played as a trio for thirteen years, and they’ve honed their connection to the point that it’s barely noticeable. Barely, but it sure was fun looking for it Sunday night.

The band played in a tight circle onstage. No smiles or surprised glances were exchanged between the members. They probably didn’t look at each other only because they didn’t have to. Medeski pounded the boards in his usual fashion, and he tweaked the sound of one of his many synthesizers by adding feedback. I’m not sure of all the technicals involved, but he lifted the top of his uppermost synthesizer, reached his hand in and fooled with something to get the feedback. My prediction is that Wood will be the first hip-hop stand-up bassist in 10 years. He’s just got that nice, elemental groove down to a science. And, then there’s Billy Martin(illy b). Martin was sick as he flowed around his drum kit, but he was just as fun to watch with his whistles and shakers when the band took things down and went into a psychedelic free-for-all.

P.S. This has nothing to do with the concert, but the band had the best song title ever on their “Uninvisible” album: “Your Name is Snake Anthony.”

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