April had just begun, and her fickle ways were surprising the concert-goers stepping outside of The Dock on a Friday evening to have a smoke, get some air, contemplate the placid flood control channel waters over the patio’s railing.
“Oh, it’s raining now,” many said as they stepped out of doors. It had been a temperate, tolerable day that resembled spring after an interminable Ithaca winter. Spring’s changes always surprise after months of snow, cold, cold, and then, snow which is still there even if it’s not coming down.
There was a surprise in store on stage inside, too, where Rochester’s Thunder Body was playing a two-set show. Someone who had just heard of them that day, April 3, and gone online to hear some of their self-described “Medicine Hi-Fi” music would have found a band playing in lots of space – a theremin involved in some of their ambient jams, reggae/dub beats predominating. Dreamy, atmospheric, those were the adjectives this writer expected to be using in a write-up of the show as he entered (albeit based entirely upon some festival recordings cut in the 2013 season).
That laid back beat was certainly in evidence on this evening of 2015, at times. Two-chord riff call-and-response is part of the Thunder Body repertoire, tightly written tunes giving way to spacier jams.
The surprises included a new horn line of Benton Sillick on trumpet and Josh Frisch on low brass, the added brash brass timbre filling in space and adding grandeur to the group’s songs.
There was also the novelty of watching guitarist Sam Snyder play with an “overhand” technique – fingers draped down over the fretboard, rather than curling up from underneath – and filling the space left on this evening by fellow guitarist Dennis Mariano’s absence. The two-tone dub beats didn’t stop Snyder from taking the kind of classic blues-rock pentatonic solo that’s usually called heavy.
(Snyder said after the show that he started playing at a time when he had a broken hand, and thus he developed an unorthodox technique).
Laying down the beat all night was bassist Jeramiah Pacheco, who got to show his chops on a solo near the night’s end; one was left with the impression he could also bring the rumble for a band that had fans who prefer Henry Rollins to Peter Tosh.
Playing the Rhodes and pianet/clavinet was Rachel Orke, who played her accompaniment parts with the easy sway of a veteran church pianist who knows how to make a congregation of staid Episcopals or mainline Presbyterians weave in their pews. (Watch the suburban college kids dance at a show like this that draws them in, and one is struck by how little some populations have gained rhythm since the rock ‘n roll revolution – there are some with moves that look like they are historic reproductions of an American Bandstand episode. It’s good they’re dancing).
And on the drums and lead vocals was Matt O’Brian, who stayed in the pocket with both sticks and voice all night long. Through the echoing effects and Orke tweaking her wah pedal, O’Brian’s vocals and the song rhythms might first remind one of The Police, with a shot of Elvis Costello influenced inflections in his vocals.
One chorus O’Brian repeated over and over, though, reminded one why Thunder Body calls their music medicine, their performances a healing vocation: “Hatred is poison. Anger is toxic. Hatred is poison. Anger is toxic.”
Incidentally, no fights were reported to break out in the parking lot after the show.
Thunder Body will be back in Ithaca for Grass Roots, if not sooner.