On Thursday night at the Westcott Theater, Matt Butler and Everyone Orchestra concocted a musical potion that had us all under a spell. Butler played the role of lead hypnotist as he memorized not only the crowd, but also the band that he so craftily pulled together for this outstanding evening of sonic surprises.
Binghamton-based three-piece, Several Sons, opened the blissful trifecta of acts with their mellow harmonies and soulful unplugged sound. Their performance featured Bradford Allen on cajón drum for the entirety of the performance, which created a backyard fire-pit vibe. Kevin Ludwig took over the lead vocals and rhythm guitar, paving the way for Jack Bucher to display his bluesy chops on lead guitar. The mostly instrumental set list was capped off by a folk rock original, “Moonshine,” paying tribute to the act of getting drunk with friends. What a way to send us off into a set break.
Located just a couple of cities to the left of Syracuse is the blue-collar, “Bills Mafia” community of Buffalo, NY. Football probably holds the title for most discussed topic of conversation on a Saturday night, but I can guarantee that the local groove-rock quartet, Aqueous, is definitely on the minds of many Western New Yorkers. Their appropriately named, “2016 Random Company Tour,” fits the bill perfectly as the entire room anxiously awaits their arrival to the stage. As they entered to DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here)” blaring on the speakers, we hoped they were about to make us lose our minds (sorry, I went there) and lose our minds we did.
“Strange Times” was first up and allowed Mike Gantzer and Dave Loss to share the spotlight on vocals and guitar solos. The two methodically went line-for-line on this lyrically appealing tune before dropping into a sludgy, greasy transition. Evan McPhaden pounded away on bass to symbolically clean up the jam goo. Solid improvising segued into “The Median” off the 2014 album, Cycles. Rob Houk’s drumming showcased their genre blending skills by combining elements of progressive rock and reggae with a hint of electronica. There was one point towards the end of “Median” where it almost sounded like a completely different piece, but long time fan, Mitch (the guy on the rail whose head seemed to explode note to note), explained that this phenomenon is common during one of their juiciest originals. Loss then seamlessly goes back and forth from guitar to keys while Gatzner pans for gold on lead guitar during the third and final song of the set, “Don’t Do It.” The crowd was definitely thirsty for more after the brief second act, but with Everyone Orchestra being served as an entrée, just about the entire room decided to take a break outside to work up an even stronger appetite.
Butler appeared on stage with his 7-piece mixture of talent to specify the guidelines of the show. He would be writing notes to the band and the crowd on his simple yet effective white board while signaling to all of us via hand gestures, screams resembling words and Hulk Hogan-like crowd controls. Realistically, Butler runs the show like a drag race in the movie Grease, “Rules are, there ain’t no rules.” The ceremony began with Butler warming up the fingers of the esteemed group of musicians as they delivered a tight and funky beat that got the room dancing immediately. Eric Yates deserves the first MVP award of the night due to his funky banjo plucking while Ryan Montbleau deserves a shout out for creating the lyrics, “What do I see in my sight? Westcott Theater on a Thursday night.” Rob Derhak’s bass was bumping along with Emanuel Washington’s drumbeat when Butler asked the crowd to throw an idea at Montbleau for additional lyrics. The best we could up with was “sexy night” which morphed into an entire band-crowd, call-response of “Ugly, sexy night, yeah!”