On Saturday night at The Paper Box in Brooklyn, lespecial held their annual mini-festival to the delight of hundreds of lucky fans in attendance. After meeting dozens of friendly freaks in the crowd, I regretfully realized that I was one of the rare guests taking part in my first lespectacle. While I was unable to locate a coat check in the eerily, yet vibrantly decorated venue, it was clear from the very beginning that I would need to check my concept of reality at the door.
Starting around 9pm, Connecticut based producer, Tsimba was spinning his intricate form of otherworldly music to a prematurely spun-out crowd. During this opening act, it was clear that the energy of the room was already sky high and not coming down anytime soon. Tsimba’s bio describes his music as “sounds that could manifest anywhere in the universe” and while no one on the floor appeared to be a qualified astronaut, the dance moves suggested some spacey exploration.
After the short and sweet DJ set, Gene Shinozaki of The Beatbox House popped out of the crowd to show off his amazing talent. I have heard many variations of beatboxing in my life ranging from legends like Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie to my drunk white friend at a frat party in college, but Shinozaki introduced me to sounds that I did not know were possible to create with one human mouth. His ability to tackle genres like dubstep while looping underground hip-hop beats was fantastic.
Other members of The Beatbox House joined Shinozaki along while the oddly-dressed crowd of music lovers circled around them. Light on the treble, the group segued into their abbreviated version of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” before dropping into something that sounded like Plinko chips on The Price Is Right. The House’s first performance of the night came to an end, but they were set to appear several more times before the end of the event.
lespecial bassist, Luke Bemand, filled in as the MC of the night and introduced the next group, Ross Jenssen, as one of his favorite bands in the world. The “Ross” part of the Connecticut trios name is Brian Ross on bass. The “Jenssen” half is Jules Jenssen on drums and the “just right” third bear in between the two of them is Sam McGarrity on guitar. Their mostly instrumental set had the occasional spoken word sample thrown in for good measure, but the crowd will be talking about this performance until next year’s lespectacle. Ross Jenssen opened up with the introduction to “Perspiration” off their debut album, Phrases.
Interstellar travel seemed to be the theme of the night as the first few songs reminded me of a spaceship about to blast off into outer space. Songs like “Curmudgeon” and “Hell or High Water” begin with a haunting yet tranquil groove before launching into heavy, raw and unfiltered rock and roll. It is a sonic wonder how the same band weaves an original like “Illumination” into a set filled with head banging madness as this tune may be appropriate for deep meditation at a yoga studio.
Ross Jenssen’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to different genres makes them a hard act to compare or even describe for that matter, which is why they had the crowd in the palm of their hands all night. “Rabble Rouser” creates an electronic sludge that leads to a danceable darkness toward the middle of the jam, yet prior to entering this disco-dungeon, the trio covered “Ten Tonne Skeleton” by Royal Blood to the delight of a music-loving room. After closing with the topically appropriate “Afraid of Americans,” I searched the room for the insane guitar-shredding McGarrity to learn more about the mad scientist’s lab where he got his hands installed.
An incredibly humble musician in a world full of Trumps, I found Sam backstage crushing a slice of pizza before taking five minutes to speak with me. He gives all the credit to founding members Ross and Jenssen for allowing him to jam with them back in 2013 and then join them on their album “Phrases.” After he became “somewhat of a permanent member” he describes his musical influences and the strong connection that members of lespecial and Ross Jenssen have shared since playing together and going to shows in high school. I mentioned how some of their sound reminded me of a darker version of a prog-rock jamband and one example that came to mind was Umphrey’s Mcgee. Much like Jake Cinninger of the Chicago-based jam monster, Sam explained how from an early age he “loved to shred.” “I’m gonna do that, that sounds cool, I want to do that,” he wildly proclaimed before mentioning how much stronger of a player he has become since joining Ross Jenssen and practicing daily.
After the The Beatbox House finished improvising with “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd, it was finally time for the main event, lespecial. Guitarist Jonathan Grusauskas held down a powerful solo during one of the band’s most popular songs “Fruit Dance Wolf.” I would have felt completely satisfied with their set had they just played that song, but there was still two full and fiery sets to go when they brought out their first guest, Jesse Stocker on flute for “Skull Kid.”
The appropriate set placement of this tune worked well with the central decor of the night as skulls, antlers, and post-Halloween props were set up throughout the stage and venue by designer The Reliquarium. Speaking of antlers, “Third Antler> 4th Antler Improv” found their way into this first set madness after the trio covered Nine Inch Nails’ “Piggy.” Prior to the event, I predicted some band collaborations due to the overwhelming talent on the bill and lespecial did not disappoint when calling upon Gene Shinozaki for some improvisational beatboxing assistance on stage before “Pressed for Time” closed out this jaw dropping first set.
In order to stimulate some other senses before during and after lespecial, Vin Pugliese was put in charge of the intense lighting and visuals to make everything look and feel as good as it sounded. Set two was off to a thunderous and spooky start as the boys took a stab at their Fela Kuti arrangement of “Harambe Zombie” to honor a fallen hero. While there were no dicks out during their rendition of the afro-beat classic, there was black magic in the air as the band and the zombies in the crowd became one.
The tribal beat presented one of the highlights of the entire night for me until just two songs later lespecial annihilated a cover of “Frizzle Fry” from the iconic Primus album. Bemand proved to the crowd that his chops were among the best in the business as he channeled Les Claypool in this creatively mind-blowing anthem. The band kept an eclectic mix of covers coming with Skrillex’s “With Your Friends” and “Fade” by Kanye West. The first set began with a track off their newest album, Omnisquid and in a similar fashion, “Squid Rising” ended the show.
While lespecial was technically finished performing for the night, the now masked trio reemerged as Robert Jacob Max’s Supersillyus Lifeband took the stage. The shadowy and mystical super-group has been an ever-changing phenomenon since its early conception years ago. The Lifeband was heavy on the jam and risk-taking improvisation while still keeping the crowd moving as we gained an hour thanks to an end of Daylight Savings in the outside world. A psychedelic journey through extraterrestrial soundscapes took the Paper Box for one last ride before sending us back into reality in the streets of Brooklyn.
After my first lespectacle, I discovered a kaleidoscope of all things that are right with Brooklyn. A melting pot of different subcultures coming together to create something new during a time when almost everything seems to be remade. The musicians, the visuals, the art and the audience all worked together to create something great instead of trying to make it “great again” which will lead to even stronger and thought-provoking lespectacles in the future! I will see you there.