A double header of Vermont jammers treated a Massachusetts crowd to a night of improvisational grooves, saxophone sit-ins and Christmas carol teases in true holiday fashion at Thunder Road Music Club & Rock n’ Roll Bistro. Vermont’s own RAQ, restocked with a reputable drummer in the scene, teamed with an up and coming group, Swimmer, who share roots in the same town of Burlington. Both drew an impressive gathering of fans both local and branching across the Northeast, making it safe to say many left the MA venue newly admitted “swimmers.”
The progressive rock-fusion quintet based out of Burlington, took the reigns early in the night, kicking things off with a kinetic performance that displayed a melting pot of genres over a six-song set list. Carefully crafted, it brought forward original compositions intertwined with covers of some of their largest musical influences, Frank Zappa and Phish. The night found mesmerizing flair from keys player Matt Dolliver, bassist Jack Vignone, guitarists Paul Klein and Joe Agnello, who swapped vocals with man behind the drum kit, Cotter Ellis. Original and innovatively named tracks “5 Seed and Feeble,” “Godmeat” and “Sea Cerebral” truly portrayed the unique sound Swimmer bears to those who have never been introduced to their music–seemingly effortless tight grooves, progressive journeys and charismatic originality.
Highlights of the set instantly point towards Matt Dolliver as he delighted the audience with smooth saxophone performances and Swimmer’s conquering of Frank Zappa’s “Pound for a Brown” > Phish’s “F*ck Your Face” > “The Impossible Engineer,” an original track that ended the set with high-energy and roars of approval.
RAQ certainly came baq and kept the crowd fully captivated throughout a two-set performance. The audience and RAQ members alike were elated with the fact that former Dopapod drummer Scotty Zwang, has completed the final piece in their lineup puzzle–one that has proven to be tossed up in the past and especially interwoven with Kung Fu. Todd Stoops was nothing short of vocal, proudly admitting from behind the keys that Zwang is the “best drummer they’ve ever had” as he corralled multiple rounds of applause throughout the first set, which included “Bootch Magoo,” “Clamslide,” “Bobs Your Uncle,” “Crazy Tonie” and “Gabvonie.” Before heading offstage for a 15 minute reprieve, RAQ incited a sing-a-long on fan-favorite “Walking in Circles.”
Also displayed on two TV’s hanging above head at a full-stocked bar, the second set of the performance found a few dressed in Christmas colored velour and blazers in the holiday spirit as their atmosphere quickly turned into a reggae sound-tracked snowglobe. RAQ dove into Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” before taking on a string of Christmas classics from “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Joy to the World,” to “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” which paired nicely with the “Deck the Halls” ornament and garland decor at Thunder Road. Newly confirmed “swimmer,” Stoops, re-introduced Matt Dolliver to the stage after approaching him in the crowd between set changes. An impromptu sit-in on Men at Work’s “Who Can it Be Now?”ultimately brought down the house.
Swimmer will resume gigs after the holidays with their first 2017 appearances across Clear River Tavern, Showcase Lounge and The Snow Barn in Vermont before heading to Stella Blues in CT. RAQ ended their trifecta of North East comebaq performances, with stops through The Westcott Theatre in Syracuse, a penultimate gig with Twiddle at Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre and last night’s Thunder Road wrap up. Saturday night alone determined that both groups have big moves on the horizon for the upcoming new year.