This past Saturday evening, I had the pleasure of enjoying Medeski, Martin and Wood, or MMW for short, perform an acoustic show for a sold out audience of 400 fans at the Massry Center of the Arts at The College of Saint Rose. Having never before been to the Massy Center, I had only heard that it had possibly the best sounding room in Albany. I was excited for MMW to let their brand of beautiful noise loose in this room. Oh and how they let it loose!! More on that however, first some history on the center itself.
A subtle grace is bestowed upon Massry Center. It isn’t apparent how graceful it is until you dig deeper. Some 450 feet deeper to be exact, as it is heated and cooled by a geothermal system originating from 40 wells dug beneath the building and its adjacent parking lot. It gets greener yet with 35% of its electricity supplied by wind and water. Using no fossil fuels, it also is made of 78% recycled steel and 15% recycled concrete. Gorgeous American and Patagonian Cherry wood is used on the doors and floors in accordance with standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council. All of these attributes makes it almost 50% more efficient than a comparable building built conventionally.
Arriving close to the 7:30 starting time, I met up with photographer Chris DeCotis. We assumed our seats on the top landing facing down the stairs for a great view of the stage. Due to the show being sold out we were relegated to chairs, but being a rather lanky fellow I was pleased to not be crammed into a theater seat. Most of the seats were filled and just after 7:35 MMW began.
As DeCotis assumed his position near the floor, I sat back and prepared for the inevitable onslaught. Having seen MMW around 25 times previously, I knew how unpredictable and how completely mind blowing they can be. These Berkelee College of Music trained musicians began their career in 1991 playing acoustic together and can read each others every syncopated move like Jedi knights. I had not seen them perform acoustic before so I was in for a very special treat.
They began with a short intro then blasted into “Piano/Bass Chase” a free wheeling number that had everyone’s attention; no easing into things tonight. Very smoothly sliding into a improvised jam, the trio was clearly at ease, when they decided to shake it up a bit. They moved into a “Melodiccordian Shuffle” where Medeski plays a melodica/accordian hybrid, both rollicking and funky, to the point where I’m having a hard time sitting still. The crowd is bobbing heads and tapping toes in time. It’s the third song before they take a short breather. After playing a bold “Truth or Suffering” and very tight “Down On Me” things get weird. Playing an instrument that looks like someone tried to make an Oboe out of a Didgeridoo, Medeski showed his versatility, while Chris Wood opted for the electric bass and Billy Martin played all manner of random percussion in his repertoire before settling on two handfuls of orange plastic clothes hangers. To close the first set they play a chopped up and regurgitated “Suspicious Minds” which I recognized but could not place the original artist…thinking it was a Tom Jones song, I realized later it was originally Elvis.
After taking a short stretch break, the theater filled back up and is ready for round two. A quick intro leads right into “Nostalgia in Times Square”, segueing into “Angel Race (I’ll Wait for You)”. Wood’s upright bass solo in the middle on an extended “Illmoan” is a moment of focus in a tribal fertility space funk. Following the completion of “Illmoan” was another jam with John Medeski on the Slovakian Bassoon (or in my mind the Obidgeridoe). Never compromising, they round out the second set with a more straight forward “Pocket Knife” followed by a Drum Solo from Billy. Finishing the set with “Olde Wyne”, the boys were really feeling it and swerved around the song with ease.
They were lavished upon with a standing ovation from most of the crowd, cheering, whistling, hooting and screeching for more. The crowd loved it and wanted more. They take the stage and the usual mouthpiece, Billy, gives their collective appreciation for being able to play acoustic for us. They finish the night out by encoring with “Fall River Blues”. Again, I find it hard to sit down, and know that I’m not the only one.
Photos by Christopher De Cotis