It has been unbearably cold in Buffalo this winter. Last Wednesday, Aqueous and The Mantras brought setlists that centered around the theme of “Love” and things were more Kate Upton inside of Nietzsche’s than the Roseanne Barr we have been experiencing outside of it. After an excellent first residency, could Aqueous build upon the great foundation they laid down the first week? The Mantras gave them a running start by pumping up a much larger crowd and Aqueous was certainly up to the task.
The Mantras are an excellent six-piece band from Greensboro, North Carolina that had the place rocking from the moment they hit the stage. The Mantras’ set featured excellent originals as well as welcome renditions of Umphreys McGee’s “Hurt Bird Bath” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. With their progressive rock sound that somehow doesn’t deny their southern roots, The Mantras connected with the Buffalo crowd. It is safe to say that when The Mantras finished their set, Nietzsche’s was buzzing with excitement.
The theme of the second Aqueous residency show was the broad theme of “Love.” Aqueous chose a gutsy opener of Haddaway’s “What is Love” that quickly segued in and out of the hard-hitting Aqueous original, “Eon Don”. The “Eon Don” segments of this back and forth sandwich provided some new territory for the usual straightforward rocker. After it finished, the crowd was primed for the fan favorite “Origami.”
“Origami” would show the crowd that it was business time during “love night.” From the dream-like intro, this “Origami” was one for the books. Taking their time and exploring new paths in the intro allowed the drop into the composed section of “Origami” to take flight. When it hit, the place exploded and many heads were sent banging. The jam would come firing out with high energy before almost grinding to a halt. Changing pace and varying the intensity of sound are two weapons that Aqueous has solidified into their jamming arsenal. Following the halt, Nick Sonricker (drums) would provide an upbeat rhythm that the band slowly built on. Not rushing into a peak allowed the band to find a gorgeous soaring groove. The second jam would center around a minimalist playing of the “Origami” theme before it became Godzilla eating every piece of origami ever created.
The second nod to the night’s theme would be The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” that brought the lightheartedness back after the hard-hitting “Origami”.
After the short cover, Aqueous would be right back on the heavy improv, crafting a 24-minute version of “All-In”, which has done the exact of opposite of what I have done after hitting 5’9”… grow. “All-In” has come from humble beginnings to become a jam monster. The last couple of performances seem to have set the bar higher and higher each time out. When Aqueous dove into another minimalist jam, they began infusing hints of reggae and funk. Had Darth Vader been in attendance, he would have said, “The groove is strong with this one.” The patience that the band displayed set up the final annihilation. The slow groove transformed into a Mike Gantzer (guitar, vocals) and David Loss (guitar, vocals, keyboards) shred fest, that reached peaking heights that few jams fail to find. After a short return to the “All-In” theme, Evan McPhaden (bass) lead the band back down into the groove. Loss moved to the keyboards and the dance party continued. This “All-In” was the clear highlight through the halfway mark of the Aqueous Nietzsche’s residency.
After 24 minutes of “All-In” fire, Aqueous smartly decided to take things down a notch, and revert back to the Love theme. With Keith Allen (guitar) and Julian Sizemore (keyboards) from The Mantras joining Aqueous on stage, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” would be the centerpiece of this love affair. Loss would have the task of the legendary Gaye vocals. While he sounded nothing like Marvin Gaye, Loss sang with everything he had and owned the stage, making it a fun rendition. The real star was Allen, playing a gorgeous-sounding slide guitar that perfectly rang out through the bass groove.
Aqueous chose to place its newest song “20/20” after “Let’s Get It On”. Reaching the 12-minute mark in only its second performance, “20/20” continues the trend of Aqueous songs that have big open-ended sections for jamming.
The set would conclude with “Marty”, an instrumental take on “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, and “The Median”. The band had placed a net full of red balloons on the ceiling prior to the beginning of the show. During the line in “Marty”, “red balloons are falling from the sky” they were released and served as party favors during the closing trifecta.
After a set that thrilled the crowd, the encore would not disappoint. James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is” would be the last Love cover before seguing into “Pictures” and a reprise of “What is Love”, which segued back and forth multiple times. It felt as if the two had became one song and finished the night on yet another highlight.
Mixing smart and unpredictable covers, Aqueous engaged the roughly 200 people in attendance for two and a half hours. This Aqueous set gave everyone a chance to sing along and have some fun, yet provided some serious improvisational music. Missing either of the next two Nietzsches show would be a big mistake.
Of note, the band was dressed in shirts and ties, except for Evan who was shirtless except for a bowtie. That is all I have to say about that but I am told that the ladies loved it.
Setlist: What is Love>Eon Don>What is Love>Eon Don>Origami>Wouldn’t it be Nice>All In>Let’s Get it On>20/20>Marty>I Will Always Love You>The Median>Marty
Encore: How Sweet it Is>Pictures>What is Love
Remaining Aqueous at Nietzsche’s Show Dates:
2/19 with The Broccoli Samurai (Willy Wonka Theme)
2/26 with Big Something (Mystery Guest Theme)