Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy played host to a very special event this past Saturday for a band near and dear to the local music community. Nestled next to the Green Island Bridge on the riverfront, the famous barbecue joint’s back end was teeming with excitement as the Albany-based Formula 5 shuffled onstage for what would be their final performance of 2015. Perhaps more significantly, though, as the event’s poster artwork indicated, it was “Mike’s Farewell Show,” the last hoorah of keyboardist Mike McDonald with the band he helped start.
The band broke through the anticipatory bustle with the dark and searching prelude that introduced Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam.” The tune set the tone for the evening with a texture that was thick and blissful with melodious playing from guitarist Joe Davis. The music seamlessly morphed into the reggae-bounce and staccato hooks of “Coming Home.” Here the lyrical themes were appropriately reflective. With impressive precision in the rhythm section, the band jammed this one to an exuberant peak, McDonald banging passionately on the piano. A verse from the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” was subtly dropped in the transition to Phish’s “Sand.”
Tucker Callander joined the band onstage to contribute energetic fiddle playing, helping bring “Mister Elixir” to a frenzied peak. Next up founding bassist Bill Shattuck was brought onstage, reassembling the original Formula 5 lineup. Stepping outside of time, where past and future merge into the eternal now, Shattuck led the band through the deep funk of “3 Ring Circus,” which gave way to a jam featuring F5’s new keyboardist Matt Richards. The first set ended with a poignant “Floating,” again featuring Callander’s fiddle and McDonald slicing it up on synth.
The second set opened with a twofer of guest vocals. First Brian LaPoint provided an authentic delivery of the Allman Brothers’ “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” Then Bill Shattuck was summoned back to the stage, where after professing his love for and gratitude to the band, he danced and shouted his way through an uproarious version of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” A string of original songs was then triumphantly delivered. The rubbery but rhythmically exact style of James Woods’ bass playing supported and propelled the soaring jam on signature original “Hot Box.” Drummer Greg Marek could be seen with eyes locked on any of his band mates, playing with nuance and finesse to bolster and compliment their contributions to the improv, or at times would play with eyes closed, engrossed in the tight aural soundscape F5 has increasingly mastered in recent years. Glittering guitar phrases from Davis scampered around in “The Clear,” and a “Little Drummer Boy” tease reminded the audience of the festive time of year despite unseasonably warm weather. The set culminated with a nod to the band’s full set of Phish covers performed at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que this past summer, this time uniting the crowd in celebration by debuting their version of “Run Like An Antelope.”
Mike’s Farewell Show was an even mix of Formula 5’s most memorable originals and heartfelt tributes to the band’s roots. Influence from Phish could be sensed in the texture and pacing of the group’s improvisations. Years of hard work were evident in the coherence of a band sounding tighter than ever. At one point departing keyboardist Mike McDonald took a moment to assure the crowd that “Formula 5 is going nowhere,” but not in that sense. Though the void at the end of the show was filled with chants of “Mike! Mike! Mike!” and McDonald will be moving on to life’s next adventure, Formula 5 demonstrated themselves to be a band with some staying power. Expect great things from this band in 2016 with keyboardist Matt Richards in the mix.
Set 1: Freeway Jam* -> Coming Home -> Sand# -> Coming Home, Mister Elixir+, 3 Ring Circus%, Floating+
Set 2: Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More^, Sledgehammer@, Hot Box, The Clear -> Ride -> Run Like An Antelope#
*Jeff Beck cover
# Phish cover
+ feat Tucker Callander on violin
% feat Bill Shattuck on bass/vocals & Matt Richards on keys
@ feat. Bill Shattuck on vocals
^ Allman Brothers Band cover feat. Brian LaPoint on vocals