Mike Gantzer and David Loss of Aqueous, Mike Carubba and Josh Schwartz of Turkuaz, Ben Carrey of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Matt Jalbert of Tauk and Hayley Jane all walked into a bar…
…and took the stage at Funk ‘n Waffles Music Hall in Rochester with no set list and no songs, not even covers. But it actually isn’t a joke. They were brought together by the mastermind behind Everyone Orchestra, Matt Butler. He would be their conductor on this mad science experiment in improvisational music.
Decked out in a glittery purple conductor’s jacket and top hat, Butler, with hand motions, vocal cues, a white board and an iPad, directed the musicians through completely made-on-the-spot compositions across two sets for over 2 hours Friday night. The only time this music will ever get played was on that night and the only people to hear it were present then and there.
Some of the jams got started with a written note from Butler. Some of these were made available to the crowd. “A2 D2, indie rock” was scrawled out on one for example; others remained for the band’s eyes only. Other jams were prompted by one of the musicians, as requested by Butler. Loss started one with a crunchy organ groove, the rest of the band joined in, and a theme was established and another jam had begun. It was a game and Butler was the game master.
As jams tend to do, these pieces changed in character the deeper they got. But with a conductor, they didn’t veer out of control either. Solos were kept in check with a nod or point, or were egged on further with emphatic arm and hand motions. In one thrilling moment, the guitarists battled to a raging tangle as Butler essentially live-edited the two competing sounds into a perfect jarring climax.
With quickly improvised lyrics and melodies, Jane, or occasionally Butler himself, was able to develop a familiarity to the pieces that the band could return to again and again, at times creating songs the crowd could even sing along to by the end. Early in the second set, the band gelled around the lyrics “Open your eyes to see / The truth will set you free,” in a jam that finished in a building and bright rock-ready progression that was certainly a highlight of the evening.
Taking in the show as a whole, one aspect that must be marveled at is how, through it all, the music never settled into a familiar or well-worn groove. There were no covers, teases, or even any “sounds-likes” to be had. With a one-time band put together for a one-time concert, that is a rather incredible feat. Perhaps in the end, the only proper reaction is to laugh after all.