Three Heads Brewing Local Series Goes National with John Medeski’s Mad Skillet

all photos by:  © Thomas G. Smith 

Since opening, Three Heads Brewing has been a bit of a temple for Rochester local music. It could be argued that no venue in town has supported the scene better. The centerpiece has been the Rochester Residency, which is rounding the turn on its second year of giving a local musician carte blanche every Thursday for a full month. So it came as a surprise when on the second Thursday of September, John Medeski’s Mad Skillet was listed to play its stage. But it was true, and truth be told, it was awesome.

Mad Skillet was born in 2015 at a New Orleans Jazz Fest jam session, but released their debut album and toured together for the first time in 2018. Medeski is joined by Will Bernard on guitar, Kirk Joseph on sousaphone and Terrance Higgins (who was replaced on this night by the talented Joe Dyson) on drums.

Musically, they explored the American landscape of sound. Medeski’s East Coast avant-garde meets Bernard’s West Coast jazz groove meets Joseph and Dyson’s deep-South NOLA brass. It’s more of a melting pot than a skillet to be honest. Covers of Eddie Harris’ “1974 Blues” and MMW’s “Wiggly’s Way” mixed well with their originals like “Tuna in a Can,” featuring a wild drum and guitar jam and the rocking “Little Miss Piggy” which spun out into a long reggae groove. They also traveled the spaceways with their version of Sun Ra’s “Golden Lady” and dashes of alien sounds thrown in throughout the night.

Medeski’s B3 stood like a museum piece, its back encased in glass exposing its intricate innards. The music was the art, however. And like all great works, there was no wrong way to enjoy and find meaning in it. You could mindlessly lose yourself in the groove or pick it apart piece by piece, figuring how it all fits together. You could move your body to a sweaty mass or stand motionless, absorbing the mastery being laid down. As individual musicians tearing through a solo or as a singular group of four creating a swell of sound, Mad Skillet never disappointed.

As it turns out, it was a Thursday night and this was technically a part of the Rochester Residency, or a bit of a preview of what’s to come next month. October’s resident is Kyle Vock, bassist for The Mighty High and Dry, The Rita Collective and probably about half of all the great tribute shows that have gone down at Three Heads and elsewhere over the past two years. Instead of showcasing himself, he will be curating a month of shows from some great nationally touring acts. Starting October 3 with the can’t-miss talent of guitarist William Tyler, followed by Levon’s talented singer-songwriter daughter Amy Helm on the 10th, and Futurebirds, a great indie rock band out of Athens, GA on the 17th. After displaying his excellent taste in music, Vock will close out his month with a couple of shows of his own, bringing The Rita Collective on the 24th and paying tribute to The Doors’ Strange Days on Halloween. Is it October yet?!