The silly and surreal met the seriously groovy at the 9th Annual Wintercourse, the single-night, multi-artist musical event presented by Brooklyn electro-funk band Cousin Earth. Hosted for the fourth time in a row at historic, hole-in-the-wall Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, this year’s Wintercourse went off with aplomb, delivering the musical goods four times over. Pennsylvania psychedelic punk band Medusa’s Disco opened things up, they were followed by a set from local newcomers Of Clocks and Clouds, while legendary jam band The Breakfast headlined the evening. Cousin Earth themselves also performed a full set in addition to hosting the event.
Medusa’s Disco revved up the beginning of the night in the most proper way possible, with an immediate smattering of fearlessly intense music. The band seemed ready to yank the inner beast out of audience members whether they were prepared for it or not. Donned in devil horns and Willy Wonka spectacles, the members whipped across head-spinning riffs and cool, classic rock-style melodies. Vicious in the attack on their instruments, and yet charming in their really unique voices, Medusa’s Disco presented a kind of feel-so-bad-it-feels-good rock and roll. A song like “Painters Painting Paintings,” a pretty new song from the band, gives a great example of their essence: punk rock updated sonically for the modern age, without losing the raw spirit of the genre.
Of Clocks And Clouds, like their close musical contemporaries Cousin Earth, were playing a hometown venue in Knitting Factory, and their set was met with fantastic enthusiasm from the Knitting Factory crowd. The psychedelic metal quartet tapped into some really vibrant improvisation for their performance, working their way through just a few songs that were outright inspirational in their climatic peaks. One of these was the more recently penned original “Who I Am,” which managed to mutate its catchy main chorus and composition into a terrifically bright and uplifting jam.
It was hoped that there would be collaboration somewhere on this stacked lineup for Wintercourse 9, so thankfully Cousin Earth’s ukulele lead Joey Calfa made that happen here in the Clocks set. He joined the band on a great version of “Hey Joe,” for which he shared in a sweet guitar shredding session with OCAC’s Tom Salgo. Calfa, for anybody who for some reason is unaware, is a Jedi on his instrument, at danger of ripping holes in time and space when he really gets going on a ukulele solo. But OCAC’s Tom and his brother Joe Salgo are confidently apt guitar players themselves, and they both delivered their own righteous lead solos back and forth.
Perhaps Cousin Earth followed the lead of Of Clocks and Clouds (who wrapped things up with Pink Floyd’s “Time”), for they opened their own performance with a take on “Great Gig In The Sky,” a rare and pretty cool choice for a set opener. Then they dove into their own music and things got groovy real fast. “Burnin’ Up For You” was a great blues-funk number that showcased the insatiable voice of the band’s lead vocalist Melissa Raye. By the time the band was leading the room through a meticulously played, futuristic-sounding disco rock groove, Knitting Factory took the spirit of Wintercourse 9 and ran away with it. Prodded on by the ultimate ringmaster/troublemaker, Medusa’s Disco guitarist Wynton Huddle, the show which was musically splendid now became physically and visually joyful.
Huddle snuck on stage in the middle of Cousin Earth’s jam and unleashed dozens of styrofoam “snowballs” into the crowd, who promptly engaged back with an ensuing snowball fight that both included members of Cousin Earth (while they were holding their own in a still great delivery of the music) and that lasted for the entirety of the song. A unicorn making its way onto stage and men in alien and dinosaur costumes dancing in the audience threw the careless whimsy of Wintercourse over the cliff. As the craziness wound down, Cousin Earth’s members sang sweetly and ominously into the mic in repeating rounds: “Mr. Alien, please don’t kill us. Please don’t kill us, Mr. Alien.” This segment, which hit like Radiohead envisioning a Queen song, takes its name from the band’s most recent studio album, Please Don’t Kill Us, released in April of 2019.
“Okay, here’s a fish song.” For their finish, the Brooklyn ukelele-led rockers threw down an incredibly unique and formidable version of Heart’s “Barracuda,” one that wound through, among other bits, a super deep dub jam that just really needed to be heard to understand how cool it was.
The night pointed straight towards a high-reigning set from Zappa-style, freak-jazz-jamband The Breakfast, consisting of four unmatchable players of the scene: guitar virtusoso Tim Palmeri, drumming maniac Adrian Tromontano, bass wizard Chris DeAngelis (these three all being members of Kung Fu), as well as hotshot keyboard player Jordan Giangreco, who gets invited regularly to play with far too many notable bands to count. “I’d say these guys are my guilty pleasure, but I don’t feel guilty about it at all. They’re just my pleasure,” introduced Cousin Earth bassist Corey J. Feldman, who was acting as MC for the evening.
While it was a quicker set than we would’ve wanted from The Breakfast, it was a ballistic sprint from start to finish. Those well aware of these patriarchs of the northeast jam scene—from any of their many awesome musical projects—know that fast and furious is really the only way they know how to do it. No matter the time, place, or conditions, it will always be a masterclass in how to shred. With that being said, the band threw down some really proper versions of their classic hits in this closing set, including a huge and exploratory version of “Over Exposure.” It was musically focused, working through varying sections of tempo and melody with the utmost tightness, but in its peak it hit at the same level of supersonic barbarity as all the other jams produced over the course of the night. While that was the mind-numbing one for this reviewer, many in the room might have been more wooed by The Breakfast’s following cover of “Teenage Wasteland,” which was rocked out in full-hearted fashion and hit just right, with the room screaming along.