Thursday's Harbor show really represented, for the first time this year, the true face of Buffalo. It was an interracial crowd, just as we are an interracial city. And we formed a microcosm of that city in a field under the Skyway, the cool wind from the lake blowing off our backs, and a multicultural stew of music massaging our ears. It ain't that hard to love your brother after all, is it?
Headlined by ground-breaking hip-hop collective Arrested Development, and featuring stellar sets from Buffalo's jam-band supreme Aqueous and world-beat collective Outer Circle Orchestra, Thursday's show took us on a tour around the globe, offering elements of reggae, ska, hip-hop, rock, progressive stylings, and the jam-band idiom that combines all of these into one.
Aqueous came first, and man, I'd hate to be in a band playing after these guys. The four-piece — guitarist/vocalist Mike Gantzer, guitarist/ keyboardist/vocalist Dave Loss, bassist Evan McPhadden and drummer Nick Sonricker — is clearly at the forefront of the Buffalo original music scene. The guitar interplay between Gantzer and Loss is, after a mere six years playing together, on a transcendent level. Both can solo on a Trey Anastasio level, and even more importantly, these guys know how to weave their individual efforts into a greater whole. They seem to read each other's minds.
Aqueous opened with "Marty," the leadoff tune from the band's self-titled debut, and then moved directly into the instrumental tour de force "Gordon's Mule." The band's loyal fan contingent was in the house, but many appeared to be newcomers to the Aqueous sound, and it was this tune that forged an alliance between the assembled and the band. The delicacy, sophistication, and sublime interaction on evidence as the group tore through this tricky but lovable progrock epic pushed the crowd toward a collective outburst. Aqueous had won over a crowd that was not necessarily theirs. Covering Rick James' Buffalo-specific funk anthem "Below the Funk" sealed the deal. Watch this band, people, I'm telling you. These guys have the stuff that doesn't come along every day. Their inclusion in this year's Moe. Down festival drives this point home.
For 35 years, the Outer Circle Orchestra has been giving Western New York audiences its inspired take on world beat. On Thursday, the 2012 version of the band simply tore it up, emphasizing reggae in its set, but also de-living into Latin and African grooves. Led by guitarist/vocalist Andrew Case, and buoyed by the horn section of saxophonist John Allen and trombonist Jim Burgess, the group commanded a group of front-of-stage dancers, most of whom seemed unfamiliar with the band, but unable to quiet the urge to boogie. Bassist Rodney Chamberlain and drummer Reggie Evans formed a formidable rhythm section.
Arrested Development was the act everyone was waiting for, even if our own Buffalo bands made it clear that we have talent here that should be the envy not just of the country, but the globe itself.
This band is super important in the evolution of hip-hop for several reasons. First and foremost, the group brought a positive vibe and an intellectually and spiritually positive vibe to the form at a time when hip-hop had become increasingly narcissistic, violent and misogynistic. Secondly, the group was one of the first to integrate live instrumentation into rap, in the process changing the form forever, and for the better. Led by frontman and MC Speech, the group offered new material from its forthcoming album, due in August, as well as a tour through its hits, "Tennessee," "People Everyday" and "Mr. Wendall."
Thursday at the Harbor with Arrested Development
WHEN: Thursday evening
WHERE: Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf