Salt Peter married punk and an avant garde approach to alternative rock in the late ’90s and, in the process, became one of the most intriguing and exciting bands on the Western New York independent music scene. Its members eventually scattered after releasing the rather brilliant “NaNO3” album.
On Friday, in Lewsiton’s Water Street Landing, the band’s original members – guitarist/vocalist Anthony Aversa, keyboardist/sample master Rob Tweedie, bassist James Colquitt and drummer Steve Puglisi – reassembled to celebrate the release of album number two, the seven-years-in-the-making “Ameraka.”
A full house greeted the band, as a Tweedie drum loop provided a vaguely hip-hop-ish backdrop for the band members to ease their way into. Throughout the evening, Salt Peter would play the whole of “Ameraka,” interspersed with various free-form improvisations and occasional brief covers of tunes, most meant to bait and tease the audience. (Aversa rather perversely returned to the iconic opening rig of the played-to-death southern rock anthem “Sweet Home Alabama” throughout the night, but he’d break it off every time by stating “No Skynyrd, no way.”)
“Ameraka” is a bit of a concept album, though no straight narrative connects the pieces. Rather, the songs point to a sort of corporate controlled dystopia, in which the masses are the sheep, and mass communication – television, in particular – is the shepherd. One needn’t be in tune with this particular philosophy in order to fall beneath the sway of Salt Peter’s gritty and grinding funk, however. From the outset, the band was in fiery form, and if the music was perhaps off-putting to listeners who might’ve been raised on more conventional pop, for those attuned to experimental sounds, this was pure gold.
The strongest songs of the evening – “Trippin’ with Beelzebub,” the new album’s title track and “Drop Lock and Load” among them – suggested a smoldering hybrid of iconic funk/hip-hop band Soul Coughing’s finest work and a more acerbic version of “Kid A”-era Radiohead.
All of this revolved around Aversa’s unique guitar playing, a psychedelic blues-funk melange, played fingerstyle and at a visceral volume. Aversa led the grooves throughout, responding to Tweedie’s assortment of loops and keyboard lines, and weaving gnarly double-stop figures atop the relentless propulsion propagated by rhythm section partners Puglisi and Colquitt.
When this clicked, as it did during the majority of the performances – the only exception being a loose, giddy and fun “Buffalo Orange Juice” – the effect was simply breathtaking.
The live versions of these brave, adventurous new songs packed raw power, finesse and abundant funk. That said, the CD itself is more than worth exploring. Learn about “Ameraka” through MySpace.com/saltpeterny.