John Stojanovich, guitarist with Motherbirth and Three Man, died unexpectedly in October. On Friday, a tribute concert, spearheaded by his brother, Rhubarb guitarist Mark Stojanavich, brought a full house of friends, fans and family to Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar on Allen Street. Rhubarb headlined a bill that also featured a performance from Lazlo Hollyfeld and intermittent sets from DJ Cutler.
Though the hearts of the assembled were clearly heavy, the atmosphere remained celebratory, if not downright jubilant, throughout the nearly five-hour show. “Stoj,” as he was known to family and friends, was a man for whom music was a paramount concern throughout his life. More than fitting, then, that the occasionally tearful send-off was filled with music he loved, played by musicians he held dear.
Things got under way with what proved to be a mind-bending set from Lazlo Hollyfeld, whose danceable improvisations blended aspects of post-rock, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich with a funky jam band aesthetic. Improvisation was the rule throughout the band’s show, but unlike the overt noodling and forced complexity that can occasionally dog this strain of music, Lazlo Hollyfeld’s flights of fancy always retained a melodic center and a taut, consistent rhythm section groove.
Keyboardist Scott Molloy provided the core of each arrangement, with Matt Felski’s marimba lines providing airy counterpoint. Several of the band’s pieces built to blisteringly transcendent crescendoes, with guitarist Sonny Baker leading the charge. Baker’s playing is angular, spacious and teetering on the edge of the avant garde, and on Friday, he appeared wholly consumed by the music, employing a small cache of guitar effects to sculpt what can only be defined as epic guitar solos.
All of this was anchored by bassist Chris Gangarossa and drummer Bill Wachowiak, the men responsible with providing Lazlo Hollyfeld’s sound with, at turns, relentless propulsion and refined subtlety. Nearly 10 years into its career, Lazlo Hollyfeld has grown into a truly remarkable band. On Friday, this collective celebrated the life of a departed friend and fellow musician with a set of hypnotically beautiful songs. It felt right.
Mike Cutler, aka DJ Cutler, spun a set of classic soul and funk following Lazlo Hollyfeld’s exit from the stage, and then stayed behind his turntables as Rhubarb took the stage for an introductory jam. With their friend and former drummer Lars Rizzuto guesting on second guitar, the core of the group – guitarist Mark Stojanovich, bassist Nick Gonzales, drummer Ryan Campbell, and keyboardist/six-string bassist Mike “Wags” Wagner – laid down one indefatigable funk groove after another.
The centerpiece of Rhubarb’s set featured a full rendering of Ween’s freak-prog magnum opus “The Stallion Parts I-V.” A favorite of “Stoj’s,” the piece offered a suitably irreverent tribute, its knotty multithemed segments coming across as equal parts Mothers of Invention-style experimentation and art-metal cacophony. It was brilliantly played, and rapturously received by the full house.
In all, a bittersweet but beautiful evening of music, and a touching send-off to a member of the Buffalo music scene who will be sorely missed.