Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Flower Furnace - Aptly Named

At another recent gig
I finally got a chance to see and hear The Flower Furnace last night at the Bistro in Hayward. They deliver what their name promises - beauty and heat. Their three sets mixed psychedelic radio hits from the mid 60s to the mid 70s in the kind of order that we grew up hearing on the radio.

The six-piece band gave some nods to the times,with brightly colored shirts, a bandanna, a top hat, a necklace or two, but there wasn't the long hair of the '60s. The band appears to be more interested in delivering a powerful live performance of songs than replicating the exact look. When you grew up hearing this material on your six-transistor AM radio, or on your record player in your bedroom, it comes to life on stage.

Lead vocalist Jojo Razor founded the group when she discovered the enthusiasm that people had for this music. She has assembled a skilled crew to back her up. She not only was in constant motion, but wandered around the club--even outside--while still  keeping a perfect connection through a long mike cord.

Right behind her stood Tim Walters, the perfect stoic bass presence. To my bass-player ears, he was spot on throughout the three sets, hitting just the right notes without any extraneous flourishes. I could feel the vibration in the floor through my feet. In the tradition of bass greats such as John Entwistle, he expressed little outward emotion, but I saw him smile sometimes in a way that showed he was enjoying himself.

Up front, the keyboardist, Andrea Hensler, did a fine job of conjuring up the right parts for works like the mellotron sound of the Moody Blues' Tuesday Afternoon and also the perfect oddball British police siren of the Beatles' I Am the Walrus--the band's encore and sendoff. She played interesting snippets between sets, including a piece of Booker T and the MG's Green Onions, Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts theme music and the theme from Cheers.

The two guitarists, John Fillipucci and Russell McDonald, manned the rear corners of the small stage. Both delivered some hot leads--from where I was sitting it was hard to tell from which one the sounds were originating. They had their parts down--with an occasional delicious variation--but never dominated. I did notice that although both had microphones, their backup vocals were not always easy to hear--and neither ever sang a lead vocal. I would have liked to hear more from them vocally, but the guitar work was rousing and obviously very well rehearsed. During a break, John told me how hard they work to make it sound as good as it does.

You need a solid set of drums for this kind of repertoire, and the band is lucky to have Scott Acridge. He was fun to watch, too, because he was animated when he played--and sat still--almost like a meditator, with his sticks folded--when waiting--before exploding into action. He gave one of the most enthusiastic dancers in the audience, Karen, a drumstick at the end of the show.

The challenge with this kind of band is to keep it interesting and moving. The three sets were nicely varied, and stayed mostly uptempo. They opened the first set with the James Gang's Walk Away, but before you knew it they were doing the great psychedelic classic, Too Much to Dream by the Electric Prunes (which surely epitomizes band names of that era). The crowd swooned when they neatly segued into Shapes by the Yardbirds. The set continued with classics like the Airplane's White Rabbit, where Jojo not only sounded like but also resembled the inimitable Grace Slick. Then they followed that with Jet--one of Wings' best works from a full seven years later. The group stays in their ten-year spread, but works the ends as well as the middle.

Yes, they actually played In-a-Gadda-da-Vida by Iron Butterfly (another great band name), but spared us the 20-something minute original length with its monster drum solo. A quick turn to Heart's Magic Man showed their versatility (and Jojo's vocal chops once again). I might have liked to hear one of the guitarists sing Iron Butterfly.

The second set opened with what may be the anthem of the entire 60's Psychedelic Scene--Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane. And the evening kept getting better and better from there. Bowie's Changes was a big switch--also well done. The list goes on. How about the Chambers Brothers Time? CSNY's Ohio? Peter Frampton's Show Me the Way?

I was completely satisfied when I heard some of my favorites, such as Itchicoo Park by the Small Faces and Piece of My Heart--belted out like Janis by Jojo.

If you love the music of the 60s--whether you're old enough to remember it or not--you MUST experience The Flower Furnace. See their website for details--and a list of their repertoire and upcoming gigs.

Note: If you're in the S.F. Bay Area, they play again on Sunday, September 9 at the Solano Stroll in Albany at 12, 2 and 4 p.m.


doug denslowe said...

The Flower Furnance is the best cover band playing today,period.They improve each time I've seen them(4 times)and I look forward to seeing them as many times as possible.They play a great selection of songs,some huge hits,some heavy fan favorites.(I heard they are working on "Friday On My Mind" by the Easybeats!!)No matter if your a fan of Classic Rock,you will be,if you get a chance to catch
Flower Furnance at a club near you.Well worth looking for,well worth dancing to,well worth Facebooking!

Alloy said...

Yes, I've been to see them once, and it was a wonderful set that I caught. Being a guitarist who occasionally sings lead, I really pay attention to the vocals, and the mix between the guitarists. JoJo does effortless vocals, and the guys on guitar had a nice balance going.
I do love the songs of that era, and they do them justice.

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