Musically controlled chaos

Review: Medeski, Martin and Wood's concert on Sunday night at the Westcott Theater.

Music was pulsing on Westcott Street until midnight as Medeski, Martin & Wood pushed the boundaries of musical form Sunday at the Westcott Theater. 

Although the band played simple instruments—a keyboard, bass and drums—the essence of the show radiated with intensity. 
The doors at the theater opened at 7 p.m., but staff held the show until after 9 to allow more people into the venue. As the crowd trickled in, the old theater’s sticky floors filled with concertgoers from teens to graybeards. 

Photo: Jamie De Pould
MMW bassist Chris Wood plucks the strings on his 1920s upright bass. Throughout the show, Wood traded between the upright bass and various acoustic and electric bass guitars.

The Westcott filled up, leaving just enough space to slide through the crowd or dance.

The first set began unexpectedly. The audience started several small cheers, trying to coax MMW to begin. When they did, they immediately dove into the music. 

The set was complicated and far from orthodox. Bassist Chris Wood played to the bottom of the fingerboard on his upright bass and bowed close to, or right on, the bridge, emitting unusual, shrill notes from the large instrument.

Stage right, Drummer Billy Martin flitted around the table of toys behind him, adding effects of birds, chimes, and bells. 

Keyboard/organ/pianist John Medeski rotated and spun around his enclosure of keyed instruments stage left. 

The music’s structure and form were elusive. As MMW played, it was obvious how comfortable the band members were with one another and performing live. They were completely professional, always in control and never succumbing to the pressures of a distracting crowd.
Their music, rhythmic like poetry, did not always stick to the meter. When it did, the trio made the rhythm build and crescendo, until the crowd stirred to a frenzy. It was beautiful, controlled chaos. 

After an intricate first set with older classics and newer works, there was a short intermission, followed by a more danceable second half. That music provoked a more physical reaction. It was nearly impossible to stand still. 

People were swaying their bodies, swinging their arms, and bobbing their heads to a collective beat, and MMW knew it. The musicians manipulated the crowd, bringing it up and taking it down at their chosen speed and dynamic. They kept the crowd comfortably under their control.
Balloons began bouncing around the crowd and seemed to multiply as the music continued. Though other musicians might have been upset if such a nuisance reached the stage, Martin tapped one with a stick during a solo, sending it back off the stage to an appreciative cheer. 

Wood broke a string in the middle of a song and soloed skillfully without it. Medeski had to interrupt his spasmodic poundings on the keyboards to wipe sweat from this forehead. But all three musicians demonstrated professionalism by continuing regardless of distraction. 

Like the band, the audience stayed focused through the encore. Though it was a long show, no one in the crowd was ready to leave. 

MMW ended the show with its version of “Hey Joe.” The band took the crowd with them on a musical journey out of this world with their music, and no one wanted to come back down to Earth.

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