Did you guys know there’s an upstairs at Reggies? And that apparently there’s not an apostrophe in Reggies? All these years I just assumed. The funny thing is you can’t even find anything about Bananna’s Shack on the Reggies website; huh! I think it’s usually more of a comedy club up there, unlike Reggies’ Rock Club and presumably Reggies’ Music Joint, which I’ve never been in. My e-ticket lists it as in my title above, with no apostrophe after ‘Reggies’, even though Reggies’ website is consistent with its other venues’ punctuation. Someone should really check into this. Maybe Bananna knows something.
I arrived ten minutes after ticket time Wednesday night to find the Chris Siebold Trio already in action. “Go find your table and we’ll send the waitress over”, said the host. There were only scattered seats available at the various tables in the room, and I was alone. I’m going to have to interact with people, beg their pardon, squeeze in somewhere I’m not welcome. But wait! I spied a large vacant portion of a circular booth in the far corner! I asked the lone couple sitting there if the space was taken, the woman shook her head and gestured welcomingly, and I sat down. The smell of fried food permeated the well-lit room as Siebold tore it up on guitar with Larry Kohut on bass and Gerald Dowd on drums. I couldn’t see very well from the booth but the sound in there was great and the crowd, despite the frequent food and drink service, was attentive to the music. It was kind of like City Winery without the pretentious atmosphere.
After the trio had finished, I turned to the guy across from me in the booth, smiled, and said “Good evening”. He scowled at me and turned his head in the other direction. Oh shit, I thought. Was this guy hoping to get it on with his partner and I ruined it? It’s not exactly secluded back here! Or maybe he’s scoffing at my long hair and leather jacket, thinking I’m some lame metalhead crashing his jazz party? It’s not like I’m blocking their line of sight to the stage. Does this have anything to do with the waitress ignoring me? Maybe I had an assigned seat that I wasn’t aware of? It SAID general admission…
I kept to myself for the rest of the intermission. It’s true, the two guys in PAKT I primarily came to see—guitarist Alex Skolnick and drummer Kenny Grohowski—are at least as well known in metal circles as jazz circles, Skolnick for his decades with thrash legends Testament, and Grohowski for his work with genre-bending black metal act Imperial Triumphant. Bassist Percy Jones was a founding member of fusion/prog hybrid act Brand X (the final incarnation of which also featured Grohowski) and also played on two of Brian Eno’s most beloved ‘70s solo albums, and guitarist Tim Motzer has played with a zillion people I have never heard of and a handful that I have heard of, including…a couple projects with Julie Slick who I just saw Saturday with the REMAIN IN LIGHT tribute. I’ve really gotta check out this Echotest band.
Shortly before PAKT came on, a guy with an undeniable John Candy aura in a White Sox cap walked up and asked if he could sit at the opposite end of our booth. The guy who’d given me the cold shoulder offered an initial sort of indecipherable non-vite; his partner pooh-poohed it and now there were four of us. Plenty of space. I was still too shell-shocked to join the conversation. A lot of people don’t know this but I can make myself invisible.
Confession: I have never listened to Brand X, despite Grohowski having joined for its final hurrah. Recommendations, anyone? When you mix fusion and prog the cheese odds are automatically sky high; compound this with the fact that Phil Collins was their drummer for a couple years. Yet as this whirlwind PAKT set unfolded, it was pretty much prog and fusion, although I’d say it leaned heavily towards the jazz spectrum. They announced plenty of song titles but I’m not fully convinced they were real. Songs gradually rose out of mists of sound and usually concluded as though the musical conversation had simply gone around a corner and faded out of earshot. There had to be germs of compositions in there; what percentage, I couldn’t tell you.
I’d only previously seen Skolnick with Testament and although he allowed himself to get much weirder in the PAKT context, his familiar Robert-Fripp-meets-Trevor-Rabin intuitive mathematics were on full display, only with a lot more subtle and noisy stretches. Neither he nor Motzer especially dominated; the music was uncommonly democratic with Jones’ bass steering the improv as often as either guitarist. Traditional solos were rare; it was mostly full-group shapeshifting, largely dark and angular in its most intense stretches but occasionally they’d surprise us with a little bliss passage.
According to the band’s website, every show is recorded and will eventually be released on their bandcamp page. I was grateful to find this out because a lot of what I took in in real time was too overwhelming to process. Focusing on the nuances of one player or another proved counterproductive, yet it was hard not to want to. These were four wizards plain and simple. It took my brain half the show to readjust to this level of musicianship.
I couldn’t see Motzer’s face at all but the other three were sure fun artists to observe. There’s no denying that watching Skolnick is always part of the appeal; whereas Siebold, for instance, is evidently a practitioner of guitar-solo face, Skolnick is more a joy-of-music-face guy, almost like The Whiz from that one SEINFELD episode…except in a genuine way instead of creepy. He radiates the absolute thrill of the continuing search for the next Moment in all aspects of his performance and it’s infectious.
I nursed a Pilsner Urquell and had myself a time. The guy in the White Sox cap scolled on his phone almost the entire show. I must’ve misread the John Candy aura; if HE were alive today… The waitress hadn’t given me a check or taken my card. She was making her rounds now that the show was over. The man in the cap had already settled up; the couple and I stood and waited. No talking. Eventually the waitress took the man’s card and put it into her machine. I stood with my card in my hand. The waitress finished with the couple and walked right by me to the next table. Whoops, I’d forgotten to make myself visible again.
I thought maybe I’d look at the t-shirts. I stood in line for a couple minutes behind the John Candy guy. The line did not move. The couple were standing to the side of the merch table. Suddenly Skolnick walked up to them. He gave them each a hug and asked them if their seats were okay.
I decided I didn’t need a t-shirt and got the hell out of there.