Schmeens and The Expanded Consciousness head to Red Square on February 22nd and Putnam Den February 28th

Adam ‘Schmeeans’ Smirnoff has played with Lettuce since their inception nearly 20 years ago in Boston, and has since branched out with The Expanded Consciousness, which includes Craig “Butter” Glanville on drums, bassist Chris Loftlin and Blind Boys of Alabama keyboardist Pete Levin. In advance of the shows, Adam sat down for an interview, where we talked Lettuce, the Boston music scene and a solid amount about the Knicks and the NBA’s undervaluing of franchises.

Pete Mason: You started out at Berkelee, like alot of the Royal Family Musicians, as well as members of The Slip, among others. What is it about the school that makes it such a hotbed for musicians like yourself and a launching pad for innovative jazz and improv groups?

Adam Smirnoff: Obviously Boston in general is a young college town and so you have an influx of all these people from around the entire world who are interested in improving their craft, whatever their craft may be. In Boston with Berklee, The New England Conservatory, all these other schools you have a lot of people with a lot of similar interests and the idea of growth. For me personally, I felt like I was coming from a high school in New York where I didn’t have that many people to play with and I was searching for people who had similar ideas and had similar direction, and I think that’s what Berklee School of Music in Boston gives you.

PM: What was your first interaction with Eric Krasno and the other members of Lettuce? Can you recall your first gig with the band?

AS: I can, I can recall all those events. My first interaction with Krasno was when we were 13-14 years old at the National Guitar Summer Workshop. I didn’t know that many people and Kras would sit outside with his friends and bust everyone’s balls, just like he does today (of course I’m saying that with love.) My first gig with Lettuce, there are two ways of looking at it: one, the ‘Caf show’ during the five-week program when we were 16, that might be considered the first Lettuce show, but not really. The first real show was in 1994 at Tufts University at the Wilson House set up by Noah Smith, another Hastings High School alumni, who was going to Tufts at the time.

PM: The Expanded Consciousness is one of the relatively new Royal Family acts to head out on the road. What sets the sound apart for your group and what can fans expect?

AS: Obviously, this is a much smaller group, as a trio or quartet. I think this is a much more open project and we’re currently still trying to figure it out. It really hasn’t developed into what it can become, but come check it out and be part of the growing process. The sound is more jammy and more funky, leaning towards longer jams and more improvisation, trying to really find the spiritual element as we play together as a unit.

PM: You have since played with Lady Gaga and Robert Randolph. How did each of those gigs come about and how long did you play with each group?

AS: Robert Randolph and the Family Band was my longest tenure, six years, and that came about from Tobacco Road. Robert Randolph opened for Lettuce at The Wetlands, they jammed and Krasno reminded Robert that I was around and took me out on the road with him. He introduced me to the whole world of sacred steel and I’ve been able to play with some of the most incredible sacred steel players in the world Aubrey Ghent, Roosevelt Collier, Chuck Campbell, Robert Randolph and Calvin Cook. I don’t know if you can get any higher playing on the plateau that sacred steel is on, and it has permanently affected me in my life and I really enjoyed that experience.

Lady Gaga was through Jeff Basker, the original keyboard player of Lettuce who played on the Outta Here album, and who just recently won a Grammy for Song of the Year (as a producer) for ‘We are Young’ by Fun. I did Saturday Night Live with her and her first Monster Ball Tour. I truly enjoy musically, our world, the jam world, a lot more than I enjoy the pop world. It was a fun, short lived experience, I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it, although I’m not sure I would do the pop world again, but it was an amazing experience to play with Elton John at the Grammys.

PM: How good is it to be a Knicks fan lately?

AS: (Laughs) It’s been a fun year, we’re in the final stretch here and we gotta turn it up a notch, there’s a lot of great teams in the NBA right now. Win or lose, I’ll be the Knicks #1 fan. Look out Spike Lee, I’m coming for ya!

PM: Having played festivals and shows around Upstate NY, what are your favorite spots to hit off when traveling through the state, whether they be venues, towns, restaurants, etc…

AS: I’m a huge fan of Woodstock. I used to have a friend who lived out there for no reason other than living out there in the trees and woods. I love all the little organic stores out there, feeling that not everything is commercialized and there are mom and pop places, which I really enjoy. There is nothing worse for a musician than traveling and seeing the same thing, the same stores, chain stores in every city.

PM: It breaks up the monotony traveling in Upstate?

AS: For sure

Schmeeans and The Expanded Consciousness play Red Square on Friday, February 22nd and at The Putnam Den on Thursday, February 28th. Both shows are in support of Earphunk

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Start Making Sense: A Talking Heads Tribute at The Bayou in Albany, February 7th

After what felt like eternity, Start Making Sense: A Talking Heads Tribute made their return to the Capital Region on Thursday, February 7th. The Bayou Café in Albany welcomed the musicians with open arms and fully packed the dance floor. Start Making Sense recreates the music of Talking Heads known for their funky and punk New Wave 80’s dance parties.

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The night opened up with “Thank You for Sending Me An Angel”, lots of whoops and hollers as the drums start to rally the crowd. One of the many things I love about the Talking Heads music is the constant roller coaster volume of the lyrics. Start Making Sense is always a loud show, with every word being screamed at the top of everyone’s lungs such as “Pulled Up” and “Slippery People.” At one moment, you are yelling and stomping, giving way to your rebellious urges. The next you are gently grooving to “And She Was” and being swayed by “Air.”

Start Making Sense performs the vast music styling’s of the Talking Heads with skilled ease and pure appreciation.  Lead man Jon Braun recreating David Byrne is spot on, including his clothes, crazy facial expressions and legendary vocals. Braun and the band have great flow with their dance moves, always a crowd pleaser. Before set break, Braun announced how “Thankful and happy the band was to be back in Upstate New York” and listed a few of their upcoming shows.

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The crowd does its best to keep up with Start Making Sense’s nonstop fireball energy being hurled throughout the second set. It’s a treat to watch the musicians laughing to each other and having just as much fun as we are. I personally enjoyed the second set better because I knew more of the songs. “Nothing but Flowers” followed by “Cities” was the best way to resume the dance party. “Burning Down the House” was electrifying. The show ended with wild keyboard ranges from “Girlfriend Is Better” into a mellow yet enthusiastic “Crosseyed and Painless.” Start Making Sense will lightly tour around the east coast, making stops in Maine, Vermont and Delaware, before returning to their home state of Pennsylvania. As the lights came on and the band started to pack up, my friends and I already were planning our next show to see them.

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Setlist:

Set 1: Thank You For Sending Me an Angel, Pulled Up, Slippery People, And She Was, Air, Uh Oh Love Comes to Town, Psycho Killer, Drugs, Born Under Punches, Animals, Found A Job, Mind, What A Day That Was, Naïve Melody

Set 2: Nothing But Flowers, Cities, Life During Wartime, Not In Love, Stay Hungry, Big Business/I Zimbra, Once In A Lifetime, Making Flippy Floppy, Burning Down the House, Girlfriend Is Better, Crosseyed and Painless

Lotus Interview and Review: January 30th at the Westcott Theater

Lotus, the notorious EDM act-turned-jamband played a solid sold-out show at The Westcott Theater on a Wednesday, January 30th, making quite the comeback with their tenth album, The Build. The band continues to enchant listeners as they genre-bend their way into an idiosyncratic combination of funk and EDM, proving to be more relevant now than ever.

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Before the show, I got the chance to talk to Jesse Miller, the bassist and sampler for the band.

Gauraa Shekhar: Your new record The Build is recorded live to analog. How did that come along considering the wide range of instrumentation?

Jesse Miller: We have been following the process over the last few years. It is a classic 70s thing, you know—with basic tracks and everything.

GS: That’s really cool. In The Build the rich texture really comes through, especially in songs like “Middle Road”. How do you guys produce music within a budget without compromising the quality?

JM: Most of it was done by myself and Luke. We rehearsed the process before we went into the studio and relied on a lot of software to help us. So we didn’t waste time and money on extra studio hours.

GS: That’s very practical. What kind of a demographic are you catering to with such genre-bending music? Is it easier to find the venue that matches your sound or do you have to pay special attention to it?

JM: I don’t think there is a specific demographic that we cater to but venues are definitely important. We aim for high-energy shows. Sometimes, we play for a younger crowd but there really is no specific age.

GS: Performing live is obviously a great aspect of your music. How do you mix it up on stage to keep the audience entranced . . . I mean, besides the lights of course.

JM: Improvisation, for sure. We try to mix it up by changing the instruments and arranging the songs a little differently.

GS: Since you guys incorporate a lot of computer generated digital sounds in your music, how do you put a different spin on it whilst performing live?

JM: There are certain things that are important to pull out of line…sometimes, we play around with the melody and sometimes we change up the instruments. We also trigger samples on stage.

GS: Oh, wow! Well, what is it like having a 47 days tour?

JM: 47 days in a tour can be hectic. But it allows us to develop a sound and a rapport.

GS: I’m sure. Bands have issues but you guys seem to stuck together as a band through all these years. What are some of the main things that glue you guys together?

JM: Well, it’s mostly the work ethic and the drive. We’ve been at this for such a long time and we’re really passionate about the music.

GS: As are we! Looking forward to seeing you in ’Cuse on the 30th, Jesse!

JM: Looking forward to the show!

As promised, Lotus gave those looking to get a high-energy head start to their weekend more than what they had bargained for. As I walked straight off the campus to their venue, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had walked straight into a Tim Burton set with all its entailing paraphernalia. I watched inebriated girls in princess costumes flail their way to the front row and men leaping out of crumbling bathroom doors with glowing light sabers. The night was fecund with possibilities  as if anything could happen. Excited fans drove in all the way from Rochester and Watertown, yelling out to anybody willing to listen: “This is the fourth time I’m seeing them perform”, “I just watched their show in New York last week” and “They just keep getting better each time”.  It was more than evident that Lotus’ electronica sound sustained their fan base over a span of fourteen years. And let me tell you, the infamous interplay of stage lights was only the beginning. Only a band like Lotus could turn a dance party into a religious experience. Lotus fueled the room with time-transcending energy and a motley crowd checked their baggage at the door, walked in, simply wrapped their heads around the music— and let their hair down.