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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Medeski Martin & Wood start slow, finish strong

Last night was Medeski Martin and Wood's first show in weeks, and it showed -- at least at first. But by the end of a 100-minute set, the jazz-based trio had the Spaulding Auditorium crowd on its feet and had begun to find its groove.

Keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood are renowned for their ability to draw a mass following by combining elements of hippie-ish jamming with more avant-garde elements. But for the first two-thirds of their concert last night, the trio failed to unite the two styles.

Audience members who came to the show unfamiliar with the band must have been frightened by the first five minutes, during which Martin never laid down a tangible beat, Medeski and Wood seemed to be oblivious of each other and chaos reigned. Eventually, though, the trio decided to begin playing actual music, and they launched into a 15-minute jam that served as a warm-up for what was to come.

Toward the beginning of the set, most of the near-sellout crowd remained in their seats, bobbing their heads whenever there was a discernable beat. A dozen or so audience members ambled to the side of the auditorium and jerked arrhythmically, losing themselves in the band's experimental noodlings.

The trio performed with a full stage's worth of instruments throughout their set. Medeski was surrounded by six keyboards, including a grand piano and several Hammond B-3 organs, while Wood alternated between an upright bass, an electric one and an old-fashioned hollow-bodied electric instrument. Martin's bag of tricks was even more impressive, for in addition to a vast drum kit, he was surrounded by xylophones and tables strewn with a remarkable array of whistles, rattles and bells, which he often employed to humorous effect.

Medeski and Wood each took a lengthy solo at one point or other, although Martin's two turns in the spotlight were most intriguing.

The highlight of the set came near the end, when all three members abandoned their positions and grouped together at the front edge of the stage with one instrument in tow, Wood on upright bass, Martin on tambourine and Medeski on a melodica with a comically long, flexible tube for a mouthpiece. The crowd rose to its feet after the prolonged, stripped-down jam ended.

By the end of the evening, the audience seemed to care more about the music onstage, and the band seemed to care more about being there. More fans rose into the side aisles to dance, and the applause after the main set was hearty enough to justify the inevitable stand-up encore.

Fans' enjoyment of the show was almost certainly proportional to their level of interest in the band. For new listeners, the band's scattershot approach made it difficult to cultivate an immediate interest.

For those already familiar with Medeski Martin and Wood, the concert could hardly be considered a career high for the band, but by the end many fans had managed to lose themselves in the music all the same.