McLovins with Mister F & Atlas Road Crew
The 8×10, Baltimore, MD
January 14, 2016
By Ragin’ Randy Harris • Happy Birthday Justin!
Nights like this one make me realize how much truly amazing music there is in the world. These nights continue to remind me why we should always be checking out new music and not just sticking to what we know. They also remind me why you should always show up for the opening acts and not just the headliners. This lineup absolutely blew my mind from start to finish. Each band on the stage drew me in with such a powerful force that I did not want to miss a single minute of their sets.
The four-piece jamband from Hartford, CT that is the McLovins has been gradually working their way up in the live music scene over the past few years, including multiple festival appearances and touring up and down the East Coast and beyond. The quartet is made up of Justin Berger (guitar), Atticus Kelly (keys), Jason Ott (bass) and Jake Huffman (drums, lead vocals), and they have worked hard and put in many miles in order to hone their craft. About half way through an ambitious Winter Tour, which has already taken them as far south as New Orleans and as far west as Colorado, the band kicked off a 14-date East Coast run, with Albany natives Mister F, in Baltimore on Thursday, January 14, 2016. The final addition to this particular lineup was a young group from South Carolina, Atlas Road Crew.
ARC jumpstarted the evening with a truly eye-opening performance. Self-described as Southern Rock, I would argue that they cover a bit more of the spectrum than that. These guys were all over the place, from Southern Rock to Straight-Ahead Rock & Roll and even some more Alternative and Hard Rock mixed in there. The band even threw in a nice cover of Phish’s “Back On The Train” that really got the crowd groovin’! The rhythm section held down its place solidly, subtle but unmistakable and irreplaceable to the sound. The keyboards and lead guitar were featured quite a bit, each driving the songs to new heights with their energy. Finally, the raspy vocals brought out a raunchy crunchiness to the tunes that brought it all home. The band played primarily original material, including one brand new one that had never been heard before. Well done ARC. I will definitely be keeping an eye on those guys.
Mister F took on the middle slot, bringing an onslaught of primarily instrumental rock. Although the band was playing their first gig with a brand new guitarist (Mike Candela, the former Dale and the Z Dubs guitarist), you never would have known it if they hadn’t have told you. He never missed a beat; more than that, he absolutely shredded the entire set! The drums were out of this world, driving the syncopation and odd time signatures that create the progressive nature of the band. The keyboard wizard raged all over the spectrum, with wailing solos and masterful use of the talkbox. Incredibly funky bass lines held down the low end with style, including a couple of bass-featured solo sections that rocked the crowd into an uproar. Mister F is a quartet in which every single instrument is a lead instrument, and yet they manage to gracefully stay out of each other’s way in order to create a harmonious musical environment that enwraps and ensnares their audience. The band played primarily original material, including one or two that had never been heard before outside of the band. Of particular note was a fun and interesting cover of “Ain’t Nothin’ but a G Thang” by Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg, which was rapped by the keyboardist. Mister F is set to continue on with the McLovins for quite a few more dates.
With the atmosphere set and the crowd sufficiently warmed up, the McLovins took the stage and absolutely rocked it. I was immediately amazed at how far they have come, even in just the past two years since the last time I saw them live. They started off with a slew of originals, starting with the funky and driving “Gold In The World” from their new, self-titled album, and then rocking out a fan favorite, “Flavor of the Week.” Next they jammed through the jazzy, laid back “Man In A Blue Coat” before ringing in “Thick Of It,” another one off the new record, which features some harmonic vocals. A fun cover of The Meters’ “No More Okey Doke” came next to lighten the mood, followed by another new tune, “Regulars,” which showed drummer and vocalist Jake Huffman at the top of his game. A beautifully groovy “Samson” led into a super funky instrumental tune, “Step Sista,” as the band geared up for some of the deepest jams of the evening.
As the opening groove of “Deep Monster Trace” seeped through the amplifiers, the first special guest of the night came on stage in the form of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong guitarist Jeremy Schon. With Jeremy alongside, the band delved into a driving jam that put the crowd into a frenzy, jumping around and chanting together. Shredding guitar solos from both Jeremy Schon and McLovins lead guitarist Justin Berger left our minds scrambled and hungry for more. As Jeremy left the stage to raucous applause, the band continued into “West L.A. Fadeaway” to cap off a raging string of tunes. The new tunes kept on flowing as the band took us into “Greenhouse,” which dug into some heavier rock & roll. The mesmerizing intro of “Birthday” evolved into a groovy drive, followed by another special appearance. Jeremy Schon returned to the stage for this one, as well as Alex Petropulos (also from Pigeons) and the keyboardist from Mister F, as this incredible collaboration busted out “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang. Finally, the McLovins finished off this incredible night of music with “Talk About It,” the opening track of the new album.
As I said earlier, this was a truly amazing night of music. All three bands rocked it, and the McLovins are on track to continue their journey upward and onward. The quartet has now been jammin’ together for almost a decade, and their chemistry on stage is simply unreal. I am extremely happy to have been a part of this show, and I cannot wait to see what comes in the future for all three of these incredible bands.