Writer: Steve Ledgers / Photographer: Ross Citrin
“Full speed ahead,” as the saying goes. Lotus kicked off their winter tour with explosions in the sky (not the band), and many tricks up their sleeves. It’s hard for me to conceptualize how a band can take a small vacation and then transition back into the game as seamless as they do their breathtaking segues, especially after raising the standard over the New Years Run. But, they did, and they are on fire right now. And the dynamic duo of Shimmsauce Annihilation — otherwise known as Ross Citrin and myself — felt the searing heat from afar and ran to the city to immerse ourselves in the fire. The New York run was no exception in relation to the previous shows. They packed the Best Buy Theater, the place where playing to a sold-out crowd becomes the least impressive part with the venue itself located in the heart of Times Square, where the bustling people of the city, the puttering cars and trucks and taxis never cease in their flow, and the lights from buildings and LED screens larger than life glow and tower over you in such a way that the true size of the world shifts into view.
After entering the venue, you’re escorted to a stairway which has an escalator bordering each side. As you go down, everything feels as if you’re descending into an abyss containing a faint, blue and lavender radiance–straight underground style. Deep within is where the shenanigans take place, where the outside world drifts away, and the venue welcomes you into its own little world. And shenanigans were had. And throughout the show, the consistency of this band continued to ring true. The rhythm backing the music and jams of Lotus rarely faltered or felt out of place, and the composition catalyzing the sounds mimicked a sort of ebb and flow found in ocean tides. Furthermore, I’d like to insert a note of my own, for Lotus took on a slightly different shape at this show. Their usual Space Funk, which lately seems like nothing but a fleeting memory, disguised itself and made an appearance in their newer electronic direction. Dare I call it spaceuntz?
It had the crowd up and down and all around, welding them to the music without any tricks or gimmicks or forced fan-favorites. The highlights, in terms of energy and fluidity, include a smooth “Suitcases,” a rather distorted “Bubonic Tonic,” a funky “Age of Inexperience,” a beautiful “Grayrigg,” and a powerful “Flower Sermon,” which I’ve begun to call ‘Super Sermon,’ because it was so unreal. In addition, an absolutely great “Plant Your Roots > 128″ finished the set, the transition so flawless that you hardly knew it was “128″ even after a minute into the song.
Before I continue, please allow me to rewind. The energy from the “Super Sermon,” the layers leading to the climax, the unification of the band, all of it — it made for tasteful improvisation and a well-balanced sound. It contained one of the strongest performances from percussionist Chuck Morris, one of his clearest and most resonating solos I’ve heard to date. And the band had clicked near the end of the first set, and I mean it. In all my shows, I’ve never heard them so cohesive, so clear, all individually and together as a whole. The waves of sound rolled over into the second set, and, without that chemistry, this “Super Sermon” would have never happened.
Extending the cohesion into night two at the Knitting Factory led to that emerging as a show of shows, even if each set was only an hour long. The venue rested at the back of a bar in Brooklyn, being its own little room, and with capacity neared three hundred people, things felt extremely intimate and and still comfortable.
Here the crowd consisted primarily of Lotus Family–the diehards that have found a more spiritual connection to the band and the music–minus a core group who physically could not make the show, yet were there in spirit due to the show being streamed live for free on Couch Tour. The connection, among the family, that is, is so strong in fact, I’m not exactly sure Lotus fully understands what they’ve created as a by-product of their sound, consequently bringing together people from all walks of life who love each other unconditionally. People who are forever bonded by the moment, forever moved by the sound. Lotus may be catching on though, for the setlist reflects an awareness of such people, maybe serving as a sort of salutation to those who have supported them for almost a decade.
The first set was classic Lotus. Everything took off and the Space Funk came alive in songs such as “Sid,” “Nematode,” the return of an old-school tune “Slow Cooking,” and the set closer “Intro to A Cell,” which contained one of the darkest electronic jams I’ve ever heard come out of that song. Even if Luke had a few technical problems in the beginning to “Intro,” it was hard to notice. He did a great job recovering, and Lotus finished on an energetic note.
The second set was no less impactful, starting with an impromptu jam from Rempel, Greenfield, and Jesse in order to keep the show going, while Luke fumbled around with his settings. Lotus began with a chopped up “Sunrain,” sandwich, which again had some technical problems, but a quick recovery ensued. Inside the sandwich, they guided us through the dark sounds of “Juggernaut,” the groovy new electronic-funk of “Neon Tubes,” to a beautifully distorted “Destroyer,” before resurfacing another throwback, a super melodic and pretty “Through the Mirror,’ aka ‘Point/Electric Counterpoint,’ aka ‘Reich,’ (A song I personally haven’t seen live since 2007). In closing, they played a precisely executed ‘Lead Pipe > Sunrain,’ completing the sandwich, and the set.
However, the encore was sort of a bittersweet moment for me. ‘Marisol’ is one of their most endearing and emotionally engaging songs–the kind that brings you down from the clouds and lets you know you’re alive. In my opinion, the crowd should have had a chance to walk away with such a feeling. But, Luke maybe felt otherwise, and followed with an up-beat ‘Harps,’ an increasingly frequent encore, like ‘Bush Pilot,’ and completely different in terms of emotional experience when compared to the previous song. This same occurrence can be seen in ‘Harps’ following ‘Umbilical Moonrise’ at the FDR show, and ‘Bush Pilot’ following ‘Colorado’ at the NYE show. At any rate, ‘Harps’ was well played, and not enough to take away from an already great show.
Overall, the run stands alone as a first for many things from my perspective. From Luke really exploring his synth, Jesse shedding his skin and stepping into the limelight more often with improvisations on his bass, Chuck and Greenfield strengthening their chemistry, solidifying the structure that holds the Miller brothers’ compositions together, all the way to Rempel unleashed and finally allowed to once again explore the core element of Lotus’ sound: improvisational electronic funk.
If the start of tour is this good, I look forward to seeing what they achieve in the next four months. Since they are willing to dig deep, bringing back ‘Slow Cooking’ and ‘Through the Mirror,’ I have to wonder, what does the rest of tour have in store? Maybe a ‘Philly Hit?’ or a ‘Space in Between’? Or even an ‘In the Bliss’? Whatever resurfaces, be forewarned, Lotus is not an act to miss this winter.
Time Square, New York, NY:
I: Kodiak, Suitcases, Middle Road, Bubonic Tonic > Hammerstrike, Age of Inexperience
II: Grayrigg, Flower Sermon > Ghosts ‘n Stuff > Flower Sermon, The Surf, Dowrn, Plant Your Root > 128
E: Bush Pilot
Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY
I. Massif, Sid > Nematode, What Did I Do Wrong, Uff, Slow Cookin’, Pitched to the Fire, Intro to a Cell
II. Sunrain > Juggernaut, Neon Tubes, Another World*, Destroyer, Through the Mirror#, Lead Pipe > Sunrain
E. Marisol, Harps
*first time played featuring Gift of Gab (Blackalicious)
# last played 8.02.08
Writer: Zachary Turak / Photographer: Ross Citrin
Check out photos from NYC, Brooklyn and Boston Lotus shows below.