Echolyn
May 24th, 2003
Sellerville Theater, Philadelphia, USA

By Ronald Cijs


Count me lucky, working for an American company that's based close to Philadelphia, and my job warrants a trip over from Holland at least once every two years. I managed to convince my boss to send me over for a short visit, so I could combine it with seeing Echolyn live for the first time. Ever since I've been looking forward to this unique opportunity. Later on it was pronounced that the gig would be recorded for a CD and/or DVD to save it for posterity.
Although I'm only recently familiar with the music that Echolyn produces (I borrowed their magnum opus Mei and it took me away immediately), I was drawn to it instantaneously because of the complex rhythms, the multi-vocal arrangements, the mood swings and the lyrics (albeit that I do not always comprehend their full meaning). I find it hard to compare them to other groups, some say King Crimson, some say Gentle Giant, others say more jazz-rock or fusion; for me it's "Echolyn".

At half past seven I got to the the Sellerville Theater, where I met Mike Ostrich, the official Echolyn website moderator, and coming down from the stairs, Chris Buzby. The guy was enormously relaxed and took some minutes to greet me and welcome me such a long way away from home. I let him have his time to concentrate and went into the hall, that can hold about about 400-500 seats, both in rows and at tables in front of the stage, generating a sort of cabaret feeling.

At 20:05 sharp they kick off with Texas Dust, a fine tune, with a grabbing start, and it continues moodier, and the crowd loves it. Next comes Swingin' The Ax, a much more rocking tune, with a spooky intro, that lifts the roof off the place, which is only half full (about 200 present).
Brett Kull places the slide steel guitar on his lap and get the most shrieking noises out of the thing. When moving back to his regular Silver stratocaster guitar the strap loosens, about the only note he (or anyone) missed tonight. Tom Hyatt takes over the bass, leaving the percussion. The Cheese Stands Alone is the hilarious song that mocks the modern life. As they said : Nobody can call us of not having a bit of fun. Brett says that he did not write down back then what he was doing for the next tune, so he'll just improvise, and "that's close enough for jazz" replies Chris as the first tones of A Little Nonsense (Now and Then) hit our eardrums.
4 camera's are recording the show and Brett asks us to make our specific yell for the evening to recognize it when the DVD comes out. The audience participation in the chorus is well appreciated and the band enjoys the evening and obviously have a lot of fun on stage. The instrumental break has a bass solo, a synth/guitar solo, both relevant to the music that one instrument steps out just a bit.
The intro letter from 11/11/1903 that Ray Weston proclaims makes the song 1729 Broadway, an emotional expression of hopelessness, even more powerful. The address, by the way, is located in Cleveland, Ohio, not in New York as I thought earlier.
My dear Wormwood is not one of my favorite album tracks, but hearing the vocal harmonies done live reduces all my inhibitions and makes it one of the highlights of the evening. As The World is one of the songs that shows the tight musical performance of the guys, the vibes were felt throughout the hall, and the vocal improvisation interlude was hilarious, Brett, Chris and Ray talking through one another about normal day problems. The intensity they play with makes them loose several pounds, according to Chris, "and we can use it" adds Brett. 24 May 03 being the Memorial weekend Saturday, Brittany is the perfect song to commemorate the fellow Americans in Iraq, without making it a political statement. It's obviously an audience favorite as well as the band's.

Everybody needs the break to get back to our senses and load energy for the second part. It strikes me that the sound is perfectly balanced and it's at the right level, not too loud, and the hall provides the excellent acoustics.
After the short break, only Ray and Brett holding an acoustic guitar return for Never The Same. A song with powerful lyrics on the positive attitude to deal with the loss of a friend. Not only does the rest of the band join the two on stage, and a 6 piece orchestra of young musicians take their minute places for the integral performance of Mei. Don't remember how many times Ray and Tom switched the bass duties. Basically Ray does the more melodic parts and Tom rocks away.
After 48 minutes of sheer magic, keeping the audience captivated with all kind of musical effects, gets them rewarded with a standing ovation.

Tom starts the encore ad lib with bass and E-bow, and Ray with a spoken intro of the Black Sabbath song War pigs, soon to be joined by the others, not forgetting the omni present rhythm of the almost invisible Paul Ramsey, hidden behind his kit, to play a rearranged version of Shades.

Only one word describes the feeling of the evening: "Awesome", this two-and-a-quarter hours of pure and fantastic and complex prog music will stay in my memory forever. Is there nothing bad to tell : of course, they don't have a rivetting stage show (the stage was packed anyway, the percussionist had to worm his way between two great tympani to get to his spot), and I wonder if the bongo playing of Tom really adds anything (his guitar and bass playing do, though !) , and I only took about 20 photo's, I was too damned impressed to take more.

My adrenaline levels are not even back to normal when the band mingle with the crowd, on and off stage. I wonder how come the guys are back on earth, they are so relaxed !! I introduce myself and get looks with unbelief for travelling this far. All very appreciative of me coming over this far (won that one !) All of the band sign the set list, and tell me bits of news. They are thinking on putting together ideas for a new album soon, Tom is a permanent member of the band again after his sabbatical (they all stated they needed the break a few year back to work on ideas that would never have made it to an Echolyn album, and not feel sorry for not doing it. Echolyn is really a hobby that got out of control. All songs are based on their personal experience, or pages of American history.
Both Chris, Brett and Ray assure me that they have plans for touring Europe within a year. They try to fit it into their schedule, now everybody has families, and full time day jobs. Chris adds to it that he will be at the Montreux jazz festival in July for a workshop and a short performance. He asks me to spread the word of Echolyn wanting to come over, and do I know any good places to perform. I assure them I will have all members of the various webgroups I participate in, sent them emails on how much they are looking forward ever seeing Echolyn live in Europe.

Echolyn performing Mei
photo taken by Ronald Cijs

Band

Ray Weston - lead and backing vocals, acoustic bass guitar, percussion, scraper, pump-whistle
Brett Kull - electric guitars, lead and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, effects
Chris Buzby - synthesizers, electric piano, mellotron, organ, effects, lead and backing vocals
Tom Hyatt - bass guitar, bongos, percussion, cow bell, scraper, acoustic guitar, vocal, e-bow
Paul Ramsey - drums, percussion

Orchestra

Erick Huber - Tympani, xylophone, marimba
Emily Botel-Barnard - Violin
Janosh Armer - Violin
Jonathan Atkins - Cello
Sarah Green - Flute
Jian Shen - Clarinet

Setlist:

Texas Dust
Swingin' The Ax
The Cheese Stands Alone
A Little Nonsense (Now and Then)
1729 Broadway
My Dear Wormwood
As The World
Brittany

Never the same
Mei

Shades

 

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2003 DPRP