When Shack-Man first dropped half of my lifetime ago, listening to it felt like I was garnering the greatest universal street-cred I could ever muster. Seriously, during high school I'd listen to it while ripping joints in my Mom's Geo and feel like the coolest kid on the face of Earth. But frankly, over the past decade or so the MMW shows I've attended have never quite moved me akin to the absolutely disgusting performances of the late 90's. So when it was first announced they'd be playing an all acoustic gig for Portland's Soul'd Out Music Fest, my first reaction was "another one of them sleepy MMW gigs." But it turns out this show would be the one to make me remember… "oh yeah, John Medeski can straight up murder a piano." I've somehow wrongly forgotten the power that this trio holds, and the entirety of this gig was on a next-level of amplified and unified tri-force telepathy.
While it was odd for the Roseland Ballroom to line the floor with chairs for the night, it brought a level of centralized focus on the performance, and I've never heard the room sound better. I'm not going to pretend like I could tell you the names of any songs played, but I can tell you that the band had the entire room at their mercy. Each tune went every which side of deep, rolling from moments of mouth-gaping syncopation to pulsing throbs of beastly devouring. And sure, when Medeski just keeps attacking those piano runs, you realize he's one of our greatest living assets, but it's still just the way he hits a single note that gives you the chills. Just one note -- that's all you need to hear from the man to be able to find him in the dark. The strike in those fingers is such a masterpiece of controlled ferocity that you could pick it out of a 100 note lineup. It's the kind of strike that makes you want to drop everything, find a loft in the East Village, and pursue every forgotten dream you've ever had.
Billy Martin was so in tune with every slight nuance and random turn that Medeski took this night that at times it sounded like he had a script for his drum lines. And with Chris Wood as the glue that binds them together, the entire show was an astonishing display of the hive mind. Of course there were moments of weirdness as well, where Martin would knock on a tabletop full of cymbals as Medeski played some odd wind instrument that looked like the love-child of an oboe and a didgeridoo. But these weird spells were somehow equally as thrilling as the moments of thunder-fusion, and together it crafted a tangible story arc through the show. Admirable props must be given to the folks in the back who did their best to dance throughout the set. Sure there are moments where your boogie shoes get an itchin', but half the time there's no discernible rhythm that any two-legged creature could ever find the right motion for. It's sure as hell awesome watching folks try though. The boldest move of the night came towards the end when a girl finally just said "fuck it" and dragged her boyfriend up front and center to dance directly in front of those seated. This may have been the final straw for some of those who reportedly demanded and got part of their money back -- folks had paid extra for closer seats but the whole arrangement was a free-for-all from the get-go. Que sera. I personally left the building this night with a slight bump on my lip from where I had been biting it in "holy fuck" position all night. Over 20 years deep, MMW is wholeheartedly at the top of their game.