I was approached by one of JBO’s own to take a listen to The Fall Risk’s new CD, “Volume No. 1” and maybe chat with Jeff Pehrson (band leader, whose name may be familiar to Deadheads as he is a current member of Furthur) and then consider covering their CD release party in Mill Valley. I had heard of The Fall Risk, most San Francisco Bay Area music fans had, but was not familiar with their music. I knew the connection with Jeff Pehrson and Furthur, and even Jeff Pehrson and Box Set (another SF Bay Area band that used to be), but was not musically connected to them as of yet. After a few emails had been exchanged, I started getting songs in my dropbox to listen to; Catchy, groovy, soulful, electrifying, bluesy, folky – something to get everyone’s get up and go a movin’. I found myself waking every day with one of their songs running around my head, without even trying…Catchy indeed.
After getting to know their music and then getting a chance to chat with Jeff Pehrson, leader/founder/songman, I was even more excited to get to cover this party. And what a party it was – it was a sold out show, had the place turning people away at the door! Those turned away unfortunately missed out on a solid, well thought out set of their music sprinkled with a few old songs from Box Set as well as a few surprising covers that got the crowd even more excited. Next time, I’m sure they’ll get their tickets in advance.
I noticed an opening band listed on the Sweetwater’s website, The Josh McIntosh Trio, which actually ended up being Josh McIntosh and Rattlesnakes in the Garden – who sounds like a mix of John Hyatt, Jimmy Buffet, Marc Cohn (you know, “Well I’m walking in Memphis”). A four-piece band that had a heavy southern-style groove, a unique sound that boarders on progressive southern rock but keeps it fresh with a mix of acoustic and electric guitars and electrified fiddle. I also heard moments of Paul Simon or Dave Matthews Band jams, with the plugged-in fiddle sound that sang like a guitar. Reminded me of Leftover Salmon or our friends Greensky Bluegrass or even a little , but rocked out a bit more, like maybe Los Lobos. I didn’t really know their music, but I sure recognized the opener – a Van Morrison song, that probably not a lot of people know was Van, but caught my hips and blew me away. “Send Your Mind” is a song off of Van Morrison’s “Bang Masters” album that was recorded in 1967, yet not released until 1991. I have this on old cassette tape, love it, listened to it over and over, probably stretched the tape. I just love it when bands play that slightly obscure song from the well-known musician; you can see people in the audience looking around, trying to see if anyone else knows the name of the song that sits on the tip of their tongue.
Bordering closer to the side of roots-rock and Americana, Josh has that kind of voice, that raspy familiarity to it, that party-boat band song, that summer festival southern rock band kind of sound. They had quite a number of musical fans, friends and followers in the crowd, young and old, really having a good time keeping up with the rockin’ southern sound they were laying down. They certainly did their job getting the crowd warmed up for the main draw in The Fall Risk. You can find them on Facebook, Josh McIntosh’s page is “Music from the Belly” – a pretty good description I think.
There was a bit of anticipation in the crowd waiting the set break and stage change. The place was packed for this sold out party; people started making their way closer to the front, staking their spot in front of the stage, trying to get the best view of the band. When that happens, you know that its going to be a good night – after all, there is a reason people are drawn up that close. The only thing about being that close, in a place like the Sweetwater, with the stage at hip-level, you can pretty much see the set list, if the band has one in mind. Try not to look at it, but you can’t help it. Darn-it, now I know the encore!
Opening the nearly 2 ½ hour set with “Ode”, number six on their new CD, it’s a great opportunity for electrifying guitar riffs exchanged back and forth with the smooth and sweet slide – “30 thousand people at the ball park having a whiskey and feeling fine” sure sounds like a sunny day party to me! The sound was more than a bit infectious, the rhythm section was tight and steadily shooting energy into the veins of the audience. You could feel the energy from the band on stage, the excitement of sharing their songs with their crowd of fans really came through in the opener.
Slowing it down just a bit with, “Cross My Heart”, the crowd gets a bit of a breather from the opening song’s high energy. Still, they continue with the steady, danceable rhythm that just about any toe can tap to. I like how this one ends, slows down and gets a bit quiet, with just Jeff strumming the acoustic guitar alone before the full band kicks in again. It’s when the music slows down but there is electricity in the air, anticipation of knowing the song is going to kick you into high gear again, at any moment.
Well, there was no rest for the weary with the third song on the set list, “Back in Amsterdam”, which gets a loud cheer from the audience, giving me a hint that this song is from the early days with Box Set. I like this one (shocker), the lighthearted feel, the full voice of the guitar from Phil, Matt’s hands dancing on the black and white keys, the beat from Mike’s bass and Mark’s drum kit made everyone want to cut loose. The lyrics that Jeff pens are thought-provoking, “Will your forces fall a fortune in my hand, or lurk around the corner changing passion to demand. Spin the wheel of fortune, risking everything I am. Run the river back in Amsterdam.” In doing a little research for this article (which ya have to do sometimes!), I found that a number of the songs have been around a while, like Ode, HBWA, Cry Baby Cry, and LeClaire to name a few… Old Box Set songs that have been reinvented, reworked, revived with the input and musicianship of their newest members in Phil Savell, Mike Sugar, and Rich Goldstein. Along with this, they gave us “Back to You”, “Jessie”, “Misfits” and “Lemonade”, songs that may just get reworked and re-recorded again, which in my opinion is a good thing because I seriously enjoyed them all, couldn’t sit still.
When Jeff said stellar musicians, he wasn’t kidding. Phil has a great sound to his guitar solos, Rich’s slide filling in perfectly, Mike’s bass guitar, not just playing it, but playing with it, solid/steady percussion from Mark driving the beat at the kit, and the two incredible keyboard players – two. Sammy also nails the harmonica and accordion to boot! You gotta luv a guitar player who gives good face. Sammy Johnston, when really getting into his funky solos on the Nord, gives good guitar face.
Jeff kept the crowd banter lighthearted and riddled with opportunities to giggle; he brought out his comedic side making the night not just pure musical enjoyment but really showing that they like to have fun! Asking for a beer, he says, “Any kind of beer as long as it’s wet, please.” Someone in the crowd says, “Wet and cold”, and Jeff says, “Wet and cold, just like my ex-wife.” Ba-dum-ch.
“Back to You”, not found on the disc, is a song that can make you feel like you are rolling over the hills, floating along on the wind, getting back home to your comfort. All of their songs are just so danceable, I found it hard to sit still, even when I was trying to take pictures. I have to remember when covering the bands, to not just stare through the lens but to put it down and pay attention to the interactions on stage, to who’s playing what guitar riff, or who is hitting the keys – with more than one up on stage, I like to know who is giving me what!
Phil is the rocker, the way he plays guitar, his look, his attitude. He takes the lead mic on The Beatles, “Hide Your Love Away” and I can see why. This is no ordinary rendition. It’s a bit harder, a bit more rock and roll than it is usually played. It took me a minute to realize what it was in the first few notes as I had not heard it performed like this before.
A real pleasure was to have Jason Crosby join the stage to sit in on fiddle for “LeClaire”, “Angeline”, and “Jessie.” (Jason also guests on “Angeline” on their first CD, “Volume No. 1” along with the progressive bluegrass sound of Tony Furtado on “LeClaire”). If you haven’t, or have, heard of Jason Crosby, he’s been known to play with The Robert Randolph Family Band, Susan Tedeschi, God Street Wine, the Zen Tricksters and has also played with the likes of Bob Weir and Phil Lesh separately and with Rat Dog and Furthur, and Carlos Santana to name a few. All around seriously great fiddle and keyboard player, and I hear he can strum a tune on the guitar. Talented guy.
Well, “Angeline” was just as soulfully sweet to hear live as it is played on the disc – of course! And what a bonus to have Jason there, to sooth you with his fiddle… This also brings Mike Sugar’s harmonizing back up to the front again (he blended on “Ode”, the set opener), and, it also has Sammy Johnston pick up that accordion I’ve been seeing on the floor by his feet. (My Aunt Francis is certain to be dancin on the clouds for this one! She was our crazy aunt who played the little blue accordion and sang Newfie songs. Ya don’t forget that stuff.) The harmonizing of Jeff, Matt, Mike is really sweet here, each voice really shines through.
Oh, and the harmonies and energy of “Jessie” – this is a real barn-stompin’, hootin and a hollerin song and your first hint is the way that Jeff announces the song, up to the mic giving a deep, dark, southern accent, he almost growls the name, “Jessie”. This is their nod to bluegrass – that fast furry sound that makes you want to get up and swing somebody around! It also puts Matt Twain on lead vocals, letting the audience get to know how solid his pipes can be. And, Sammy on the harmonica, just kills it!
The ballad on the set list, in their repertoire, must be in “Cry”. Heartache, holding out hope for reconciliation, believing it could be but you don’t want to be let down, you don’t want to go through the pain again. And, you certainly don’t want to make Jeff cry!! Seriously though, nice ballad, brings the crowd to a calm as Jeff puts down the guitar to focus on the words, the feelings, the emotion of the song. Really done nicely.
“Misfits” seemed to be a little nod to Ritchie Valens or Los Lobos’ “La Bamba”, or at least that’s the beat, the song base that I heard. There was even a few tongue trills, talk of tequila, and lots of “yeows” and cat calls from the stage as well as out in the audience! And, most appropriately, someone handed a shot of tequila to everyone on stage.
“Lemonade” – another easy song to move to, and one more from their Box Set days. Jeff’s acoustic guitar begins alone, maybe a little soft electric guitar in the background from Phil and Rich before you hear a little bass join in. This song ends on a funky note, with each of the members slowing leaving the stage, leaving behind Mike on bass, Mark on drums, and Rich on slide. What they do next is hard to describe but, this is one extremely funky jam. Starting out with three, slowly we see Matt get back to his Nord, then Phil comes out to play a little, then Sammy returns to join the jam. For nearly 22 minutes, musical riffs are exchanged back and forth on stage, letting each one of these outstanding musicians give you a little taste of what’s deep in their soul.
Toss in some crazy rockin’ covers, with The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers”, The Beatles “Hide Your Love Away” and “I Want You”, and The Who’s “Squeezebox”…… I see a pattern here, The Fall Risk, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who…… well, I suppose you could put the word, “the” in front of any band’s name and say it’s a pattern, except for maybe Jefferson Airplane or Phish or Moe or Cake or Furthur or….. I digress….. Well, as I was saying, with the choices of covers you get a full picture of this band’s influences – and the clear acknowledgement that they like to rock!
One nod in the set list to his “boss”, Jeff leads them into a rollicking “Deep Elem Blues” encore – had a little bit of a carefree swagger, yet a tad of blues and boogie. Well, since I had peaked at the set list, I knew this was it for the night. Or at least I thought….. I see Jeff turning around to everyone and letting them know he wanted to play just one more. Well, OK!! What am I hearing? I look to my friend to the right and question, “Sqeezebox?” and he just smiles. Yep! Oh man, I love The Who and especially this one – seems to fit in perfectly with The Fall Risk’s sound and energy. “Cuz they’re playing all night, and the music’s all right!”
Gosh, they were all such nice approachable guys, each one hung out after the show to talk, take pics, sign stuff, just to get to know their fans. Love that. And, in chatting up other, um, Risk-takers at Sweetwater that night, this was maybe the tightest that The Fall Risk has played. Well, JBO was glad to have been a part of it! Thanks guys…..
Ode, Cross My Heart, (Back in) Amsterdam, Cry Baby Cry, Dead Flowers, Back to You, Hide Your Love Away, Wendy Ann, *LeClaire, *Angeline, *Jessie, Cry, Hollow, HBWA, Misfits, Lemonade, Jam, I Want You
Encores: *Deep Elem Blues and *Squeezebox
* w/Jason Crosby on fiddle