Les Racquet and Dangermuffin Live Up to Their Advanced Billing

January 17th, 2014

Les Racquet/Dangermuffin – Mercury Lounge – January 16, 2014

It can be hard to separate your personal journey from a concert. Last night’s late double bill at Mercury Lounge was a perfect example: A week ago someone in the Merc bathroom pointed to a Dangermuffin flier, saying, “They’re good,” when I realized that they were on the bill with Les Racquet, whom my brother had previously recommended to me, saying, “They’re good!” I took it as a sign. Dangermuffin, out of South Carolina, immediately brought to mind the kind of mixed-genre, loose fitting bands that proliferated the mid-’90s that today we call a jam band. It was folkie-Americana with a freer jazz strain running through it. “Homestead” was an early highlight, a well-structured composition that jittered through multiple sections before dropping down for a build-’em-up slide-guitar solo.

The sound had some interesting twists. Operating as a trio without a bass, frontman Dan Lotti had his electro-acoustic guitar mixed so that he simultaneously played the basslines and rhythm guitar while lead guitarist Mike Sivilli took the solos with hints of Jerry Garcia and Dickey Betts clearly shining through. It’s always good to have your suspicions confirmed, and Dangermuffin obliged with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” midway through their set, Sivilli playing a couple of slippery noodle solos without meandering or getting too ostentatious. The second half of the set built up steam on a range of bluegrass, blues, country, rock and reggae, often at the same time, and tightened up with sweet harmonies and danceable rhythms. Or as the man said: “They’re good.”

Brooklyn’s Les Racquet opened comfortably with guitarist Patrick Carroll setting up some little loops of sound before the whole band hopped into their tough-to-tackle repertoire. They opened with “Haiku,” which combined a soulful presence with some interesting twists and turns that were at once complicated and endearing. It didn’t take long for the trio—Carroll plus Kenny Murphy on the six-string Modulus bass, Daniel Malone on drums—to find their comfort zone. Songs like “Devil Girl” displayed their well-honed skill set: nice harmonies, delicious melodies and brainteaser changes that brought to mind Frank Zappa. It’s an ambitious repertoire, but they pretty much nailed it. “Daydreams” was a bass-heavy supergroovy rocker highlighting Murphy’s talents—you can’t carry that bass onstage and not take a meaty solo, and he did not disappoint.

Of course, it’s still good to have your suspicions confirmed, and Les Racquet obliged with a cover of Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia,” Carroll perfectly leading the way through the prog classic. After a couple more draw-you-in songs, including “Obviously,” with Carroll singing about someone who is obviously “bat-shit crazy,” the band announced that Malone would sing a couple of numbers, resulting in a surprising but fantastic pairing of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and a loose rendering of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The set ended with a long triple-helix instrumental called “Bruce Lee,” which flexed every muscle in the Les Racquet body, and “Oh Yeah!” the kind of rocking sing-along that every band should have at their disposal to end a show. Or, just as my brother said, “They’re good!”  —A. Stein