Basking in a steady stream of some of the country’s finest music is a privilege. If you take it for granted, it could easily blend together into a palatable blur of complacency. Fortunately our philosophy here at the Crazy Horse is more akin to an adventurer forging through uncharted territory. We’re grateful for the scenery, but always seeking fantastic realms awaiting around the next bend. We know they’re there. We’ve seen them before and that leaves us yearning for more.
It’s been a few years since someone, I can’t remember who, raved about a band from Eugene, Oregon called Blue Lotus. “The guitarist is a Jerry prodigy,” was the rallying cry that resonates in my memory. The name lodged way in the back of my mind until a few months ago when our ultra-savvy talent buyer mentioned he had them on the schedule. December 18 was circled on the calendar and there was no doubt that magic was afoot. After hearing their CD – “Across the Canyon” – the gravity of the situation became undeniable. Here was a band with the potential to rise above the clouds and form its own constellation in the musical galaxy.
The first thing to captivate me upon hearing Blue Lotus wasn’t the mind-melting guitar playing of Felix Blades. It was the otherworldly voice of Brandelyn Rose. She conveys a haunting sense of intimacy and subtle power of emotional seduction. It’s a voice of wisdom, longing and introspection. The songs themselves are what truly elevate Blue Lotus into elite company; especially in the context of the contemporary jamband scene. They have a storytelling quality, rich in imagery and impact. The songs sound nothing like the Grateful Dead but are cut from a similar Americana cloth, possessing wide-open jamming potential.
Speaking of which, the show kicked off with their most improvisational vehicle -“Drift Away.” Any audience member counting on a casual Friday outing to the local watering hole soon knew this was far more than they had bargained for. The foursome plunged into the deep end, instantly taking a jazz-inflected gymnastic tumble. In addition to her vocal prowess, Rose disarms you with innovative guitar chops. Her out-of-the-box rhythms and jagged, melodic interjections are matched by the stage swagger of a natural born performer. What she brings to the table serves as the ideal counterpoint for the fierce, yet ethereal excursions emanating from Blades’ corner of the stage.
The feeling of familiarity upon hearing more of the songs from “Across the Canyon” was like the soothing comfort of realizing you’re home. “Ballad of Black Bart” brought to life a colorful tale of Oregonian lore. The music and lyrics unfolded in harmonic synchronicity as if each had spawned the other simultaneously. When listening to this unit, it’s remarkable to acknowledge how locked in they are. They share a focused group consciousness as well as an intrepid sense of independence. Bassist Ben Bosse takes a serious, cerebral approach on his five string bass. As with all my favorite bassists, you get the sense that he’s freelancing most of the time while producing honey in the pocket like a bee in the hive. Same with drummer Alex Huber. He sets himself apart with a jazzy flutter where every beat is its own breath of poetry.
One of the coolest things about Blue Lotus is the fact that the three guitarists all play instruments custom made by a luthier in Eugene. They are gorgeous pieces of craftsmanship as well as remarkable embodiments of sonic engineering. Rose, Blades and Bosse all possess signature tones which are largely attributable to these one-of-a-kind guitars. Rose’s axe even has a quartz crystal embedded at the crown with an LED light she can trigger. Just like Roy Hobbs’ bat in “The Natural,” Blades wields his six-string as if it was immaculately conceived through a cosmic phenomenon. The dude is only 20 years old and we should all be so fortunate to listen to him play for years to come.
Anyone who worships at the grail of Steve Kimock and Jerry Garcia can expect their heart to skip a beat when Blades ventures into the sacred vortex. His playing communicates a palpable reverence, egoless conviction and 360-degree vision. How apropos it was that when it was time for a few cover tunes, they leaned toward Jerry Garcia Band classics such as “Don’t Let Go.” In the vein of those grandmasters, Blades has an effortless manner of building his solos with delicate, angelic, crystalline beauty. The sound practically manifests as shimmering light filtering through the heavens. Anyone who covets Kimock’s work with the band Zero from the mid-90s should have extra special interest in what’s going on here.
Just when you think Blades is reaching the ultimate peak of any given jam, somehow he ascends even higher. During one song in the second set – “Upside Down” – his playing bubbled over the brim with an effect so euphoric, it was enough to make me surrender control of my body and mind. A momentary spiritual release representing everything many of us music addicts commit our lives to seeking. The crowd on this night wasn’t large in numbers, but their hearts and ears absorbed every detail. It couldn’t be more obvious that we were in the presence of greatness. Bands like this reinforce the belief that music is the ultimate drug.