We saw it coming from miles away. It was as predictable as an asteroid impact. No matter how prepared you might be, nothing can dampen the effect when it washes over you. This was to be GrooveSession’s third appearance at the Crazy Horse and we already felt a strong sense of kinship with the So. Cal trio. That’s one of the glories of this place. We have a number of bands which have instantly gelled with the energy of the saloon, the audience and the staff to such an extent, it establishes a deep bond. We cherish the warmth and mutual respect.
GrooveSession’s debut back in February was so impressive, it won them the slot as the house band for a private party we threw in April for one of our favorite patron’s 50th birthday. On that night they reinforced what we were pretty sure we already knew – this truly is one of the most promising young bands in the musical universe. You may think we’re biased or prone to hyperbole, and we are, but you can’t deny the “x-factor” when you feel it. We see a lot of talent pass through Nevada City, but these guys set themselves apart with a passion, hunger and originality transcending simple description.
They had just wrapped up two months of touring, taking them halfway across the country and back. To say they were primed would be an understatement. The biggest variable was the crowd. We knew it was going to be next to impossible to match the built-in audience they enjoyed at the private party. We were optimistic with it being the Friday of 4th of July, but there was too much else going on in and out of town to deliver what they deserved. Yet in typical Crazy Horse fashion, the smaller numbers compensated in quality what they lacked in quantity. In fact, we can’t remember an intimate crowd being this captivated when it was all said and done.
The backbone genres for GrooveSession – funk, soul and rock – just so happen to be the bread and butter for the Crazy Horse. We love bands that make people dance and even better if they come to jam. It would be so easy for GrooveSession to travel the well-worn path and resort to typical audience-pleasing tactics. They play an abundance of popular covers, but other than that, their whole approach leans towards a mindset of challenging the listener. Rather than just dropping into a “four-on-the-floor” pocket, they are constantly experimenting with offbeat rhythm and tempo. The buzz word of this performance had to be “dynamics.” They subtleties of volume, flow, tension and release were pervasive throughout.
It was quite apparent to witness the evolution they had gone through over the last several months. In many ways they are the ultimate trio because they come across like a unified organism. The barometer for any band that is really serious about improvisation is how intently they listen to each other. These guys know each other so well, it’s as if they are plugged in to the same sensory network. And the scary thing is they’re just getting started. Sure it helps that drummer Manny and bassist Ronnie Sanchez are brothers, but guitarist Sarven Manguiat is hardly an outsider in the DNA trinity.
He’s awfully young and has a long way to go, but Manny Sanchez is one of the most obvious channels of musical sorcery we’ve ever seen. When you watch him, one has to assume he is possessed by an otherworldly power. He goes into a trance while singing and playing his kit. His eyes roll back in his head and flutter along with the pulse of his sticks. It wouldn’t be fitting if he had honey-drenched pipes. He’s a feral animal who knows how to mediate a conversation between the mischievous sun and mysterious moon. Regardless of what your religious beliefs may be, it appears he is summoning a spirit through the music. What kind of spirit, we can’t be sure. But judging by the lyrics and his buoyant energy, clearly it’s grounded in love. Transfixed on him throughout the night, you can’t help but be humbled by the superhuman dramatic expression unfolding before you.
The thing is, his expressions are not for show. In fact, they don’t even seem to be conscious. When you look past the visual aspect, it’s impossible not to be struck by the depth of substance on both the technical and emotional plane. Manny’s stylistic prowess is totally in line with his showmanship. One doesn’t have to be a rhythmic expert to tell that he’s pulling off some high-wire stuff with the flair of a gypsy trapeze artist. His progression since April is remarkable.
Anchoring the center of the stage, brother Ronnie is not content to fall into any predictable patterns. Nor is he about to roll over and let all the attention fall on his brother. He is extremely cerebral, approaching his instrument like a precocious student intent on pleasing a teacher. No amount of energy exertion is enough. Ronnie gracefully inhabits a simultaneous dual personality. He’s a jazz fusion bassist in regards to the rapid-fire assault of notes and serpentine weaving. He’s also a funk bassist with the blunt force liquid thunder and ability to distill the essence of fundamental groove. He’s a big part of the reason an overwhelming amount of sound emanates off their stage. Every inch of his instrument’s neck is fair game as he seems to relish the tactile element as much as the auditory end result. When you listen, it’s readily apparent that he is engaged in a complex dialogue like a NASA engineer chatting up a Burning Man art car designer at a cocktail party. All this while mostly obscurred by a Samson-esque mane of wavy black hair.
When we first saw him, Sarven was a lot more subtle in terms of picking his spots and emphasizing what he had to say. This time, it was apparent from the get-go that he had made a conscious decision to hold his ground with the other two alphas. Diminutive in stature, but ten-feet tall in his Zen-like command, he is like a Queensland Heeler who can control an entire herd of livestock with a mere glance. Every lick glistened with feeling and sincerity. Like his bandmates, he thrives on taking the path less traveled. And the journey is clearly more important than the destination. He’s a tone poet with a romantic aesthetic, yet unafraid to grab a jam by the throat when need be.
After a cover-heavy show for the private party, we were hoping to hear the band focus more exclusively on their original material. They definitely impressed in this regard but again it was the covers which left a smoking crater where the saloon used to be. After a sizzling first set, they came out for the second on a mission to blow minds and melt faces. Using their song “Good Time” as a launch pad, it led into a run of four classic covers which was nothing short of earth-shattering. “Good Time” is a Goliath of a voodoo jam vehicle. It showcases Manny at his best, coaxing the crowd into a soul-releasing ritual. Pointing his sticks, the devil in his eye, demanding, “don’t threaten me with a good time.” When the song explodes into an orgasmic rhythmic stomp, it’s enough to make you want to rip your clothes off. Or, well, at least dance as hard as humanly possible.
“Good Time” segued into a playful, reworking of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.” From there they dropped into the piece de la resistance, Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” There was a collective gasp from the crowd when everyone accepted what they were in for. Sarven’s guitar sang with shimmering purity as he nailed the drawn out intro with breathtaking precision. Every note seemed to resonate on its own, hanging in the air before dissolving like a waking dream. The song kept going and going, each part interpreted with originality, yet true to the original masterpiece.
When it was finally time to move on, they opted for a nifty transition into The Beatle’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” It was such a perfect choice for Manny’s vocal range and perpetuating the molasses-thick groove in which we were blanketed. After slamming back into a “Good Time” reprise, they harnessed one more blast of rock ‘n roll heroics with Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.” Yet another instance of the band knowing its strengths and its audience. We love them playing the Horse but we crave to see them in an arena. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time.
One more thing that deserves saying is how much impact GrooveSession gets from their three-part harmonies. Ronnie and Sarven have definitely stepped up in that department and it lends to a much more polished, mature dynamic. As the band continues to put more emphasis on writing and developing original material, people will have no choice but to acknowledge them as an influential force on the cutting edge of today’s music scene. What they have going on right now is unquantifiable. Many of us, especially those who frequent the Crazy Horse, are fortunate to bask in a wealth of talented bands. Every once in a few years one comes along to ascend above the masses and soar into uncharted terrain. It’s only natural to question such strong words, but almost everyone else who has seen them at the Crazy Horse feels the same way.