You won’t find it in your TV Guide, but there is an irresistible new show sweeping the nation: “Everybody Loves Cal.” That’s right ladies and gentlemen; we’re talking about overnight star, Cal Kehoe. We’re not sure how adept he is at comedy, but we can tell you that the kid plays guitar like he was cradling one in the womb. Prior to March, this 23-year old shredder was only known in limited circles. Fortunately when Pink Talking Fish had to replace their guitarist and co-lead vocalist, Kehoe was available. He’s got the stage presence, the charm, the chops, the flowing locks; most importantly, he brings an infectious sense of fun to the party. The series is still in its infancy, but the ratings are already off the charts.
When we last saw our protagonists, they were sauntering out of the Crazy Horse on a sunny Monday afternoon, having just performed Pink Floyd’s Animals in entirety. It was a surprise set, played for about 30 lucky souls who probably walked around with deranged grins for the next several days. You could consider it as an over-the-top encore for the previous night’s sold out show. When the band returned almost a year later for a two-night stand, they were coming back to a home away from their New England homes. They spent an extra night in the apartment above the venue, enjoyed Nevada City’s restaurants and even took the time to go to the movies (albeit a movie they declared as the worst they’d ever seen – Us).
The Crazy Horse reserves mid week shows only for the most special occasions. The run kicked off on a rainy Tuesday and the cozy saloon, with its seductive Turkish light fixtures, never felt more like a surreal oasis. You could practically see people’s neurons exploding as they entered off the quiet side street into a cavern of audio/visual splendor. Colorful light beams sliced through the smoke while whimsical patterns were cast onto the red metal ceiling. Sublime currents of unified sound wove a tapestry through the airwaves. The whole scene felt almost too good to be true. These shows weren’t so much about magnitude of individual songs as they were about the whole. The setlists were crafted with thoughtfulness, ingenuity and anticipation of exactly what the audience would need at a given moment. They had us in a constant state of yearning to see what would come next. Beyond looking great on paper, they were executed with a phenomenal flow from start to finish.
While the band encompasses a fusion of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish, they definitely showed some favoritism towards the latter during their time at the Crazy Horse. Each night kicked off with a song covered by Phish 21 years earlier during their legendary “Island Tour.” Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” and “Roses are Free” both plunged immediately into improvisational groove-scapes. “Roses” was followed with a 23-minute “Piper” which went from systematic funk attack to beautiful sparseness back to the race track. It was clear that the band was intent on topping the previous night’s lofty standard. Or was it a healthy form of venting their disgust in Us?
Phish fans are as critical as they come which could make it very daunting for Kehoe to be this sort of torch-bearer. Fortunately he seems to relish the spotlight, transmitting joy through every note. He’s got the necessary swagger without the cockiness. It was hard to believe he was only a few weeks in to this dream job. PTF crushed classics like “Free” and “David Bowie” to an extent that Phish doesn’t these days. The key factor here was the rhythmic steam engine of Eric Gould on bass and Zack Burwick on drums. Like Mike Gordon and John Fishman, they are not content to just hold down the pocket. They apply colorful flourishes in a disciplined way, encouraging their bandmates to soar. Like Roger Waters and Nick Mason, they are keenly aware of the importance of space and texture. Like Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, they are deceptively crafty at integrating polyrhythms while keeping the groove buckled. Gould does this all while maintaining his cool as a cucumber demeanor. Burwick can’t help but surrender to his “pirate discovering where X marks the spot” expression.
The foursome flaunted their technical prowess, navigating the gauntlet of “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” into “Fly Famous Mockingbird” (with Gould’s buttery arpeggios sealing the deal on the streamlined pairing). Perhaps most impressively, they treated us to the coveted half-speed version of “Llama” (bka “Slow Llama”) with Richard James swirling on the organ while Gould and Burwick achieved lock-step funk harmony. The band’s ability to modulate tempo on a whim is testament to their acute commitment to listening to each other.
Pink Floyd is easily the most universal of the three bands they cover, so people tend to get extra excited when one of those tunes emerges. On night one, “Run Like Hell,” “Dogs” (with Kehoe doing Gilmore proud in the vocal department) and “Comfortably Numb” were among the highlights. On night two, they had us breathless with a heartfelt reading of “Mother,” brought the house down with “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (rising from the ashes of “Mike’s Song”) and expertly guided the second set to a spine-tingling conclusion with “Brain Damage/Eclipse” (segued into the “Weekapaug Groove” many of us had forgotten).
The Talking Heads material sprinkles capsules of dance candy through the mix at delicious intervals. We got hit right off the bat by a nifty “Crosseyed and Painless” sandwich with Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia” as the triumphant filling. A psyche-electro “Moon Rocks,” “Cities” (which dropped into Phish “cow funk” for a measure),” a fierce “Psycho Killer” and a perfectly placed “Stay Up Late” had the Crazy Horse crowd in full-on freak mode. This music is all so damn easy to move to. It’s harder for me to get my dance motor going these days, but Pink Talking Fish had me feeling like the love child of Gumby and John Travolta.
Kehoe may be the center of attention – and deservedly so – but keyboardist Richard James is the heart and soul of the band. The importance of any man’s role can’t be diminished, but the keyboard is especially vital to presenting these songs with authenticity and improvisational nuances. He uses his arsenal to the fullest extent, summoning ideas from a bottomless well of creativity. His sage-like presence conveys so much warmth with his signature fedora and the smile of someone doing what he’s meant to do in this life. When he sings, he does so with a balance of power and finesse. His surprisingly wide range gives so many of these gems the dynamics they deserve. Between James, Kehoe and contributions from Gould, PTF’s vocal presence more than stands up to their instrumental ferocity.
The final set of the run extended for almost two hours and was a microcosm of everything that people love about this band. The crowd was beaming when they opened with “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” There were several Floyd and Talking Heads highlights, but they leaned on the Phish catalog for the most ravishing explorations. TV on the Radio’s “Golden Age” showed them using a song covered by Phish to dazzling effect. The 13-minute odyssey was a vibrant ecosystem comprised of a Kehoe shredfest, an ivory-tickling showcase by James and intricate rhythmic dynamite. The room fell relatively silent as the jam dissolved into the universally revered “Fearless.” When James sang “You pick the place and I’ll choose the time,” surely we were all in agreement about how to fill in those blanks. They had our unwavering support as they climbed the hill in their own way.
Encapsulating Tyler Blue
If you have walked through the door during a show at the Crazy Horse over the last five years, you've probably been greeted by Tyler Blue. When we are truly moved by music, the feelings are hard to describe. Tyler's words crystallize emotions and illuminate reflections while bringing the spirit of a show back to life.
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