When The Higgs made their Crazy Horse debut last December, it was immediately evident that they are one of the most promising new talents in the jamband universe. It’s one thing to have a high level of musicianship, but these guys have something no amount of practice can earn: soul. Even while they are communicating in extended, improvisational instrumental passages, they find a way to transmit a palpable sense of emotion. If you had to pick the overriding emotion they encapsulate, it would be joy.
It was a mutual “love at first sight” for The Higgs and the Crazy Horse. When they returned on April 28, 2018, they did so with the intention of recording a live album. There could be a lot of pressure involved with an ambitious project like this. Instead they channeled it into a heightened sense of focus and hunger. From the first notes of the show, it was apparent they had charted a course to highlight the crème de la crème of their catalog. Every song felt fully developed and bursting with positivity. It was one of those nights where fans couldn’t help but smile and be pulled into the dance vortex soon after entering the saloon.
The beauty of The Higgs, as with any great band, is the remarkable balance of their sound. It flows freely from each member and swirls into a kinetic convergence. You don’t have to be a keen observer to realize that they are listening to each other intently and playing off of one another in the most supportive way possible. Guitarist and lead vocalist John Lovero is the natural leader as he anchors center stage and comes across as the alpha axe-man. Throw his perpetual cat-ate-the-canary grin into the equation and it tells us all we need to know about how he feels playing this music.
When other bands boast about “melting faces,” it is often just wishful thinking. If The Higgs make this claim, there is no exaggeration. Lovero’s fiery fretwork is exhibit A at the scene of the crime. He also sings the band’s most epic material; songs like “Space” and “Freddy” (WATCH THIS!) which are instantly endearing and relatable. These are among many tour de force compositions which give one the sense they are seeing a band is on a trajectory akin to Umphrey’s McGee or even Phish. Like these two jam whales, The Higgs’ best songs weave together elements of funk, jazz, rock, blues, prog and even a splash of reggae. They draw from all their influences while making music that is distinctly their own.
Jesse Jennings relishes the role of the mad scientist, conjuring up intricate cascades, thematic accents and intergalactic effects in his keyboard laboratory. He and bassist David Barsky also contribute to the band’s notably strong vocal presence. Barsky is relentlessly active on his five-string bass, almost like a marionette controlled by a mothership with a groove-centric attunement. He has this “strummy” style which is tailor-made for the band’s melodic foundation. Along with their finesse-minded, impressionist drummer, Garrett Morris, the two give dancers a deep pocket to glide upon while keeping things untethered for lift-off.
You know a band is going places if they can hang their hat on original material even when so many in the audience are unfamiliar with it. Ignited by the electrifying energy of the room and inevitable desire to nail the live recording, every song seemed to accelerate as it progressed, culminating organically in a soaring peak. Steady infusions of funk oozed through a psychedelic kaleidoscope with calculated precision. Of course they had to bust out a few covers too and the timing couldn’t have been better when they launched into “Electric Avenue” near the end of the first set. They showed off their elevated command of dynamics with the half-speed, funky, bluesy “Maggie’s Farm” that followed. Sung with swagger by Barsky, Dylan would have approved of this unique treatment.
One of the highlights of the second set was a guest appearance by guitarist Silas Herman. The local resident, who is known for collaborations with his father Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), unleashed his sublime picking on “Kung Fu You.” Jiving hard with his newfound friends, they transformed the song into a reckless, effects-laden carnival ride. A summary of this show would be incomplete without mentioning the light show that accompanied it. How rare it is for bands to bring this sort of visual flair to our party and what a treat it was in catapulting the whole experience to the next level. The band’s lighting director Bill McCoy is like the fifth member of the group. He intuitively frames the exploratory sonic adventure with vivid beams of blazing color slicing through the haze. Hopefully the live recording comes to fruition so The Crazy Horse and The Higgs will be forever linked in rock ‘n roll history like Hampton and Frampton. Regardless of that, it’s clear to all involved that this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.