FolkFire Reviews

May/June 1994 Issue

  • Concert Review: Sandroids Shake the Sheldon
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  • Sandroids: Shake the Sheldon (a Concert Review)
    by Roy Gokenbach and Deborah Hyland
    The Sheldon literally shook on Tuesday, April 12, 1994 with the sounds of appreciation for the Sandroids. The Sandroids, who call their music "tribal jazzgrass," went through an eclectic blend of instruments and musical styles that led the audience to two standing ovations.
    To say that the Sandroids play jazz, old time, dawg music, rhumbas, Balkan tunes, bluegrass, and klezmer music might give the impression that this band can't come up with a cohesive musical style. Somehow, in spite of the wide range of music, they do have a style all their own-- "tribal jazzgrass."
    The best example is the tune "Escape Velocity," written and arranged by the group's founder, Sandy Weltman. Billed as a space journey to a mirror galaxy, the tune explored several musical styles with the band slipping into jigs and fiddle tunes. What held the piece together is exactly what gives the band its coher-ence--Weltman's banjo, providing a segue into each part.
    While the banjo held it all together, each band member was able to contribute solidly to the galactic feel. Guest artist Michele Isam on soprano sax led the jig, and was joined by Tom Murphy with impressive skill on the mandolin. Mark Torlina on six string bass glissed to give the impression of the drone of bagpipes. The presence of John Wolf on trombone adds to the eclectic feel of this band. Bluegrass trombone may seem oxymoronic, yet the instrumentation of the Sandroids incorporates Wolf seamlessly.
    Overall, the group seemed well rehearsed and more than capable of dealing with Weltman's tight arrangements, particularly on "Dark Shadows" and "Balkan Twirl." In the latter, percussionists Cliff Gokenbach and Dave Menaar used their different drum kits to execute a tight call and response.
    At one point in the set, the Sandroids were joined by vocalist Beth Tuttle for a cover of the Pat Matheny tune, "Crooked Road." Tuttle's voice was rich, deep, almost husky, and seemed to fill the hall. Behind her, the percussion gave the feel of a car racing down the road, fence posts flicking by.
    If the show had any flaw, it was the distractions provided by the sound system and cameras. There was a tremendous buzz from the speakers and it occasionally sounded as if wind were blowing across the microphones. At one point, the band was asked to stall until the snafus could be worked out. Only slightly nonplussed, Weltman and Murphy entertained the audience with "Ragtime Annie" on harmonica and mandolin. Another acoustic number, "New Roads" was also a refreshing break from the buzz.
    It is difficult to complain about the presence of camera men creeping around on stage. Cameras are always distracting, but for the most part, they were kept low. Besides, their presence was because the show was being taped for a future one-hour special on the Americana Cable Network, giving the Sandroids some much deserved national exposure.
    Also filmed for the special was the first band of the evening, the Rob Block trio, with Kim Portnoy and Jim Green. The trio played five jazz pieces, all written and arranged by Block. They ranged from composition oriented pieces like "Spherical" to the exciting, technique oriented "Spiffmode."
    Sheldon representative Dale Benz should be commended for developing a forum where such disparate bands can meet and make connections. Judging by the number of local musicians in the audience, the series is already well-respected. John Nolan of Profound Sound has also been donating his time and effort to ensure the success of the series.

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