The Near Escape

December 28, 2007 § Leave a comment

by Jack Pilgrim
All Asia Bar, January 2007

I went to see The Near Escape play at the All Asia Bar in Cambridge not knowing what to expect other than a sax player in a rock band – which has unfortunately fallen largely out of mode in recent history.

When I arrived they were already on stage (I was a bit late due to train station construction), and while the current song unfolded to me, my eye was drawn to Phil, the lead singer. Now this fellow was a rock star – complete with sunglasses, loose tie, wisecracks between songs, a smoking habit, and a whole lot of stage presence. While the rest of the band seemed more concentrated on musical energy than physical energy, Phil was grabbing imaginary fistfuls of their tight rhythmic lines and punching the air with them on the beat. After getting a load of the exemplary frontman, I turned my attention to the music itself.

While it’s true The Near Escape’s songs were derived from combinations of genres from rock to reggae, they all had a few common elements. Phil’s vocal style is at times closer to slam poetry than singing, which allowed for more focus on wildness and energy rather than tonal precision. His distinct style complemented the frequently pulsing and jammy feels of the band nicely. Phil certainly let his enthusiasm for being on stage come through in his vocals. He was clearly completely at home in front of an audience, and was constantly in motion. All of the songs had unique lyrics – such as tunes about Harvard Square. The general texture of the sax blended with the typical rock instruments during most of the song sections is refreshing in a rock band, and classy yet cool. While a good deal of repetition is inherent in songs like these, they managed to balance memorable repetition with keeping the main lines interesting by using small changes and craftily done transpositions. This is a band whose songs seem to be about the spontaneity of the individual musicians under the stories told by Phil.

The low rhythm section of Zak on bass and the recently recruited Matt on drums was very tight, which gave the songs a solid and clean foundation – great for getting feet tapping. Zak’s bass lines were smart and appropriate, with quickly established and memorable grooves. Matt’s drumming was spot on time and locked in the grooves very well with Zak’s lines. He also managed to keep his playing interesting with tricksy things like a marching snare roll under a song with a war-bent chant, all sorts of neat kick’n’snare syncopations to change up the feel of song sections, and plenty more ado on the hi-hat than quarter and eighth notes. The bass and drums, arguably second only to vocals in live playing importance, were ca$h-moneys and totally danceable.

The upper register of the music was played by Tom on saxophone and Taylor on electric guitar. Fortunately, the styles of the songs warranted plenty of opportunity for soloing over the solid grooves provided by Zak and Matt. Tom’s playing was technical yet soulful, and it was clear he had significant background in theory to frame his interesting melodic ideas. This was not only evident in his soloing, but in his rhythmic parts under vocals as well, rarely straying from crisp harmony and the grooves dictated by the rest of the band. Taylor had a whole lot of style in his guitar playing, tastefully switching between comping and riffing to fit the energy level of the song as he filled the positions of both rhythm and lead guitar. His soloing was generally bluesy and bendy – in a word, Rad. Although physically subdued while playing, Both Tom and Taylor rose to the occasion musically when the spotlight shifted to their instruments.

If you’re looking to see a show that will positively command your attention for its entirety and really get your blood flowing, you should see The Near Escape.

Also, they had a killer cover of “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding”.

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