Playing music should be a fun experience. Getting the opportunity to do so in front of a live audience and get paid for it should make you smile. No one in recent memory manages to do that more than Circles Around The Sun drummer Mark Levy.
CATS settled into a groovy zone for nearly two solid hours at Reno’s Cypress Music Hall Monday night. Levy not only backboned the entire set on his kit, he smiled all the way through it.
And why not as it seems like each CATS tune, beginning with the “Scarlotta’s Magnolias” opener, knows where it is ultimately going but is in absolutely no hurry to get there.
Uncomplicated by vocals to sing along to or decode, the best way to enjoy a Circles Around The Sun show is to just step inside, get comfortable in your head space, and let them take you on that evening’s journey. There is no “lets just get to the good part.” It’s all the good part if you can resist the urge to rush it and let it be.
Spacey beeps and pops, unusual accent notes, and unexpected directions are a hallmark of keyboardist Adam MacDougall (who also played with Chris Robinson Brotherhood). Surrounded by at least five keyboards, a mini drum synth, and various noisemakers, MacDougall at times has the look of a mad scientist while concocting the cosmic landscape that is the foundation of many of Circles’ tunes.
The subtlety of the keyboardist’s scene-setting took advantage of the now-clean acoustics and new sound system inside Cypress. Extensive baffling have made this once marginal sounding room a destination for those in search of a solid audio experience.
The band had so much gear, including a half-dozen disco balls of varying sizes on the relatively tiny stage, that MacDougall’s instruments were literally hanging off the front edge. The crowd was inexplicably not that large so he played on with no fear of a collision from over-enthusiastic dancers. When photographers and fans with phone cameras lingered a little too close, a flick of a glance told us that was enough.
While MacDougall orchestrated much of the ethereal surround, Dan Horne (Grateful Shred) who served as frontman and humorist, laid down the bedrock on his Fender jazz bass for MacDougall and guitarist John Lee Shannon to dance upon.
Created to play instrumental interludes between sets for the Grateful Dead’s 2015 “Fare Thee Well” performances, Circles Around The Sun founder Neal Casal tapped fellow CRB bandmate MacDougall along with Horne and Levy for the project. Following Casal’s unexpected death, several guitarists filled in as the band tried to move forward in its live performances.
Ultimately John Lee Shannon, whom Casal had suggested as someone suited to replace him, joined the current band and he’s a beautiful fit.
Similar to Casal in that his stage aura is understated and calm, his playing matches that of the founder in that he plays with the other members and not over them.
If his playing, along with Horne’s bouncy bass line on new track and main set closer, “Babyman,” is an indication of where CATS is headed, fans have a lot to look forward to as Shannon imparts his style into the band.
The show capped with a “One For Chuck” closer that allowed MacDougall stretch out in a lengthy solo while they band rose below him to powerful crescendo.
If you were a Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan and a Deadhead, Monday night at Cypress Music Hall was a heckuva way to start the week.