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Millennium Music Conference, Night Two 2/19
February 25, 2010 - Jim Price
(The 14th annual Millennium Music Conference in Harrisburg happened last weekend. I apologize for the delay between my initial reports and these remaining ones, but limited time availability prevented me from completing my conference recaps until now.)
Having carefully perused the Millennium Music Conference showcase schedule for this Friday night, I decided to head to downtown Harrisburg’s vibrant 2nd Street area, and check out the showcases happening at The Quarter.
A New Orleans-themed bar and eatery, The Quarter had Millennium showcase activity happening on three floors. The third floor featured a deejay, “DJ O’Dini,” providing dance floor music. On the street-level floor, several jam-oriented bands were slated to perform; while in the basement “Gin Mill” portion of the facility, hard rock and heavy metal bands were on the musical menu.
Since the “Gin Mill” band slate didn’t begin until later in the evening, I caught the entertainment on the street-floor level first. As I first arrived, a Brooklyn-based band called Already Gravity was performing. Unlike the later bands on this bill, Already Gravity wasn’t jam-geared; their sound was electronica-geared rock. The group’s two members – a singer/programmer and a drummer – played through several experimental song selections. However, technical problems plagued much of their set, and the sound engineer was visibly frustrated as he tried to get the mix right without feedback and distortion. Possibly due to the technical issues, Already Gravity didn’t appear confident or polished; and although they sounded good when it all came together, more often than not things didn’t come together, and their set was rough at best.
But conditions remarkably improved when the next band, Gallons To Ounces, took the stage. Based near Washington, D.C., this trio shifted the musical flavor into a jam and funk direction; demonstrating wicked-sounding grooves and sharp instrumental execution. Lead singer/guitarist Matt Cummings, bassist Andrew Griffin and drummer Zach Miller laid down captivating, improvisational grooves that mixed elements of funk, rock and jazz. Each band member displayed abundant solo abilities, and all three played off one another in constant displays of mesmerizing musicianship. Gallons To Ounces clearly kicked up the tempo of this Millennium showcase party, and set the tone for more musical fireworks to come.
The next volley of those musical fireworks came from a California-based trio called GrooveSession. Like Gallons To Ounces, GrooveSession also generated improvisational grooves that blended funk and rock. Their presentation was more uptempo and followed progressive-leaning arrangements, and their songs often escalated into heated and intense jams. Drummer Manny Sanchez sang lead vocals, and demonstrated a quality for combining precision drumming with soulful singing that I haven’t witnessed since John McKnight populated Altoona area stages! He, brother Ronnie Sanchez on bass and Sarven Manguiat on guitar constantly mixed things up into a spicy, tasty stew of sounds; further elevating the mood in the room.
By the time GrooveSession’s set had concluded, the showcase in the Gin Mill had begun. I ventured downstairs to catch the latter part of that showcase’s first band, Iroquois Confederacy. Named in deference to local history regarding the group’s home base of east-central Pennsylvania’s Lykens Valley, Iroquois Confederacy demonstrated a hard-nosed sound that blended elements of raw southern-styled rock with grunge and modern elements. Singer/guitarist Jeff Heilman sang with a gritty growl reminiscent of the late Danny Joe Brown (Molly Hatchet); flanked by lead/slide guitarist Andy Adams, bassist Eric Spotts and drummer Chris Underkoffler. The group blended newer songs from their forthcoming CD with material from their first album, The Left-Handed Peace Pipe; and closed their set with “Cellophane Blues” off that disc.
After Iroquois Confederacy’s set ended, I hastily retreated back upstairs to catch the next band on The Quarter’s floor level, Altoona’s own Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band. Although some sound issues delayed the start of their set, once the group began, the party quickly heated back up. Namesake Chris Vipond on lead vocals, keys and acoustic guitar; co-namesake Mike Stanley on bass, guitarist Phil Wagner and drummer Jacob Smith generated a freewheeling mixture of rock, funk, soul and blues over the course of their original song selection, and triggered the first dance action of the evening along the way. The group shined on original songs such as “Shine,” “Be,” “Freedom,” “Media Controls the World” and “End”; and also mixed in their own distinctive spin on Bill Withers’ 1971 classic “Use Me.” Altoona’s lone band participants in this year’s Millennium Music Conference represented well, and clearly won some new fans by the time their set had concluded.
I then returned down the steps to the Gin Mill to catch my first look at the band performing there, Waysted Sylence. (I missed the set by Harrisburg’s On Faith Alone, which took place while I was witnessing Chris Vipond’s set upstairs.) Four members strong, it quickly became clear what this band was all about – heavy metal! Sporting long hair, studs and black leather, Waysted Sylence performed original heavy rock rooted in the classic ‘70s/’80s metal tradition of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Dio. Lead singer/bassist John Slade, guitarists/singers Bobby Blaze and Rick Wylde, and drummer Joe Steel demonstrated thunderous rhythms, scorching guitar leads and dual guitar harmonies, howling vocals and power through their assault; doing songs from throughout their discography. The central highlight of their set, though, had to be during the song “Understand,” when muscular frontman Slade was presented with a metal frying pan, which he then proceeded to curl up with his bare hands, fruit roll-up style, and hand back out to a female fan in the audience (this reminded me of a national band from the ‘80s called Thor, whose muscular singer used to bend iron bars on stage). Now that’s metal!
I watched the duration of Waysted Sylence’s set, which closed out the downstairs showcase. Unfortunately, I missed the last band of the first floor showcase, whose set transpired in the meantime. I then returned to the hotel to rest up for the next day of business at the Millennium Music Conference.
Manny Sanchez of Ontario, California's GrooveSession, during their Millennium Music Conference showcase performance Friday night at The Quarter in downtown Harrisburg.