Review: Rodrigo y Gabriela, Chicago and Maceo Parker at the JAS June Experience
ONLY IN ASPEN: A group of Gaden Shartse Tibetan monks filled two rows in a section of the upper bowl of the Benedict, taking in the Count Basie Orchestra’s set Friday night.
OVERHEARD IN THE TENT: “He’s the happiest man in Aspen. He must be on Zoloft.”
AND THEN THERE’s THIS: A single bat flew around the tent, buzzing the crowd and the band, during Chicago’s Saturday night set.
The crowd rushed the stage of the Benedict Music Tent about a half hour into Rodrigo y Gabriela’s exhilarating headlining set Sunday at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience. But Rodrigo Sanchez wanted the fevered, dancing crowd closer than the foot of the stage.
“We rarely play in a seated venue,” he said. “So this is much more what we are used to.”
He then invited the throng to join the genre-defying guitar duo onstage, and they played out the night — until a brief pre-encore break — with a crowd of 80-plus fans dancing behind them. The show had a feral energy to it, a rarity in the often sedate confines of the Benedict.
The crowd was transfixed from the opening song, “The Soundmaker,” and stayed that way through a 90-minute set that rarely lost momentum and showcased the intricate finger work of the classical virtuosos and their heavy-metal flare in equal doses (the night included fog machines and a flamenco-tinged cover of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”). The show was Rodrigo y Gabriela’s last in the U.S. before a summer festival run in Europe, and they seemed intent on making sure we didn’t forget them while they’re gone.
While Rodrigo y Gabriela drew in the crowd with nimble work on their two simple tools in a hard-charging, mostly instrumental set Sunday, Chicago kept the Aspen crowd in their palms with an all-killer, no-filler hit parade sing-along Saturday.
Chicago has the kind of catalog that inspires cheers with the first note of a song and a standing ovation after the last note. With hit after hit Saturday, that’s how the enthusiastic full house in the Benedict greeted Chicago. The nine-piece band doled out its fan favorites in crowd-pleasing fashion (and this hand-clapping, cellphone-waving crowd was very pleased) from “Beginnings” to “Saturday in the Park” to an encore of “25 or 6 to 4” and a soaring version of the band’s jazz-pop opera “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.”
Founding members Robert Lamm, Lee Loughane and James Pankow haven’t gathered much moss in their nearly 50 years playing together — all continue to be remarkably meticulous performers on vocals, trumpet and trombone, respectively — and the newer additions to the lineup provided some highlights as well, such as Walfredo Reyes Jr. and Tris Imboden’s extended mid-set drum-off.
The Benedict and its staid spirit isn’t always so kind a venue. Maceo Parker was its latest victim Friday night. Despite a high-energy performance from the legendary funk saxophonist and his band — in a set including choreographed dance moves, the incredible trombonist Greg Boyer, P-Funk bassist Rodney Skeet Curtis and tributes to Ray Charles, James Brown and Marvin Gaye — the crowd received him coldly. By the time Parker closed his set with “Pass the Peas,” the Benedict was less than half full.
The sleeper can’t-miss performance of the weekend turned out to be Naturally 7’s early-evening set Sunday. The seven-piece group’s next-level a capella set included uncanny guitar solos, grooving bass and drum, all created with their vocal chords on show-stopping covers of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps ”and Sting’s “Englishman in New York” mashed up with Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.”
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