About twelve years ago, three evenings into a great fishing trip, I pulled a small walkman and a pair of headphones out of my pack and popped in a bizarre looking cassette that came in my latest Wayside order - by a group with a name I couldn't even pronounce: Djam Karet. As the last light of day flickered over the surface of the water, the opening chords of 'Shaman's Descent' came over me like a warm blanket on a freezing night.
Yes, these were lean days for progressive rock, and Djam Karet seemed to fill a great void, embracing much of what I longed for in music - not the imitation prog that was coming out of Britain at the time, but the real thing - incisive, grotesque and gnarly, like classic Crimson and early Floyd on a psychedelic vacation. Needless to say I've followed this band ever since, but was never able to catch them live - came pretty close to it once, until the second day of the first Progfest was abruptly cancelled.
So needless to say I was pretty excited to hear that they were doing some live dates this year, and I knew that one way or another we had to get them to come to San Francisco and play the Exposé concert series.
The Boathouse is a combination sports bar, concert hall, restaurant and pool room - oh yeah, and a boathouse, perched high in the middle of beautiful Lake Merced, only about a mile inland from the raging Pacific Coast, about two miles west of San Francisco State University, but seemingly a million miles away from the chaos and confusion of the city. This place is a real retreat. As the sun eased down over the shimmering water of the lake, the opening band New Sun, a four piece from Redwood City took the stage and offered the moderate sized crowd of ninety or so a taste of their musical vision. Led by guitarist and singer Chris Scott, the band played four long tracks - mostly instrumental material from their debut 'Fractured' and the recent second release 'Affects,' for a set that lasted a little under an hour. Their playing was intense and spirited, and they were received warmly by the crowd. Indeed, New Sun doesn't play very often, so this was a special treat - this may only have been their second gig this year.
After a short intermission and equipment change, the moment I had waited for arrived as the four members of Djam Karet took the stage. Very special kudos to their soundman Loren Nerell, who diligently minded to every sonic detail, making this one of the best sounding shows in this years' series.
The band fired it up with 'Night of The Mexican Goatsucker,' from their recent Cuneiform release 'The Devouring.' Interestingly enough, only two numbers from that disc were played all evening (the other being 'Forbidden By Rule') - most of the band's set were tunes culled from 'Reflections' and 'Burning The Hard City,' and earlier material. Following that opener with 'Scenes' and 'Province 19,' the band was building energy with each passing minute: guitarists Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson piercing the ether with their alternating finger-blistering leads, and while drummer Chuck Oken was like a four-armed four-legged monster behind the kit... he looked like he was having the time of his life. The power of Chuck's drumming is a bit understated on the band's recordings, but live on stage it's clear he's the focal point of the band's energy. Steve Feigenbaum, who had seen them a couple weeks earlier in Baltimore commented '...and he looks like a big happy 8-year-old when he's thumping the tubs too!!' Ha! Absolutely accurate.
Many of the band's older tunes like 'Shaman's Descent' and 'Familiar Winds' were not so familiar anymore, retaining only a semblance of their original character. Bassist Henry Osborne explained - 'When we play the same tunes over for many years, we have to continually change them in order to keep them interesting for ourselves.' This, and his explanation of a long list of car problems he had on his journey from L.A. broke the intensity and gave the audience a chance to catch their breath.
San Francisco guitarist Carl Weingarten joined them on-stage for a three-guitar assault on 'Fall of The Monkeywalk' from 'Reflections in the Firepool.' The one I had waited for - 'Grooming The Psychosis' came very late in their set, but packed all the punch and pyrotechnics that I had hoped for. Their set concluded with the classic ''Run Cerberus Run', again from Firepool. In all, it was everything I had hoped for and a lot more, and definitely worth the twelve year wait - but let's hope the impetus of this successful four date mini-tour and the planned 'Live' album recorded at Orion in Baltimore will find them back on the road again a little sooner.