It’s all starting to fall into place. The first two Full Court Presses were the warm up period. They were fun, they had lots of promise, but there weren’t many people to see it and the format hadn’t fully taken hold yet. Well, after the third FCP, it’s safe to say these shows are beginning to find their stride and hit the potential that Dan Rucinski (booking wizard at Abbey) envisioned. This edition featured the two absolute best jam combos this thing has seen yet. And there was plenty of people there to witness them.
If there’s one redeeming reason for this FCP being on a Thursday night, it was that Fresh Hops was also in the house, playing in Abbey’s Green Room. Every time I see these guys I wonder why more people don’t know about them — they’re so damn unique. They even busted out an instrumental version of a Stevie Wonder song I couldn’t put my finger on, which was seriously cool. One thing I’m starting to notice is how sharp the chemistry is between Joe Marcinek and Matt VanVlyman on guitar. I’m often distracted by Stephan Cook’s beautiful violin playing, but on this night, it was the two guitars that captivated my attention. Fresh Hops is easily one of the most underrated and under appreciated bands of the Midwest.
On to the Full Court Press… Once again there was five different jam combinations. But this time the final jam was billed as an all electronic set. Right up my alley except for the fact that I had to leave early… and completely miss it. No worries; jams three and four enough amazing for me on this Thursday night.
The night got off to a pretty slow start though. The first jam lacked punch in many ways. Especially during a cover of “Making Flippy Floppy.” This might have been the muddiest version of this song I’ve ever heard. This set was also weird because instead of using a few covers as launching pads for sprawling jams, it seemed like the whole set was song after song. Something about this jam just didn’t feel quite right.
The second jam definitely started moving in the right direction though. With Adam Catron on drums and Greg Fundis on percussion — a brilliant rhythm duo — with Marcus Rezak up front shredding like an animal, this set would have been hard pressed to fall flat. The highlight was a snarling, brutish improvised piece followed by a crispy cover of Van Halen’s “Unchained.” Eddie Van Halen is a legendary guitarist but Rezak more than capably knocked that song out of the park. Alright, now we’re talkin.
Enter Ray White. It was quite a surprise to see his name pop up on this bill. For one thing, he’s not a Chicago-based musician. For another thing, there hasn’t been anyone yet who would dictate the direction of the jam the way Ray White would point everything towards Frank Zappa. Which is always an awesome thing in my book — Zappa is one of my all-time favorites. What ended up happening was the first truly groundbreaking jam in FCP history. White, along with keyboardist Jesse Clayton, drummer Kris Myers (!!), and sexy sax man Nick Gerlach drove through some Zappa classics and even a blues drenched Buddy Guy cover, on their way to wrapping the set with “City of Tiny Lites.” White’s stage presence was radiant, the dude just commands attention. His voice was on point and his guitar chops, especially in that Buddy Guy song, were sharp as hell. This was awesome. I would see that same lineup again in a heartbeat.
It was getting late but, really, the fire was just getting lit. Because this fourth set came out and topped the Ray White set in my eyes. Now, I love Zappa, but I’ve been on this funky disco kick for a while, and this jam was high octane dance fuel led by My Boy Elroy. This entire set flowed beautifully thanks to Elroy’s skills on the deck, some slick scratching, and, of course, a badass beatbox-led jam. It was highlighted by yet more Rezak shredding (this time a bit more back in the cut, funk style) and the ridiculous bass guitar skills of Buddy Johnson. I first saw this dude at Stranger Danger and was totally blown away. He brought a different energy with him on this night, sliding into his funk suit, but it was the same mind-boggling skill. This was just amazing live band funky disco, something that felt really special and I only wish it was recorded. As a general rule of thumb: anything that Marcus Rezak is involved with is gold, but this lineup was just stupid talented all around. Once again, it was a group of musicians that jelled together extremely well. A group I would see again and again. FCP3 was a smash. The future appears to be extremely bright for these shows.