Sunday, December 30, 2007

Layin' It Down and Raising Spirits

Joey Stevens and Itaru de la Vega from Rumspringa
The Echo
Review by Rory Vallis

On December 20th, 2007, The Echo presented Rumspringa, the larger-than-life two-man band of Joey Stevens(guitar/vocals) and Itaru de la Vega (drums). I was asked if I could attend and do a brief write up. "Holy crap Batman! I get to see a kick-ass show AND write about it?" I quickly grabbed my brother, girlfriend, her brother, and headed for the venue.

I've seen Rumspringa play both in studio (for their much anticipated debut CD) and in concert, and as phenomenal as it was to see them pump out an incredible album, there is a transporting and uplifting effect to their live shows. An effect that I think can only be attributed to the synergy Rumspringa shares with the crowd.

Invariably, listening to Rumspringa causes me to tap my feet, if not shake and bounce with the eagerness and abandon of a good bedroom dance session. But inevitably the song ends, my feet tap to a stop, and the air hangs empty save the echoing track trailing my thoughts; "Damn, that was a good song".

In concert however, this changes dramatically. Despite the band's performances being near perfect translations of the tracks you'll find on CD, their concerts include so much more than the music. The difference is the crowd. Rumspringa seems to have taken the term "in concert" to heart and made sure that for every live show they play, the audience gets to play too.

As early on as the microphone check, front man Joey Stevens received coos and cheers from the audience. In reply, Joey answered a heated sighing into the microphone in place of the expected "check 1,2,3". In turn the fans cooed and crowed louder. This exchange elevated to near climactic levels until the soundman gave the thumbs up. Time for the show to start.

Fans crowded the stage in taught anticipation, claiming spots beside perfect strangers, and making friends and conversation out of the combustible excitement in the air. The first notes of the guitar and kicks of the drum sounded "Catfish Blues" and the crowd exploded, the temperature and people both jumped, and the air became full to the brim with tumult, sweat, shouts, laughs, smiles, smoke, booze, and well...rock n' roll.

It was at this point that something very peculiar, very incredible happened. Most likely if I tell you, you will wave it off as editorial aggrandizement, fabulous fanatics, or otherwise twisted reporting. But it's my word against your eyes (we're dealing laterally here in the present), and if you were there, you'll agree that everything that follows is (pretty much) the unequivocal truth.

Roundabout the third song into the set, the crowd was soused with the histories of the previous dance mapped across their t-shirts, and Joey, in signature style, sock footed on stage, began to rise. At first only up to his toes, but then gradually, his entire body began to float off the stage floor. People in the crowd, too, were rising and falling like coke bubbles in rum. Some of these people wafted on stage and started dancing around Itaru. The once coolly blue lighting lining the walls glowed red with the heat of the crowd. The crowd became so densely packed we began to rise together, like a loaf of bread in a brick oven.

Rumspringa were cookin' with gas.

Itaru threw the crowd holiday treats, while Joey handed the people in front a box of shakers, tambourines, and maracas. As "In the Jungle" began I heard a steady rhythmic shaker hitting the 8ths in the pocket. I looked to Itaru, but saw that he was busy tapping the 16ths on the hi-hat. Turns out the expert percussion was coming from an egg-shaker in the hands of the girl next to me. The crowd had likewise devoured and dispersed the percussion and the song was now a quilt, woven from the stage to the entrance and back.

Damn it was a good time.

My girlfriend and I were now exchanging smiles and dance moves on the ceiling. The whole crowd was off the floor, the floor itself undulating in a mirage of heat. Itaru was upside down thudding base kicks from ceiling to floor. His snare had slipped into the crowd and expanded to trampoline proportions. Some people were somersaulting and flipping on it, while others were content to simply float above it all. It was synchronized mayhem. It was everyone in concert.

After several new songs (whispers of a second album before the release of the first?) Joey broke into "I Wanna Make You Mine", and everyone grabbed someone, and floated gently back down to earth.

I was intoxicated. This doesn't happen everyday you know, people becoming clouds inside of venues. But just when I was getting used to gravity, the crowd cooed, and cheered, and applauded and chorused "Encore! Encore! Encore!", and Rumspringa came out, and let fall a never before heard tune, hot off the press, fresh out of the oven, bob's your uncle, a slammin’ , shakin' swingin' song. What ever room remained in the air exploded with applause and the song finished leaving the crowd smitten, searing, elated and exhausted.

I walked out that night, in December, in a t-shirt, and felt as though it were an August after noon.

But that's what I hear happens when you play with a band. You sweat a little. You should try it sometime. Rumspringa and 200 or so back up singers, dancers, percussionists and live-set incendiaries.

Last I heard they were still taking submissions.