There’s a certain child-like wonder that accompanies a performance by The Bad Plus. Well, there were certainly children at the show, and they were certainly wondering why their playtime was getting moved away from the front of the South Park Amphitheater stage. The kids had no idea; one of the microphones was picking up all of their playful banter. In their blissful innocence, they didn’t understand what was happening on that stage.
Quite frankly, the audience was more baffled than the children. The Bad Plus opened their show to a lawn full of dropped jaws. The first couple of minutes of the first tune, “Pound for Pound,” were breath-takingly beautiful. It was the beginning of a peaceful summer evening soundtrack, complete with gentle winds and a twilight sunset. Pianist Ethan Iverson’s tender playing was sparse and emotional, as if drinking in the atmosphere of his venue. Backed subtly by bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, the group took its time building the volume and business up until the three musicians decidedly took roaring command of the stage. Then within moments, the song returned to its serene beginnings.
The contrast in the first song proved to be a perfect example of the show to come. The follow-up track was hard-hitting right from the get-go. Even as a trio, The Bad Plus created a gigantic wall of sound. Iverson’s piano playing in this song was jarring and percussive, with Anderson and King providing heavy and disconcerting rhythms. That was just a single example of how they kept up dynamic intrigue. In a later piece, the trio laid out a fat groove. Heads were boppin’; the audience was feeling it without a doubt. There was a memorable part during a somber song when the piano itself sounded as though it were crying. They also played covers, performed in such a stylistically innovative manner that it was seldom distinguishable from the band’s own music.
Impressive and deftly modest, it was no secret how tight and together the musicians on stage were. They had control as a unit and sonic diversity as individual players. Each member was given the chance to sweep the crowd with fantastic solos, transitioning effortlessly into the subsequent section. The Bad Plus’ cohesion was so distinct and so cleverly their own. Often times they would trade unique licks within the scope of the song (Bad Plus-isms, if you would). During the ending of one tune, they stopped and started a phrase over 10 times. Each time they did so, the time between the spaced-out entrances increased. Yet, as was their fashion, they never faltered and stayed completely together.
Toward the end of the show, Anderson bantered about befriending roombas before robots take over the world. His soft-spoken sarcasm reminded everyone that the musicians on stage were indeed human. It was excellent timing for The Bad Plus, because their unreal encore cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” would’ve otherwise thrown that idea out of the park.
- Pound for Pound
- Wolf Out
- Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel cover)
- Lack the Faith But Not the Wine
- 1972 Bronze Medalist
- The Robots (Kraftwerk cover)
- Big Eater
- Encore: I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash cover)