Posted by Pat Baxter on 06/30 at 10:11 AM
Last Saturday I had the Summer’s Best Music Fest on my mind and was looking forward to music and fun. Though the morning started out with a bit of rain, it quickly cleared up into a very comfortable 70 degree day—perfect for a music festival—and so I decided to head downtown.
What better way to start things off than at the main stage on Allen Street ... or so I thought. It was here that local favorites Pure Cane Sugar – a country/pop band (something of a redundant description nowadays) – was on stage. Now, I had seen this band a number of times before, mainly at Zeno’s Pub, and each time they played pretty much the same set. For a bigger event like Summer’s Best, I was expecting the group to break out something new. Unfortunately, I was wrong. This band chose the path of least resistance and rehashed their template of a set, presumably so they wouldn’t have to go to all the trouble of actually learning new material. When I arrived, they were playing some generic country-inspired song. Then they played Dolly Parton’s Jolene, a staple for this group of performers. It was followed by what I would describe as a plain, country version of the Beatles’ Come Together. Now I guess I’m “out of touch” as they say, because the crowd seemed into it, providing generous applause and some rhythmic movements to the music. But for me, I’ve seen this set too many times before. So I decided to move along.
Leaving Allen Street, I headed down to the Heister Street stage where the local cover band Spider Kelly was putting on a show. I had heard good things about this band, so I was expecting decent music. What I saw, instead, was a slightly above-average cover band saved only by the fact that they actually squeezed in some originals and a few cover songs off the beaten path. For me, their sound didn’t really stand out. It was particularly evident when they played their renditions of the Beatles’ Revolution and the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black. For both of these songs, they avoided the more complicated guitar and vocal parts, opting instead to play them in their simplest forms: no harmonies and sticking with power chords as opposed to the original, more interesting voicings. Their originals – which included 3rd Gear Woman and Babylon – tended to sound too similar to each other and evoked a generic late-90s pop/rock feel. (Think Blues Travelers meets Gin Blossoms.) It was another situation where the crowd seemed to like it, but for me, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
At this point, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to see next. So on a whim, I decided go back over to the Allen Street stage to see the next act. It was fortunate that I made this decision as I saw one of the more memorable performances that I’ve seen in months: Jason O.
Jason O is a solo musician/singer/songwriter who uses digital looping pedals to – in effect – play all the parts of a band by himself. His usual method is to loop a vocal beatbox or drum machine pattern, and then layer a bass part on his guitar or vocals on top. Over these loops, he plays the main guitar riff while singing lyrics. At times he’ll often loop in his own vocals and guitar riffs to create harmonies.
Other people have done this kind of thing before. Robert Fripp (Frippertronics and Soundscapes), David Torn (Tonal Textures), and Reggie Watts (looped vocals) come to mind. Indeed, looping in and of itself might seem like nothing more than a gimmick when done for it’s own sake. But what really stands out about Jason O is what counts the most: songwriting. And those who saw Jason’s performance at Summer’s Best were treated to refreshing originals that have their influence in Dave Matthews, modern R&B, Ska/Alternative (like Sublime), and hip-hop. The closest comparison to Jason O might be the aforementioned Reggie Watts. But whereas Watts’ loops are comprised mostly of his wide and versatile vocal range, Jason O incorporates other instruments besides his vocals and guitar, including maracas, synth, and even a trumpet.
Jason O started things off the right way with Sir Loops A Lot. This song had a sort of acoustic R&B feel to it layered with rapped and sung vocals. It warmed up the crowd and elicited excited applause. He then did Show Me the Love featuring the use of two different guitars. This song seemed to have its influence from Sublime. Having a laid-back feel to it, the melody pleasantly rolled over the seemingly basic, but effective, chord changes and evoked the sound of a relaxing summer. One of my favorites was Back to the Beat. It had a jazzier sound to it, syncopated by both the percussive rhythm of his guitar and a vocal beatbox. On top were scat-like vocals that served to further drive the rhythm. Glass was also a memorable highlight, where he incorporated slap/percussive techniques on his guitar not unlike Eddie Van Halen of old, or Buckethead (though their styles are totally different). These techniques produced a nice, bright and open sound. It was effervescent in its approach and something that soothed the ear.
Through it all, the audience seemed to soak it in. He had CDs for sale on stage, and a number of people went up during his performance to purchase them. Healthy applause and some cheers rang after each song, and it seemed the audience was impressed with what it witnessed.
I, for one, didn’t recall an off moment. I really was surprised by Jason O’s performance - if not taken aback - considering the “sameness” I had seen earlier in the day. He was possibly the best act at Summer’s Best, and is an artist with a great deal of talent. I hadn’t ever seen Jason O or even heard of him before seeing him last Saturday, but thankfully, I encountered him. I look forward to seeing how his career develops.
For those who missed him at Summer’s Best, below are a couple of clips that I think are representative of his overall sound. One is a performance of Sir Loops A Lot when he played at TEDxPSU at Penn State. The other is Glass. Enjoy!
Sir Loops A Lot
Author: Pat Baxter
Bio: A native of Pittsburgh, Pat Baxter is now working for WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting in video on-demand and multi-media. He enjoys playing guitar and bass, listening to music and watching films. He likes listening to grunge/alternative rock, experimental and prog rock, and jazz/fusion. His favorite rock bands include the Smashing Pumpkins (1990s era), David Bowie, Talking Heads, King Crimson, Buckethead, Frank Zappa, Mars Volta, David Torn, and the Cure.
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