Review: Lotus New Year’s Run A Success
The day: New Year’s Eve. The place: Rams Head Live, Baltimore. The hosts: Lotus. We had reached the final seconds of 2012. The sweet, rhythmic beat of Lotus’s “Spiritualize” floated through the air and slowly segued into a countdown jam. As the crowd and the band counted down together from ten, balloons fell from the balconies and bounced amongst high-spirited fans packed in front of the stage. The countdown reached one and, amidst exuberant exclamations of “Happy New Year” from fan to fan, Lotus transitioned into the magnificently melodic classic “Umbilical Moonrise” to ring in 2013. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect way to begin the New Year. It was a perfect execution by a band that has been wowing its fans throughout the past year with its continued commitment to its roots despite its recent movement in a more electronic direction.
Yet the most beautiful part of the night by far was the mood in the crowd at the moment the first notes of “Umbilical Moonrise” began. Extremely passionate, love-filled Lotus devotees, notably flooding the front right-side of the stage and crowding the right-side balcony overlooking lead guitarist Mike Rempel, turned to each other with tears in their eyes, hugging, dancing, and exclaiming their love for one another. The right-side balcony, to an outsider looking in, looked like nothing less than the reunion of an extremely close family. Despite the fact that many of these people had met each other in person for the first time over this New Year’s weekend, many of us (myself included) feel like we have known each other for ages. Herein lays an indisputable and significant difference between Lotus and other “jam bands” with fanatical followers. Lotus fans across the country have connected with one another and developed a close-knit familial community which provides support of all kinds to one another, and which has at its core pure love for each other as well as for our band and its music. I’ve witnessed the shows of other big names in the industry with notoriously rabid fans – I’ve seen Biscuits fans losing their minds as they are pummeled by a joint force of lasers and electro-jam, and I’ve seen Phish heads fervently following each and every note sweetly emanating from the instruments of Anastasio, Page, and Gordon. Fans of these bands, and countless others, without a doubt love their bands and their music, just as much as we love Lotus. However, not once can I recall a single show of any other band where I have witnessed such mass love, a love flowing between fan, band, and fellow fan. Die-hard Lotus fans are without a doubt a special breed.
The intense emotional peak experienced by the Lotus Faithful at the dawning of the New Year should have come as no surprise for those of us who had been following Lotus for part (or, in a few cases, all) of their five-night New Year’s Run. Over the course of two nights in Chicago at the Riviera Theatre, a night at Mr Smalls Theatre in Pittsburgh, and two nights at Rams Head Live in Baltimore, the setlists were packed to the rafters with old-school, rarely heard, and much beloved precious Lotus jewels – on this run, Lotus took their fans back in time to an era many thought had been left in Lotus’ past.
Although I could not make it to the two shows in Chicago, I have been told by a number of fans that the boys brought down the house both nights with psychedelic old-school selection “Blue Giant,” the newly resurrected spacey trip of a song “Arupa,” the spectacularly funky Rempel masterpiece “Mikesnack,” and the beloved classic happy jam “Shimmer and Out.” The sheer number of oldies, rarities, and fan favorites that Lotus packed into the two nights at the Riviera Theatre led some fans to question aloud to one another how Lotus could possibly top their Chicago performances over the next three nights, and what if anything was left for Lotus to play for the fans waiting in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Did Lotus save anything for the rest of us?
Those asking such questions were quickly silenced by the band’s performance at Mr. Smalls. Lotus had indeed saved much for the rest of us. More than any of us could have possibly imagined. The first set got the crowd dancing right away, and contained a particularly notable version of Lotus’s infamous “Zelda” cover sandwiched into an incredibly groovy “Wax.” But it was the second set which blew away even the oldest of Lotus fans. After laying down an epically funky “Juggernaut” (which Lotus had played only two times prior in 2012), the band played the new song “Gilded Age,” perhaps one of the most beautifully composed pieces of new music I have heard Lotus play since the release of their last album. Purely instrumental post-rock, the song had somewhat of an old-school vibe, and featured an uncharacteristic guitar solo by guitarist/keys player Luke Miller which was nothing less than brilliant (I even caught a glimpse of Rempel coyly smiling with satisfaction in Luke’s direction during that solo, a truly beautiful moment). The boys then broke out a “Sift” which had long-time fans crooning with its gorgeous harmonization and funky yet chill reggae vibe. First played on 3/15/02, “Sift” has been played less than a handful of times each year in recent years, and this was the first and only time the band played it in 2012. In what felt like a quickly forming Caribbean daytime shower, “Sift” was followed by a spectacular “Sunrain,” which was sandwiched around a “Flower Sermon” which segued into and out of a cover of Deadmau5’s “Ghosts n Stuff.” At one point during “Sunrain,” the lights, white and yellow in color, bathed the disco ball hanging from the ceiling in sunny beams of light, causing rain-like reflections across the walls, ceiling, and crowd. You couldn’t ask for more perfect lighting. Percussionist Chuck Morris joked after the show that fans should download a different version of “Flower Sermon” to go with the set if and when the Pittsburgh show is released on livedownloads.com, alluding to the fact that technical difficulties led to Chuck’s solo being in a lower-than-usual octave. However, Chuck expertly made up for the equipment failures and produced a unique solo that you’ll never hear in any other version – if it becomes available, I would recommend purchasing the set in its entirety despite this minor flaw. For good measure, the band encored with the jazzy funk-filled oldie “Spaghetti,” another rarely played favorite of die-hard fans.
Lotus continued to exceed expectations on the 30th at Rams Head Live, playing a darkly enchanting “Kesey Seed,” the fluid and trippy classic “Travel,” and a particularly high-energy version of the drum-and-bass style rock favorite “It’s All Clear to Me Now” which transitioned into the exuberantly funky jam “Intro to a Cell.” Yet Lotus brought the crowd to tears when they began playing the rare nature-inspired gem “Caywood.” Mike Greenfield on drums and Chuck on percussion, always a standout feature in this song, played at a level unparalleled by the two previous performances of the song in 2012, as did Rempel, Luke and bassist Jesse Miller.
No one knew what to expect on New Year’s Eve. After four nights of epic performances of old-school classics, beautiful new compositions, and revived and reworked die-hard fan favorites, expectations merely induced fear. Many of us went into the show suspecting some things, but expecting nothing. Perhaps after what had gone down over the previous ninety-six hours, we should have expected what occurred. But no one was prepared for the evening with which Lotus bid 2012 adieu. In addition to the perfectly performed countdown sequence, the set list on New Years Eve included a spotlighted drum and percussion solo by Greenfield and Chuck which segued into the stunning post-rock instrumental ballad “72 Hrs Awake.” Then, to the delight of every die-hard fan in the crowd, the boys started into bluesy old-school favorite “L’immeuble,” a song yet to be played in 2012 and for which fans have been begging for the better part of the past year. And this particular “L’immeuble” was like few if any others before it – about halfway through the song Chuck left his percussion set and joined Greenfield on his drum set for a little double-drumming action. Rempel’s guitar solos were funky and flawless. Luke’s steady yet haunting guitar riffs quivered with perfection. Jesse nailed the bass line every time and took us on a funky walk with a little bass solo action. During this song, perhaps even more so than the rest of the night if possible, the band functioned as a perfectly harmonized, well-oiled machine. The band then segued into a stellar version of fan favorite “Jump Off” to end the first set, and in the second set went on to play the groovy new electro-funk song “Uffi” into the sweetly harmonious crescendos of the sporadically-played darling “Wooly Mammoth,” as well as the drum- and bass-laden classic “Plant Your Root.” The boys then blew everyone away one last time by encoring with “Colorado,” an infrequently-performed melodic pièce de rèsistance with special meaning for both the band and their fans.
After this run, there simply is no question that the love that flows between Lotus and its fans is both equivalently mutual and extraordinarily strong. You can hear it in each and every performance – just as the fans feed off of the love and energy emanating from the band as they play on stage and in doing so enhancing their concert experience, so too does the band feed off the love and energy emanating from their most passionate fans, making their playing all the stronger. This run gave skeptical fans the opportunity to solidify their loyalty at a time when they perhaps questioned whether Lotus would remain true to their origins, in the same way the run gave the opportunity to prove to their fans that they will always remain loyal to the Lotus Faithful and will never leave behind their roots. The commitment Lotus has shown to its fans over this run, both in the choice of songs played and in the incredible amount of attention shown to fans before and after shows, is an inexplicably special thing for which no mere thank you suffices. I know there are many others who share these sentiments with me. Luke, Jesse, Rempel, Greenie, and Chuck – from the bottom of my heart, from the bottom of the hearts of all those who call themselves Lotus Family, and from the bottom of the hearts of all those fans newly turned onto your ever-evolving musical mission by one HELL of a New Year’s Run…THANK YOU.
One way to show your appreciation for all this band does for its fans is by purchasing the sets from livedownloads.com, each of which are personally mixed by Luke and Jesse. It is well worth the ten dollar price tag, especially for a show such as New Year’s Eve with its crisp multi-track recording of an unparalleled set list of rare specialties. The shows at Rams Head Live both from New Year’s Eve and 12/30, as well as the show at the Riviera Theatre on 12/28, are now available here. Here you can also view the set lists in their entirety. The 12/27 show at Riviera Theatre and the 12/29 show at Mr. Smalls Theatre hopefully will be released in the near future.