Review: Lotus’s “One Last Hurrah” in Philadelphia in 2012
Lotus returned to Philadelphia for one last time until the new year, giving a standout performance this past Friday at the Electric Factory. I wanted to wait to write this review until the band released a recording of the set, so I could have the benefit of hearing the show in its entirety once more before putting into words my thoughts about it. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t speaking from a purely “Lotus Faithful” perspective and in knee-jerk reaction to my positive (as usual) Lotus experience. However, after a second round with the set list, I can confidently say that Lotus brought nothing less than their “A” Game to the City of Brotherly Love.
Before delving into the details of Lotus’s near-three-hour performance, the opening act deserves mentioning. How to describe Grimace Federation…Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you are playing a high intensity video game in outer space. That music you are hearing? That would be Grimace Federation. Do yourselves a favor and check out this Philadelphia-based ensemble if you have not already. Their funky instrumentals and electronic flourishes quickly had the crowd dancing and warmed up for the smack-down Lotus would subsequently bring to the stage.
Lotus took the stage around 10:45 pm. The Electric Factory is not a venue known for its acoustics; the cavernous cement-walled space can make the sound a bit spotty. However, this deficiency seemingly had no effect on the band, which effortlessly filled the depths of the Factory with its music that night. With just a few electronic punches in an otherwise psychedelic-infused funk and rock show, Lotus’s set at the Electric Factory stood in contrast to the set they played this past September at FDR Park. This gave Philadelphia-area fans both new and old an opportunity to see the range of musical styles employed by the band and the depth of its work.
One of the highest intensity moments of the night occurred toward the end of the first set, when Lotus broke out lead guitarist Michael Rempel’s baby, Mikesnack. Longtime Lotus fans have been begging for this funky, guitar-led classic Lotus jam, both in response to the band’s invitation to request songs as well as of their own accord. As the old saying goes, “Ask and you shall receive.” When Rempel came out with those first couple licks of guitar, the entire atmosphere in the room changed – his expertly executed funky blues jamming created a distinctly felt energy in the crowd. The band hasn’t played Mikesnack more than one or two times a year since 2008; this is only the second time they have ever played it in Philadelphia. Other funky classics of note include a Suitcases to open the second set that perfectly set the tone for the rest of the night, with bassist Jesse Miller absolutely destroying his solo and guitarist/keyboardist Luke Miller expertly juggling between guitar and synthesizer like a skilled “malabarista.” Drummer Mike Greenfield lived up to his reputation as the Green Machine in the groovy crowd favorite Wax, and percussionist Chuck Morris showed the crowd what it means to play a mean bongo and electronic xylophone, as always, in a fantastic version of Flower Sermon. Lotus also revived the song Pitched to the Fire in reworked fashion; despite its brevity at a mere three minutes and fifty-one seconds (short in terms of Lotus’s repertoire), the song’s dark and mysterious electro-funk qualities blended old and new elements of the band’s sound, which is constantly evolving.
The second set transitioned into a psychedelic musical trip of Lotus rarities. The band performed an exceptional Travel, a trippy old-school Lotus tune that has made an appearance only four times previously this year; the beautifully spacey fourteen minutes instantly transported listeners to another world. Not ten minutes later did they then bring out Arupa, a song which only recently has made its way back into the rotation. Prior to September, Lotus had not performed Arupa for over five years. They brought it back for the first time during their performance at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado in September; the Electric Factory marks the third time the band has played the song this year. The distorted, echoing vocals, mysterious keys, and delicate percussion create the feeling of traveling through a rainforest during a heavy mist.
Lotus concluded with a mellow rock encore, ending with the always-beautiful and tear-inspiring Behind Midwest Storefronts. Storefronts succeeds in inducing both dance and spiritual awakening at once with its layered instrumentals and gorgeous use of string samples, and was a fantastic note on which to end the night.
The overall effect of the night was to convey the sense that Lotus is going nowhere but up. They continue to stay true to their musical roots while experimenting with new styles and more complex compositions, proving that a band can indeed evolve while preserving its essence. The set from Friday night is now available for purchase here. You can next see Lotus on their five-night New Years Run beginning on December 27th, which will include two nights at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago, a night at Mr Smalls Theatre in Pittsburgh, and two-nights concluding on New Year’s Eve at Rams Head Live in Baltimore.