At The Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh, Steve Mang embodies the phrase “he’s a regular”. The guy is second only to the employees when it comes to attendance, and he’s seen a ludicrous amount of music at the venue, so you know he won’t steer you wrong when vouching for music. “The Oatmeal Conspiracy is always good,” he said, heading into the venue for a St. Patrick’s Day triple-bill that featured them along with two more bands, Triple Wide and Waylandsphere.
Anyone that frequents the bar knows that those three names on a poster means one thing – a night of non-stop collaboration where three bands take on a group mindset. The difference on this night, though, was the deep, rich sound of two relatively new local bands turning the corner and heading toward bigger and better things. The Triple Wide foursome is coming up on two years together, and there’s been a pronounced increase in familiarity amongst the band since their inception. Their newfound confidence and tightness has greatly benefited every aspect of their music. The Oatmeal Conspiracy has been together for much longer, but recently unearthed an entirely new sound thanks to the addition of a full-time bassist. The two bands are playing better than they ever have right now, and the combination of the two groups on this holiday night only amplified that fact.
For two bands that, frankly, sound absolutely nothing alike, collaboration comes frighteningly easy. This phenomenon is partially due to some of the band members having decades of mutual friendship under their belts, and partially to the skill and open mindedness of everyone involved. It also doesn’t hurt that Triple Wide traffics in the kind of inclusive, wide-open blues, funk and rock that practically begs for additional soloists and singers.
Building their set around blues standbys like “Stormy Monday,” which featured Waylandsphere leader David Titchener on guitar, and “That’s What Love Will Do For You,” Triple Wide displayed an easy grasp of various styles. Their own “Blueball Avenue” and “Shaky Ground” are chugging numbers that fold rock, soul, funk, and blues into a digestible, tuneful format, while “Me’Shell Funk” and the opening “Blues Man” are indulgent compositions full of instrumental opportunities.
The band made the most of those opportunities, and their number swelled to seven during “Me’Shell Funk” as Titchener, along with The Oatmeal Conspiracy’s Chad Johnson (keys) and Mitch Morton (sax), helped form a rollicking ensemble that thoroughly explored the song’s accommodating structure. The sinuous cover of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” highlighted the world-class vocals of Whitney Pearsall and guest Liesl Clouse, and the core band shone on a righteously down-and-dirty version of Pops Staples’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad.” This criminally under appreciated song allowed bassist Dale Bryce and drummer David Daniels to build mesmerizing, slow-burning grooves while guitarist Steven Stewart and the ever-present Morton leaned on their wall of rhythm.
As Triple Wide deals in jazz, funk, rock, blues, and the fusion thereof, The Oatmeal Conspiracy darts between keyboard pop, elastic electronic, and chord-laden jazz-rock. With the recent addition of bassist Matt Levine (also a member of Waylandsphere), Keyboardist Johnson has been turned loose from his bass responsibilities. Johnson is now free to take extended solos and add embellishments where he previously couldn’t, and the overall effect is superb. Morton’s saxophone finally has a restless partner in crime with which to explore the glory of notes, and even moments where there are almost too many notes to fit resolve beautifully.
The Oatmeal Conspiracy’s original tunes feature plenty of hooks that are often partially obscured by relentless, jazzy chord changes. This often gives their songs a Steely Dan-type vibe, but they change gears a bit too much for that comparison to stick for long. The enormous version of “Plaidipuss,” for instance, featured Stewart and Bryce was born from an oscillating electronic sample before growing into a pulsating dual-bass driven mass of breathy acid jazz. At the other end of the spectrum stood the succinct, joyful “Bumble Bee,” which packs a mighty pop punch, and the breezy, busy “Woe,” which evokes a bit of Ben Folds-style melancholy. Appropriately, the climax of their set featured the combo of “Bumble Bee” and the gliding “Spring Has Sprung,” a perfect duo to celebrate the onset of the season.
A feisty and attentive crowd gave both bands their share of applause throughout the sets, particularly after Triple Wide’s sublime immersion into “Why Am I Treated So Bad” and the otherworldly “Plaidipuss” jam. A good amount of people hung around for the duration, and Waylandsphere, as usual, brought a trove of their dedicated fans and friends along. Old hands compared to the other two bands on the bill, Waylandsphere is a reformed Widespread Panic cover band that offers original roots rock and covers with a marked communal aesthetic. Comprised of the aforementioned Titchener and Levine along with a drummer, percussionist and female singer, the band effortlessly delved into their brand of jammy, bluesy rock, doling out originals like “Rip Van Winkle” and choice covers that kept the club grooving right on to curfew.
While these bands have performed together many times, everything about this St. Patrick’s Day show was above and beyond what I’ve come to expect from them. There’s tightness, confidence and progressive improvement happening with these up-and-comers, and the potential exists for a fertile, fruitful relationship between the bands and those who happen upon them.