On Friday March 8th, Brooklyn, New York’s Dopapod and Grand Rapids based Ultraviolet Hippopotamus converged to create a night of joyful noise and instrumental insanity. This show was of particular interest to me having not seen much instrumentally complex music as of late. Having previously performed with Dopapod, I knew quite well how talented the band was and eagerly awaited another unpredictable performance. This was to be the third time I’d have seen UV Hippo. Initially impressed with their performance at the first Rootwire, I managed to catch them at Muncie’s Come Together Festival for a set that absolutely delivered. UV Hippo’s blend of positive lyrics, carefree attitude and solid musicianship has quickly made them a midwest festival favorite. To me it is a treat to see how much these bands have changed six months or a year later. Inevitable at shows like this one, we enjoy aspects of one band more than the other. I’ve been quite out of touch with the world of jam oriented music for some time now. But, given that Grateful Dead and Phish were two of my biggest early influences… I thought checking out UV Hippo and Dopapod, two very diverse and different jam/rock bands seemed a good fit to re-visit those roots. I throughly enjoyed a lot of the nuances these bands brought from our modern music spectrum. One thing is for sure, both bands are expanding exponentially.
This would be Dopapod’s third time playing Indianapolis. I had a chance to sit down with them to discuss the band’s new album, Redivider, among other things in what made for a very enjoyable interview:
Mojo: How are you guys tonight?
Band: Good! Wooh!
Mojo: Glad to have you guys back in Indiana. How many times have you guys played here?
Eli: I think this is our 2nd time.
Chuck: This is our 3rd time.
Rob: In the state of Indiana?
Chuck: This is our 3rd time in Indianapolis.
Rob: What was our first time?
(whole band remembers and laughs)
Rob: Oh yeah.. there was like nobody there!! Like 2 people.
Chuck: No there was. Like.. 2 people that are here tonight.
(band asks me a few questions and decides Alex “Herm” Schneider with Herm Productions was at that show)
Mojo: I understand you guys went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Did all 4 of you attend the school?
Mojo: Did you all graduate?
(everyone but neil says no)
Neal: I did!
Mojo: So was not finishing school a result of Dopapod starting to take off?
Mojo: Is there anyone that helped you guys get off the ground or gave you a great opportunity?
Eli: Yeah.. Kevin McKluskey with Jazz Revelation Records. It’s a student run label at Berklee.
Rob: Yeah definitely.. Kevin McKluskey (excited)
Eli: They put together these events with the areas best jazz musicians. Not only did they choose us for a compilation but they featured us as the last song of the night.
Rob: The crowd loved it but some jazz purists seemed unhappy. A guy came up to me after our show the next day and said ” That was some nice blues music”.
Mojo: Obviously your not blues music. Purists can be kinda closed minded.
Rob: Purism has it’s place..well.. I don’t know.. sometimes I think it doesn’t anymore.
Mojo: Often those types can’t focus on the quality or sound because they are so grounded in rules.
Rob: Yeah I agree.
Mojo: From that show to The Mousetrap and now The Vogue with UV Hippo, you guys are obviously progressing rapidly in Indianapolis. Does everyone live in Brookyln?
Eli: Everyone but me
Rob: It’s complicated
Mojo: Well, you’re music is complex. How do you practice?
Rob: There is no set method. We just have to find time where we can on the road.
Chuck: The last two years what we’ve done is take January off, then get back together, write for several weeks about 4-5 days a week and get ready to go back on the road.
Eli: As of now..the last time we actually got to rehearse (other then sound check) was when we recorded Redivider. We’ve basically been on the road since without a break. (Redivider was released 3 months ago). We lived up at our friends farm up. He was nice enough to let us live there for about a week and just relax and chill out.
Rob: We rehearse in sound checks.
Neal: Sometimes in a town we’ve been to, if we can set up for a few days and can find a spot to practice we will.
Mojo: So Redivider was released on December 21st. Nothing bad happened to the world. We are all still here..
Rob: Except Redivider came out.
Eli: That was the end of the world.. (everyone laughs)
Mojo: How has the writing process changed for you guys since you started?
Eli: I would say it’s more thoroughly composed and adventurous.
Rob: Some of the early stuff we wrote, I think we were afraid to get complicated. The more you play with each other, you get bored with that and things change naturally.
Chuck: When we first starting playing together we played more Soulive and funk type stuff because that was something we all liked. Once we were really comfortable playing those types of grooves we started getting more experimental.
Mojo: How often would you guys like to release new studio albums?
(everyone agrees about once a year would be good.. possibly more if time allows)
Mojo: About Redivider; The album has a sound that is very rare these days. For me it covers the sonic exploration and instrumental prowess of great 70’s jazz/fusion but it’s mixed with modern rock, dance and jam sounds. Was that a completely new set of music or how much was written before you started recording?
Neal: We had most of it written. Probably about 80%. We wrote a few new songs at the farm and finished a few too.
Mojo: The “Inside the Barn” videos you guys posted on youtube give the fans a good insight into the making of the album. I think it’s important for fans to have access to artists in that raw context. It’s nice for the fans to know where the music is coming from. Where was this farm located?
Rob: It’s a small town called Palmford, Connecticut which is a small town out in the middle of nowhere. It was either recording time to be creative, exploratory and inspired or just relaxation and the band hanging out.
Mojo: So what are some festivals that are either new or that you are looking forward to returning to this summer?
Eli: We are returning to one of our favorites which is called Big Up. That one is gonna be awesome, in Upstate, NY. Also Disc Jam, which is a disc golf (course) slash music festival.
Mojo: That would be a lot of fun!
Eli: We’ve done that one for the last two years.
Chuck: It’s at a craft brewery in Massachusetts
Eli: What else.. Hyperion we’re doing for the first time and we’re really stoked about that.
Mojo: Well I look forward to seeing you guys again. Thank you guys so much for your time. I’m looking forward to the show!
Rob: Thank you.. I think this went well (everyone laughs).
Dopapod began the night with the 8th track off of Redivider, “Blast”. What started off grounded in gritty rhythmic grooves (via bassist Chuck Masterson and Drummer Neal Evans) eventually stopped on a dime for some sultry organ leads by keyboardist Eli Winderman. After returning to the funk for a few minutes some serious musical math took place. This song was a good choice to open the show because it immediately showcases something this band is great at; building tension. Quickly shifting from intense heavy riffs, then moving through soulful layers and resolving eventually into bright and comfortable sounds is a theme of this band. To put it simply, Dopapod is dynamic. Throughout their performance, guitarist, Rob Compa displayed with very careful precision. Able to shred at a moments notice but spending a majority of the performance playing intricately woven riffs, he has quickly become one of my favorite touring guitarists. It’s not about ego for him or any of the members in this band.. but more so about pushing themselves as musicians and entertainers.
The riff from there fourth song of the night, “Flipped”, reminded me a lot of Axilla by Phish and I was curious if they had “flipped” it. This was followed by another Redivider cut, “Vol. #86″. This song begs the question “Tell me what’s the difference from a child and an adult. Does acting like the former get results”. It was definitely one of my favorites from the entire night. This song showcases interesting lyrics about aging and meeting someone. Unfortunately the bands vocals weren’t very audible live. I’m not sure how they came up with this name nor do I know how all these various ideas come together so seemingly effortlessly. But as Dopapod ripped through funk, rock and reggae they eventually landed on something I can very much dig, four on the floor beats. The dance heavy sections were nice but made me crave the heavy beats of The New Deal. They could be heavier. This along with vocals were the two things I noticed wanting to improve. The one point in the night where the vocals were clearly audible was when Eli’s organ wasn’t working. The band decided to let guitarist Rob Compa perform a solo version of Carolina. In this moment it became obvious the extent he will go to keep a crowd happy. This funny tale of of a man and his woes kept us entertained while we waited for the members to rejoin. After a nice rendition of the flashback “Trapper Keeper” the band launched into their final song, “French Bowling”. Melodies drawing seemingly from a murder mystery paired with disco beats turned up a heavy ending that ended the set with a bang.
Excitement was high for UV Hippo and admittedly I knew quite a bit less about them going into this review. But as soon as they started, it was immediately apparent that they have built a solid fan base in Indianapolis. Whether it be from following alone or due to a later crowd, the dance floor grew considerably and a shift in focus occurred. It took me a little while to start feeling the band but five songs in the energy lifted off during “Tugboat”. This song rips through fast jazz, zappa-esque riffage, a pretty piano section, some bulgarian wedding music sounding stuff (WTF!) into too many more styles to name in one sentence. Overall I can feel huge influences from Phish and Umphrey’s McGee in this song. It has several parts that are fresh and what ensues is a live face melting mind bender. Nearing the end of this roughly 10 minute psychedelic climb, guitarist Russel Olmsted was was creating these ridiculously intense walls of sound. Acidic growls of wah, distortion, delay and chorus that had people screaming at the top of their lungs. His playing is clearly a highlight of hippo, but while Russel stays focused on entertaining the crowd with his guitar fireworks or subtle approaches, Bassist Brian Samuels is the glue that communicates ideas on stage.
UV Hippo reminds me that in the modern Jam world the technical aspect has become highly emphasized. There are certain points where I draw the line. When it’s too retentive or uptight, lacks soul or doesn’t seem to have too much thought, I can not enjoy it. Oddly.. the music of UV had more ups and downs than Dopapod for me. Often in the first half of the set I felt a bit cheesy. Maybe that’s just a difference in age and what I like. Of course it is. But then there were those moments of greatness, where they had the crowd completely in sync with them, and it was obvious this band will eventually be playing stadiums. Either way, I could see that the crowd was greatly enjoying themselves, but this one particular song bears too much in resemblance to another favorite I prefer by another band. Towards the end of “Swamp” an old friend started to tell me how he’d had a rough week and in that time, he had played 4 hours of UV Hippo. He said it helped him get through that day. It was at that exact moment that the feel good “it might make you feel better” lyrics from “Medicine” rang through the speakers. He smiled and said, “Like this”. Well I have to admit that it did make me feel better. Life is grand if you choose to make it that way and UV Hippo’s mission seems to be to perpetuate a positive vibe and focus on youthfully energetic grooves and good times. But the band isn’t just about happy hippie jams and certainly doesn’t waist time noodling around. Now I don’t want to keep repeating influences but “T1J” which followed is a complete homage to The New Deal. This is a great thing as we no longer have TND. This live version was even better than the version featured on the bands album “Square Pegs Round Holes” and took me back to progressive house of the late 90’s. The keyboard parts are tighter and drummer Joe Phillon can play dance beats with the best of them.
The last song I caught in the night was the ambitious “Broomhilda Suite”. Now this was a great ending to my night. It takes me back to the reason why I became such a huge jamband fan. The synth lines of keyboardist Dave Sanders project the listener into space flight that feels straight out of the 70’s. Broomhilda is elaborately composed like a labyrinth of riffs that you feel completely compelled by and calmly confused… but happy. Until the progressive edge sets in. Then everything takes the form of rage and rises into a piano section that seems lifted straight from the likes of scene of sorrow in a Tim Burton film. The song takes form like the witch the song is about. Somewhere towards the end it is apparent she’s riding her broom through a storm of doom before a triumphant ending returns to lift you and make you feel good. The way UV Hippo intended… to “walk away together hand in hand”. The most important thing I walked away with was knowing I’d just seen a great show that emphasized just how hard bands these days are willing to work and how high the bar has been raised in terms of effortlessly fusing various styles together to please a society that can be short on focus but generally just wants to have fun.
broken organ banter,
*Luke used a fake snow machine during the “snowflakes on the ground ” line. Rob told the crowd it was actually Chuck’s dandruff. During the “amputate” break, Rob said they’d have to get Chuck some head n shoulders shampoo
^Rob and Eli told that crowd that if they ate Chuck’s dandruff, they could absorb his power
%performed solo by Rob while Eli fixed his organ
#performed w/ out organ
Ultraviolet Hippopotamus Setlist:
Don’t Break your leg Jam>
Scar> Indiana Jam>