EGYPT HITS THEIR GROOVE AT JAMMIN’ JAVA
It isn’t often anymore that I go to concerts without expectations. I usually know all the music, a lot of the musicians, and have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to see that night in the live show. Much of what we see on tour these days is formulaic. It’s not that the music isn’t good, but it’s mostly predictable. Everything from load in to load out is scheduled. I’ve always felt that music isn’t at its best in a managed environment. Musicians need creative space and the music needs free reign to become what it will in that moment. If it’s not an experience, it may as well be a recording. Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia, is an unusual venue for live music. It’s located in a strip mall without any indication of what’s inside. You could easily pass by and think of it as nothing more than a neighborhood coffee house. Their tag line says “Music + Community Est. 2001.” The Brindley Brothers – Daniel, Jonathan, and Luke, are musicians and music lovers who bought the business with their passion and philosophy in mind. Their mission statement declares their intent to offer “the best live music and the finest concert experience in an all-ages community environment.” This was my second show at this venue and both times I left with the feeling I’d just witnessed something unique. On this night, my Jammin’ Java experience would be courtesy of Egypt’s Reunion show.
A reunion show indicates going back to something you’ve seen before. I hadn’t even heard of this band before interviewing a Nashville drummer. He’d spent some time playing with them years earlier, prior to moving to Nashville and landing a country gig. These guys don’t play together regularly anymore. They reunite on occasion for fun, their fans, and love of the music. I’d heard from more than one local source that they were extraordinary and their music was a force to be reckoned with. “Mind-blowing” and “ear-splitting” were two phrases used to describe them. Sounds like my kind of night! Two opening acts were on the bill for this show and I hadn’t heard of them either. This was going to be uncharted territory for me. I didn’t know the musicians, the music, or even what genre you’d classify these guys under. What was going to happen on the stage that night was as much a mystery as what lay behind Jammin’ Java’s front door to an unsuspecting patron. There’s something to be said for having a completely open mind when you’re listening to music. Freedom of expression in its highest form is music without the mind’s limitations.
The first opening act was a trio that hasn’t played together a lot made up of three local musicians – Wally Worsley (lead singer, guitarist), Mike Tony Echols (bass), and Deren Blessman (drums). What struck me immediately was the way they settled into a groove and looked comfortable with each other on stage. People don’t always think of musicians as professionals, but clearly, I was listening to three who have rock solid credentials. It’s one thing to be asked to play something solo. It’s quite another to play a set after a single rehearsal and sound like you jam together nightly. Their music had an edged groove that told me it was going somewhere harder and faster. When it did, I wanted to move along with it. It was ease meets exhilaration through instrumentation. They warmed up the room perfectly and set the stage for what was to come……Hot Buttered Elvis. Yes, you read that correctly. When listening to a band with such a colorful name, it’s best not to have any idea of what you’re about to hear. Liken it to Alice in Wonderland falling through the rabbit hole. When she hit bottom, she discovered things labeled “eat me” and “drink me,” not knowing what would happen when she did. Fast forward to the tea party and let’s just say The Beatles have been hired as entertainment. They begin playing their classic hit, “Come Together,” and suddenly Metallica shows up and crashes the scene. Not wanting to cede their gig, the two bands engage in a psychedelic musical tug of war. Sharing the stage, you now have an understanding of the music of Hot Buttered Elvis. Open your mind and enjoy the ride! The probability of this band sounding like anyone else is zero. They are an entertaining experience that must be seen to be appreciated.
Put simply, Egypt is music as it should be. Their prime goes back 20 years to a time when music was an organic creation – uninhibited and uncensored. Bands formed amidst a diversity of influences and emerging genres. When allowed to develop freely, music drew breath from the souls of its creators without regard for the boundaries the music industry may wish to impose. I don’t have the background on the formation of this band to know when or how they came together. The four members who took the stage at Jammin’ Java are Jeff Brodnax (lead vocals), Joe Lawlor (lead guitar), Andy Waldeck (bass), and Kevin Murphy (drums). They’ve all gone on to do different things musically, but on this night, they were totally in sync, and watching them perform took me back to an inventive time in our music history.
Each one of these band members is an outstanding musician in their own right. What they contribute individually is staggering in scope. Together, they’re a musical force. As much as I tried to focus on them individually, that only lasted for short bursts of time. The sound of the whole kept pulling me in to the experience that IS Egypt. I got the feeling from the moment they started playing that not even they knew where the music would lead. One of their songs is called “Flow” and the lyrics describe perfectly their musical philosophy: “Get up and go with the flow if you know what you feel and you feel that it’s real. Your heart will tell you so. Get up and go with the flow if you know what you feel and you feel that it’s real. It’s time to touch my soul.” Standing in the audience, I felt the music, rock at its core, grab me with the intensity of a summer sun and move me with its groove like a strong, steady wind. “Sun & Wind” gives you the feel of Egypt’s music in a single song. With a funk groove and a powerful rock beat, this music is intent on moving you inside and out.
Looking at the creators of this music, it wasn’t hard to see how it became such a force. Jeff Brodnax is a vocal performer. He doesn’t merely deliver the lyrics through his sublime vocal chords; he puts his entire being into it. His voice is like honey with a hint of a sting. Just when you get used to enjoying its sweetness, ouch! But what sweet pain! He commands the stage with his presence, his voice, and his engagement with the other musicians. I haven’t seen a lead singer jump around in quite some time. Lost in the moment of the music, he would literally leap into the lyric. Jeff is a front man as they were intended to be. Joe Lawlor seems the quietest of the bunch to me, until you put a guitar in his hands. Joe impresses me as one of those guys who would sit idly by as everyone else in the room was showing off their skills. When it was his turn, he’d get up, drop a Hendrix like performance, and leave quietly. #nuffsaid. Egypt’s music is all about big guitars, big beats, big statement. Joe doesn’t have a big, over the top style. He lays it down to the point you find yourself staring at the guitar trying to figure out how he’s making all that come out of it. I might have said, “damn!,” more than a few times watching him play. This music comes alive on the strings of a big guitar and Joe is beyond capable of keeping it alive throughout the performance. Energetically, this is no small task!
I have to be honest. I don’t notice a lot of bass players. Perhaps that’s because country music doesn’t give it much of a platform. Andy Waldeck I noticed. Andy is a bass playing personality unlike any I’ve seen. Typically, I find bass players to be laid back. Not here. Andy had worked up a sweat by the end of the second song, and he was just getting started. The music supports some aggressive bass playing and Andy was more than up to the task. His musicianship and energetic style of play cannot be denied on the stage and adds an unusual spark to the live show. Give this man a bass solo and step back. Sparks will fly! I’d only seen Kevin Murphy play drums, prior to this show, with a country band. In that genre, drummers don’t have a lot of space to be creative because the songs and the headliners don’t often support it. Rock drummers tend to be more flamboyant with their style of play as the music lends opportunities and their personalities become part of the show. In this setting, Egypt’s music was a playground for Kevin’s abilities and his drum character to shine. A certain strength and energy are necessary to carry Egypt’s music to its full potential and Kevin’s role was to provide that. When the music hit that perfect groove, Kevin created feeling in just the right spot, putting an ebb and flow in its movement. When a drummer gets lost in the music, you know something exceptional is happening. The music you’re listening to may never feel like that again. THIS is live music at its best.
Jammin’ Java has created a concert space with an ideology behind it that allows for freedom of expression in musical form. They believe in “taking care of the artist first and letting everything else fall into place.” This was the perfect venue for Egypt to showcase their music. They brought the musicians, the instruments, and the music. When they put it together on the stage, it became a once in a lifetime experience. Watching these guys play was like witnessing them create something in the moment. They took the basics and let the music develop between them, playing off one another for energy and inspiration. For me, this wasn’t as much a reunion as it was a retrospective on how music used to be made and performed. The soul isn’t linked to what sells on iTunes and great music isn’t made with that in mind. It becomes great because it means something to the musicians who created it and to the people who hear it. “Sun & Wind” is off Egypt’s 1996 album, Soul Hammer. The recorded version is nearly eight minutes long. Most kids these days don’t have an attention span that long. Radio wouldn’t play it because of its length, and record labels would never allow its production. In the classic rock era, songs of this length were not uncommon. “Stairway To Heaven,” at 7:55 in length, is one of the greatest rock songs of all time. It was the most requested song on FM radio in the 1970s despite NEVER having been released as a single. Great music finds its way to the listeners and endures the test of time. Thank you, Egypt, for a night of truly great music. “Sun & Wind” forever….
Download “Sun & Wind” through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sun-wind/id397305195?i=397305396
Special thanks to Terry Harrison and Rainier Homoroc for allowing me to use their photos from the event.
The video of Wally Worsley, Mike Tony Echols, and Deren Blessman was courtesy of Jeni Blessman.
Download Egypt’s Soul Hammer through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/soul-hammer/id397305195
Download Egypt’s Drowning In The Promised Land through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/drowning-in-the-promised-land/id397276845
Visit Hot Buttered Elvis’ website: http://hotbutteredelvis.com/
Visit Wally Worsley’s website: http://www.wallyworsley.com/
Visit Mike Tony Echols Facebook page for contact info: https://www.facebook.com/mike.t.echols?fref=ts
Visit Deren Blessman’s Facebook page for contact info: https://www.facebook.com/deren.blessman
Check out what’s happening at Jammin’ Java: http://jamminjava.com/
Egypt’s next reunion show is at Jammin’ Java on December 26.
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