Hanging Chads: Live At Theo's

Mark Sabbatini By

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One of the few things most people agree on after the 2000 election is "Hanging Chads is a great name for a band.

Dave Barry lists it among his continuous suggestions such as "Low-Flow Toilets. Somebody at a Web site called Tuba City is one of many expressing interest. A new Illinois instrumental metal group has a handful of songs out (see website). But anything related to that election needs at least some dissenters, such as a writer at pitch.com who laments the saturation of "chad-beens.

Drummer Zach Meadows came up with the name on-the-fly when his North Carolina jam/funk quartet played their first gig at a local business party in 2003. It may not be original, nor is all their music - which includes covers from Mancini, Monk, Marley and Medeski - but they do a better job of turning a mishmash elements into a rewarding experience than those unfortunate Florida vote counters ever did.

The name associated with lengthy delays even fits the band, as they went a considerable time without playing after their initial get-together. Two live shows from early 2005 are now free at their Web site (www.datgeek.net/chads), each with enough strengths to make them worthwhile for those into a more rockish and less trippy tour of the MMW genre.

Much of the music may sound familiar on the surface, since songs like Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon, Bob Marley's "Stir It Up and the Grateful Dead's "Darkstar are part of this five-hour, 35-song MP3 collection. But the quartet, especially guitarist Jon Johndrow, performs lengthy and varied interpretations after getting beyond the hooks. It leans more toward the jam-and-dance crowd than high art, but with previous experience ranging from psychedelic rock to classic jazz the players get beyond mere immediate gratification.

Johndrow possesses elements of contemporary Scofield, plus some classic rock-era sonics, on laid- back originals such as "Good Friday Jam and "Ladder Day Saints. He also shows impressive awareness of his co-players with riffs and improvised flurries on more intense free-flowing originals such as "Marmalade Jam and "Ladder Day Saints.

Meadows at his best commands a fair amount of attention by emphasizing different parts of his kit in a manner more consistent with intelligent modernistic mainstream than indulgent rocker, although there's a fair amount of the latter as well. Saxophonist Brady Butler and bassist Dail Reed provide more textures than center stage moments, but stand apart from the mundane since they're based on what's happening instead of what's on the lead sheets.

Performances on cover tunes tend to be more predictable, but the band at least selects spirited songs from a range of composers and mixes them well among the original material.

The Feb. 25 is generally higher in sound quality than the relatively muffled March 25 show, but also more inconsistent. Neither has enough flaws to be a serious impediment.

These Hanging Chads aren't staking out new ground during these initial performances, but make the grade as a band worth a listen for their talent and fun factor. Not to mention it's still early in their evaluation process - like those Florida votes, one can indulge in optimistic future hopes.

Track listing

Feb. 25, 2005
Aqui Como Alla; Double Agent; Pipeline; Marmalade Jam; Darkstar; Witch Doctor; Baby Elephant Walk; Cissy Strut; Chameleon; Sands; Stir it up; Common Ground; Green Chimneys; Bubblehouse; GTTSNTTF; First Tube; Ladder Day Saints

March 25, 2005
Good Friday Jam; Double Agent; Alive Again; Witch Doctor; Baby Elephant Walk; Cissy Strut; Pipeline; Darkstar; Stir it up; Sasa; Chameleon; Sands; Green Chimneys; Common Ground; Aqui Como Alla; Bubblehouse; First Tube

Personnel: Jon Johndrow, guitars; Brady Butler, horns; Dail Reed, basses; Zach Meadows, drums and percussion


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