Ten Years On: Garaj Mahal at Bear Creek 11.12.10

One of the top draws at Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival 2010 at the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park was the opportunity to hear Garaj Mahal perform — twice. Their first set was in the Music Hall on Thursday evening, November 11, and it was superb. The next afternoon, they played the Purple Hat Tent, a huge improvement over he tent from 2009. The music source provided here is from inveterate taper Steve Bazley on archive.org. The show was also recorded by DigitalSoundboard.net and sold during the festival (of course I have it!).

Garaj Mahal 2010

Since the group’s outstanding 2008 album w00t, there was a personnel change. Alan Hertz left the band and was replaced by Sean Rickman, who did play on the 2010 album more mr. nice guy. Rickman played drums and sang. Fareed Haque was on guitar and vocals, Kai Eckhardt on bass and vocals, and Eric Levy on keyboards.

 

[Introduction, Never Give Up, Hindi Gumbo, Today, Ishmael & Isaac, Our Rules, Semos, Some Rules Were Meant To Be Broken, Jamie’s Jam, Paladin]

 

To this day, ten years later, this Garaj Mahal set, all 100 minutes of it, remains one of the greatest musical performances of my experience. From the instant they slammed into Eckhard’s “Never Give Up,” is was obvious this was going to be otherworldly. Haque’s guitar attack, paired with Eckhard’s romping bass, was brilliant. Levy sounded magnificent on electric piano. Importantly, Rickman demonstrated that he was the right man for the job taking over Hertz’s place at kit. Haque crushed his solo, so many great ideas pouring out. Rickman had a nice feature near the end, and Levy had switched to organ.

Garaj Mahal 2010

Eckhard said, “Thank you! This is Garaj Mahal!” Levy was still on organ as they began “Hindi Gumbo,” a Haque tune from Mondo Garaj, with Haque adding asides before Levy took the Hammond B3 out for a spin as Eckhardt and Rickman played complex rhythms in support. Haque’s solo (well, ALL of them) was incredible; not sure when he used his Moog guitar; they all sounded great. They featured Rickman again, and it was great.

“Today” was a new song featuring Rickman’s smooth vocals while he drove a steady beat. This was a great mix of jazz and R&B. Levy gave the synths a whirl. Haque’s solo was definitely with the Moog guitar. This was the shortest song of the set; five of them were ten minutes or more.

“Ishmael & Isaac” is a song from w00t that begins like a Jewish hymn. The intricacies of this are, well, pure Garaj Mahal. There are certainly notes of Zappa here as well. Levy on synths battled Haque and Eckhardt in a superb display. Eckhardt introduced the band and said, “We’ve got some more for you.” Then Haque barked, “It’s 5/4 time!” That would resurface shortly.

Garaj Mahal 2010

“Our Rules” is another Rickman vocal feature, another fine song. At the end, a discussion mounted about whether the song was in 5/4 time (Haque’s contention) or in 4/4, as Eckhardt espoused. Print cannot do it justice; listen for yourself!

“Semos” had been in their catalogue for years but finally made it to record on w00t. Levy is on electric piano. The uplifting groove of this song is captivating. Haque goes stratosphere with his inventions before Levy launches on electric piano with that great fat tone before switching to synthesizer. Or is that Moog guitar? Seriously.

Eckhardt explained that “Some Rules Were Meant To Be Broken” was about adjusting to family and relationship dynamics before offering up this tender ballad. The buildup to the song is perfection, a funk-driven grove with Rickman all over the cymbals. Levy on organ and Haque on Moog guitar trade back and forth with a deep groove underneath from Rickman and Eckhardt, whose bass lines are sick, sick, sick.

The song listed as “The Long Form” is, in fact, “Jamie’s Jam,” a song that appeared on w00t. It begins with a mellow guitar intro before Haque speed-shifts into fifth gear. At 3:20, the band jumps in. Pairing their virtuoso performances with their incredibly high arrangements yields a true force of nature. Levy takes off on organ first, then Haque. He explains that the song was name for a jam he wrote with Jamie Janover, a great percussionist who was there in front of the stage.

They finished the afternoon with Levy’s “Paladin” from their 2005 album Blueberry Cave. Levy started on electric piano. The groove of this song is remarkable. Rickman’s percussive work here is spectacular, and Eckhardt is… well, there’s only one of him, and he’s it. Haque’s work here is very jazzy, just magnificent. Levy switches to organ, and Rickman has one last great feature while Levy and Eckhardt vamp. Levy returns on electric piano to put the finishing touches on his song.

Oh, man. Glad I was there!

 

EPILOGUE

As a tireless autograph hound, I sought out Haque and Eckhardt after the set to get them to autograph more mr. nice guy and Flat by Fareed Haque + The Flat Earth Ensemble. I poured the normal amount of profusive     praise and said, “Please come back to Florida soon.” Haque said, “Oh, we definitely will.”

And, early in 2011, they went on a loooooong hiatus. So thankful they reformed n 2018. Their set at Suwannee Hulaween 2018 was spectacular:

 

SUWANNEE HULAWEEN 2018

The overwhelming majority of folks were heading to the Meadow for the night’s final set there, Odesza. But Garaj Mahal was about to begin on Spirit Lake. I’ve written a good bit about this amazing band and why this was my must-see performance (other than Jamiroquai). The last time they played at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park was at Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival 2010. They played the Music Hall November 11 and then the big tent in the meadow the following day. And the band disbanded/went on hiatus early in 2011; they performed for the first time since the breakup last summer and then again in May in Colorado, so this was a truly significant event.

How did they open after saying hello? With “Never Give Up” and “Hindi Gumbo,” the first two songs from that final Bear Creek set. It was magical. Fareed Haque was brilliant on guitar, joined by equally amazing Kai Eckhardt on bass. With them were two new cats, and both of them helped blow this set sky-high. Keyboard wizard Osam Ezzeldin was astounding on electric piano (in addition to his organ and synths), and drummer Dana Hawkins was spot on.

Next they grabbed another tune from that Bear Creek setlist, “Semos.” I think Haque was playing his Moog guitar at least part of the time. AB FAB. Haque then dedicated “Breathe” to Roger Waters. This was a brooding take on the song; it was OK but no match for the band’s original music. They roared back with another original. Told they had a few minutes left, the quartet put heads together and came up with a terse reading of “Paladin,” not coincidentally the LAST song they had played at Bear Creek.

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