Review: Booster @ The Lazy Dog, Boulder – May 9, 2015

I’ve been following local instrumental funk/fusion monsters Booster for a little while now, for several reasons—and my list of reasons to keep following this amazing group keeps growing. First, I just wanted to go see what my former bandmates Alex Vouri (bass) and Mike Lehman (drums) were up to with their new trio, which also includes keyboardist Aaron Pettine. I already knew that Vouri was an astounding bassist, because we’d played together in The Pamlico Sound for a pretty good stretch, and he’d continued to amaze me all that time. Drummer Lehman hadn’t been a bandmate for nearly as long, but long enough: he was one of the best drummers I’d played with since coming to Colorado 16 years ago. And I’d heard enough of Aaron Pettine’s playing in different situations to know that here was a keyboardist to watch.

So, the first time I went to see Booster, it was about more than paying respects to former cohorts with whom I’d remained friends. In fact, it was mostly about “I’ll bet there’s a good chance these guys will blow me away.” I’d bet right: I walked into their little gig at the Laughing Goat, was pretty much immediately entranced, and though I had to get up really early the next day, I stayed. Couldn’t seem to tear myself away.

That was a couple of months ago, and I’d hoped to catch them again a lot sooner than I ended up doing—but it was totally worth the wait.

Booster just ended a brief hiatus from live performances (“The gap in our show schedule is intentional,” Alex had told me. “We need some time to write and record.”) last Saturday at the Lazy Dog (where they opened for local ska/reggae favorites Na’an Stop) with–how shall I put this?—a totally fucking awesome show. Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say. Their writing/recording break obviously paid off, in new compositions that delightfully subvert any preconceived ideas one may have of what a funk/fusion trio might, should or can do, and a more mature and precise tightness and groove than they’d had previously. They’d been great a couple of months earlier; Saturday they were transcendent. Transcendentally, deliciously funky, nasty, and brilliant.

The icing on this sonic layer cake came a few songs into the set, when trumpeter Les Miller (yet another former bandmate!) stepped up to join the Booster boys and finish out the set with them. All along, I’ve been especially impressed with the more unusual aspects of Booster’s musical persona: the way the bass takes the lead in large chunks of the material, stating melodies and weaving with the keys in contrapuntal and/or harmonic lines, which is not what one usually expects to hear from a bass guitar, especially while somehow never losing its bedrock bottom; the unexpected turns that the compositions take, to the point where sometimes you wonder if they’ve started a new song, only to find that you’re listening to another section of the same song; etc. But when they added Miller’s sound to the group, they really took the whole thing into a whole new galaxy of sound: what had been an exhilarating ride into the stratosphere started to feel very much like bona fide space travel, thanks in no small part to this great horn player’s obvious affinity with the great electric work of latter-day Miles Davis, and (I’m just guessing here, but am I right, Les?) probably a more than passing familiarity with Sun Ra’s Arkestra and other mind-blowing musical explorers of their ilk.

Booster calls their music “Funk/Fusion/Rocket Fuel”. I saved that for the end of this review, because first I wanted to try to describe, as closely as I could, what they mean by that. Hopefully I have, at least well enough to make people who haven’t heard them yet do what you should go do now: listen. And definitely, catch a live show. I haven’t had so much fun, listened with so much pleasure, or danced so hard in quite some time as I did Saturday night.

Booster plays the Upslope Brewery on May 28, and The Boulder Farmers Market Weds Night Beer Garden on June 17. For music, videos and more, visit their facebook

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