An Improved Vibration of the Atmosphere: The Van Meyers Live at Calapooia Brewing

photo(4)A self styled “atmospheric trip to the edge of philosophical musical renditions,” the Van Meyers took to the stage Saturday night at the Calapoolia Brewery, in Albany. Core members Kevin Van Walk on percussion and Doug Meyers on guitar were joined onstage by trumpeter/keyboardist Rob Birdwell and guitarist/lyricist John Campbell.

The show began almost imperceptibly, like the first amphibian tentatively rising out of the primordial morass to explore land. Rob’s keyboard oozed ethereal tones, to which Doug sparsely interspersed slow, lingering notes. John and Kevin drifted into position, contributing aural layers to the evolving soundscape, as Rob began deliberately piercing the veil with his horn.

John soon added lyrics, evoking, among other things, his favorite Chinese character. His deep baritone melted into the soundscape as an almost instrumental accompaniment. The song soon evolved into something new, Doug’s grooving riff enveloping Kevin, eyes closed, body rhythmically swaying as he tapped out complex percussion. Rob filled open spaces with his horn, and John joined in, rounding out the sonic electricity with his guitar.

With the wide eyed enthusiasm of a kid playing with favorite toys, Kevin, ever the percussive chameleon, instinctively plucked from a panoply of percussion instruments piled beside him, each new toy atheistically altering the tenor of the backbeat, while his aural co-conspirators grooved along fearlessly. He alternated, seemingly on a whim, between using sticks, mallets, brushes or his hands to pound out the groove, at one point slowly dragging a drumstick along the surface of his cymbal, evoking an eerie, otherworldly effect.

There were no “songs” per se, more of a metaphysical teleportation between musical themes. Often impossible to know where one ended and another began, the groovy, harmonious vibrations were somewhat reminiscent of the longform “Space” jams the Grateful Dead often delved into mid-set, where all musical rules and boundaries were set aside, musicians melodically altering the atmosphere.

There was no net, nor did they need one. Some people won’t “get it”, too attached they are to pop hooks, recognizable themes and traditional musical mores.

Mid-set, Rob turned on a drum machine, and the guys responded accordingly, dancing melodies around, between and beyond the structured beat. Divided more into segments than songs, one of the last pieces of the night had an almost pop jazz structure, more upbeat, with a faster tempo and distinct melody.

The show ended much as it began, with the players putting down their instruments one by one, John walking away from the stage still playing a kazoo, Rob’s keyboard automatically reverberating final phrases, as Kevin tapped slowly on a hand held cymbal, like a Chinese gong, until the last note reverberated effortlessly into the ether, and all our ears could hear was air.

Want to catch The Van Meyers live? Sat Sept 28th at Calapooia Brewery, 8pm, with possible guests Mark France (on guitar) and Dave Trenkel (on bass). Or visit their facebook at the following link:

By Seth Aronson