On this unseasonably cold spring night in New York City, I arrived ready to be warmed up by another quality outfit set to showcase their talent. In an effort to please his customers on this night, the owner of Brooklyn Bowl, boldly and politely asked the band if they wouldn’t mind pushing their start time back so that the New York City patrons could take in the conclusion of the nail-biting and decisive Game 7 of the New York Rangers Stanley Cup Playoff series. Proving to be a smart move, hordes of angst-filled faces had eyes glued on the riveting hockey game until the crowd erupted with euphoric pleasure after an important Rangers victory. With the patrons feeling fine and relishing the glorious win, it was an ideal setting for the headlining act to take stage and continue the party proper.
The extra time waiting for the gig to start did not alter the laidback and happy go lucky demeanor of the band. It was just another day at the office for the Ft. Lauderdale-based quintet consisting of Jeff Lloyd (guitars/vocals), Mike Garulli (guitars/vocals), Jim Wuest (keyboards/vocals), Justin Carney (bass/vocals) and Jamie Newitt (drums/vocals). With the reprieve, I was afforded some time to relax with Jeff backstage in the Bowl’s “Green Room” (actually wood-paneled walls surrounding comfortable red sofas). I would be remiss if I didn’t share what I imagine would be anyone’s first impression of Jeff: his shoulder-length flowing hair hides a youthful face that could perhaps pass for a high-schooler. He possesses more than strong resemblance to a famous athlete; let’s just say one that he’d have no problem posing as to sneak into the X-games if he ever desired to use his celebrity moniker. I asked Jeff about the genre-transcending aspect of the band, how the album “Swim Past Out the Sun”, released last October was received and what the future plans were for the young Florida—based group while Jeff, Mike and Joe bonded together living in upstate New York.
Jeff smiled throughout our conversation, clearly happy to be playing music and to a fan base he claims is growing. Once known as “the best group to not be signed yet”, I asked Jeff what he thought his biggest break was to date. He mentioned a list of quality festivals, including Bonarroo years ago when Phish finished their set while The Pets were still playing on another one, and the fans flocked over in droves. However, due to the style of music they play, their appearance on the 2012 Jam Cruise proved most resonant. After our time talking shop, it was evident why the band had become successful. Although Jeff had proven he has the chops, he remains modest, with less of an ego than one would expect from someone in his envious position. He clearly doesn’t obsess about fame and fortune, but rather simply wants to create original and diverse music with his friends on stage.
Collecting his thoughts for a moment, he leaned back on the sofa, only to bolt upright to calmly state, “Oh, and we may have some special surprises…should be cool.” On cue, trombonist Natalie Cressman entered (most notably known as part of Trey Anastasio Band’s horn section), who’s initial solo effort, “Unfolding”, is set to drop in August. Having seen Chainsaw Cressman live numerous times, including just 2 weeks prior at the Bowl with Kung Fu, I knew that many in the audience would be psyched for the addition of her horn to the mix. Quietly I watched two artists at work, Jeff and Natalie, in an element the average fan doesn’t see – introducing a song she has never heard before to be learned in less than five minutes, so that she may know the chord structure to best drop-in later with the improvisational jam. Jeff indicated her appearance was only the beginning, so I was left in anticipation. I was simply stoked to catch these guys and now there were epic sit-in players!
Having only been in existence since 2005, and despite being comprised of young guys, The Heavy Pets have already released 8 albums (4 studio and 4 live) which affords them a plethora of options from their diverse and plentiful catalog. Jeff shared the set list with me before the gig. I quickly scanned the short list of 8 songs on the paper and asked, “Set 1 or Set 2?” He grinned back, “That’s the show man.” I quickly understood and, as a fan of long jams, embraced the fact that this meant each song was set to average 10 minutes – a true improvisational dream.
Taking immediate charge, The Heavy Pets started in with the melodic and mellow reggae tune, “3AM”, a solid impetus for the crowd to immediately fall at the mercy of the Band’s groove, power and Lloyd’s smooth vocal delivery. Just as no particular genre can claim the Heavy Pets as its own, as it is vastly varied from song to song, no one in the band can claim the title of lead singer, as those duties alternate even within songs and some are sung by someone other than the songwriter. “Dew Point” proved to be an addictive, energetic and soulful tune sung by Jim Duest and accentuated by the occasional bass-slapping prowess of Justin Carney. Then the band changed genres for a third time for “Lazy Anna.” Although the crowd appeared to dig its bluesy guitar line and soulful sensibility, I grew tedious of it quickly, a bit too heavy handed with deep-blue’s riffs bookended by misplaced rapping. (I prefer to never have instrumental expression be overshadowed by rapping or “talking” – ever, but that may just be me.) Fortuitously, my auditory pleasure palace was quickly brought back into fold with the first surprise guest of the night. AlyKat, a young blonde singer with angelic pipes, belted out sweet melodies as the band continued to provide a solid groove around her in support. Aly, sister of Jamie Dewitt, proved with her “Anything But You” single from her new “Restored” EP release, that she is as sweet to listen to on the stereo as live.
Remaining intrigued thus far with varied sounds, genres, lead singers and alternating solos, the band introduced the first song of theirs I had ever heard. “Help You Help Me” is a slow old school funk dance session. The first chords capture you and you are down for the jam from then on. Cressman was introduced, as well as a bona fide sax master Mr. Mike Kammers. The tune clocked in at just under 13 minutes, with all afforded a solo and none as exploratory as Kammers. Set up dead center stage, he wasted no time in transfixing the crowd into a frenzy with his craft. In true jam band form, amidst building up to a final crescendo, Brooklyn Bowl regular and Lettuce guitarist extraordinaire, Adam Smirnoff suddenly appeared. Shmeens had stood next to meet me for six minutes, only to stroll on stage, melt some faces for an extended solo, and calmly walk back to his spot next to me on the railing. Although seemingly effortless by Adam, it was amazing to witness all the skill on stage during that number!
The Heavy Pets provide that light-hearted, yet deeply soulful and lengthy jams that most music lovers appreciate. For many, it was definitely provided the kind of groove that encourages heavy consumption of libations and flirting about the Bowl. It was apparent that the Bowl proved yet again to be a love fest for music and camaraderie facilitated by the inspiration of the sounds and vibes this band brought. I may still think of Perry Farrell when he sang, “We’d make great pets” but now I will remember these pets aren’t just Heavy – they’re great.
Lazy Anna ft. Alykat on vocals
Help Me Help You with Mike Kammers (sax), Natalie Cressman (trombone) and Adam Smirnoff (Lettuce) on guitar
So Thank you Music with Mike and Natalie
Encore: Jackie Bones