The Bridge live at the 8×10

The Bridge
August 16, 2006
8×10 Club Baltimore, MD

In Baltimore during the summer if you want to see live music on a Wednesday night there is only one place to go, and one band to see.  You make your way to Cross Street in Federal Hill, cruise down to the 8×10 Club and find a good spot close to the stage so you can catch The Bridge’s weekly set.  Over the past couple of years these residency shows have become a staple of the hot months.  These shows are a good measure of the growth of this band, as the size, shape, and make up of the crowd let it be known that the secret is out.  What once seemed to be a small intimate gathering of friends supporting their favorite local band has blossomed into a must see show, with people making the long trek downtown from many far reaching spots.  Wednesday nights are traditionally a tough night to fill a venue with live music, but people are ignoring the bleary-eyed work day that lies ahead of them as they will not make it back home until the wee hours of the morning as the Bridge routinely finish up their two hour plus long single set near 2am, and instead pack the Club until the last note has been played.

Where once on a Wednesday you could look around and seemingly know everyone in attendance, it is now packed wall-to-wall, floor to rafter with people.  It is easy to bump into any number of strangers through the course of the night who wish to proclaim the greatness and importance of this band.  Much like the tie-dye wearing, grey haired mullet sporting, middle age man dancing and flaying around as if he is trying to swat away a swarm if killer bees.  He is more than happy to share his feelings about the band with any one in his dance space, informing all those who care to listen how he did not go see any live music after Jerry Garcia died, but these guys have now brought him out of hiding.

This evenings show stayed true to the pattern they have established all summer, one long set mixed with a collection of reliable fan favorite songs, such as the opening “Good Rhythm”, a spattering of new songs (“Get Back Up”, “Bad Locomotive”) that provide a preview of their new CD (due to be released in November), and a tasty choice of covers that find the band reinventing and reinterpreting a wide range of songs that on this night included a Bob Dylan tune and Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman” among others.  They also opened their stage to a number of guests just as they have done all summer.  During a blistering version of the Allman Brothers Band “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, Matt Nichols from opening band Mozley Rose brought his southern-outlaw guitar sound to the stage after winning a coin flip against a band mate for the right to sit in with the Bridge.

Another addition to the stage is new sax man Patrick Rainey, who has just recently joined the band and brought a youthful exuberance to the band that seems to infect everyone as he bounces around the stage during the night with unbridled energy.  During old-school favorite “Agua Y Vida”, his slinky, salsa tinged blasts launched the band into realms they had previously never visited.

The platform from which these sonic blasts could lift-off from was built up by the backbone of the band, bassist Dave Markowitz, who because of the close, cramped quarters on stage spent much of the evening nestled into a back corner of the stage – building a strong foundation with his laid back demeanor upon which his rhythm section partner in crime, drummer Mike Gambone went to work over.

Gambone spent the evening trading licks with Baltimore drum-legend Mark St-Pierre, who sat in the entire night on percussion.  The sit-in was highlighted by a spirited drum duel during “Elizabeth Reed”.  St-Pierre even found time to trade places with Gambone later in the set and take a turn on drums, while Gambone moved to percussion.

It was during one of the first songs the Bridge ever wrote that the genius of St-Pierre was made clear to all that did not know.  “Pakalolo”, a live staple since the earliest days of the band, is based on a simple beat built up by Kenny Liner on beat-box and mandolin, underscored by Cris Jacobs’ guitar.  The song cascaded into an infectious groove that eventually moved into a call and response jam between St-Pierre and Liner.  St-Pierre laid down increasingly complex rhythms that Liner answered beat-box style.  Back and forth it went until St-Pierre dropped a beat that was beyond the scope of human recognition.  Liner started to answer, but quickly became tongue-tied and could not finish instead ending his turn with an appreciative laugh and a loud, “Oh my God!”

It is these moments that show Liner to be the personality of the band, the one to make a joke or say something to the crowd, the one who connects and parties during the show with fans off to the side of the stage.  He is for many the connection during the night, the one who tells the crowd what is going on whether it is serious or not.  On this evening he took time to wish a Happy Birthday to seemingly everyone one in the place, whether it was really their birthday or not.  His off-key warbling of the Talking Heads “Nothing but Flowers” during the encore was the most human moment of the night, a heartfelt moment which all can relate to.  Liner is unafraid to put himself out there, to connect with fans, much like he does during his beat-box solos which always draw some of the largest cheers on the night.  Tonight his solo was laced with a snippet of the Who’s “Baba O’Reily” and then moved into a new gem, “Clear Rock” played by Liner and Jacobs only, a poignant moment as they are the heart of the band.

The Bridge was formed as an acoustic duo by Liner and Jacobs and it is always a treat to see the two of them perform, to get a peak into the genesis of the band.  If Liner is the personality of the band, Jacobs is the soul – the driving force behind the Bridge.  For all the elements that make up this band, musically there is no larger part than Jacobs’ guitar.  His crisp, clear lines ring with a depth, emotion and an original creativity never heard before.  From the late 70’s Shakedown Street era Dead inspired lines during “Rosalita”, to the balls-out rocking during “Ain’t No Use”, to the delicate touches during “New Mistake”, he has quickly garnered (well deserved) acclaim as one of the hottest up and coming guitarists out there.  He directs songs and exploratory jams with his imaginative leads and the knowing glances and nods he spreads around.

It is easy to talk about how great a band is when they have made it and become “that band”, but it is much harder to talk about how great a band might be.  The Bridge makes it easy to speculate about their potential, as it is limitless.  Seeing the Bridge at one of their Wednesday night residency shows is a chance to be at the center of something special, to join in and take part every time they take the stage.  For all those in attendance who have seen the band grow, evolve and explode from small intimate gatherings to packed shows, this has always been our band, but we knew the secret would not last forever, and one day they will be your band as well, and you will be thankful when it is.