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Friday, August 28

Review and Photos - Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit - The Howard Theatre - Washington, DC - August 14, 2015

Two words come to mind when Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit are brought up: weird and masterful. This is a band that takes both humor and music very seriously. Their fearless leader, known as the Colonel or Colonel Bruce Hampton, originally brought together a group of talented young musicians in the early 1990s and led them with a simple motto: wrong is right. The band was encouraged to experiment, to really reach outside of their comfort zone. Between this experimentation and the wry, quirky sense of humor they all had in common, the band carved its own niche role in the rise of the “jam band.” A dedicated group of fans formed around Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Unit, connecting through the weirdness and eccentricity that these unique artists brought to the stage. For the first time in almost ten years, the band has reunited for a full tour this summer, and the young musicians taken in by the Colonel have now blossomed into their own voices. 
They have taken what they learned under his wing and applied it to their various outside projects, and now they have come back to their roots with a renewed vigor.
The band wasted no time busting out some serious soul in “Black Bottom.” In between ripping solos from Jimmy Herring and Matt Slocum, the band showed flawless dynamics, and Col. Bruce rang out the blues. After getting a little weird with “Elevator To The Moon,” it was time to dig deep into jazz territory with “Basically Frightened.” Jimmy shredded out a monster solo to open up the bluesy “Another Man Done Gone,” followed by a lengthy solo from the Colonel himself! Here is where Jimmy really began to stretch his wings. “Give Thanks To Chank” had him all over the spectrum, aided by the driving build of drummer Jeff Sipe. “Chank” gave way to a funky “Space Is The Place,” and then we got our first mouthful of the one and only Oteil Burbidge, who broke out into a jazz plucking intro to “The Dragon.” Story time again, as the Colonel brought us back to “1911” and Jimmy scrambled our brains, followed by some psychedelic clavinet tones from Slocum. A classic “Yield Not To Temptation” closed out a fantastic first set.
The band returned to the stage with a jubilant “Isles of Langerhan,” before bringing some laid back funk in “My Brother’s House.” The quintet kicked up the groove into their second set stride with “Time Flack,” featuring jazzy chord work. Jimmy Herring rocked out a quick but shredding solo after the first verse, and then we were treated to a quick bass solo from Oteil, followed by an incredible drum solo from Sipe. Slocum took a turn soloing to bring us back around as the crowd roared. Oteil led the intro to “Rampage” with a killer bass groove, and the whole crowd danced their asses off. Slocum spat out another psychedelic clavinet solo like nothing I’ve ever heard, and then Jimmy brought the song up to a raging peak. A classic cover of “Good Morning Little School Girl” gave the Colonel a chance for some vocal fun, followed by some epic jazz in “Time Is Free.” The band truly dug deep and branched out in this one, creating an intense emotion of sonic exploration among the audience. Sticking with the jazz theme, “Jazz Bank” brought out an old-school type of feel, as Col. Bruce got into his quirky storytelling mode. A fast-paced “Compared To What,” reminiscent of ‘70s soul led into a dark, dissonant jam, followed by a dynamic “Davy Crockett,” featuring some fast finger work from Oteil in a jazzy solo section, to finish off the second set. After some kind words from the band, they came out with an encore of “Phantom On The Curb,” bringing some serious funk to end the night on a high note.
It is truly encouraging to see how much this group has evolved, while keeping true to their roots. Each of the individual musicians in the group have grown and matured to epic proportions, making the chemistry and musicality of the group more palpable than ever. Each of their respective careers have over 20 years of touring and musical experimentation under their belts, and it shines brightest with this amazing band back together again. It is amazing to watch the smiles on all of their faces. It is clear they are all on top of the world as they work through an incredible reunion tour. As the crowd filtered out of the Howard Theatre, the excitement in the air was invaluable, as if every single person left that building enlightened. Old friends and new friends chattered eagerly about the evening and how fortunate we are to be able to experience this incredible reunion tour. Overall, if I could give the show three thumbs up and six stars, I would. Their semi-contradictory method of utilizing seriously masterful musicality, without taking their time on the stage too seriously, makes for a one of a kind live music experience that cannot be experienced with any other band. Let us now hope beyond hope for more future dates.
Photos and Words: Randy Harris
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