October 2006

The Jimmy Swift Band
October 20, 2006 The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto
Them They've Been Talkin’ About
by Sebastian Cook with photos by Roger Humbert

While there are plenty of worthy Canadian bands with interesting crossover potential, it would seem a sure thing that the Halifax-based Jimmy Swift Band is the only one that “can rock the metalheads one night and the ravers the next, even if both crowds would reject it if they knew about the other”; as my friend William sagely remarked towards the end of their packed and hopping Weight of the World CD release party at the Horseshoe.

Montreal DJ Scratch Bastid set the table with a fairly standard and familiar mix of funk, groove, hiphop and Top-40 fare. It was barely audible from the back of the Horseshoe, whose sonic shortcomings have always puzzled me given the caliber of music it hosts.

Finally, around 12:30, the JSB took the stage with a growling intro straight out of vintage Morphine; and a simple, “Peace from the East, we’re the JSB!” from guitarist & lead singer Craig Mercer. What followed was a 90-minute musical stream of consciousness that should have been required listening for every otherwise knowledgeable music fan who dismisses 'jam bands' strictly on the basis of association or stereotype.

The JSB began in metal-funk mode; then effortlessly and without skipping a beat shifted into a glam-rock groove with the quietly charismatic Mercer already dripping with sweat and leading the cryptic chorus of “Downtown has just begun.” He led the crowd in a mass toast, with the band shifting back into power-rock mode along the lines of Soundgarden’s classic album Badmotorfinger.

The second tune led off with a prog-funk volley that had the crowd buzzing, into the first sequence of the band’s signature “rocktronica” sound in which guitar reverb was brilliantly employed as a house-music kind of effect; along the lines of Kraftwerk or more recently Daft Punk. Mike MacDougall’s 7-string bass was unfortunately lost in the mix for the most part, but now and again shone through; he bears a striking resemblance, both physically and in playing persona, to Pocket Dwellers bass ace Gord “Jupiter” Shields.

The musical high point of the night for this veteran jam band concert-goer was the acid-jazz transition into the CD’s title track “Weight of the World”, which appropriately enough shares its name with a song from jam band royalty Widespread Panic. During this song, one fellow audience member felt the need to tell me that he was “about what sells” and that he didn’t think the JSB had enough hooks. In jam band vernacular, “Whatever, dude.”

“Running Through the Tall Grass” offered up a sequence for the true jam band ‘head, the grooves reminiscent of The Grateful Dead’s “Iko Iko”, “Only Women Bleed” by Alice Cooper and then a flashback to the glory days of the Allman Brothers. Shifting into yet more new territory “Medicine Chest”, with its audience-friendly refrain of “I like to smoke the high-grade,” and corresponding reggae-ska beat; this tune was inspired on the band’s hazy trip to Bermuda. During this song I was gently busted by one of the club’s security team for getting into the, ahem, spirit and thought, “This wouldn’t have happened at the Comfort Zone.”

Craig Mercer

Mike MacDougall

Aaron Collier

By this point I had stopped taking notes and was raving about the band with good friend and band manager Jay Cleary, whose NuFunk Concerts (www.nufunk.ca) has gained a reputation as one of this city’s most ear-to-the-ground promoters. Rarely had a conversation of ours over the past several months passed without a mention of the JSB, and as the Pink Floyd-esque encore faded to rapturous applause I thought, “That’s what he’s been talkin’ about.”

The band
Craig Mercer – lead guitar, vocals, effects
Mike MacDougall – bass
Aaron Collier – keyboards, effects
Nick Wombolt – drums, vocals


We welcome your comments and feedback
Sebastian Cook
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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