Dynamo: A Breath of Fresh Air
Show Review 2.14.15 at Blue Fox Billiards in Winchester, VA
written and photographed by Taco Olmstead
Dynamo by definition is a machine for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy; a generator. In the case of Dynamo the band, they are not only generating energy, but an intense, electrifying breath of fresh air. Not often does a band completely blow me away and manage to appeal to all of my musical appetites. To be honest, prior to their live show I hadn’t heard a single note of their music. When Winchester, VA promoter Michael Perdew reached out and told me I had to see this band play, on Valentine’s Day, which for Elise and I is an Umphrey’s McGee holiday tradition, I passively swept the idea aside. As the show approached, again Michael reached out to me. I reminded myself that it is my business to support local music venues and the bands relative to the jam scene that they book. Obligation won out, but I’d prefer to call it fate, as I had no idea what was about to occur at Blue Fox Billiards on a cold, snowy Valentines night.
First off, getting to the venue was a feat in and of itself. Only an inch of snow had fallen but it was followed with sub zero wind chills and blustery gales exceeding fifty miles per hour. This inevitably causes icing. When a two thousand pound vehicle drives across snow, the pressure creates heat and momentarily will change the snow back to a liquid state. When followed up with high intensity sub zero winds, you are left with a sheet of ice. Leaving our neighborhood had us stuck at a stop sign with four wheels spinning. Our driver and resident artist, Mack Johnson sheepishly grinned at me saying all that needed to be said in the wariness of his smile. We continued on after finally finding traction and what would normally be a thirty minute trip turned into an hour and a half journey through an icy wasteland of stranded travelers and the steady wailing of emergency vehicles.
When we arrived at our destination we were only able to catch the last ten minutes of the opener Sono Lumini. What I heard was a diamond in the rough and I was intrigued–intrigued enough to make contact and plan out a future review.
Dynamo then began to take the stage and assemble their instruments. The crowd, all of whom were also virgins to the Dynamo experience, eagerly buzzed about what they had heard of the band. I noticed a not often seen guitar being prepped by Dynamo guitarist John Murphy. My affinity for hollow body guitars goes back decades so I had to ask as I hadn’t seen a guitar quite like it. It turned out that it was a Fender thin line telecaster. However, it was a semi hollow body with a Warmoth “tele” neck (couldn’t tell the scale conversion) with a set of Lollar Imperial Humbucker pickups. I was now thoroughly intrigued.
The band led off with an original tune called “Pride”. The horn section settled me in and when the vocals kicked in, I was more than slightly taken aback. The band continued to transcend what would be considered “jam music” and continued to impress through to the second original, “Dangerous Woman”. Here, the vocals decidedly impressed me as the vocals were not only rich and ranged but smart. Too often vocalists reach and push too much, leaving the listener fatigued. This was not the case with the vocal stylings of Dain Ussery. His voice was soft as needed but retained power when prompted. Dain also saw the angles, he knew when to slip back to the back of the stage when the band would move into a jam.
After playing a fourth original, “Captain Chuck’s”, the band then threw out a curveball cover, “Put Your Records On” of English soul singer-songwriter fame Corrin Bailey Rae. This is why I see live music, for moments like these, when a band decides to play a cover that so perfectly sums up the energy of the moment. The band had no formal set list, but rather felt as if pianist Ryan Connors was the conductor of a swing band.
The most amazing aspect of this band was the range of genre. From funk, to soul, to rock, to rhythm and blues, each moment of melody and improvisation was played with a precision and tenacity while consistently adhering to the energy reflected by the crowd. Rarely have I seen a band so keenly interact with the crowd and play with such a synergy. From the moody saxophone stylings of Kevin Gatzke, to the frenetic trumpeting Winchester native Andrew Golden, the thick veneer laid down by the trombone and keys of Josh Blaylock, the pedantic drumming of Nate Felty and the ever present pocket bass from Kevin Gift Jr., Dynamo lived up to their namesake. Did I mention John Murphy on guitar?
They finally let the guitar go! At one point in the show the band finally let that Fender Telecaster wail and John masterfully played through. Again, the playing and tone was so clean, unencumbered by the effects we have grown so accustomed to in the jam scene and so wonderfully void of them in his solo. If face melting guitar work are what you yearn for, look no further than John Murphy as he consistently delivered licks and fills throughout the night, constantly teasing the listener until he rained down with a thunder from the gods leaving any guitar enthusiasts mouth fully agape and jaw on the floor.
The band played through four originals, “Scurlock”, “Try”, “Drop Yo Rock” and closed the show out with “Find Your Way”. All moody originals with enough to take your sway and rock it into a full blown boogie! I hated to see the show end and evidently, so did the rest of the room as it burst into cheers and chants for just “one more song”! The band then returned to the stage for a hard driving and soulful rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. Again, a fitting encore considering the serendipity of the evening. This was a show I was supposed to have missed. I was supposed to be at an Umphrey’s McGee show with TAUK! I can assure you of this, there was not an ounce of regret in my body and honestly, I felt pity for those who were missing out on a show of this caliber and intimacy.
So next time you see Dynamo on a bill, cancel your plans if you have any. Sell your tickets to whatever show you think you were going to attend. Call all of your friends, blast it out on your Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr… You’re going to see Dynamo!