One hails from the East while the other has made its home in the West. The music of the former is described as "aggressive improvisational rock 'n' roll" while the latter, more reluctant to acquiesce to a single genre, has dubbed its sound as "reggadelic conceptual improv jam/intergalactic skank music."
Both are bands that have tasted success at a relatively early stage in their careers; both are in the midst of an extensive touring schedule, and neither plan on taking a breather anytime soon. They are RAQ and Green Lemon, part of the newest generation of jam bands, and they're coming to a venue near you — The Bank Nightclub and Concert Venue.
Some would assume that Burlington, Vermonters RAQ have it easy, coming from an area that made Phish live-music luminaries. But a pre-existing jam scene doesn't always equate to bigger crowds, nor are Burlington scenesters eager to accept just any new band, though it definitely helps if you're as talented and dynamic as RAQ.
Formed by bassist Jay Burwick and guitarist Chris Michetti, RAQ arrived at its current lineup with drummer Greg Stukey and keyboardist (and primary songwriter) Todd Stoops in 2002, their first national tour following shortly after. Time on the road, two albums, some encouraging media attention and plenty of practice later, the quartet's music has progressed from vaguely Phishy jams to an original melding of funky jazz, progressive stylings a la Frank Zappa, and plenty of hard, rockin' grooves.
"We have strong songwriting skills and within our compositions, we have the ability to be spontaneous and creative," Stukey says. Of course, putting on a good live show is desperately important, especially when the grassroots touring model is a given, and RAQ is doing its best to bring it, full on.
"The key is variety," says Stukey. "If you look at festivals like Bonnaroo, you understand that [the genre] is extremely diverse, and no one is really a 'jam band' in the traditional sense of the word. The idea is that, if you offer a lot of different things, with the key ingredient being spontaneity, anything can happen at any time."
Stukey says that RAQ gets most excited by the element of surprise: "Every show is different in its own way, which is great 'cause you never see the same show twice. Sure, we have a set list, but you never know where it's gonna take you.
"Playing off the excitement and energy of the crowd is also a huge element of the music, and knowing that people are getting into it and having a good time is ultimately satisfying."
With a vision of where they want to be in five years (selling out Madison Square Garden), RAQ is currently striving toward "becoming the best at what we do and making people happy," says Stukey. If the buzz is any indication, they're undoubtedly on the right track.
RAQ, Fri., Feb. 24, 8 p.m., $7 advance/$10 at the door.
Green Lemon's 2005 touring year should have been subtitled "A Series of Inconvenient and Sometimes Disastrous Events." While driving through a mountain town last April, the band's converted school bus collided with an 800-pound elk. Incessant auto problems followed, and a few breakdowns later, a "good Samaritan" who offered to help them instead ran off with the band's travel fund while they performed nearby.
Later that same tour, traveling back to their Colorado home base, the bus broke down yet again, and guitarist Steve Schaban's 21st birthday was celebrated at a truck stop while the band waited for a mechanic to come and make repairs.
In the face of all these spirit-deflating circumstances, though, the band has remained remarkably resilient. In fact, it's received enough positive recognition to more than willingly keep up the pace, and was one of 13 winners of the Relix Magazine Jam Off contest, performing the closing set at the winner's showcase concert in New York City in September.
Established in 1999 as a casual way for four Oklahoma City high school kids to share musical ideas and jams, Green Lemon eventually developed into a garage reggae-rock band of fresh musicians looking to have a good time. "We thought we'd maybe get a gig at a party or something," says drummer Chris Cox of these early days.
After graduation and some half-hearted attempts at college, Cox, guitarist Wayne Allen, bassist Jesse Fioravanti and keyboardist Jon Cordero quickly figured out that they enjoyed performing much more than having a "real job," and since the music scene in Oklahoma was far from thriving, they made a collective shift to Colorado, planting roots in Fort Collins in 2000. "We started making a serious attempt at becoming musicians," says Cox. "We were gigging regularly, living together, writing together and just really working on creating our own sound."
Green Lemon started touring in earnest in 2003, and released a self-titled debut later that year. Experimentation, the addition of Schaben in 2004, and a more thorough convergence of the members' various influences brought the band to its present sound, which fuses rolling, funkified rhythms with New Wave electronica, crunchy, Zeppelin-inspired drums and delightfully melodious vocals. "We really know how to hold a melody in the middle of a jam," says Cox. "We take it to a new level."
The band picked up the pace in 2005, playing almost 200 shows and visiting the Bay area four times in less than a year, the first show drawing barely a dozen, the last, nearly 90.
And Green Lemon is definitely looking forward to coming back to The Bank. "Bill is one of our favorite people to work with," Cox enthuses, speaking of Bank owner Bill Hillman. "He's just really genuine and he seems like he really wants to see this scene go somewhere." Hopefully, with a little help from Green Lemon, it will.