Two thoughts occurred to me as I watched local jam quintet Olympus Mons rock Café Monmarte last weekend with (mainly) original material for nearly two hours: 1) This is really, really good music; and 2) I can’t believe I’m letting myself think that about a jam band.
You see, it had been a little while since I had heard a jam band that I really enjoyed, and I had reached a point where I was pretty much resigned to giving up on the genre as a whole. I remember first hearing Widespread Panic about five years ago and thinking that, after years of not understanding why in the hell anyone would enjoy bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead (or would play Touch of Gray in the carpool on the way to school … on repeat … every day), I could finally see the good in jam rock. I remember finally understanding how the genre’s signature reliance on solos could fit into a song without becoming more central to the sound than the song itself. But since that point, my appreciation for jam bands really hadn’t spread.
Olympus Mons has gotten me interested all over again. The band — which is made up of lead vocalist and guitarist Justin Scheck, lead guitarist and backup vocalist Greg Hayes, rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Will Bulka, bassist David Polsky and drummer and backup vocalist Ben Huey — unlike most of its contemporaries, seems to collectively appreciate that their sound (as did all other forms of rock) began in small blues and jazz clubs with musicians riffing for the sake of the song, not just for the sake of riffing.
Perhaps it is the diverse list of influences that Olympus Mons cites as its inspirations that allows it to escape common jam-band pitfalls. The Grateful Dead and Phish are part of the list — and to be sure, those two bands’ influences can be heard. But the list also includes solid rock acts such as Radiohead, Wilco, Beck, Ween and the Strokes, making the sound difficult to pigeonhole, other than the certainty that it is rock at its jazzy, bluesy, energetic best.
Refusing to take one genre and stick with it also seems to allow Olympus Mons to switch sounds seamlessly from one song to the next and from one verse to the next. “Never Again” and “City Machine,” for instance, are straight-ahead rockers; yet they manage to not sound out of place when contrasted with the folkier sentiments expressed in “Paper Cups” and “Graveyard Dancers.”
Olympus Mons plays tonight at 10:30 at Pizzeria Uno’s (222 W. Gorham — ages 18 and up). Whether you’re a jam lover, a rock lover or just want to enjoy an evening of great live music, it’s not a show to be missed.