None of the members of young, West Palm Beach-based quartet Guavatron (www.guavatron.com) are old enough to remember when the original “jam bands” started out in the late 1960s, long before that term was ever coined.
That’s when the California-spawned Grateful Dead, Georgia act the Allman Brothers Band, and British bands like Cream and Pink Floyd colored outside of the standard blues-based rock lines — often by adding the odd time signatures and improvisational nuances of jazz — to create long-form pieces, especially during live performances.
Many of the combined influences for Guavatron (vocalist/guitarist Adonis Frangiskakis, keyboardist Rodney Hansen, bassist Conor Crookham, and drummer/vocalist Casey Luden) hearken from the modern, next-generation “jam bands” that helped to create the term in the 1990s, with the major inspiration of those Woodstock-era acts. The quartet even has self-described musical terms, like “jamtronica” and “funktronica,” to explain its hybrid sound.
Together for nearly 10 years, Guavatron’s roots stem from the band members’ school days at G-Star School of the Arts in Palm Springs. A self-titled debut EP, full-length recording, Momentous, and several live download recordings later, the group withstood a seismic shift when original drummer Nate Largent (of area reggae band The Resolvers) left several years back. Rather than panic, the quintet looked within, and reduced to a quartet when the versatile Luden moved from his original position as a second guitarist to behind the drum kit.
“Nate’s a great drummer,” Luden says after a July 20 Guavatron show at Guanabanas in Jupiter, “and he was playing with The Resolvers while he played with us. But we were trying a little more of an improvisational approach, and having fun this way, which wasn’t exactly his thing.”
Luden and Crookham are a formidable, groove-oriented rhythm section, coaxing out the audience members who are the dead giveaways of a jam band show — undulating young women of all varieties, and white guys who move up front and writhe in place, feet usually landlocked. And they were all on display at Guanabanas, where the band segued between a variety of infectious, danceable grooves — predominantly without pause — for two consecutive hours.
“Let’s have a dance party!” Frangiskakis shouted at one point, looking out among the throng.
Guavatron’s long instrumental passages occasionally obscure Frangiskakis’ impressive vocal range, yet they also spotlight his intricate guitar playing, which is primarily self-taught, and creative use of effects. His list of influences includes some expected names, but also some surprises.
“Definitely David Gilmour from Pink Floyd,” he says. “And Trey Anastasio from Phish, Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, and jazz players like Grant Green and John Scofield.”
Further topography is provided by Hansen, who coaxes every sound imaginable — from acoustic and electric piano to clavinet, synthesizer, and Hammond and Wurlitzer organs — from his keyboards. Surprisingly, like Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (but with vastly improved results), he’s never had one lesson.
“Watching YouTube,” Hansen says to explain his studies. “And keyboard players like Page McConnell from Phish, Eli Winderman from Dopapod, Jamie Shields from The New Deal, Rick Wright from Pink Floyd, and Herbie Hancock.”
With the exact same guitar/keyboards/bass/drums configuration, the logical Guavatron collective influence is Phish, the Vermont-launched superstars likewise influenced by the Grateful Dead. Similarly, that quartet prominently features singing guitarist Anastasio and formidable bassist Mike Gordon up front, and rock-solid drummer Jon Fishman in back. And like keyboardist McConnell, Hansen may be the glue that most unites his band’s tapestry of sounds.
Frangiskakis and Hansen also form the downsized Guavatron duo, performing some of the same (and different) material locally at some of the same (and different) locations. Yet in both settings, there are some surprises in between the lengthy Phish and Dead-inspired excursions. At Maxi’s Lineup in Jupiter last month, the duo started a set with Led Zeppelin’s deep, folk-tinged track “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do.” At the same location two weeks earlier, the full band interspersed its lengthy originals with a cover of Steely Dan’s complex pop shuffle, “Black Friday.”
“Our duo is a totally different thing,” Hansen says. “We do that to fill in our gaps and make some money, but it’s almost all cover songs. We might play only two or three of our originals in that format.”
For all its processed-sounding “tron” references, the overall Guavatron sound actually derives largely from old-school, organic, analog ingredients, even considering the duo version’s intermittent backing rhythm tracks. There are elements of rock, jazz, reggae, funk, and yes, electronica in its danceable electric fusion. At the end of the two-hour marathon at Guanabanas, as the soundman was warning them to finish quickly to avoid breaking Jupiter’s strict sound ordinance, they even broke into an up-tempo gospel revival coda.
Like the Dead and Phish, Guavatron is often at its creative and experimental peak live. The quartet’s Guanabanas show directly preceded a late July Southeastern tour of the United States through prominent clubs and breweries in Georgia and North Carolina. In December, the band will play the three-day North Beach Music Festival in Miami Beach, with jam band faves like Moe, Lotus, Lettuce, Dopapod, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, and the Allman Brothers legacy ensemble Trouble No More.
“We plan to start getting out of town, and out of Florida, more often,” says Frangiskakis. “We recently played two nights in Tampa, and we want to keep hitting the same places, branching out little by little to develop a strong fan base in every city and state we keep returning to.”
If You Go
See the Guavatron duo at 4 p.m. August 6 at the TideHouse Waterfront Restaurant, 915 N.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart (772-444-3166), and at 4 p.m. August 19 at Guanabanas, 960 N. A1A, Jupiter (561-747-8878). The next Guavatron full-band show is at 1 p.m. Oct. 2 at Rock’N Riverwalk, located on the east end of Southwest St. Lucie Avenue at the St. Lucie River, Stuart (downtownstuartflorida.com).