There are show that capture your attention and you have to talk about them. You must share your experience as quickly as you can with as many fellow music lovers as you can find. Tonight, we had such an experience.
Earlier this evening the Athens, Ohio group The Ridges finished off their current tour with a stop in Dayton – home base for Mrs. Dr. J and Dr. J. We have seen this band perform a few additional times in Cincinnati and this was our first time seeing them on our home turf as we missed a show in February. Tonight we got to the venue — South Park Tavern — in plenty of time to see the opening band – Method Air. They were solid and reminded Dr. J of a more primal version of Japandroids.
The Ridges hit the stage ready and able to play. The double Cello attack was driving throughout the set. The fret work was nimble across an all too soon completed set. Talor Smith was captivating as she swayed and danced with her cello to the music that was being created before our eyes. She danced, sang, and played with feeling for the entire set. Chuck Poulsen contributed to the sound with a banjo that was played with precision and power. All too often the banjo becomes an overlooked instrument in far too many rock and roll bands. Not since Sweethearts of the Rodeo-era Byrds has a banjo player held their own as a lead instrument in a series of rock and roll songs.
The stand-up bass was strong and steady throughout the set. Not since some Richard Thompson concerts, have we seen such a terrific command of the stand-up. The groove was centered when it needed to be and flexible and funky through the tempo changes of several Ridges’ songs. Kudos to the bass player for following arrangements that asked him to be able to move in different directions that served the songs and the band incredibly well this night.
The backbone of the music this band made this night was the drummer. With a modest yet propulsive drum kit, the drumming was a critical part of The Ridges success tonight. Following key and tempo changes without sounding forced, wooden, or stodgy — the drummer was able to provide foundation for songs that veered from rock and roll to folk to orchestral arrangements. This was part of what made The Ridges a must watch performance tonight, incredibly complex yet fun and rocking stylistic flourishes that kept the audience rapt.
Speaking of what held our attention – the center of the band’s aesthetic and performance tonight had to be the energetic guitar and vocals of Victor Rasgaitis. Rarely have we seen a lead singer and guitar player prance with such intensity and feeling without seeming propagandist. Victor was in fine authentic voice and the enthusiasm that he captured grabbed the audience members by the ears and the heart — and then made you feel in some small way, what he was feeling. It would be criminal not to note the terrific backing vocals of Talor Smith and Chuck Poulsen. They did more than simply fill open moments, they added additional heft and often very sweet harmonies to the vocal arrangements. In fact, several songs depended on the vocal harmonies that Victor, Talor, Chuck and the other band members sewed together.
Victor was a consummate showman who never stayed still. He moved about the small space with a purpose and an energy that drew the audience into the performance. On more than one occasion, he found himself on his knees while continuing to sing. I know, I know… you are about to say how forced that sounds; but in the moment of the performance, you agreed with the movement. The song, the lyrics, the music required subservience in a way that only a moment of contrition can supply. You believed that he needed to be on his knees – that the deference to the song required it.
There is much more that we could say about the feeling of excitement at seeing a band at the height of their ability, playing music that is as rock and roll if they had several electrical guitars and was instead the result of an acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, banjo, drums, and two cellos but honestly, you need to take some time to see The Ridges when the opportunity presents itself to you.
You will not be disappointed.