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Vital Information in Milwaukee

Touring in support of their new CD release, Show Em Where You Live, Vital Information tore it up in Milwaukee. Opening with the jazz/funk of Mr. T.C., the band set the tone for the evening. Featuring the "B3" organ sound of Tom Coster, the nimble guitar of Frank Gambale, the solid groove of bassist Baron Browne, and the driving drums of leader Steve Smith, the band plays a thoroughly modernized 60s/70s instrumental funk sound. If you can imagine Booker T & the MG's, Junior Walker, and the Meters all hyped up with intense technical prowess, then you’ve got Vital Information.

Shagadelic Boogaloo has that sort of Meters strut. The band plays it cool and loose. There’s a sense of ease about the band. While they are all recognized as being some of the best players in the business, they have no need to display technique for technique’s sake. The band has fun, there are smiles all around, and the music has an infectious groove to it.

The snaky funk of Cat and Mouse is driven by Smith on brushes. Baron Browne’s bass line bubbles underneath, while Coster and Gambale play a unison melody on top. Again, the "B3" organ sound is prominent, giving things that classic 60s funk sound and feel. Smith switches to sticks and the groove takes on a very loose New Orleans type feel, punctuated by his cymbal accents and press rolls on the snare drum. Gambale’s relaxed solo demonstrates his great sense of melody.

Smith turns it up for a drum solo, showing his amazing stick control, as he lets loose with some blinding speed. He moves around his kit with a sense of ease not seen sense the late, great Buddy Rich. In fact, Smith’s playing is the closest of anyone’s to Rich. He has that same precision and control, combined with a fluid sense of motion that Rich had. And when he drives the band, it’s not with force, but with confidence.

Sideways Blues is a swinging shuffle that lets the band dig in. Browne solos with a deep groove. He can stretch things, yet not lose the pulse. The band swings like mad, having fun. Coster switches to accordion for Europa, the hit song he wrote years ago with Carlos Santana. It opens with a gentle accordion and guitar duet that takes on a Parisian flavor. You can imagine yourself sitting at a little cafe. The band enters and things swing. Afterwards, Smith jokes about Milwaukee being the "heart of the polka world," and the band launches into an impromptu polka. The crowd roars it’s approval and the band breaks out in laughs.

The high powered funk of The Perfect Date changes the pace. Both Coster and Gambale deliver taut solos, but it is Smith who turns up the heat on his drum solo. He bends the pulse, modulating and stretching the time until he ends in a fast fury that brings the crowd to their feet.

Swamp Stomp is a driving New Orleans funk tune. Coster’s accordion gives it the appropriate Cajun edge. Gambale plays "chicken scratch" guitar and Browne keeps the funk in the pocket. Over and Out is a furiously fast jungle groove that closes the show. Gambale gets to show off his blistering chops. A veteran of Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, he is one of the hottest guitarists out there today.

With the crowd showing their approval with a standing ovation, the band came out for one more tune. The Blackhawk has another one of those loose, New Orleans grooves. The band stretches out letting everyone have a final say and then it’s over. A very satisfied crowd heads for home.

Afterwards, Smith talks about the band, saying, "We change the set list and the stuff is different every night. The solo sections are different in each set. We just like to have fun." And that fun is evident as it translates to the audience. Catch them if you have a chance to, as they will be touring throughout 2002.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steve Smith & Vital Information
  • Concert Date: 4/20/2002
  • Venue: Shank Hall
  • City State Country: Milwaukee, WI
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