“May the 4th be with you” was bandied about last week, as a cheeky take on Star Wars. Then came the question of what everyone’s plans were for the not-quite-a-real holiday of May 5th. But, those in “the know” knew there was only one event worth getting excited for over the weekend.

The occasion for this celebration was əkoostik hookah‘s two-day mini-residency at Woodland’s Tavern in Columbus, simply called “Hookah de Mayo.” By all accounts, the Friday night show was a powerhouse that made you wish you were there. But, if you were in attendance for the second night’s show, you were treated to a superb evening of rich, aural wonders.

The Columbus rock band is comprised of Dave Katz (keys/vocals/acoustic guitar), Eric Lanese (drums/vocals), Steve Sweney (guitar), Phil Risko (bass/vocals) and Eric Sargent (guitar/vocals). As they celebrate the band’s 26th year of stomping the terra firma, they still conjure magical moments on a nightly basis.

Saturday evening was no exception, including a hearty two and one-half hour, two-set performance that had the additional bonus of a debut in the second set. We’ll have more on that later…

Opening with a mellow, country-tinged groove that morphed into the slow grinder that is Better Man, the sound enveloped the comfortably crowed room like a warm, familiar blanket. This transitioned into You’ll Never Find, the funk groove quickly moving into a straight-up rocker. The laid-back jam picked up in intensity, before sliding back into the opening funk groove.

əkoostik hookah at Woodland’s Tavern (Credit: Music in Motion Columbus)

The slower blues tempo of Roll the Dice was filled with dirty-sounding guitar licks, courtesy of the synchronicity of Sweney and Sargent’s prowess on their respective axes. There was even the feel of a bit of “Slowhand” peeking out in different parts of the tune.

Risko led the way, vocally, as the band teased us with a Doobie Brothers sounding intro, before coalescing into the mellowly wonderful Atlantic City. The simple jam had the crowd feeling just right.

The spacey-jam beginning of Serpentine was augmented with blue lights flooding the stage. The band quickly gained a heavy edge, juxtaposing nasty riffs with the airy “Yes”-sounding opening notes. At this point, Risko got down-and-dirty with a funk groove that led the band into a Phishy jam, before coming full-circle.

The mellower notes of the instrumental Ethereal Passage carried an understated, melodic tempo that had everyone swaying to the music.

They carried the slower tempo into Lookout Below, encompassing all the “feels”, until the bombastic heaviness of the band’s raw emotion aurally assaulted all of us. This morphed into a wonderful, uptempo blues jam before jumping off the edge into the heavy sound again. “Hangin’ on by a thread…” became especially poignant as the song progressed to its climax.

They ended the first set with the acoustic styling of Smile & Sing, a song that runs through myriad changes from rock to funk, with even a bit of a country shuffle thrown-in just to keep the audience on their toes.

After a relatively short break, the band launched into what was surely one of the highlights of their show, at least for this denizen. Katz’ emotional vocals on Loner had the crowd singing along with him, adding a kind of warm comfort to the room. As the band joined in, the jam went on tangents that were prescient of how those in attendance would react.

əkoostik hookah will get your body moving… guaranteed.

Transitioning into the mellowness of Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, there was a foreboding of this being the calm before the storm unleased its fury upon us. Everyone was enjoying the vibe and feeling the outpouring of love.  What made this coupling of songs special, at least to this writer, was the exquisite musicianship on display in front of us.

Once again coming full-circle, they transitioned back into Loner, complete with a marching drum beat as the band began to let themselves get a bit looser.

The country rock groove of Real People carried a distinct West Virginia/Tennessee mountain vibe to it. The jam became more upbeat, picking up the pace before slowing back into the original tempo of the song.

Now, about that debut that was mentioned earlier…

The band played the dirtiest, nastiest version of the Joe Walsh-penned Those Shoes that I’ve ever heard. It was positively phenomenal in the way the sound ground through every fiber of our being, with Sargent’s vocals on the talk-box taking the band’s version of the song over the top.

The Appalachian-flavored Caribou was a nice upbeat number that had the audience fully loving the country-tinge the second set seemed to carry.

They closed the second set with Hidden Away, with Katz in full-on storytelling mode as he sang the lyrics. The deep echo of the guitars led to a very nice, mellow jam, which in turn led to them turning up the heat.

With their phasers set to “awesome” (I’ll admit, I didn’t know this was an actual setting on directed energy weapons), they proceeded to take the song into hitherto uncharted regions, before completing the circle, once again.

After a few minutes off-stage, they returned to bring their charges safely back to Earth with an encore of the mellow and steady beat of Me? Encapsulating so many of the sounds that make up their own unique fluidity, the music washed over the dancing bodies surrounding the stage.

Hookahville at the Ledges 2017

While some may call them a “jam” band, to me they are simply a great band that showcases a mastery of myriad styles, influences and their instruments. Of this, I am certain.

They sound fresh, while also reminding me of some other bands full of excellent musicians that can flourish within the structure of a complex sound. At the end of the day, you merely need sit back and simply enjoy what they have on offer.

The evening was a resounding successful conclusion to əkoostik hookah‘s two-day mini-residency at Woodland’s Tavern.

Their next shows are May 19-20 in Garrettsville, OH at “Hookahville at the Ledges.”

Set One

  1. Better Man →
  2. You’ll Never Find
  3. Roll the Dice
  4. Atlantic City
  5. Serpentine
  6. Ethereal Passage
  7. Lookout Below
  8. Smile & Sing

Set Two

  1. Loner 
  2. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow →
  3. Loner
  4. Real People
  5. Those Shoes (Joe Walsh/Eagles cover) *
  6. Caribou
  7. Hidden Away

Encore

  1. Me?

* denotes first time song played live

əkoostik hookah – You’ll Never Find