Though Syracuse Suds Factory and Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge have weekly Wednesday music, with the addition of PJ’s Pub and Grill’s summer series, warmer weather, outdoor seating and more of a crowd willing to make the bar hop between, mid-week in Armory Square has become a giant breath of fresh air. Add to that The Sound Garden’s planned “Flicks on The Crick” (a weekly outdoor movie series to start July 6), and downtown’s suddenly full of something for every taste--just the way it should be.
Last night, May 25, I made it to PJ’s for a set by Michael Crissan who performed laid-back covers and acoustic versions of more forceful rockers like Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire.” Crissan fit into PJ’s Wednesday night atmosphere and added something to the open-air summer vibe. With the door open, cooling May air coming in and deck space open, Crissan’s mellow voice and guitar wafted naturally into Walton Street. It finally felt like summer in Syracuse. Within the season the bar will also be hosting acts ranging from T.J. Sacco (June 22) to Turnip Stampede (Aug. 17) and Dark Hollow (July 27).
From there I made the stark transition to Al’s, which often manages to house some of the most interesting, different acts in and coming through Syracuse. Michael Kammers, Syracuse native and organ/sax player of last night’s group, The Suite Unraveling as well as several other projects including The MK Groove Orchestra, always makes it a point to come back to his home town though he’s currently based in Brooklyn. His trio last night was visiting Syracuse on their short tour through New York state, also planning visits to Buffalo, Binghamton and Rochester. But there was something about the setup at Al’s--soft red light draping over them as they were snugly placed into the small, funky stage’s nook, flanked by couches, against Al’s huge window backdrop; they just fit.
The group defied any kind of predetermined genre title or type. Their avant rock/jazz sound that mixed between structured riffs and completely ambient music kept mutating from frantic strumming with distortion effects to wide spaces between gently fading harmonics. The instrumentation: guitar (played by Lily Masse), sparse jazz drum kit (played by Curt Garey), organ, saxophone and plenty of effects pedals, allowed the group significant freedom--bare enough that each instrument was always heard, but enough variety to bring out some unusual and interesting combinations especially with the large, warm sound of Kammer’s sax.
While I’m a classic rock and blues junkie at heart, it’s refreshing and invigorating to step out of those structured boxes and try out something like The Suite Unraveling, especially casually, without a cover, on a Wednesday night.
A variety of music and warm weather? Thank God it’s finally summer in Syracuse.