Brad and Friends: right notes reach high

Reunions and memories don't always work. But Wednesday night at Showbox at the Market brought smiles, perhaps even from beyond.
Crosscut archive image.

The reunited Mother Love Bone from left: Bruce Fairweather, guitar, Greg Gilmore drums, Shawn Smith vocals, Jeff Ament bass, Stone Gossard guitar.

Reunions and memories don't always work. But Wednesday night at Showbox at the Market brought smiles, perhaps even from beyond.

The marquee at Showbox at the Market Wednesday night read Brad and Friends but it may have well screamed the Shawn Smith show.

Wednesday's five-hour, six-band show included sets by Smith's bands Pigeonhed, Satchel and Brad (which features Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard on guitar) as well as Gossard's Hank Williams tribute band the Hank Khoir. However, as great as those sets were — especially the powerful and funky slab of songs by Brad and the rare Pigeonhed appearance — they weren't the evening's highlight. The highlight of the night came during the show's final hour when Smith fronted seminal grunge groups Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, taking the place of the deceased Andy Wood, who died in 1990.

Although it wasn't advertised, the Mother Love Bone set was something most knew would happen, considering Bruce Fairweather, Gossard, and Greg Gilmore were in the building. It was confirmed when Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament took the stage grinning from ear to ear and "Stardog Champion" began with every living original member of the band on stage. The song was followed by "Holy Roller" and "Gentle Groove," both off Mother Love Bone's self-titled full-length debut album.

The four-song set ended with a cover of Argent's "Hold Your Head Up," a song Mother Love Bone once recorded. It would've been great to hear Smith tackle "Bone China" or deliver his amazing version of "Chole Dancer" like he did at the Hootenanny for Haiti earlier this year, but it's tough to be picky when some of the songs that shaped grunge were being performed live by those who helped create the genre.

Typically I don't endorse bands reuniting with a new vocalist after their singer passes away, a la Queen with Paul Rogers or the current reincarnation of Sublime. The difference between this set and the likes of other reunions is that this show was a one-off event and it had the blessing of Kevin Wood, Andy's brother, which made it feel more like a bunch of friends paying homage to a fallen brother rather than a plea for publicity or a quick cash grab.

Smith is one of the most underrated vocalists of the grunge era and his voice, which prominently features a finely pitched falsetto, makes him an easily recognizable, albeit somewhat obscure, player from the city's glory days with the g-word. While he fronted almost every band on the bill, he seemed most comfortable singing Brad songs during that band's 50-minute headlining set.

Brad played the night's longest set and it included a few songs from the group's upcoming record "Best Friends?", including the standout "Rush Hour." The song relied heavily on Gossard's guitar, which carried several songs during Brad's set. It was nice to hear him as a lead guitarist as opposed to playing a solid second fiddle to Mike McCready in Pearl Jam. Brad's final two songs provided one of the evening's most poignant moments with Smith taking to a keyboard for "Screen" and "Buttercup." The former is a song he said he doesn't enjoy performing, which is sad because its emotional delivery and soaring guitars make it difficult not to fall in love with the song.

Malfunkshun, a band all but forgotten by everyone except diehard grunge fans, played a brief, loud, high-energy set. The band was started by Wood and his brother Kevin, who played lead guitar. Wood relished his time on stage, impressively shredding through solos and searing guitar parts while pursing his lips and sticking out his tongue as he played. It was one of the few times Smith's pipe's weren't the center of attention.

Gossard and Ament continuously exchanged smiles throughout the all-too-brief Mother Love Bone set. It was clear they were having a blast dusting off songs from their songbooks they likely haven't performed for at least 20 years. But the two Pearl Jammers weren't the only ones smiling. Although the author of Mother Love Bone's songs wasn't on stage with the band, the energy with which his songs were performed and the rapturous reception they received made me think Andy Wood was somewhere smiling Wednesday night, too.


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