Pete Francis @ The Canal Room

Pete FrancisNEW YORK, NY—It must suck sometimes to be a solo artist who was once in a great band, since I imagine that every time that most of these once had been great artists play live, the audience just heckles for old material, ignoring whatever direction the artist might prefer to grow in. Luckily for Pete Francis, formerly of Dispatch, such is not the case. At his solo show where he performed with New England groove-meisters Barefoot Truth, he actually managed to get away with playing only two Dispatch songs.

Barefoot Truth, hailing from New England, are a “jam” band that plays a pretty well-blended cocktail of funk, folk, blues, and have an oddly pleasant love of throwing interspersed reggae jams into their songs (surprisingly, it doesn’t really get old nearly as quickly as you’d expect.). Anyway, back in 2005 the group attracted the attention of producer Jack Gauthier who had previously worked with Dispatch. A little later in 2006, they recorded Club House Sessions, which featured the production talents of not only Gauthier, but also Pete Francis himself.

Apparently, the two parties had a great time working together in the studio, since they decided to do so again with the release of Wake The Mountain, a five-song EP of jammy folk material the two artists collaborated on. The recorded material sounds great, but it really would not be worth anything if the two had not decided that they would embark on a tour together from February to April, jamming as one band on material from Dispatch, Francis’s solo career, and Barefoot Truth. I say this not because any of the EP is weak in any way, but both artists are truly “live” artists who write material that works best onstage in front of an audience, where it can shift and organically morph in a way that can’t always be caught so easily on record.

The group began the night with “One Train,” one of the freshly recorded tracks from Wake The Mountain. On record the song is a beautiful, folk ballad, but live the beauty turns to passion and the folk to funk, and the song seamlessly flows along a hip-shakin’ groove like a train steadily rolling through the Midwestern countryside.

The set list was dominated by upbeat, groovy numbers, filled with lively keyboard solos, harmonica solos courtesy of Garret Duffy and a nearly endless supply of drum fills, rhythm changes, and a blast of didgeridoo from Barefoot Truth vocalist/drummer/multi-instrumentalist Will Benoit.

Sometimes big artists collaborating with younger groups doesn’t always work because the big guy can so easily outshine his backing band of young unknowns, but that night, if anything, Pete Francis was a part of Barefoot Truth. He only sang lead on few songs and for the most part was content to play as an equal member of the band, lending a guitar solo here and there, but mostly just happy to jam along to the groove and let the youngsters take the spotlight. And Barefoot Truth held their ground, barreling like a steel train through funky folk jams and searin’ reggae with musical prowess far beyond their age.