June 29, 2023
Boardwalk Gazebo | Pier Village
Whether we’re playing in the City or along the Shore, we’ve found that everybody — from hipsters, to bankers, to parents, to party people — gets into our loose, improvisational groove.
Whether they come to dance or just to listen, we make our instruments work overtime, taking classic covers and originals to another dimension, and never letting up until the crowd gets pulled into the primal, tribal vibe.
Way back in 1996, Steve was introduced to Scott through an arranged meeting by Steve’s dad who had just helped Scott through the process of obtaining a new mortgage for his home. The two hit it off immediately and Steve suggested they jam with his longtime friend and musical compadre, Craig. Not long after, sometime in 1998, Steve invited his other childhood friend, Kyle, to jam with the band after learning he had been playing in percussion groups for quite some time. The rest is history.
The original music of the Moroccan Sheepherders is difficult to categorize. It is a thick, heady mélange of genres ranging from tribal ambient trance to hard-core, blue-eyed blues-rock. The overarching foundation of the band’s sound is dual percussion of Craig and Kyle who together draw on African, Latin, and traditional rock influences to create a hard-driving rhythmic landscape. It’s a landscape of desert sands, forgotten savannas and thick, dark jungles both real and imagined. The beats they craft come straight from the deep core and ancient past of our ancestors and given such origins are irresistible. The most jaded of us are moved into motion by these primal percussive forces. Steve, lead guitarist, creates a melodic structure, which is influenced by many guitar greats past and present but forges a sound which is both familiar and distinct. The sound varies between thick oscillating, ambient sheets of notes, which wash over the listener like ocean waves, to an alien, underwater, psychedelics, solo voice, which convinces us clearly that we’re not in Kansas anymore. No, far from it.
The bass guitar of Scott bridges the percussion and melodic structure. At times acting as an attractive force keeping the music together, and other times expanding the mix with furious improvisation, he acts as the connective tissue of this power quartet’s sound. Ever present and unconventional, the bass emerges in shining moments as hard-core funk, grungy blues walks, and angular jazz riffs. Some songs have him joining Craig and Kyle on Djembe and other hand percussion, while Steve melodically wanders over the resultant bed of rhythmic tribal trance. This is truly one of the more distinctive aspects of the Herders’ sonic landscape.
The band’s primary musical motif is the extended, ever-morphing instrumental jam. Sheepherder songs are constructed with entry and exit ramps that allow for the ensemble to leave the more frequently travelled musical paths and explore long stretches of musical back roads, vistas, and sometimes dark, foreboding places. Lyrics that cover the same breadth of expression are often included in the mix. Craig’s vocalizations also range from actual “singing” to more spoken, Ken Nordine “word-jazz” sessions. In addition to these often soaring musical forays, the Sheepherders have created studio distillations of many of their lengthy explorations. These “MAD JAM”s (machine-assisted distillation of joyous aural moments) are not watered down but actually more concentrated forms of their live-in-the-studio creations. With this unique process, the Herders believe they have struck an ideal balance between the spontaneous and composed. The resulting pieces are true archetypes of their style, which brings us to the most challenging question of how to categorize the music of the Moroccan Sheepherders. I think many will undoubtedly place them in the same box as The Grateful Dead or more appropriately with more modern bands like Phish or The String Cheese Incident. While MSH does share some qualities with these bands, they also are drawing from a much deeper well, one that includes rich draughts of pure waters of such groups as The Mothers, King Crimson, The Allman Bros and Led Zeppelin.
In the final analysis the Sheepherders defy simply categorization. I think philosophically the bands want it that way. Much of what they are doing is about pure joy and not packaging. They have consciously been improvising not only their songs, but their style as well. Just like improvisation seeks to break the bonds of dull repetition MSH seeks to avoid suffocating comparisons which would otherwise constrain their creativity. They have not limited themselves and why should they? Why should anyone?
Thursdays by the Sea Concert Series is presented by the City of Long Branch. Showtime 7PM