An indie college coffee shop. The ultimate dive bar. And now the shining performing-arts epicenter of Las Vegas. After nearly 12 years, the musicians of Überschall are still going with their unique brand of improvisational grooves ranging from jazzy intonations to electronica. Originally forming as a side project of Blue Man Group musicians to break out from their eight-show-per-week routine, they’ve become a Double Down Saloon staple the last Sunday of every month. On January 20 they’ll descend upon The Smith Center, with legendary drummer Terry Bozzio joining them as a special guest.
With a lineup of Christian Brady, Jordan Cohen, Jeff Tortora, Todd Waetzig, Elvis Lederer and “Wickett” Anthony Pickett, Überschall is comprised of three drummers, bass and two guitarists that take the audience on an ebb and flow of musical waves. Primus’ Tim Alexander and Phil Leavitt of Dada have also played with Überschall.
“Jam bands don’t have a vocabulary as deep or as wide as Überschall,” Bozzio says. An inspiration to drummers worldwide, Bozzio rose to prominence with Frank Zappa and Missing Persons. Says Überschall guitarist Lederer, “There are no solos in our shows. ‘Rules of conversation’ is the best metaphor for it. If everybody ‘talks’ all the time, it’s a mess. If somebody talks all the time and doesn’t let anybody else talk it’s a mess. You have to listen—but sometimes it’s good to interrupt and come in with a new subject or turn it into something else.” Adds Waetzig, “You just have to have a lot of experience of interacting musically, rather than just knowing your part and knowing how to play your instrument. It’s a little bit like jazz, but it doesn’t sound like it. It has a really modern sound and people seem to really gravitate toward it.”
Überschall began playing together on the small stage at the now-defunct Café Espresso Roma—a venue the Killers also played before hitting the big time. Lederer booked the Roma gig before he even had a band together. “I went to the Blue Man dressing room, everybody said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ Originally we didn’t have time to rehearse and I had been playing around with the idea of improvisational music.” Their sound (and volume with multiple drummers) quickly outgrew Roma and they moved on to the Double Down, not missing a gig yet (even when Lederer’s baby was born, he still made the second set). “For myself, some of the ideas that I’ve had or some of the things I’ve played I never would have been able to do if I wasn’t surrounded by these other guys doing what they’re doing,” drummer Tortora says.
Fast-forward to The Smith Center gig and Bozzio sitting in with the group. “The fact that we can do it and bring someone in like Terry Bozzio—and definitely due to the fact that he’s Terry Bozzio—we have an understanding of what it takes to play what we think is cool and successful; we’re able to help create an environment for him to flourish,” says drummer/percussionist Cohen, also known for his Sons of Jupiter project and playing with Powerman 5000.
Although the Überschall guys have years playing together, Bozzio obviously has the chops to join in. “The first rule is to listen,” Bozzio says. “If you listen and have the intention of being sensitive and sharing, getting your ego out of the way, then you can do this. If you have an agenda, if you’re a musician who is schooled and plays something that is sort of pre-planned, you’re going to have a hard time in improvising.
“It’s this situation [in which] the audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen next,” he adds. [They are] being given an exclusive, authentic, one-time-only musical event—a spontaneously created musical event that will never be repeated.”
Hmmm … maybe it’d be a good idea to get a ticket to both the 2 and 8 p.m. shows.