A Bucket List Theory
Music and Venue Review
By Mike Guy
We recently took a ride to Andover, Massachusetts, to hear music in a new-to-us venue. While a bit out of our middle-aged comfort zones for a weeknight, I had a good feeling that the aggressive driving, scarce parking and being up past my bedtime might be worth the effort. The parking couldn’t be worse than Portsmouth.
Bucket List is a relatively new local band of dualistic individuals – they have unrelated day jobs. The band plays a mix of jazz standards and fusion with a little bit of funk thrown over it all. The group was formed by and is led by Stefan Vittori, a Seacoast jazz patron and saxophonist. The rest of the List are John Hoar, trumpet; Mike Harrison, piano; Jonathan Saxe, guitar; Bill Trafidlo, bass; Tony Gallo, percussion, and Sebastian Sink, drums
Andover’s Theory Wine Bar + Listening Room is a great sounding room. I like wine, and they have many very good wines by the glass all maintained by one of those high-tech oenophile life support systems that enable many bottles to be open and properly served. As a lifelong OCD audiophile, any venue that calls itself a Listening Room has to be checked out, it’s like Charlie Parker and chicken.
The room doesn’t look like it would sound all that special, more vino Starbucks than music venue. You walk into a long L-shaped room with the bar and wine paraphernalia on the right and tables on the left. At the end, the bar bends to the right into a comfortable seating area. A great place for folks who want to say they’re listing to live music, but really just want to talk.
It’s on the left, where the bar turns right, that things get interesting. The stage walls are covered on two sides with about 75 small speakers of various sizes. They're not there to listen to or are they even in working condition. Being completely covered in muted gold paint, they look more like a ’70s art installation than a stage. It clearly defines the stage and listening area. It also serves the acoustic purpose of giving the walls an uneven texture.
The other component of the sound is a combination of co-owner Chris Bachmann’s knowledge of how things should sound and his investment in technology. There’s live music with quality players on his stage more nights than not, and he's there walking around tweaking the room to its best. It is well worth your effort to get there. The parking does get easier closer to show times as the dinner and after-work crowds clear out of Andover’s downtown.
My life seems to be in the same orbit as the Bucket List’s. Stefan’s (and the band’s) practice area is in the building that I work in, what used to be a funeral home in Kittery. John Hoar and I are old friends and amateur recordists. I’ve been able to follow the band as they’ve moved from the crematorium to the stage. There have been growing pains. I’ve seen them three or four times and individually they played well, but something was still waiting to happen. One problem I had was that you had to work to hear all of the instruments. I suspect that has been an issue for the band too.
Bucket List’s progression as a band and Chris’s efforts made for a perfect storm the night they played the Theory room. All of the instruments were right there for us to hear. Without having to work to hear what the more quiet players had to say, we could just relax and let the music work us over.
It sure sounded like everything on the Bucket List was working. From the opening songs of Mudbug Shuffle by The Cookers Quintet and a tasty Wynton Marsalis arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Caravan to the Meters’ Cissy Strut, the band seemed to gel in a way that I had not heard before. They were having fun. All of their hard work in the basement of the funeral home paid off.
The crowd was a mix of band friends, family, musicians and locals. By the third tune, only a few at the bar were talking, and in the second set, all you could hear was the band and the room, an excellent night. I wanted to title this Ex-Pensive Winos but decided against it because it sounded too negative for a good wine bar, but that is what happened. A group of players worked hard for many months to get it right. Before that night their playing was restrained, scripted – pensive. By the end of the night, they had swagger.
If you commit to see live music regularly, you know what I mean by swagger. If you don’t, as I emailed some of the band members the next day “… it was as if you were collectively the little kid on the schoolyard whose first punch ever, laid out the bully.”
When you see Bucket List on the calendar somewhere, check them out. When you just know there’s no parking in town this summer, think about checking out the Theory in Andover.