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OM Trio leaves crowd uninspired

Vocalless group resorts to cover songs with no avail

If funk grooves are mixed with the intellect of high jazz and a heavy dose of psychedelic color and the whole thing is brought to a boil, the product might be something like OM Trio’s music when it performs original compositions.

The OM Trio, which doesn’t have a singer, consists of three clean-cut, college-educated men. The group, whose best routine is one of establishing a rhythmically solid, repetitive foundation with two instruments and wayward, freaky musical orbits with a third, played for a sparse audience Friday at the Golden West Saloon.

Drummer Ilya Stemkovsky, bassist Pete Novembre and keyboardist Brian Felix are articulate musicians who have a good group chemistry. The lack of a vocalist seemed to put audience members into a passive state, but they also looked as if they enjoyed the music.

Felix, 23, said not having a singer probably limits the band’s potential audience.

“If a great singer came along, we’d be open,” Felix said. “The chemistry’s got to be there. Chemistry is very important.”

During the performance, it was Felix who usually provided musical flavor with his keyboards by using a wah-wah pedal on his Hammond XK-2 and simultaneously playing a Roland RD-600 with a few pedals of its own. He makes his keyboards sound like guitars, using various effects.

At one point, he went into a solo that seemed like a dead ringer for Santana’s guitar on the canonical “Abraxas”. Felix plays an awful lot of notes, but his most powerful moments are when he slows down, lays back and injects a single high note that seems like a needle eight or 10 measures long.

Before the concert, Stemkovsky, 25, compared the OM Trio to Frank Zappa and a whole slew of bands, then started talking about the time signatures used by the band.

“Sometimes we’ll play fours for an hour, or sometimes we’ll play 16 measures of fours and then we’ll go into fives,” he said. “And people who are dancing are like, their bodies aren’t used to dancing to fives. Or we might play nines for an hour.”

At times, Stemkovsky’s playing came off as perhaps too showy, such as when he put his tennis shoe-clad foot on top of the snare while keeping up a snare roll for a couple of seconds until the drum stand fell over. He said he’s never taken a drum lesson. His gigantic drum kit is nice and shiny, equipped with a double bass pedal.

“You caught us on an exceptionally good night,” Stemkovsky said during a break between sets. “Normally, we would have played all Mîtley CrÅe covers.”

The OM Trio was established a year and a half ago and has had its current line-up with Novembre for five months. All three members are originally from New Jersey. After college, Felix and Stemkovsky moved to Ashland, Ore., with their ex-bass player and began with a productive bang.

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They released two CDs in quick succession and soon were playing six gigs a week in Ashland. It wasn’t long before the small-town audience wore out. So, the group moved to San Francisco to try and reach a bigger audience and hooked up with Novembre, whom they knew from college.

OM Trio’s third release, Meat Curtain, seems like a long rollick through a weird lounge that has a sign in the window saying, “vocalist wanted.”

Unfortunately, Stemkovsky’s quip about the Mîtley CrÅe covers turned out to be somewhat prophetic of the band’s second set. In a desperate effort to make the audience dance, the OM Trio played a series of tired covers, Nirvana included.

About a dozen people danced, but it seemed more out of nostalgia for the cover songs than out of excitement for the band. Felix stood up from the keyboards several times and picked up a microphone, pretending to be the host of a game show combining the antics of “Jeopardy” with the corniness of “Name That Tune.”

It was lame, so I went to the Launchpad.

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