From the first strains of “Fire on the Mountain,” the musical influences of Superfrog were pretty clear. But the rest of their opening set New Boston’s Gravity Tavern last Friday was anything but a rehash of jam band talking points. The band segued into a Latin-tinged original, and then flipped to a revved-up cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” A new song, “Round and Round,” was capped with an Eagles-worthy a cappella vocal.
Later, the band wheeled back around to their roots, closing with another Grateful Dead song. But their atypical version of “Shakedown Street” included a streetwise rap and snatches from the 1972 Deodata jazz-pop remake of “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”
Superfrog’s forthcoming album, Call From the Moon, is equally eclectic. There’s pedal-to-the-floor rock (“Astronautical”), barrio funk (“Tequilador”) and jazz-infused rhythm numbers (“Minor Annoyance,” the calypso-flavored “Wish”), drawing from influences as disparate as Rusted Root and early Chicago records.
One of the record’s highlights is “Oyster River Landing,” a song about love and loss that perfectly melds the band’s many distinctive components. The mid-tempo track features multilayered harmonies and majestic guitar chords underlying bracing solos, buoyed by a three-barreled rhythm section (bass, drums, congas) and spiced up with a rare element in today’s music, a wry solo trumpet twisting through the song like a gnarly vine.
It’s hard to pin down the band’s unique sound; Superfrog (the name comes from a Murakami story) calls it “rock-jamtasticality,” emphasizing its heavier elements. “Pure thrash goodness,” brags one blurb. But this is not just another bunch of loose-limbed players stretching every song past the 10-minute mark. They specialize in a sort of crackling precision that can whip up a crowd, even on a slow night.
The Gravity Tavern doesn’t have a dance floor, but by the sixth song, a rollicking cover of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” eight patrons were up and shaking, banging into overstuffed couches and forming an impromptu conga line. Such antics are amplified when the band draws a bigger crowd. The previous week, a hometown gig at Portsmouth’s Press Room was packed with 150 raucous fans; the band’s drummer, Shane Comer, later said it was their “best show to date.”
“The rowdier a crowd, the better we play,” says guitarist Jeremy “Fuzz” Grob.
“We’re a rock band that jams,” says bass player Nate Proper. Proper and drummer Comer met in high school in South Berwick, Maine, and started the group as a trio in 2007. A later lineup featured two female vocalists. The current incarnation includes guitarists Grob and Charles Cormier, trumpeter Tony DiBerto and percussionist Adam Vinciguerra; this configuration made the new album.
It’s been a gradual yet inexorable ride from trio to sextet, says Comer. “When we started out, this was exactly where I wanted to be — a large, boisterous family band.”
DiBerto joined on a whim after his girlfriend urged him to do something with his life that he enjoyed — “One of those things was playing music, so I thought I should join a band or something,” says DiBerto. While buying lunch at JP’s Sub Shop in Durham, he spied a tear-off flyer pinned to a cork bulletin board — something common in the days before Craigslist. He joined in 2008 and played on their first studio release, Year of the Frog.
Vinciguerra played drums with the group early on when it was a quartet, later moving to Las Vegas to pursue a career in sound engineering. He returned in late April 2009 after the economy headed south, just in time to start work on Call from the Moon. “It was maybe three weeks after I’d come back, I had to learn every song while in the recording studio and start playing it,” he says.
Comer, Proper and Grob are the principal songwriters, but each song is a collaborative effort. “Our writing process is pretty egalitarian,” says Comer, and guitarist Cormier quickly agrees. “Someone brings in a idea and we jam on it,” he says. Though many stylistic elements inform each song, they aren’t consciously seeking to reference any particular sound. More often than not, that process happens in reverse. “The influences come out naturally; then we reflect and figure out where they came from.”
The group initially planned to launch the CD at this weekend’s gig in Manchester (Saturday, Oct. 2, at Murphy’s Taproom), but shrink-wrapped disks won’t come back from the duplicators until the following week. So the official release party for Call to the Moon will happen on Friday, Oct. 15, at the Stone Church in Newmarket, a venue the band plays considers their home base. That’s followed by release shows in Boston (Copperfield’s, Oct. 16), and Portland (Empire, Oct. 22). The band returns to Portsmouth on Oct. 29 for an outdoor deck performance at the Gaslight.