Circles Around the Sun at Zebulon
Not even an accidental fire alarm, honking intermittently through the first minute or so of the opening “On My Mind,” was going to pause, let alone stop Circles Around the Sun. In the quartet’s first Los Angeles appearance since the passing of guitarist Neal Casal, there was no better choice for a lead-off. No doubt, Casal was on the mind of everyone packed into the Zebulon.
On guitar, in Casal’s place, was Eric Krasno, the longtime Soulive veteran and omnipresent collaborator within the jam scene who acclimated himself resepctfully into the space. When the alarm finally ceased, a roar went up from the crowd; oddly metaphoric, in a way, as though the audience was expressing not only relief from the end of the interloping (and inter-looping) noise, but relief, too, that Circles with Kraz was going to be something good. And, it was.
Stretching eight songs over a two-hour set, the four moved exceptionally well together, complementing each other with quicker-than-anticipated chemistry. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall looked determined, focused, if not expectedly straight-faced, almost climbing inside the notes springing from his bank of keyboards. There was urgency, too, within the repertoire- a bit heavier given Krasno’s style, more aggressive and stinging, by comparison. As Mark Levy’s four-on-the-floor stomp was met with a Dan Horne bassline that rattled the intestinal track, the intimate club, dimly lit and angular, shook as the spirited mass bobbed and weaved before them.
They held closely to familiar pieces, working across their two LPs, with nods to “Gilbert’s Groove,” and “Hallucinate a Solution.” Midway through, a quick conference onstage yielded a new entry, “Babyman,” and its distinctly bright, ‘70s fusion homage with Krasno, again, bringing something conspicuously different to the CATS oeuvre; as he should- there was only one Neal Casal. And, credit him for that; for taking the template of the song and embracing it.
After a final “One for Chuck,” faded out, Horne stepped to the microphone, gave his thanks, and left the departing with one final thought. “We love you, Neal,” said Horne as Krasno pointed skyward and lowered his guitar onto its stand.
The question of Krasno remaining as a permanent member of CATS will be answered in time. At the moment, he is tastefully shining in a role that comes with a lot of weighty expectations left by the Casal’s void. For now, this evening, this tour, was for Neal. Here’s hoping, too, there are plenty more trips left for these CATS.