Jamming at JamBase: The Fall Risk Unveils The New Lineup
I’ve been something of a standard bearer for The Fall Risk since I first heard them live, at the Ashkenaz in Berkeley, CA about two years ago. Recently, I was pleased to get an invite to come see the band playing a private four-song set at the San Francisco headquarters of JamBase. The short set would be introducing the new lineup. And yes, there have been a few changes.
When I first saw them, The Fall Risk was an eight-piece combo. They sounded great, but truth to tell, the presence of a dedicated harmonica player was a waste – the other seven players produced a wall of interesting sound that buried him. By the next show, about a month later, they were down to the seven-piece combo that would be their steady lineup for the next eighteen months, including the recording of their eponymous EP at TRI Studios.
Things change, alter, reassemble; that’s as true of rock and roll as it is of anything else. The Fall Risk did, as well. I’m delighted to report that change, alteration, reassembling and – in this case – shrinkage, have left the band sounding as tight as ever.
Walking into JamBase, I watched the load-in and set-up for what was now a six-piece combo. This past month saw the departure of keys player Sam Johnston, and the loss of lead guitarist Phil Savell. There was no possible way I could think of for those two changes to not leave a gaping hole in the band’s overall sound. Both players have strong, unique styles. Savell’s highly melodic guitar work had helped give the band their particular sound. Johnston, as second keys player, was not being replaced. I was unconvinced that it was even possible to have The Fall Risk remain The Fall Risk.
As the band warmed up, I found myself watching new lead guitarist James DePrato, noodling with a handsome Tele. He was producing tantalizing, shimmering riffs that were as tight as they were classic. The other guitar he’d brought along for the set was a gorgeous 1990s vintage black SG. He ended up using the SG exclusively, and in his hands, it sounded amazing.
When it came time to power up and get things started, I settled in and waited. They started out with “Ode”, an up-tempo number with a strong hook and very catchy chorus. If anything was going to reveal gaps in the band’s new sound, “Ode” would do it.
There were no holes at all, not one. The sound was as full as it ever was, with original keys man Matt Twain being able to spread his sound just that little bit farther. The result was startling, and great to listen to.
James DePrato floored me. Like Savell, his style is his own, and very recognisable. I was reminded of Mark Knopfler’s early days; I saw Dire Straits open for Talking Heads at the Roundhouse in London back around 1978, and I was riveted by what Knopfler was doing. There was a touch of the “whoa!” in my reaction to DePrato’s playing.
He also brings something that adds an entirely new dimension to The Fall Risk’s repertoire, and I hope Jeff Pehrson recognises and utilizes it: DePrato is a corking good slide player. Being able to match up that second slide in a call and response with slide ace Rich Goldstein is a huge, huge plus – even the brief back and forth they did at the JamBase set was mindblowing. Heading towards local Bay Area full shows in May – at Marin County’s Sweetwater and in Santa Cruz – I’m anticipating a lot more of that.
So The Fall Risk remains The Fall Risk, without a gap or weakness anywhere in the new lineup. They’re slightly tighter, and slightly tauter, and should absolutely be on your “go see them NOW” list. — Deborah Grabien
All photos courtesy stuartlevinephotography.com
Visit The Fall Risk’s website at thefallrisk.com to keep up with what the band is doing, and for news about upcoming shows.