Vapors of Morphine and Muddy Ruckus at the Bayside Bowl on 11/6/21

There are a lot of hardcore Morphine fans in Portland, it seems, and when Vapors of Morphine rolled into town to do a show at the Bayside Bowl on Saturday, they were all in the house, and pretty damn stoked to be there.

Vapors of Morphine in action at the Bayside Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021

They were not disappointed. Vapors of Morphine delivered a set that acknowledged where they come from but, more importantly, defined themselves as a band that has solidly built its own sound that extends far beyond where Morphine tragically left off.

In fact, I made it a point to not listen to any Morphine in the days leading up to the show, because I really wanted to hear Vapors of Morphine on their own terms, whatever they might be.

Vapors of Morphine’s set list from their 11/6/21 show at the Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine

They played a few Morphine tunes, of course – you can check out the set list there on the left – but they also played a bunch of tracks from their new release, Fear & Fantasy, which is what I was really looking forward to hearing, including Irene and the Other Side.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but their set was fucking sublime.

They were stunning, and turned in a strong performance that, for me, connected. And, really, that’s what it’s all about: connection.

These are three extraordinarily talented musicians, and as a band, they are tight. Each in turn- sax man Dana Colley, guitarist Jeremy Lyons, and drummer Tom Arey – had room to stretch and establish themselves during the course of the set, and yet they projected a unified, powerful sound that was by turns hypnotic, ethereal and driving.

Lyons, as a multi-instrumentalist, played the two-string bass, a four-string bass, and a six-string electric guitar, and drummer Arey played a considerable portion of the set with mallets instead of sticks, which gave the sound a driving yet warm feel.

Vapors of Morphine at Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine, on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021

Twice during the course of the set, Lyons pointed out that the two of their newer tunes were heavily influenced by African music, specifically from Mali, but it’s clear that their influences don’t end there. These guys pull cards from a lot of musical decks — jazz, blues, and rock among them — toss in a bit of punk ethos, and end up with something that you will not hear anywhere else.

At one point about halfway through, Colley deadpannned, hey we’re gonna take a short break now — and people really weren’t sure if he was joking or not. There was a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, before he announced, okay, we’re back.

In effect, though, his joke did break the show up into two sets, because when the picked up again, they worked their way around to a version of a tune called Souvenir — which technically is, yes, a Morphine tune — that made it abundantly clear that Vapors of Morphine has carved out their own sound, and the rest of the set decidedly underscored that point.

And it was clear, when the whole thing was over, that Vapors of Morphine is far more than some Morphine tribute act. These guys have a sound that’s all their own, regardless of whoever wrote whatever tune they happen to be playing at any given moment.

This version of Souvenir was enchanting, with Colley delivering the lyrics while his bandmates created a narcotic, rhythmic sound that allowed him to weave his saxophone lines in and around the fabric of the tune. I don’t know how long it lasted, that version, but it when it was over, I was damn glad to have been in the room to hear it.

No word yet on when or if, they’ll be back, but if you get the chance to hear Vapors of Morphine live, take it.

Maine’s own Muddy Ruckus opened the evening — and I gotta be honest. Before they took the stage, I’d never heard them live before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the duo, with Erika Stahl on drums and vocals and Ryan Flaherty on guitar and vocals.

Portland’s own Muddy Ruckus turned in a powerful set at the Bayside Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021

Looking at the stage before they came on – Stahl plays a suitcase for a bass drum – I was thinking, okay, maybe this is some sort of rootsy Black Keys act, or a White Stripes-lite kinda sound.

I was wrong.

The fact is, Muddy Ruckus tore it up, destroyed whatever preconceived notions I might’ve harbored, and delivered a loud set of punk rock blues. Straight up. Punk rock blues. Heavy distortion on the guitar, pounding drums, and a pair of voices that work really well together in harmony. They also had a harp player sitting in that night, who added another dimension to the whole thing.

Muddy Ruckus’s Ryan Flaherty on stage Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021 at Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine.

Flaherty likes his alternate tunings, and Stahl’s grooves are right there in the pocket, and when they’re on and they find that driving beat is the bedrock of their sound, it’s truly something to behold — and they were on at the Bayside Bowl on Saturday.

During the course of their set, Stahl said of Flaherty, almost as an aside while he tightened up one of his open tunings, hey, he’s Muddy Ruckus, the implication being that they couldn’t start the next tune until he was ready to go.

Which, of course, is true in one sense, but decidedly not the case in full. Muddy Ruckus is both Stahl and Flaherty; the band couldn’t exist without one or the other. Their most powerful moments that night came when they found each other, locked in on the beat and dialed in that groove for all it was worth.

Bottom line: they rocked.

After their set, I went over to the merch table and picked up their CD from 2018, Bellows To Mend, and a split seven-inch they’ve got out on Rocktorium Records. (Truth is, I’m a sucker for a seven-inch record, because they’re so participatory. You can’t just put it on and forget about it. You gotta flip it.)

Stahl was kind enough to sign the CD for me, and got Flaherty to sign it also, so I got to add another piece to my collection of signed releases.

Both releases are fantastic; I’ve got the CD in heavy rotation in the home office here, but tbh, their cut on that seven-inch, a tune called Suffering and Light, is my favorite at the moment. I’m damn glad I picked it up.

Unfortunately, Muddy Ruckus doesn’t have any local shows scheduled for the rest of the year; if you missed ’em on Saturday, you’re SOL.

So, do the next best thing and buy their newest CD, called Let Go, which happens to have Suffering and Light on it.

Then catch ’em next time they’re in town.

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