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On The Spot Trio set for Ithaca debut at the Range Friday night

On The Spot Trio
On The Spot Trio

For nearly a decade, Big Mean Sound Machine was one of Ithaca’s most popular bands, winning fans with its high-energy blend of Afrobeat, funk, soul, and jazz. Drummer Andrew Klein was in the driver's seat for the group’s entire run, which ended in August 2018.

This weekend, Klein will return to Ithaca with his latest musical project, On The Spot Trio, which plays at the Range on Friday night. Klein will be joined by the two founding OTS members: guitarist Danny Mayer (AE3, Star Kitchen) and bassist-keyboardist Kris Yunker (AE3, Goose).

Lucas Ashby's Brain Trust, which is led by the former Big Mean percussionist, will open the 9 p.m. show. The cover charge is $10.

Earlier this week, Klein answered a few questions about his new band, playing in a trio format after Big Mean's massive lineup, and the whereabouts of his famous turquoise dress shirt.

On The Spot Trio
On The Spot Trio

Q: Is this the first time On The Spot Trio has played Ithaca?

Andrew Klein: This upcoming show at The Range will be On The Spot's Ithaca debut. We're super stoked and on a personal level, I'm particularly excited to share these guys' talent with my beloved Ithaca scene!

Q: How would you describe OTS to someone who hasn’t heard the band before?

AK: That's a great question... Like many great bands, it's hard to define OTS with conventional genre labels. We pull a lot of influence from classic organ funk and boogaloo jazz and mix in a healthy dose of psychedelia, dub, and improvisation. We're all fans of Afrobeat and West African rhythms and Reggae and we incorporate some of that as well into a sound that aims to be different from status quo organ trio funk. There are danceable moments and cerebral moments and no two shows are quite alike, yet all are uniquely On The Spot. People should come to check it out and help me figure out how to answer this question!

Q: Tell me about your bandmates? How did you connect with them? What do you like best about playing with them?

AK: The very first time I met Danny Mayer and Kris Yunker was when On The Spot Trio was opening for Big Mean Sound Machine at Nectar's in Burlington, Vermont. This was probably around 2013/14/15-ish, though my memory is a bit fuzzy. What I remember clearly was that they sounded great, particularly the chemistry between the two of them. And it makes sense; Danny and Kris have been playing together since 2006 when they both lived in Santa Cruz, California. And as they tell it, the chemistry was there from the jump.

So, fast forward to the past few years: Big Mean last played in August of 2018; after that, I was playing locally in and around NYC where I live, and a couple of years later Covid wiped out the music industry nearly overnight. So everybody was feeling ready to do something to bring some positivity back to society, and Kris and I had been talking for a bit about getting something together.

Enter Vintage League Music, a record label owned and run by Alan Evans (drummer of Soulive), who requested that OTS get some music together for release. The band was between drummers, I was between serious projects, and we all felt this need to do something fun for ourselves and uplifting for others. This idea was hatched during, what it turns out was the deepest, darkest part of the Covid era, and the rest of the story is being written now as we live it.

Kris plays in about a thousand bands including Deep Banana Blackout side project Jen Durkin & The Business, Alan Evans Trio, and formerly Goose. He also recently was tapped to sub for Neal Evans with Soulive + George Porter Jr. during their annual Bowlive Residency when Neal tested positive for Covid. Danny currently tours with Disco Biscuits side project Star Kitchen and has been an essential sideman with the Eric Krasno Band, Alan Evans Trio, and also has played with Derek Trucks, Phil Lesh, and countless other heavyweights on the scene.

These guys are seasoned pros who are just such an unbelievable joy to be around and create music with, I still pinch myself sometimes wondering if I'm about to wake up from this crazy dream I'm living in.

On The Spot Trio
On The Spot Trio

Q: What’s it been like going from Big Mean, which had as many as 12 players, to a trio format? Is it more challenging? More creative?

AK: Starting Big Mean Sound Machine and making music together for the better part of a decade was an amazing experience on so many levels, not the least of which was the education and focus that I gained while learning how to weave so many textures into one voice. It really required a lot of discipline to keep that music and that band together.

Playing in a smaller group is kind of a return to my roots, as is the case for many musicians. The discipline now is in understanding the role of being one-third of the band as opposed to one-tenth, but trying to fill that role and that space in an aesthetic way, not just playing to play. There's a lot more responsibility in a smaller band, musically and especially offstage, but the freedom is also pretty special.

Admittedly, I'm still getting used to it as it's not only a departure from focusing on a big band for so long, but it's a big adjustment from having spent more time off from my career than anybody ever really plans to; it's very much a work in progress, but it's the best kind of challenge and I'm here for it.

Q: When did you leave Ithaca? Where are you based now?

AK: I grew up just north of NYC and I returned to the area just over 8 years ago after spending 8 years living in Ithaca from the summer of 2006 to the summer of 2014. I live in the Bronx where I also have a studio that I record and teach from, but various forms of music work take me all over the place; OTS was out in California in July for a few shows and I've been all over the northeast U.S. this summer playing various gigs with various groups.

Q: What do you miss most about the Ithaca music scene?

AK: What I miss most about the Ithaca music scene is this: in NYC, there are pockets of receptive listeners here and there, but it's such a huge and diverse scene here that it's nearly impossible to unify a community around a project. In Ithaca, aside from the astounding amount of creative people there, the sense of community is what I miss most.

Maybe it was just my perception, but it felt really satisfying and humbling to be part of a band creating something that an entire community thrived around and rallied behind. Ithaca is such a special place with a truly generous community that cares about supporting and encouraging talent and I'll always be grateful for the ways my life and career have been enriched by my experience there.

Q: Do you still have your famous turquoise dress shirt?

AK: I do still have the turquoise dress shirt, though it's been unofficially retired since Big Mean stopped playing. Maybe it'll reemerge someday when it's least expected – who knows?

If you go

Who: On The Spot Trio, Lucas Ashby’s Brain Trust

When: 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14

Where: The Range

Cost: $10 cover

Event Info

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, and its affiliates.