The OK Theatre crowd for Sam Reider and the Human Hands wasn’t even close to a sell-out. It should have been.
SRHH is a supremely talented group of musicians based in Brooklyn, New York, whose skills and musical tastes encompass a wide variety of genres and each is played with a startlingly high level of musicianship. This isn’t surprising.
After all, each member of the band is a member of several other bands of various genres, which gives this group it’s broad palette.
The band has six members with Reider as more the centerpiece than the de facto leader of the group. His instrumental expertise includes piano, accordion and composition. Guitarist Roy Williams plays hot licks on a Selmer Maccaferri-D guitar (the type favored by Gypsy Jazz guitar legend, Django Reinhardt). Dave Speranze more than capably filled the upright bass post.
Eddie Barbash, who made a recent OK appearance with Sierra Hull, played sax while Alex Hargreaves played violin with a fiddler’s panache and mandolinist Dominick Leslie who, in his spare time, also plays for bluegrass legend, Ricky Skaggs, burned up the fretboard on mandolin.
Many of the musicians have played the OK in incarnations of other groups.
Casey Kiser and his band, the Jakewalk Saints, opened the show after a laudatory introduction by OK owner, Darrell Brann. The high energy of the band quickly swept through the audience, leaving the crowd primed just right for the headliners.
When SRHH took the stage, Reider and company took the crowd on a musical journey it won’t soon forget. Opening with an up-tempo selection that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Bob Dylan’s album, “Desire,” Reider announced all the music performed that evening would be original compositions, including a composition earlier worked out in the theater’s “green room,” only an hour or so before the show.
The show’s initial tunes were from the band’s album, “Too Hot to Sleep,” composed when Reider battled with insomnia for an extended period of time. The band played all-original music during the show with the exception of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright,” which also included Reider on vocals, the only vocal performance of the night. Needless to say, the group’s version had their completely original stamp on it.
From there, the group took the crowd along on a whirlwind journey that explored some of the most eclectic music imaginable, including music from the Balkans. The crowd responded to the band’s musical virtuosity with some of the most uproarious applause to every tune, despite the crowd size.
One particular selection, “Prairie Blues,” contained just a hint of the western/jazz lite standard, “Along the Navajo Trail” while evoking the loneliness of a lone horseman on the most remote parts of the Zumwalt Prairie. Each musician was given plenty of opportunity to shine, and at several points, Reider broke off to man the piano and either play alone or with one other musician. Suffice it to say that Reider is a virtuoso on the piano as well as accordion.
It’s doubtful that much of the crowd had an idea what to expect, but their immediate support, which grew through the evening, is a tribute to the open-mindedness of those who did attend and embraced the music and musicians. By the end of the show, some two hours in length, three girls danced in front of the stage, something the musicians and crowd appreciated. Of course, the audience requested an encore, which Reider and sax player, Barbash, happily complied with.
Most of all, OK Theatre owners, Darrell and Christi Brann, should be congratulated for their willingness to experiment — to take a chance on musicians playing far from the realm of mainstream genres and show Wallowa County citizens there are musical worlds to explore.