Assembly of Dust: Jam Band Extraordinaire | New York State’s Jam Band Extraordinaire

Assembly of Dust

In October 2012, I wrote about the benefits of attending small-venue concerts as a way to enhance your  travel plans. Keeping this in mind when scheduling our annual spring trip to North Carolina, I discovered that my favorite jam band, Assembly of Dust (AOD), was playing at the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, NC, where my nephew Michael lives. Quickly, I called Michael and we booked tickets for what turned out to be an exhilarating evening.

Reid Grenauer, lead vocalist and songwriter for AOD, started his first band, Strangefolk, in 1991 while a student at the University of Vermont. Ten years later, when he decided to get his MBA at Cornell, Strangefolk disbanded. But by 2003 when Grenauer released a solo album, he realized that his “solo” band should take the name of the album they had just recorded, and Assembly of Dust was born. 

The band’s bio on describes AOD as “Melding the deep grooves of blues and R&B with guitar work that recalls J.J. Cale and Little Feat.” The band consists of Grenauer on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Adam Terrell on lead electric guitar, John Leccese on bass, Andy Herrick on drums, and Nate Wilson on keyboards. Personally, I find the band’s work reminiscent of a blend of Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic.

When Michael and I entered the Visulite Theatre on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte, we found ourselves in the midst of about 200 people in a modest nightclub setting. After a pleasant chat with the young lady selling CDs, we settled into the scene comfortably. The warm-up act was Boston-based Ryan Montbleau Band, offering a spunky mix of funk and blues. We especially liked the extended 10-minute version of “Dead Set” with its various improvisational flourishes.

When Reid and the boys took the stage, AOD delivered in fine form. The program highlighted songs from their 2013 CD Sun Shot. Among my personal favorites: “Lost and Amazed,” “Cluttered,” and “Vaulted Sky.” From the 2009 CD Some Assembly Required, the band delivered an outstanding version of “Arc of the Sun,” which had been originally recorded with Mike Gordon of Phish. 

During the first song, we noticed former Percy Hill member Nate Wilson on keyboards giving direction to the sound man to boost the volume on Adam Terrell’s lead guitar. Nate showed his flair for jamming blues, each note teased and coaxed into the next, never rushed or washed in a sea of notes. It was one of the most satisfying keyboard performances ever. Adam Terrell’s lead electric guitar work contained flavors of Dickey Betts from Allman Brothers but more controlled and melodic, even when building to periodic crescendos. 

Eventually, every song came back to Reid Grenauer, who projected his deep affinity for The Band’s premier LP, Music from Big Pink, as he connected to the emotions of the common man on many songs, including “Cluttered”: “Cluttered but clearly mine. These walls are sturdy and they suit me fine. The rent is cheap the windows dirty and the floor needs sweeping. Wherever I go it’s all that I know.”

And, finally, a sample of lyrics from the title track, “Sun Shot”: “We are all fables. We are all silhouettes in time. We are all floating in the stars. You are a stable in the acres of my life. Your breath is mingling with mine. I can all but hear the beating of your heart as it’s rushing. The sound is pounding and near. Love, love can be crushing—yes it can.”

For those who appreciate the roots of 1970s rock with contemporary interpretations, Assembly of Dust is a band to taste and devour. Begin with their more recent CDs: Sun Shot (2013) and Some Assembly Required (2009).   

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