West suburban Downers Groove plays Summer Camp: On the Road at Martyrs' Saturday, March 23, backing a newly released album, "Live Vol. 1." Courtesy of Downers Groove

Downers Groove puts jams front and center with new release, Martyrs’ show

It’s not rare to listen to an album after seeing a band play and think, “Yeah, the recording is good, but the live show is where the energy really is.”

Downers Grove-based Downers Groove has found a way around that conundrum with last week’s release of “Live Vol. 1,” a five-song album culled from the best live performances from 2018 gigs.

Danny Mazzarella, guitarist and founder of the seven-year-old jam band, explained they recorded the music directly through the sound board at shows throughout the year.

“We could dial in the room sounds so it would sound like if you walked into a venue,” he said. “We took our favorites and tried to put the ideal set together.”

While the new release puts listeners right into the middle of the performance vibe, fans can also catch the band’s live show at an album-release party at Martyrs’ Summer Camp: On the Road Saturday, March 23.

The show, a battle of the bands-style competition, has five acts — Downers Groove, Gazebo Effect, Frequilibrium, Illy Wonka & Friends and SJOD — vying for a spot on the lineup of the Summer Camp Music Festival, May 23-26, in Chillicothe, Illinois.

Mazzarella, a classically trained pianist with an itch for jazz drums, said he originally turned his back on guitar, only picking it up when the guitarist for his high school band was grounded. “I said ‘Man, I should have picked this up when I was in fourth grade,'” he said. “It was a marriage of rhythm and harmonies in one instrument. All my training on piano and drums manifested itself on one instrument.”

Between his instrumental training and his time in a church choir, he decided, “If I use all the skills I’ve gained, I can get on stage and really rock.”

Mazzarella is the primary songwriter for the band — which includes Josh Izzo on bass, Nate Conley on drums and Ryan Keane on keys. He said his compositional influence comes from those classical pieces he learned on piano. But the core of the jam band comes in improvisation.

“Bottom line is we want to rock out, but there’s a certain amount of patience involved,” Mazzarella said.

West suburban Downers Groove’s recently released “Live Vol. 1,” which packs the punch of a live performance. – Courtesy of Downers Groove

“If you’re talking to somebody in a circle, four or five people, somebody might say something about X, and everybody might have something to say about X,” he explained. “In jam bands, that happens musically. Sometimes guys have a lot to say.”

“Sometimes it’s truly an adventure, and sometimes it’s just a quick short three-minute song,” he said. “I think the record shows that pretty well.”

“Live Vol. 1,” which dives right in with the 18-minute “Mountain Song,” is not afraid to showcase the band’s skills in that arena of onstage communication.

“We use the vibe, the audience in the room, the moment,” Mazzarella said. “Sometimes ‘Mountain Song’ is six minutes long … This time I feel like something else happened. If you were talking in words: ‘Well, actually man, before I take off I wanted to bring this up.’ And you use your experience to carry that. That’s the fun of it right there.”

“It’s not just four guys up there noodling. If we didn’t think it should go as long as it did, it wouldn’t have.”

Downers Groove is well-versed in variety. The rest of the live album is rounded out by “Nice Outside” (“our standard feel-good ‘We can’t wait for summer’ tune”), “3 Days” (“a quick, catchy bluegrass tune to stomp your feet to”), “The Colonel” (“one of our favorite groove-based songs”) and “Telluride” (“This is one of the best ‘Tellurides’ we’ve ever played.”).

“We run the gamut of influences,” Mazzarella said. “I hate to say we play a lot of different genres, but since American music is steeped in so many different styles, we’ve gobbled them up and naturally as a musician we spit them out in our own way.”

• • •

Summer Camp: On the Road

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 23

Where: Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, (773) 404-9494 or martyrslive.com

Tickets: $10

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