The musical instrument is indeed an extension of one's self. An expression of spirituality, of sensuality, of the caverns of one's very soul. It's a whole manifestation of a musician's character, not only in its physical beauty, but in the soulful release that emerges from the smooth caressing of the frets, the crisp rim shot between the beats and the gratifying growls that carry out into the crowd. Up from the stage, the profound depths of a musician's essence arise and take shape, bellowing with passion and emotion. Never was this more apparent than on a recent Saturday night in Maplewood, when a phenomenal blues trio stepped onstage at The Rock. Welcome Pete Kavanaugh and Zookeeper.
As the band name suggests, the primitive, almost animalistic nature of the blues was captured, harnessed and released by each member on that stage. It was an exciting demonstration of skill and talent and raw emotion that drew people in toward the brilliant lights and the driving, thrilling sound. The intensity pouring out from the band began to ricochet and reverberate, until everyone in the room was grooving.
Zookeeper was tight. Every phrase hit like a brick and every note shattered any notion that these guys were "just the opening band" for G.B. Leighton. They wowed the audience with creative and insightful original jams and a noteworthy selection of cover tunes that produced shrieks of nostalgia from the crowd. An enthusiast of classic blues and rock myself, I was amazed and delighted at their vast knowledge of truly effectual grooves. From obscure Dead Head hits to characteristic Muddy Waters jams, Pete Kavanaugh and Zookeeper offered an exceptional interpretation of each tasty number.
Their stage presence was poles apart from any blues act I've seen in recent times. Watching front man Pete Kavanaugh during his guitar solos swept me up in a tornado of emotion. His curious facial expressions rose and fell with the octaves and left me thirsty for the next set. Smoldering next to him on stage were renowned drummer Mike Dubois and bassist Nick Salisbury, who piped their intensity into scorching renditions of songs like Robert Johnson's "Stop Breakin' Down" and Slim Harpo's "Hip Shake". Outstanding versions of rock classics by The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Doors brought the audience to its feet as well. The enthusiastic crowd, the spacious sound stage, the vitality and synergy of the band - all key ingredients in this delicious recipe.
With each member bringing such a unique presence to the room, it's no wonder they left this listener in beautiful awe on the drive back to the city. Pete Kavanaugh on the passion that releases from the stage: "It's like jumping off a cliff every time you go into that space. It's so exhilarating! You want to get to that point where you're almost part of the crowd, feeling what they're feeling".
Recreating the energy and locking in on the spirit and meaning behind each groove - that's what the band does best. They play their share of blues and rock standards that shake rooms all across the Twin Cities, but Pete truly feels that playing more minor cuts from artists like Albert King, Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker is more passionate. "I grew up listening mostly to B sides of hit albums. I've always found that that's where an artist's true soul is - what they really felt and wanted to get across."
On any given night in the Twin Cities, there's a blues band playing somewhere in a smoky, dimly lit bar, strumming their hearts out. So, what makes Pete Kavanaugh and Zookeeper different? Without a doubt, their intensity and fire play a major role, but the exceptional musicians regularly rotated throughout the band's schedule really set this group apart.
Pete has demonstrated his sizzling charisma as the lead singer and guitarist of Zookeeper since its birth in 1994. He is the former lead guitarist for the world beat band, Kairos and Twin Cities phenomenon, G.B. Leighton. After helping to establish G.B. Leighton as one of the biggest draws in Minneapolis music scene history, he left the band to form a blues/rock group of his own.
Since then, Zookeeper has been a smorgasbord of delicious talent, including standouts like bassist John Wright, who has worked with The Rhythm Doctors, Billy McGlaughlin, Mick Sterling and Tim Mahoney. Highly regarded musician Steve York, who laid bass tracks with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Marianne Faithful has also played with Zookeeper. Bass and vocal phenomena Eric Meyer has performed with the band for five years, while working on other projects with the popular Michael Shane Band and blues/folk group Daily Grind.
Pete's drummers have included Ron Caren of Tina and the B Sides, and Kurt Olson of popular reggae bands Les Exodus and Indigenous. Matt Jacobs, whose local credits include Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants, The Auto Body Experience and the Stuart Martz Band, has also stepped onstage as the drummer. You'll always be pleasantly surprised at who you'll have the fortune to hear at a Zookeeper show, making these guys a "must see" time and time again.
Don't go just for the cover tunes, though. The group has introduced a remarkable list of original music as well, influenced by some of their favorites like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Neil Young. Pete's deep, poetic lyrics are reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, his affecting blues/soul/pop sound fusion inspired by Stanley Clarke and Ramsey Lewis. Though the ever-evolving group has not officially released a CD as of yet, hearing these treasures makes you long for their circulation and destined hit status. Themes of unrequited love, past tribulations and personal growth carry throughout Zookeeper's original compositions. Songs like the ska-influenced "Gonna Make It Through", and the haunting "You Got To Me" prove Pete's genuine talent as a prolific arranger and composer. The crowd pleaser "Cooled by the Rain" which is a standard on every play list, never fails to move people to the dance floor.
With a sincere talent to create unforgettable original songs and play outstanding renditions of classic gems, Pete Kavanaugh takes music to a higher plane. With tremendous emotion and fire, he and Zookeeper rock venues all across the Twin Cities. If I had missed the opportunity to see these guys, I would never have felt their music, absorbed its energy and become so much more in tune with what effect it honestly has. They have unknowingly taught this listener a little more about that higher plane, that deeper level, about feeling without boundary.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Sarah Jade, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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