When asked what the worst show Super 400 ever played was, bassist Lori Friday responds without hesitation with a funny story about a literal meltdown of their equipment. “I think something’s on fire,” she remembers telling guitarist Kenny Hohman, who replied with a crack about it being a smoke machine. But when asked what the best show they ever played was, she pauses, and mentions an outdoor festival in Spain.
“It was one of the scariest shows we ever played, but I think it might have been the best show, on some levels, too.”
Like many festivals with two stages, the performances were staggered. As one band finished, the next would start.
“The stages were across a football field from one another,” Friday says. “Right at the end of the other band’s set, we turned our amps on . . . and we started to hear the sound of our guitars and drums coming through this massive PA system.”
Massive system, massive sound.
“We’d never played on a stage like that before,” she says. “It sounded like heaven. And within about two minutes, this entire massive crowd of thousands and thousands of people came over like a wave, and started whistling and hooting and pumping their fists. We thought they were just excited by the energy of the day. But then we broke into the first song, and some of them started singing along. And by the fourth song, more of them were singing along. It started something really special for us.”
It’s been a very special 15 years for Troy’s own Super 400, who will celebrate their anniversary Saturday night with a show at the Ale House. Asked if it seems like a long time, the three members of almost everyone’s favorite local power trio agree.
“The Yankees won the World Series that year. It seems like forever ago,” says drummer Joe Daley.
“When we met 15 years ago, none of us had a cell phone, none of us had a computer, none of us had the Internet,” says Hohman. “So, yeah, that’s a long time ago. . . . It’s a lot of music, a lot of shows. We’ve been all over, and had a lot of fun.”
Striking a more serious note, Friday says, “It seems like a long time to us because we pay attention to every day. I think it makes time a lot richer as a family together, and as friends.”
How many shows do they play a year, on average? If you include the gigs they play with singer Tommy Love as Blue Machine, the consensus is, well, a lot. At their busiest, they’ve been on the road for as much as one-third of the year, Friday says.
“The only time we ever took a break was when I went to Mexico for a week right after we made the Sweet Fist album,” Friday says, “because I really needed a break . . . and that was it.”
This seems remarkable, as there are bands who make wonderful music but notoriously couldn’t stand to be around each other as often as the trio in Super 400 are. But then Daley, Friday and Hohman are really close friends.
“We’re kind of out of the loop, you know,” explains Friday. “We live on a bit of an island, the three of us, and it’s not really by choice, we’re just really comfortable with one another.”
“Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?”
So wrote John Brodeur in 2004, when there was a lot of news news to write about Super 400. They had just emerged from the last decade’s corporate-merger chaos, which wrecked their first major-label deal. The band were bruised and bloodied, yes, but unbowed. Today, Super 400 find themselves, at the beginning of a new decade, still very much a vital force in the local music scene. Their place in the hearts of both fans and critics is secure.
Here’s where the curtain will be raised, just a little bit, on a process that happens every spring at Metroland: the Best of issue. Every year there’s a discussion among the music writers over which band is deserving of which award. And often times it’s a contentious discussion. But someone will usually nominate Super 400 for an award, and usually the other writers will agree. Their power-trio approach is compelling and entertaining, balancing traditional hard-rock songwriting with adventurous improvisation.They rock.
Asked about the tension between jamming and songcraft, Hohman explains that it’s a balancing act. When they’re on the road, playing a guest spot on a bill with three or four bands, they nix the jamming and concentrate on just playing the songs—as they did as the opening act for a show at the Empire State Plaza last summer. But when it’s their own headlining show, Hohman, says, “We really kind of ease into it, experiment, have fun. . . . It’s almost like two different bands, but it’s never been about one or the other.”
Either way, they thrive on live performance, not in the studio or rehearsal room.
“We love to play,” Hohman says. “We really get excited about the crowd. It’s hard for us to get pumped up to set up in a room full of no one and play. . . . We feed off the crowd, and feed off each other.”
Next for the band is a February tour out west, which starts with shows in San Francisco, Reno, and Park City, Utah—but centered in Colorado.
“We’re playing with our labelmates”—the label is Response Records—“an all-star jam band called Stockholm Syndrome, which has members from Widespread Panic and Gov’t Mule,” Hohman says.
Why Colorado? Aside from the fact that Hohman has a brother in the state, Super 400 have built up a loyal fan base there.
“Colorado’s been good for us. . . . We’ve played Aspen a few times,” Hohman says. “Boulder’s a really good spot for us.”
First, though, is Saturday’s show at the Ale House in Troy. Friday says that she’s invited that city’s “rock & roll mayor,” Harry Tutunjian, to do a shot of tequila with them. Tutunjian famously declared a Super 400 Day in Troy; the band feel the same love for the Collar City. And this is a part of Saturday’s show.
“We decided to have a raffle at the show for Hudson Mohawk Humane Society, the animal shelter,” Friday says. “As prizes, we’ve been collecting donations from businesses in the Monument Square-River Street area. We’ve been asking them to donate gift certificates.”
The idea is to help the animals while promoting Troy’s merchants.
Drummer Daley sums it up for the band when he expresses his gratitude to the group’s fans: “The people that have been so loyal to us, come to see us for all these years. There’s a core of very special people, and I’d like to thank them.”
Super 400 celebrate their 15th anniversary this Saturday at the Ale House (680 River St., Troy). The show starts at 9 PM. For more information, call 272-9740.