WASHINGTON, D.C. (11:51 p.m.) - Tuatara were in the middle of a ten-minute instrumental jam that was part cop show music, part salsa fusion. Huddled on the left-hand side of the 9:30 Club balcony were the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers - singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, guitarist John Frusciante (who recently rejoined the band) and drummer Chad Smith - just four of the numerous artists packed into the balcony of the club for the late Sunday night post-Tibetan Freedom Concert show/party by the Seattle-based 10-piece instrumental world jazz combo.
While Tuatara, whose members include R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and bassist Justin Harwood of Luna, played a two-hour set of percussion and brass-heavy jazz rock tunes, many members of the alternative rock world looked on from above -- and basked in the afterglow of a long, sometimes trying benefit weekend.
Just a day before a fan had been struck by lightning, bringing an abrupt and frightening end to the first day of the weekend-long benefit concert. But those anxious moments now seemed a world away, as the members of Tuatara played host to something resembling the United Nations of modern rock.
Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl, who hung out at the Tibetan Freedom concert, strolled into the club mid-set and stopped off to chat with Beastie Boys associate/ label mate Money Mark, who was conferring with fellow keyboardist Rami Jaffee of the Wallflowers. R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills stood in a roped-off VIP section near the back of the venue while Radiohead singer Thom Yorke skulked around by himself toting a backpack.
R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, who earlier in the day had performed a stunning duet with Yorke on the R.E.M. song "E-Bow The Letter," swept through the balcony with a silver box under his arm, wearing old fashioned pants after spending most of the day in a sarong. Stipe, who had spent the day hanging out with other musicians when he wasn't onstage, was enjoying the easy camaraderie.
The dulcet tones of "Night in the Emerald City," a meandering, light jazz track from Tuatara's upcoming sophomore album, Trading With The Enemy, filled the venue, as even more artists poured into the balcony. Jakob Dylan, leader of the Wallflowers, brushed by members of Cibo Matto, who sat in with the night's opening act, Sean Lennon, who was busy showing off his latest electronic gadget to a friend. Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard conferred with friends, as Barrett Martin pounded away on the vibes during the funky, world music jam "Serengeti."
Breaking away from the tight huddle his band had formed along one wall, RHCP bassist Flea, looking dapper in a dark suit and t-shirt, despite a haphazard punk hairdo that looked like a razor had attacked his head, said he was pretty relaxed following the Pepper's surprise festival-ending gig. "We didn't really get to practice that much," Flea said. "We played together a bit, but we're just excited to start working on some new songs."
The high-energy bassist, who seemed to be intrigued by Tuatara's sound, said he was "really excited" to have Frusciante back in the band after a six-year absence, a sentiment echoed by the guitarist, who, oddly, given the band's reputation for going shirtless, was also wearing a semi-formal outfit made up of a suit jacket, dress pants and gym shoes.
Despite the star-studded attractions overhead, most of the audience, many of whom got in using their Sunday TFC ticket stubs, kept their attention on Tuatara's rapidly-shifting sound. Songs such as the skronky jazz of "Potato Spy" and the explosive, multi-part "Streets of New Delhi," found the band's members switching instruments often, with Martin jumping from percussion to drums and vibes, while Minus Five leader Scott McCaughey traded off between keyboards and guitar.
If the all-over-the-map world jazz of Tuatara is the mid-point in musical experimentation, McCaughey said it was just the beginning for R.E.M., with whom both he and Martin are currently recording. The four songs that R.E.M. debuted in the afternoon - "Sad Professor," "Parakeet," "Suspicion" and "Airport Man" - find the group experimenting with exotic instrumentation such as Tibetan bells, and exploring a more contemplative, offbeat sound. "There's plenty more where that came from," McCaughey said before the show, in reference to the atmospheric, experimental new tunes unveiled by R.E.M. during their afternoon set. That set felt pretty great, but it's really just the beginning for us."
R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills kept his cards closer to his chest. "Surprising," was all he would say about the new material slated for the band's upcoming album, due this fall. "It will surprise."