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Spin Doctors celebrate in funk mode

The Spin Doctors threw a party at the Town Ballroom on Thursday night to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their massively successful debut album, "Pocket Full of Kryptonite." It seems that the material itself has held up better than the audience -- roughly 600 people showed up to help the funky foursome get it on, but somewhere in the area of half of them bailed as soon as the band had played its two big hits. That's too bad. They missed some good stuff. But it was a weeknight, after all.

Much has changed in the 20 years that have passed since "Two Princes" owned both radio and MTV, and the Spin Doctors appeared poised to embrace a long and successful career. So many trends have come and gone, but the group's blend of funk, rock, jam-band and straight pop stylings still sounds fresh and relevant, particularly in the live setting.

The Spin Doctors -- vocalist Chris Barron, guitarist Eric Schenkman, drummer Aaron Comess and bassist Mark White -- took the stage with "Jimmy Olson's Blues," and then proceeded to play "Pocket Full of Kryptonite" in full, and in the original running order.

What was immediately apparent was the brutal strength and freakish funkiness of the rhythm section. Bassist White is a slap-funk four-string beast whose mastery appears effortless. Drummer Comess creates some of the deepest, swankiest pockets in all of rock, his small jazz kit delivering significant thunder beneath his traditional grip attack.

Guitarist Schenkman proved himself to be an old-school rock guitarist in the Angus Young and, occasionally, Jimmy Page mode. He played a Gibson SG for most of the evening, and his stage volume was waaaay loud and pure-toned. During "What Time Is It?," the guitarist suggested what it might sound like AC/DC covering a James Brown tune. Very, very cool.

Sadly, the weak link in the 2011 version of the band is the same one that plagued the Doctors' initial run in the early '90s -- Barron, who is a charming stage presence and an interesting lyricist, but a singer with only a distant relationship to proper intonation. That sounds snarky, but isn't meant to be -- this is rock 'n' roll, after all, and singing perfectly in tune always takes a back seat to full emotional investment, as it should. But if Barron sounds groovy during "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong," which sticks to its hook-fueled melody throughout, he is far less up to the job of tackling the more jam-based, improv-heavy numbers. The set-closing "Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist" jam offered the best example of Barron failing to keep up with the power and virtuosity displayed by his bandmates.

That said, the Spin Doctors have always been about the groove, and man, can this band still summon that tasty, hip-swaying funk beat.

Those who did stick around were treated to a killer three-song encore, featuring "Nice Talking to Me," "Biscuit Head" -- this one was particularly steamin' -- and "Scotch and Water Blues," before the band retired to the merch table, where all four members chatted with fans and doled out autographs.

Though it remains a mystery just exactly why the Spin Doctors failed to claim the commercial success the band seemed destined for on the two albums that followed "Pocket Full of Kryptonite," it sure is nice to have them back. The group's funky brew is still intoxicating.

email: jmiers@buffnews.com

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Spin Doctors    

Thursday night in the Town Ballroom, 681 Main St.    

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