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The Daily Tar Heel

Syndicate Cooks Up Southern Jam

When they amble on stage, it's immediately obvious the members of the Acoustic Syndicate are regular guys, not rock stars.

They're homegrown.

And they're not all that acoustic either, filling Cat's Cradle with equal parts electric and acoustic.

The N.C. band's specialty is progressive bluegrass with hints of roots, jazz, reggae and funk.

A handful of jam bands cover similar territory, though sounding less truly Southern than the Syndicate.

Even if it didn't sound like the most original band ever, at least it did its job: The sold-out crowd loved the music.

There was a freestyle dance party by the door, a shoving match over position by the stage, a throng of grooving bodies in the front of the club.

Its feel-good music and a feel-good crowd filled the club, many of which came from all across the state. It must be noted, however, that it's quite rare to see so many collared polo shirts and baseball caps in the Cradle.

The Syndicate's musical formula isn't tough to crack: sing-along choruses, gentle jams, an easy groove. Friday night the sound was a little jazzier than normal: Big Daddy, also known as guitarist Steve McMurry, was out with a herniated disc.

A saxophonist friend sat in, so some of the band's edge was lost, and it picked up a little bit of Kenny G.

The new saxophonist fit in well with the friendly band. His playing was an impressive display of speed and skill, especially on the soprano sax.

Banjoist Byron McMurry came off best, with his fingerpicking fury and lead vocals that sound like a cross between Widespread Panic and Bruce Hornsby.

Throughout the two sets the band showed great talent and skill but lacked a real spark.

The songs and their jams all blended together too much. The group never got off into a long, exciting jam but stuck mostly to the song structures.

While fun and easy to groove to, it wasn't really captivating if you were sober.

None of the band's material really stands out from the rest, so when it rolled into a cover of "No Woman No Cry," the biggest cheers of the night greeted it.

The glossy, slow version of the Bob Marley classic was the evening's high point, punctuated by the best solos of the night by each band member.

Unfortunately, the concert was deeply a social function. There were friends meeting, groups chatting, a barroom roar of conversation between and even during songs.

The nonstop talking really detracted from the music, and the sight of people not even facing the stage was a death knell for the mood.

At its worst, Acoustic Syndicate ended up like a Weather Channel house band with a pulse. Only occasionally did it or its material tap into something truly groovy.

At the end of the show, a fan walked out still singing "Everything's gonna be alright" -- decidedly not one of the Syndicate's originals.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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