From all indications, Conehead Buddha is back to stay.
The legendary Albany ska/reggae/jam band had its original run from 1993 to 2002, releasing four studio albums and touring all over the Eastern U.S. When the touring grind became too much, the band parted ways, and with the exception of a few reunion shows the group remained on hiatus until April of this year.
Since their initial comeback show at Valentine’s, the band has performed a number of club dates in the Capital Region. The group’s closing set on the local stage at PearlPalooza last month was rained out after two songs, but the band just opened for Rusted Root at Pinhead Susan’s annual block party last Saturday. Their next gig is at Putnam Den on Friday night with Moon Boot Lover opening.
Conehead Buddha, with Peter Prince & Moon Boot Lover
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Putnam Den, 63A Putnam St., Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $8
MORE INFO: 584-8066, www.putnamden.com
The revitalized seven-piece lineup hasn’t just been trotting out the back catalog during this reunion. In July, the group released its fifth studio album, “Present Perfect,” featuring brand-new material and songs from the band’s previous run that were never recorded.
The band is even feeling up to hitting the touring circuit again eventually. According to founding member, guitarist, percussionist and vocalist Chris Fisher, this was always the plan for the reunion.
“I mean, otherwise, what’s the news? Otherwise, it’s just another band reuniting,” he said recently from his home studio in Coxsackie. “Plus I continually write music. The new album is — it’s a logical progression musically, I think anyway.”
Along with new music, there are other differences in this incarnation of the band, most notably the expanded lineup. Bassist Ben Carle, drummer Tom Goss, trombonist Shaun Bazylewicz and keyboard player Mike Dunn are new to the group, having not appeared in any previous incarnations of the band. Dunn is also the first keyboard player the band has ever had.
“I had played with [Dunn] a couple years ago — I played in this jazzy thing with him,” Fisher said. “I just think that it sounds fuller; he fills in a lot of the void. When we do something Latin, he can play the piano part underneath it. A couple new songs on the new album kind of push the envelope — I don’t know if you’d call it techno, but it’s in that direction where there’s keyboards, like a Moog.”
The core of the band remains Fisher, the group’s only original member, and Terry and Shannon Lynch, the band’s longtime sibling horn section.
The reunion first began to take shape when Terry moved back to Coxsackie and began playing in Fisher’s new group, Mao Say Fun, which also features Dunn and Goss. Soon Shannon was joining the band onstage as well, which led to Conehead Buddha reuniting to play at Terry’s wedding about two years ago.
Beginning of reunion
“For me that was a big milestone, I guess — to know that I wanted to do it again,” Fisher said. “But we didn’t really start right away; we were kind of all doing our own thing at that point. I had put this band together, Mao Say Fun, which was a similar style. Then Shannon started coming and playing at all the gigs, so I thought we might as well do the Conehead thing too.”
Fisher first formed the band right out of college. Originally a five-piece, the band soon expanded when the Lynches joined up.
“There’s a big push for me — I went and saw David Byrne play at SPAC, and thought, this is what I need to be doing,” Fisher said. “I had played music all my life, but to know that I could do it in the context of a band never crossed my mind until after I got out of college. I was so stubborn and driven, that no one could tell me otherwise.”
Eventually, internal struggles coupled with Fisher’s health issues from constant touring led the band to split.
“It’s a stressful way to live, not all that healthy,” he said. “I’ve realized that now, for me — it has to be fun for me. I can’t think about the business aspects. At that time, it was a rolling train that we had to keep feeding. The business aspects became as important as the musical ones, and that kind of sucks the life out of it. So now I try to make the musical aspects the most important part.”
The band has had to work to re-establish its place in the local scene. With the Internet taking over most forms of music distribution and promotion since the split, they have had to adjust. The band recorded “Present Perfect” at Fisher’s home studio, which he started up shortly after Conehead Buddha split — another first for the band.
But many of the old fans are still coming to the shows, and bringing their families in as well.
“It’s kind of strange, actually — this girl came up to me at a show last weekend and said, ‘My stepfather used to listen to you guys all the time,’ ” Fisher said. “I don’t know if that makes me feel old or flattered, or both. But it’s kind of cool.”