Impassioned purveyors of spiritualized dance music, The Nth Power makes a beeline straight for the soul. The torrid trio defies expectation and eschews industry norms, enjoying a profound emotional connection with fans that probes far deeper than surface levels.
“We want to be the biggest band on the planet, you know what I mean?” declares drummer Nikki Glaspie, co-founder of The Nth Power. “Who doesn’t want that for their band? But even more so, we want to make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
Celebrating their 10th anniversary in 2022, The Nth Power is an anomaly in today’s musical landscape: a band whose mission is completely predicated on the healing power of music, and the concept of spreading love through song. Striving to be a genre-bending outfit, the unit thrives in the live setting, searing stages without sacrificing a modicum of integrity nor authenticity.
Infusing an amalgam of rooted elements — funk, soul, R&B, gospel, jazz and folklore — into their mellifluous elixir, The Nth Power’s infectious exploits have been described as “psychedelic church music wrapped up in heavy metal soul.”
A decade into the game, this has proven to be an accurate assessment of sorts. Born as a quartet, swelling to a five-piece and eventually distilling to a tectonic trio, The Nth Power is on a prodigal path of righteousness, spreading joy, numbing pain, and making people dance their chaos away.
“The majority of our songwriting incorporates ideas that are both spiritual and timeless in equal measure,” says Nick Cassarino, guitarist/vocalist/co-founder of the ever-blossoming crew he leads with Glaspie and Nate Edgar (bass).
Riding high on the heels of 2021’s critically acclaimed full-length LP Reverence, The Nth Power is experiencing a resurgence of sorts. Ably assisted by luminaries like Maceo Parker, Dumpstaphunk’s Ivan Neville, Nick Daniels III, and late, great mentor Kofi Burbridge, Reverence was nearly four years in the making, and reflects a leveling up in their writing, a band stepping into their maturity.
“We learned so much from being around Kofi,” laments bassist Edgar, ruminating on the memories of the dearly-departed keyboardist/flutist, who passed away in 2019 after a long illness. “Kofi taught us about ‘oneness’ — in the music, and just with each other as a unit, as a family. He showed us a lot, and we loved hanging out with Kofi. We miss him every day.”
With ten years now in the rearview mirror, there’s quite a bit to look back on along The Nth Power’s fantastic voyage thus far. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride, not without its diversions and disappointment, trials and tribulations. Yet theirs is ultimately a thunder of triumph, a story told in music, art, community, family, and something bigger than the individuals making sounds onstage or those soaking them up in the audience.
Glaspie, Cassarino, and Edgar can trace their humble roots back to fertile Crescent City soil. The Nth Power famously first coalesced at the Maple Leaf Bar, way uptown in New Orleans, in May 2012 during one of the marathon all nighters that go down at Jazz Fest after dark. The well-worn origin story tells that the founding members were booked to perform in something of an all-star crew behind Jennifer Hartswick, the trumpet player and vocalist best known from Trey Anastasio Band.
An electrifying frontman and guitarist, Cassarino had been working with Hartswick since their days in the Green Mountain State; the jazz-schooled guitarist a contributor to various incarnations of her solo band. Cassarino has always wielded a bit of punk rock energy with his mojo; he’d also rocked with golden-era emcee Big Daddy Kane, as part of live hip-hop ensemble The Lifted Crew.
Glaspie is a veteran of several iconic bands over the past two decades; in the early 2000s she first hit the jam scene with funk-sax hero Sam Kinninger. Soon the powerhouse was drafted to drive the beats for Beyonce’s all-female backing band Suga Mama for five years. In the dizzying tailwind of numerous world tours with the R&B superstar, Glaspie jetted down to the Bayou to power the slammin’ grooves of Dumpstaphunk, Ivan Neville’s greasy New Orleans institution.
Glaspie’s connection with Hartswick also dated back nearly a decade; when the drummer first approached the then-fledgling trumpet star on her home turf in Vermont, she inquired where to find some cannabis. Glaspie scored no smoke but made an important new friend, one who would call her for a gig that would swiftly change her career trajectory and her life.
A multi-hued stylist on the bass guitar, Edgar is a virtuoso steeped in the fertile 90s/early 00s jam scene of the Northeast, most notably logging time with Groovechild and seminal American reggae band John Brown’s Body. Rather serendipitously, Edgar got the call from Glaspie and dropped everything to decamp to New Orleans and shred tunes for the Hartswick late-night performance at the Maple Leaf.
On that fateful first night the three musicians were also joined by Nigel Hall, a talented keyboardist/vocalist and Lettuce/Soulive affiliate who’d recently relocated to New Orleans. In a matter of moments, the group would gel together mightily, and quickly prove adept at pushing grooves deep into the night, as is custom down there at that time of year.
Yet as early as soundcheck before the gig, there was a certain spark in the air, an undeniable electricity between these seasoned players. Almost immediately, the four musicians realized there was something more profound within their midst.
“We sorta knew that there was something there, almost right away. This was a connection that felt different. It felt powerful,” reflects Edgar, remembering the band’s somewhat spontaneous inception. “It felt like… us.”
Glaspie too felt the pull of something spectacular, and she left the bold-font bookings of Dumpstaphunk behind to start over at square one with a new vision called The Nth Power. She was willing to forgo sure-shot opportunities and a measure of security in this business to build something brand new, because she believed in it — and it was the band’s to grow from the ground up.
“You only get one life… at least that we know of. And we don’t actually get a lot of time in this life. The time that we spend here…is extremely valuable,” said Glaspie. “Each of us knew, like, right away that we had to do this.”
With that magical onstage alchemy established, The Nth Power was born to the world.
When they first announced embarkation, the band was swiftly branded a “supergroup” side project, something they themselves may have initially considered. However it didn’t take long for the inspired group to refocus their attention wholly on this newly-divine endeavor.
In its infancy, The Nth Power channeled the grown and sexy vibes, wielding a fiery passion for funky R&B, touching on everything from Frankie Beverly & Maze to Earth Wind & Fire and Steely Dan to disco-era Four Tops. All of the classics were interpreted with an effortless swagger native to this assembly and their captivating sonic brew.
The first handful of original Nth joints set a blueprint for what this band’s early sound would reveal: spirituality, sensuality, and unpredictability. Cassarino immediately stepped up with intricate, intimate songs, soon markedly enhanced by the cosmic contributions of his new bandmates. The squadron stopped at nothing to learn them inside and out, each adding their own specialized sauce to the stew.
Weedie Braimah was the next to join the fold, hopping onboard in 2013. The renowned djembefola and percussionist proved a mighty addition; Braimah propelled the band’s ample musical and geographical wingspan to expand even wider. Vintage R&B jams were electro-charged with undercurrents powered by ancient African rhythms and drum languages. The Nth Power revealed oscillating, layered multi-part vocal harmonies, embedding them within their songs alongside funky jazz chords and uplifting invocations.
Thanks to Braimah, a 100-plus generation ancestral djembe master, The Nth Power began to incorporate polyrhythmic elements to their gospelized gumbo, stunning elitist purists and hooking wide-eared funkateers alike. Some of the band’s ambitious, nascent explorations can be heard on their debut EP Basic Minimum Skills Test, released independently in 2013.
“We’re not building rockets over here, so it’s OK to veer off the usual path. Extending solos and going wherever feels natural in the moment onstage. Each composition has certain sections where we can flex in terms of improvisation. But, for the most part, we try to convey a complete idea and tell a whole story through a song,” Cassarino explains.
When tensions flared within and Hall departed in 2015, The Nth Power added keyboardist Courtney Smith to the fold, plucked from Braimah’s St. Louis-based contingent Kreative Pandemonium. With this change of personnel, their original songs and improvisational styles took a turn for the folkloric, incorporating more traditional and international influences to the recalescent tunes.
Braimah left the group the following year rather amicably; he sought to pursue The Hands of Time, his own international all-star band curated in the folkloric tradition. Keys wiz Smith stayed on a while longer; The Nth Power continued to push the envelope on debut full length LP Abundance, released in 2016. This quartet configuration took ample advantage of Smith’s prominent church influence, as well as his sturdy R&B chops and elastic vocal range.
The Nth Power trucked onward and upward with their patented brand of gospelized funk and throwback soul, while occasionally traversing toward the quiet storm of the 80s. This stylistic cross-section is best heard on vibrant live record Live to Be Free, released in 2017.
Regardless of who is onstage alongside Glaspie, Edgar, and Cassarino — and these days it’s often just the power trio alone — The Nth Power still brings its stirring spirituality to the stage. The band’s aspirational medicine music continues to offer an opportunity for fans to receive something more profound than just a beat to boogie to.
“Throughout our time as a band, the intention has always been to put a focus on the healing power of music,” Edgar concurs. The Nth Power’s impassioned live shows are often so gripping that audience members regularly break out in tears.
“We want to make music for people to dance to. Because not everybody wants to come to a show and start crying,” Cassarino admits. “I love it when people cry, because it means we’ve touched them deeply. But we also want them to have fun, too.”
In addition to the rather unavoidable emotional quotient pulsating through their performances, the energy and messages within reveal an optional pathway for one to connect – or reconnect- with something bigger than ourselves, whatever that may mean to the individual. The Nth Power’s music is reverberating with such connection, yet devoid of any religious-type dogma, preaching, or judgements.
“There’s Spirit swirling all around us, and as a band, we’re in touch with that,” Glaspie says. “We all believe in different things, but we all believe in something that’s more important than the physical realm. And it’s in the music.”
In addition to a catalog of scintillating original music, the group’s smattering of heavenly tributes to the likes of Earth Wind & Fire, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Steely Dan, Nirvana, and Marvin Gaye have raised the bar considerably for concerts of this kind. (The Nth Power’s 2018 Nirvana tribute show is now streaming on nugs.net.) Most often performed in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, or at assorted summer camping festivals around the country, The Nth Power’s trademark tribute sets have leveled up what’s possible in this capacity.
Each concert is performed by a custom-curated ensemble of some of the finest players in the game. The faithful fashion in which they inhabit the legendary artists they’re covering — and the spirit of their songs — enables the band to reimagine iconic songbooks with a verve and panache that belies their relative youth.
A prime example of this peerless tribute prowess can be heard on their live release Rebel Music: A Tribute to the Message of Bob Marley, an invigorating gallop through a smattering of Nesta’s most inspired cuts.
In April 2022 The Nth Power unveiled a different look, taking the hallowed Amphitheater Stage at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park on a joyride through the annals of jam-rock history as part of the unprecedented The Nth Power Ball. In May, the group is bringing back the famed Earth, Wind & Power set with a new lineup for Jazz Fest 2022.
Yet the current day focus of The Nth Power is the core trio of OGs: Glapsie, Cassarino, and Edgar; a rock-solid musical family who’ve persevered through adversity without condition nor reservation. Each player continues to elevate their game with each emotionally-resonant chapter of their story.
A living, breathing organism, The Nth Power has taken numerous shapes and iterations over their unique evolution as a band. They’ve added and subtracted players, mounted all-star ensembles, performed and reunited in various lineups and incarnations. The extended musical family has become something of a collective.
“It’s interesting to see how the band has shifted, evolved. We’ve taken all these different ebbs, flows and turns through our career,” notes Edgar.
In recent years, Glapsie, Cassarino and Edgar have found their way back to working with Hall and Braimah, reuniting as The Original Nth Power for select engagements and unearthing several long-shelved classics from the early days.
“We’re like a family,” the bassist continues. “And you might have an estranged bro or something, but they’re gonna hopefully come back sometime, you know what I mean? And we get to hang out again and play music again.”
The Nth Power loves you. They tell you so all the time, the message is in the music. Ten years in, it still feels like they’ve only just begun. Thank you for the light.
B.Getz is a music-culture reporter and podcaster hailing from the Philly area who’s called northern California home for nearly a decade. Senior Correspondent at Live For Live Music, longtime contributor to JamBase, formerly with Everfest/Fest300, and host of The Upful LIFE Podcast — check out all things B.Getz at www.UpfulLife.com
If you’re a nugs.net subscriber, chances are you already love live music. As it turns out, though, live music loves you back. In recent years, study after study has shown that concerts have a huge impact on physical and mental health. The health benefits of live music range from physical to mental: Concerts reduce stress, release happy hormones like oxytocin and dopamine, improve brain function and longevity, provide essential social connection, and even relieve pain. Essentially, your live music habit is really, really good for you.
Concerts are a communal experience
Sociologist Émile Durkheim coined the term “collective effervescence” to describe the sense of communal energy and shared emotion people feel when they come together for a single purpose. Before public spaces were shut down at the onset of the pandemic, these moments were baked into our everyday lives; in one study, the majority of people reported experiencing collective effervescence weekly, or even daily. We went to live concerts, sports events, movie theaters, and crowded bars, all of which provided us with connection and some kind of common purpose. Those activities spark a unique kind of connected joy and fulfill our need for belonging in a way that studio albums or binge-in-your-own-time TV series simply can’t replicate. Even as many aspects of our lives return to some version of pre-COVID normalcy, it is necessary to actively seek out these experiences in a way that it wasn’t before, whether by watching live sports, going to the movies, or, of course, streaming a live concert.
Live music benefits physical health
Psychology and sociology researchers are increasingly interested in the impact of the arts on health and, more specifically, the impact of live music on physical health. Studies show that live concerts reduce the release of cortisol, the stress hormone which controls our body’s responses to stress (sustained spikes in cortisol are linked to heart disease and diabetes). Researchers also noticed that participants had reduced blood pressure and heart rate after experiencing live music. Live music experiences can even act as a natural pain management method; concerts can relieve physical pain by triggering the release of endorphins, which reduces a person’s perception of pain, or even intercepting pain signals before they reach the brain.
Live concerts improve mental health
There are significant benefits of live music on mental health. One study shows that “engaging with music” — which the researchers in this case defined as dancing or attending a concert — leads to an overall sense of well-being, with participants reporting improved mood and a sense of connection to others.Concerts are a unique opportunity to experience both music and social interaction. There’s a neurochemical connection between music and mental health with hugely positive impacts. Live music has been shown to trigger the release of oxytocin — improving our senses of vitality, companionship, and trust — as well as dopamine. Music in general has even been prescribed to treat depression and improve mood and fine motor control in patients with Parkinson’s disease. One study even described live music as “better for your mental health than yoga.” Hormonal and chemical shifts aside, music creates space for emotional expression and processing beyond what we’re able to put into words.
Live music improves brain function
Listening to live or new music also challenges the brain — it has to work to understand a new sound — acting as a workout for the brain. Music improves creativity, memory, alertness, and clarity, and live music has been linked to improved cognitive function in patients with dementia. When looking at subjects’ brain activity in MRI scans, researchers found that music activates more areas of the brain than even language; in fact, in early development, babies start processing music before they can process speech. Studies have shown that listening to music releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes neurogenesis: the growth of new neurons. Essentially, listening to music, recorded or live, keeps your brain young.
People who regularly experience live music boost their creativity and cognitive abilities; reduce stress hormone levels while increasing the production of endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin; experience consistent social connection or “collective effervescence; and even live longer (up to nine years longer, in fact).
The Tunnel of Love tour again? That’s surely a sentiment some are expressing with this month’s release of New York 5/16/88, the outstanding opening night performance from the final, five-show stand on the US leg of the 1988 tour.
On the surface the POV is understandable, as most shows on the Tunnel of Love Express Tour shared the same narrative arc and core songs. However beautifully realized it was, the argument goes, how distinctive is one Tunnel show from another?
It’s curious that 1988 comes in for such carping when one of Bruce’s most-beloved tours, in support of Darkness on the Edge of Town ten years earlier, followed a similar formula, largely sticking to a consistent group of songs for the core set, augmented by select cover versions and rarities that made a particular show extra special.
Both tours showcased a trove of material not found on Springsteen’s studio albums. In 1988, that included originals “Be True,” “Seeds,” “Part Man, Part Monkey,” “Light of Day,” and “I’m a Coward,” the latter a (nearly) complete rewrite of Geno Washington’s “Geno Is a Coward.” Bruce played those five songs across the US tour. But as the Express rolled on, cover songs—most entirely new to Springsteen setlists—began to appear, seemingly out of nowhere. But behind the scenes, their origin was part of the 1988 journey all along.
While the ’88 main set stayed consistent over the tour’s first two months, Bruce and the band operated as a virtual jukebox during their afternoon soundchecks,, test-driving dozens of cover songs. Eventually, some graduated from these private rehearsals to the main set.
These pre-show performances were explorations of the music Bruce and the band—and importantly, the horn section—grew up on or newly admired. Long soundchecks, like those that took place in Atlanta, Tacoma, and New York, were practically mini-concerts played for their own enjoyment.
On opening night at Madison Square Garden, cover songs born in soundchecks ultimately tip the show from good to great. Now released in brilliant, multi-track audio with one very special bonus track, in the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, MSG Night One “goes to 11.”
John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is the first cover of the night, newly added to the set two shows prior in Minneapolis. Gritty guitar and horns combine to give “Boom Boom” swagger, and its inclusion feels topical given the subject matter (“take you in my arms, I’m in love with you”). Bruce tosses in a long, bonus “make loooove” to eliminate any ambiguity.
Between “Boom Boom” and the first set’s other cover, Edwin Starr’s depressingly still-appropriate “War ” we are treated to a number of terrific performances. “Adam Raised a Cain,” reborn in 1988, offers a weighty lead vocal, including a fresh exchange with Nils towards the end. Bruce’s guitar work at the top of “Adam” and later in the solo are fiery, and the horns raise the drama to arena level. “Two Faces” is thoughtfully rendered and thematically resonant, as is “Cover Me”: Bruce dips into lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” declaring “I need a little shelter now,” “It’s just a kiss away,” and his own revealing improvisation, “I can’t see no sunshine.” Not surprisingly given the circumstances we get an especially earnest “Brilliant Disguise,” too.
The cracking first set ends with another epic “Born in the U.S.A.,” played at a seemingly pacier tempo and loaded with emotive guitar soloing, synthesizer pitch-wheel bending, and a nifty bit of Max Weinberg cymbal pinging between channels as Bruce’s voice rises to sing, “I’ve got a picture of him in her arms.”
The second set keeps pace with the first, and while there are no surprises per se (those are still to come), the band is playing at their 1988 peak. For highlights, first among equals is “Walk Like a Man,” making its second full-band appearance in the Archive series and sounding more vivid and widescreen than the version captured in Detroit in March. The arrangement features what might be the best work by the Horns of Love of the entire tour. While everyone in the band is playing brilliantly, Garry Tallent’s bass gives the song a lush bed on which the other instrumentation flourishes. It’s a stunner.
The encores on the 1988 tour were consistently strong, and the addition of “Have Love, Will Travel” by The Sonics delightfully balances the Memphis soul of “Raise Your Hand” and “Sweet Soul Music” with Northwest garage rock. “Have Love” is another song that graduated from the encore to the main set, and for the night’s most special moment, Bruce played that hand again.
“I’m gonna do a song now that’s a favorite song of mine,” he says. “I don’t sing it as good as the guy that originally sang it, but I like it a lot, and this is my night in the big room. I just love this song.”
What follows is a majestic, reverent, and perfectly arranged rendition of Roy Oribson’s “Crying.” Optimized for his vocal range, the performance features Springsteen singing with stunning control. What Orbison brings the song in soaring, operatic notes, Bruce makes up for with power and conviction. What a treat to add it to the master song list of the Live Archive series.
It’s no surprise that Bruce was feeling triumphant at the end of the night, and his band commemorates the moment in the most Big Apple way possible, playing an instrumental “New York, New York” for his walk-off music.
“New York, New York” was the last song of the 5/16/88 show, but it isn’t the final track on this release. We’re gifted a glimpse into those legendary soundtracks with the inclusion of “In Dreams,” recorded pre-show.
Bruce’s Orbison bonafides were well established even before participating in the television tribute special A Black and White Night, shot in September 1987. He had explored The Big O’s music in soundchecks for weeks leading up to New York City. The only E Street Band performances of “Crying” appeared during this MSG run, but “In Dreams” never even made it to the show.
The Archive has been fortunate to feature two other songs from 1988 soundchecks, “For You Love” from 5/23 and “Reason to Believe” from 3/28. But “In Dreams,” perhaps the most mystical song in the Orbison canon, feels most like we’ve snuck into the venue early and heard something only intended for the musicians on stage. What a treat. When “In Dreams” finishes, Bruce offers a self-review of their performance that I won’t spoil, but you’re sure to smile as I did.
The first night at Madison Square Garden in 1988 is an outstanding Tunnel of Love performance and, better still, a previously unheard and worthy homage to one of the biggest musical influences in Springsteen’s career.