For more than a decade, the four Amesbury High School graduates in the good-time jam band the Brew have made it their business to go out on a limb, musically speaking. At the Amesbury Sports Park recently, frontman Chris Plante added a new wrinkle to the repertoire.
“I’m hesitant to bring this up — I’m a little nervous,” he said with a smile. He was about to crowd-surf for the first time.
It was one more celebratory gesture during a long show that was billed as the last ever for the group, which has recorded several albums (including the three-disc outburst “Triptych” in 2011), toured industriously, and earned the admiration of musical elders including Michael McDonald and Bruce Hornsby.
On this picturesque late-summer evening, several hundred fans padded around on the artificial turf at the Sports Park, mingling, dancing, and (in a few cases) swiveling hula hoops while the band played. “As promised, we’re about to throw down a career retrospective,” Plante, the band’s keyboardist and primary singer, told the crowd at the outset.
The band members are not divulging details about their next move, but one thing is clear: They’re not about to retire from the music industry. They’re just retiring the Brew — both the name and the music they created behind it.
For one thing, they’ve been vexed by the existence of a rock band from England with the same name. “They can’t tour in Europe,” said John Marciano, who books the Lowell Summer Music Series and has been a promoter and adviser to the Massachusetts version of the Brew for several years.
More than that, though, the band is ready to set aside the music of its formative years (Chris Plante is 30, and his brother Joe, the band’s bassist, is a year older) and start fresh, stylistically. That’s a bold move, considering how many bands spend a lifetime rehashing their first batch of successful songs.
“It’s like the Doritos commercial,” quipped Marciano, as he paraphrased its catch phrase on behalf of the Brew: “Eat more — we’ll write more songs.”
Standing under a canopy alongside the sound and lighting technicians at the Aug. 24 final concert, the brothers’ father, Bill Plante, smiled and shook his head at their audacity. His sons could be headed to Nashville next, he said.
The elder Plante said the band’s shake-up brings plenty of new opportunities, but also risks, such as drummer Aaron Zaroulis potentially being snagged by one of the other bands interested in him.
Onstage, Chris Plante recounted how Zaroulis, who is 21, joined the band, saying, “This is, like, one of the top 100 stories in rock ’n’ roll.”
During a break at a show in Newburyport, original drummer Kelly Kane was arrested for urinating behind a trash bin outside the venue, Plante said. When the band returned to the stage, the embarrassed remaining members asked whether anyone there could play the drums.
“And a bunch of cute girls said, ‘He does, and he knows all your songs!’,” and pointed at Zaroulis, Plante recalled. Just 13 at the time, Zaroulis rose to the challenge and filled in
seamlessly. And years later, when the Brew was looking for Kane’s full-time replacement, Zaroulis showed up at an audition, Plante said.
The farewell show featured some guest appearances, with one friend sitting in on penny whistle and another playing “saxamaphone,” as guitarist Dave Drouin said, referencing “The Simpsons.” The song was “Looking Down,” about Kane’s run-in with the law.
Over the years, the Brew built a devoted following with an easygoing vibe that belied its work ethic and studious musicianship. Such devotion is a hallmark of jam bands, known for their long, improvisational concerts. At the farewell show, several couples danced on blankets with toddlers and newborns. And two strangers bonded over the distance traveled: one from Maine, the other from Burlington, Vt.
“I’ve been seeing them since 2002,” said one, recalling a memorable gig when the band covered the Grateful Dead: “They played ‘Terrapin Station’!”
The Brew didn’t stop evolving. “We never truly ‘are,’ but rather we are constantly ‘becoming,’ if you know what I mean,” Chris Plante told an interviewer several years ago.
Now they’re ready to become something brand new.James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.