Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jack White in the Bleacher Theater

We've all been very impressed by Jack White's last few records, and we were just saying that we had to go see him next time he came to town when ... we found out he was coming to town.  And not only that, but he was going to play the "Bleacher Theater" at Fenway.  For this they set up a stage on the visitor bullpen and open 6 or so sections of the bleachers and the grandstand.  We got tickets in row 40 of section 42 ... great angle but we would have liked to be about half that many rows up.  Oh well ... we were going to see Jack White at Fenway and were very excited!

The environs of Fenway were a madhouse as soon as I pulled off of Park Drive at about 5:15 and I was just able to get a spot in a corner of a closed-off Van Ness Street and a grid-locked Ipswich Street.  We met for dinner at Yard House on Brookline; good salads and great beer selection.  Then we boogied down to entrance C, paid an outrageous price for ballpark beer, and climbed up to our seats.  I was three rows directly behind the Ted Williams seat.

Olivia Jean opened at 6:30 and played some incredible gnarly guitar and some great songs.  He band was fantastic too, and it was a beautiful setting, with the huge stage almost covering the vistor bullpen and the home bullpen invisible under all the trailers and out-buildings a real rock show requires.  The sun had about set by the time Olivia's act ended, and the bleachers were almost full soon after that.

It was such a fun concert for so many reasons, the drama, the song selection, the setting, the musical performances, the crowd, the stage set, and just about everything.  Take a look at the pictures on Jack's site (click on 2014-09-17, Fenway).  And I'll add some more specifics later ... have to get ready for Freshgrass!

Here's the setlist:

Just One Drink
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
High Ball Stepper
Hotel Yorba
Temporary Ground
I Cut Like a Buffalo
Top Yourself
Alone in My Home
John the Revelator (Blind Willie Johnson)
Rambling Man (Hank  Williams)
You Know That I Know (Hank Williams)
You Don't Know What Love Is
We're Going to Be Friends
Ballad of Hollis Brown (Bob Dylan)
Ball and a Biscuit

Icky Thump
Steady, As She Goes
Freedom at 21
Sixteen Saltines
The Hardest Button to Button
That Black Bat Licorice
Would You Fight for My Love?
Hello Operator
Seven Nation Army

Sunday, September 14, 2014

AATW Runs Into Shirley

The summer music slow season is about over and the Fall schedule is about to descend on us, oh no!  First up was Asleep At the Wheel at the Bull Run on Thursday, 9/11.

AATW has been around since 1970 with a rotating cast around lead-man Ray Benson.  Ray has had his ups and downs over the years, but the band is back on top.  Nobody can do Western Swing the way they do.  Well ok, some people can, but AATW and Benson do it with an ease and a sense of fun that can't be equaled.

We were at the table at the left corner of the stage, and so had pretty good seats.  You've got to be up front for the Sawtelle Room because the floor isn't pitched and the stage is barely elevated.  Just before the band went on a rogue attendee asked if she could squeeze into our table and we said sure.  She asked and I told her I'd been listening to AATW for a long time, and she said probably not as long as her.  As it turned out, she's Ray's sister and is currently living on the Cape!

Ray has added some new personnel to the band, Emily Gimble on piano and vocals (Tommy Gimble's granddaughter) and Katie Holmes on fiddle and vocals.  Emily was off the charts fantastic.  Her piano chops were superlative and her vocals were flawless, including a lead on the classic blues tune, A Good Man Is Hard To Find.  Katie was pretty good, as well as Eddie Rivers on steel, David Miller on stand-up electric bass, and David Sanger on drums.  They also had a saxophonist/clarinetist (their producer perhaps? he alternated on soundboard) who we would have liked to hear a bit more.

Their mix was pretty muddy at first, but they eventually got used to the room and filled it well.  Benson was in a pretty expansive mood and was, as usual, incredible.  He's got one of the great voices, including power throughout an amazing range from upper baritone to the deepest bass.  They have an incredible repertoire to cover and tried to get to a bunch of those songs.  I was very glad to hear them do Faded Love, on which they did a couple of measures of "everyone play!" Dixieland, and also House Of Blue Lights and even Hot Rod Lincoln.

Dave liked it!  Not a bad drive back home and got to bed not too late.  Much more music to come soon!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ol' Brown Shoe on the Dock in Salem

Ol' Brown Shoe was playing on the deck of the Black Lobster in Salem on a sunny Sunday afternoon and that was not to be missed.

The tide was way out when we showed up for the 1:00 show at @1:30 (luckily they were just about to start), and the rivers were mostly gullies of mud.  The band played three long sets and were mostly excellent, though there were of course a few vocal flubs.  They had a BBQ (hamburgers and hot dogs) which was as good as could be expected, and the beer was cold.

Everyone there had an great time, ourselves included of course.  By the time they were done and we'd hobnobbed a bit, the tide was almost high with not a bit of mud in sight, and it was after 5:00.  A nice last part of the weekend!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Meet Up At Movies 2014

This year for Meet Up At the Movies the Dead organization arranged to show the made-for-TV film "Beat Show" from 1972-04-21 at Bremen, which was then in West Germany.  This was the latter part of the Europe 72 tour and the band were on top of their game to say the least.

Though they only showed the whole filming of the TV show (including bits left on the cutting room floor), this approached a successful documentary or memento in its own right.  Because the Dead were so relaxed, the feeling of the setting and their current goals came into focus better than if they just showed a performance (as in last year's Sunshine Daydream).

We went to the Fenway Regal 13 theaters after a fine meal at Yard House, both on Brookline Ave.  They were screening it in two theaters and the one we were assigned to was supposedly sold out, but there were a number of empty seats in it.  The film was fantastic and everyone had a good time, applauding and cheering.

In the bathroom afterwards the topic of conversation was what they'd do for a second set.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Green River Festival 2014, Sunday

As mentioned, most of our friends did not get tickets to Sunday, but we did!  We all three kind of forced ourselves to rise at a decent hour after being up late partying.  But how could we stay in bed when there was another beautiful summer day out there, a scrumptious Oxbow breakfast (this time with coffee), and more golf to play?

Dave and I enlisted Scott for golf and we had another vastly entertaining 6 holes.  There were some fine niblick shots, and we didn't run out of balls, though there was some danger of that.

Packed up as fast as possible after golf, refreshed water and other liquids, got the last few things out of the crannies of the room (you can settle into a hotel room dangerously fast), and hit the road for the festival while the others were still hanging out with languishing fervor (or something like that).  We got there about an hour later than we had Saturday and the line was extensive already.  There were possibly more people there Sunday than there had been Saturday.

The line started moving after not too long and even though several hundreds were admitted before us, we ended up with another fine space, about 10 feet in front of the soundboard, dead center.  It was already overcast and looked like rain (though rain hadn't been forecast last I checked), but this did not keep people away.  We did our Sunday-GRF morning routine of getting overpriced iced coffee and people-watching (there was a lot to watch).

Finally the first act came on, The Deadly Gentlemen.  They're a Boston band, formed by phenomenal banjo player Greg Liszt after he left Crooked Still.  Liszt is an incredible talent, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable set, though I missed some of it in the aforementioned pottie and food lines.  It was already a crowded festival!  I'm told that their cover of Cold Rain and Snow was incredible.

Whatever, it was down to the 4 Rivers stage next for another Boston band, Girls Guns and Glory.  This was another thoroughly enjoyable set that simultaneously showed some rawness in the band and showed their charm.  They played their excellent recent song, All the Way Up To Heaven, and did fun covers of Semi Truck and Chuck Berry's Sweet Little 16.  They also held off the rain; the sky was looking pretty scary at the start of their set but had calmed down a bit by the time they ended and we packed up and headed back uphill...

For the set of the weekend.  If you don't know Dave Alvin you ain't livin', and if you aren't familiar with the music he's made with brother Phil since the two of them got back together, you have to go hear this stuff now.  We'd told our son Dave about how good Alvin is, and he hadn't had time to catch up (GD fanaticism can be draining), but he was whacking me on the arm half-way through their first tune and saying, "Oh My God!!!!!"

The field was absolutely packed for the Alvins and people were standing and dancing halfway back to the soundboard.  This was another case where the festival people got it wrong: these guys were the headliners and the organizers thought Josh Ritter was?!?!?!  Phil has an incredible blues voice and Dave is just top notch.  Phil introduced him as the triple-threat: singer, songwriter, and guitar player, and boy is he good at all three.  And their voices melded the way brother's voices meld in heaven.  Incredible stuff.

They had Dave's band with them, and that's saying a lot: Lisa F. Pancratz (she did a drum solo that verged on TOO), Brad Fordham on his killer duo of basses, and Chris Miller playing the foil to Dave's guitar brilliance.  What did they do?  Well pretty much the whole Broonzy record, like Southern Flood Blues, All By Myself, Key To the Highway, Truckin' Little Woman, and the beyond-excellent Stuff They Call Money.  They finished up with Marie Marie and we were all (well, those of us with a pulse), in heaven.  We saw Mager a bit afterwards and he was still trying to calm down.  This was not only the set of the show, but one of those moments when you feel privileged for the glimpse into what a crack band of musicians can do.

Wow!  Time to decompress and eat a bit of Chinese vegetable wrap, the third year in a row one of our favorite food vendors has been there ... hope they don't get "upgraded" out next year.  Then we hit the road for downhill to see Barnstar! [sic].

We used to be devoted fans of Northern Lights back in the day, and we were eager to see Taylor and Jake's new band (though Jake's solo work in the meantime hasn't impressed me ... I'd lump him in with Josh Ritter and Ellis Paul), and Mark Erelli on lead guitar is no slouch.  We loved the few songs of their's we saw at the 4 Rivers stage before the sky that had been threatening rain all day finally let loose.

We made a quick decision to take off, and then finally ran into our friend GlennK and spouse, who have just had a milestone anniversary!  Rude of us to run away, but we wanted to get back to the main stage and stop things from getting wet, and then get out of there ... the World Cup final was being contested at that point and we wanted to get back home for the replay.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper was holding forth up on the top field, but we packed up quickly and exited.  In all, the GRF had a whole bunch of second-tier acts and was sonically not well organized.  I hope their new direction leads to a good place, but I for one will not be jumping on early-bird tickets next year.  For instance, we could have stayed home and seen the one "great" act they had at Sinclair for a lot less hassle.

Oh well, got home at a leisurely pace on route 2 and saw the World Cup final.  I bitch, but it was a lot of fun!!!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Green River Festival 2014, Saturday

There was a lot of hoo-ha leading up to this summer's Green River Festival.  To bulletize:

  • Signature Sounds took over the festival from the Franklin County C of C
  • Jim Olsen was still in charge, but there were some significant (to us concert-goers) changes
  • They were going to have a beer tent, so this meant more severe rules about "bring no alcohol"
  • They had decided they needed better food vendors so instituted rules about the size and style of coolers you could bring in(?!?)
  • They apparently decided they needed to cram more people in, and so instituted rules on the size of blankets you could bring
  • There was much teeth-gnashing about the new rules, us included of course; we didn't know how draconian they'd be about enforcing them and anticipated the worst
  • We bought early-bird tickets, but then they revealed their lineup like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls and it sucked!
  • OK, it didn't suck if you like pukey acts like Josh Ritter and Lucius, but the only world-class act IMO was Dave and Phil Alvin
  • There was some difficulty in getting reservations at the Oxbow (which had been so welcoming an experience last year), but we did and PaulK enlisted too
  • R&D were shut out on tickets when the festival sold out against all odds (but they were able to pick up scalped tickets)

Well, that may sum up the hoo-ha but it was really more extensive than that.  Rebellion and riots were plotted, and on top of that we got signals that we would have to wade through a wedding party when we finally made it to the Oxbow!  The good news was that Dave was coming this year, and he and Sarah and I made reservations for Friday too, though the others went for just Saturday night.

We met at West Concord after work and boogied on out West on a beautiful summer evening.  Things were looking good!  We stopped in Shelburne Falls and had to wait for 45 minutes or so to get a table at the West End Pub, but this gave us time to tour the Bridge of Flowers and take some deep breaths of western MA air.  It actually approached "chilly" that evening but that was fine with us, especially after last year.

Got to the Oxbow at 9 or 9:30 and were installed in room 20, a nice room with a couple of queen beds, a good air conditioner, a decent shower, and very few channels on the cable ... just as we expected.  What we didn't expect was that the pool was out of commission!  They had had a leak and the pool was drained.  We knew this would be a big deal to the kids, and so called Scott and then posted it to the email thread.  This was bad, but the stranger thing was that there was no sign of a wedding party after we'd been led to expect such!?!  Oh well, soon to bed.

Woke up and had some nice blueberry muffins in the help-yourself breakfast room, though they were low on coffee.  Dave and I grabbed the clubs and played a fun 6 holes on their "golf course."  They have no greens except for the places where they've put indoor-outdoor carpet (leave the natural greens, the carpet sucks!), the fairways were mowed pretty well but were very narrow, and the layout of the course did not go along with the signs on it.  But we could understand how much work it must be to even maintain the course to this level, and we had a great time, though we lost a good number of balls in the deep grass where it would be mowed on a normal American course.  We ended up both averaging a little over three strokes per hole.

Then throw stuff in the car and off to the concert!  We got in line on Colrain Street at about 10:45 and immediately realized that the people taking the shuttle bus into the site after parking in the free lot (as opposed to those of us in line, who had paid for nearer parking but couldn't get to it), would get in line first.  No big deal, but I grabbed the chairs and walked in so I could get in line, while Dave and Sarah took over the car.  They eventually got in when the lots opened at 11 and joined me in line for the wait until noon.  We early arrivers near the front of the line chose to wait in the shade, and that seemed to shape the direction of the eventual gargantuan line.

By noon the line stretched for miles, and people were still waiting to get in long after the first act went on.  They didn't do searching/measuring at the gate luckily, otherwise rebellion would have ensued.  I saw (and drank) plenty of items violating the rules throughout the weekend ... perhaps next year they'll crack down more but I think the "rules" are mostly there so that the festival can be licensed.  Anyway, we got in early and got our preferred seats, about 50 feet from the stage, center.

Waited a while and then the music started!  We were psyched.

First up was Paul Burch & The WPA Ballclub.  As it turned out, the ballclub was Fats Kaplin on fiddle (I had a brief chat with Fats later).  They were good.  But after a few songs we screwed down to the "Poet's Seat" stage because ...

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem were playing and we hadn't seen one of our favorite bands in too long.  They thought they were going to be doing a kid's show (this used to be the kids tent, the rules were askew) but most of the audience were adults, and so they played what they wanted to play!  This included Traveling Shoes, They All Asked For You, a beautiful new song by Rani written on the occasion of leaving her son at school for the first time, and of course I Want To Be Ready.  The whole tent was filled with devotees.  Putting them on the third stage early in the afternoon was one of the egregious programming mistakes made by the new administration IMO.  People were there to see them.

Next back up to the main stage for Poor Old Shine.  As happened several times during the crowded festival I missed a bunch of their set while waiting on line for potties and food, but I saw enough to really appreciate them.  They morphed onstage into their new group persona, Parsonsfield.  They're still finding their sound and thought they needed a break from their harder Americana sound to a folkier vibe.  Whatever, they were good.

Next was The Lone Bellow, and I was really looking forward to these guys.  They feature funky arrangements and beyond-great ensemble vocals.  I was even more impressed than I thought I'd be.  Their songs tell stories in a visceral style and these guys do not hesitate to sing as loud as they can.  And when they sing at the top levels of their ranges their voices merge extraordinarily.  This is a band that has to be heard to be believed.

Still hanging out at the main stage, with a little food, waiting for the line at the beer tent to die down (it never did, they need more taps).  The James Hunter Six was up next, a super-tight alt-blues band of limeys that was excruciatingly entertaining.  Hunter has great vocal style and though his act ran out of new things to do by the end of the set, this was not to be missed for those of us who'd never seen him before.

OK, time for Norah Jones.  She played with Puss N Boots, a trio with Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson.  Norah exudes star quality but has no ego and so was happy to share the stage.  Whatever, she couldn't help but dominate the set and we soon forgot that there were other people on the stage with her.  For me, one of the high points of the festival (perhaps the high point) was when she swayed back and forth with her bell-like Stratocaster and sang Cash's Cry Cry Cry.  This was akin to Elizabeth Cook stopping the festival two(?) years ago with her take on Hot Burrito #2.

Popped down to the Four Rivers Stage, which was set up where the dance tent used to be (great decision to have a stage rather than a tent), for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  I only saw a song or two by them, and then crawled on up to the main field through the crowd to get dinner and to see a few songs by Lucius, who were very forgettable: simple, loud bass and boring, overwrought vocal arrangements.

We hung around for a few songs by Trombone Shorty.  I'd looked forward to seeing him and he definitely showed some talent.  But what he showed was more stage presence than musicianship.  Great vocals when he got around to it and pretty good trombone when he stopped whirling it around and put it to his mouth.  Whatever, we were out of there early.

Got back to the 'Bow and we were the first ones there!  This gave us a chance for quick showers though to wash off the festival grit, the sunscreen, the bug spray, and even more festival grit.  Then the others showed up and we had too much fun, dragging our chairs into a circle on the "patio" outside the rooms and gabbing and gabbing while the beers and the margaritas flowed.  People finally started to fade and I ended up in bed before 1:30, though not by much.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Willie and Alison and Kacey

The traffic was brutal already and I was a little late to pick up Sarah at the 3:47 train at NoBillerica on a Friday night, June 20th.  The traffic continuing North on 495 was stopped, and so we went the other way through Nashua and Manchester and then finally Concord, through heavier traffic than I've ever seen in NH.  We finally got off the highway on routes 3 and 11 toward Winnepesaukee and it was bike week in New Hampshire!

What could we do?  We crawled through traffic on a beautiful day, the last day of Spring, admired the bikes and the scene successfully, and finally made it up over the rise and down the slope towards Gilford, with the mountains outlining the background against the blue early-evening sky.  We pulled into the surprisingly un-full parking lot, set up our chairs, and had some beers and sandwiches while we waited for the Willie Nelson at Meadowbrook concert to start!  The crowd was right behind us of course and the lot soon filled up.

After a bit we moseyed into the venue, looked at the hats for sale, grabbed a beer, watched the drone flying around, and then made out way to our excellent 14th row center seats during Kacey Musgraves's first song.

Kacey was great, and I was very impressed by her band.  The sound could have been louder for all of the acts to me, and this was particularly true for the opener.  But she played a lot of her hits (including Follow Your Arrow and Blowin' Smoke and of course the trailer park song) and mixed in some nice random country-folk, while her note-perfect band performed excellently.  In fact, that's the first word I would use to describe the whole night, "perfect."  None of the acts got a note wrong all night, but this was not a weak effort; they all performed perfectly while playing and singing aggressively as well.  There were a lot of jaw-dropping moments.

The roadies were rushing the opening act through their paces, thrusting the tuned instruments for the next song into their hands as soon as they hit the closing note of the last song.  One of the jaw-dropping moments (though hokey to some degree) was when Kacey and her band sang the a cappella encore, Happy Trails.  Besides Kacey (who was sporting print leggings), they all had quasi-Nudie suits on and for the encore they started the lights going on them!  Luckily, no one was electrocuted.

Time for another beer and a quick tour around the venue, which I hadn't really done before.  I went way up to the lawn section and it wasn't full at all, though the amphitheater itself was packed.  There were some very nice spots on the lawn and it could be a lot of fun for a mellow concert with some friends.  Made it back to my seat, and then AK&US came out and instantly the night became very un-mellow as we approached bluegrass heaven.

This was the classic lineup or course: Alison, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Ron Block, and Barry Bales.  Their setlist had few surprises and there weren't any real cases of one of the performers dominating, but I have to say it was one of the best evenings of bluegrass I've ever seen.  I can't think of a better one.

They started off a bit slow, and then Dan stepped up and sang Peter Rowan's Dust Bowl Children and we all just went nuts.  This was a knowledgeable crowd, up front at least, and we all realized what an incredible performance we were seeing.  Besides the perfect vocals, Alison was routinely incredible on fiddle, Jerry was beyond world-class on dobro, Dan was miked perfectly on guitar, Barry was booming with the bluegrass bull fiddle, and Ron switched seamlessly between his leads on guitar and banjo.  This was great, great stuff.

If I could have written my dream AK&US setlist I would have picked a few other songs, but this was pretty good.  The one unexpected song of the night was actually one of the best, Sawing On the Strings, which was again, perfect.  Besides Dust Bowl, Dan sang The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn (one of the best of the night), and the totally expected Man Of Constant Sorrow.  Alison did the expected sweet songs like Let Me Touch You For a While and Baby Now That I've Found You, but also did some grittier songs like The Lucky One and Paper Airplane.  They also did a great, foot-stomping Choctaw Hayride featuring some hot fiddle.  Again, this may seem like a hackneyed setlist but My God you should have been there, it was awesome.

When they reached the end of their set they stood aside and bowed while the roadies hurriedly re-arranged the stage for the encore.  Then they came out and did 5 more perfect songs.  No shit.

Well, it was time for one last trip to the beer tent and then to settle down for Willie.  He came out with his son Lukas on guitar, another son on percussion (along with another percussionist), his "little sister" Bobbie on piano, a bassist, and some other instrumentation from time to time.  But no one in the crowd noticed.  Willie was beyond riveting, dominant, he was the show.

They opened with Whiskey River, and did not fucking stop all night.  Willie did some of the soul-wrenching songs I most wanted to hear, but then followed those up so quickly with another incredible song from his long career that we didn't even have time to wring out our handkerchiefs!  I'm still trying to recover from his going in one measure from Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away into Crazy!?!?!

And the dominant sound of the night was not his voice, but his guitar.  He motioned with his head to Lukas to keep it down when he tried to step up the pace, and he let Bobbie take over short parts of the songs with her honky-tonk piano, but then he would strum a few chords and pick a lead that carried us all away.  I couldn't imagine that an 81-year old guy could have such a quick left hand, like he was a combination of Johnnie Winter and Jimi Hendrix playing the country blues.

Willie got a little tired towards the end of the night and wasn't exactly moving quickly as he threw headbands into the crowd and thanked people for their drunken adulation.  But he finished up strong and then called everybody (and I mean everybody) out for Will the Circle Be Unbroken and then Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.  It was just a perfect night.

Got back to the car and waited until the jam started moving before Sarah got behind the wheel and drove back to Massachusetts.  Meadowbrook is not exactly close, but can be a lot of fun, especially when seeing a concert like the ones we've seen there recently.