Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lee, Steve, and Meg at The Armory

Scott got several of us motivated to go hear Lee Ranaldo and Steve Gunn at the Armory in Somerville on Tuesday night, 1/10.  I'd never seen either play, though of course I'd heard of Ranaldo.  Besides being 3 days younger than me, he's always been known as one of the best guitarists around.

And we'd never been to the Armory, though we'd been tempted by other events in their Arts At the Armory series over the past few years.  They were playing that night with Meg Baird opening, and we waffled a bit, but then got tickets.  Why not, this should be great!

And it was great.  I was delayed at work (ho hum, we got acquired by D&B), but finally hit the road and amazingly got to deepest darkest Somerville in time to meet Sarah at Highland Kitchen and have a quick dinner before the show.  It was one of those suddenly warm, rainy, and sloppy early Winter nights in the Boston area where the snow turns to slush and everything is damp or just plain wet.

We made it the few blocks up to the Armory (where I'd parked), and our friends were just then arriving after their walk from Davis!  Hilarity ensued, we got beers and nice seats in the middle, though Meg had already started her set.  Only heard a few songs from Meg, but she was wonderful when I got the chance to sit down and listen to her.  A classical voice, songs featuring subtle intonations, and a lovely sounding guitar (no electric guitars from any of the three last night).

The Armory impressed me right away.  It's a surprisingly big space (with two bars) and could easily seat a lot more people than the two hundred or so who crammed into their shitty plastic chairs that night, especially if they opened the balcony area.  They also could fit three or four youth basketball games if they tried.  If you took away the curtained-off green rooms, it's a very large rectangle a few city houses wide and deep, and is just as high, way up to a complicated ceiling with exposed insulation and ventilation.  The sound in there was fantastic and all three performers rocked it.

Ranaldo was in the back thumbing his phone during Baird's set and came on soon thereafter with a rack of four very similar guitars (one of which was obviously his favorite but had an E-string that went out of tune regularly).  His style involves playing on the drama of the sound he's making and he started off well by shaking a few chimes and getting some droning sounds melding around.  But then his main guitar switch fucked up on him and he had to crawl on all fours to get it right.  Hey, maybe that was part of the drama!?!

But anyway, he rebounded soon, cranked up the volume, and blew our minds.  His technique was fascinating, including playing bar chords with his thumb.  I loved his voice and many of his originals (he's recently put out a new record and concentrated on that) featured neat word puzzles and twists.  But the sonic tapestry he wove was the best part of his set, sometimes getting alarmingly close to runaway feedback or guitar angst, but always veering back into his control.

The funniest thing about the night was the crowd in the Armory.  It was like an early Joan Baez concert in there or something.  Everyone was as quiet as a church mouse during the songs, and there was a loud but short round of polite applause after every number.  When you whispered during a song you were invariably met with "hushes" from the surrounding rows (though most people were on both ends of this).  I let out a "woohoo" after a particularly good song and several others showed some psych too, but it was mostly a coffee-house kind of crowd.

Lee was fantastic and then Steve Gunn came on, another excellent solo guitarist.  As Tristan said after a few songs, it would have helped to have been high for his set.  Not that he was bad at all ... he was excellent.  But his pace was at times a little slow for later in the evening, and you had to stay with his songs for them to develop.  The careful listener was rewarded though and you soon found your consciousness going up and down with his baroque stylings.  Great stuff!

Well, that was it.  No encores for any of the three and little stage chatter.  This was the start of their "tour" and I think it likely the three of them will vary the format of their set as they go along.

Gave our three friends a ride back to Alewife so they didn't have to navigate the sloppy slush and rain, and still made it back home in plenty of time for bed.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Miss Tess at The Burren

The latest record by Miss Tess and the Talkbacks is on my best of 2016 list, and she was finally playing back in the Boston area, at The Burren in Somerville on December 15th.  Met Sarah at Redbones on a very cold and windy almost Winter day, had a couple of beers and then filed into the back room at The Burren where we had a quick dinner.

The room filled up quickly and may have been sold out.  This was a WUMB “Third Thursday” concert and so was hosted by their DJ, Jess Phaneuf, who strangely looked exactly like she sounds.  Most DJs don’t and you’re surprised when you meet them.

Miss Tess was playing with different people than the last time we saw her, which was two and a half years ago, so that’s no surprise.  But it was the same instrumentation: Thomas Bryan Eaton on lead guitarist, a (very tall) bass player, and a drummer with a small but effective kit.  She was not playing the big guitar I’ve always seen her with before and love, but the one she had last night was possibly even better.  Her guitar sound is so rich and chewy it’s phenomenal.  I spent most of the concert just concentrating on her guitar work.

And she’s a great song writer too.  They opened with the whirlwind Ride That Train, the opening track on her 2016 record, and later did a few of the other great songs from that, Little Lola (which she said is about her neighbor’s cat, I should have guessed!), I Can’t Help Myself, Take You Break You Shake You, and Going Downtown.  She also did several brand new songs, including one that could have been written by Hank himself, it’s got the laconic true life blues set to a deadly melody that he specialized in.  I complimented her on that one, and she smiled in her Miss Tess way (we were at the front table of course).

Another thing worth noting is the vocal arrangements were very good.  All of the guys filled in at various points and didn't slow her down at all, they just egged her on.  She's more of a bandleader than she seemed previously and had the whole sound working and pulling in the right direction.

Had a nice conversation with our neighbors at the table before and after the set, and then bundled up and braved the cold Davis Square air.  Luckily the car was not far away and we got home in fine time.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Well ... in yesterday's post I said that we'd decided to go to just one of the three TTB shows.  And it's a great thing we did because soon after we made that commitment, JRAD announced that they'd be playing the House Of Blues the second night of the TTB stand!  Geez, we would have been in a panic if we'd committed for the second night instead.  But this meant that we were going to see two consecutive nights of some of the best music around at this time in history.  We are very lucky.

And JRAD in the House of Blues instead of the Paradise again?!?  I love the sound at the HOB and was very excited to think of JRAD playing there.  They've been doing acoustic mini-sets at the end of their first sets lately (Bob Weir sat in on a recent one, and John Mayer did a couple of months ago), and I was hoping they'd do that.

Sarah and I were at home for various reasons, but took off for the Fens at the end of the afternoon, making it to the parking lot on Van Ness eventually through thick traffic.  The HOB restaurant was closed for a special event, so we met Dave at Yardhouse and had another excellent Yardhouse dinner and raft of beers.  Headed over to Lansdowne Street (after a detour by the car) and took our places about 20th in line about 45 minutes before the doors opened.  And it's a good thing we were that early, the line was soon around the block!  Needless to say, this show was sold out and almost everyone there was there to see one of the best bands around, not just out for a night at a rock club.

Met some nice people in line and the time flew by, and before we knew it we were filing in.  Dave and I got quite searched and they ended up denying him access temporarily.  I saw he wasn't behind me and so turned around; was able to hand him the keys so he could go back to the car and then try again.  In the meantime, Sarah had secured our spot so everything was ok, except Dave now had to go to the back of that long line and it took him basically a whole hour to get in.

Met some nice people inside and that hour flew by while the hall filled in; it was eventually as packed as it gets.  The guy next to me got in with a whole baggie of stuff and must have smoked it all (discreetly??) by the end of the night.

Dave showed up eventually and we critiqued the stage setup.  Marco did not have his stand-up piano and Joe's drum kit was a little smaller than when we'd seen them before.  And it didn't look like they were geared up for the switch to an acoustic setup that we were hoping for.  Oh well.

Soon the boys came out, tuned up a bit, and launched right into the good stuff.  Dave called the first song from the intro ... here are Costello's notes:

Show #87
House of Blues,
Boston, MA

Set 1 (9:16PM - 10:21PM)
Music Never Stopped @ (SM) ->
China Cat Sunflower (TH) ->
Touch of Grey (TH)
Black Throated Wind # (SM) >
Jack Straw (SM & TH)
Ruben & Cherise $ (TH) ->
I Know You Rider (All)

Set 2 (10:53PM - ~1:00AM)
Althea % (TH) ->
Duo Jam ->
Good Lovin (SM) ->
Terrapin Station Jam ++ ->
My Pet Goat Jam ^ ->
Terrapin Suite & (TH) >
Uncle Johns Band (All) ->
9x9 Jam * ->
Uncle Johns Band Reprise + (All)
He’s Gone (TH/All) ->
Saint Of Circumstance @@ (SM)

E: Ophelia (SM) >
Not Fade Away ## (All) ->
Brown Eyed Women %% ->
Not Fade Away Reprise $$ (All)

@ - With The Eleven Tease (SM), unfinished
# - With a Jack Straw Jam (Band)
$ - With China->Rider Transition Teases (TH) & a “Waltz #1” (Elliot Smith) Tease (MB)
% - With an “All of My Love” (Led Zeppelin) Tease (MB)
++ - First Time Played by Almost Dead (I think?)
^ - First Time Played by Almost Dead, Benevento Russo Duo Original, not the complete song
& - With Ruben & Cherise Teases (Band)
* - First Time Played by Almost Dead, Benevento Russo Duo Original, not the complete song
+ - First Time Played by Almost Dead
@@ - With Ruben & Cherise and Terrapin Station Teases (Band)
## - With GDTRFB Teases (SM) and “Shortnin’ Bread” (James Whitcomb Riley) Teases (Band)
%% - With a “Come On Feel The Noize” (Quiet Riot) Tease (JR)
$$ - First time played since 2015-02-16 Boulder, CO, a gap of 66 shows, With a “Hey Bulldog” Jam (Band) - that may end up being a track, not sure if it was long enough.

  • They were firing on all cylinders right off the line.  Music was big and beefy and featured an excellent outro jam, which sounded like it was going to morph into The Eleven.  Instead they turned a quick corner and bam! ... were playing the China Cat intro ... Dave had called this too.
  • The sing-songy Touch, as you might imagine, was a bit of a weird thing for this band to play, but they aren't afraid to be weird.
  • Black-Throated Wind was awesome; Scott was singing incredibly last night.  And that went into a short and sweet Jack Straw.
  • Then Tommy took over the mike with a crackling Reuben and Cherise, which morphed into a sing-along I Know You Rider to end the set.

Wow!  The were all on fire and, it seems strange to say, but if you had to pick a slightly less then incredible performance it might have been Joe (he cured this in the second set).  He was really singing and playing fantastically and did not turn in a weak performance at all, but everyone else on the stage was beyond the top of his game!  Marco was just spectacular on his organ, Rhodes, and piano ... his piano sounded incredible.  Tom was coming out with aggressive, stand-on-your-head lead after lead, the singing was excellent, and Dave was amazingly amazing.

At times I got the feeling I've mentioned when seeing Phil and Stanley Jordan, that I could see the music.  Dave was laying down a popping bass line and looking at Joe; Joe was slamming his toms and cymbals and looking over at Marco; Marco had one hand on his organ and one hand on his Rhodes and was bouncing the energy from the rhythm guys to the guitarists.  You could see the electricity crackling back and forth among them.

And the room was great for this band.  I think that may have been part of why they were playing so well: the House Of Blues can ring in time with a loud band, the space fills with the sound and reverberates with the beat.  As I say, everyone there was [Almost] Deadicated and when you looked out over the floor, it was a sea of wildly dancing people.

Our place was being threatened of course, but we were able to take turns at the bathrooms and smoke area, and then get back together before the second set started.  Joe had said the break would be short, but it was average length.  It was already getting late, but we were about to see JRAD do a second set ... "late" was not an issue.

What can you say about that second set?  It was a little weird because it basically had only 7 songs.  But these were epic versions filled in with jams that left you drooling.  There is never a down second with these guys, it's rare to find a time when there isn't something unique and remarkable going on on stage, and usually there are many remarkable things happening at once.

I have to say something about the Terrapin, because it was one of the most epic versions ever.  It seemed to go on for a hour with the transitions and the jams and the choruses.  It built and climaxed and built and climaxed over and over.  You would have thought it would have been exhausting but it wasn't, it was exhilarating.

And when they were finally done they fell into a crunchy, rocky UJB that was driven by its beat, and then one of the best He's Gones I've ever heard ... soulful and yearning.  And then they finished the set with another left turn into a rocking Saint, which had the entirety of the Fenway area jumping.  We were going for it for sure.  And to top his excellent vocal night, at the end, right before the last chords, Scott switched into his best falsetto and capped the song with an emphatic, "Going on a feeling!!!"

Again, Wow!!!  The floor was a mess of empty cans and cups, and we were all a satisfied mess as well.  They came back out after a little bit and launched into Ophelia, a drummer's special.  That's so perfect we thought, open the second set with Althea and end the night with Ophelia.  But they were not ending!!  They teased us a bit at the end of it and then before we knew it they were playing the ultimate rocker, Holly's Not Fade Away.  My buddy to my left went nuts, having predicted that they'd close with this (he was about done with his baggie by this point).

But then the music didn't stop!  They burst through another door in unison and whacked us over the heads with Brown-Eyed Women.  Again, a crunchy, rocky version in which they hit all the emotional phrasings but did it fast, with an incredible beat and Joe playing every possible part of it.  And then they were back into NFA!  They stopped while everyone was chanting, waved at us all, and then walked away.  What a night and what a performance!

Actually, the last on the stage was Tom.  He'd taken off his jacket in the middle of a song, but was still as stylish as ever in a long scarf and his ever-present scally cap.  And then someone threw a number of scally caps on stage at him!  He was a little surprised but then realized the story, that a fan wanted him to autograph the caps, so he went over to the side of the stage, sat down and hung out while signing.  Nice music and nice guys.

Got it together and started out pretty soon after that.  It was already just after 1.  Got to the car and it would have been an easy ride home, but the staties had blocked off the entrances to 93 from Storrow Drive and Leverett Circle, so had to wend our way though Charlestown before we could get on the highway.  It was well after 2 by the time I got to bed.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Tedeschi Trucks Band in the Orpheum

Tedeschi Trucks Band is blessing Boston with three consecutive nights, though they're at the stinky old Orpheum.  The first night (12/1) was with Jorma Kaukonen opening, tonight's is with Amy Ray (of Indigo Girls), and the third night is just them doing two sets.  All three shows sold out and TTB is sure indicating that they'll only get better and more popular over the coming years.  We debated for a minute and then decided to go to just one of the shows though, the one with Jorma, even though that was a Thursday night.

In recent interviews, Derek has said that he anticipates a significant number of fans will go to multiple nights, and so they planned to play unique sets each night.  Glad to see they take their music seriously!  And I was astounded to see that when I grabbed tickets for the Thursday show as soon as they went on sale, that I had gotten first row center tickets in the Orpheum!?!  I've been there many times and never sat in good seats.  We were very psyched.

Met Sarah and Dave after work, parked in their building, and then we headed over to the 21st Amendment for a nice bar dinner (noisy and funky as always in there), and then mosied on down to the Common.  What was happening that evening was the unveiling/lighting of Boston's annual Christmas present from Nova Scotia, a huge spruce tree.  For those not familiar with this tradition, please read about it here.

After touring around the Common, the tree with festivities going on around it, and the Frog Pond skating rink, we made our way back uphill on Tremont and slid down Hamilton Place towards the maw of the Orpheum, old Boston all over.  The place has been cleaned up some since when I spent the night in that alley waiting for tickets to Garcia Saunders in 1975, but there are probably still rats lurking in the shadows.

Grabbed a beer and headed to our front row center seats, which we found in as good shape as the rest of the theater.  Not much leg room, a speaker was right in front of us and cut off a bit of our view when we were sitting down, and there were signs of decay everywhere.  But what was I complaining about, we were almost as close to Jorma when he came out as when we'd seen him recently at the Bull Run, and when TTB came out, it was like having our own Tiny Desk Concert in their living room.

Jorma came out in a stylish sport coat, black jeans, and t-shirt, and was as stellar as ever.  Here's his set:

True Religion
Come Back Baby
Hesitation Blues
Watch the North Wind Rise
Sea Child
Death Don't Have No Mercy
San Francisco Bay Blues
How Long Blues
River Of Time
I Am the Light Of This World
Good Shepherd
Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
Water Song

Wow, long first set!  And this was transcendent stuff.  As stated previously, I feel that listening to Jorma play Come Back Baby is one of the keys to civilization, and his fingering was exceptional.  He's been working on that song for a while and pretty much has it down.

Another very high highlight was Sea Child.  At some times in his set he sounded like a symphony with just his guitar, and you could feel Jack pounding away on the bottom end, though he was just one of the ghosts flying around Jorma on his small metal chair.  San Francisco Bay Blues was another fantastic cover, with Jorma growling out the lines in funky syncopation like some old blues guitarist.  I wonder when he realized that he'd spent his whole life admiring the old blues musicians and now he was one so he'd better start acting like it?

Just ridiculous that there was the standard amount of first-set chatter going on in the theater, but a good number of us there were enthralled even so.  There were shouts of delight from all over the theater at his phrasing and skill, hopefully startling the fuck out of the chattering idiots.  Between sets I actually heard several people ask, "Who was that opening?"

After Good Shepherd we all stood up (those who were listening that is) and applauded, but Jorma apologetically told us, "Two more!"  He could have played a lot longer as far as I was concerned.  As usual, Jorma was out there with two guitars and spent most of the time on his gut-string wonder, but when he picked up the steel-string beauty for the last song, no question but that we were about to be blown away with Water Song.  I think that means he's done Come Back Baby and Water Song every time I've seen him, and that's fine with me.

Ran into famous Jorma fan, PeterP, at the break and we gushed about what we'd just seen.  Talk about playing with the old powers!

As mentioned, the Orpheum is ridiculously dirty, small, and cramped.  The lobby between sets was scary it was so packed.  A guy in the beer line in front of me was freaking out because of the high-strung crowd, and needed a little encouragement from those of us around him, especially when a lazy beer vendor snarled at him that he was in the wrong line.  He was about to explode but we talked him down and he got his beer.  I got mine and made it back to our seats, and soon all 12 of the Tedeschi Trucks Band came out on stage and lined up right in front of me!

Hopefully I can restrict describing this next incident to one paragraph.  Dave and I wanted to stand because a) it was a rock concert, b) the speaker was right in our faces and if we stood up the sound was much better, and c) sitting down we couldn't see Kofi Burbridge, who was as excellent as always that night.  Everyone in the theater was standing except for some people in the row behind us, and they felt they could demand that we sit down.  One person asked Dave with a "please" that he sit down, so he did.  But one guy six seats to my left (that is, I wasn't even in his sight line) poked me firmly in the butt with his cane to get me to sit!  I sure let the people around us know at the next song break that he had done that, and he was later confronted by security.

OK, another paragraph on this topic.  I was heartened to get a lot of support from many people around us who had seen the incident, and who came up to me afterwards and told me they couldn't believe the guy had done that.  "Has he ever BEEN to a rock concert before??" was the sentiment from person after person.  The security guy who'd confronted him actually came up to me also at the end of the concert and said, "I told that senile old guy to stop poking people with his cane and he just glared at me!"  One person told me he had heard him say, "I didn't jab him, I just poked him!"  Oh well, I was steamed up and embarrassed pretty good and I sat for about half the concert, but then I stood up again and loved it.  Everybody in the second row left sometime during the set and now everyone was standing ... good riddance to them.

Anyway ... again, there I was with the whole fucking Tedeschi Trucks Band playing and singing their hearts out right on front of me.  They opened with an incendiary vocal by Mike Mattison, who came down off his riser for that.  Susan took most of the leads from there, though Mark Rivers got one late in the set and one was a duet between Mike and Alecia Chakour.  As mentioned, Kofi Burbridge was just excellent, stamping every song with his powerful organ fills.  I could mention everybody in the band, they were all playing fantastically.

But as you might imagine, this was another transcendent experience in a large part because of Derek Fucking Trucks.  I'd seen him play many times, but this time he was just 20 feet in front of us and his powerful technique and volume were dominating our world.  He's a bit of a stone face when he performs, but on this night we were close enough to see the glances he shot around the stage to keep his band together, everyone on the stage was hanging on his little winks, nods, and quick smiles.

As mentioned before, they were determined to play three nights of non-repeats, and so did a few songs that perhaps could have been rehearsed a bit more.  But we loved it, and Susan was delightfully embarrassed when she forgot some words.  Dave got a setlist from a roadie at the end, and here's what it says:

Get What You Deserve
Laugh About It
Don't Drift Away
Within You Without You
Just As Strange
Bird On a Wire
The Storm
Color Of the Blues
Key To the Highway
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
Leavin' Trunk
Volunteered Slavery
How Blue Can You Get?
Let Me Get By

It Ain't Easy
Space Captain/Delta Lady

The Beatles song Within You Without You was the surprise of the set, but soon segued into the powerful Just As Strange.  Susan just killed Leonard Cohen's Bird On a Wire, and later did the song she does as a duet with John Prine on his latest album, George Jones' Color Of the Blues.  Jorma came out and joined the band for Key To the Highway, playing a vintage Thunderbird electric.

Here's an excellent review of the show, and I think that's my profile blocking the camera in his pictures.  Good!

Confabbed with people who wanted to tell me what a jerk that guy had been, got the setlist, and finally pushed our way out through the cramped lobby and up Hamilton Place.  Not far back to the garage, and got home and in bed by midnight.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Del and Dawg In Beverly

Geez it's been a horrible year in several ways, including in the number of fantastic musicians we've lost, most recently Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, and Mose Allison.  One universe-class musician we still have with us is Del McCoury, and when we heard back in August that he'd be playing at the newly-refurbished Cabot Theater in Beverly on Saturday, November 19th with another incredible (and elderly) musician, David Grisman, we got tickets immediately!  4th row center, that is.

Dave was working downtown but showed up towards the end of the afternoon.  We headed out for the North Shore in plenty of time, but I then realized I'd forgotten the tickets ... though I realized it before we'd even gotten to 128 it still took us 45 minutes or so to go back and get them.  Whatever, we still were in time to grab a table at Gulu-Gulu in Salem and have a fine dinner and couple of beers.

Then headed up over the bridge to Beverly, found the Cabot (we'd never been there before), and found a parking space on a nearby suburban street.  Grabbed another beer from their bar and had a little time to admire the handsome theater before the guys came out and lined up right in front of us, the great Del McCoury with his guitar to the right as we looked at them, and David Dawg Grisman on the left, of course with a beautiful mandolin.  They then proceed to be as fantastic as you might expect.

They opened with Feast Here Tonight, did East Virginia Blues, Toy Heart, and just ripped off fantastic tune after fantastic tune.  Hearing Del McCoury sing is literally incredible ... it's hard to believe that a person can do that.  But to see him do it right in front of you forces you to believe.

Grisman was great on vocals and his touch on the mandolin is unique.  There's a style named after him, for Dawg's sake.  But as wonderful as he is, to see Del sing was the most magical aspect of the night.  They did two relatively short sets, and as I say, pushed the bar higher and higher,  They climaxed with Dark Hollow, which of course Del sang with the loneliness, bravado, and character you'd expect.  His tempo and his precise ability to hit any note ever invented is spectacular.

Great Saturday night, and then Dave drove home.  A car in front of us was cut off and almost turned over by another car swerving for an exit on 128.  We stopped and they were ok; Sarah called 911 and the State Police were soon there, though the guy who did it had driven off.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

DSO At the Calvin Theater

It was a bit of a depressing week … in a depressing year in politics and popular culture.  So we figured what the heck, lets’ go see DSO in Northampton on Saturday, 11/12 and cheer up a bit!

Made some plans and headed first to Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke on a slightly chilly but beautiful, blue Fall day.  I think I’d been skiing at Mt. Tom way back in my teenage days, but the ski slopes there have been closed for years and now it’s a mish-mosh of picnic areas and hiking trails.  It’s a beautiful area with great views of the Connecticut River and the surrounding hills, and features 47 of the 80 tree species native to Hampshire County, according to the website.

We made it out there without much traffic in early afternoon, and had a great hike on one of the loops recommended on their site: part of the M&M trail (Monadnock to Metacomet), over the summit of Whiting Peak at 1014', back down the East side of the mountain on the DOC trail, and then back to the road on the level Quarry Trail.  That section of the M&M trail is very vertical, but the reward is being on top of some spectacular cliffs, looking Northwest.  The ground was thick with fallen leaves and the footing could be very treacherous on the not-level parts, which was most of the hike, but the scenery was fantastic.  We saw many young people on the hike, and a couple of old ones, which was the theme of the day.

We then spent some time hanging around Northampton, where we saw many, many people younger than us, a lot of them dragging their kids and/or babies around downtown.  Had a beer at the Toasted Owl, some great Middle Eastern food down the street, and then another drink at Foundry before heading over to the Calvin Theater, where the box office was mobbed with young people getting last-minute tickets (the show sold out).  They wouldn’t let Sarah bring her camera in, but we’d parked nearby and she took it back to the car.

This was our first time at the Calvin and it’s a pretty little theater, though it shows some signs of age.  And the bathroom floors became swamps by the end of the concert, perhaps related to the fact that it was packed with young people drinking and carrying on … which is fine with us.  But the sound was not good; sure, it was loud enough, but they seemed to have a hard time ( and to then give up) with un-muddifying it.  RobE and RobB managed to sing well and project through the mud, but Jeff Mattson never sounded good.  Maybe he was having a bad vocal night (though his leads were great), but I think the real culprit was the sound in the theater, which is narrower and has a lower ceiling than (e.g.) the Wilbur or the Capitol.  At the end when RobE rambled on about the show they covered and the filler they were about to do at the end of the night, we could barely make out what he was saying.
And I’ll have to say that the setlist they did was a little disappointing.  Here it is:

First set:

  • Touch Of Grey
  • Minglewood Blues
  • We Can Run
  • Friend Of the Devil (which was the 30DoD song for the day!)
  • Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues
  • Help On the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower

Second set:

  • Foolish Heart
  • Man Smart (Woman Smarter)
  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Truckin’ > Jam > Drums > Space > China Doll
  • One More Saturday Night
  • Black Muddy River
  • Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
  • I Second That Emotion

OK, a little disappointing with Touch, We Can Run, and some uninspired playing.  But in all it was a lot of fun.  I’ve never not had fun at a DSO concert, and one of the great things was the crowd was going nuts, dancing and freaking out through the whole thing.  There was not a depressed person in the house!

As mentioned, Jeff pulled off some great leads, RobE was trying as hard as he could on the vocals, and RobB is always great.  Lisa didn’t appear at all, which was a little disappointing too, but what are you gonna do?  Not every DSO show can be Europe ’72 or Boston ’69.  Highlights to me were a great Minglewood, a very good jam in the second part of Help, and a fine Man Smart that had everyone dancing.

I was texting Dave and he figured out the show early: Brendan Byrne Arena, 1989-10-14.  I told him, no wonder they sound like they’re playing in a hockey rink!  I think every Saturday show should end with Saturday Night, so that made me happy, as well as the encore of Black Muddy River, a song I love, and the filler of Tom Thumb and Second That Emotion.  Skip sang Tom Thumb woodenly (this must be sung by the bass player), but threw in “started off on Diet Coke” and “I’m going back to Massachusetts” which got quite the roar … we’ll keep our universal health care and marriage rights here (and we’ve just legalized marijuana), even if the rest of the country changes.

Took a bit of doing to push our way out through the crowd a few minutes before midnight; everyone was having so much fun they didn’t want to leave!  Sarah drove us back and even though the traffic remained light it was a long haul.  Got to bed just before 2:30.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Phil Once Again, Armonk part 2

Woke up in the Armonk La Quinta after a nice sleep.  Breakfast was open until 10 that morning and we sure didn't want to miss that (sarcasm intended)!  The place was pretty full, probably mostly with business-people who spent Friday on the job but left early to get back to Podunk (not Armonk).  A bunch of stragglers remained however: a mish-mosh of families on their way to somewhere, elderly folks on their way to somewhere else, and partiers like us who were just stopping in for a spell.

We all hit up the lobby for an American motel breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, make-your-own waffles, and catch as can pastries (good blueberry muffins actually).  We sat in the back room, thankfully far away from the blaring FoxTV station, along with a Mexican family and a couple of young black guys who bitched half-heartedly about ho's and then probably went back to their suburban homes.  Have you been to America?

OK, time to re-gather in the hotel room and it wasn't long before we were all ready to focus on the excursion we'd planned, to the Butler Sanctuary, just North of Armonk in Mt. Kisco (which is a town).  It's so rare to see them in the wild and we were psyched.

Jumped in the car and pulled into the Sanctuary parking lot not too long after that on another lovely Fall day, with a few dark clouds in a mixed overcast, a nippy-but-warm-feeling-inside Fall glow, hints of a languorous idyll hiding among the rocks, and the musty and moldy but bright smell of a full-lunged Autumn day in the woods.

The Butler Sanctuary is right off 684 and was noisy at the parking lot, but straight-away we climbed right up to the hawk observation platform, high above the highway, where we could see Long Island Sound in the distance to the South and a trio of predators circling to the East.  We amateur-observed a bit and talked to a couple of late-season official observers; we were far away from the highway and what it represented with just a short climb.  We then went downhill and uphill and downhill and uphill past a few dog-hikers and jeez, we loved the place.  The light and the mix of trees (ash, beech, oak, and maple, with a few pines and other sorts) were so refreshing and the rock outcroppings, the stone walls, and the roll of the land were just incredible.  This place is highly recommended. 

We didn't go for the longest walk around the perimeter trails that we had considered, for several reasons,  This place is a bit more challenging than you'd think because of the frequency of elevation changes ... you're rarely *not* going up or down.  And we weren't as equipped as we might have been for such a woodsy walk.  And anyway, we were well aware that in a few hours we'd be dancing all night, and that was really the point of this goddamn expedition, not trying to catch a glimpse of butlers whisking around silver tea sets!!

Got back to the parking lot after a really fun time, and then headed into Mt. Kisco itself to seek out the Mt. Kisco Diner we'd seen mentioned on signs.  Turned out it was in the middle of a charming North Westchester town and we got seats after a bit of a wait, and got some VERY large dishes: Chef's Salad, Portabella Grill, and Aruba Wrap.  Sarah and Dave got fancy drinks too.  We had a fine time there but had to leave the deep-fried green beans behind.  Maybe we'll go back there another time when we're looking for good, pricey, American food with a bit of high-calorie whimsy and a suburban ambiance.  They actually have a burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches!?!

OK, back to the Armonk hotel, a bit of catching up with the internet, and then we were off once more to Port Chester to see Jay Blakesberg's show at Garcia's.  Jay, of course, is one of the pre-eminent photographic documentarians of the Grateful Dead and other rock artists.  We were running a bit late and the Church parking lot was not open to us hoi-polloi (turned out they were having a function that night), but we found a great spot on the street and soon settled into folding chairs at Garcia's (with adult beverages) in plenty of time for Jay's slides.

Garcia's is the Capitol Theater's side-bar, which is open at times that the Theater itself isn't and functions alongside the Theater, sometimes as an overflow for the crowds there.  They have their own functions too, and we'd seen that Blakesberg would be presenting a slide-show of his photographs there in the afternoon before the P&F show.  Jay walked around nervously in a paisley shirt, but seemed to figure all was ok eventually, and settled into his stool on their small stage.

This was another great time!  Jay's done some fantastic rock photography over a long career, and in his rambling, rapid show frames his iconic pictures in his own experiences, including some poignant seventies-teenager moments and some brushes with larger-than-life (they wish) characters like Tom Waits and Bill Murray.  About 50 of us were sitting in rows of folding chairs listening to this, and the crowd gradually filled in around the edges as the show went on.  Two surprising things were that GD crowds are generally 60-70% male, but the audience at this event was predominantly female.  Also, when Jay asked, "Who here was at Fare Thee Well?" well over 50% of the hands went up.  I guess we profiled ourselves there.

One fun thing was that Phil and Friends launched into their soundcheck in the middle of the slide presentation.  Jay said to the audience, "Want me to go ask Phil to turn it down a bit??"  I was so focused on the slides that I didn't pay a lot of attention to what they were playing, but one song you could not help but hear was Nicki Bluhm singing the Jefferson Airplane's Somebody To Love.  

Great time and got out of there just in at the right moment to escape the forming crowd and to walk up the few blocks to Kiosko, where we had another delicious, quiet and private meal.  Fed the meter (well, the parking ticket dispenser) on the way back, and then figured we might as well go in.  They sure searched me thoroughly this time (ok, no cavity inspection) and they made me discard a couple of un-documented tabs of ibuprofen that I had in my pocket.  The interior doors weren't open yet so we had plenty of time to kill and we hung out back in Garcia's, where Jay and his paisley shirt were still holding court,  Would have liked to talk with him, but he was busy entertaining paying customers.

Before we knew it, it was time for the Saturday show in the Capitol!

We had seats a few rows back and a few seats to the right of where we'd been on Friday.  The crowd was late-arriving and we had plenty of time to detour to the smoking area (where I met a guy from Scroon Lake), drink some beer, and watch the pre-show.  It soon became apparent that, not only were lots of people in costume, but lots of people were already very fucked up, and they got more fucked up as the night went along.  Didn't see any puking, but saw a few people fall down in ways that had to hurt, saw a few people who had no idea where they were, and got bumped into by a number of fellow concert-goers (I was on the aisle).

At one point someone danced or staggered too crazily and launched a beer all over the woman standing in the aisle next to me, getting my right side too.  But the worst was the people who were on their phones!  We were listening to a fucking concert, sitting in (or trying to stand at) $100 seats, and some idiots spent most of the show on their phones.  A woman near me actually tried to stream a video *with sound* while the music was going on.  She soon gave it up with a disgusted look.  A trio two rows in front of me leaned together and gabbed about some Facebook thread they were participating in, all the while waving their phones around and showering us all with the bright light.

And really just as bad was the fact that all this added up to us feeling cramped and uncomfortable in the theater we had had so many good times in.  OK, we could deal with that and a rock-n-roll concert is a rock-n-roll concert.  But we had to keep looking around us to see who would fall on us next, and this was not the loosey-goosey mellow good time we'd had Friday night.  The music was really just as good, but forgive me if I don't gush about the experience as much.

OK, complaining over!  Luther had moved next to Nicki in the middle of the stage and Scott took the spot between him and Jason.  They came out at about the same time they had the night before and the crowd roared.  They were as well rehearsed as any P&F band, and instantly launched into another excellent opener.  We were off!

Jack Straw
I'm a King Bee
High Time
Big Railroad Blues
Bird Song
Somebody To Love
Feel Like a Stranger

  • Nicki was certainly feeling it that night.  She had a hippie gown on instead of the blue jeans look and proceeded to belt out the blues all night.  First up was a duet with Scott on Jack Straw, with Phil taking a verse too.  She wasn't really a convincing Shannon, but whatever.
  • Time for more blues and Luther sang a gleeful King Bee, probably more faithful to the original Slim Harpo 50's version than to Pigpen.
  • Barry got settled down at the pedal steel next and Phil was anxiously getting the band ready.  We watched for a second and agreed, they were about to attempt High Time, without Jerry!  They really did an excellent job on this, though there were a few missed cues.  Very good cover of a great early Dead song.
  • Barry stayed on the pedal steel more for most of that first set, and he and Scott next led the guys through a fast, upbeat version of Big RR Blues.  Dave had commented about not being able to hear Jason at times on Friday, but on Saturday he was dominant on a lot of songs, rocking his organ lead here.
  • This time they didn't stop ... they just kind of wound down from the country blues, Phil the bandleader made sure they had everything just perfect, and they gently rolled into the Bird Song of death.  This was a highlight of the weekend shows to our ears.  Nicki was as excellent as she was all night, and the song had exactly the right feel ... floating but in pain.
  • OK, time for a rocker.  We'd heard Somebody To Love in soundcheck and when they lit into it, everyone on the stage was instantly having as much fun, or more, than anyone in the audience.  Nicki got the lungs going here and they crunched right through the Airplane classic.
  • Then it was Scott's turn and he was Feeling Like a Stranger!  This is a showstopper for him and we were glad that Phil set him up to do it.  Very nice first set closer.

Well, the only thing to do was sit down and let the wasted people filter out a bit.  There was a guy passed out across the aisle from me, but that kept him quiet.  Started down to the smoking area with Dave after a bit, but from the top of the stairs I could see it was a mosh pit down at the bottom, and I bagged.  Got a beer successfully at the upstairs bar, even though I had another drunk guy hanging over my shoulder and yelling endearments at the bartendress while I tried to order.  Then back to the seats to mellow out for a bit.  I think the band realized that they had to keep things moving and they came out after one of the shortest set breaks ever.  Dave made it back just in time for...

Walking Blues
In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
New Speedway Boogie
The Wheel
Terrapin Station
In the Midnight Hour

  • You know, we've heard Deal before, including at three of the four Dead & Company shows we've been to.  But it's a great song and they did a nice arrangement of it, Nicki sliding along right through it.
  • They didn't bring Bobby out for Walking Blues, but did a fine cover anyway, or maybe in spite of that.  Luther was feeling it here and led the guys on a long outro jam, into...
  • Most people didn't recognize this right away, but I did with the first sliding notes.  Elizabeth Reed is one of the best songs ever in my mind and these guys didn't nail it like the ABB used to, but who could?  They did a very nice job though and the Cap crowd was delighted.  Some reviewers think this was the most unexpected song of the weekend, but I've always thought this would be right in Luther's wheelhouse and he and Scott really wrung some of the deepest soul out of it, wailing away on twin guitars while Phil and John and Jason thundered in the background.  This was one of the pinnacles of the weekend!
  • They funked from that right into the groove of Speedway, and Nicki came back out and helped nail the vocals.  This maybe wasn't the most soulful Speedway, but was very well played by the whole band.  And I realized, this was the fifth of the eight songs on Workingman's that they played that weekend!  Can't argue with that.
  • They wound down and Phil instantly started up the cadence of Wheel, another of the most excellently played songs of the weekend.  Dave observed that they did a lot of tracks from first Garcia too.  The crowd tried to get into this but was a little bit off key by that point.
  • The musical surprise of the evening for me was Barry Sless.  I'd been wishing after the Friday show that he'd just stick to pedal steel, but he had his electric out and was fantastic on it.  As Dave said, he did all the little Garcia parts that help make GD songs so great, and this allowed Scott and Luther free rein to add their own personalities to the songs.  As with the best P&F combos, they showed potential as well as polish.
  • Same juncture in the second set that I talked about last night, when they lit into Help.  Would they wind it down now after that Jerry ballad, or would they take it higher?  They took it to Terrapin Station, and this sure was a fine one.  The three guitars wound around and around that baroque theme and the old man nailed the vocals (with Nicki's and Scott's help), preaching to us about the spiral light of Venus until there was a tear in everyone's eye.  Good ol' Phil.
  • Tight little Midnight Hour to close, though Luther kind of blew the lines.  Oh well, you can't play the blues if you get all the words right I guess.

Yeeha!  This had been such a great experience, but I had to admit to myself that it would be great to get out of that hot and wasted crowd.  Phil came out for his donor rap after a bit of a long break.  I hope this won't be the last one I hear live.  Then they lined up and I called it: Music, sung by Scott and Nicki.

In my mind, one of the things that makes The Music Never Stopped such a great song is the quasi-descant, the "Donna part."  Brent, John Mayer, and others have had their shot at it, but what this really needs is a rocking chick singer letting it all hang out.  And that's what Nicki did here, just belting out the "There's a band out on the highway" and the "Keep on dancing through to daylight" lines.  This was a marvelous end to a marvelous weekend!

We needed a little water and a little rest before struggling out of the theater, but the Cap has a nice flow to it, and the crowd soon thinned out enough for us to exit.  We'd had another great time there and though this night was a little difficult, we won't hesitate to show up again the next time Phil's there with an amazing band.  How lucky are we to have seen those concerts?

So no butler sightings, that would have made the weekend too perfect.  Got back up the street to the car, twisted around to the highway, and got back to Armonk pretty quickly for another good night's sleep after a long day of having fun.