Sunday, November 22, 2015

the sound of the tide turning

I'd been hoping to do a late-Fall kayak, probably my last of the year.  Things fell together on Saturday 11/21 and so I put Ruby on the top of the car and headed for the put-in at the Rowley town landing.

I hadn't been there for a few years.  This is far up the Rowley River and it's a fun place to go if the tide is right and the people are gone.  This Saturday the temperature never got above 50 (especially at the shore), and though it was mostly sunny, there were still a lot of clouds in the November sky and the sun never beamed down.  An hour or two before low tide, the end of the ramp was coated in mud, and there was no one else at the Rowley marina.

I put on a lot of clothes and my spray skirt, got into the kayak without an accident, and started plugging down the river under the railroad bridge.  Soon I was striking up a steady pace and the tide was sweeping me out to sea, though we had miles to go.  The weather guys got the wind right that time: 10 to 15 knots from the North (i.e. chilly, even in the depths of the salt marsh), but then dying to 5 and clocking around to the Northeast as the day wore along.  This meant it was against me as I paddled down the river.

I got out into Plum Island Sound about a half hour before the tide was due to turn.  The visibility was fantastic and I could see the houses at the North end of Plum Island way to the North, Grape Island right across the Sound from me, and beyond that the Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.  There were a few osprey towers in the Refuge, sticking up here and there,  The houses of Ipswich's Great Neck neighborhood were a burst of civilization to the South, but behind that I could see the trees of Castle Hill and out into the ocean.  Beyond that to the South the dunes of Cape Ann's northern shore looked close enough that I could kayak over there without much trouble.  Like seeing the Rockies from eastern Colorado.

I'd poked out into the inner channel of the lower part of the Sound, and the tide was very busily pushing me out to sea, along with the diminishing Northeast wind.  I was floating down quickly, usually able to peer down into the water and see the low-tide bottom, sand and mud and widely scattered bits of lobster shell, rocks, and kelp.

I was able to listen, and I realized that I was hearing a steady low roar that was the surf pounding on Plum Island's ocean coast, a mile or less to the East and over the marshes and the dunes.  I could also faintly hear a high roar, which was the tires of the intermittent cars crossing over the causeway to Great Neck.

And then I heard the tide change.  Ripples were streaming down-tide with me, and down wind.  Suddenly, one tinkled and then another when they had been silent before.  One broke over itself a bit and then another.  What was happening was that the tide was turning and suddenly it was not compatible with the wind.  I looked at my watch and it was 1:05, the exact time that the chart had told me the tide would turn.

The wind still had me and Ruby, but was washing us into a bend of middle ground.  I laughed and counted my luck, and then after a while got the paddle going again and headed back up to the mouth of the Rowley River, by now far away but open to the incoming tide.

I could see little jets of brine spit out by the low-tide clams.  Flights of swifts flashed across the sun, and some landed to my left.  I realized that they were floating on a pond a foot or so startlingly above me, a pond that had been left by the outgoing tide, landlocked in the sand bar.  Hundreds of them were there, waiting for the turned tide to wash over the bar and flood their pond, and maybe bring in a snack.

Made it back into the river and had my sandwich, now floating back towards town with the wind and the tide at my back.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dave and Ronnie at TCAN

The word came down through Walter that college friend Dave Keyes would be playing at the Natick Center For the Arts on 11/19, accompanying Ronnie Spector.  Perhaps a little hesitation at first ... 60s girl group doo-wop is not my first cup of tea ... but this was something we'd been waiting for for a while: our friend DaveK playing in a venue that worked for a lot of college friends in the area!  And only Godzilla could have stood in the way of our being there.

Barb arranged a great place for us to meet for dinner and we all showed up, some delayed by rush-hour traffic.  Dave showed up too and clued us in on the fact that he'd been playing with Ronnie for years and what kind of band would be on stage.  Bummer that his well-rehearsed (as would be the rest of the show) piano solo would not be included, but I was glad to hear that he'd be on the right side of the stage, since our seats would be tucked into that corner.  And Al clued us in to the fact that they would have beer there.

Headed on over a bit before the show, found our seats and settled down.  The converted firehouse that's TCAN, in the center of the traditional outer-Boston suburb of Natick, which is on the commuter rail line and so is being gentrified, is an ok place for a music hall.  The place was packed; most of the people there were "arts" types who couldn't care less who was playing as long as they furthered some agenda.  But a lot were Ronnie Spector devotees (most importantly the folks up front), and they led us all in having a good time.

Seth Glier opened with a few originals, with his accompanist Joe contributing great harmonies, sax, and harmonica.  Then Ronnie and Dave came out and rocked our souls.  Dave was right in front of us (stage corner right) with a big Yamaha piano, and they had a cracker section of drums, bass, and rhythm guitar.  They also had another keys guy on organ at the far end of the stage, three singers (one of whom picked up a few instruments), and Ronnie headlining it all and taking a seat between the songs while she gave us the back story.

They did a nice job with the back story, showing some slides and videos on the screen of her and her sister and cousin making their way as The Ronettes in the entertainment world of the early 60s.  You had to fill in between the lines and realize that she must have been (and must still be!) a tough woman to have made it.

My review?  I recognized a bunch of the songs and enjoyed them all.  The rhythm section was dead-on, and the backup singers were the most entertaining part of the night for me.  And Dave's structural bits on piano were fantastic.  The band was great and made the whole night rock.

Afterwards we had a chance to hobnob for a long time, both in the hall and out on the sidewalk, where old friend Larry showed up.  We'd all known each other 40 or more years ago and were stunned to be able to get together with so many of the people from back then.  This was truly a wonderful, blessed night!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dave Rawlings Machine At the Wilbur

It had been way too long since we'd seen Gillian Welch.  And even though both Sarah and I are in stages of flu, we sucked it up and went to see them at the Wilbur last night.  Luckily we got seats this time ... great ones in the first row of the balcony.

Did the normal Theater district preludes, and got over to the balcony of the Wilbur on 11/16 almost in time for a quick nap before they came on.  Gillian's partner of course, is David Rawlings and they sometimes release records and tour under the name of the Dave Rawlings Machine.  Their most recent record (a few months old) is Nashville Obsolete and is another quirky masterpiece.

They're touring with Brittany Haas on fiddle, Paul Kowert on bass (two thirds of the fabulous Haas Kowert and Tice of course, though you might associate her with Crooked Still and him with Punch Brothers), and Willie Watson of Old Crow Medicine Show.  Just a few incredible musicians to try to keep up with Dave and Gillian!

We really enjoyed the show, especially details such as Haas's tone and Gillian's harmonies.  But I can't say we were enthusiastic concert-goers with the flu problems we were having.  However, though the place was not sold out (the balcony was only a quarter full if that), the crowd response was beyond enthusiastic so that was good.  Since the first time I heard a whisper of a song from Gillian I've been a massive fan and there are plenty of us.  This is the good stuff!

They played most of the tunes from the two Dave Rawlings Machine records and threw in a few surprises like Lily, Rosemary and the Jack Of Hearts and Stewball.  They did some of the songs I most wanted to hear, like Wayside Back In Time, Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home), Bells Of Harlem, To Be Young, their fantastic arrangement of Bill Monroe's He Will Set Your Fields On Fire, etc.  And they finally did a GD song, attempting to finish with Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad.

But the crowd wouldn't let them leave and they came back out for a second encore (after three songs in the first).  We took off at the last notes of The Weight, and just caught a bit of Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby as we walked out into the Fall cold.  Here's the full list:

Set 1
The Weekend
Wayside/Back in Time
To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)
Bells of Harlem
Keep It Clean
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
It's Too Easy

Set 2
The Last Pharaoh
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire
Sweet Tooth
Short Haired Woman Blues
Method Acting / Cortez the Killer
Queen Jane Approximately

Encore 1
Look at Miss Ohio
Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home)
Going Down the Road Feeling Bad

Encore 2
The Weight
Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby

Made it back to Beacon Hill and then back to Woburn and soon to bed!  Probably would have been a record time for Wilbur-to-bed if we hadn't been walking slowly up the hill.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dead & Company Rock Worcester

As mentioned, Dead & Company are in the middle of a tour, and this is huge to Grateful Dead fans.  The Core 4 (Phil, Bobby, Mickey, and Billy) got together for Fare Thee Well this summer, and then several things happened, like discovering that John Mayer meshes incredibly with traditional Grateful Dead music/consciousness, Phil announcing that he had bladder cancer and continuing to express a desire not to tour, and Billy and Mickey being re-indoctrinated into the world of GD spinoff bands, after taking a few years off.  This is not to mention the incredible talent shown by "the bench" recently, such as by Jeff Chimenti, John Kadlecik, Joe Russo, Neal Casal, Reed Mathis, Jason Crosby, and on and on.  There is a next generation of GD musicians out there, but the old(est) guys are sticking around.

To recap: Bobby and Billy and Mickey wanted to keep things going after Fare Thee Well because it worked so well and was so much fun.  They got a great guitarist on board in John Mayer, but Phil opted out, partly because he had already scheduled concerts during the rest of 2015, and partly because he was not up for touring.  It may be that there's also an element of "we (Core 4) said 'Fare Thee Well' and we need to live up to that and treat our musical adventure as over, let's move on."  But I don't think so, I think they wanted to continue to play with Phil (he performed a show with Mayer before Bobby did, and the two of them produced some supernova explosions) and he wanted to continue to play with them, but it just wasn't going to work out for 2015H2 and so they went with plan B.  Perhaps plan A *will* work out in 2016H1?!?

But in the meantime the Core 3 and John needed a bass player and a keyboardist would be nice.  How about Oteil Fucking Burbridge and Jeff Fucking Chimenti?!?  They suddenly had quite the all-star band together, practiced a lot, and scheduled a tour.  Deadheads throughout America (and the entire solar system) were starved for great GD music after the super feats of this summer, and we felt incredibly lucky that they announced a gig at the DCU Center in Worcester as part of the tour, which will hit large cities in the South and the Midwest next (after starting with Buffalo tonight) and then Vegas, SF, and LA.  Worcester is probably the smallest city on the tour.  I was barely able to get tickets, but did!

They opened in Albany (as discussed in the previous posts on Phil and Stanley), hit MSG, Philly, and DC, and then showed up in Worcester on Tuesday, November 10th.  Tragically, Sarah was at the height of the Fall flu that I had just had and opted out of the show, but Scott was able to take her place.  I met Dave at the train in West Concord, we grabbed subs, and then we headed for the Worcester evening traffic maelstrom, getting to the parking garage across from the DCU Center in time to wolf down the subs, have a couple of beers, and then meet Scott (who'd just arrived) and head over and in.

Saw several friends inside who were just as excited as we.  We waited to get beers at the only good bar there (very efficient bartender) and then headed up to our seats in the front row of section 308, stage left about at the faceoff circles in the far zone if there'd been a hockey rink set up.  These were fine seats except for the detail that a speaker stack was in the way of the Stealie projection set up behind the band, which was the central part of the visual show during the concert, decorated by shapes, colors, and film clips.  Oh well, not much lost.

Is it time for me to start gushing?  I'd been told that sight lines in the DCU Center were fantastic and that sound in there could be great.  Even though I was several hundred feet away, I *saw* the band almost as if I was right up front with them, being able to follow chording patterns on guitar frets and see them emoting while they sang.  I think part of this was lighting and part was that it just seemed like an intimate venue.  And the sound was incredible!  For the first quarter of the first song I knew I was in a hockey rink, but then they made some adjustments for the fact that the seats were filled now rather than the way they'd been at sound check, and the sonic atmosphere was incredibly good!  Perhaps we were lucky here, being in the first row of the overhang, because we could feel the whole arena reverberating all around us with quality music.

It's almost unreal how well John Mayer can play Grateful Dead music.  He describes his introduction to the music with wonder (see his quotes), and GD head after head will tell you that they don't see why everyone from Bach on up doesn't latch on to the same thing.  These are great songs and you can spend your life on them.  It's validating that a pop star like Mayer is so turned on to them.  But the key thing here is his interaction with a band, not his individual capabilities, and he seems to have learned that as much as the songs themselves.  He meshes so well with Bobby and the others it's almost like Garcia.  Not in the way that he fits the mold of Garcia, but that he's able to play the role of the GD lead guitarist and set the pace, be a foil to Weir (and the others), and really take the lead when the dynamics indicate it in that subtle but titillating way that Garcia always did.

Nothing against Anastasio, who did a sterling job this summer under incredible pressure.  But he didn't take the role of a lead guitarist for the fucking Grateful Dead the way Mayer did.

So what happened next?  They came out with Oteil far left, John next, Bobby next, and then Jeff way over on the right with his grand piano, B3, Rhodes, and synth.  Behind them was the awesome drums setup, fully as well-realized as it had been this summer.  They tuned up and then launched into Cassidy, which as far as I know has *never* been an opener (wait, this just in: they opened with it once, on 1983-08-21).  This was just the beginning.  Here's the first set:

Row Jimmy
Ramble On Rose
Big River
The Music Never Stopped

This was one of the most excellent sets of music I've ever experienced.  I know I gush a lot in this blog, but I can't imagine much being better than this.  Subjectively, it was better than the Phil and Stanley show last weekend, it was better than the Alvin's at their utmost, it was better than Emmylou and Rodney playing every song they knew, it was better than the Allman Brothers with Derek Trucks.  This was just incredible music.  Maybe my impression of it and my ranking of it will fade over time, but maybe not!

From the first note to the last I could hear every instrument; as mentioned, the sound was incredible and the technique of all the band members was unreal.  They went from a long, jammed out Cassidy that might have been the crescendo of a first set but was just the opener here into a funky, spacey, slow but crackling with energy Row Jimmy.  Bob started rowing with his guitar neck while singing the chorus, tapping a few notes on the fretboard like, Stanley who?

I can't begin to describe everything that was great about this set.  The vocals could have been better.  Ramble on Rose could have been longer and more syncopated.  Big River could have been more country, and Peggy-O could have been played less academically.  But the positives were all around us with every note.  Oteil was messing around on a palette that Phil never used and was arguably as good (he also had an awesome thick-leather guitar strap featuring a beautiful leather, painted carving of the Virgin), the drummers were distinct and loud and like the clocks of eternity (Billy on sticks and Mickey on mallets, with his white gloves), Jeff was jumping between his keyboards like he had been when I saw him with Ratdog and playing them all excellently.  Bobby was riveting, strumming his strat with a tempo and a feeling that can't be equaled by anyone else on this Earth.  And John was just aching to play lead, like Garcia, filling in where he was allowed to and then rearing back and ripping one off when he got the chance, stopping just a millimeter shy of the next verse.

My Dog, these guys were a tight band!  They did not step on each other at all and there wasn't a hint of aimless noodling or not knowing who was going to step up next in that set.  Dave and Scott and I were in a state of amazement.  The others in the front row of 308 had screwed for the floor or something ... there was no security inside and all the aisles and walkways were jammed with fans throughout the show ... and that left plenty of room for us to spread out and dance.

John let his character out on Sugaree a bit more than a mellow San Francisco musician would, but that was fine and he just got the soul of these songs so right.  And in the middle of Sugaree I knew that they were going to go into Music next and it would be the last song of the set.  I told Dave so and then they did it, and this was one of the best Musics I've ever heard.  Play that tape!

Phew, time for the set break.  We'd been standing and dancing all along and sank into our seats like deflated balloons when the guys left the stage and the lights came up.  Hung out and analyzed things for 15 minutes or so, but then Scott decided to brave the beer stands, and then a while later I thought it was time for a bathroom break.  I got back just a bit late for the second set and Scott was on time with the beer; those walkways were a solid mob of people.

So did they do a normal set opener here?  No, they ripped right into Deal, which is always a later-first-set song.  And they did it excellently; they were breaking the bounds of music left and right and up and down, like the Grateful Dead always did.  Expect something, and then something else even more wonderful would occur.  Here's the list:

Uncle John's Band
Estimated Prophet
Terrapin Station
Dear Prudence
Get Out Of My Life, Woman
Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad

I was a bit hyper-ventilated when I took my position in the front of 308, having just run up the arena's stairs (dodging many heads on the way) from the bathroom for fear of missing notes.  But my heartbeat soon dropped to the pace of Oteil's bass and again, I was hearing and seeing every note vividly from all of the players.  At one time in the second set, Jeff stopped tickling the grand and shifted over to the synthesizer, which he just brushed some with his fingers, looking for the right sound.  But we could hear every note of what he was doing!  I don't know what it was, but the sound in that hockey rink was just extraordinary.

After Deal they went into the UJB of your dreams, beautiful precision story-book playing with crows telling tales, silver mines sparkling on sunny days, twirling dancers calling out tunes to ghostly fiddle players.  And then the one song we would have predicted (and did), Estimated.  Bobby pulled out all stops for this one, though he gave it more of a dead-pan crazy prophet take than a wild-eyed crazy prophet.

And this was a most awesome Terrapin.  By that point everyone in the arena was hanging on every word and the musicians were so much in control of their sound that this swelled to baroque proportions you could not measure.  And at the end of it Oteil had taken off a run and then got louder and louder and OMG, what is that sound?  It's Mickey fucking pounding on the thunder drums!!  This was a totally enthralling drums segment, especially when Oteil sat down at Billy's traps while he was trying every drum that had ever been made and laid down a beat on snare and cymbals that you thought would (hopefully) never end.

Space was great too, though the song selections right after it were not the best.  This is how hard it is to criticize that show: this was an incredible Dear Prudence sung with exquisite folk phrasings by Bobby and here I am finding fault with it.  But maybe Stella Blue would have been better.  Whatever!

And Get Out Of My Life (which the Garcia band had covered but was never done by the Dead or Bobby's bands) was a tribute to its composer, the great Allen Toussaint, who had passed away late Monday at 72 after a show.  Time was running short after that, and they finished with a tidy cover of GDTRFB, leaving everyone a quivering mass.  There was a lot of toweling off after they were done, phew!

Short break after the set and then they were back on stage for an encore, John and Bobby both sporting acoustics.  Time for Ripple, and they sang it like it had just been struck, like a perfect jewel.

We gathered our things and started out of there pretty quickly when the encore was over, knowing it would be a long road home.  As great as the DCU Center had been, their common spaces really become chaotic mosh pits when everyone tries to move at once, and it took a while for us to get some breathing room after mashing through endless crowds.  It was spitting rain outside, but better than battling the hordes inside, and we finally made it back to the parking lot.  Dave and I had parked on the 5th  level and Scott on the 7th, and we realized soon that it would be a LONG time before we'd be able to move our cars.  The line was stationary for at least a half hour, and then barely moving after that.

Oh well, had a beer and talked and talked ... nothing else to do.  Finally things started to clear out and we jumped in our cars.  An hour drive home from there for me and Dave but this was so worth it, it could have been 100 hours and we'd still have been buzzing.  Got to bed around 2AM and had to go to work the next day!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lesh and Jordan at the Cap, part 2

Woke up around 9:00 on Halloween morning after an ok sleep in a small bed in the La Quinta in Armonk and went downstairs for what's become the standard American "free" hotel breakfast.  (Overheard by Sarah the next morning, said by a small girl after she joined her parents with her breakfast: "No, it's *not* any better than yesterday.")  Got my fill of food and coffee and USA Today and then we gathered back at the room and reminisced about Friday's show.

I did my blog, we checked for reviews of the concert on the web, and waited for Friday's MP3s to be uploaded by LiveDownloads (they weren't until late that night!).  Finally at about noon we got motivated to go out, had a quick sandwich (we had brought a pile of them), and drove up route 22 to the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, where we had a beautiful, long hike in the Fall forest.

This is a preserved stretch of the river that eventually empties into Long Island Sound, amidst many very expensive homes.  A lot of it used to be farmlands and the whole area is lined with old stone walls, coursing up and down over the gorge's slopes between glorious ashes, beeches, oaks, maples, yellow poplars, and majestic hemlocks.  The river itself was very low, as with most bodies of water this Fall in the Northeast, and when we got to the Havemeyer Falls near the end of the trail, it flowed into an incredibly low reservoir.

By the time we got back it was a little after 4, so we still had time to watch a bit of college football, stare at the LiveDownloands page some more, and get mentally prepared for another night of excellence.

Drove down to Port Chester again, parked in the exact same spot, and then checked out Shakedown Corner again.  Everything was a bit busier, being Saturday night and Halloween, and there were a few more vendors there than there had been the night before.  We hobnobbed and gabbed, and I admired a stealie coozie a guy was using.  He said that the guy who made them had been giving them out to anyone who asked and would be back later so ... here, take mine!  An incredibly nice thing for him to do!!

Made our way up to Kiosko for another Mexican meal that couldn't be beat.  The restaurant was almost full already but we got a table right away and were vastly entertained by the stream of cute kids in costumes stopping in for candy from the kitchen crew.  It's a nice, family restaurant.

Then it was time for the concert!  We were in the balcony again, a few rows farther back and a few seats more toward the middle.  The Cap was rocking with people in costumes, ushers in masks, the same setup on stage, their beautiful lights dancing over the ceiling, and their loop of The Skeleton Dance.  There were some very high people in evidence already, and they just got higher as the evening rolled along.  Between sets I saw one woman who was so encumbered by gravity she had to be pushed and pulled up the stairs, though she seemed to have no idea that was happening.

The guys came out and lined up as before, some seemingly wearing the same clothes as they had on Friday.  Must be that Phil told them, "Guys, that was so good, I want you to not change a thing!"  He had the same outfit on himself.  And his strategy must have worked ... though Friday night had been PHENOMENAL!! this was even better ... it was ASTOUNDING!!!  It was also Halloween, so you may detect a theme in this setlist:

After Midnight
Doin' That Rag
Bad Moon Rising
Dire Wolf
Friend of the Devil
Werewolves Of London
  • As I say, this was more excellence, perhaps even better.  See last night and all my gushing can be repeated here.  We were delighted to hear After Midnight, the old J.J. Cale song given a mellow country cover that at the same time hinted at the song gymnastics we were about to experience. 
  • Then they scratched their asses for just a beat or two and launched into one of my longest term, favoritest songs, Doin' That Rag!  I'd never seen this performed before ... it's been up on Dave's list too.  And this was a great version, sung by the extra-sweet voice of John.  Old like a rum drinking demon at tea.
  • And guess who's turn for a vocal was next?  Tony!  Bad Moon Rising was another song from out of left field and was instantly a crowd favorite.  We all roared and sang along.  Who doesn't love singing along with Bad Moon Rising on Halloween??
  • Next up was a sterling cover of one of the best Grateful Dead songs ever: Loser.  John sang the "Sweet Susy" chorus, but the meat of it was the jams.  The dragon was out again already.  At the break people who hadn't seen Jordan before were staggering around saying, "That guitarist is GREAT!!"  We were already aware of that and he was so integrated with Phil, John, and Jason.
  • John took a few more leads than he had Friday, but when he stepped aside and nodded to Stanley you just sat back a bit, tightened your seat belt, and he soared you through the clouds.  Jason was just as good too, ripping off some astounding runs on the piano and some swampy dirges on the B3.
  • They continued to run out all the Halloween-themed songs, inviting everyone to sing along with "Pleee-ease don't murder me," and then "Ran into the devil and he gave me 20 bills, Spent the night in Utah in a cave up in the hills."  Dire Wolf was great and bouncy, but FOTD was another over-the-top highlight.  This wasn't done like the Dead used to do it in the early 70s, or the slowed down later version.  This was an original rendition, concentrating not so much on the descending rhythm as on the tinkling melody.
  • In fact, besides the lyrical theme, the first set had a melodic theme, which was a mellow, country lilt.  It was an expression of how much in control of their art these guys were that such a disparate assortment of songs could mesh so well.
  • Next was the song everyone knew was coming (in fact, Dead and Company played it last night too): Werewolves of London, with Tony on vocals again.  As you might imagine, the people in costume were dancing and twirling, the lights was flashing, and the whole crowd was howling along to Warren Zevon's classic song.  Tony sang, "I saw a werewolf drinking a Lagunitas in Garcia's."
Break time!  One comment I should throw in here was that most people were very aware of the other great events happening in the area that night.  People were checking their phones constantly to try to see what was going on with Dead and Company in MSG.  The Garcia's club in the Cap's entrance was just packed like sardines with people catching up on the Series game on the wall-sized TV screen.  I hung out at the upstairs bar a bit later than I should to see ancient warrior Bartolo Colon in an epic matchup with KC's young Salvador Perez in the top of the sixth.  Colon finally struck him out on a slider outside to preserve the lead ... for the moment.

Back to my seat just in time for the guys to come out for the second set, and we knew that we were in for a good one.  Dave had worked his voodoo to ensure that they'd be playing TOO (he'd done the same with Here Comes Sunshine Friday night).  The band started into a little intro that we couldn't identify, and then devilish John jumped up to the mike and sang, "Please allow me to introduce myself..." and the crowd went wild!!!  Here's the list:

Sympathy for the Devil
Cryptical Envelopment >
The Other One >
Death Don't Have No Mercy
Dark Star >
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) >
Dark Star >
St. Stephen >
Fire on the Mountain

Again, what can I say??  Oh well, let me try.
  • The country lilt was abandoned and we were all in the belly of the dragon.  I've talked about being able to see the music and that hallucination was still there, along with a deep comfort with this band.  It's strange, but there was an overwhelming feeling that I could trust them to take my ears and my mind along for a thrilling ride, and I would never be sorry.
  • Sympathy For the Devil finished and the guys just took a few beats before ripping into a loud, majestic Cryptical.  And we all knew where that was leading.  I trusted these guys and there was no doubt in my mind that they would stretch out Cryptical and start booming, and that's what they did.
  • I hugged Dave during TOO and he was quivering with delight, saying later that it was a perfect The Other One.  I agree and the word "perfect" had occurred to me too.  Dave also called it, "The Other One I've always been waiting for."  Phil was just detonating our reality, Jason was running up and down the ribs of the beast, and Stanley was bending our minds with his sound and his technique.
  • Time to calm down a bit after that, and John continued his wonderful singing with Death Don't.  But then they drifted into a bit of a jam and suddenly Phil took over again, looked the guys up and down, launched into a little intro, and then he was playing Dark Star.  What more can be said about this incredibly multi-faceted song?  This wasn't a guitar-driven version or a tribal drumming version or a bass festival.  This was dark, and spacey, and scary, and weird, like the kind of thing you'd hear on Halloween!
  • OK, it was now time for Stanley Jordan to step up again.  He turned up the settings on his guitar and started wailing and wailing Hendrix's Voodoo Child.  An observation I'd made Friday was that he could go from Hendrix to Chet Atkins and back in the course of a few measures.  But in this case he just stayed in the Hendrix zone and dominated the theater with his volume and style.  Not only that, but he then stepped up to the mike and sang a few verses (this was the "Slight Return" version).  Stanley is not known as a singer but contributed some great harmonies all weekend and did a great lead at that point.
  • And not only that ... the Hendrix persona took him over and Stanley actually did two somersaults on stage while ripping off a lead at the same time!  ASTOUNDING!!  And this from a 56 year old guy!!!  Many of us in the crowd felt a twinge in the back just watching it.
  • What could they do but jam and jam back into Dark Star?  They had to finish it of course.  While they did, Stanley stepped behind his amp and coolly changed a string, then got back on the beat just in time.  And then they stopped again and looked at Phil ... and then he started playing St. Stephen.  As mentioned, this to me is one of the most perfect Grateful Dead songs ever and I'm always thrilled by it.  The ensemble singing was great too, everybody joining in (Jason did some great harmony himself) while our minds ricocheted 'twixt now and then.
  • They were thundering and finally came back to the last verse of St. Stephen, and then they finished something else up!  They had done Scarlet on Friday and couldn't stop until they crowned the night with Fire On the Mountain, with the whole Capitol screaming along.

Whoah!  After the incredible performance on Friday we wouldn't have been that disappointed if Saturday didn't come up to that level, but they had just surpassed it, while still doing a "Halloween" assortment of songs and while suppressing their wild instincts a bit in the first set to play it straight.

And there was still time for a donor rap and an encore.  The crowd was into a very loud "Not Fade Away" clapping session by the time Phil came out, but quieted and let him gush.  He was in a state of rapture himself, just beaming at the scene.  The guys came out right after him and what else could they do but play NFA (though the camera revealed that they had had the Stones' Midnight Rambler slotted for the encore spot)?

We got out of there pretty quickly after the end.  Phil did not introduce the guys, maybe he will tonight.  They don't need introductions!

One more note is that the crowd filing out had a few very depressed people in it.  The Mets had had the lead into the eighth and then lost it on a misplay by (up until now) post-season marvel David Murphy.  As one Mets fan explained to me as we left, "It was a Bill BUCK-nuh moment!"

Back to the car and back to the hotel, still buzzing...

see pictures here

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lesh and Jordan at the Cap, part 1

Phenomenal!!!  Acclaimed fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan started a three-night stand with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester NY last night, and we experienced jaw-dropping musical talent, technique, and precision like you wouldn't believe.

This is a mega-weekend in the NYC area, as Phil and Friends do three nights (Fri, Sat, and Sun) at the Capitol, Dead and Company pack Madison Square Garden on Saturday and Sunday, and the Mets play in the World Series at Citi Field against Kansas City, Friday, Saturday, and (since they won last night), Sunday.  We're staying in a cheap hotel in Armonk NY on a beautiful Fall weekend, and can feel the whole area vibrating ... or maybe that's just the traffic on 684.

We took the day off work yesterday, slept late, packed up, and hit the road for a 3-hour drive down to Armonk, which was slowed by an incredible amount of traffic and a long traffic jam caused by construction in Waterville CT.  Yuck.  But we got to our cheap hotel, hung out a bit, and then headed for the 15-minute drive to Port Chester, where we parked in the usual lot, at the same time as a thrilled couple who'd traveled up from Florida on a Dead vacation.

The people around there are all very friendly to concert-goers and we stopped by the corner where Heads had set up a mini-Shakedown Street (Shakedown Corner?) and were eager to engage in repartee.  Dead and Company had opened their tour Thursday night in Albany and we'd heard about half of it (streamed by a taper), and gushed about the show with some people who'd been there and were planning to continue to tour down to Philly and DC with the band, after a brief side-trip to see Phil!

Had another leisurely Mexican meal that couldn't be beat at Kiosko, and then pushed our way into the packed Capitol.  The merch table was set up with some nice dragon t-shirts (Dave got one), and Halloween trimmings.  We made our way up the well-appointed stairway and past the classy balcony bar and the steps up to the funky men's room, and sat down in the first row of the balcony (not the loge, which was the first three rows of the overhang).  People were walking in front of us all night, but this was no problem when we were standing up, and we got close-up views of Deadhead after Deadhead twirling, doing ballet steps, staggering to and from their seats, and just rolling their heads and limbs and wonking out to the music.

Phil and the guys came out just a few minutes after 8 and lined up in the classic P&F arrangement with Phil and his huge amps on the right (looking at the stage that is), Tony Leone on drums close behind him, Stanley Jordan (the featured guest) at stage center, John Kadlecik between him and the keyboards setup, and then Jason Crosby at the keys: the quintessential B3, Rhodes, and (Kurzweil) electric piano rectangle, this time with two Leslies backing him up.  Before we could even settle down: duh-duh, duh DUH ... and we were off on the crest of a wave.  Here's the first set:

Help on the Way >
Slipknot! >
Franklin's Tower
Ship of Fools
Here Comes Sunshine
Sitting on Top of the World

Dave, Sarah, and I were just delighted, as was everyone in the packed Capitol.  The signal from starting with Help/Slip/Franklin's was that they were feeling it right away, and they showed in that triptych a preview of the phenomenal talent and execution we would see all night.  John set the pace immediately with his fine voice, Phil was psyched, rolling those tones over us and around the hall, and Stanley Jordan was riveting.  Slipknot! especially went on and on and they could have stayed in that groove all night, it was so excellent.  And then Phil stepped up to sing Franklin's and he was in top-notch voice himself, perhaps because it was the first night of the tour.  The crowd was a vocal factor to say the least, as well as the people on stage; Phil stepped back and let the crowd sing one of the "Roll Away the dew" choruses themselves.

OK, everyone take a breath after that and then it was time for a ballad.  John continued his fine, mature singing with Ship Of Fools, and emoted more and more through the song, building to a thrilling, emotional climax.  Dave had never seen this song live and it was great rendition.

I haven't mentioned Leone and Crosby but just wait!  This was not just a rock and roll show, this was a full tilt fusion show, as was fitting with a cleanup hitter like Jordan (in nice jeans and a bit of eye shadow), and Tony and Jason were in their element.  Tony kept up an incredible groove all night, banging out the chorus when it was time, but in the meantime keeping up a shuffle, a syncopated beat, or a full-fledged tom-tom barrage and just backing the other musicians excellently.

Crosby deserves a paragraph or more himself.  I've seen him on video many times and live a few times and been more and more impressed by his talent on keyboards, though not as much by his fiddle.  But he blew us out of the water last night, probably because he was let loose to dabble in jazz chords and solos, with John drooling over him, Stanley nodding at him with massive approval, and Phil looking like this was the place he was happiest in.

Phil announced very recently that he has bladder cancer, and canceled a couple of dates at Terrapin Crossroads this October.  But his announcement also said that the cancer is "under control and not aggressive" (the word remission was not used).  He was right on time (well, 5 minutes late) for his date at the Cap with his whole entourage (including grandson Levon, see below), and the crowd gave him a very, very heartfelt welcome.  He was so moved by the occasion that he almost got distracted during his donor rap, but I'm getting ahead of myself...

Where was I?  Oh yeah, after Ship Of Fools we were treated to an ethereal, jazzed up, spaced out Greensleeves featuring Jordan's amazing tap guitar technique and Crosby's flights of fancy on the Rhodes.  Kadlecik has recently returned from a world tour with his band, and as I say was singing and playing as well as I've ever heard him.  But you could tell he was concentrating on filling the role of a "glue" player, constantly deferring to Stanley or Jason (or Phil!) when they looked ready, and pushing the pace along with his singing.

Then was Here Comes Sunshine, another one which Dave had never seen performed live and was just killed by this band.  He'd called it, and boy did they play it!  And it was so perfect for this lovely, sunshine-filled, Fall weekend.  Then Sitting On Top Of the World was another jazzed out treat, drifting farther and farther away from the old folk song as the players topped each other and made us smack our heads in disbelief, and then somehow coalescing back on the next verse.  After that, nothing left but to close the first set with Bertha, John for once being the featured player here, leading the sing-along and ripping off the standing-on-your-ear leads.

That was a phenomenal first set!  I couldn't stop saying that.  Phil thought so too apparently and had the guys gather for a group hug in the middle of the stage, after the first set!?!  This was incredible stuff.

Got another beer, right before the crowds gathered.  They have a fine beer list at the Cap, including IPA from the hyper-local Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, that I of course quaffed.  The second floor men's room, as mentioned, is up a stairway from the balcony lobby and consists of some of their vintage marble urinals, mixed in with modern ones stuck on the wall here and there, wherever they'd fit.  Truly funky.

Reconvened back at the seats for the second set (actually I was a bit delayed at the bar), and they opened with a beautiful, beautiful version of Phil's classic.  Here's the list:

Unbroken Chain >
All Along the Watchtower >
Little Wing
China Cat Sunflower >
Eyes of the World >
Standing on the Moon
Scarlet Begonias >
I Know You Rider

The magic continued and intensified.  Phil's singing was ethereal, as was the powerful but delicate ensemble playing on Unbroken.  Watchtower was as funky as I've ever heard a rock band do a Dylan song, and then Stanley just took over and melted everything in sight.

Everybody caught on slowly that Watchtower had ended and that he was gearing up for something serious, and then he was suddenly playing Little Wing and all extraneous thoughts disappeared.  This was beyond riveting: he had everybody on the Eastern Seaboard floating on his incredible cascade of notes, some strummed, some tapped, and some plucked.  Even over at Citi Field, the game stopped for a moment while everyone gazed up and around them and asked, "What's that music??"

There was another monitor and an orphan mike stand set up over on the far right of the stage, to Phil's left.  We thought that *maybe* Bobby or John Mayer from Dead and Company would come out as a surprise guest (they weren't doing anything that night!), but then we saw that it was actually a jungle gym!!  Phil's toddler grandson, Levon, was along for the ride and spent much of the second set pushing his plastic scooter around on the right-hand end of the stage, climbing/falling over the extra monitor, and every once in a while staring/pointing at his grandfather, who was standing tall, playing that huge bass and singing like an angel.  This was very cute (of course, Levon was wearing sound-defeating headgear)!  At times Levon pushed his scooter all the way over to where his grandfather was standing and bumped into his boot, then looked up in surprise.  Phil beamed back at him and didn't miss a beat.  He was happy and so were we.

What else?  China Cat into Eyes!!!?!?!  When you talk about a great Dead-related concert you talk about the dragon coming out, usually sometime in the second set.  This dragon had come out back in the beginning of the first set, and was flying back and forth through the wonderful Capitol Theatre, spouting flame.  And though I wasn't tripping, things got to the point where I could almost see the music.  Most often when Jordan was standing in the middle of the stage, rocking his head back and forth to watch Phil and Jason, and each of them had one eye on Leone, the foundation of the sound.  And then you realized that it all centered around the chords and fills Kadlecik was constructing.  This was truly dancing about architecture.

The calmed it down for the second set ballad, Standing On the Moon, another wonderfully emotional vocal by John ("Old Glory waving stiffly, crimson, white, and indigo").  We all knew the second set was nearing the end but that there'd be a few more magic moments still.  And then they paused for a beat and went into Scarlet!  The whole theater roared as one and writhed in unison, including a crowd of dancers and twirlers who suddenly appeared in the corridor in front of us.  This was another massive sing-along.  I forgot to mention that at one point during Eyes, Phil hadn't even bothered to sing the chorus because everyone in the crowd was, and it was just as loud.

And after Scarlet they decided to finish what they'd started with China Cat and meandered into an epic I Know You Rider (though they'd teased GDTRFB).  The Cap was in folk-rock heaven, listening to and shouting out that classic song, watching Phil and his grandson like a motif of life and art, and remembering who had first thrilled us all with the words, "I wish I was a headlight on a Northbound train."

Thundering applause, and then Phil somehow had the energy to come out for the donor rap.  He was beyond beaming, and thanked and thanked us all for giving him the opportunity to do this.  As I say, he almost forgot to do his "Cody" bit but somehow made it through, though distracted by Levon grabbing the bass, and then running around the stage and trying to re-set all Phil's filters.  The happy grand-dad grabbed him up and delivered him back to his mother (perhaps thinking at the same time that his cancer surgeons had told him not to do any heavy lifting).

For an encore John stepped up again and sang George Harrison's Any Road.  An excellent, though non-incendiary ending to a beyond fantastic night!  We're currently throwing around ideas about how they're going to follow it up tonight!!

see pictures here

Monday, October 26, 2015

Guilty at the Bull Run

We’ve seen Dave Alvin many times, and several times with his brother Phil.  And we’d been to the Bull Run Restaurant a great number of times.  But the two together on October 23rd was quite the combination, they’d never been there before and Shirley was waiting for them.

The Bull Run was packed more than I’ve ever seen it.  I don’t think they technically sold out, but the parking lot was already overflowing when we got there at about 6:45 for the 8:00 show and the Sawtelle Room was jammed with every table they could fit in there, many of which were already full over an hour before the show.  We jammed into two of the last three seats at table 63 in front of center stage, and then Scott showed up shortly thereafter and took the last one.  We managed to get beer and food, but the waitresses and the kitchen were struggling to keep up all night.

The band came on late as Chris Miller was apparently delayed, and the room took a long time before getting anywhere near settling down.  Finally Dave and Phil came on with the normal “Guilty Ones” band of Chris, Lisa Pancratz, and Brad Fordham.  I’ve said this before, but they all played excellently, perhaps better than I’d ever seen them.  They’ve become an incredibly tight, well-disciplined unit that can rock your ass off.

And were they loud!!!  It possibly wasn’t as loud as when we sat right in front of Dave’s amp at Johnny D’s, but I’ve never heard the Sawtelle PA turned up like that (it handled it great), and Dave’s Strat was just blasting.

And what a great setlist it was too.  They did a superb mix of tunes from their last two albums, some older Dave Alvin songs, and some classic Blasters tunes.  It went something like this:

I Feel So Good
This World Is In a Bad Condition
Mister Kicks
Southern Flood Blues
Border Radio
Sit Down Baby
All By Myself
Cherry Red Blues
Hide and Seek
Truckin’ Little Woman
Johnny Ace Is Dead
Dry River
American Music
What’s Up With Your Brother
Marie Marie
Turn On Your Lovelight

I may have missed a few and gotten the order wrong, but I think you get the point.  I was thrilled to hear Phil step up and sing Border Radio!  He was in as good voice as ever, tackling the incredibly difficult Cherry Red Blues with ease, hitting all the lyrics to Truckin’ Little Woman perfectly, and singing Marie Marie like he meant it: “I just want to be your loving man!”

Chris and Brad were fantastic too, and as usual, Lisa was phenomenal.  The sight lines in the Bull Run are sometimes a challenge and though we were at the front table, Phil was almost totally blocking Lisa for me.  But I could peer around him once in a while and get a sight of a polka-dotted arm, a puffed-out cheek, and sometimes the iconic Lisa Pancratz eye rising up above the curve of Phil’s guitar, fixated on the band leader.

And who was leading the band?  Dave was incredible himself, just permeating the room with his vision of the blues, straight out Stratocaster sound filling our brains.  And I think they were really having a good time too.  The Bull Run is probably a fun place for a band to play: great sound and enthusiastic crowds in the middle of Nowhere, Massachusetts.

At one time after Lisa’s drum solo in Dry River a perhaps tipsy woman ran up to the front and shouted at Dave, “She’s great, she’s fantastic, she’s wonderful!”  Dave said, “I know.”  She shouted, “Tell her how great she is!!”  Dave said in his way, “You tell her,” and stood back.  Lisa smiled.

As they’ve been doing lately, they closed with a background rave-up of Turn On Your Lovelight, alternating between Dave singing a few of the lyrics, ripping off another incendiary guitar run, and the band introducing each other.  Really, Phil was as integrated into the band as anyone else and he did his part in the mutual introductions, again calling his brother a triple threat: singer, songwriter, and guitar player.  What a band and what a fun night!