Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dolly Parton At the Wang Theater

Until Tuesday night (6/21, the first full day of summer and the anniversary of my Mom's death) at Boston's Wang Theater, I had never seen Dolly Parton.  And this was HIGH on my personal list of "have never seen" grievances.  I mean come on, she's got to be in the top 10 of the list of great American [music] writers of my generation, and even higher on the list of ones I think are great.  She's had 25 #1 hits in her life, and has written a bunch of songs I would put in my top 100.  Coat Of Many Colors, To Daddy, Down From Dover, Jolene, My Tennessee Mountain Home ... she writes the real country blues.

Anyway, time to stop gushing and to say that she announced a North American tour this summer that she says herself is the most extensive she's done in 25 years.  I don't remember her ever coming to the Northeast.  She announced a date in Tanglewood and one at Bangor's riverside amphitheater early on (both too far away for me), but then said she'd be adding dates drip by drip and agonizingly was not coming any closer to Boston.  Finally she announced a date at the Wang and I jumped on the opportunity to get tickets, as did a lot of others apparently, since the best seats I could get were third row in the balcony (behind the first rows of the balcony, which is called the mezzanine at the Wang).  Whatever, they were fine seats and we were psyched!

Drove into the city after work on a Tuesday and we walked through the crowded Common in beautiful early summer down to Jacob Wirth's, where we realized we were a little tired of it.  Had a nice meal despite that and then walked around the block and snuck in the back way to the Wang, which had people pouring in, many dressed in their best cheap country glamour.  Found our seats, got a beer, stared at the over the top theater (just like Dolly!), and then the show started.

Signs warned us that haze and smoke would be used in the performance, and there were several other artifices used, such as a drum machine and a taped chorus on one song, and a teleprompter that blocked off part of our view.  In some situations I would find these things objectionable or hokey, but Dolly was so up front about it, telling us at length how a drum machine (used on 4-5 of the songs only) was cheaper than bringing along a drummer, joking about her costumes and enhancements, and telling us, "But this is what you wanted to see, right?"  She was right.  And what's not artificial about the electric guitar filters, light shows, and sampling/looping we would hear and dig at rock shows?

And one of the great things was that the whole theater was a rainbow parade of horny heterosexuals, demure women who really wanted to be like Dolly, and gay guys who thought she was fabulous, as well as some people like me who think she's a plumb musical genius.  She was definitely whacked with the song stick (and the show-person stick) early in life and represents a great story of a woman singer persevering and conquering in a male-dominated world.  And that's not to mention her parents, whom she spoke of many times: an illiterate father and a mother married at 15 and with 12 kids by 30 who encouraged her daughters and sons to be themselves.  That's America.

So she came out from a gauzy haze to great applause, wearing a white jumpsuit with many rhinestones, white heels, and see-through calves.  They did a really short "Hello Dolly!" introduction and then she jumped right into her first song.  She did two sets and here's the first:
  • Hello Dolly
  • Train, Train
  • Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That
  • Jolene
  • Pure & Simple
  • Precious Memories
  • My Tennessee Mountain Home
  • Coat of Many Colors
  • Smoky Mountain Memories
  • Applejack
  • Rocky Top/Yakety Sax
  • Banks of the Ohio
  • Medley: American Pie / If I Had a Hammer / Blowin' In the Wind / Dust In the Wind / The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  • The Seeker
  • I'll Fly Away
The show was precisely orchestrated, and the setlist was almost identical to what she's been playing at other stops on the tour.  She was accompanied by a small band: Richard Dennison on keyboards (mostly a grand piano), organ, percussion, and vocals; Tom Rutledge on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, double-bass, banjo, and vocals; and Kent Wells on lead electric/acoustic guitars, bass, and vocals.  It was really amazing how many instruments each played and how agilely they switched between them on every song.  They even had a riser set up for the absent drummer ("He's at home in Nashville, trying to figure out how to remove a rhinestone-encrusted high heel from his be-hind"), and Kent popped up over there at times for variety.

But all eyes were on Dolly and she sure showed her versatility, opening on acoustic and killing it on Jolene.  Her stage manager then wheeled out a "throne" for her to sit on and she accompanied herself with dulcimer on My Tennessee Mountain Home, autoharp on Coat Of Many Colors, and recorder on Smoky Mountain Memories.  The throne was wheeled offstage and she got out the fiddle for Applejack and then a small saxophone(!) for Rocky Top.  This was amazing.

Highlights of the set for me musically were her band's country funk on Why'd You Come In Here, her guitar on Jolene (as mentioned), her incredibly tasteful dulcimer on Tennessee Mountain Home, and her vocals!!  My Dog, she is ethereal in her down-home way.  Her headset mike was not set right for the first few songs (she's been playing a mix of venues and it showed), but then they got that right and she showed us the power.  Smoky Mountain Memories would have floored me if I wasn't sitting down and packed in like a sardine, she wrung the emotion and horror out of the traditional Banks Of the Ohio in two short verses (how did she do that?), and of course some of the classic songs she sang were beyond being emotional touchstones.

The band joined her for the crowd-pleasing country-pop medley, and then she wound down with a couple more songs and then strutted off stage for the break, showing off her enhancements of course, as she had at orchestrated times.  The announcer warned us the break would be only 20 minutes, but that was enough time for a quick beer and bathroom break.  There were many people wandering around that theater with huge smiles and not a negative sentiment could be heard.

Back for the second set and she came out with a black fringe skirt and tight white top, strumming an electric guitar!  She even ripped off a lead on the first song, as if we didn't know already that this woman had it together.  Here's the second set:
  • Baby, I'm Burning
  • Outside Your Door
  • The Grass Is Blue
  • Those Memories of You
  • Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Little Sparrow
  • Two Doors Down
  • Here You Come Again
  • Islands in the Stream
  • 9 to 5
This was a shorter set, but she mostly stuck to the hand-held mike and took over with her singing, as a great vocalist will do.  Her stage manager wheeled out a white grand piano with gauzy drapes for The Grass Is Blue, which is one of her best songs.  She was humble enough to point out that Norah Jones had done it better than she can, "But it's my song!"  She then hammered it out and showed that though Norah may be more precise, Dolly can country-croon like you wouldn't believe.

The band clustered around one mike for her mini-set of songs done by The Trio (her, Emmylou, and Linda Ronstadt in the 80s ... which will be re-released with 20 extra tracks this Fall(!)).  And probably the moment of the night that will most stay with me is her singing along with the boys but DOMINATING on one of her most excellent songs ever, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.  She then laughed and told how they'd worked that out on the bus and, to stave off boredom, then did a "33 at 78 rpm" version of it that was hilarious chipmunk squeaks.

OK, the moment of the night was perhaps the next one.  She took the hand-held mike over to the side of the stage, told us she was going to bring us all down, and then sang an a capella version of Little Sparrow that brought chills up your back.  This was serious, this was the country blues straight from a master.

OK, time for the rocking, good-time end to the show.  Two Doors Down was perhaps the first song of hers that made me really consider her a musician rather than a novelty act and I was very glad to hear that one.  She had to do Here You Come Again, Islands In the Stream (a BeeGees song), and then 9 To 5, which had everyone singing along.  Talk about an anthem for the people!  Not many of us really work in coal mines, especially in Boston.

Dolly did the old person's (she's 70) nod to walking off stage, waiting for the applause, and coming our for an encore.  That is, she walked to the back of the stage, folded her arms, and then made a show of re-entering ... we all got it, she was almost done.  As soon as she said "Whitney" the crowd went nuts and then she did possibly her greatest hit (though that was Whitney Houston's cover), I Will Always Love You.  She did not leave any of her vocal power on the shelf for this one, it was magnificent.

Dolly strutted offstage with a "See y'all next time!" (we can only hope so), and the band did a last few turns of the chorus and then hit the bricks themselves.  Long tour still to come for these guys.

We headed out of there quickly ourselves, along with a crowd as stunned by the excellence of the evening as I've ever seen.  This concert was so many things in a heady mix.  We were out of there and back up the hill through the Common soon, then home and to bed before midnight.  What a show!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ol' Brown Shoe In the Wind

Great friends M&G were in town for a speaking engagement by G and it just so happened that this coincided perfectly with Ol' Brown Shoe (with our friend Larry) playing at the Black Lobster in Salem on a sunny Sunday late-Spring afternoon (6/12), with the tide coming in!  What could be better?

Well, it might have been better if it had been a little warmer.  The wind was wicked that day and I texted M&G that they should wear sweatshirts, which weren't really enough.  M wore his winter coat and seemed to be the only comfortable one on the patio at the Black Lobster, including some braving the wind with t-shirts and sandals and not really succeeding.  Oh well, there's only so much chilliness that beer and dancing can't fix!

Ran into Larry in the parking lot when we arrived a bit before 3 for the afternoon show.  They set up pretty quickly and M&G showed up just in time for the opening number, Bertha.  We'd grabbed a table "in the sun" but the clouds moved in, the wind kept up the pace, and it started raining by the end of the afternoon.  By then we'd moved to a table under the canopy though, and we were fine ... we're New Englanders.

JeffL was missing for a family celebration, but the band didn't miss a beat, with Larry and Tim filling in the rhythm and the vocals.  Highlights were another excellent Shakedown, another great cover of What's Going On, another fantastic turn on Southbound by Larry, and Toussaint's Get Out Of My Life Woman.  M and Larry had a chance to hang out at break and catch up, and we all had a beyond-wonderful time.

The elephant in the room was that the Dead & Company summer tour has started, and there was some buzz about that, who's going to Fenway for what nights. etc.  They opened in Charlotte on Friday night (6/10) and when we got home we watched the webcast of their set at Bonnaroo.  Just fantastic stuff, and Donna Jean Godchaux-Mackay sang on a number of tunes!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Jorma Sings the Shirley Blues

We were stunned a few years ago when Hot Tuna played the Bull Run in Shirley, and stunned again last year when Jorma Kaukonen played there solo.  I mean, many people would agree with me calling him one of the best musicians in the world (I probably wouldn't get as many people agreeing with me that Tim O'Brien is one of the best musicians in the world), and then he announced another stop in Shirley, this June.  To see him with some regularity in a small club in North-Central-Wherever Mass is awesome!  You can bet we got tickets as soon as we found out, and even so did not get one of the best tables, though we got front row left.

The Bull Run sold out of course, and there were a lot of very psyched (and some very drunk) Jorma fanatics there.  I had heard a story about him being picky about his chair, and he sat on the same chair we'd seen him on before, perfectly positioned between two classic acoustics, the same we'd seen him play last time.  He took a little while to warm up when he came on a little late for the listed 7:30 start (usually 8 at the Bull Run), but then he shivered a bit in his flannel shirt, smiled at the crowd and apologized for cobwebs, hunkered down a bit more over his old guitar, and played and sang one of the most masterful blues shows I've seen.

Jorma and Jack had been the second attraction at the Dark Star Orchestra Jubilee at Legend Valley, Ohio this past [Memorial Day] weekend.  Jorma ended up doing three sets on the three days, besides sitting in for a few tunes with DSO.  We had seen DSO at the Wilbur in their first gig since the weekend on Wednesday, and this Thursday was the first gig for the 75-year old Jorma since then.  Again, I hope I recover as well when I'm 75!

I'd picked up Dave and Sarah at West Concord after work and we met F&P at the table there for a fine meal, conversation, and beer.  Now it was time to shut up and listen to Jorma!

He opened with Ain't In No Hurry from his last record, perhaps trying to set a mellow tone, but then started riling us up something serious with Death Don't Have No Mercy, a song he commands, and the first of several Reverend Gary Davis songs on the night.  He perhaps didn't play this with the same gravitas he had last time we saw him at the Bull Run, but it was still a highlight.  Then he chuckled at his cobwebs, launched right into Hesitation Blues, and he was off!  Here's the setlist:

  • Ain’t In No Hurry
  • Death Don’t Have No Mercy (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Hesitation Blues (trad.)
  • Heart Temporary
  • BBQ King
  • I’ll Be Alright Some Day
  • The Terrible Operation (Thomas Dorsey)
  • How Long Blues (Leroy Carr)
  • I See the Light
  • Let Us Get Together (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Waiting For a Train (Jimmie Rodgers)
  • Come Back Baby (Walter Davis)
  • San Francisco Bay Blues (Jesse Fuller)
  • In My Dreams
  • Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (trad.)
  • Sea Child
  • Good Shepherd
  • Bar Room Crystal Ball
  • Water Song
  • Watch the North Wind Rise [Encore]

I had thought at the time that he'd played a lot of old covers, but looking at the list I realize his originals pre-dominated.  I guess I count songs like I'll Be Alright, Heart Temporary, and Sea Child as old blues songs.  Geez, Sea Child and Good Shepherd must be 50 years old!  And to mix them up with such a variety of classic songs (Jimmie Rodgers for Dog's sake!!) made for a presentation of a swath of American blues ... played by a master of the style ... that was just awesome.

Jorma started having a good time pretty quickly, and he was effusive when Dave shouted out, "How was the Jubilee?"

Jorma said immediately, in his Ohio patois, "Had a great time.  My GOD you should hear Steve Kimock do Stella Blue, amazing!"  He reflected a second and then said, "And I can't believe those guys [DSO] can remember all those songs, I have a hard enough time sounding like myself!"

Another great interlude was when Jorma told his Jack Casady story of the night, relating how Jack had recently had cataract surgery (Jorma hasn't yet).  The normal routine is to have it done on one eye first and so Jack wore glasses to a gig with one lens missing.  He tried to clean a smudge off that lens and ended up sticking his finger in his eye in the middle of a song.  He recommends that Jack keep wearing glasses, even after surgery.  As he says, who would recognize Jack Casady without glasses?

Yet another story, this one told to introduce Let Us Get Together.  Jorma and David Bromberg were hanging out.  David played a Rev. Gary song and hit a strange chord which Jorma inquired about.  "That's an A 9th chord," David said, "Reverend Gary always plays it that way."  They visited Rev. Gary the next day and David played the song.  "What's that chord?" Rev. Gary said.  Jorma figured the Reverend was playing with David's head.

Where was I?  This was the kind of intimate concert that sticks with you.  I was delighted to hear the country blues (listen to his Blue Country Heart record) from Jimmie Rodgers and the country-boy-in-the-city blues from Jesse Fuller early in the set.  The Terrible Operation is classic Jorma and an incredible Americana chestnut!  Come Back Baby (as probably mentioned in previous posts) is one of those milestone songs for me that get the memories flowing.  To hear him whip it off in the middle of the set in a concise, straight way, was very moving.

And that's not to mention the drumbeat between those great covers of  his own amazing songs, such as I'll Be Alright, I See the Light, In My Dreams (a world-class song), Sea Child, Good Shepherd, etc.  The set was winding down and he finally switched from his regular old guitar to the beautiful one with ringing steel strings and inlays around the sound hole, just as he had the last time we saw him.  He finished the set with the same two songs he had that time: Bar Room Crystal Ball from his last record (IMO as good as anything he's done), and Water Song.  I was reminded of when we saw him and Jack for two shows at the Bull Run and he apologized for encoring with Water Song in both sets, as if that's anything anyone would complain about!

Oh was this good stuff!!  Jorma stood behind his chair while the crowd jumped to its feet and went nuts.  Not long until he was back sitting down and he entertained us with one more song, the inspiring Watch the North Wind Rise.  What a musician.

The efficient waitress had slipped us our bills and given us back our credit cards.  Jorma was gone, wending through a phalanx of fans at the far staircase.  Time to go, and we said adieu to F&P (Dead & Company next month!) and slid off into the night ourselves.




Thursday, June 2, 2016

DSO Tea Party!

Dark Star Orchestra was due to cycle back to the Northeast this late Spring after their annual Dark Star Jubilee in Ohio.  The first stop on the tour was scheduled for Boston’s Wilbur Theater on June 1, with subsequent stops in Providence, Hampton Beach, etc.  Should we go, in light of all the money we’ve been spending on Dead-related things recently and the fact that we saw Phil & Friends twice a couple of months ago and will be seeing Dead & Company thrice in a few weeks??  How could we not go?!?  DSO is never less than incredible fun, but we limited ourselves to just the Boston show.

And it was as much fun as ever if not more so.

Met Sarah and Dave to park at their building after a longer than expected drive through thick Boston traffic, then hustled over to Wirth’s for the customary German dinner and couple of beers.  Wirth’s was probably as empty as I’ve ever seen it, even though everything else in Boston was going at full tilt on a sunny but brisk-for-June Wednesday evening.

Got into line at the Wilbur (we were second!?!  we’re used to being first), exchanged our Internet receipts for real tickets, and waited with the growing crowd of fanatics.  DSO has developed their own crowd at this point, that greatly overlaps with the traditional Deadhead crowd but also includes those who find Phil/Bobby/etc. shows too expensive and/or prefer the good times spun by DSO to the sometimes new and challenging music the Phil/Bobby/etc. shows can feature.  A surprising number of these people had been at the Jubilee in Ohio and planned to continue on to Providence, Hampton Beach, etc. with the tour.  There was also a lot of talking and enjoying the moment rather than the music during the show.  DSO concerts are just such mellow fun, and that’s very appealing.  Maybe the band members aren’t “as good” as the originals or “as creative,” but that’s not a reason not to see them, or for classical fans to stop seeing Beethoven cover bands.

We debated hanging back at the soundboard, especially since we might have to get out of there early/quickly for Dave to catch the last T to Quincy.  But anticipation built and when the time came we grabbed a spot right up front, at the stage in front of RobE’s guitar and just a few feet from RobB’s organ.

And wait a minute … it *was* just a B3 with no extra keyboards!  RobE and Skip’s guitars were old large-bodied Gibsons, Jeff’s guitar was a vintage, small black thing, there was no setup for a female singer, and the only drum accoutrement was a huge gong.  We suspected that we were in for a late-60s show!!  The lineup was vintage too, with Jeff far left (looking at the stage), Skip center, then RobE (where we were standing), and RobB.

The guys came out (Dave had a quick exchange with RobB, complimenting him on the recent Q shows, which Rob thanked him for), and proceeded to rip our ears off with the 1969-12-30 show from the Boston Tea Party.  This was a great treat of a show and they played it incredibly well, though Jeff sometimes seemed to want to mellow out instead of giving it the late-60s Garcia head-on attack.  Maybe not enough acid was the (slight) problem, but whatever, this was simply incredible!

  • Good Lovin'
  • Drums
  • Good Lovin'
  • Mama Tried
  • New Speedway Boogie
  • Casey Jones
  • Black Peter
  • Me and My Uncle
  • In the Midnight Hour
  • Cumberland Blues
  • Cryptical Envelopment
  • Drums
  • The Other One
  • Cryptical Envelopment
  • Cosmic Charlie

OK, maybe we weren’t actually seeing the Grateful Dead in a small club in Boston on the middle night of their New Year’s 1969 stand … but we had no problem pretending we were there and the band played the songs with a period flair.  These guys are great musicians and VERY experienced at what they do.

Good Lovin’ was an explosive start, and then they went right into the first drum solo of the night, with Dino (left) and RobK (right) thundering up a 60’s psychedelic beat.  The set was chock full of cowboy songs (some call this their “cosmic cowboy” period) and those were short, loud, and sweet.  RobE was fanning furiously right in front of us, a bolt of lightning running through Bobby’s incredible variety of chords and colors.

The “new” songs were done perfectly: Speedway, Casey Jones, Black Peter, and Cumberland were all in their infancy, raw and stunning.  Black Peter in particular fully realized the psychic, almost psychotic  fear of death and loneliness that it’s essentially about.

And they wouldn’t stop!  The setlist was awesome but Dave didn’t recognize it and we were beginning to think that maybe it was elective, especially since they were playing such a long first set that we began to think it would be the only one.  We thought Midnight Hour would be the end, but then they launched head over heels into Cumberland.  We thought that might be the end, but then they took a breath and Jeff started playing Cryptical!  Of course that led into a second drum solo of the night, then into a riveting, loud, 1969 TOO, and then back into Cryptical.  We thought that would be the end but then they started flying into the cosmos with Charlie!  OMG … they finally stopped and RobE announced a short break.

The crowd was pressing us in and we took turns going out for bathroom/beer/whatever breaks, while Dave did some quick research.  There it was, 1969-12-30, though Dave hid the bottom of the screen so he wouldn’t see the second set.

Before we knew it, the guys were gathering in the wings behind the organ again, yucking it up and strategizing a bit.  Then the lights went down and they came back out.  What could they do to top that first set?  How about this:

  • Uncle John's Band
  • Mason's Children
  • China Cat Sunflower
  • I Know You Rider
  • Dark Star
  • Alligator
  • Drums
  • The Eleven
  • Alligator
  • Feedback
  • And We Bid You Goodnight

Radical!  More new songs: UJB (9th performance) and Mason’s, but introducing some mature songs that had reached their primal Dead peak.

A highlight for me was RobE going nuts on China Cat, which he led faster and faster down the hill into Rider.  And what a beautiful, cosmic Dark Star, which exploded into a song I’d called earlier in the set, Alligator (sung by RobB, one of his only vocals of the night).  Dino stood up and scratched the g├╝iro on Dark Star while RobK was all over the gong, almost hugging it while hitting it with mallets in each hand, or standing behind it and hitting it with one mallet while moving the mike behind it up and down to get an even spacier sound.  For Alligator, RobK grabbed the guiro while Dino went nuts on his traps.  And then they both started pounding away in unison during the instrumental break in Alligator and steered us headlong into the third drum solo of the night.  As I say, incredible, mind-bending stuff!

And then suddenly we were in 11 time, the guitarists were flailing away madly, and then Jeff told us that there was no more time to tell how.  And he wasn’t taking questions.  The guys gave it the old-style harmony on the choruses, Skip filling in with some excellent bass (though this was far from perfect, if you felt like being critical).  Back to finish up Alligator, a healthy dose of Feedback, and then some more heartfelt, baroque harmonies on Bid You Goodnight, with the entire Wilbur singing along of course.  Amazing!

The guys left the stage for a short bit, but then came back out and RobK told us what we already knew, that we’d just been at the Boston Tea Party in ’69.  DSO does not cheat their audience at all and still had some more for us!  They set up a mike for Lisa (though she didn’t use it, she just stood back between the three Robs and played the harp), and they filled out the night with another Workingman’s song, Easy Wind, and then a beautiful Brokedown Palace (without Lisa, being 1969).

Being at the front, we could not leave immediately, and it’s a good thing because RobK crumpled up his setlist and threw it at me, a perfect shot!  I gave it to Dave.  We got out of there soon after that though, crossed through the busy theater district, and climbed quickly up to Beacon Hill.  No problems getting home and I was in bed around 1:00.  Jorma tonight!




Friday, May 27, 2016

JKB at BMH

Going to the Brighton Music Hall to see a rock show in the middle of the week isn’t exactly a young person’s game.  But we were taking the next day off for the long weekend, and so went to see the John Kadlecik Band on Thursday, May 26th.

We’d seen John previously a good number of times in Furthur of course, and also in the Golden Gate Wingmen and with Phil & Friends.  He’s never fallen short of being a vastly entertaining, complete guitarist, and so we were very excited … and he surpassed our expectations!

Got into Brighton through incredibly thick Thursday traffic, got turned around a bit while trying to avoid the worst of it, and then miraculously found a “free” (but see below) parking spot in the same block as the Music Hall.  The three of us met at Deep Ellum (after a slow and crowded T ride for Sarah and Dave … Boston was going through the yearly upheaval of patterns that takes place in late May and we were in the midst of it) and had a nice dinner on their patio on a suddenly warm Spring day.  We’ve been having early Springs that seem to last forever before turning into what we think of as “Spring” lately … but I digress.

We walked over to the BMH (passing John in a nearby pizza shop having *his* dinner … I gave him a thumbs-up), and were barely first in a rapidly-extending line.  They let us in after not too much delay, we grabbed places in front of the stage (and some huge under-stage bass speakers and some mid-ranges at waist level), got a couple of beers, and didn’t have to wait that long as the place filled up.

I’d heard that John was touring with his “regular” band.  I’m not sure what that means in terms of stability or longevity (John has been performing with a band under his name for at least 15 years), but on that day he had Klyph Black on big Fender bass, Nathan Graham on drums, and Todd Stoops on keyboards.  Here’s the first set:

  • Brown-Eyed Women
  • Nobody Told Me
  • They Love Each Other
  • Tin Roof Shack
  • Box of Rain
  • Bird Song
  • Seen Love
  • Ripple

This was really good stuff!  John does BEW and TLEO very, very well from his practice with the masters.  And he adds his own signature to songs like Bird Song and Ripple (which he didn’t sing in French, to my disappointment).  Tin Roof Shack (Peter Rowan song) was a high point of the set itself and mixing in Nobody Told Me (the Lennon song, “Strange days indeed!”) and Hairball Willie's Seen Love made for a great set.

This was not like the democratic playing we usually like in a concert, but that can lead to some dead spots and noodling while everyone says, “Not me!”  The band arranged each song well, and there were keyboard leads and bass bombs thrown this way and that; but this was John’s band.  Every song led eventually to Klyph, Nathan, and Todd clustered in a triangle, keeping up a melodic beat, staring at John the leader.  He’d then twirl some dials and hit some switches (he had a lot of each, see the pictures of his guitar), and proceed to melt our minds with excellent solo after excellent solo.  This was fun!

Not over-long set break, while we got one more beer and the full crowd pressed us into the stage.  Then they were back out there for the second set:

  • After Midnight>
  • Your Mileage May Vary>
  • Crazy Fingers>
  • It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry
  • Any Road>
  • The Other One>
  • American Spring>
  • Throwing Stones>
  • Touch of Grey

This was more very high-level  stuff!  Highlights of this set were a very spacey Crazy Fingers with some beyond-psychedelic electric guitar,  A Train To Cry done in a JGB style but with JKB spice, and of course TOO on which Klyph turned up his bass to 12 and blew our ears out, much to our delights.

More good stuff but before we knew it it was time for the encore and we realized we were pretty exhausted.  They did another Dylan cover, When I Paint My Masterpiece, and then were done.  Dave got the setlist from a roadie collecting cables, and we stumbled out into the well-lit Brighton night.

In time to see that there was a ticket on our windshield!  “What!?!” we said, almost in unison with the concert-attendee in front of us who found the same thing on his car.  We looked around and there was a small sign, way above our heads, that said that Friday mornings from 12:01 to 8:01 was street cleaning!  Well fuck us for $40.  The ticket was stamped 12:20 and it was then about 12:40, and of course there was no street cleaner in sight.  Grrr!

Oh well, quick trip home and to bed by 1:30 or so.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Nitty Gritty in Maine

Our friends have a house right near the Stone Mountain Arts Center, the performance space Carol Noonan has started up in Maine, and were nice enough to invite us up to see the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band this Friday (5/13).

As they do for many people, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band symbolizes a milestone in my appreciation of music due to their genius crossover project: 1972's May the Circle Be Unbroken.  This exposed me and others of my generation to a world of music that we wouldn't necessarily have heard otherwise.

They've been around for 50 years now themselves, and the concert in Maine was the actual 50th anniversary of their first playing together.  Their personnel has cycled a bit over the years, but the current iteration is drummer and harmonicist Jimmy Fadden, singer (and guitarist) Jeff Hanna, keyboardist and singer Bob Carpenter, and John McEuen (who played mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and lap steel last night).  Jimmy and John sang too, but it was mainly Jeff leading the vocals.

Drove up after work on Friday and had some time to yuck it up a bit with our friends before heading over to Brownfield.  The lobby/waiting area was already pretty full when we arrived, and McEuen was working the room like a politician, posing for pictures and kissing babies (well, he probably would have if the situation had come up ... mostly older people there you know).

Got ushered into the main dining/performance area in our time and had a great table and a fine meal.  Several drinks were imbibed, and some good food was eaten.  Then the Dirt Band came on and entertained the heck out of us.

Fadden was the star of the night to my ears.  His tone on harmonica was perfect and echoed with my memories of how that same tone had played around the vocals of Roy Acuff, the guitar of Doc Watson, the deep bass of Johnny Cash, the soprano of Alison Krauss, and the sublime fiddling of Vassar Clements on the Circle records (they did two sequels as well as the epic first).

They had an accompanist on guitar and bass as well as the core four, and they kept up a great pace all night, though McEuen showed signs of tiring at some points and Hanna sometimes failed to lead the band as consistently as one might want.  Oh well, the point is that they're the quintessential hippies and their music is a mixed bag.  Dig it or not.  And the full house basically really dug it!

Short ride back after that, stayed up a bit and talked, then to bed after a long day.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

GDMUATM 2016!

Another year, another Grateful Dead Meet-Up At the Movies!  It’s amazing that there are still enough relatively un-seen films of the Grateful Dead throughout their career that they can come out with a new one every year.  After all, the Grateful Dead and their oeuvre don’t exactly fly under the radar … they receive a certain amount of scrutiny.

The film for 2016 is the entire concert from Foxboro Stadium (whilom Schaefer Stadium and Sullivan Stadium) on 1989-07-02, a fertile period for GD concert films as they had recently started filming them so they could be shown on large screens in the stadiums they played at the time.  And so high quality films were made routinely, though not always preserved.  This was the first date of their summer tour, a couple of weeks before last year’s GDMUATM (1989-07-19) and the date before the Truckin’ Up To Buffalo DVD, from 1989-07-04.  And it seemed that everyone we talked to about this film had been there at Foxboro in 1989!  Maybe we were too…

It was a bit harder than before to pick a theater, since we wanted one we could all get to with the least amount of hassle, and which would then enable us most easily to drop Dave off at home.  We settled on the Showcase Cinema de Lux Legacy Place in Dedham because a) it had the longest name and b) it seemed to be a good compromise geographically.  As it turns out, it’s a short walk away from the Dedham Corporate stop on the Franklin line and so it was easy for Dave and Sarah to get to, though a long rush-hour drive for me.

We met at Yardhouse in that massive, busy mall area, after work on Wednesday, May 11.  I think this cinema is near (and maybe a similar name?) to the one where Sarah and I saw the original “Tron” back in 1982, when it was a little movie theater stuck in behind the Fox News headquarters in the industrial wastelands off route 1 where it crosses 128 south of the city.  Since then the place has grown up to say the least, and is a mega-mall and mega-cinema of scary proportions.

After a few beers and dinner at Yardhouse we dropped off stuff in the car in the massive parking garage, and headed on over to the theater, along with a few other enthusiasts.  Not too many of us though … the theater was only a tenth full.

When we walked in they were playing a clip of Dead & Company, but this ended soon and the real feature(s) started.  First up was an infomercial for “July ‘78” (to be officially released tomorrow), kind of a super-seaside chat without the seaside for Dave Lemieux.  The cinematography almost succeeded in making him seem consistently scholarly, but he ended the film with a Lemieux metaphor of epic proportion (that I can’t remember), so it was worth it.

Then we were [back] in Foxboro in early summer ’89!  The stage was so enclosed by wildly printed draperies and sets of swirling color that the relatively small stage area was probably barely visible for people at the far ends of the stadium.  And the place was packed, as was revealed when the cameras panned around.

They were set up with Phil on the right (facing the audience), flanked by Bobby, Jerry, and then Brent, with Billy and Mickey commanding their drum empire, complete with thunder drums, an early version of The Beam, and large drum pads that they spent a lot of time on, simulating African drum sounds.  Jerry and Phil spent a lot of time on their MIDIs too, making some unusual sounds.

They broke into PITB and we were instantly deep into an excellent first set:
  • Playing In The Band 
  • Crazy Fingers 
  • Wang Dang Doodle 
  • We Can Run 
  • Tennessee Jed 
  • Queen Jane Approximately 
  • To Lay Me Down 
  • Cassidy 
  • Don't Ease Me In
There were some egregious clams dealt by pretty much everyone (but mostly Jerry and Bobby) throughout the night, as well as flubbed lyrics, but a great deal of it was excellent musicianship showing great energy.  The ensemble vocals, when at their best, were particularly sublime.  And the recording was excellent.  There were a few times when Jerry or Bobby hit a ragged crescendo and the sound distorted a bit, but in all the levels were up high and the sound was crystal clear.

Of particular note in that first set was that after a stellar, tight PITB they fell apart when trying Crazy Fingers, but then got it back together a third of the way through the song and reached just as much of a peak by the end of it as they had in the opener.  Garcia singing Wang Dang Doodle was worth the price of admission itself, and they followed that with as good a We Can Run as you can expect (no one except Brent is/was crazy about that song, so this is faint praise), a spectacularly great Tennessee Jed, and a semi-good Queen Jane followed by a train wreck of a To Lay Me Down and then a spectacularly great Cassidy and a short and sweet Don’t Ease Me In.  Spotty to say the least, but in all highly entertaining.

No intermission in the theater, though some of the most elderly in the crowd just had to get in a piss break.  The guys came out on the now-dark stage and proceeded to weird out.  The second set wasn’t bad at all, but wasn’t classic.

Here’s the list:
  • Friend Of The Devil 
  • Truckin' 
  • He's Gone 
  • Eyes Of The World 
  • Drums 
  • Space 
  • The Wheel 
  • Dear Mr. Fantasy 
  • Hey Jude 
  • Sugar Magnolia
This was a weird setlist.  How many times has FOTD been a second set opener?  And why?  Lots of good stuff here, including a well-sung Truckin’ (which is weird itself), some incredible guitar work on Eyes, a very good extended Space section, and then a beautiful Wheel.  Brent was at the top of his game on most of Mr. Fantasy, and then they tried the weird segue into Hey Jude and it didn’t quite come off as hoped, though everyone was having a good time by that point, including the crowd.  People were dancing in the aisles and clapping along … no lack of enthusiasm at Legacy Place that night!

They then concluded with a very good Sugar Magnolia.  Bobby had hit a wrong chord while Jerry was singing earlier in the evening, almost throwing him off.  And so Jerry hit a wrong chord on purpose while Bobby was trying to emote on the Sunshine Daydream coda, and then leered devilishly at Bobby.  They were having a good time on stage and so how could we not?  The encore followed without a break, and it was as good a Quinn the Eskimo as I’ve heard, which is again not saying much.

Lots of people hurried out of the theater as they finished, but then a real highlight followed, as they re-rolled the snippet of Dead & Company that they had been playing when we entered: Slipknot! and Franklin’s Tower from 2015-12-28.  This was great stuff, and quite an interesting contrast with the Bobby, Billy, and Mickey we’d just been watching, let alone the contrasts made by the new musicians.

Had another great GDMUATM and then not too long a drive (though we started off going the wrong North) over to Quincy and then up to Woburn … in bed by 11 or so.