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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Kennedys in Winchester

The UU church in Winchester (known as the Winchester Unitarian Society) that we went to for a short time and that I've driven by half a million times announced that they would be hosting the Kennedys in their concert series.  So we had to go, being a mile or so from our house.  We hadn't seen them for a couple of years and were very glad to have the opportunity ... I've always enjoyed them.

Trundled over to the church after dinner on a Friday night (4/29) and got seats in the front row of pews, on the right.  There were already a bunch of us there 45 minutes before the show, and the organizers were a little taken aback, especially when I actually tried to buy some of the CDs they had displayed.  They hadn't figured on this level of enthusiasm.

The sanctuary of the Winchester UU church is really lovely, with lots of carved wooden trusses, a majestic pipe organ, and some huge stained glass windows advertising humanly virtues.  A couple of church guys came out to fuss with the lights and I asked them if this was the first "rock" act in their concert series, which had always featured jazz or classical shows before.  "No, we had Blondie 20 years ago," one of them deadpanned without blinking an eye ... excellent repartee!  The other didn't know what was more unintelligible, my question or the other guy's answer, so he just frowned and stammered something about "never excluding folk acts" before walking away.

Pete and Maura came out soon after that, Maura in a print dress and some red highlighting in her hair, and Pete in a weird felt hat ... no matching sneakers in church, and did a very mellow gentle folk rather than crunchy rock show.  We loved it.  Pete had a bit of a sore throat and wasn't able to do much to back up Maura on vocals, but she was singing excellently and Pete was playing as well as ever.

One of the great things about Kennedys shows is that they change so much ... they have a lot of material to choose from.  They opened with Half a Million Miles (after a long introduction, the whole first-date-Buddy-Holly story; the 3/4-full church was evenly divided between people who had seen them before and probably knew their music well, and people who'd never seen them before and probably wouldn't be able to spell "folk-rock" or "Lubbock" without a lot of help).  And then they did one of their greatest, early songs, River of Fallen Stars.  I don't think I'd ever seen them sing that live, though I'd seen them eight times before.

But then they did some deep diving into their latest record, West, and touched on some more obscure songs throughout their catalog.  I hadn't heard anything from West on the radio and I loved that new stuff; they did Bodhisattva Blues, (the Holly-channeling) Locket, Southern Jumbo, and encored with the rocker from the record, Travel Day Blues (complete with reference to the Grateful Dead, along with half a million other music/road references, including one to Merle Haggard).  It wasn't until that point that some of the straighter society members realized that they might have been duped into attending a rock concert.

They also did an excellent cover of Nancy Griffith's Trouble In the Fields, after reminiscing about being in the area touring with her a few years ago (a helpful audience member corrected Pete when he mentioned playing at Sanders Theater ... it was the Wilbur, as he  graciously conceded).  They then did Maura's wonderful I'll Come Over from their last record as well as a few from Maura's recent collaboration with poet B.D. Love.

They featured Pete on the Stratocaster (he switched from his acoustic after the first few songs) with The Mad Russian and then Williamsburg Bridge from his Heart of Gotham record, and then on solo ukelele doing Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue.  Pete stood up at the edge of the stage a few feet away from me for his extended Fender runs, which got great hands from the crowd.  They then picked it up with another Gotham song, Riot in Bushwick, sung by Maura in her excellent pop-rock style.

They'd done a lot of songs, but we knew the show wasn't going to go late.  They asked Meredith Thompson (from Chris and Meredith Thompson and also their Strangelings band) up on stage with her conga, and she and Maura did the Kennedys classic Bend In the River and then sang us out with Stand ... which I think they've done at every show I've been to.  Short break, and then they came back up for the  previously-mentioned Travel Day Blues encore.

Waited for the crowd to dissipate a bit and then thanked Pete and screwed out of there.  Short drive home and it was still only 10PM!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

John Prine and Iris Dement at the Schubert

John Prine doesn't come to town very often, and there are a *lot* of serious Prine fans in the world.  When he announced a date at the Schubert in Boston's Theater District a few months ago, it sold out very quickly.  And then it was announced that Iris Dement would share the bill with him ... but tickets were already gone!  My friend tried to buy tickets a few weeks later and the best price he could get was $300 per,

Made a quick trip into the city, parked on Beacon Hill, and walked quickly down to a crowded Theater District on a chilly early-Spring Saturday (4/9/16).  We climbed and climbed up to the balcony, and then down and down to our second-row-center balcony seats.  We could see the stage fine, but I have a lot of gripes about the Schubert.

The seats were more uncomfortable than seats at Fenway Park, no lie!  When I sat and the seat folded down it was pushing against the back of my left calf, though my foot was crammed up against the seat in front of me.  There was 4 inches of leg room by my rough measurement!  My whole left abdomen was cramped by the end of the night.

The stairs must have been illegal!!  I did not see handicapped access up to the top of the balcony ... it was so small up there I don't know if there'd be room.  And there was a balcony bar up there but when I joined the long, long line we didn't move for a while.  And then I asked one of the people walking away from it with a Miller Lite tallboy and a frown if that was all they had there.  No, they had cheap North European lager as well, at an outrageous price.

And the sound in the balcony was not worth a high-price ticket, which we had paid.  We could hear each instrument (and learned that the best way to enjoy the concert was to concentrate on them in turn), but the mix was not homogeneous enough way up high in the balcony ... drifts of this and of that.  A bit more volume would have been welcome, but you often had to infer what sound they were aiming at.

Anyway, it was an awesome concert if you allowed for the Shubert's shortcomings.  Iris opened on a beautiful sounding (but poorly miked, in the balcony) grand piano with Chris Donahue on bass and Jon Graboff on guitar and pedal steel.

I've opined before that some of the songs that Iris released on her Sing the Delta record are some of the best ever, and I was thrilled that she opened with The Kingdom Has Already Come (one of the best of the best) and did Livin' On the Inside and Sing the Delta, bracketing three songs from her more challenging The Trackless Woods record.  She was chatty, the most relaxed I've ever seen her on stage, and introduced the songs from her project with Anna Akhmatova lyrics very well, though at length.

Donahue and Graboff were perfect with her, and though I had issues with the sound, her work on the grand piano was inspiring.  You think of a great pianist striding with the left hand and picking out a melody, but her right hand took the lead here and hammered out the soul of the songs.  I loved it.

I was a bit surprised that Iris was doing an "opening set."  I had thought that there'd be more interaction between the two performers, but she finished up her great set, and then they re-set the stage for John's band, without a mike for Iris.  When they finished arranging and tuning the instruments, they were set way back on the stage ... the monitors were placed 20 feet back from the edge.  Stations for 4 performers were spread across the width of the stage, and every station had 3-5 instruments set up at it.  And they played all of them!

John came out, strummed that guitar hard, and went right at it.  Here's the setlist:

Ramblin' Fever (Merle Haggard cover)
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Glory of True Love
Long Monday
Taking a Walk
Please Don't Bury Me
Six O'Clock News
Souvenirs
Far From Me
Grandpa Was a Carpenter
Hello in There
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Iron Ore Betty
Fish and Whistle
Angel From Montgomery
You Got Gold (John solo)
Illegal Smile (John solo)
Sam Stone
Milwaukee Here I Come (With Iris DeMent)
We Could (With Iris DeMent)
In Spite of Ourselves (With Iris DeMent)
Lake Marie

Paradise

John was accompanied by (left to right) Jason Wilber on guitars and mandolin, Pat McLaughlin on mandolin and guitars, and Dave Jacques on double-bass and two different electric basses.  They were all fantastic, and the arrangements of the classic Prine setlist were note-perfect.

John has always had a raspy voice, and it was also wavering on the first few songs.  But then he warmed up and the silver started to flow, and did not stop.  He was aggressive of course on the acoustic guitar, switching between four different ones, but his cadence and volume were the John Prine sound of your dreams.

I was delighted that he concentrated on his earlier work, and so happy to hear Far From Me, Souvenirs, Hello In There, Six O'Clock News, and Fish and Whistle, along with the incredible mega-hits (if you like John Prine) of Speed Of the Sound of Loneliness and Angel From Montgomery.  John dedicated that last one to Bonnie Raitt naturally, after sending the opener out to Merle Haggard, who had just passed away the day before.

The guys walked off stage and left John to do a couple of solo acoustic songs, including Illegal Smile, for which he let the crowd sing the choruses.  Nobody held back.  I was thinking that this could be the last time he'll be in Massachusetts when the particular smile he's talking of is illegal ... might have to update the lyrics.

And speaking of the crowd, they were totally psyched.  The balcony was packed (I assume the orchestra and mezzanine were too) and there were lots of people shouting out lyrics, song titles, cheering place-name references, and freaking out.  I think everyone there was a John Prine fanatic.

The guys came back out and he did Sam Stone, for which he didn't encourage a sing-along.  This was a serious rendition, straight from the heart of the songwriter to ours.  Then Iris came out and they whooped it up for a few duets.

He concluded his set with what had been shouted out a number of times, Lake Marie ... one of his best songs, and from the latter part of his career.  We all knew every bit of the song of course, and when he started the verse about the four sausages on the grill, there was a low hiss from the crowd, that turned louder and louder.  They was SIZZLIN'!

Short pause while we all went nuts after they walked off stage, and then they came back to play one of his signature songs, Paradise, which he introduced with the information that the Peabody Coal Mine is going bankrupt!  Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenburg County?

Wow, that was a fantastic show, though I was afraid all through it that I wouldn't be able to stand on my crippled leg when it was time to leave, let alone walk down 4 long flights of stairs.

Well, we finally filed out and the Theater District was a madhouse!  It was so crowded with people that cars on the street were not able to move.  There were streams of people going out of or into every building in the area, including some fancy club-goers in nylon soccer shirts and short, glittery dresses on a evening in the 30s.  We thought about stopping somewhere for a drink, but just went home instead!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Steve Kimock at the Bull Run

Yikes!  We'd been up late and were exhausted from seeing Lake Street Dive at the HOB on Wednesday, and had another concert to go to on Thursday (3/24), Steve Kimock at the Bull Run!

He played with his son, John Kimock on drums, longtime collaborator Bobby Vega on bass, and Leslie Mendelson on piano and vocals (and rhythm guitar on one song).  They were apparently billed as "K I M O C K" formally, though he's a very informal guy.

We thought the Bull Run might not be sold out, but it was pretty full with mostly diehard Kimock fanatics, most of whom were also diehard Deadheads of course.  He started off with a slow jam on lap steel with just his bassist, but it quickly picked up tempo, the drummer and keyboardist came out, and we were treated to an amazing evening of fusion, blues, rock, and basically all kinds of psychedelic stuff that he wrung out of his lap steel, a beautiful National steel, a Stratocaster, and some other guitars he had on stage.  It was all originals I believe, though there may have been some covers I didn't recognize in there, except for Mendelson leading the band on George Harrison's Beware of Darkness.  At one point they got pretty close to breaking into The Other One, but stayed away.

His setup was miked like you wouldn't believe, it must have taken them hours to set it up.  One weird thing was that Mendelson had a nice baby grand on stage, but the sound guy would not turn it up!?!  She tried it a few times and shot him some nasty looks, but he just shook his head and she turned back to her electric, which sounded pretty good itself.  When she did Beware of Darkness though, she stuck to it and he had to turn the sound up ... guess he thinks he's what people are there for.

Great evening of music, and excellent sound ... but when it was over it was already 11:30!  Drove all the way into Alewife to drop off Dave and then made it home and to bed by about 1:00.  Back to work the next day.

Here are pictures!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lake Street Dive at HOB

Lake Street Dive could sell out Gillette Stadium!  They've just come out with a new record (Side Pony) and are touring behind it, stopping at the House of Blues on March 23rd, the Beacon Theater in NYC the next night, and then going to conquer Europe.  We got tickets seconds after they went on sale and they were sold out soon after that.  I think the HOB Boston is an excellent venue and we were very eager to hear Rachael Price fill it with her blues-pop bellow ... as were lots of other people.

Drove in to the city after work and got a parking place on Van Ness street, then met Sarah and Dave for dinner at their restaurant.  There were already people on the sidewalk looking for tickets.  Joined the "bought entrees" line out on the sidewalk after we ate, where the March night was getting windier and chillier by the minute.  We were some of the first in the place and got our normal spot to stage left.  The HOB filled up fast and we were soon pressed into our corner by 2422 others (HOB capacity is 2425), who were almost as excited as we were.

The Suffers opened and blew us away!  They're a tight blues band from Houston (they call their sound "Gulf Coast Soul") with a rocking horn section and a very talented lead singer, Kam Franklin.  Franklin told the story of how they were a bunch of friends who got together and played on weekends, then got so much encouragement from fans that they took the leap and quit their day jobs, put out a crowd funded record, got picked to play on Letterman, and now are opening for Lake Street Dive.  You gotta hear these guys, their meteoric rise is deserved.  Here are some pictures.

Then they reconfigured the stage and Lake Street finally came out and the place went up like a rocket.  Here's what they played:

Godawful Things
I Don't Care About You
Side Pony
Stop Your Crying
Clear a Space
Better Than
Spectacular Failure (with The Suffers' horn section)
Saving All My Sinning
Hell Yeah
Close to Me
Walking on Broken Glass (Annie Lennox cover)
Mistakes
Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand
Elijah
So Long
You Go Down Smooth
Bad Self Portraits (with Kam Franklin)
Seventeen
Call Off Your Dogs

Encore:
What I'm Doing Here
Bohemian Rhapsody

It was fantastic!  Rachael Price (wearing glitter heels, a leather skirt, and a window shag) was bopping all over the stage and filling the HOB with her incredible voice.  Bridget Kearney was wearing out her bass, picking it faster and harder then I'd ever seen ... I could just listen to her, I think she's amazing.  Mike Calabrese's riser was set up to the right of the stage instead of the usual drummer's rear position, and he rocked us all night, even doing an excellent drum solo after Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand.  And Mike Olson, like Bridget, was playing better than I'd ever heard him on guitar, though his trumpet playing was a bit below average.  Olson has written some of the best songs on the new record IMO.

One small complaint: I felt the sound was a little off for the first two to three songs.  The PA seemed to be struggling a little bit, but then I guess they added more power and the sound was not only loud, it was crystal clear.

Besides that momentary glitch, the whole evening was incredible and it's hard to pick highlights, especially when they opened with one of my favorite new songs of their's (Godawful Things) and just went up from there.  They play such earworms, I'm going to be replaying their riffs in my head for weeks after seeing them.  We all were trying to dance but there was no room!

A couple of moments I feel were exceptional were Rachael belting out her bluesy, torchy new song, Mistakes, like she was opening up her soul to the crowd and riveting the packed house.  And Kam Franklin coming out to trade verses with Rachael on Bad Self Portraits.  And they finished the night with their full, excellent cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, which had the people who hadn't heard it smacking their foreheads in disbelief.

Dave loved it too, he'd never seen them live and never been in the HOB, both things you have to do!  Dropped him at the Charles stop after that and made it home ... another concert coming tomorrow.

Here are LSD pictures.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Phil's 76th, part 2

Back through downtown Stamford and onto busy route 95 again, then through the narrow streets of Byram and the busy streets of Port Chester to our normal parking lot.  The proprietor was on duty this time and we had a nice chat with him, then took a detour over to a crowded Shakedown Corner.  Someone across the street was playing 1972-vintage music (Grateful Dead that is, of course).  One guy in front of us suddenly stopped, entranced by something he'd seen and said, "Somebody hold my dog so I can pat this one!"  Dave obliged.

Up to Kiosko and had a nice chat with our customary waitress, who had had the day off yesterday.  She brought us out the red sauce of death, I had another nice burrito with rich pork and a couple of Negra Modelos, and we watched Deadheads try to figure out the parking kiosk out the window (hey, maybe that's why it's called ...).

Down to the Cap, got an even more thorough pat-down this time, and then headed way up to row I of the left balcony, almost in the upper corner of the Cap.  But even there the sound was fantastic and the sight lines were fine.  We again could see Barraco very clearly, and though we couldn't quite see the details of the guitar players' fingerings, the sound was great and that's really what matters!

A loud and wacked Friday night crowd filled the seats, and the band finally came out, a bit later than they had Thursday.  Dave had done some work on setlists before our excursion, but we were a little at a loss as to what to predict at that point.  They had played a lot of the songs you might expect from a Lesh and Friends band on Tuesday (Help/Slipknot! (but not Franklin's), Shakedown, Viola Lee, Eyes, Terrapin, Dew, and they threw in an Eric Clapton song).  And then on Thursday they'd done more, like China Cat (but not Rider), Cosmic Charlie, Passenger, Mason's, TOO, St. Stephen, etc.  So let me see, what was left.  Well, Dark Star...

They opened with Dark Star!  They did a long, meandering introduction, but soon enough we realized what song they were playing, and then everyone in the theater realized that this was that song about ... oh you know, nothing less than the nature of reality itself and our place in the cosmos and time and stuff.  Here's the first set:

Dark Star > (all)
Again & Again (WH, RB)
New Speedway Boogie (WH, PL)
Sunshine of Your Love > (WH)
Broken Arrow (PL, WH)
End Of The Line > (WH)
Dark Star > (all)
I Know You Rider (PL, WH)
  • This was a deep space Dark Star, that threatened to fade away at times but then would blink back into existence, all the time dragging us faster and faster into it, until we could not even feel the speed with which we were rushing through space.  They did the modern vocal treatment, splitting the verses between the three vocalists.
  • And then suddenly they were in Again & Again, one of several songs from the record that that ensemble had done back in 2002 (There and Back Again).
  • And then of course Speedway; Phil loves playing this song, and Haynes' vocal was satisfyingly dark.
  • And then the unexpected, another Clapton song, Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love.  They did a short introduction to this for once, and it was clear early what song it was.  They then proceeded to jam the hell out of it though, wandering far off the reservation several times before coming back to finish it off.
  • And then another one we would not have predicted, Robbie Robertson's Broken Arrow, that Phil had recorded on his first solo record in 1999.  This is a one of those songs that I liked, but had never heard a great rendition of; but this cover was sure it, the song rocked!
  • Mentioned this yesterday, but there was some excellent musicianship going on on that stage.  Herring was ear-popping, an amazing lead guitarist ... we said, "How come they didn't get this guy for Fare Thee Well?"  He was never not playing, like Garcia used to do, and he could wring magic, blues, and spaciness out of any song.
  • But don't listen to just Herring, there were some other incredible players on the stage, don't you know.  To name one of them, Haynes seemed to take a bit to really warm up, but by the end of the night his guitar was on fire, especially when he was playing rhythm and Herring was twisting all around him.
  • And Barraco was as excellent on piano as I've ever heard him.  And again as mentioned yesterday, his vocals were excellent and the way his voice paired with Haynes (and Lesh) was sublime.
  • But enough of that.  Time for another Haynes song, End Of the Line, which he did when he was in the ABB.
  • And of course back into Dark Star for the last verse.  And then a prediction of mine, they closed China Cat (from the night before) the traditional way, with a folkie rave-up of I Know You Rider.
Yay!  That was fantastic and we'd survived the guys talking behind us in the Presidential Booth.  We'd first thought that the upper corner of the balcony would be a calm vantage point above the craziness that a rock concert can bring, but there was a constant stream of people stumbling up and down the stairs, arguing over seats, and bursting out with trivial conversations that they just couldn't hold in.  There were characters there, including some interesting ones in the row in front of us.  Oh well.

Took a bathroom break and considered another beer, but I was getting pretty worn out by that point!  The first set had started late and then had gone on for quite a while; these were long, thorough versions of those great songs.  It was already late by then, and we just knew that the second set would require some serious attention.  I'll have to admit that even so I had to sit down for parts of it ... my feet were getting seriously sore.  I *did* get a chance to see the Cap's smoking yard, but just for a short time.

The break was long, but finally the band came back out.  We had no idea what they were going to play, and that's the way they wanted it!  Here's the second set:

Unbroken Chain > (PL)
The Wheel > (all)
Cumberland Blues (all)
Uncle John's Band > (PL, WH)
No More Do I (WH, RB)
The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys > (WH)
Franklin's Tower (PL, WH)
  • Well that wasn't too hard to predict was it?  Of course they had to do Unbroken, and this was a drifting, ethereal cover with Phil barely whispering the lyrics at times.
  • And The Wheel had definitely been on Dave's list.  He'd never seen this done by a Phil/Bobby band before and this was a good one.
  • They'd teased Cumberland in the first set and I was very glad when they launched into it for good.  This is another song that Phil loves to play and as mentioned, to me it's one of the most vital Grateful Dead songs of them all.  As with Unbroken and Wheel though, they downplayed the lyrics a bit, almost forgetting the big finish ("Lot of poor man got the Cumberland Blues...").
  • But right after that they sure concentrated on the lyrics, doing another sparkling UJB!
  • No More Do I is another Lesh/Hunter song from the There and Back Again record, and as with Broken Arrow we found this one of the best versions we'd heard.  The guitar interplay between Haynes and Herring on this was jaw-dropping.
  • Another Traffic cover after that, with the band trying to deconstruct The Low Spark Of  High Heeled Boys into its most basic elements, and succeeding.  We were deep in the laboratory with the guys; Lesh was booming, shaking the rafters, Molo was hammering his kit into the floor, Barraco was surfing on the organ, and Haynes and Herring were screaming.
  • Time to end the set by winding up another little thing they'd left hanging.  They'd done Help/Slipknot! on Tuesday and closed Friday with a short but sweet Franklin's, with Phil singing the last few verses.
Again, yay!  We were totally exhausted, after pouring all of our energy into following every note from this amazing band.  I had to sit down again, but then Phil came back out and the crowd gave him an even louder and more extensive ovation than the day before.  He tried to start talking a few times but we were not going to be stopped and he just stood there beaming.  Phil finally got in an extended Donor Rap, and then the guys (with some delay) trickled back onto the stage.

They'd closed the prior two shows with ballads, and it was time for another one, Haynes soloing on yet another song from the 2002 record, Patchwork Quilt.  This was done very well too, but I think that even the band was feeling the fatigue at that point.  Last bows for all, then watched Phil slowly leave the stage ... hopefully not for the last time but you never know.  It's been a bad year already for musicians with long and illustrious careers.

OK, forced our way outside through the spaced-out crowd, and walked slowly back up the hill to the lot, where we shook the proprietor's hand a last time, and then made our way back to the Thruway and the (relatively) deserted streets of Stamford.  Not much trouble getting to sleep after that long day!