Monday, April 14, 2014

Emmylou at HOB Boston

On Sunday April 13th, Emmylou and her Wrecking Ball tour came to the House of Blues.  Emmylou at HOB may seem odd, but that was the whole idea behind Wrecking Ball 19 years ago, that it was this amazing artist expanding her reach to new sonic frontiers.  She did it as well Sunday night as she had back in her 40s.

Daniel Lanois helped of course.  He opened with Steven Nistor on drums and Jim Wilson on bass and perfect high harmonies.  Then Emmylou came out and was as gracious as ever, doing the whole album and alternating between filling the HOB with her voice and backing up the instrumentation.  She did a first encore that went back to Boulder To Birmingham and Pancho and Lefty, and then did a second encore to tribute Jesse Winchester, who had just passed, with Songbird.

Even knuckleheads talking all through the show and the HOB restaurant losing my order didn't spoil the evening.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lake Street Dive Sell Out Again

After a fantastic pair of Phil Lesh concerts, we woke up late on Sunday and had another breakfast that couldn't be beat at the El Dorado West, then filled up at the Hess and got on the road for the Northeast at 12:30 or so.  We stopped in Westport and took a short tour of the neighborhood I grew up in.  They've put bay windows on the house but it still looks a lot like it did 45 years ago.

Back in Boston and as tired as we were, we were pretty psyched to go see Lake Street Dive at Royale that evening.  This was going to be their third sold out show in a couple of months in the Boston area, not a bad feat at all for a band.  Shows you how hot they are right now, especially after appearing on Stephen Colbert  and David Letterman a few weeks ago.

Parked at Sarah's building, ate at Jacob Wirth's, and joined the LONG line at Royale about when the doors opened at 7:30.  They wouldn't let Sarah bring in her camera (without confiscating the battery), though their website seemed to indicate it would be ok.  We could have gotten our normal spot on the floor, but we were afraid that our legs, which were toast, wouldn't be happy with standing for a few more hours, and so checked out the upstairs.  Almost all the seats upstairs were taken already, though we managed to get a couple on one of the banquettes in the back.

I was worried that these seats would turn out to be bogus and they did, as soon as a few more people showed up and stood here and there.  Soon we couldn't see a thing and were afraid we wouldn't be able to even hear the band as they were meant to be heard.  And the place was only about half full at that point.

Oh well, finally the opening act came on at 8:45 or so: Ages and Ages.  They're from Portland OR and were really a lot of fun.  They're six pieces and do great pop-rock vocals featuring 4 or 5 person harmony.  They didn't seem like the most comfortable-with-each-other band, though this may have been shredded nerves from a long tour.  They'd been on the road for two months or so, the last month opening for LSD.  Mike Calabrese came out and joined them on drums for their penultimate song, and then Rachael, Bridget, and MikeO came out for the last song, adding to the excellent vocals.

I'd left our dingy banquette in the first number to stand by the soundboard, that was in front of the bar in the center of the balcony.  I saw immediately that there were two standing spots just behind the soundboard and summoned Sarah, and we grabbed those spots.  They had a fantastic view and fantastic sound of course, and we could turn around to suit down on the counter behind the soundboard when we needed to.  We realized that the balcony was not a place for listening to music, it was a place for hanging out in and pretending you were having a great time while the concert you really didn't care that much about happened downstairs.

And besides that it can get incredibly hot in the balcony.  The temperature rose and rose and rose while we sat waiting for LSD and trying not to fall asleep for what seemed like an eternity.  I did take one short trip to the bathroom and noticed that even the urinals were part of the experience: they had a little "Royal" embossed into their chrome fittings (well I assumed it was after the name of the place ... they must have forgotten the "e").

Anyway, Lake Street Dive finally came on at about 10:00, making a dramatic entrance down the side stairs.  Even their beautiful sound could be criticized in that weird, weird place.  The kick drum was miked really high, boomy, and loud and made you feel you were in a disco with a pounding beat rather than listening to one of the most talented bands around.  And they showed some signs of fatigue after a long tour (I think Rachael said this was their 45th date on the tour), not doing much emoting or freelancing.  We could have been listening to the record at times.

But even as much as I complain, they were just great.  Highlights were a new song written by Rachael, a new one from Bridget, and what I think was a new one from MikeC.  All of those were excellent and show they still have miles of upside to come.  MikeO played his trumpet a lot and got some funky, jazzy sounds out of it.  Bridget was as incredible as ever on lead bass and error-less background vocals, and Rachael took the opportunity of having a great hall to fill.  She turned up the pipes and let it all hang out, sounding those perfect, jazzy notes like she was in front of a night-club crowd ... which she was.

They mixed in a few of their well-known songs, like Bad Self Portraits of course, and one of my favorites, Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand.  Sarah and I (and our aching legs) finally couldn't take the heat any more and moved downstairs for a couple of songs.  They did an excellent rendition of Neighbor Song, another of my favorites, and then we took off at about 11:00.

It was a long walk back to Government Center, but we made it and managed to not fall asleep as soon as we sat down in the car.  We drove home safely and crashed there, after a long, long weekend.  But don't feel bad for us!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lesh and Friends with Campbell and Williams, Saturday

Wow, late night on Friday and as I say, a long day.  Didn't get a great night's sleep Friday night (not surprising) but we all stayed in bed long enough and then woke up Saturday to an excellent new day.  The rain had stopped, the sun was shining, we were gushing about seeing Phil and Friends the night before, and we were going to see them again that night!  How good can it get?

M&J were still just getting up when we were more than ready for breakfast, so we finally started out ourselves for El Dorado West, the diner across the street that had very mixed reviews on Yelp.  As we suspected, the bad reviews must be from people who expected designer teas and doilies.  This was a fine, efficient diner doing a great weekend business, and they had us stuffed with eggs, toast, potatoes, and coffee before you could say Jack Robinson.

M&J showed up, I went back to the hotel to download and blog, Dave showed up on the phone with Ricky, the others all came back and we hung out, and then we got motivated for Lyndhurst.  Lyndhurst is a gaudy 19th century home (owned by Jay Gould) on acres and acres of croquet lawn, on a lovely part of the East Hudson just South of the Tappan Zee bridge.  I'm sure it'd be even more spectacular when the flowers and hedges bloom, but we were a long way from that on a windy and almost chilly early April day after a long, long winter.  We had a great time wandering around the grounds, and of course the main topic of conversation was how good the concert last night had been and what they'd play for the last night of their 4-night stand.

The Warners took off and we had time to get back to the hotel, have a drink in their bar while waiting for housekeeping, and then grab our stuff and take off for Port Chester.  We arrived at Kiosko just about the same time we had the day before (after parking in the Capitol's lot on Pearl Street again), and had another great, non-fancy Mexican dinner.  I can't believe more people don't frequent this place, but maybe we were just early.

Made it to the line at the inside entrance on schedule, and were determined that tonight NOTHING would stop us from getting right up to the stage.  When the doors opened a lot of people had that in mind though, and we were just able to snag two spots on the rail in front of Jeff.  Dave was nice enough to be the one to hang back for all of the show, so his aged parents could have something to lean on.  But we were dancing, not leaning, for most of the night anyway.  Another wonderful wait while the crowd streamed in, conjecturing about what songs they were going to play and making friends with the Deadheads all around us.

Time to gush about the Capitol again.  It's a lovely theater, they play incredible, trippy lights and patterns on the spotless ceiling, they have great beer and friendly staff, they have a long history of great rock and roll shows, and the people on a mellow Saturday night were delightful.  If you're a Deadhead, making a pilgrimage here is highly recommended, and I mean highly!  Phil went out of his way after the show to give the theater and its staff a shout-out of thanks.

And then they came out, tuned up, and launched right into Mississippi Half Step and we were back!  Larry again had his pedal steel on stage but didn't play it all night.  He played his cittern even less than he had the night before, but did a number of songs on mandolin.  Boyd only played on a few songs, all in the second set.  Those are just a couple of details, here's set one:

Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo
Peggy-O >
Twenty Degrees of Solitude Jam >
Crazy Fingers
When the Stars Go Blue
Cosmic Charlie

  • Half Step was a great set opener and the way they attacked it said very clearly that this was going to be a special night.  For instance, from his first chord, John was obviously on fire, like Coach Phil had told him, "Johnny my boy, we need you to be at the top of your game tonight, can you do that for me?"  "Of course Coach, whatever you say!!"
  • Peggy-O featured Teresa and Larry doing the vocals as a two-part dialogue, which of course it is, though it's always done as a one-dimensional English ballad.  This was excellent and beautiful and stunning, but would soon be lost in the shuffle ... it was just the start of the night.
  • As mentioned, they're naming their jams and, though we had no idea of the name at the time, this foreshadows Mountains.  There must be some kind of deep scheme here.
  • Crazy Fingers was a little below average for the night, though that's not bad!
  • When the Stars Go Blue is a lovely country song written by Ryan Adams and sung well by Larry and Teresa.
  • And then, the band brought it right back up to the top with an electric, grinning your face off, everyone play(!) Operator.  This little ditty alone was worth the price of admission.
  • And they closed the set with a screaming Bertha.  I mentioned that John was on fire and he was absolutely melting on this.  He still isn't 100% of the way to playing Garcia leads and probably will never be, but he's closer than anyone else on the planet.
Yikes!  Our sojourn at the Capitol was now three quarters over, which was the bad news.  But the good news was that we just *knew* we were about to experience an incredible second set.  I made it to the bathroom and back, though this can be a very arduous trek when no one along the way wants to move out of their staked-out place.  But this was all done in a good humor; everyone there that night was happy and mellow, though some were very, very high.  I ran into a nurse in the men's and we had a laugh about space cadets not understanding faucets and germs.

OK, got back and hung out and it wasn't long before the band was back and continuing the balls-to-the-wall rock they had ended the first set with.  Here's the second set:

Passenger >
Shakedown Street >
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning >
Dancing Out On 7th Street Jam >
Mountains of the Moon >
Fire on the Mountain >
Eyes of the World >
Unbroken Chain
Uncle John's Band

  • From the first "Firefly, can you see me?" the crowd was bellowing along.  I actually turned around and watched the writhing crowd in that pretty theater several times during the set.
  • We were very sure they were going to play Shakedown and were very psyched when they actually did.  It was as great as we'd hoped; what can you say, just listen to it!  This song works so well on so many levels.
  • We were hoping Teresa would do Lamps Trimmed and Burning.  We'd heard a recording of her singing it with Furthur a few years ago and both Dave and I remember vividly driving over the Berkshires on a sunny day while listening to it.  As we'd expected though, she just killed the damn thing.  Hearing it sung 15 feet in front of you kind of beats the Berkshires, as lovely as they are.  After the first two verses, Teresa stepped back and bent double and had her own coaching session ... she hadn't outdone herself yet ... and then she stepped up for the last few verses and boy, did she!
  • Then they jammed, and then they surfaced.  Teresa sang Mountains Of the Moon.  Don't know how to describe the beauty of this and how she enunciated it perfectly, like a Sandy Denny with soul rather than blues.  You really should stop reading this and go listen to the tape
  • And then ... FOTM!!  This was a bit unexpected but you never should trust a prankster.  John didn't seem to expect it either and was not really ready when he realized it was time to sing the first verse.  But as I say, he was on fire and he ended up nailing the vocal.
  • From this point on, Dave and I knew exactly what they were going to play.  It was obvious that they had to play Eyes and play it they did.  Again, I joined in the first few choruses but then shifted around and got a panorama of Teresa and the boys leading the whole crowd in waking up to realize that they were the eyes of the world.
  • And you *knew* that Phil had to do an Unbroken before the end of his stand.  His vocals were a little strained by now and he sounded more like he was 74 than like he was 34, which is about right and lent to the perfect timbre of the song, at the end of a long set.
  • They didn't leave the stage!  Dave and I knew they wouldn't because they'd been practicing UJB in the sound check and now was the logical time for it.  But is UJB ever logical ?  Perhaps as logical as any story told by a crow.  Boyd came out and took a few great fiddle leads here.
  • Other notes: Larry produced great leads and great sound ... very different from Bobby and arguably as good; Phil spent a lot of time talking to the band on the monitor system, he wasn't going to have them make a mistake but this was a little unnerving, you didn't know when he was talking to them and when he was about to sing to us.
Phew, that was a long and incredible set!  I was actually drooping at the end of it, they out-played me.  But I knew that the encore would be special and pepped up for that.  Phil came out and did the previously-mentioned thanks to the Capitol and its staff, and then did his tribute to Cody.  And then they did what we knew they they were going to ... Dave and I were like, is it?  it sounds like! it must be ... Dew!!

Encore: Morning Dew, Box Of Rain

They hadn't done Morning Dew in this stand, and John had been playing so excellently that night that it would have been an absolute crime to not let him sing it, and boy did he sing it.  I was actually thinking that they could arrange it as a dialogue, like they had done with Peggy-O, but Teresa was cooling her heels at that point and the classic arrangement they did do was awesome.

And then they had to finish with Phil's song, which started off as a song about his father, but is more and more a song about us all hearing the ticking clock louder and louder, and still feeling and feeling our way along in this marvelous life.  In the middle of the vocal coda Phil realized his duties as a host and had Boyd do another excellent lead, before the last couple of lines.  They all bowed, Phil thanked them all by name, and then they faded away.  Actually, Jeff and Joe did not want to fade away.  Jeff picked up Joe like Koji Uehara and they laughed and laughed.  The woman next to me asked Jeff politely for the set list and he obliged, then gave us all the peace sign and disappeared.

Well that was fun!  Not as much detritus on the floor as the night before.  Made it out the door past the Capitol staff who were actually handing out thank-you notes to everybody for "a real good time!"  What a classy ending to a classy few shows.  We just loved this Saturday show and, though it was not perfect, I'm sure that years from now we'll still be listening to it; it was a special one.

Made it back to the car and then back to the hotel, where we knew we wouldn't be able to get to sleep right away.  We checked and the show was already posted, so we listened to it until 3:00 or so, when we finally collapsed.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lesh and Friends with Campbell and Williams, Friday

As mentioned, Phil Lesh is planning 30 shows at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester this year.  And when he announced that his first stretch of four shows would be with not only the core of Furthur (Russo, Chimenti, and Kadlecik), but with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams as well, it didn't take much for Dave to convince us to get tickets for the Friday and Saturday shows, the last 2 of the 4.  They later announced that Boyd Tinsley (from Dave Matthews Band) would be playing as well.  What a band!

Phil charges top dollar, and just before the shows the Capitol announced a SD/HD streaming option, so we bought that too ($19.99, well make if $29.99 for the mp3 too).  The Wednesday stream was plagued with buffering/connection problems and, though a great preview of the band, was ultimately a frustrating experience.  When I complained they gave me a code for another try, which was decent of them.  Hopefully the ubiquitous "problems with the venue's ISP" (which is always what streaming companies say) will be cleared up by then.

Anyway, the preview got us even more excited, and we were pretty psyched when we drove down to a hotel we'd booked in Tarrytown NY from West Concord.  Dave was driving down there from Ithaca and was even more psyched.  By the time the Wilbur Cross turned into the Merritt Parkway the traffic had gotten Friday-afternoon-near-the-New-York-singularity intense, and then it went from 80 to 0 pretty quickly around a bend in Norwalk, where we saw a long line of stopped cars in front of us, and no one coming down the other side of the road.  Not good.  But we were able to exit and make our way through thicker and thicker traffic towards downtown, where we picked up 7 and then 95, which was even more packed and intense but at least moving.  By the time we made it to 287 it had started raining, but we got to Tarrytown finally just a half-hour behind schedule and everything was ok.

Hung out in the room a bit and watched some of the screen capture from Wednesday, and then had a pretty quick trip over to Port Chester where we ate at the same Mexican restaurant, the Kiosko.  Excellent meal again, though we were the only people there when we started and still the only non-Hispanics when we left.

It was spitting rain after we ate and when we got across to the Capitol there were already 50 or so people waiting to get in.  They let us wait in the interior lobby since it was raining.  We had to stop to get searched and wrist-banded when they opened the doors, and so didn't get to belly-up to the stage but we were just a bit left of center, and just a row back.  Got a beer and watched the crowd pour in, it was sold out and packed.  Matt and Jeannie finally made it to their balcony seats.

And then the band came out, tuned up, and launched into Alabama Getaway, sung by John of course.  Here's the first set:

Alabama Getaway (JK)
Friend Of the Devil (PL)
Irony and Spite Jam
Little Sparrow (TW)
Just a Little Light (JK)
Just Another Whistle Stop (LC)
Lazy River Road (JK)
Big River (LC and TW)

They're apparently naming their jams on this tour ... the jury's still out on this as sustainable.  Phil was singing as well as ever.  Little Sparrow (Dolly Parton song) was Teresa's first chance to take over the stage and she sure did.  Just a Little Light was a bit of an oddity, a Brent song, but was performed very well.  Whistle Stop is one of my favorite Band songs and was done powerfully by Larry.  Lazy River Road was perhaps the standout song of the first set, done just beautifully.  Big River was another chance to show what the guest stars could do, and they knocked it out of the park with some tight harmony.

Great first set and we were pretty packed in.  I left my coat on but had to take it off by the end of the set, though they do a good job of not letting the heat get out of hand in the Capitol.  Many people gush about this theater, including most musicians who've played there, and I'm a devotee myself.  It's a great room with great sound and great views of the stage from all over.  Made it to the bathroom and back with much difficulty and then just stayed in my spot and gabbed during the set break.  Matt and Jeannie sneaked downstairs and joined us for the second set, which was:

China Cat Sunflower (JK)
Bird Song (TW)
I Know You Rider (all)
Midnight Highway (LC and TW)
Mason's Children (all)
Dark Star (PL)
River Deep Mountain High (TW)
Dark Star (PL)
Not Fade Away (all)

This was just fantastic and went too fast!  They came right out and whipped into some excellent guitar work on China Cat.  This was (I think??) the first time I heard a female sing Bird Song and Teresa killed one of my favorite Dead songs, and then they all joined in on a perfect Rider, with some amazing group vocals (of course, the "group" was the whole theater).  I hadn't heard Midnight Highway, which some research leads me to think was written by Larry (though I may be wrong).  Mason's also featured some great ensemble singing ... Teresa's pipes were warming and warming ... and had us all rocking and rolling.

And then what we all wanted: a Dark Star jam of death with Phil doing some ethereal singing, Joe thundering the music of the spheres on the drums, Jeff playing some beyond-cerebral stuff on the keys, and Larry turning up the raunch and the volume.  And just when the jam was beginning to mellow out, Teresa jumped up to the microphone and belted out, "When I was a little girl I had a rag doll..." and the place went nuts!  She just wailed  on River Deep Mountain High and the crowd wailed along with her.  Then back into the second verse of Dark Star and more beautiful jamming, and then into NFA!!  Glad, they didn't do the fade-out-and-leave-the-crowd-clapping thing, they played this and then closed it like a Buddy Holly rocker, though they did some very un-Buddy Holly stuff in the meantime of course.

Gracious host Phil came out for a nice Donor Rap, and then it was encore time.  I'd shouted for When I Go Away (great Larry-penned song covered by Levon Helm on his Grammy-winning records) and Larry and Teresa definitely heard this but looked stone-faced, so I thought it unlikely they'd play it.  But Larry had something on his mind at this point and huddled with the other musicians, trying to convince them of something, so I thought there might be some hope.  But they launched into Tennessee Jed, which was a compromise perhaps ... a Dead song but also covered by Levon/Larry and done in that style.

Wow!  We were so packed up against the stage that we had to wait a bit for the crowd to start leaving before we could breath.  The place was a mess, with cans, cups, bottles, and paraphernalia littering the floor so deeply that you had to walk on it.  Made it out of there with some delay and it was raining, and then it started pouring cats and dogs just as we made it to the car.  Not great visibility back to Tarrytown on 287, but not many crazy people on the road, luckily.  Hung out with M&J back at the hotel, watched the rest of the first set from Wednesday, then went to bed after a long, long day.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hot Club Infests Johnny D's

We love Hot Club of Cowtown.  And even more than ever, after seeing them on Tuesday night I’m just stunned that they’re not superstars.  They should be playing the Wilbur or the House of Blues, not just packing Johnny D's.  Their fans are devoted but it’s weird that we aren't legion.  Oh well, lots of things are weird.

The SMC crowd was well-represented, and the dance floor was used by a lot of people practicing their swing steps.  All the tables were out too, and there was not much space left over for standing room.

Elana came out in a leopard-print dress, Whit had a day-glo green shirt, and Jake was as dapper as ever.  They just killed it, playing songs from throughout their career and mixing in several new ones.  Their harmonies were fantastic last night (Jake didn't sing a lead), and what really got me was that Whit's great amplifier setup was reproduced so well by Johnny D's PA.

They did two sets and opened the floor for requests towards the end.  When the "meows" started up, Elana declared that the place was apparently infested.  Nevertheless, she obliged us with Pussy Pussy Pussy.

Great sound, great night, and lots of fun.  Here are some pictures:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Steve and Shawn at Berklee

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin were doing a "songwriters" thing at Berklee Performance Center, so of course we went, on a Friday night in late March.  I'm on record as considering Earle one of the best musicians in the world, though I think he's really been running hot and cold since he moved to New York.  He's produced some of the best songs/performances of his career, but he's also wallowed in omphaloskepsis at times and isn't singing as well as he used to.

But we were excited to see those two anyway, and did our normal BPC thing of meeting at Bukowski's (they had cask-conditioned Abbott Ale on tap!).  We had a chance to stop by the Back Bay fire station, pet their dalmation, and honor the heroism of Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy, who died recently while fighting a fire and saving the lives of our neighbors.  A woman showed up in a kilt and played a moving rendition of Amazing Grace on bagpipe while we were there.

We had great seats in a sold-out BPC, and Shawn and Steve came on right on time and kicked it off nicely with Wake Up Little Susie.  I was a bit disappointed with the concert, it was as formulaic as a "songwriters" night could be, and Earle continued his propensity to get bored in the middle of his songs and mail it in.  They also could have used a lot more practice and/or better vocal arrangements.  Their voices can be very good together and at times were, but at other times were an odd couple.

BUT, Earle has written some of my favorites songs and one of the great things about the night was that he really covered some of the best of them.  He did no songs where I thought, "Gee, I wish he'd sung this instead."  He got right to it.  And Shawn has written some great songs herself, but admitted that they run the gamut from angry breakup songs to lonely breakup songs and don't stray far from that.  Here's the list:

  • Wake Up Little Susie
  • The Devil's Right Hand (Earle solo; he got bored on this)
  • Another Long One (Colvin solo)
  • Goodbye (Earle solo; one of the highlights of the night, he did this one right)
  • Object Of My Affection (Colvin)
  • Crazy (Colvin)
  • Pancho and Lefty (Earle; mailed this one in)
  • These Four Walls (Colvin; thrilling stuff, though her voice was not as penetrating as I'd hoped)
  • Guitar Town (Earle and Colvin, another plain vanilla performance where their voices didn't produce any magic)
  • Fearless Heart (Earle and Colvin; another highlight, they just nailed this great song, this should be the national anthem of some country!)
  • Diamond In the Rough (Colvin; one of her best songs and very well done)
  • City of Immigrants (Earle; great NYC song, and he got that sly syncopation of inflection that's one of his trademarks, though he let the song drift away from him a bit)
  • Burning It Down (Earle and Colvin; another of his great recent songs, done very very well)
  • Sunny Came Home (Colvin; her biggest hit, done nicely in an understated tone)
  • Galway Girl (Earle with Colvin on guitar; if only Shawn's hair were black and her eyes were blue ... this is a wonderful song!)
  • You're Still Standing There (Earle and Colvin; Steve told us in a tactful way that of course this wouldn't be as good as it was with Lucinda, but Shawn really busted out here and they did a ballsy take on this fantastic duet) 
  • Baby's In Black (Earle and Colvin; this was the first encore, a nice bookend to Little Susie)
  • Copperhead Road (Earle and Colvin; everyone was getting tired at this point)

Shawn stuck to her guitar all night and at times really impressed me with her ability to rock.  Earle played some good guitar but had some trouble with tuning and was best when he switched to bouzouki and then to his mandolin.  His picking the bouzouki on Galway Girl and his frailing the mandolin on Copperhead Road were perhaps the instrumental highlights of the night.

Another criticism I could make was that the songs were all very short.  They hurried through the verses and rarely added a bridge, like they were doing a "greatest hits" thing.  Oh well, enough of the criticisms.  We had a great time, great seats, and we were really glad to see this odd couple of superstar musicians stirring it up a bit.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Richard Shindell

We first went to see Richard Shindell play ... oh, it must have been 15 years ago.  He was playing again at Club Passim for three nights in a row; he lives in Argentina and when he comes around on tour it's an event.  We weren’t going to pay the steep price this time, but we wanted to take Andrew out for his birthday and as it turned out the last night of his stand, Thursday March 20th, was a great choice.  As it happened, this was the first day of Spring and also the International Day of Happiness.

Richard had been on ConcertWindow the night before and the two gigs really became one thing in my mind.  He played exactly the same set of songs on the two nights, except that he added Reunion Hill the second night.

Richard was accompanied by Mark Schulman, his long-time guitarist, and Joe Bonadio on percussion, who was excellent, especially on tabla.  It was quite a departure from Shindell's normal act in that his set was over half brand-new songs (he says they'll do a record soon), in that his arrangements were darker and funkier with the adventurous percussion, and in that he played mostly electric.  He had 4 guitars, 3 shiny electrics and an old acoustic (on which he did Your Guitar, a new song about buying Stephen Bruton's guitar).  Their one set was two hours long ... quite a deal for a folk artist.

The new songs were excellent; I loved Deer On the Parkway, Stray Cow Blues, and basically all of them.  He sprinkled in some of his classics like Next Best Western, There Goes Mavis (brilliant stuff on electric), Get Up Clara, Kenworth Of My Dreams, and Are You Happy Now.  He did a great cover of the traditional I Know You Rider, and encored with one of the greatest blues tunes of all time, Robert Johnson's Love In Vain.

Uncharacteristically, Richard forgot the words to Kenworth and it turned into quite a train wreck (he had gotten them all right on Wednesday), and he stumbled over the second-to-last verse of Happy Now on Thursday, which he'd totally blown the night before and crashed and burned on.  Oh well, he's almost as old as I am! :)  I think most people in the place could have cued him if he'd looked up.  And at one point Bonadio hit a sour "clack!" on one of his instruments and Shindell gave him quite the withering look.  Whatever, it was all in good humor and the set as a whole was excellent and thrilling.

His new arrangements are great.  He did the spaciest, funkiest Transit you could imagine (not to mention Mavis, again), which was possibly better on Thursday than on Wednesday.  As with other great singers I've seen, it was such a delight to actually sit there as quiet as a church mouse and hear him sing those lines that I'd heard many times before but were still riveting.  He sang to us about the nun changing a tire and how most of the world is unaware of their need to be cleansed, and the small distances between our sins and what *can* cleanse us ... great stuff.

He also did the funkiest Are You Happy Now that could be imagined.  The great thing about Shindell is that his modern folk songs are really just a small distance away from the roots of American music.  He turned Happy Now into the rock-blues rave you always knew it could be, and he did Kenworth like the Springsteen/Dylan-inspired country-blues anthem it is.  And he sure gave Love In Vain the Jagger-inspired, pissed-off-at-the-world snarl we all could relate to.  Great show!

After the encore we trundled up to the stage where Mark Schulman was cleaning up the cords and amps, and had a very nice talk with him.  He referred to Richard being a delight to play with because of his high standards, and how he can give his accompanists the laser-beam look when they make a mistake, like Bonadio had.  I recalled to him how Schulman had given Shindell the laser-beam look himself when Richard couldn't get his electric in tune at one point on Wednesday, and Mark was tickled to remember that.  He told us that in his mind it's harder and more important to work on tuning electrics, as opposed to acoustic guitars, which are more forgiving in performance.  Richard had tried something new and it had its glitches, but in all it was another great evening of music.