Thursday, December 13, 2012

Billy Joe in Shirley

Went to see Billy Joe Shaver at the Bull Run on Friday, 12/7.  He had a drummer, guitarist, and bassist with him and he strummed a few chords, but admitted that he couldn't play much because of shoulder pain.  I ran into him downstairs before the show and chatted a bit, a wonderful guy.

They played a long show and crammed in an incredible number of songs, sometimes jamming out on them a bit and sometimes compressing a bunch together in that "I've got too many hits to cover" way.  He also did some songs in a rap, talking-blues kind of style when the spirit moved him to cover them and he knew the band didn't have them down.  They didn't officially take a set break but did in essence, when they did the first half of a take-no-prisoners version of Thunderbird, and then left the stage to the drummer.  He played one of the best drum solos I've heard, never leaving the groove of Thunderbird but making some great sounds from damping his toms with his elbows and feet, and rocking out on his tablas, which he'd fastened to the side of his kit and played excellently while keeping up the beat with his feet on the bass drum and high-hat ... great stuff.  Then the band came back out and told us some more about those joyful but ominous times when drinking cheap wine was a lot of fun.

Billy Joe held up well for an older guy and had the almost-full house roaring.  I hope he comes back to Massachusetts soon!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dead On Live at Berklee

On Friday the 30th of November we went to Berklee Performance Center to see Dead On Live, Marc Muller's "Grateful Dead tribute band."  The theme of their live shows has been to recreate Dead records, and though this was billed as their '71-'72 show, we weren't sure what songs to expect.  We'd never seen them before, in fact we just heard about them a few months ago when I got a BPC email about this show.  I got tickets right away and we were in the front row at that great hall, which was only about a quarter full if that.

Can/should people be criticized for playing or going to see a re-creation of a musical performance?  I don't think so.  This was a scholarly endeavor, though that isn't required to my mind.  Lots of people get lots of joy out of Frank Sinatra or Elvis re-creations.  A conscientious person looks for sincerity as opposed to artificiality in recreations, and Dead On Live impressed me as entirely sincere in that they cared very, very much about getting the sound right, they played with spirit and enthusiasm, and they dove right into and reveled in all the phrasing and effects that a rock band in '71-'72 would use.

So there we were in the front row after a nice burger and some fine craft beers at Bukowski's, and the Deadheads and looker-ons started to filter in a bit.  Some people were there just to see a curiosity and some were truly Deadicated.  We were a curious mix and there weren't that many of us.  Muller and band got right into it ... opening with a note-for-note take on Bertha, what else?  Muller eventually introduced everyone in the band, but if he really wants to share credit and not seem like a hobbyist he needs to flesh out his website some.  Tom ?? was fantastic in the Bobby role all night and started us off right with the ringing rhythm of Bertha.

They stayed with Skull and Roses after that and did Mama Tried, Me and My Uncle, Wharf Rat, and Playing In the Band.  It was the eeriest feeling ... I'd heard this record before!  And it was somehow really, really comforting and somehow bizarre to hear them get every inflection right.  I could see right in front of me who played what in this bridge or that chorus and it was fascinating.

After that they changed gears a bit and did Garcia's first record, which I feel is an overlooked masterpiece and so am perhaps a bit touchy about being treated respectfully.  They did Deal of course and then went out on a limb and did To Lay Me Down, which I've never heard done perfectly (and was definitely not done perfectly on [first] Garcia).  They got the album version right though, and then covered the more accessible Loser before doing a superlative recreation of An Odd Little Place into The Wheel.  That was worth the price of admission!

Back in the time machine for another quick adjustment, and then we were in Europe '72 with He's Gone and Jack Straw.  Strange to speak of those tunes as pieces that could be evaluated unto themselves, but those two songs, though note-perfect, were somehow lacking in panache.  But they followed that with China/Rider and they sure kicked out the jambs with that one, especially their drummer (who looked familiar but whose name I did not catch).  Back to the textbook with Tennessee Jed, but then ...

Another quick jaunt and we were in Ace's studio listening to the throbbing bass of Greatest Story Ever Told.  They got some Berklee students out to play the horn charts and fell apart a bit on Mexicali Blues, though this had some excellent spirit.  The next one was great too, as they rocked the covers off on Saturday Night, even though it was Friday.

They were feeling good and had the crowd in the palms of their hands ... this was really enjoyable, how could you not like professionals doing their sincere best to cover these great songs?  But then they went a bit over their head and though they started off well with Weather Report Suite part 1, they then showed a lack of practice when they segued into the great Eyes Of the World, which finally included some original jamming.  Oh well, I'm sure they'll have it together when they come back to Boston with their next show, which I will definitely attend!

Time to go a bit off-script and they got us all up dancing with the ending Good Loving.  Again, how could you not love this?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Kennedys After Thanksgiving

We had family over for Thanksgiving ... which was a lot of fun ... and then took everybody out to Shirley on Friday the 23rd to see The Kennedys at the Bull Run.  They played in the small room upstairs (the Ballroom) while J. Geils (the person not the band) played in the big room downstairs.  The Ballroom was packed with probably twice as many people as I've seen in it ever.

Maura seemed not in top voice, probably a bit of a cold, but Pete brought 4 guitars, his electric sitar, and his ukelele and the two of them put on an excellent show.  They opened with River of Fallen Stars (which is like the Dead opening with Morning Dew ... you know they're serious), followed that with Half a Million Miles, did Breathe and 9th Street Billy and their great covers of Wall of Death, Chimes of Freedom, and of course Dave Carter's When I Go and Gypsy Rose.  They also did a few tracks from their new record, Closer Than You Know (I'll Come Over, Winter, and Happy Again), which is very much a Maura record to my ear and doesn't quite have that jangle-pop sound I love in their music, even though it's very good.

They took a set break somewhere in there and Dave and I had a nice conversation with them, Dave gushing about the sitar Pete played on Matty Groves, the closing song of the first set ... Pete gave him details about the adjustable frets on it).  I told them how much I had enjoyed seeing them at the Wilbur with Nanci Griffith in May and mentioned particularly Nanci joining them for Daydream Believer.  They were psyched to remember that and said that that had been the best night of that tour in their minds.

Maura was a bit more warmed up for the start of the second set, but you could tell her voice was not right and she was getting tired.  We were getting tired ourselves and had a long road back so left in the middle of the second set.  A great time was had by all of us, most of all by my Dad who was just delighted at the richness of sound they produced, the poetry in their lyrics, the ambiance of the Ballroom, and the fact that he was able to share something we love doing, going out to see world-class musicians in hole-in-the-wall places.  We were delighted he liked it!  Now if we can just get him to a Furthur concert...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Iris Dement in Londonderry

We'd seen Iris Dement back in January and when we heard she was coming to a hall we'd never been to in New Hampshire we were not immediately psyched.  But then I heard her new record.  If you aren't already familiar with her new record, please stop reading this and GET familiar with it ... it's at least the record of the year and possibly of a much wider span than that.  We scooped up tickets to the Tupelo Music Hall pronto!

Struggled through the North-bound traffic on 93 after work on Thursday 10/8 and met our friend in a Londonderry pizza joint where we gushed about the concert we were about to see and had some ok slices.  The Tupelo Music Hall allows you to bring beer (for a charge) and so we took our seats about mid-room and had a couple before the show.  It's a nice looking room but they crowd the people together so much we had very little hip room or leg room.  They also have an under-powered PA that did its best to keep Iris's voice down; they need another stack of speakers on each side at least and enough amps to kick them up when the singer growls or soars the way an artist like Iris can.

Anyway, she came on and opened with one of her new songs, Before the Colors Fade, and then followed with the song-she-has-to-do-whenever-she-plays, Let the Mystery Be.  She was playing their beautiful (both visually and auditorially) wood-grain grand piano and trying out her voice and that damn PA.  Then she got to it and played the rest of her new album, switching to guitar for a few songs in the middle of the set and then returning to the keys.  She ended up leaving off only two tracks from the record (There's a Whole Lotta Heaven and Out Of the Fire), and encored on guitar with another of her have-to-play-it songs, Our Town, and then closed the evening with the Carter's Keep On the Sunny Side, which she dedicated to "those who's guy did *not* win the other day" (a bit over half of the audience hooted and hollered at that).

OK, there's the facts and the subjective slant on it is that ... OMG it was great!  Again, if you aren't in love with her new record already then you have to listen to it.  When we saw her in January she played a couple of the songs from it, Before the Colors Fade and Mama Was Always Telling Her Truth, I believe.  But they sounded raw and almost like throw-aways back in the winter, as if they were hooks she was trying out and might work.  She released the record at least six weeks ago and so must have recorded the songs at least six months ago, and they were transformed on the disc and when we heard them.  Iris must have been hit by a genius stick sometime in the early Spring, that's the only thing possible!

Not only are the songs incredibly moving lyrically (when she played the showstopper, The Night I Learned How Not To Pray on guitar, the lady next to me almost hyperventilated she was so affected by it), Iris showed consummate mastery of her voice.  She has a style of mixing tremolo, notes she slides off of and flats, notes she soars up to, and notes she strikes precisely like a hammer, all in the same few measures.  A number of the songs have "la-la-la," almost yodeling passages, and Iris hits them perfectly on the record, probably after a few takes.  When she wasn't perfect on them live, she rolled her eyes up and missed the next note too ... she needs to give herself a break and drive through these passages if she wants to be a great live performer, but you can tell she knows that and it's part of what makes her so charming.

We would have loved to hear her sing all night, but she was done after Our Town, on which she played a signature guitar part, just a simple, constant strum like an old-time musician would do, though her left hand betrayed her mastery of the spell she was creating.  We sang along with Sunny Side and then crawled out towards the exit.  Luckily we hung behind a bit and overheard someone saying that she was signing the new album in the back ... Iris does not promote herself well.

We made out way back there, waited in line, and then had a few words with her while she signed our CDs.  I asked her if she'd really written all those songs recently, as she'd hinted on stage, and she said that no, they had mostly been batting around in her head for a long, long time.  I told her that we'd seen her back in January but hesitated to ask the question I was really wondering about, for fear of being rude.  The question was what the heck happened so that she knew that these songs that she had kept suppressed for so long and/or that only existed in raw form were suddenly ready to record?  How did she know that it was time to get some great musicians together (Bo Ramsey, Dave Jacques, Al Perkins, et al.) and lay down those incredible tracks?  Oh well, guess I just have to let the mystery be.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Battlefield Band at the M&T

On Friday we were excited to go to the Me and Thee to see the Battlefield Band.  Normally intense trip on 128 to get there, and then absolutely madhouse-level crowds and traffic in Salem.  Here's a hint, don't go anywhere near Salem MA on the Friday before Halloween unless you're wearing a costume and want to wander aimlessly around.  But we got to Gulu-Gulu and got a fine crepe and some fine beers, then got the heck out of town and wound up in Marblehead.

No opener but Battlefield Band gave us two full sets of absolutely superb Scots music (note American use of the word "set," not Celtic).  The church was about 75% full, which was a much better crowd than we expected, but we got good seats in the third row.

Besides Mike Katz, their normal piper, their new member Ewen Henderson picked up the bagpipes off and on during their two sets and this was the highlight for me: hearing a duet of two instruments that I rarely hear and, when played well, are at an apex of the wind instruments.  Alasdair White was extraordinary on fiddle and whistle, but I would have loved to hear him play the bodhran too.  Another wonderful feature for me was Sean O'Donnell's style on guitar.  He had a finger-pick on his thumb but usually strummed with his other fingers and then hit a drone note with the pick.  This was not a rock or bluegrass style at all: his right elbow was at or below the middle of the guitar rather than held up high and he was almost pulling down on the strings rather than pushing them away.  He strums were always below the soundbox and he had just one pick-up, right in the middle of the sound-hole.

Here's a video Sarah took starting with Katz playing a wonderful bouzouki and Henderson on the pipes, then the dual bagpipes effect ... but listen to that goddamn guitar!

They didn't cook any squid on-stage, but they could have:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Zoe Muth in Cambridge

We were back from Maine early and so at the last minute were able to go see Zoe Muth at Club Passim.

Parking was a bitch ... Cambridge has decided to make the spaces around the common into resident parking for some ridiculous reason.  Where's Scott Brown when you need him?  There was a dirty old van with Washington state plates taking one of the best places and I figured they were tourists and would move soon ... then I realized that was the "tour bus" of the band we were going to see!

I finally found a spot and met Sarah across the street from Passim and then we sidled in there past a rude truck that was almost blocking their entrance.  Geez, the Boston area in the Fall can get very crowded.  We had our "usual" table and sat own at 7:?? or so for another crackerjack vegan meal and extremely limited beer selection.  They're so cute.

Anyway, then the band came on and were really fun and really friendly.  As I've commented before, her mando player (Ethan Lawton) is close to the top echelon to my ears.  Mike McDermott on bass had a funky hat and a few good runs.  Greg Nies on drums mostly played brushes but his timing and cymbal clashes were excellent.  Stell Newsome played some kick-ass telecaster ... nice old guitar ... and got some great sounds out of it, especially strumming the rhythm while Zoe crooned.

And boy did she croon!  Zoe writes and sings songs that are essentially straight-ahead country but she does them in a style that perhaps isn't as accessible as a Merle Haggard or (Dog knows) a modern "country" star. She looks to get at the feeling inside them and I think she gets there remarkably often.  At some moments last night I felt she really succeeded at elevating the song and the souls of all who cared to listen the way a Haggard or Williams would do.  She mumbles and slurs and skips over syllables and it's great, captivating, sincere stuff.  Go hear her!

The set list was great too.  She kills Dock Boggs' Country Blues on her new record, which is hard to do since it's been recorded by so many people, and they did that live even better than on the recording.  She did the "hits" like Walking The Line, You Only Believe Me When I'm Lying, Let's Just Be Friends, If I Can't Trust You With a Quarter, and Moonlight Hotel.  The band left her alone for two beautiful solo tunes (I can't believe I can't remember the second of them, which was just incredibly moving), and then they finished the set with her outstanding cover of the classic Get It While You Can, and my favorite song of hers, I've Been Gone.

Back for a quick encore and then off to the night.  They've been on the road for a while and I, for one, really appreciated them stopping by Cambridge!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Recent Kayak Trips

Gone for lots of kayak trips lately on the very low local rivers and ponds:

  • another wonderful Ipswich River paddle where I had to portage around three beaver dams and saw a huge turtle swim under the kayak
  • got Marnie out for an paddle on the Concord on a beautiful early Fall afternoon
  • met up with Brian for a trip around Lake Cochituate
  • trip yesterday after work, downstream from 225 with no one else on one of the most beautiful spots of the river
  • and several others

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Erin McKeown at the Me & Thee

They've got a great lineup at the Me & Thee in Marblehead this year, and we were eager to see Erin McKeown.  Both times we'd seen her before had been on a crowded, distant stage and we were looking forward to seeing her up close.

Had a great dinner at Gulu-Gulu after a long slog to Salem and then mosied on over to Marblehead for the concert, snagging front row right.  Barnaby Bright opened and impressed with their songs and their vocals.

Erin came on and did not disappoint, playing a few songs from her upcoming record, a few songs from her repertoire, and one shocker from her anti-Holiday record, Santa Is An Asshole, which is really quite a perceptive sentiment.  They had their wonderful-sounding grand piano out and Erin tickled the ivories for a couple of tunes, which delighted us since we were right next to it.

She closed her set with her "hit," We Are More ... which I really like ... and then encored with another new song.  I picked up the anti-Holiday record, which is aptly titled "Fuck That!"  It's quite atmospheric, especially "Visions I have Had While High."

We're looking forward to a good number more Friday trips to the Me and Thee this season, including for Hot Club of Cowtown and Tim O'Brien!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

shovels, kayaks, and rope

Thursday, 8/23 went for a kayak after work, downstream from the 117 put-in, through Fairhaven Bay, and a bit down river.  It was another hot, humid late-summer day in a succession of them, but we'd had some rain and the river and the life it supports were doing well.

Saturday, 8/25 had some friends over to harvest the hops and then play a cracking croquet game.  Went to see Shovels and Rope at Johnny D's afterwards and had a nice table.  There was quite a crowd, filling the dance floor with the standees.  They did a great job of keeping up the beats, sharing the same instruments (they both excelled on their dark tan guitar), and harmonizing in their take-no-prisoners way.  The distinctive thing about their set in my mind was that some bands will carefully edge their way into a chord change, but these guys went full tilt into and out of every one.  Sarah took a few videos, such as:

'Twas an excellent set and the crowd loved them ... especially when they came back out and encored with El Paso.  A woman standing next to me asked me afterwards how I knew them so well.  I told her this was the first time I'd seen them and she said, "But you knew all the words to that last song."  She needs to listen to a few Grateful Dead (or Marty Robbins) records.

The next day (Sunday 8/26) I put in late in at lower Mystic Lake in the beautiful afternoon ... the humidity had left and we had a couple of late-August days to die for ... and then paddled down the river and up Alewife Brook again.  Lots of huge carp as before, as well as gray herons all over the place, cheering from Dilboy Stadium, and car noise from Mass Ave.

Here's more Shovels and Rope:

Friday, August 10, 2012

2MGB at Passim

We were at the 2Man concert at Club Passim last night (8/9) and they were great.  Andy Bean had an electric tenor guitar and he really cooked on it.  And yes, it was very hot and they were dripping sweat but put on a great show anyway.  I reminded Andy of GRF last year and he said that that experience convinced them to ditch the suits when it's this hot.  They were in business casual ... with suspenders.  They did a bunch of tunes from their new record and encored with a great cover of My Blue Heaven, and then closed with Fancy Beer.

But as good as they were, what really knocked us over was the opening act, Tricky Britches.  They did a fantastic, Flatt and Scruggs-style cover of Salty Dog, a bunch of originals, and of course a Grateful Dead song.  Really fantastic to hear a young bluegrass band that can do authentic, hard-driving style, and also writes some wonderful originals.  They kind of reminded me of seeing Northern Lights when they were young and energetic, though Tricky Britches was more authentic than "progressive."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Greg Brown at the Bull Run

Greg Brown had been booked for the Bull Run for months, but we hadn't gotten tickets, not knowing what we'd be doing on a mid-summer Friday.  As it turned out we were going to be around and when I checked, one of the front tables was available (must have been a cancellation).  So we did the after-work thing on Friday the 27th ... had a nice dinner and then sat back to see, arguably, the best folk singer in the world.

Greg came out 20 minutes late with his accompanist, Bo Ramsey.  Bo played Stratocaster and another electric and was just fascinating, setting down the mellow groove and throwing in some funky leads.  He played both guitars without picks, hitting the top three strings with his thumb and alternating between his first two fingers on the bottom strings.

Greg played without picks too, on his steel-string acoustic.  He mostly strummed with his thumb and the two of them together made some excellent sounds.  This was bluesy folk song-writing, singing, and understated playing steeped in Greg Brown's world-class style.  They only did three songs we knew: Hey Baby Hey (from his 1996 disc), Iris Dement's Let the Mystery Be, and the second encore.  The rest was recent originals and the songs and melodies were fascinating.  As I say, quality stuff ... but before we knew it he was done!  He came on late and played an hour set.

We got them back out for two encores and for the second Greg did a Pete Seeger song (This Little Light of Mine) that everyone could sing along on, but then he was gone.  Oh well, Bo looked very tired and you can't expect musicians to play all night every night.  We would have liked more but got home in time to watch the last hour of the Olympics opening ceremony!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Couple of Low Kayaks

Went for a couple of short kayak trips recently on the very low local rivers ... still probably much above the water levels most of the country is suffering.  I put in at 225 in Bedford and went downstream on a lovely evening on Friday the 20th and then put in at the route 27 place in Lincoln on Monday the 23rd and went upstream.  Along this route you could see row above row of muskrat condominiums, all high and dry above the water.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Got To Try To See a Little Furthur; Bethel Woods 2012

-- by guest blogger, David

Furthur’s concert on July 15th, 2012 at Bethel Woods was the fifth time Ricky and I had seen them, and it was by far the best.  The weather was cool and drizzly as we walked down the path to the lawn in front of the stage and found a good area just a little left from the center of the stage.  Maima and Rose certainly aren’t Deadheads, but they were almost as excited as Johnny, Ricky, and I (the Deadheads) were for the show.  The tensions was building as people filed in and waited for the band to take the stage, and we were getting antsy for the first notes of tuning to ripple through the air.  We took this opportunity to look around at our neighbors for the first set, and it seemed to be the familiar assortment of drunk old hippie couples, strange mountain people (this being upstate New York), neo-Deadheads about our age (dreadlocks, shaggy clothing with Dead logos, and a lot of brown), and college hippies.  A little off to our left and in front of us was a mother, her friend, and a child who would spend the concert in a cosmic game of fetch where the boy would run off in his neon green shirt and she’d follow after him and bring him back after anywhere between ten seconds and two minutes.  There were also two 40 year old hippies who Johnny had parked next to who were smoking – ahem…tobacco pipes all night long.  Finally the ads on the gigantic TV screens on either side of the stage went black, the few house lights we could see in the daylight went down, and the band came on.  Needless to say, Ricky, Johnny, and I screamed like maniacs, Rose and Maima rolled their eyes at us, and the band started tuning up.

Tuning is always an interesting moment for a Deadhead who believes in the alchemical powers of the Dead.  It’s much less them testing the tuning and settings of their instruments than it is them testing the vibrations and qualities of the atmosphere.  The riffs and melodies soar over the audience, feeling out the potential energy that lies therein.  After they decide they’re satisfied with what they find in the soggy crowd in front of them the band cracks into Cold Rain & Snow, and there’s no turning back now.  John has a new guitar this tour, and it has added to the palate of colors with which this genius can play.  He sings us a beautiful version of this classic song, and he opens up the first jam section without hesitation, Jeff wailing on the organ to fill in the empty spaces right beside him.

They close the song nicely, and already the rain is starting to recede.  The band then jams into a Ratdog song, Two Djinn, which we were unable to identify immediately; a new song is not only unfamiliar in its words and chords, but with a band like Furthur it’s hard to pinpoint where a jam ends and where a song begins.  The crowd around us seemed spilt between people who are ready to see what newer things the Dead’s members have created, and purists whose only reaction to Ratdog songs is “shut up, Bobby!”  Johnny was in the latter camp, and there is some validity; who wants to hear an old man singing “sassafras?”  On the other hand, the arrangement of the song is very neat, and it is easy to tell that the band has a lot of fun playing it.  There’s a great hook that cycles throughout it that’s something like a tropical Slipknot, and conjures up a nice desert delirium feeling.  They finish up the jam at the end with grins on their faces, and Rick and I nod our Deadhead approval of the song, and the start to the first set as the rain continues to wane.

The band then rolls out one of their best songs, in my opinion: They Love Each Other.  While it’s a song that the Dead did well into the ‘80s, I always think of it as a ’73 song.  Tonight they played it as if they were back in those golden days, with Bobby rolling across John and Jeff, and Phil thundering in the back.  This was also a great example of how Joe Russo can play his drums like a melody.  He rolls right along with Bobby, hitting notes that aren’t just rhythmic accents, but the true backbone of the song.  In the jam sections the band shows us how tight they’re going to be tonight, with everyone listening to everyone else; the homo gestalt is fully functioning.  Jeff and John clearly have a carnival stuck in their minds the whole show, with melodies whizzing in and out that could only have come from some merry-go-round from the fifth dimension.  Needless to say, we enjoyed every second of this song, and when the line “got to try to see a little further” rang out, even Maima and Rose yelled along with the crowd.  Lord, you could see it was true.

Next up was a song that Rick, Johnny, and I all heard before in Binghamton, Black Throated Wind.  We were a little disappointed to get a repeat, but it was well worth hearing.  Bobby was singing and playing very coherently all night, and it was great to hear such a beautiful song being sung instead of mumbled.  While it’s always funny when Bobby forgets the words, I’d much rather hear what he’s trying to sing, and tonight he didn’t forget a single word.  The rest of the band also played the song better than the first time we saw it, which served as more proof that they were going to be on point all night.  By this time the clouds had lightened up and there would be no more rain for the rest of show.  All signs were pointing towards an amazing night.

Before I go on to the next song, I want to make a quick aside about the expectations of a show.  The weeks before going to see any Furthur show, there is usually a list in our heads that narrows down as the show gets closer.  This list consists of the songs that we really want to get.  Usually we don’t get any of them and the only things that have dropped from the list before this show are Dark Star and The Eleven.  The list leading up to tonight, then, was Terrapin Station, The Other One, Help On the Way/ Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, Eyes of the World, Wharf Rat, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, and Bird Song.  Rose and Maima only had one, Ramble on Rose.

And Ramble on Furthur did!  It was just like Jack the Ripper!  And it was really long and funky to boot, at just about 10 minutes.  If I haven’t mentioned that the band was on point yet, let me take this opportunity: they were perfect!  John and Bobby traded lyrics seamlessly, and as they all sang “ramble on rose,” we all danced around Rose - she was understandably embarrassed.  The jam section in the middle unfolded into John’s cosmic carnival, Phil tumbling down as Jeff climbed up over Bobby’s sideways shuffle, until Jeff brought the jam to what we thought would be the only summit of the song.  Waves of piano broke and crashed around us, erupting into trills that slid down the keys and returned to erupt again, and then John, with some help from Joe, brought the crowd to tears, and swiftly returned to the lyrics.  The sun was starting to slowly push through the clouds, and we were turning into animals at the mercy of the music.  As John took us to the leader of a band, we jumped and shouted, acknowledging that while the grass ain't greener and the wine ain't sweeter either side of the hill, it was still a really great hill!

The set felt close to an end, but we were going hard.  Suddenly a tuning riff ripped through the air and Ricky and I go bug-eyed…was that…?  IT WAS!  Help on the Way had arrived, and I went nuts, knowing that Slipknot! was hot on the heels.  The band proceeded to absolutely kill this gem from Blues For Allah, Bobby and John once again trading off lyrics with Sunshine and Jeff Pherson singing back-up.  The jam opened up and John shredded across the air, followed close by the swirls of Jeff’s piano.  Phil and Bobby helped Joe in laying down the foundations of the song while simultaneously tearing them away.  The lyrics came to a close and the energy started to build even higher as the song slipped away into Slipknot!  Of all the Dead’s instrumental numbers, this one has got to be the farthest out.  While much of the material from Blues for Allah is far out and beautifully arranged, this song combines the structure of a song with the formlessness of something like the Other One or Dark Star; the ‘70s version of the Eleven.  Furthur absolutely nailed this song at Bethel, the band acting as the epitome of group consciousness in coming out of the void into the Slipknot! hook.  The band sped up at the end to give their transition more fire.  Transition into what you say?

Into Franklin’s Tower of course!  John’s guitar exploded into shooting stars on the very first chords, and the sun erupted from behind the clouds.  Everybody was standing and dancing in an ecstatic frenzy; even the one little kid stopped running away from his mother to dance with a grin a mile long plastered on his face.  Jeff’s organ shot waves of energy through the crowd as they rose and fell in the circles he was laying down.  Phil’s singing elicited the cheers it normally does, and everyone was singing “roll away the dew.”  John took his time getting down to business in his first jam, but as soon as Phil sang “if you get confused, just listen to the music play,” the fireworks began anew.  The crowd was starting to get soggy again, but from sweat instead of rain this time, and no one minded.  As the song came to the last lyrics Phil started bouncing his bass along the hillside and the band couldn’t help but bounce right along with him into a beautiful lull before exploding again and slipping back into the ending of Slipknot! to finish the set.  “We’ll be right back,” promised Bobby, and we sat down to reevaluate our situation in life and the world.  The sunset was illuminating the clouds in a way that couldn’t possibly have been real, and a rainbow shot up from somewhere behind the stage.  Maima asked “what now?” and Ricky and I groaned - intermission would be a long time.


The sun having long set, the second set was signaled by the downing of the house lights.  Furthur currently has a wheel of lights as their lightshow’s centerpiece, and we were looking forward to having that visible now.  Tuning rippled through the air again as Ricky and I tried to figure out the opener for the second set; would it be a Beatles tune?  An ‘80s tune?  Would they do the rest of Blues for Allah (having done all of Anthem the night before)?  Terrapin Station.  They opened the set with one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.  I saw Phil & Friends do Terrapin in San Rafael, but I knew at the time that it would never compare to a Furthur Terrapin, and I was right.  Phil Lesh became a whale carrying Terrapin cross the ocean, coming from all directions at once, and John, apart from some filter issues at the beginning of his solo, was playing pure genius.  The main jam in Lady With a Fan (the proper name for the beginning of Terrapin) sounded like it was going elsewhere, but it was just the Grateful Dead machine turning over, and they came beautifully back to Terrapin with maybe a hint of Dark Star.  The Terrapin Jam was as epic as anyone would imagine, and I won’t waste time trying to describe what happened; it was just awesome.

Then they slid, maybe a little sloppily, into a slowed down Estimated Prophet.  While Bobby was very articulate and all the words came out with the proper syllables, Bobby sounds like a schizophrenic old man when he does the song now.  He plays on the line “the voices tell me what to say” just a little too much, but the song (another welcome repeat) unfolded excellently.  The syncopation and time signature (7/4) make in an interesting ride, and the funkiness is undeniable.  The middle jam and final jam both came to full crowd-pleasing-fruition, with angels in shafts of light everywhere.  The end jam was going along wonderfully when suddenly…

Jeff decided to be a prankster and tease the Other One, which they did last night and we had therefore ruled out for tonight.  But then it was more than a tease, and it evolved into a full band Other One Jam in 7/4!  While this felt like it lasted a good 5 minutes, the tape has it at only 2…it still felt great to get part of a song on the list after getting so many already.  We couldn’t have been happier or more far out at the time, and we could feel it was building up to something…but what?

A familiar riff, but it seemed so out of place.  That progression comes from another song, but it was never the Other One or Estimated Prophet…what was it?  And then it started to come together: Supplication Blues!  This made some sense for two reasons: 1) It is also in 7/4, and 2) Furthur has done Supplication Jams before, but never with its original partner, Lazy Lightning.  We were happy with the jamming, thinking they would leave soon, but instead Bobby flew into the lyrics and things were kicked up another notch.  John was shooting off spinning stars and fireworks left and right as the band rocked on and on.  The jam coming out of it was in good shape, until a twist in the vibrations from the crowd came and the jam dissolved into chaos.  Phil, however, seemed to have a master plan as he grooves along and finds a riff then launches the band onward…

…into Eyes of the World!  It was a different intro to the song than I had ever heard, and it took Rick a bit to recognize it, even with me and Johnny looking bug-eyed at him.  It was spectacular to witness.  All night long the light show had been stabbing shafts of light out into the crowd and then retreating to the circle above the stage where they would rotate, but now the lights were going absolutely nuts.  After Phil sang the first lyrics Jeff’s solo section came and it rocked us all right in the face.  His piano brought seeds to life that burst into bloom and decayed, and then whipped us off to some grand ballroom in space where pianos roamed freely in the wild.  John brought us back to his merry-go-round from space a few times, and Phil was just having a great time all around.  The end jam going out of Eyes used to be the Phil Zone back in the ‘70s, but now it was just a jam-fest for the whole band, and the jam they whipped up started morphing into something very familiar to Rick, Johnny, and me.

We first got the Eleven in its proper place, after St. Stephen, back at the Vibes last year, but had since seen that Furthur can be very flexible with it, putting it into all sorts of places where you wouldn’t assume it belonged.  Eyes of the World would not have crossed my mind as a place where it could be fit; just goes to show I guess.  It wasn’t as fast as the others we’ve gotten, and maybe the slowness harmed it a little, but it was still a great time.  While not at its most daring in this version, the band was still very tight, and they absolutely nailed the fierce jam coming out of the Eleven in a way I’ve never seen them do before.  It was going along like a savage, and then, in another example of the group mind, went seamlessly into another repeat for us, and a pleasant one.

Standing on the Moon is one of the ‘80s songs we can stand, and it was damn well time for the cool-down song in the second set.  We would have preferred Wharf Rat, Morning Dew, or something from American Beauty or Workingman’s Dead, but Standing on the Moon is nice.  It’s another one that Bobby took over in the post-Jerry world of the Dead, and one that he has a particular knack for in my opinion.  The crowd was starting to thin at this time, but there was no way we were going anywhere; why leave early?!  The parking lot scene was pretty cool, but you pay for and show up for a concert, the parking lot’s free and is there long after the show ends.  Either way, we enjoyed getting more breathing room and a chance to catch our breath.  The song ended and we braced ourselves for the end of the set.  Would we get another Goin’ Down the Road?  Sugar Magnolia?  Throwing Stones (no thank you)?

The hum of Phil feeding back rumbled through the crowd, and John came straight from a Middle Eastern desert with waves of sand and sun.  Maybe they were doing that Pink Floyd song Time?  Wait, Joe has an idea…and John lifts us back into Terrapin!  At a Siding was never performed live by the Grateful Dead and I’m not sure which post-Jerry iteration of the Dead started it, but we knew that Furthur could wind out a mean Terrapin Suite.  We were disappointed when they left Terrapin to go into Estimated, but to envelop the entire second set in Terrapin was the kind of creativity we love Furthur for.  Bobby sang us through the new arrangement (much more syncopated than the album version), and the band came to the At a Siding jam, trading licks between Jeff and John over the drum fills that Joe was laying down.  The band was starting to let their instruments feedback either out of tiredness or to push the envelope, but it worked out excellently in the end.  Finally the band came into Terrapin Flyer to close the show and we all lost it.  Phil brought us to our knees, John brought us to tears, and Bobby brought the funny mustache.  We waited for the Donor Rap, cheered for Cody, and then came the encore.

Being Sunday, it was time for a spiritual number: Samson & Delilah.  A great rocker, and a great way to end a show, they gave it an a capella opening that felt just a bit folksy.  They wailed out some great rock and roll that got us back on our feet.  I was incredibly sore by that point, but I couldn’t help but dance as hard as I could; I actually danced holes into the ground.  The end fell apart a bit with John missing his cue, but they brought it back together right away and ended on a strong note.  All in all, it was the best show I’ve ever seen, and I want to see more!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Green River Festival, Sunday 7/15

After sleeping a bit late, going down for the textbook continental breakfast, and then hanging around with our friends some, we were back at the festival again, by 11:15 or so.  And again there was already a long line.  This time people were a bit more polite and festival personnel herded us a bit better.  But I think they've got to consider opening the gates earlier and/or organizing the crowd outside a bit better.

Oh well, everyone was nice and we got inside in time to grab a great piece of lawn, just a few rows behind that invisible "don't sit closer than this or you'll get trampled" border area that a lot of festivals develop.  It had been incredibly sunny and hot on Saturday and we were relieved that it was overcast on Sunday, though we knew that at some point in the afternoon the clouds would gather and start dumping rain on us.  Oh well, that was in the future!

Martin Simpson - Martin Simpson was another performer that I'd been listening to on radio and record for years but had never seen.  He did not disappoint and lived up to his billing as a distinctive wizard of a guitar player.  He came on a bit early so he'd be able to stretch things out a bit and played four songs that were cut by diamonds, they were so precise and shone with such brilliance.

Elizabeth Cook - I'd seen Elizabeth several times and had told my friends that if they were going to watch one act at the festival, it had to be her.  Though it was early on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, she lived up to my expectations and exceeded them.  She played the hits, like Heroin Addict Sister, El Camino, and Balls, but then she did the song of the festival.  She launched into her cover of Hot Burrito #1 and rolled her head back and shook her hair slowly and hit all those changes on the rhythm guitar and sang so gently and soulfully  but you could tell she was screaming from her inner being just like Gram used to about wanting no one but you to love me.

Brown Bird - Ran down to the Yonder Stage again to catch Brown Bird, a local (Rhode Island) band about whom I'd heard some great stuff.  They're very eclectic themselves but also fit right in with the tradition of acoustic bands that have found their own mix of instruments and their own sound and end up producing music that sounds centuries old.  David Lamb hits that guitar hard while also singing his complicated songs and beating out the rhythm on the kick drum and a wood block and/or tambourine with the other foot.  MorganEve Swain sings harmony and a killer cello, double bass, fiddle ... and you get the feeling she could knock you dead with a banjo, mandolin, or ukelele too.

Chris Smither - Then ran back up to the main stage to see one of the great musicians of the day, Chris Smither.  He brought a funky band this time and I managed to catch a few tunes, then break off for some more veggy/chicken wraps!  No rain yet, but things were getting a bit darker.

Richard Thompson - Yes, much darker.  Richard Thompson is an enthralling musician who plays guitar as well as anyone on the planet and rivets you with his imagination and his effortless stylings.  He will get vibrato from bending different strings in different directions while strumming them in the same chord for an eighth note and then twist into another pretzel on the fret board while sounding a lonesome and whining tenor before diving into a baritone chorus.  Though Cook had the shining moment and Rubblebucket (below) won the crowd, Richard Thompson was the star of the festival.

Winterpills - Calmed down a bit after Richard and the local indies Winterpills came on.  I only stuck around for a couple of songs and then stopped by to see Kate and dragged her off to see The Good Stuff...

Peter Mulvey and the Crumbling Beauties - Because at the Meltdown Stage (a.k.a. the kids stage), Peter Mulvey (whose latest CD, "The Good Stuff" uses the same phrase as is used by Sunday Morning Country's tag line) was just starting up.  Mulvey has a great band, including the ubiquitous David Goodrich on guitar.  He did a number of his recent, very successful songs and should have gotten a larger audience than he did.

Rubblebucket - OK, back to the main stage area in time to get dinner (more wraps) and get totally stoked for Rubblebucket.  I meant to stay back at our seats, but abandoned Sarah when they came on ... meaning to just stay up front for a song or two ... but then stayed there all set long.  I was right in front of the stage, jumping and grooving with a couple of other 50+ guys and a vast sea of 20+ people.  They opened with Worker, did Silly Fathers, Triangular Daisies, a couple of Blondie tunes, Came Out Of a Lady, Young As Clouds, and we all danced and danced and danced while they jumped into the crowd, ghosts appeared on stage, robots roamed through the audience, Kalmia painted faces, and Ian Hersey blew my mind with his guitar licks.  If you aren't familiar with Rubblebucket, you need to get familiar.  This was their third consecutive time at GRF (a record) and they had the crowd eating out of their hands.  This was more fun than a universe of monkeys ... I hadn't really noticed that it had started to rain steadily during their set..

Ozomatli - It was about that time when we didn't know whether to shit or wind our watches.  The steady rain that had been threatening all day continued and settled in for the long haul, but unfortunately it didn't cool things down a whole lot.  Scott and Tristan showed up (the families had gone back to the hotel) and we were all exhausted, but then Ozomatli came on and we danced in the rain for another hour.  Salsa rap is not my style, but these guys knew what they were doing and were kicking out some excellent grooves that kept us all jumping.  They had Kalmia and Alex Toth come out and join them for a couple of songs.

Dragged our drenched asses back to the car after the GRF was totally done and drove slowly back to the hotel with the defroster going full blast.  Changed into dry clothes and hung out for a while, talking about what a great concert we'd just seen and everything else.  Can't wait for next year!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Green River Festival, Saturday 7/14

The 2012 Green River Festival again featured just a fantastic lineup.  We got early-earlybird tickets and showed up there at about 11:15 for the noon gates and there was already a long line.  We all waited like good folk fans (though two(!) non-authorized lines formed and a bunch of people forced their way in before us polite ones).  We still were able to grab a nice piece of lawn about 50 feet in front of the soundboard, put on sunscreen, and settled in for:

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion - We'd seen them about 18 months before this and were kind of unimpressed with them, but they did a great show at the GRF.  They played with a bassist and that may have been the glue that was needed to fit their sounds together.  They did mostly originals but mixed in a few songs by Sarah's grandfather (this summer we're celebrating Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday birthday).

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three - I'd been wanting to see Pokey for a while and he didn't disappoint.  Besides singing the heck out of a bunch of great original and traditional songs, he has a great guitar player (Adam Hoskins) and a fantastic harmonica/washboard player (Ryan Koenig), and a very tight sound.  This was one of the sets of the festival and I went up and talked with his band afterwards, though Pokey himself was mobbed ... bunch of nice mid-westerners.

David Wax Museum - Another band I'd been dying to see and David Wax was fantastic, energetic, and dynamic.  But the jaw-dropping(!) thing about their act is when Suz Slezak gets out her donkey jawbone and gets more sounds from it (while dancing around like a firecracker) than you can believe.  Great, eclectic, neo-traditionalist (but what tradition?) band.

Lake Street Dive - I'd seen Rachael Price at the GRF in 2011 and had heard her band but never seen them either.  And once they started playing you could not take your eyes and/or ears away from them.  Bridget Kearney is an amazingly talented and melodic double-bass player, Mike Olsen is excellent switching back and forth between electric guitar and trumpet ((!) I say again), and Mike Calabrese is a solid drummer.  These guys are just a rocking unit and when the gorgeous Rachael gets her pipes going, you realize they're playing pop-blues from another dimension (which might be called Brooklyn).

The Sweetback Sisters - After Lake Street I dashed down to the Yonder tent (renamed from The Dance Tent) and caught most of the Sweetback Sisters set.  They play a funky cowboy-swing-bluegrass-blues thing with some aggressive vocals and a dancing beat.  In other words, they're right up my alley.  Mager saw me sneak in up front and commented, "You were watching them hard!"  I was.

Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express - Back up to the main stage and saw a few songs from Chuck Prophet, who is a bit overrated IMO.  He's got some good songs and a very good sound, but hams it up a bit too much for me.  Still enjoyable!  This was a good chance to get some great vegetable/chicken wraps for me and Sarah.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three - Back down to the Yonder Stage and saw the end of Pokey's act, then...

JD McPherson - A lot of people were looking forward to JD McPherson's set in the Yonder tent and he and band did a yeoman's job, though it was extremely hot in there and they seemed pretty tired.  As pointed out, they'd come from Dublin (Ireland) two days before and played a gig the night before then drove there all day.  Even so, they had a lot of energy and JD burned the tent down with his solos.  Also some great vocals from his bass player, which was the unexpected treat of his set.  Pokey's band stuck around to watch them and I had another nice talk with Ryan Koenig while we walked back up to the main stage.

Los Lobos - Los Lobos is one of the great bands of the last 25(?) years and I was sorry to miss any of their set, though I had an excuse.  Hidalgo and Perez are real cool guys and perhaps could have used a few more pyrotechnics, but expecting a great band to put on a show is missing the point: they played some of their fantastic songs (also covered a Grateful Dead song) and went back and forth with some soul-searching solos.  This was quality music!

Arlo Guthrie - As mentioned, it was Woody's birthday celebration, and Arlo played just a delightful set featuring as many family members as possible.  He had 3 daughters (or nieces), one son-in-law (Johnny Irion), one son, one nephew, and a multitude of grandchildren on stage at various times.  He kept up a steady stream of stories in his measured, incredibly well-paced way, and did a bunch of his hits (Coming In To Los Angeles, City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman song, don't forget it!)), as well as some beautiful covers of his Dad's songs, including one of the best Pretty Boy Floyd's I've heard and a sing-along, bring-out-the-whole-band, not a dry eye in the house, end the show right, version of This Land Is Your Land.

Jeez, that was fun!  We considered going back down to the Yonder stage after putting our stuff in the car, but the band there was just ending.  We hung around to see if Tristan would show up (didn't know if we were supposed to be giving him a ride) and wait out the jam of traffic leaving the concert.  We didn't have far to go ourselves and pulled into the Quality Inn parking lot after a while, where we checked in, helped a woman in the parking lot with a dead car (and husband) and then went to bed pretty soon after that.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hot Tuna at the Bull Run

We were incredulous when we heard earlier this year that Hot Tuna (acoustic) would be playing at the tiny Bull Run Restaurant in central Mass and we snapped up tickets to both shows as soon as they went on sale, as did a good number of others apparently.

Sunday, July 1st came around and we headed out there for brunch (I got eggs Benedict and Sarah got their Hot Tuna special, a spicy mash of seared tuna) and a few beers before the 3:00 show.  I hit the bathroom downstairs and ran into Jack Casady, who was giving the towel dispenser the eye when I walked in.  We had a short but pleasant conversation ... guys don't usually hang out in the bathroom.

We were front and center for the show, with Jack, Jorma, and Barry Mitterhof on low chairs which meant  a lot of the people in the very full room couldn't see them that well, which must have been disappointing.  Jack was playing a new Epiphone bass and Jorma had his old Gibson.  Barry alternated between instruments, but for most of the songs stuck to a traditional mandolin.

We were in heaven from the first note, with Jorma growling his lyrics and working his fretboard with his thick, muscular fingers like we'd heard for years but never seen so close, Jack hunched over his bass and attacking it with a three-fingered run up here and a run down there, while all the time resting his thumb on the lowest string until it was needed too, and Barry playing incredible mando leads when Jorma nodded to him to go for it.  The setlist for the first show was at Jack's feet and was clearly visible to us.  They opened with Been So Long and sprinkled in some lighter songs but mostly played the blues: Been So Long, Nobody Know You When You're Down and Out, I'll Let You Know Before I Leave, More Than My Old Guitar, Second Chances (excellent version, Jorma in fine voice), Let Us Get Together Right Down Here, Barbecue King, Children of Zion, Come Back Baby, 99 Year Blues (after which Barry advised a couple of 8-10 year old boys at one of the front tables to pay no attention to those words), and then Bread Line Blues.

Phew, that was some set!  Sarah and I were riveted by their musicianship and the great songs.  They stood back behind the stage and then sat down again for their "encore."  We could see that Sea Child and I Know You Rider remained on the set list, but they decided to mix it up a bit and did Parchman Farm into Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning, and then followed that up with Water Song!  The whole room was standing by the end of that, even in the late afternoon on a hot July day.

Many people stuck around for the 7:00 show, as did we.  We walked around a bit, talked with other attendees/devotees, and had ice cream on their patio, then took our places at our table (in front of Jack this time, not the very center table).  We got some dinner, more beers, and then the band came on a half-hour late (but that was all right).  They digressed from their second set list a bit more, but covered some more of their essentials, like Hesitation Blues, How Long Blues, Mama Let Me Lay It On You, Things That Might Have Been (another killer Jorma vocal), Red River Blues, Uncle Sam Blues, Vicksburg Stomp, and I Am the Light Of This World.

The guy sitting next to me (in the seat I was in for the first show) had his camera out and took this video.

This show was just as good as the first, or possibly better!  Barry pointed out for the large number of us who were at both shows (though we knew this, duh!) that they hadn't repeated any songs.  They stood behind the stage again after they were done ... everyone was beginning to tire, and then they came back and did I Know You Rider and then actually repeated a song: they closed with Water Song again but how could you complain about that?  Well you couldn't and if you did then you would have to be from another planet.  Actually, I could listen to Come Back Baby for a few days straight and not get tired of it.

Back to our cars and back home.  We got copies of both set lists and were very, very thrilled to see this band we'd been following for so long in such an intimate setting. I first saw them in 1976 (at Northeastern) and they're still going strong over 35 years later.  This music has accompanied me for most of my life and we sat six feet from the geniuses behind it while they played it once more for us!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Slaid and Rod at the Bull Run

Went to see Slaid Cleaves with Rod Picott opening on 6/28 at the Bull Run in Shirley.  Rod opened with a quick but excellent four-song set that was just like his opener for Tim O'Brien a few weeks before: Welding Burns, Rust Farm Fields, Your Father's Tattoo (our favorite) and a new song.  Slaid played with one of those tastey and understated mando players from Texas as an accompanist and Rod joined him for a song.  He played a fast array of his sly bullet-to-the-heart songs and mixed in his hits of Broke Down (one of the best songs of recent history) and Breakfast in Hell.  We had a great time and enjoyed seeing Kate again and meeting Jen, another long-time listener.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Flatlanders At the Bull Run

The other weekend we decided not to go up to Maine and so had a chance to head out to the Bull Run and catch The Flatlanders.  We were able to get good seats at the last minute … the table right next to the right-hand corner of the stage … even though it was pretty much sold out.  Got there in plenty of time for a nice dinner first.

The Nashua River Rats opened, with Johnny Girouard singing and playing guitar, Ron Gagnon on standup bass, Jack O'Brien on banjo and mandolin, and Greg Secino on drums.  This was one of those totally unexpected and totally satisfying opening acts.  They opened with Flowers On the Wall and their set included Going Down the Road Feeling Bad (the first “Grateful Dead” song of the night), Rowan’s Midnight Moonlight, an excellent cover of Tyson’s Someday Soon, and Lightfoot’s Redwood Hill.  Girouard really did some great singing, and Gagnon amazed us all with the sounds he could get out of his bass … I wish we were closer to see how he did it.

Then a break and then Joe, Jimmie, Butch, and their band came on and just ripped the place up.  Their long-time guitarist Robbie Gjersoe was in top form and Pat Manske on drums and Jimmy Pettit on bass were not far behind!  OK, time for some bullet points:
  • One of my strongest impressions was that Butch Hancock just exudes cowboy poetry; I hadn't seen him before and he amazed me in so many ways.  I've heard him on record many times, particularly with Jimmie and Joe, but the effortless way he could sing his incredible songs and the richness of his small guitar were a delight.
  • Jimmie is excellent of course but has lost a bit off his fastball.  On the original Flatlanders record, on his 2000 masterpiece, One Endless Night, and on the Flatlanders’ 2004 Wheels Of Fortune, Jimmie sings with a tremolo and a quality that can’t be beat, but he was not singing up to that level on Friday.
  • Of course, Jimmie is still great and though Butch tried to steal the show the best musical moments of the night were when Joe sang harmony to Jimmie’s lead.  This was just magic!
  • And if Butch exudes “poet” and Jimmie exudes talent, the guy exuding the superstar vibes was Joe Ely.  If you haven’t heard him, I don’t know how to describe the star quality and the authenticity this guy carries with him at the same time.  One of their first songs was his Not That Much Has Changed and this was a showstopper.
  • Excellent back-up band!  It’s hard to call Gjersoe a back-up guy when he’s so vital to their sound.

They traded tunes around, mixing up their individual songs with some great arrangements, throwing verses back and forth like they’d been playing together for 40 years.  Highlights of the show included:
  • an inspired version of Dallas that Jimmie introduced as a showcase of how you could play the song; it started off like it was right off their early record, morphed into Joe Ely’s solo version, and then drifted into something quite different
  • a beautiful Tonight I’m Gonna Go Downtown and Rose From the Mountain that sounded as old as the hills
  • an incredible straight-ahead cover of Sitting On Top Of the World; it was only when I heard this version that I realized that the millions of covers I’d heard before were all done with a little wink, a little sarcasm: from the Dead’s acid-drenched cover, to Doc Watson’ sly meander, to David Bromberg’s acerbic blues; this was straight-up Texas music and I was finally convinced that they really were sitting on top of the world and loving it!

 The boys were tired but came out for a two-song encore, then faded away into the sweet night.  I think they really liked the ear-splitting reception they got from the Massachusetts crowd and I hope they come back.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tim O'Brien at Club Passim

On Wednesday, June 13th we did our Club Passim routine: met for drinks across the street and then showed up in the Club around 7:00 for the 8:00 show.  This time we'd been able to get tickets for table 10, right in front of the stage.  Ordered the same old vegan food (which came late, they must have screwed up our orders ... how hard can it be when they've had the same menu for 27 years?) and had a nice talk with table-mates and with Cousin Kate, who was at one of the front tables herself.  Also talked with the opening act, Rod Picott (, in the bathroom line.

Rod came on and played several of the excellent songs from his latest record, Welding Burns, such as the  title track, Rust Belt Fields, and our favorite, Your Father's Tattoo.  As he pointed out, he really doesn't do any happy songs, most of them are a film noir movie at their most optimistic.  But that's the blues for you ... he's a great guy and an excellent singer and he's from Maine.

After a short break Tim came on and proceeded to blow us all away.  He's only one of the best musicians in the world and is a hard working fount of all kinds of music.  I've seen him in 10 different combos over the years (12 if, as I've heard rumored, he's actually in Red Knuckles' band, though I find this hard to believe).  This time he played solo and alternated between the guitar, the bouzouki, and the fiddle.

Tim's most recent record is with his sister, Mollie, and both of their families doing a Roger Miller tribute.  He did several songs from that: In the Summertime and Hand For the Hog.  One of his first songs was a mini-tribute to Doc Watson ... doing one of Doc's most famous songs and trying as hard as he could to keep up with his memory (he grunted and gave himself a grade of 73 afterwards, then shrugged and grinned).  He commented that many times he'd picked up an old traditional song to do then realized "it had already been recorded by Doc Watson or the Grateful Dead."  He then picked up the bouzouki and followed this with a beautiful cover of Dylan's Lay Down Your Weary Tune, which he did so well it was like I was hearing it for the first time.

He did a song that he recorded *before* The Dead ever did it (well, Phil Lesh and Friends actually, with an excellent vocal by Teresa Williams, but I digress), Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning ... though Hot Tuna had done it way before either of them of course.  He also did Working On a Building, that I'd most recently heard done by the Cowboy Junkies and by Elizabeth Cook ... there's a varied trio of acts for you!  The point is that Tim revels in the folk/blues tradition and just by himself he can play the pants off most of them.

Other highlights were excellent renditions of Gonna Try To Make Her Stay, My Girl's Waiting For Me, and his poem to his father, Not Afraid O' Dyin' from his most recent solo record.  He picked up the fiddle and played a couple of tunes, including Jack Of Diamonds.  This is where Tim's genius is most astounding; many people play the fiddle and sing and do both very well, but he sings with and to the fiddle in a way that you have to see to understand.  He also did a great version of one of my favorite songs of his, Look Down That Lonesome Road.

A friend came up and accompanied Tim on guitar and harmonica for a couple of tunes, including the one song I thought I'd never hear him do ... but it's a Roger Miller song so he did it: Kansas City Star.  This was recorded by Red Knuckles long ago and it's made me grin for years and years.  Maybe he *did* play with Red Knuckles' band, though that would be weird.  Tim of course didn't leave the stage between his "last song" and "the encore" ... as he said, he didn't want to waste his time and ours by leaving the stage and then coming back.  And of course for a real last song he did his excellent version of King Of the Road that's all over the best radio stations these days.  Lots of fun was had by all!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

WUMB Music Marathon

WUMB could not get it together to have a Boston Music Festival (or WUMB Music Festival) this year but did have what they called a "concert marathon" in Lipke Auditorium (the science lecture hall) with Tish Hinohosa, Tracy Grammer, and Guy Davis.  There was an amazingly small number of people there, especially since they seemed to be promoting it well.

Tish went on first and played a nice mix of songs from throughout her career, including Something In the Rain  and The True West.  Tracy was next and had a band: Jim Henry of course on guitar and a drummer and a bassist.  They opened with Tom Russell's Blue Wing and encored with Gypsy Rose, while playing other excellent songs in between like Tanglewood Tree (on which the drummer sang and played a "drum guitar" thing) and The Verdant Mile.  Guy Davis was last; I hadn't seen him before and he's a very engaging performer.  He played a number of songs from all over the blues spectrum, including an excellent cover of Statesboro Blues.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dark Star Orchestra in 1972

We had enjoyed Dark Star Orchestra immensely last Fall and snapped up tickets immediately when we heard they were coming back to Boston on June 1st.  They were booked for The House of Blues and we'd never seen an act there and were psyched, but then they switched to the Wilbur Theater, where we'd seen them last time and that was even better.  Because we'd gotten tickets early we were assured of spots in the front section of the standing area in front of the stage at the Wilbur, and we hoped that we'd be able to get as good a spot as we had for Gillian Welch.  As it turned out, we did better!

Same Wilbur routine: I drove into the city and Sarah met me on Bowdoin Street at a few minutes after 5:00 and we parked in her garage.  Dave took the bus into the city; it was much delayed but the timing worked out all right as he met us in Government Center and we walked over to the theater district.  Dinner at Jacob Wirth's and then up to the theater at about 6:45.  The show was supposed to start at 8 and the doors would open at 7. The GD sidewalk scene was in its early stages already but we looked in vain for a line to get in ... and then we started one ourselves because we had a pretty good idea what door was going to open.  Pretty soon they came out and put up the ropes to funnel people in ... to the door we were standing in front of.  We were first in line and had a great time getting excited and talking to the crowd that started to form.

There was some delay but then they let us in by about 7:15 and we had our choice of places to stand.  Duh!  We went right up to the stage right between where Jeff and Rob were going to set up, grabbed some beers at the bar, and then continued getting excited.  We had hoped that they'd play an early 70's show and the indications were that we might be in luck.  There was only one drum kit set up so that narrowed it down a great deal.  8:00 rolled around and right on schedule, Mattson, Eaton, Koritz (he did a great Billy, but Dino English replaced him for the last song), Rosen, and Barraco came out, tuned up, and broke into ... Bertha.

Yahoo!!!  We were back in 1972 and were treated to a good old Grateful Dead show from back when they were a serious rock and roll band that could also lapse into serious space.  We couldn't place it exactly, though Dave recognized one song from the Europe '72 extra tracks.  As it turns out, this show was from the Tivoli Theater in Copenhagen, the third stop on the Europe '72 tour on April 14th.  From a beginning of a hard-rocking Bertha from early '72 the first set went on and on and on and on, each song topping the last.  Here's the incredible set list: Bertha, Me And My Uncle, Mr. Charlie, You Win Again, Black Throated Wind, Chinatown Shuffle, Loser, Me And Bobby McGee, Cumberland Blues, Playing In The Band, Tennessee Jed, El Paso, Big Boss Man, Beat It On Down The Line, Casey Jones.

Is that enough for you?  Lisa Mackey came out and sang the Donna parts (Donna was not very integrated into the band at that time) and also played the Pigpen harmonica parts with great Pig soul.  Rob Barraco was on fire and was playing the Keith parts on his electric piano and also doing a good job of simulating Pigpen's organ fills with the pedals under his feet.  I instantly regretted thinking that Kevin Rosen was perhaps a weak link in the band when he tuned up his bass and hit some notes that actually rippled my blue jeans (he had a huge under-stage woofer).   And talk about on fire, you cannot believe how incredible it was to be standing where we were.  When Jeff Mattson and Rob Eaton stepped to their mikes they were 6 feet away from us, and even when they retreated they were 10 feet away.  From the first notes of Bertha, through all the cowboy songs they played in that sterling first set, to the seminal rock of BIODTL, and the incredible high of Casey Jones, we were right in the wheel house with the guitars.  OK, we were riding that train instead of driving it, but the drivers were 6 feet away and rocking our world.

We were rocking hard and I really don't know if I could have taken much more ... of course I would have found a way but this was just such stimulation of the senses!  I was worn out.  The break didn't last overlong but it was a welcome chance to calm down, take a bathroom break, and get another beer.  Actually by the time I was able to get another round and then make it back to our spot by the stage it was almost time for the second set.

As I say, we had been the first in the building and after the initial rush the crowd was very slow to arrive.  We had more than elbow room to start with, we could have swung a cat in each hand.  And looking up at the mezzanine and the balcony we were just amazed that they were so sparsely-filled.  The show started and kind of grabbed our attention, but when we turned around again at the end of the set we realized that the theater was packed with late arrivals!  And between sets and throughout the second set more and more people somehow made their way into the stage-front area.  We were never really squished, but many people crowded in and would have tried to crowd in front of us ... except in front of us was this hard, immovable object called the stage.  No one was shoving us out of our spots!

The boys came back out and started tuning up for the second set.  I was just amazed once more that I was close enough to see how Mattson tied his shoes, let alone to watch Eaton's fingering.  If this had been Garcia and Weir I think that I would still be a babbling wreck a few days later.  Dave and I watched the excellent second disk from the Grateful Dead movie the next night and it was kind of a shame we did, because we realized that even at their best, Mattson, Eaton, and the others are not living on the same planet that the original band did.  But they were still amazingly, amazingly awesome and were so accomplished at mimicking the '72 GD sound and getting everything right.  The got precisely the phrasings and interplay that we had all heard over and over from the Europe recordings ... this was one of the best live music experiences I've ever had.

We still were unsure what show they were doing and what to expect in the second set.  I predicted that since the first set was so full of rockers that the second set would be one big space jam, but I was wrong.  It was that and more.  Here's the second set: Truckin', It Hurts Me Too, Brown Eyed Women, Looks Like Rain, Dark Star -> Sugar Magnolia, Good Lovin' -> Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks) -> Who Do You Love? -> Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks) -> Good Lovin', Ramble On Rose, Not Fade Away -> Going Down The Road Feeling Bad.

Many of the songs from that Copenhagen show are on the Europe '72 disks, most notably the Good Lovin' jam is on the extra tracks on the first album and 4 of the songs are on Europe '72 volume 2 ... you can look it up.  This was more total joy; Dave and I couldn't believe it when Jeff, 8 feet away from us, hit the opening notes to Dark Star, which went on for 10-15 minutes before the first verse and then morphed into an excellent Mind Left Body jam.  And it was close, but in my opinion the star of the show was Rob Barraco, who sang that long, long, long Pigpen tirade about asking his doctor what he had, asking the gypsy woman what he needed, wearing a cobra snake necktie, and then going back to his main point that all you needed was some good loving with a spirit and an energy and an attitude and a growl in his voice that just had us all in paroxysms of ecstasy.  It was fun after the show to see him jumping around backstage and pounding the others on their backs like, "I did it, I did it, I nailed that!!"  He certainly did nail it and we were all hanging on his every word.

They started out loud (especially to those of us in the 6-foot zone with the woofer right in front of our legs), and then Jeff turned it up even more when he wailed the Elmore James blues (Hurts Me Too).  And then they kept on turning it up throughout and by the time they got to Not Fade Away/GDTRFB they were roaring.  Added to that was the fact that *every* person in the crowd was singing along at the top of their lungs ... how could anyone go to a show like that and not sing along at the top of your lungs to Going Down the Road?  What a second set!  What an incredible time!!  And then they came back out for the encore and launched into One More Saturday Night.  Yes, just kill us with another rocker ... this was the good old Grateful Dead giving it all they had.

Wait, they weren't leaving!  Rob Koritz came out from behind his drum kit and told us that this was that 4/14/72 Copenhagen show ... and that they had one more for us too.  The last encore wasn't from the '72 show but fit perfectly: Let Me Sing Your Blues Away.  Again, every person in the crowd was singing along with the chorus and those blues were not only driven away, I don't think they're coming back!

It was almost midnight by then ... the show had been 4 hours.  Most of the people in the crowd left quickly but we took a few minutes to gather our wits and realize that that ringing in our ears was not going to go away very soon.  Whatever, we finally made our way outside, got one confused fan spun around and headed in the right direction, and then took off out of there through the busy theater district on a Friday night.    After an experience like that, I am now spoiled and can never go to another concert again (unless they play like that and I'm 6 feet away).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back to Logan From California

Monday, May 21st

Our flight was at 7:00AM and so we got up at 4:30, did last minute showering and packing (leaving the busted cooler bag, some chips and peanut butter, an unopened bottle of pineapple juice, and lots of old, wet cardboard and empty boxes behind), slung our bags over our shoulders, and missed the 5:00 shuttle.  Oh well, the clock in our room was late and this wasn’t the end of the world.  We had some time to relax in the hotel lobby and drink some coffee while waiting for the 5:30, that got us to the airport in plenty of time.  Checking in took a while, but then we had no problem through security and in getting to the gate soon before they started boarding.

It was a Monday morning and the plane to Boston (jetBlue 632) was full and the gate for the jetBlue plane to New York was just beginning to heat up too.  People will move around.  It was a long flight back to Boston but they had a Grateful Dead channel on the Sirius radio and that saw us through.  Landed at Logan at 3:33 and got out to the curb with our luggage at a bit after 4, and Matt was nice enough to drive in and pick us up.  We thought it might be a rush hour nightmare getting home but we took the shortcuts and we were back to Green Street before you know it, miles and miles from California.

Weeks later I can still be struck still by the thought of how beautiful it was, the memory of the smells, the vistas, or the profuse fauna and flora that we saw.  I can also laugh at how long it took to get anywhere in California because of the distances and/or the traffic and the delays.  It was like we were stuck in honeyed quicksand at times.  In reality I suppose the traffic, the delays, and the endless people are as bad (or worse) in the Northeast than in most of California, it’s just that I’m used to it here and know the shortcuts.  Maybe in some lifetime we’ll end up in California long enough to know the shortcuts there.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Abbott Lagoon and Back To the Bay

Sunday, May 20th

Oh no, this was our last full day in California!  We had left the day open on the itinerary and were hoping to meet up with friends of Sarah’s at some point, but there were several factors in play: what the old cars was all about was that it was American Graffiti Day in Petaluma (the 1973 movie set in the ‘50s, which apparently had been filmed in Petaluma) and the crowds were gathering for that, it was the day of the Bay to the Breakers race in San Francisco and the city would be a mess of road delays, and Sarah’s friends were driving from Sacramento and going to the Giants-As game at Candlestick that afternoon which promised a massive traffic vortex itself.

Dave and I slept a bit late again (we hadn’t gotten to bed until 1:00 or so) but made it down in time for the classic California continental breakfast.  We then assessed our situation and decided the best thing to do was to head back to Point Reyes, try to get to the airport hotel before the baseball game ended, and then meet Sarah’s friends (though spotty cell and wifi coverage might complicate things) for dinner South of the city.  We packed up Vicky for the last time … the huge trunk was just perfect for our stuff and we had come to appreciate the Crown Victoria very much, though it had its foibles.  We hit the road back through the suburban town and then through the farms and steep hills back over the ridge to Point Reyes.

Oh my God, it must have been some kind of holiday for bicyclists too!  They were all over the road like ants and were not paying attention to the cars … this was their world.  Finally we got by them and back down past the reservoir on another sunny, glorious, warm day into Point Reyes Station and then out the peninsula past Inverness and then took a right turn on the (at last) isolated Pierce Point Road out toward Tomales Point.  We had picked Abbotts Lagoon for a destination and it turned out to be an excellent choice.

We were perhaps a little later than most of the birders out at the Abbotts Lagoon parking lot (they hadn't rock and rolled all night I’m sure) and the lot was already a quarter full by the time we got there.  But we packed up our stuff, our water, and our cameras in a deuce and were out of there, down the trail through the low dunes.  The first stretch was through some cow fields, where the cows were acting a bit frisky (relatively speaking of course) on such a beautiful day.  Then the trail got into some serious winding between higher and higher dunes, across a marsh, and through endless sun-blasted shrubs and glorious wild flowers with birds buzzing all over and tweeting loudly when they alighted.  Again, the variety of life was impossible for us to catalog, though we were definitely more attuned to the environment than we had been at the start of the trip.

The trail wound downhill slowly and ended between two arms of the large, shallow Abbotts Lagoon, that dried up and then was replenished periodically when storms mashed the barrier beach just beyond it and waves flew over the dunes.  This day was less windy than the day before; we traipsed through the sand between the dunes and finally made it out to the beach where the Pacific was as roiling and fearsome as ever.  Even on a day like this, and even if the weather had been warm (or you had on the best wetsuit ever), you would have to be supremely confident in your abilities if you wanted to go swimming here.  The waves came pounding in and then sucked sand, pebbles, stray pieces of flotsam, and would have sucked innocent waders back underneath the next pounding wave up the steep shoreline if they had a chance.  If you made it past the surf out to the waves you would have had a hard time keeping your head up and then the tide would have ripped you away up the coast.  This was definitely a place for watching the ocean rather than interacting with it, though Dave and I did get our tootsies wet from a few encroaching waves.

The beach was almost washed clean of anything but miles and miles of sand, stretching to Tomales Point about 5 miles away on our right and to Point Reyes itself about 10 miles away on our left.  Nevertheless, I found a perfect sand dollar (with the old NORML logo emblazoned on it) on the beach, we found some wind- and surf-carved pieces of driftwood, and an old buoy (or mine?) that looked a little like a frog had washed up beyond the high tide line.  As we were watching the sea and the sky, we were exhilarated when a flock of pelicans flew by on their way up the coast, maybe the same flock that we’d seen down in MontaƱa De Oro, up the Big Sur coast, and then at Waddell Beach; I wonder where they’re flying now?  We love beaches and knew that when we left this one we’d be saying goodbye to California, though we had many miles to go to the airport!

OK, we headed back into the shelter of the dunes and past the lagoon where naked boys were playing in the stifling heat.  We got back to the grasses and watched some hippedy-hoppity birds jumping around after bugs.  On the way back we got some perfect shots of a quail and a redwinged blackbird when they popped right up and posed for us.  We talked with a very nice guy from Barcelona who had some excellent camera equipment and was as much or more excited about the birds as we were.  We was starved for conversation and gushed about his plans to drive farther down the point to the Tule Elk reserve next, and we gave him tips about what we’d just seen down the San Francisco peninsula, in the direction he was going next.  He was on a 4-week vacation to America … by himself … that he’d apparently been planning for a long, long time.  We talked to him about the other wonders in this country, such as Yellowstone, Arches NP, and Acadia.  He told us in a charming way, afraid that we would not get the meaning of what he was saying, that nowhere in Europe would we find places as natural and unspoiled as in the United States.  This was a reminder that, although we complain about people and the impact man has had on the environment, we need to be very appreciative of and very careful with what we do have.

Now back to the pollution of the big city!  Well, first some challenges.  We were avoiding going back into the city on route 1 even though we knew we’d see some beautiful vistas across the Pacific to the Golden Gate that way because of 1) the bicycles we’d be sure to encounter, 2) the traffic we’d be sure to encounter, and 3) the gridlock back through Mill Valley and Tamalpais Valley that we’d barely escaped the day before.  The way we chose was probably less stressful, but the road went through shady and green Samuel Taylor State Park where we saw some of the most outrageous bicycle tricks on our journey and then through the endless suburbs and stoplights of Fairfax and San Anselmo before we finally made it back to route 101 in San Rafael, just one exit South of where we’d been the night before.

101 picked up speed and then slowed down as we crested the ridge of Sausalito and then sped up again as we went downhill, through a tunnel, and wound down to the Golden Gate Bridge.  We were ready for Bay to Breakers madness, but we made it through the toll booths ($6) and over the majestic bridge without delay, and then followed route 1 South instead of continuing on 101 downtown.  We wound into and out of Golden Gate Park and saw some leftovers from the race but no untoward delays.  We cruised back through the city, past the cute houses, and were South of town before we knew it, turning East on route 380 towards the airport and then South again on route 101 towards Burlingame.  We’d been here before and ended up back at the Vagabond Inn, a week and many miles, sights, and experiences since we’d been there last.

They gave us room 117, right underneath the one where we’d been the last time, which was fine with us because we were so done lugging things up and down stairs.  We fell into the room and decompressed, while trying to contact Sarah’s friends, who were at that moment in the eighth inning of a losing game while having a marvelous time.  We started to get organized for the trip home and the game finished, but unfortunately we realized that by the time they got unstuck from traffic they would have to head right home to Sacramento and we couldn’t get together.  Oh well, that meant that it was time to take Vicky back and I left Sarah and Dave to the organizing while I did the honors.

Made sure everything was out of the car (and the business card we had found was tucked back in to the pocket where it had been), and I drove the few miles back up route 101 to the rental car return North of the airport.  For once there was absolutely no traffic as Vicky and I cruised slowly along the endless ramps to the return garage and an efficient person with a clipboard checked for dents, checked the gas (I had filled up in Burlingame), and handed me my receipt almost as I got out of the car.  We had put 1344 miles on the Crown Victoria and probably less than a tenth of that was on roads it had been on before!

Took the train back to the airport and then waited for the shuttle bus to the Vagabond Inn, where Sarah and Dave were ready to go to dinner.  We walked over to the restaurant next door but that was already overflowing with families with beepers to tell them when their table would be ready, so we didn’t even stop and kept going to the next restaurant, which was a homely (but big) Mexican place where English-speakers were definitely in the minority.  That was fine with us and they had some great food.  Sarah had combo fajitas and a house margarita, Dave had ceviche, and I had their pork carnitas dish … all of them huge.  We stuffed ourselves with their very tasty food, and then staggered back to the Vagabond Inn, where we went to sleep early since we had to wake up on Eastern time the next day.