Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tribute to Bill Monroe at the Wilbur

We'd been very psyched to hear that Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, and "The Traveling McCourys" would be playing a series of Tribute to Bill Monroe concerts in honor of his 100th birthday and would be stopping by the Wilbur Theater in Boston on Saturday, April 21st.  We got tickets in the third row of the mezzanine and did our "theater district" thing of parking in Sarah's building, walking through the Common (which was packed with Spring revelers on a beautiful, windy day), and eating at Jacob Wirth's beforehand.  Then the concert started and it wasn't that good.

The band was Peter Rowan on guitar and vocals, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin with his brother Rob on banjo and their estimable cohort Jason Carter on fiddle, Jerry McCoury (Del's brother) on bass, and Tony Rice on lead acoustic.  That's about 3.2 of the best musicians in the world, but they had their difficulties:

  • This was the first time I'd ever left a Peter Rowan concert without my head spinning about his vocal abilities.  He sang solidly but did not stretch out his vocal cords.
  • When you have a musician like Tony Rice you sure as hell need to mike him well, which they didn't do.  And you need to give him space to play his searing leads; every time he got warmed up then they'd kick back into a verse like "Oh jeez, we forgot that we're doing a theme show."
  • Actually, the sound of the whole band was lousy; Peter was singing into one of those big mikes designed to be crowded around and when Ronnie did crowd up to it then the sound was bell-like, but those were rare moments.
  • Basically they did not take any risks or do anything original, which meant that this was not a tribute to Bill Monroe, this was a still-life postcard.  Bill would have left.
  • Perhaps practicing would have helped.  They sometimes had no idea who was going to play the next break or how long he was going to play for.  This was not a tight bluegrass band.  At times you had the brothers and Jason huddling in the center of the stage, Tony on the left looking like, "Do you want me to play now?,"  Jerry in the rear doing his best, and Peter shaking his head at them all like, "How did this go so wrong?"

OK, I should stop grousing.  The audience (the Wilbur was 80% full) sure enjoyed it and they had some high spots, like doing Muleskinner for an encore until they forgot how it went after the first couple of verses.  Oh well!

Kate Campbell at WUMB

We hadn't seen Kate Campbell for a long time and were determined to see her the next time we had a chance ... luckily she was on for the next WUMB Member Concert and we went out to UMassBoston to see her on Thursday, April 19th (the anniversary of the American Revolution, in case anyone needs reminding).

We'd been asked to come to the artist's reception first and after picking up Sarah at work and driving down to Columbia Point where we watched the planes coming in and the tide going out and had a sandwich or two we headed into Wheatley Hall.  Kate actually came up to us to thank us for coming; she is such a lovely, outgoing person!  She's just released a collection of songs featuring her wrestling with the grand piano (very successfully to my ear) and dubbed it 1000 Pound Machine.  When we got done with noshing and were let into the hall, there it was: a hunkering Steinway that could have used a bit of paint dominating the stage.

Kate made it talk, playing many songs from the new album and then picking up the guitar and finishing with a couple of her old songs: See Rock City and Visions of Plenty.  The air circulation system in Wheatley Hall was laboring all through the concert and I wish it had been turned off, it did its best to spoil the intimacy a Kate Campbell concert assumes.  Also, I wish they hadn't tried to amplify her, which they did very poorly.  The PA speakers were a glaring weak spot.

Oh well, we had a great time and loved hearing Kate's stories about where the songs came from and what kind of vibe she and her collaborators have managed to develop in the studio at this point in her [suddenly!] mature career.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Epilogue to Furthur in Boston 2012

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Furthur has a great social media presence and much news about their show in Wallingford, CT on the next (Saturday) night was available soon after it happened.  That setlist and the comments about the show makes it sound like the band is rounding into form for their 8(!) shows at the Beacon Theater in the Big Apple starting this Monday, which I’m sure will be a continuation of the trends we’ve seen in the band.  I sure wish them the best of luck and can’t wait to see them again in a venue as intimate and comfortable as the Wang.

Furthur in Boston, April 6 2012

So woke up on Friday … oddly not feeling bad after an amazing Thursday night that stretched out to 1AM or so, and went to work.  3:30 rolled around (it was Good Friday and so they told us to take off early) and I took off for home to pick up the boys.  David, Ricky, Sam, and I crammed into the car and drove into Boston, cranking the Syracuse show from November.

We phoned Sarah en route and she was waiting for us when we got there.  The boys jumped out and Sarah jumped in, but then a newbie security guard needed to be convinced that we were allowed to park in the basement of a government building.  We convinced him that we were sober middle-aged people (even though he’d just seen three wild-haired young men jump out of the car) and he was all set.

The boys were very impressed with inner Boston’s mix of high-rise government buildings and brownstone apartments and restaurants.  We got them in tow and marched through the rush-hour swarm on another lovely early-Spring day past the State House and into the Common, where they were even more impressed with the open space in the Common, the closed-in streets, the birds, the public monuments, and the sense of place.  It’s easy for us residents to forget, but Boston is a historic old city where lots of things happened and are still.

Got back to Jacob Wirth’s and had to wait a bit for our table (it had been so crowded on Thursday that we wanted to be sure to get there early and we did but then had to cool our heels).  But we were seated pretty soon and got beers/drinks (from the same waiter we had had the night before who was not so over-taxed by the crowd this time and was excellent both nights … I recommend Jacob Wirth’s wholeheartedly if you can stand the crowd) and fried pickles and waited for Scott and Michelle and talked and talked about what was about to happen.  We had plenty to rave about about the show the night before and what we could expect that night.  Scott and Michelle arrived and we all experienced the same thing we had the night before, trying to talk about life and work and mundane stuff but going back again and again to Furthur and the Dead and what our hopes were for that night and for the future.

OK, all done and time to trek on over to the theater, past the sidewalk vendors and the seemingly hundreds of people desperate for tickets.  A few of us couldn’t finish our dinners and had them wrapped up and then gave them to people waiting outside the theater.  We chuckled that they may have been disappointed when they found the food wasn’t spiked with acid!

Got inside again … Sarah and I were used to the opulence of the theater but the others weren’t and had to spend some time staring.  Scott and Michelle had separate seats from us other five, but the people in the row behind us never showed up and so we could all sit together.  This time our seats were not as good but we were about halfway up the balcony in the right-middle and that was not bad at all.  Fred had been sitting in that area on Thursday and reported that he didn’t think they got the sound quite right until the middle of the second song.  We hadn’t experienced that in the front of the mezzanine … it was great from the start … but we had the same experience in mid-balcony.  But they did get it right very quickly and the aural and visual environment was top-notch.  I’m so glad we had these chances to see Furthur in a theater rather than in a hockey rink or a baseball stadium.

The band came out again … the most significant difference being Sunshine wearing a baseball cap, maybe to keep the lights out of her eyes.  They launched right into another “new” song for them, Foolish Heart, but then gobsmacked us all with a segue into the venerable Dead song Dupree’s Diamond Blues (“there ain’t really very far to go”), sung by John of course … they may have had a spy in the bathroom last night.

Here’s the first set:  Foolish Heart > Dupree’s Diamond Blues, Estimated Prophet > Must Have Been the Roses, Just a Little Light, Feel Like a Stranger > Viola Lee Blues.  Comments:
  • I was afraid that after a stellar opening night they would phone in the second night, but this was far, far, far, from that.  You could tell from the first notes of Foolish Heart that they had plenty more new stuff to roll out and they continued or exceeded the pace they had set the night before.  And then Dupree’s set us on our ears, which is perhaps another way of saying that we were set on the right tack.  And goddam!  We were lulled into Estimated but to then have them go into Roses!?!?!  They signaled to us early that this was going to be another special night.
  • Bob was far from tired, he was fired.  When I’d seen them before and heard tapes, he seemed to be tiring by the end of the concerts.  He did not tire in the second set Thursday night and on Friday he was right on for long into the act.  He had his three guitars out again but opened on the old Gibson and stuck to that all night, the other guitars be damned.
  • As mentioned, JeffC had ignored his Fender Rhodes on Thursday but was all over it (and the synth keyboards he had on top) like a long-lost lover on Friday.  I don’t mean this in a snide way, but JeffC seems almost autistic in his ability to concentrate on his instruments and to get them to talk.  He is an amazing musician in his ability to supplement and to rock out.
  • Phil was a bit of a different person on Friday.  He hadn’t sung much on Thursday but on Friday he was a recluse: he was almost hugging his speakers he was so close to them, standing in the shadows of his towers.  The only exceptions were the few times he went dashing out to his guitar techs to demand a little tweak (in one such episode he was in the middle of an incredible bass run and he did not miss a beat of the whole run even though he was negotiating with the techs throughout), and the second set and encore … see below!
  • Approaching the end of the first set (all of us dancing and raving and even more of the theater than the night before spread out in front of us like a sea of joy), I was hoping for a rocking end … all of us were hoping for the “cowboy songs” like Mexicali or Big River … or some old Chuck Berry … but instead they went into (OMG) Viola Lee.  Again, this was one of the most magical moments of the whole Boston stand.  To have experienced a precision first set like that and then to have them explore that old jug-band, Noah Lewis song was not only an example of eclecticism but a more-than-rousing tribal romp: “some got six months, some got a solid year.”  We were all (ok, 90% of us, 10% at Dead shows sit still) gyrating and jumping up and down and thrusting our fists in the air.  How can you not be moved by a funky, funky song that talks about our fears of authority and our determination to press on despite that?  Oh well.

No bathroom interludes on Friday night, but Scott and I were in the beer line together and stood in the beautiful atrium and discussed the first set while loading up for the duration of the show.  Furthur took a long between-sets break on Friday but we were all having a great time.  It was incredible just imagining what might be coming up in the second set.  And then it happened.

They opened with the one “non-Dead/Furthur” song of the Boston stand in Dear Mr. Fantasy, which they have now performed possibly three times as much as Traffic ever did.  This is a great showcase for John and Mr. Fantasy really has to be up there on the list of best songs ever written.  BUT we were just getting into the easy rock and roll when they went into Jack Straw and Bob and Phil started exchanging lyrics while that incredibly-paced song took us higher and higher until we were all staring at the eagles circling above us in the brilliant sky on our nation’s holiday, wondering where the road and our inescapable fates would take us next.

OK, second set on Friday: Dear Mr. Fantasy > Jack Straw, Mountains Of the Moon > Mason’s Children > Dark Star > Let It Grow > Dark Star, Throwing Stones, Passenger > Morning Dew.  Comments:
  • Great Mother Macree!!!  Mountains Of the Moon??  Are you kidding me???  No, Mr. Lesh, I am not kidding you.  To pull this chestnut out of their repertoire really, really shows a total lack of propriety, which I applaud.
  • Furthur debuted Mason’s Children at the concert I attended last summer and to hear it again, played so precisely, was like hearing an old friend detailing to me things that happened way before either of us were born but that had an inescapable relevance to what we were about to face.
  • I’ve mentioned the Syracuse Dark Star and I’d put this one up against it.  It perhaps doesn’t come through as well as Syracuse when you compare it to recordings of the Friday show, but Joe Russo played the drums better than I ever could have imagined, accompanied by that bass player what’s-his-name.  Dark Star is a song of the imagination and also the ticking reality of the spheres.  Joe is not a shrinking violet and he banged those toms and those cymbals over and over until his whole kit was making the sound he wanted, and then he started to mold it, with Phil’s influence.  This was an incredible interlude.
  • And then … OHMYGOD!!!! … they went into Let it Grow.  The plowman is broad as the back of the land he is sowing.  Sunshine and Jeff add so much more to this song than Donna (sorry) ever did.  Did I ever think that Bobby might get tired?  Not when he has this to say.
  • The end of Dark Star required as much (or more) re-gathering of my mental/emotional faculties as King Solomon’s had the night before.  Luckily I could look at the friends around me and realize they were going through the same thing.  Throwing Stones and then Passenger were good crowd-participation things after that as we could all join in on the “ashes ashes” and "only game in town" lines.  But then they ..
  • … went into Morning Dew.  We had talked about what songs we most wanted to hear, and this was first or second on my list (fighting with Box Of Rain for top spot).  How could a “modern” folk song from a 60s Canadian writer become so iconic and at the same time become such a guitar-driven anthem?  It’s one of those things that I don’t think anyone could explain, which is a great mark of the importance and un-explicableness of music.  To me, it’s about an awful morning but a morning nevertheless.  And John was fucking great on this.  To me, this showed for once and all that this is a human anthem, not a Garcia one.

Jeez, I was too tired from that to even applaud and was very thankful that the whole theater was going nuts to supplement for my lack of aplomb.  Furthur left the stage and the crowd continued to rock and rock and rock.  Then Phil came out for his donor rap and introduced it with some nice comments about coming to Boston for 45 years (I was there 39 years ago!).  Easy to commoditize the organ donor rap since Phil does it at every show, but please do not ignore his message about what we all need to do to spread life: sign up as an organ donor, it’s easy to do and will make you feel good.

And then the encore.  They noodled for a bit and then broke into Box Of Rain.  I’ve been to many, many Dead/Furthur shows and never seen my favorite song performed before this.  As with all of the songs they did in Boston in April 2012, this was polished and up to date, but still more than true to the vision the song expresses.  This song whispered to me the first time I heard it and since then has spoken very loudly to me at various times; there is much material available in books and videos on what it has meant to others, including its authors and performers.  In one phrase, I feel it’s about how openness can help one manage sorrow.  This was the crowning touch to a delightful two nights of music.

Stumbled out of the hall and onto the sidewalk, where everyone else was in the same state we were.  Michelle was dog-tired and really the rest of us were too.  We parted ways and made it back to where we’d parked the car, and then home.

Furthur in Boston, April 5 2012

When we heard back in mid-December that Furthur was going to be playing the Wang Theater in Boston for two nights in early April we were excited and got tickets to both shows as soon as possible.  Since then the excitement just built and built until early April rolled around and the date was actually here.

I’ve gushed (calmly) in other blog posts about how much hearing the band means to me, because of the excellent music they play, because of their place in my mental musical history, because of their status in American musical history, and because seeing them is so much fun.  Music can produce deeply felt emotions, more so than any other art form by my experience.  And I knew these concerts would be roller-coasters of emotion for me, perhaps producing tears at times and slack-jawed amazement at others, but always producing joy.

Dead/Furthur concerts can be great communal experiences too, and I was glad to hear that my high school friend Fred (with son and friend) would be driving down from Vermont for the Thursday concert and that our son Dave (with friends Ricky and Sam) would be driving out from Ithaca and friends Scott and Michelle would also be coming into town for the Friday concert, as well as Mary and who knows who else!

I left work around 4:30 on Thursday, April 5th and made it to Sarah’s building in Government Center by around 5:10, where we parked in her garage and then ran upstairs to get some lamps that she needed transported; put them in the car and then hurried through the Common towards the Theater District.  I was filled with nervous anticipation but we were on time, it was a beautiful early Spring day, and I had the most wonderful feeling of things being in proper alignment.

We had a few extra minutes and so walked back and forth in front of the Wang a bit, where sidewalk sales, grinning people hanging out, and people desperate for tickets were already turning the sidewalk into the particular kind of scene you see at Dead shows.  We made it to Jacob Wirth’s a little early for our 6:00 reservation but that was fine with them and we got a table right away.  It was a good thing we’d made a reservation because it was already jam-packed in there.  By the time we left even more people had squeezed their way in and we could barely get out the door.  They only had two waiters working the full dining area and we had to wait for beer, but Fred, Jake, and Cameron soon showed up, we all got beer and ordered food, and the excitement just built and built.  We talked about work, and beautiful natural places, and missing friends.  But the 800 pound gorilla in the room was that we were about to see Furthur, and the conversation kept circling back to that fact.

Boy it was crowded in Wirth's, but we managed to get done eating, knock down the second round of beers that we were able to get but that came as we should have been leaving, force our way out of there against the crowd, and then walk the block and a half over to the Wang, where the sidewalk scene was at full peak.  Got through it and then finally inside, where we split up with the guys (we were sitting in very different parts of the balcony) in the beautiful, ornate lobby.  Grabbed beers, climbed the opulent staircase, and found our seats in the 4th row of the left mezzanine where we had a fantastic view of Jeff Chimenti’s keyboard setup, and not at all a bad view of anything else.  We gawked at the callipygian forms in the classically posed sculptures and pastoral frescoes that adorned the ceilings, niches, and hallways of the Wang … quite a spectacle.

Furthur hit the stage and lined up a bit differently from when we’d seen them last summer.  JeffC was still on the left but the others were all mirror-image different: Bob Weir was still in the middle but Phil Lesh was now far right, in front of a tall stack of speakers and one huge woofer that was almost as tall as he was.  He was playing the dark brown six-string he’s favored recently and stayed on that all night.  Joe Russo was up behind Bob with his drum kit, which seemed to me to have a couple of extra toms, which we all knew Joe would be able to handle.  John Kadlicek was on Bob’s other side, playing his dark wood-grain Strat, and behind him were Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on vocals.

Bob picked up his unfinished “chicka-chicka” guitar, they tuned up, and then launched right into Playing In the Band and then went into Crazy Fingers.  The whole theater was filled with dancing people singing along with every word and waving glow-in-the-dark wands and beads, and the smell of pot started up immediately after the lights went down.  We were immediately filled with the emotions I was talking about and as always with the Dead/Furthur, and even more as I’ve been exposed to more and more music, were filled with wonder at the guys’ individual talents and collective musical genius.

Here’s the list for the first set: Playing In the Band > Crazy Fingers, Black Throated Wind, Brown Eyed Women, They Love Each Other, Big Bad Blues, Built To Last, Hell In a Bucket

Here’s a list of my impressions from the first set:
  • It’s so delightful the way they’ve arranged their vocals.  Sunshine and JeffP back up Bob perfectly, allowing him to sing expressively and then to up the volume when he wants to rock without having to scream.  I wonder how long it’s going to be before they let Sunshine and/or Jeff do a lead vocal … maybe in NYC on this tour!  Phil didn’t sing as much as he has been, but his parts were perfect and of course he delighted the crowd by singing the “old man” choruses on Brown Eyed Women.  John can do some great vocals but has been very spotty to my ear in the shows I’ve heard; here he was great, particularly doing a fine job on They Love Each Other.
  • Speaking of John, he knocked me over the first time I heard him and he continues to elevate his game every time I’ve heard him since then.  He seems to be taking his role very seriously, as he goddam well should (I can’t imagine the pressure of trying to fill Garcia’s shoes), to be working at it, and to be succeeding.  The colors (don’t accuse me of being high, that’s a well-used metaphor in describing music J) and the intonations he gets are brilliant.  He’s still not Garcia, but he sure is John Kadlicek and he’s great.
  • I think Joe is one of the best drummers I’ve ever heard; he can fill the backbeat but most of the time he’s playing a lead himself.  His dominating contribution to King Solomon’s Marbles and to the first part of Dark Star on Friday, not to mention the killer Dark Star intro from Syracuse last Fall (ok, I’m getting ahead and behind myself) was one of those jaw-dropping moments I was talking about.
  • And what can you say about JeffC?  Great piano players have always amazed me … what’s going through their mind while they’re improvising??  Godchaux had his strengths, especially on the grand piano, but Jeff Chimenti takes the keyboard role in their sound beyond what Keith ever did, not to mention being beyond Pigpen playing the great organ fills (Jeff can do that too with one hand, while with the other he’s freaking out on the high keys), or Tom Constanten on the electric piano and synthesizers (Jeff largely ignored that third of his setup on Thursday but was all over it on Friday).
  • Furthur hadn’t toured since New Year’s and they’d obviously rehearsed.  As Sam commented, it was clear they’d been in the woodshed and had a bunch of new songs (ok, “new” to this incarnation of the band, even though they had been written long ago (I’ll leave it to Furthur scholars to document the chronology)) and a bunch of tight, new arrangements of things they’d been doing before.  In the past I might have been annoyed by this, but they were right on with all of their new stuff; they weren’t just practicing it on us in the first show of the Spring/Summer tour, they were rolling it out and it all worked.  The analogy I kept coming back to was that they were opening in Boston before hitting Broadway, as theatrical performers have been doing for years, and all the players and the script were fresh.
  • As mentioned, Bob started on his blond wood guitar, but after switching to his old Gibson for They Love Each Other he switched to his black guitar with the lightning marks on it, stepped to the mike, and took over the show.  I’m not by inclination a Bobby fan and in the past he’s bored me (for instance, with what I consider some embarrassing attempts to sing blues classics), but when you look at his contributions clinically he’s always leading the band, and at some points he can step out and be fantastic.  I can’t believe I’d ever say that Big Bad Blues, Built To Last, and Hell In a Bucket were the best part of anything, but they were fucking amazing, especially the sound he got from that guitar!  I can’t believe how stellar that sequence was.

Another thing that needs mentioning is their language and music interpreters.  One was at a podium in the front right corner doing frantic ASL to interpret the lyrics and next to him was a dancer showing people what the music was trying to express.  They both did excellent jobs and must have been exhausted from the effort!

OK phew, time for the set break and for us all to catch our breaths, hit the bathroom, and then get another beer (the Wang ran out of IPA and we had to settle for lagers … but this is my only criticism of the venue).  Deadheads were everywhere, camping out on the carpets, staggering around in a daze, raving about the first set, or all three at once.  Funny interlude in the men’s room: we’re waiting in line and two guys next to each other are having a spirited conversation about Furthur as compared to The Dead (the post-Garcia band).  They end up at different urinals and one of them is next to me and shouts to his buddy:
  • “I was in Worcester twice and it fucking sucked!”
  • Me: “Yeah well I was in Worcester three times and I’m never going there again.”
  • Guy to my left: “FUCK THAT!!  I’ve been in Worcester four times and it was fucking terrible!”
  • Much jolliment and confusion ensued.

Struck up some nice conversations with our mezzanine neighbors while we were waiting for the second set.  There were lots of security guards hanging around the edges of the theater and they were obviously seeing everything going on but had apparently been told (as they should) that they were not there to stop people from smoking pot or acting weird, they were there to protect the theater and the audience.  Sometimes you can’t help but get the impression that we are progressing as a society in spite of ourselves.

OK, time for the second set.  They came right out and rocked us with what has become a sine qua non, St. Stephen, and then they delighted the crowd by flying into Cosmic Charlie.  Bob did his airplane impression while he sang to us about that world we’ll all be in when our airplanes happen to land.

Second set list: St. Stephen, Cosmic Charlie, Mountain Song, The Wheel > Uncle John’s Band, King Solomon’s Marbles, Black Peter > Shakedown Street, Not Fade Away.  Here are some comments on that set:
  • I love Mountain Song (which wasn’t done by the GD) and I’d just read a nice article about the genesis of the song on the Furthur site.
  • To many people, The Wheel is a personal anthem, and it’s one of those songs that has a spacey introduction but that people can identify as soon as it starts.  The guy next to me was a Wheel nut, and was singing along with the chorus, off key, as loudly as he could.  I, of course, joined him and we “harmonized” about the Thunder and the Lightning at the top of our lungs, as were most people in the theater.  And then they went into Uncle John’s Band.  Talk about being in Grateful Dead heaven!
  • But then, OMG, they stopped, counted off a few beats, and dove headlong into King Solomon’s Marbles.  I gush about Joe above and this was what I’d come there to hear: him and Phil just playing primal music from some jungle beyond imagination with no holds barred.  Of course, having Jeff, John, and Bob along for the ride did not hurt the sound.  This was arguably one of the best moments of their stand in Boston.
  • Not surprising seeing Furthur’s proclivity to shake things up a bit, but after the band finally played a rocker in Not Fade Away (ok, not just a “rocker” but a seminal Buddy Holly/Rolling Stones rocker (this was one of my only times to criticize John, his leads on this were not as solid as you’d want in this song)), the crowd was disappointed that they didn’t go into GDTRFB.  We were all left singing “You know our love will not fade away” and clapping the next line over and over until they came out for the encore.  Hey wait, maybe that was the effect they wanted!

Another men’s room interval:  after King Solomon’s Marbles I was trying to compose myself when they broke into Black Peter and Bob started singing about all of his friends coming to see him as he lay dying.  To me that song is anthemic, but as I say I was trying to gather myself and realized I’d better hit the head if I was going to last for the whole second set (TMI here?).  Went to the men’s room and as it turned out many of us old Deadheads had had the same idea, and the tenor of the gathering was ugly.
  • One guy said in an outraged voice, “It’s a fucking Garcia song!”
  • Another one chimed in, “Fucking Kadlicek should be singing this!”
  • A third one summed it up, “Fucking Bobby can be so selfish!”
  • I chimed in with, “Yeah but you’ve gotta admit that Big Bad Blues and Hell In a Bucket were great.” (I thought I might get a swirly for saying that.)
  • People grunted in agreement.  Another guy said, “Yeah, but Black Peter is such a fucking great song.”
  • We all agreed with that one and then the first guy summed it up, “Yeah well, a great time for a PEE BREAK!”

Then we all ran back into the hall and caught the second half of the song, which is fucking great.  And then they went into Shakedown Street!  Back in the late 70s I didn’t appreciate this song as much as I should have (can you say disco Dead?), but since then I’ve come to appreciate the interplay of instruments on it.  This was a great example of what a tight band Furthur can be.

The Boston Globe ran a review of the Thursday show and reviewer Scott McLennan had a point, that the show was over-prepared and didn’t feature the walking-a-fine-line aesthetic that can make a Dead (oops, we keep forgetting that it’s Furthur) show so thrilling.  I can understand that point, but it’s important to me to see any Dead/Furthur show as part of a continuum as opposed to a singular performance, and to realize this is a musical process that we are just seeing a snapshot of.  We aren’t seeing “a show,” we’re seeing a bit of an ever-changing monster.

Time for the organ donor rap and the encore.  Phil came out and seemed to mumble into the mike, but the reality of it was that we were still clapping out Not Fade Away and he didn’t want to interrupt us.  The band finished with Liberty and it wasn’t exactly the Round and Round we were all hoping for, but it was another great ensemble performance and got us all out of the hall.  GREAT SHOW!

Sarah and I took our time but then made our way outside, dodging the thousands of staggering and frozen-still fans on the sidewalk and then making our break up Tremont Street towards the Common, where we slowed down and meandered back uphill towards the State House.  I looked at Boston in the late evening all around me and thought about the many times I’d had wonderful experiences in that city and hoped that they would go on and on.  How can you describe how wonderful it is to see a band like that and, for us, to know that we were about to go home and see our son and friends and then go see Furthur the next night?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jesse Winchester at the Me and Thee

Drove up to the Me and Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead on Friday 3/30 to see Jesse Winchester.  Hadn't been there yet this year, but it's a great place to see music and we have it worked out to meet in Salem beforehand for dinner at a great beer cafe and then drive down there for when the doors open.  BUT this time when we got there for the doors there was a long line and we couldn't sit in our customary front-row seats!  Gosh, maybe people are smarter than we thought!!  Because seeing Jesse Winchester in a small hall surrounded by friendly, dedicated ladies and gentlemen of leisure is about as good as it gets.

Rj Cowdery opened and started the night off on the right foot with some excellent songs and some masterful guitar playing.  She has a very powerful left hand and got a great tone out of her instrument, as well as displaying some very good vocal talent.

Then Jesse came on and we were transported to another world, one even more genteel then Marblehead.  There's absolutely no way I can describe the level of his eloquence.  Jesse has made many fans throughout his time on this earth and I'm so glad he's still here and still entertaining us.  He played Yankee Lady in the middle of the first set and it took me the next few songs to recover from that experience ... I'm glad he didn't encore with it or it would have taken over my mind for days!  I'm just in love with that song.

Some songwriters are brutally honest and others are extremely sincere or obviously authentic.  Jesse is all of the above and none of the above.  The songs he's written and his style of singing them show a frankness with himself and with us and a beauty of soul, and a belief in the beautiful souls of his listeners, that makes you feel like his notes are just mainlining their way to the depths of your being.  He closed the first set with a new one, that had a line in it about the importance of support from his mom and dad that said in a few words what people have been struggling for years to say to each other.

OK, there were a few songs I wanted to hear that he didn't play but he did a fair number of the great ones, including Twigs and Seeds, Defying Gravity, Little Glass of Wine, A Showman's Life, Foolish Heart, Gentleman of Leisure, That's What Makes You Strong, and so on.  I could listen to him for days.