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).