Saturday, April 13, 2013

More Hot Club at the Me and Thee

Hot Club at the Me and Thee??  Of course!  Usual meet in Salem for dinner and then got to the M&T just as the line was forming.  Stood in the rain for 25 minutes or so while many others assembled behind us and got the front-row seats we like best.

Jon Shain opened with one accompanist with a suitcase full of harmonicas.  As had been the schedule with Tim O'Brien, Hot Club then came on and played another half hour or so for a first set, then we had a "liquor-mission" according to Elana, and then a long second set.

Hot Club had their new album for sale, which was a very pleasant surprise (release is set for late next month).  They played a number of songs from that such as Avalon, Slow Boat To China, Minor Swing, Dark Eyes, The Continental, I'm In the Mood For Love, and Back In Your Own Backyard, as well as a few from their What Makes Bob Holler record, such as Stay All Night and Oklahoma Hills..  They played many other songs from throughout their repertoire, and were nice enough to ask for requests with a few songs left in their set.  People shouted out "Orange," and "the Pussycat song," and I asked for "Exactly."  Elana knew what we meant and they launched into Exactly Like You followed by Pussy Pussy Pussy (she chided us for not meowing loud enough), and ended the set with a scorching Orange Blossom Special.

We were right in front of Jake and he was at his fret-board slapping best, which humorously had a few people stunned. We heard some wondering out loud how he got that sound, with one theory being that he had castanets on his wrists.

They then came out with a nonplussed Eva (Elana's dog), and did a three song encore.  The house was as packed as I've ever seen it and we all just roared.  I got the impression that Hot Club hadn't been sure if they'd do as well coming back there for a second time, and they did even better.  Now they've got the M&T pencilled in for a third time (and more), I hope!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bob Dylan in Lowell

We broke our oath to never attend a concert in a hockey rink again (kept since 1979) and went to see Bob Dylan at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell before he dies, and to see Dawes open.

Had a nice dinner outside at the Lowell Beer Works beforehand (it was finally warm enough to sit outside!), and then a nice walk over there down a scenic canal with a beautiful pre-sunset sky.

I was really looking forward to seeing Dawes and they played well but the sound sucked.  Their drummer sounded like he was sunk in a pit of mud and their bass was so loud and sharp it was almost painful.  The sound in the arena would probably have been better if it was full, but at its peak the crowd only filled half of the arena.  OK, here are my bitchy points and then I'll stop bitching:
  • the sound sucked, especially for the opening act
  • even though the arena was only half full they crammed us into little seats, worse than Fenway Park
  • everyone stood up throughout Dylan's set ... not because they wanted to dance but because they couldn't see; the stage was too low
  • for some periods of his set, Dylan was just coasting on the value of his songs and it was not an inspired performance
Now the good points:
  • it was Bob Fucking Dylan and he has written some of the best songs ever
  • his band was great and almost overcame the lousy sound; they were drums, two guitars, bass, and pedal steel; the pedal steel player also picked up the mandolin and the banjo on a few songs
  • Dylan was up front singing without an instrument for a few songs but for most of them played electric piano and harmonica, and he had some great runs on piano
  • they opened with Things Have Changed and of course they had, they did this with almost a reggae tempo and it was great
  • they did a few of the old songs, like Visions of Johanna, All Along the Watchtower (though they cut this short after 2(?) verses), Tangled Up In Blue, and Ballad of a Thin Man ... I was very glad
  • they did a few excellent numbers from the recent album, Tempest: Soon After Midnight (a song I love but the sound for this was terrible), Early Roman Kings, Pay In Blood, and Scarlet Town (one of the best songs in the set, Dylan was just on fire)
  • another high moment of the set was the pair of Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (with words by Robert Hunter) and a scorching, funky, soulful version of Blind Willie McTell
  • saw our friends David before the set and Kathy at the encore
Here's the set list:
  1. Things Have Changed
  2. Love Sick
  3. High Water (For Charley Patton)
  4. Soon After Midnight
  5. Early Roman Kings
  6. Tangled Up In Blue
  7. Pay In Blood
  8. Visions Of Johanna
  9. Spirit On The Water
  10. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
  11. Blind Willie McTell
  12. What Good Am I?
  13. Thunder On The Mountain
  14. Scarlet Town
  15. All Along The Watchtower
  16. Ballad Of A Thin Man (encore)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Carolina Chocolate Drops at HoB Boston

On Saturday the 6th, after a beautiful and sunny afternoon at last, we drove into Boston to the House of Blues to see David Wax Museum opening for the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Both acts were spectacular and the house was packed.  Highlights:
  • met a fellow music fan in line and she guided us through the vicissitudes of being at a high-crowd, high-anxiety music venue; she was delighted when I told the young girls trying to elbow us out of our spots to fuck off
  • David Wax Museum played their usual high-energy set, but walked out into the middle of the floor to sing one song a capella (ok, Suz had her fiddle out) ... very successfully, though many people found it strange; see Reid Simpson's video!
  • Dom Flemons joined them on bones (Suz was on her jawbone of course) for Yes Maria Yes; they closed with their recent mega-hit (folk standards, remember), The Rumors Are True
  • there are many strange things about popular music like, why do so many people without much musical taste like the Carolina Chocolate Drops?  oh well, I can't argue with this
  • Rhiannon introduced Country Girl without saying the name of it, I called it out and she smiled, though most people there had apparently not heard the song before ... what's up with that? (see above)
  • one instrumental highlight was Rhiannon playing an old, huge banjo with a beautiful tone
  • another instrumental highlight was Leyla McAlla throwing down her bow and actually finger-picking the cello like this was the most natural thing in the world ... I'm still amazed at the sounds she milked out of that thing with her hands
  • vocal highlight was Dom enticing the crowd to bellow out Trouble In Mind with him ... lots of fun
Another great night of music, and then a pretty quick trip home!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Great Tim O'Brien Again

Geez, I realized last night that I'd better watch out.  No one can touch the Grateful Dead of course (the last time we saw Tim O'Brien I loved his comment that he had always struggled to find traditional tunes to play that neither Doc Watson nor the Grateful Dead hadn't done first), but after last night I've seen Tim at least a dozen times ... this is approaching my record of 20 for the GD, and that number isn't growing.  I've seen Tim alone, with his sister, with the O'Boys, with Hot Rize (of course), with Darrell Scott, with Steve Earle, with his Cornbread Nation band, etc.  I've even seen a band called Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers that had a guy that looked a lot like Tim.  Maybe I should stop seeing him play, but then again, maybe I should cut off a leg or two.

Tim played the Me and Thee Coffeehouse at the UU church in Marblehead again last night, and we were there, after the obligatory slog through traffic and fun dinner at Gulu-Gulu in Salem.  Got there a little earlier than normal and even though a line had formed already we were still in time to grab seats in the first row.

Old Man Luedecke from Nova Scotia opened (Tim produced his recent album) and showed some very impressive chops on the claw-hammer banjo, as well as showcasing some of his quirky, fresh-perspective songs.  He also had an instrument called a porchboard under his left foot and he pounded out the rhythm on that to excellent effect.  I talked with him between sets and he was pleased to hear that the porchboard's sound produced an echo that was amplified by the stage ... he couldn't hear this from on top of the stage.

This was a great introduction to Tim naturally, who's got some of the best acoustic chops and quirkiest songs on the planet.  Tim came out on stage as soon as Old Man Luedecke finished (he'd actually been watching from the shadow of the door to the sanctuary, like a parent anxiously watching and giving encouragement at his child's first recital).  Tim finished the first set with 6-8 songs or so, before he let all us old folkies take a bathroom/dessert break.  It was only then that I noticed that the late-arriving crowd had not only filled the main part of the church but had overflowed to fill most of the entrance hall with some chairs rapidly set-up by the crack M&T staff.

Tim was perfect.  Oh, he made a couple of small mistakes, but he played exactly what we wanted to hear and he showed us (yet again for me, see above), that he can produce some of the best music around.  He had his old guitar with him and he played some tunes on his faithful bouzouki and his fiddle.  I've never seen or heard anyone better than him on fiddle and he was masterful on that last night (Chinquapin Hunting/Sugar In the Gourd), but he was feeling it on the guitar and he just rocked through his most complex songs on that. What can I say?

A guy in line (who'd never seen him before) said that he'd be in heaven if Tim played Pretty Fair Maid In the Garden ... he opened with that.  I recently listened to his surreal Traveler record and he played Kelly Joe's Shoes and I've Endured, which are two of the best songs on that record.  The song I most wanted to hear of his incredible repertoire was Look Down That Lonesome Road (I'd never seen him play that), and he played it, dropping in some jaw-dropping leads.  He didn't do his remarkable version of Lamps Trimmed and Burning, but took a gospel bow with Working On a Building, which he did as an homage to Bill Monroe, in his style.  Tim also showed his remarkable ability as a singer-songwriter with his beautiful ode to his father (Not Afraid Of Dying) and his beautiful song about knowing your children are out there in the world, and struggling with the emotional meaning of that (Letter In the Mail).  This is not to mention his ability to tell stories about working, history, and human relationships, as showcased in My Girl's Waiting For Me and his version of the traditional Love Is Pleasing.

Again, what can I say?  Tim walked off stage when he was done and we gave him a bit of applause.  He'd brought Old Man Luedecke back up and they (along with Old Man's mandolinist, Joel Hunt) did a great cover of Lightfoot's Early Morning Rain, and then Tim encored solo with his cover of Woody Guthrie's Buffalo Skinners, with its raw, murderous denouement.  We watched him walk off into the wings of the M&T and I was thinking that this is a musician I'll be going to see as long as I can, who cares if he edges out the Dead?