Monday, November 25, 2013

DSO Warms Up Concord

You've got to hand it to Dark Star Orchestra for touring as much as they do and consistently putting on vastly enjoyable shows.  In fact, part of the fun of seeing them is seeing how much everyone else there is enjoying themselves.  This November they didn't come very close to Boston, but they played in a few small towns in the hinterlands of New England, like Burlington VT, Portland ME, and Concord NH. :)

We thought about seeing them in Northampton or in Portland, but because of several factors (like we were busy last night), we settled for just seeing them in Concord on this Fall tour at the friendly and graceful Capital Center For the Arts on November 24th.  It was one of those frigid Fall days in New England when the stiff Northwest wind makes you suddenly realize that winter is much closer than you think.  There was snow and ice on the ground in Concord, but the town was rocking on a Sunday night, the Center For the Arts opened their doors early so we wouldn't have to wait outside, and we chattered eagerly with other devotees waiting in line for General Admission.

Most of the people there early (25-30 of us??) were middle aged or older, though lots of younger people showed up later.  They opened the doors and we rushed in; most people grabbed the first row in the orchestra or the first row in the balcony, but we weighed our options a bit more and took the best seats in the third row of the orchestra, figuring that the space between the stage and the first row would become a mosh pit of stage-rushers later in the evening, which turned out to be very correct (note here that I have to hand it to the incredibly-patient-with-obnoxious-deadheads security, who were trying to keep the aisles reasonably clear and keep everyone happy at the same time).  These were great seats.

The band was set up with two drum kits and with the lead guitar over by the keyboards to the right side, with the bass (Skip Vangelas (with an Alembic bass) took the bass chair that Kevin Rosen had filled so well for so long) on the far left.  Between RobE and Skip was the mike that Lisa would take, with a low stand as well, like she was going to play a banjo or something ... this was never used so I'm still waiting.

The crowd took their time arriving but ultimately packed the place.  DSO took their time but then started up at 7:10 or so with a rocking Touch Of Grey.  Instantly my wishes for an early '70s or late 60's show were dashed, but WTF, we were off!!  Here's the first set:

Touch Of Grey > Greatest Story Ever Told; Iko Iko; Queen Jane Approximately; Catfish John; Mister Charlie; From the Heart Of Me; Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues; Big Railroad Blues; Let It Grow

It was obvious early that this was an original setlist, and then Catfish John clinched it.  But no one was disappointed, they did an excellent job on every note of these songs and we all sang along and danced and danced.  There's some real skill in the band, but all of the players had their so-so moments, including Skip playing it safe in a few situations when he needed to stand out.  But they are so much fun!  How often do you get a chance to croon along with "... don't go near that river," to bop wildly to Mr. Charlie, to roll along with your flagboy and my flagboy, and to get a fucking cowboy troika, all in one set?  And that's not to mention the incongruously popular Lisa (I love her, as does everybody I know) taking a spin on Donna's The Heart Of Me.

RobE finished with a perfunctory Let It Grow, and then they all mumbled off for a break while we grinned and grinned.  Short bathroom lines, long beer lines, many people stepping outside (but not far in that cold) for a smoke, with the smell of it wafting in the front doors, a few people checking on the Patriots score on their phones, and then we all got back just in time for the lights dimming for the second set.

I'd been texting the setlist to Dave and he predicted Drums and Space for the second set.  He was right, but this was no loose jam introducing a sloppy second set.  This was a whole night of precision.  Rob waited until Jeff had played the lead riff three times, and then started picking the Bobby part of China Cat, and they did not stop for a while.  Here's the list:

China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Samson And Delilah; He's Gone > The Other One > Drums > Space > The Other One > Visions Of Johanna > Let It Rock

  • This was an ideal China Rider; they were not trying to replicate the Dead sound of a particular year, they were trying to play these songs with the spirit they deserve and did so; and the crowd was absolutely bellowing on the "wild geese in the West" and "wish I was a headlight" highlights of Rider (Skip knew not to back off the bombs here).
  • The drummers shone on Samson, and Lisa did some great vocals backing up Rob; again, this was not a mimic of Donna and Bob, but the two of them singing for all they were worth.
  • He's Gone continued the pace, and then it got good and weird and fantastic; as before, it was clear to some of us that they were playing TOO about five minutes before the signature bass notes and to all after that, but this time they then proceeded to jam and jam.  Finally Rob stepped up and sang a verse with Lisa (and all of us) jumping up and down while screaming "coming around."  Then it got weirder.
  • I'd never before this night seen Dino channel Billy so well and RobK channel Mickey so well.  Dino did not leave his traps, whanging the kick and the high-hat while rolling on his toms.  Rob got up and went to the back of their set-up, where he sampled himself on congas, put it through some odd filters, and then took off from there.  Soon we had no idea where all those sounds were coming from, and we realized we'd been enthralled for 10 minutes of this ... and then the guys came out and played space.
  • And then they went back into TOO.  This was fantastic, a truly uplifting, riveting, thrilling sonic experience.  Lisa came back out and if you think we were all jumping up and down before, I think New Hampshire is still shaking from that second verse.
  • Jeff then sang a beautiful cover of Visions Of Johanna for a wind-down song.  This was a very good vocal and was one of the artistic highlights of the night.
  • And then they did what's rapidly becoming DSO's signature show capper, Let It Rock.  I think there are still some fans to whom this song is not as familiar as a song like Saturday Night or Around and Around, but this is DSO's song.

Ack!!!  They shuffled off again and we all were laughing and raving about what we'd just seen.  That TOO was incredible!  Why the heck did they set up their teepee on the tracks in the first place?!?   They came back out and RobB told us that of course we'd been listening to an "elective" set.  He then looked around slyly at the other guys ... what would it be for an encore??  Scarlet Begonias!  No Fire this time, but they did Scarlet perfectly and closed with the tight Mars Hotel ending to the song.  What a night!!

Skip came out afterwards and high-fived fans left and right.  He gave me the thumbs-up.  We made it out into the cold and found our car down frigid South Main Street in Concord.  Luckily the wind had died down a bit and it was a smooth drive back home, making it door to door in a bit under an hour.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Great Tedeschi Trucks Band, lousy auditorium

After seeing the Tedeschi Trucks Band two+ years ago and then listening to their releases since then, I consider them at the top of current blues-rock, and so was very surprised to see they were playing the small Lynn Auditorium on November 23rd.  So were a lot of other people I guess, it sold out quickly.

We made our way into deepest darkest Lynn on a Saturday evening and found a parking space with a bit of difficulty.  We'd gotten good reviews of the hall from a friend who'd been there recently, but we had a much different experience, probably because we were sitting under the overhang of the balcony, rather than in the balcony itself.  The sound was probably fine out in the open, but under the balcony it was boomy and echoey, and during the opening act it was deafening in there from everyone talking and getting to their seats.  I looked around to see who was talking and no one right around us was, the sound was coming from far away, and it was very distracting.

Also, the sightlines were impossible!  We were in the 24th row (and were under the balcony, that's how small the hall was), but could barely see the stage through the widebodies in front of us.  It was sold out and so we were packed in, but there was barely any pitch to the orchestra floor and when someone 5 rows in front of us stood up, it totally blocked our view (especially when he was big as a house).  Everyone in the place stood up and sat down like jack-in-the-boxes all through the concert, trying to see.  Luckily the guy in front of me had gotten his hair cut recently so that gave me a couple of extra millimeters to peep at the stage.  Sarah just gave up, she could barely see Susan Tedeschi when everyone was sitting down and had just no chance to see a thing when they were standing.  Oh well ... be forewarned about the Lynn Auditorium.

Having said all that, the concert was still fantastic.  Jamie Woods opened and ripped off some soulful blues, accompanied by a single electric guitarist.  After a long break TTB came out ... all 11 of them, and somehow crammed onto the small stage and blew the house down.  The backup vocalists were on risers behind the horn players over on the far right, Susan was to the left of them, Derek next to her, the drummers on risers behind them, and the bassist and keyboardist/flute player way over to the left.  With the seeing difficulties, there was no way to watch them all at once, even on such a small stage, but you could hear them all at once at least ... by the end of the show the sound guys (sitting a few rows behind us) had balanced it out pretty well.

And they were just incredible, phenomenal, and every other superlative you could pull out.  Derek played some of the best guitar I've ever witnessed, Susan kept bellowing the blues like you wouldn't believe (belying her little girl speaking voice), Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson rocked the whole North Shore on drums and percussion, Kofi Burbridge was excellent on keys and flute, Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers were riveting on high lonesome soulful backup vocals (and took a few leads), the horn section of Kebbi Williams (sax), Maurice Brown (trumpet), and Saunders Sermons (trombone and vocals) was more than worth the price of admission themselves, and the day's bass player was thundering.

They opened with the show-stopping Made Up Mind from their new record, covered several other tunes from the record and went deep into the rock/blues catalog too.  They did a beautiful, moving, Midnight in Harlem with a 5-minute guitar/organ/percussion introduction, a long, inspiring Bound For Glory, and a cover of Prine's Angel From Montgomery that Tedeschi possibly sang better than Bonnie ever did.  AND ... just to show how far out and far deep they could go, when they were jamming on the bridge Susan stepped up to the mike and ripped off, "When they come to take you down, when they bring that wagon round..."  A verse of the Dead's Sugaree in the middle of Angel From Montgomery?!?!  This just emphasized how masterful this band was.

After one long, long set of killer blues from a killer band that filled the stage and filled our eardrums, they came back out for a two-song encore (Susan thanked her many family members in attendance), and then faded off into the night.  We made it out of there and out of Lynn after a little difficulty (but before most of the crowd apparently), and then back home.  DSO  tonight!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bonnie Raitt at the Orpheum

Again, we were very excited a few months ago when we got the chance to buy tickets for Bonnie Raitt on November 17th.  I hadn't seen her since 1976!

The Sunday arrived and after a long bout with leaves, a short nap, and a nice dinner at Scollay Square on the lower end of Beacon Street, we crouched our way into the Orpheum and got our chance to spend $20 on a couple of drinks.  The Orpheum may be good for performers and may have good sound, but it reminds me of the old Garden in that you're always looking for the fire exits and you have to squeeze in and out, and it reminds me of Fenway in the size of the seats/legroom and the [in]convenience of the bathrooms and concessions.  Oh yeah, it's very much "old Boston."

Anyway, Bonnie was excellent.  Marc Cohn opened, accompanied by top-notch keyboardist Glenn Patscha (Ollabelle).  Then Bonnie came on with her old-school band of  guitarist George Marinelli, bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataar, and organ player Mike Finnigan.  We were delighted!  She did many of the songs from her new record, but also mixed in classics like Angel From Montgomery, Dimming Of the Day, and Love Me Like a Man.

Bonnie brought out Bonnie Hayes, the writer of some of her Grammy-winning songs and currently head of the song-writing department at Berklee, to sing her Have a Heart for an encore.  Fantastic concert and not much of a struggle home on a Sunday night!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ol' Brown Shoe In a Corner at Kitty's

It had been a while since we'd seen Ol' Brown Shoe so we spun over to Kitty O'Shea's Irish Pub in Beverley, late on a Friday night.  The place is definitely set up like a cozy pub, with lots of little nooks.  Might be a nice place to go back to on a lazy night, but that night it was packed and even the American-style wheelchair entrance and deck were full.

Got ensconced up front and the band was set up in one of the nooks, which turned out to be a sound challenge.  But they were great anyway, hitting some of their best songs in Wonder's Boogie On Reggae Woman, Gaye's What's Going On, Larry's Prison Walls, the Brothers' Blue Sky, and of course many tunes by the Good Ol' Grateful Dead.  Their cover of Shakedown Street is fantastic.  AND I was able to answer, "Who wrote that one?" with, "Hank Williams!!!"

Talked to Larry a bit and Mary showed up so had a nice chat with her, between the loud sounds and the enthusiastic crowd.  Setlist:

Set 1: Beat it on Down the Line, Funky Biotch, China Cat -> Prison Walls, Boogie on Reggae Woman, You Win Again, Back on the Train, Sugaree
Set 2: Possum, Scarlet Begonias -> Midnight Rider, Shakedown St, Blue Sky, Chalkdust Torture -> What's Goin On
Encore: Tangled Up in Blue

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Phil Lesh in Port Chester, part 1??

For many reasons too tedious to list (like we wanted to see him), the best solution for November 2nd was to go see Phil Lesh and Friends at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester NY.  It was a Saturday so Sarah and I got a leisurely start and had a beautiful drive on a sunny mid-Fall day down to Connecticut, along the Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways to Stamford, where Dave had gotten us a discount room at the Hampton Inn.  Dave showed up soon after we did and we yucked it up for a while in the room before taking off for the short and frenetic thruway drive towards the NY border, and then the long crawl through congested city sprawl over the Byram River into downtown Port Chester, where we parked in the theatre's lot.

We had a totally excellent Mexican dinner at the Kiosko Restaurant a few blocks away from the Capitol.  And I mean totally excellent: I got the quesadilla de la casa, Sarah got a camarones dish, and Dave got a salmón dish, all melt in your mouth.  If you're looking for "American" Mexican food and have no appreciation of just-baked corn tortillas and rojo sauce that'll peel off the paint and verde sauce that tastes so piquant it's sweet, then this is not the place for you.

Short detour to their mellow Shakedown Street, where Dave got an awesome sweater, and then we waited in line for General Admission.  We were the second group in line but some people had gamed it by talking their way into the box office inside and then waiting there at the nearer doors, but whatever.  We got in and moved right up to the stage, not quite in the Phil Zone, but basically dead center.  Can't complain about that.  A few beers, some talking with kindly security guys (we liked the Capitol a lot, they've got it together) and fellow spectators, and then American Jubilee came on.

American Jubilee is a product of Phil's Terrapin Crossroads incubator, and consists of his younger son Brian, the dynamic guitar player Ross James, and several others.  Phil had announced that each night on this tour would have a theme, oriented to a classic music album.  American Jubilee opened with a raunchy Cinnamon Girl and we were off (they did Young's Round and Round later)!  Here's a link to an aud of their show.  They're a rocking country band that seems like it could play anything and make it sound good.  We loved their music, as did the growing and growing crowd.

By the end of their set it was getting pretty packed in there, and the crowd kept growing through the rest of the night.  By the end we were pressed up against the stage pretty good, but it was ok and basically remained mellow.  There were several characters who were sure that Phil wanted them to be up front, but we talked them out of it, and there were several concert-goers who did *not* want to let us old people (mostly Deadicated types up front, like us) return to our "seats" after bathroom/beer breaks ... we and our stage-front neighbors had to take turns protecting our prime places, which worked out ok but was sometimes a hassle.  By the way, they had good local beer on tap, which was my choice of course.

Then Phil came on.  He had his son Grahame, the almost-famous Anders Osborne, and the pedigreed-at-a-young-age (North Mississippi All-Stars and Black Crowes) Luther Dickinson on guitar; Dickinson mostly played lead while the two others played the chords, but they alternated and were very democratic.  Tony Leone of Ollabelle(!) played drums, and Jason Crosby did the organ/piano/synth thing and also picked up the fiddle for a few numbers.  We were psyched to see these guys play!

And play they did.  Phil is a heck of a bandleader and he had them doing the right thing, following his lead, and then diving off the reservation with no hesitation when he asked them to.  There were lots of smiles all night from everybody in the band, this was a great example of talented musicians putting in a professional performance that rocked.

They continued the Neil Young theme (doing most of Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere, Young's 1969 record), and mixed in a bunch of ... well, here's the list and here's a link to one of three auds on IA:

Set 1
Ramblin' Man (Dickey Betts)
Down By the River (Neil Young)
Dire Wolf
The Losing End (Neil Young)
Cumberland Blues

Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)
Shake What Yo Mama Gave You (Lil John??)
Running Dry (Neil Young)
All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)
Death Don't Have No Mercy (Gary Davis)
Going Down the Road Feeling Bad
Help On the Way
Franklin's Tower

Donor Rap
Cowgirl In the Sand (Neil Young)
I Ain't the One (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

We were close enough to see the setlists they had taped to the floor and I knew Ramblin' Man was going to be the opener ... this blew the crowd away!  I hope they do an Allman Brothers tribute sometime in the tour.  They also did a nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd, who's music they covered to a great extent the next night.  Here's some more notes:
  • Phil's singing was as good as I've ever heard it, I guess his throat was feeling good.  Of particular note was a beautiful cover of Peggy-O.
  • Great ensemble singing and playing all night, listen to Cumberland and the transition into Watchtower.
  • Dickinson was wailing on lead guitar, 6 feet in front of us and filling our eardrums with loud and clear sounds.
  • I've been following Leone for years and think he's great but after this performance had to re-evaluate ... he's better than great!  Phil was chuckling all night at some of the sly fills Tony would come up with and the way he'd anticipate what was coming next from the big guy.
  • Crosby is really an incredible keyboard player and had plenty of chances to show his nimbleness.  I've not been a fan of his on fiddle, but the pieces he did were very accomplished as well.  He also had some great face-English when pumping the B-3 and cranking the Leslie.
  • After shock 1 (Ramblin' Man), shock 2 was the second set opening with a short feedback segment into the roller-coaster of Caution.  This was what we came for and will come for again.
  • How many times can you say, "one of the best Sugarees?"  This is a classic song that was sweeter than sweet. 
  • Shock 3 (that I knew was coming from my peeks at the setlist) was the Help suite.  Everyone thought GDTRFB was the end, and then they struck that opening Help sequence in unison ... awesome.
This all was very satisfactory to say the least.  We hung around a bit at the end, but the crowd wasn't dispersing quickly at all on a Saturday night and we finally pushed our way out into the open air.  Made our way back to the car with our ears ringing, found our way back to the frantic thruway, and then pulled into the Hampton for a short wind-down and then a long night's sleep.

Phil has made some bomb-shell announcements lately.  Furthur announced a year-long hiatus and soon after that Phil said that he was done with the road for good ... we'll see what happens there.  And then right after the show we saw, Phil announced a contract with the promoter of the Capitol for 30 nights next year!  We may be haunting the Hampton in Stamford (and the Kiosko) again, sooner than you might expect.