Friday, January 31, 2014

Loon in January

It's been a very cold winter and conversely, not a great winter for snow in the N.E. mountains.  But by later January many mountains had made enough snow for an acceptable base, and Thursday the 30th turned out to be a good day for me and Marnie to head to Loon.

Normal weekday start at 7, and we got up to the mountain and onto the gondola by 9:30.  I really liked Loon because of the variability of the terrain, some great conditions (especially on the North side), fast lifts, and lack of crowds.  Had a couple of run-ins with ice on the steeper slopes, including one slip that dinged my hip, but basically run after run of good snow on open, twisting slopes.  Great fun, and made it home by a bit after 6:00.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cold and Hard Working Americans

Again I say, if you haven't heard [exciting new band], stop reading and go listen to them immediately.  In this case it's Hard Working Americans, an incredible band that's even better than the sum of its very talented parts.

It was formed around Todd Snider at Bob Weir's TRI Studios.  As Snider said live on WUMB yesterday, "I've been a folk singer for years.  I wanted to be a band leader and play music people could dance to."  The lineup is Snider on vocals and harmonica, Neal Casal on guitar, Dave Schools on bass, Chad Staehly on keyboards, and Duane Trucks on drums.  It was one of those wonderful things for me when I heard a track by them on the radio and said, "Who's this??" ... and then I heard another and I was in love with this band.  And then I saw that they were playing the Brighton Music Hall on January 24th, and you'd better believe I got tickets as soon as possible.

The core guys in Hard Working Americans are supplemented on their record by John Popper on harmonica, John Keane on guitar and banjo, and Jason Crosby on fiddle and piano.  And last night they were joined by Jesse Aycock on guitar and lap steel.  They're basically a cover band at this point (but what song choices and what great covers!), though some of the covers are covers of Todd Snider tunes.  They have such great talent in the band, and I sure hope they stay together and write some songs for themselves.

After a routine drive into Allston on a Friday rush hour, I found a parking space just a block from the Music Hall and dashed through the very cold evening over to Deep Ellum.  We've been having another cold spell in Boston and it was down to single digits already.  I grabbed the second-to-last table and Sarah showed up soon, as well as many, many others.  By the time we finished dinner (and some excellent cask-conditioned Jaipur IPAs from Thornbridge Brewery) the place was totally packed with people younger than us, some of them also gushing about the HWA show they were about to see.

We bustled over to the hall soon after the doors opened, with a stop at the car to warm up.  We grabbed some wall space over to stage left and the place filled up quickly.  Caroline Rose opened with Jer Coons accompanying on stand-up bass.  She did some great original gospel/confessional blues, though the place was just abuzz with excitement about the main act.  Then HWA came on and were as good as we'd all anticipated.

Don't know where to start here.  Snider was singing with the expression of an opera star, but the funk of a swamper.  Schools was not playing his Alembic bass (a Fender??), but was rocking those low, booming notes and dancing on the fretboard.  Casal and Aycock were crackling like fireworks on the guitars, Staehly was laying down a beautiful groove on the keys, and Trucks was a madman on drums.  He had some of the biggest cymbals I've ever seen and knew how to use them.  Snider was definitely the leader in terms of what songs they played with what style, but Casal was the rhythm leader, keeping eye contact with everybody in the band and strumming the beat.  These guys are pros.

Here's the setlist:
  • Down To the Well
  • Train Song
  • Blackland Farmer
  • Another Train
  • Is This Thing Working
  • Run a Mile
  • I Don't Have a Gun
  • Mr. President
  • Welfare Music
  • Straight To Hell
  • Mountain Song
  • Stomp and Holler
  • She Belongs To Me
  • Wrecking Ball
  • Guaranteed
Boy, these guys *know* the Great American Songbook.  In the WUMB interview, AlbertO asked them to play one last song and Snider said, "What do you want to hear?"  Albert asked for "Alejandro [Escovedo]" and Snider said, "Well, 70s or 80s" ... and Albert asked for "Van."  Snider said ok, told Casal the chord sequence, and the pair of them whipped off a soulful Gloria like you wouldn't believe.

I moved up front for the encore.  A fine-looking woman complained that I was taller than her and now was standing in front of her.  I offered to trade places and she declined, a little embarrassed that she'd spoken up.  So I grabbed her by the shoulders and we did the dosey doe so she was in front and I was in back.  She was delighted.  Then the band came out and did an incredible Dylan cover and then knocked us dead with the song I most wanted to hear, Welch and Rawling's Wrecking Ball, a masterpiece of American road/life/Weltschmerz/mystery.

We cheered and cheered and then they came out for a second encore.  I think the band was delighted with their reception ... there was certainly not a person in the house who wasn't delighted.  They rewarded us with another Todd Snider original.

Sarah took some excellent pictures:

In case you haven't already taken my advice and listened to these guys, here's their video of Stomp and Holler:

Monday, January 20, 2014

More Carrie Rodriguez

Show time was 8:30 for Carrie Rodriguez (and Luke Jacobs) at Johhny D's yesterday, and our "dinner seating" was 6-6:30!?!  We headed over there after the Patriots defeat in the AFC championship game to the Broncos, and still beat almost everyone, though we were a bit after our time.  The room was filled with tables and they put us right in front of the stage.  After a nice couple of burgers, some good Slumbrew beer, many hands of cribbage, and a short conversation with Carrie, we were ready.  And by then all the tables had filled up; the stage side was pretty packed, though the bar side was relatively empty.

Carrie changed into her stomping shoes (she was wearing a sparkly red dress with a big bow at the waist that made her look like a Christmas present), Luke wore his usual suspenders and derby, and they got right into it.  If you've never heard her, Carrie is not particularly flashy, not particularly funky, not in the top echelon of song writers, her songs don't have a lot of hooks, and she's not the best singer around.  But she's incredibly talented and produces beautiful music that you need to bear with a bit before it sinks into you.

She's from Texas and has the twang to prove it, but is Berklee-educated and has the technical chops to prove that.  An interesting contrast is with the Texas singer-songwriter we saw the night before, Robert Earl Keen.  Carrie would never approach a song (or a note) with the laconic ease he does, and her songs are the opposite of in-your-face, but they've both got that Texas singer-songwriter panache ... like, why would I be doing anything other than this??

Here's the setlist:

I Don't Mind Waiting
Devil In Mind
50's French Movie
Lake Harriet
Get Back In Love
Oh God (Luke's song about his parents)
Wayfaring Stranger/Greasy Strings (fiddle medley)
Bury Me Beneath the Willow (Carter Family)
She Ain't Me
Got Your Name On It
Seven Angels On a Bicycle
I Cry For Love
Sad Joy
La Puñalada Trapera

Not bad eh?  Had another bit of a talk with her after the show, and she remembered playing at Northeast Harbor, ME with Chip Taylor, the first time we saw her ... probably hard to forget if you're from Texas!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Robert Earl Keen Jr. in Boston

Robert Earl Keen might have been leading the pack in the "currently touring musicians I've liked for a long time but have never seen."  I first heard him in the mid-80s and his albums back then were great, but what got me about them was the great songs he was writing, and I don't feel he's come up to that level for a long time.  Whatever ... he's still worth seeing and the concert last night at Royale in Boston was great.

We did our "theater district" thing of parking in Sarah's building and then walking over there, through some small piles of the wet snow that had come down suddenly that morning and afternoon.  Robert Earl asked what we called weather like this ... "January thaw" is the proper answer but he said he'd call it "duck weather."

The room wasn't packed (though the floor was), and the balcony was closed.  Robert Earl came out and introduced the opener (not many headliners do this!), Andrea Davidson, who did a set of bluesy, hard-luck songs.  She closed with a cover of The Lumineers Ho-Hey and this caused some people to pay attention, though before that it had been ridiculous how many people were talking, shouting, and laughing through her set, like she was just some kind of weird distraction.

There was a funny mix of people at the show, about a third of us were baptized Robert Earl fans who knew all the lyrics and what lines to shout along with, a third were lukewarm fans who seemed to be enjoying it but were a little taken aback by the rabid fans, and a third of the people seemed to have just wandered in there and had no idea what to make of (e.g.) all those people holding up their beers and shouting every word of Merry Xmas From the Family.  Robert Earl was delighted by the rabid fans, and seemed to take pleasure in shocking the clueless types with his grim and weird stuff, like Corpus Christi Bay, Blow You Away, and The Great Hank.

Here's the set list:

  • I'm Coming Home
  • Corpus Christi Bay
  • Shades Of Gray
  • Amarillo Highway (Terry Allen)
  • That Bucking Song
  • Play a Train Song (Todd Snider)
  • Blow You Away
  • Broken End Of Love
  • Flying Shoes
  • Lonely Feeling
  • Feeling Good Again
  • Gringo Honeymoon
  • Merry Christmas From the Family
  • The Great Hank
  • Leaving In a Limo
  • I've Gotta Go
  • The Road Goes On Forever
  • The Front Porch Song
  • New Life In Old Mexico

You could have scraped me off the floor after the first 4 songs ... wow!  He had a band of Marty Muse on pedal steel/keyboard, Tom Van Schaik on drums, Bill Whitbeck on bass, and his long-time accompanist, the great Rich Brotherton on electric, acoustic, and mandolin.

This was a really fun concert, we both had a fantastic time.  But Robert Earl definitely isn't what he used to be.  He mumbles some lines (luckily we knew the words) and doesn't present his beautiful lyrics in the best way; he simply rocks out when he should be dynamic.  I'd love to hear him do some of those incredible songs with just him and Brotherton on acoustics in some coffeehouse (dream on).  He did come out solo for the encore and did an excellent version of The Front Porch song before the band joined him to rock us out the door with New Life In Old Mexico.  Great stuff! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Playing Dead In the Middle East

Dave was in town on holiday vacation on January 3rd and, after yet another snowstorm, we were settling in for a long winter’s night when we saw on Larry’s FB that he was sitting in with Playing Dead at the Middle East (upstairs)!  Took us a few seconds to think: we’re shoveled out, snow emergency in Cambridge is over, let’s go!

Got the times wrong and so were earlier than we needed to be, but a few hands of rummy later (with a couple of pitchers served by a glum woman from the Middle East), we moseyed into the upstairs room and grabbed some spots in front of the keyboards.  Strange that we’d never seen Playing Dead before but had seen Larry’s band, Ol’ Brown Shoe, many times.  Playing Dead was missing some guys because of sickness and the lineup we saw was Mark Munzer (keys), Jim Harris (guitar), Tony Ryon and Brian Epstein (drums), with Larry Mancini and John Brigham filling in on guitar and bass respectively.

I’m perhaps biased, but they were smart enough to feature Larry all night, for example on the opening That’s What Love Will Make You Do.  Then they ripped off a whole night’s worth of excellent tunes.  Larry had told Dave that they would be doing primarily Dead tunes, but this included a few borderline JGB tunes if you’re going to be a stickler for accuracy.  Whatever, highlights were: Hard To Handle, Tough Mama (one of my favorite songs from the first time I heard it), The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Easy Wind, Brown-Eyed Women, Eyes Of the World (into TOO!), and an end-of-the-set Spencer Davis Group song I can’t remember.

Dave, we, and everyone in the almost-packed place was delighted, dancing hard, and singing along.  These people were not casual viewers … we all were there on a barely post-snow-apocalypse night because we were psyched to hear this music and these guys played it well to say the least!

The car was very cold when we got back to it, on a deserted Mass Ave.  It was 2AM and 1 degree Fahrenheit when we got home.

Pictures at:

Here's Tough Mama:

And here's Easy Wind:

And here's Eyes: