Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pine Hill Project in Cambridge

Richard Shindell is an all-star and a triple-threat folk musician: songwriting, guitar, and voice.  Some of his best work has been with accompaniment by another all-star, Lucy Kaplansky.  I heard that those two had finally united for a project, and then heard that the two of them were playing in Cambridge with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, who are way up on my list of all-stars themselves.

Club Passim was hosting them, but the concert was at the historic First Parish Church in Cambridge, right on the corner of Church Street in Harvard Square.  Another case of getting tickets as soon as possible of course.

The Pine Hill Project's record came out in the meantime, produced by Larry naturally, and with him all over it.  I heard Shindell interviewed on WUMB a few days before the concert.  Dave Palmatier asked him where the name came from, and Shindell talked about Thoreau saying that he "Needed to climb up on the Pine Hill" to clear his mind.  Thoreau meant this metaphorically.  He went on to say that as an individual, he felt he should be able to "find a Pine Hill within myself."  Shindell also said that he (not Thoreau) was a Deadhead (when asked about their cover of I Know You Rider).

Anyway, we had an early Saturday dinner at Russell House Tavern in HSq and then sauntered over to the church well before the doors opened, only to find 50 people already in line!  Made it in eventually and went right up to the front, where there were unaccounted-for seats in the first pew ... which we grabbed.  Campbell and Williams came out for a first set with Jeffrey Hill, who was filling in for the AWOL Byron Isaacs.

They were fantastic.  Larry had several acoustic guitars on stage and stuck to them, while Teresa played some fine rhythm.  They did If I Had My Way, Lamps Trimmed and Burning, several originals we hadn't heard (they have an album coming out in June), a Louvin Brothers song, Big River, and were just absolutely excellent.  We talked to Kate and Mager at the break and they were gobstruck, especially by Teresa's emoting on Lamps, which we'd seen on display at the Lesh and Friends concerts last year.

Then the break and finally Richard and Lucy came on and I have to say their set did not meet expectations.  There were some great moments, like Larry playing some fantastic mandolin on Wichita (the Welch song), Lucy's new song Reunion, Richard's re-imagined Are You Happy Now, the beautiful Rain Just Falls, etc.  But there was lots of boring tuning, slow song after slow song, Richard practicing his electric guitar licks on stage instead of sticking to what he does well, a laborious Next Best Western, and more tuning.

Don't get me wrong, the set was delightful, though it was below my expectations.  Richard and Lucy sound so good together it's criminal, and Larry is just a marvel, taking over Wichita and many other songs on mandolin, rocking out on guitar, and playing some of the best, most ethereal pedal steel I've ever heard.  Another highlight was Lucy's Ten Year Night, which is a fabulous song ... those two have written some of the best modern folk songs.  But this was another slow dirge and what we needed was some pep, especially in a hot and stuffy church on a Saturday night with our pews getting more and more uncomfortable.

They finally concluded with what we'd been waiting all night to hear: their cover of I Know You Rider.  Again, done very well, featuring some technically fantastic leads from Larry, but done slowly.  Larry tried to get a jam going and did for a while; Lucy almost had to push him out of the way so she could get back to the mike and sing another verse when what this needed was some freelancing.  Oh well.

They brought Teresa out with them for the encore: Greg Brown's Oh Lord I Have Made You a Place In My Heart.  More excellence here: Teresa fit incredibly tastefully between Richard and Lucy, possibly channeling Dar Williams from the Cry Cry Cry record.  But this wasn't quite the rocker we were hoping for ... oh well again.  They were done and left the stage to a fitting standing ovation, this was a band of all-stars after all and though I may grouse, there was a ton of excellence shown.

Long walk back up Mass Ave. to our parking spot, but there are signs that another brutal New England winter may be on its last legs, and it was Saturday night!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dave and Phil Alvin in Cambridge

Dave and Phil Alvin were so off-the-charts fantastic at GRF last summer, and when we saw they were playing Sinclair in Cambridge, we grabbed tickets immediately.  Made it to busy Harvard Square on the first full day of Spring and were able to squeeze into the parking lot on Church Street, then get in line at the club.  We looked around when we got inside but finally figured what the heck, we were going to stand in front of the stage, right between the brothers.

The Far West opened and played a rocking, tight set that warmed up our eardrums, including a Hank Williams song.  Dave came out to join them for the last number, Townes' White Freightliner, which they killed!

Then one more beer and the place was suddenly packed, squishing us a bit up against the stage.  Dave and Phil came out with Dave's ace band of Lisa Pancratz, Brad Fordham, and Chris Miller, and they proceeded to tear the place up.  The band was on like you wouldn't believe, Phil was doing his jaw-dropping vocals, and Dave was as supreme as ever on the blues-rock guitar.

We were so close to Dave (basically 2 feet when he was at his mike), that we could see details of his guitar style.  He had a thumbpick that he plucked with his forefinger, and used two other fingers to pick the higher notes.  He had three tight rings on his right hand that looked functional (as well as stylistic), helping him keep his fingers stiff.  The nails on his left hand were all polished and cut short, helping with his quick precision on the fretboard.

Phil played acoustic guitar on most numbers, but pulled the harps out of jacket and jeans pockets and wailed away, trying to make as much noise as his younger brother.  At some points when he was really blowing you could see the glands on his lean neck puffing up bigger and bigger.

And the band was having such a great night, this was incredible stuff.  Lisa for one was having a fantastic night, and actually smiled and bowed to the crowd, as opposed to the stiff manner she had shown when we'd seen her before.  I think they really appreciated to reception they got from the full room of people.  Kate came up front for a few numbers and we all heckled Dave ... he loved it.

We picked up a setlist from the stage after the show, but they digressed a bit here and there.  I think this one is accurate:

All By Myself
I Feel So Good
Key To The Highway
You've Changed
How You Want It Done?
Southern Flood Blues
Border Radio
Out of Control
The Stuff They Call Money
Truckin' Little Woman
What's Up With Your Brother?
Please, Please, Please
Dry River
One Bad Stud

Johnny Ace Is Dead
Marie, Marie
Break On Through To The Other Side
So Long Baby Goodbye

I was glad to hear so many old Blasters songs, in particular Border Radio, and One Bad Stud from the Streets of Fire soundtrack (actually a Leiber-Stoller song).  Phil just killed the James Brown song Please Please Please ... possibly the highlight of the night.  They of course rocked out on Dry River and gave Lisa a break for an excellent drum solo.

We were pleased with the long encore.  I called Marie Marie, which was not tough to do :) ... a classic case of Dave writing a song for his older brother's excellent vocal instrument.  Break On Through was actually just a band-introduction interlude, interspersed with a few Doors lyrics.  Then they rocked out one more time and Dave and Phil posed for the crowd and then left while the band went on and on, finally finishing with a flourish.  They're off to the Iron Horse tonight and then to Australia and New Zealand, which I hope is ready for them!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fare Thee Well buildup, part 1??

As mentioned, the Grateful Dead (or at least Phil, Bobby, Billy, and Mickey) announced in January that they will be doing a 50th anniversary, final three concerts over the 4th of July weekend in Soldier Field, Chicago, with Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby, and Jeff Chimenti.  The event is being billed as "Fare Thee Well."  But of course, this announcement immediately raised a number of questions such as:

  • only three shows??
  • only Chicago?
  • only Anastasio?  why??
  • what about Tom Constanten and Donna Godchaux (who are also surviving members)?
  • will there be special guests?
  • how much do I have to pay?
  • do they realize what a big deal this is and how many people will do ridiculous things to attend?

Answers to some of these questions have been forthcoming.  They claim these 3 shows in Chicago are it, though people continue to doubt that.  They’ve mentioned that any choice of guitarist would be second-guessed and this is as good as any.  BUT, they seem not to have been prepared for the incredible ticket frenzy this announcement has created.

Their first round of tickets was offered through mail order and they got over 400K requests.  The Dead ticket office has expressed dumbfoundedness at this, saying that this is “many, many times the number we expected.”  I think most people in Deaddom would have anticipated this, but not them??

In the meantime, we decided that even though the price would be high, we wanted to go and would try for a couple of the hotel/ticket packages they were offering.  We planned to drive and Ricky planned to fly from Denver.  The subsequent swamping of the GD TOO with mail orders caused them to delay both the internet sales of the packages and the “general public” internet sale, and so we had to wait on the edge of our seats, counting down the days until February 27th.

I worked at home that morning and was set up with three computers with 7 open browser sessions as the 10AM CST on-sale time approached.  5 of my sessions crashed with server errors up to 15 minutes *before* the sale opened.  2 sessions were able to get through to their index page and I could click through to the individual pages offering room/ticket choices.  However, every choice I made returned a “no rooms available” message, which I interpreted as a database-too-busy error.  I kept on clicking and clicking, hoping to get a request accepted, but no such luck.  Eventually most of the pages returned “sold out.”

Finally after 50 minutes or so, the organizers (CID Entertainment) sent an email with direct links to the room selection forms for those who had been unable to get through at all.  But by that point everything was sold out, including the VERY expensive super-vip packages.  I read later that the available packages had sold out in 1 minute!

Originally we’d said that we were only interested in going if we could get a hotel package.  But we talked and agreed that we should try for any tickets in the general public sale the next morning, and worry about where to stay if we could get them.

On Saturday morning (2/28), Dave, Sarah, and I were each at our computers with a 4th open on my desk.  We were ready when the sale started, and were hoping to get 4 tickets for each day.  Dave tried to get Friday tickets, Sarah Saturday, and me Sunday and also 3-day passes on the other computer.  This sale was handled by Ticketmaster and they have a robust queuing system for frantic ticket sales.  But when we submitted our requests as fast as we could, we still got “over 15 minute wait” messages right away.

Dave and Sarah’s requests for Friday and Saturday never went through … their pages must have timed out and died though they never got error messages.  My Sunday requests were denied a few times (“no tickets available at this time, try again”) after long waits and I eventually gave up.

My 3-day requests on 2 browser sessions did finally get through!  But the tickets we were offered both times were in section 356, way up in the stratosphere to the back left of the stage, and were listed with a “these seats have no view of the stage” warning.  The organizers had decided to sell seats in the whole stadium instead of just seats with a view (“go 360”) and even these seats were around $60 plus fees.

We agonized about it for a few minutes while the “you have ?? seconds left to buy these tickets or you will lose them” ticker counted down.  But we finally decided to decline.  We were so psyched to go see the concert, but when we visualized showing up with that level of psych for three days in Chicago and then getting such disappointing seats in the far reaches of a football stadium where we’d just have to sit and watch the TV screens, we decided to stay home and hope for a more local option for watching it remotely.  We were ready to spend a lot of money on going, but the worth of it with just those tickets plummeted in our minds.  We’d been very excited about the experience, but realized that without the payoff of seeing the stage we might be very disappointed.  And we did not want to spend that much money/effort for an ultimately disappointing/frustrating experience, even though I’m sure it would have featured plenty of positive moments too.  Sure, we could have left the seats and tried to hang out in the concourse, but we realized thousands of others would be trying this and it would not be a mellow experience … in fact it might get nasty.

The sale ended and the reports about what had just happened (and the aftermath) started.  Not only had the hotel packages sold out in a minute, according to Ticketmaster the queue when the sales opened on Saturday had reached 500,000 requests, a new Ticketmaster record.  Since then the secondary market has been going crazy.  Reliable sources have reported that a ticket package was on sale for $1 million, and are currently reporting that 3-day tickets (for good seats) are going for as much as $116,000, and cheap individual tickets are averaging $1,350.

This means I could have bought those tickets and resold them at minimal hassle (at this date, Ticketmaster for one makes it very easy … just log in to your account and click “resell my tickets” and name your price … they get 10% of the price).  I could have easily sold the 24 tickets (8 tickets for 3 days) for $1000 each, even though they were “no view.”  When I log on to secondary sale sites now I see tickets in section 356 going for that price.  But I’m very glad I didn’t do that.  We decided that we would have been disappointed with those seats for this marvelous event, and we did the right thing to let other people snap them up.  This was not the time to enter the rip-off culture … though a profit of $22.5K for an hour’s work is pretty good (the 3-day tickets for 4 seats were @$755)!

So we’re going through stages of shock and rationalization, as are many, many other Deadheads all over the world.  Billboard reports that they would estimate ticket demand “in the millions.”  I think it’s clear that the Dead could have gone on a lengthy farewell tour and sold out football stadia all over the country.  But this isn’t happening.

People at the Dead50 site are in shock too, as I say.  But their last update says, “If you do not have tickets, please know that we are working on various ways to help everyone experience these shows in a way that will help you share this special moment with us.”  We think it possible that they will offer closed-circuit simulcasts at select theaters throughout the country, possibly in Boston, but more likely in Port Chester NY, where we’ve been recently to see P&F.  So we’re staying tuned!