Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dead & Company, Hartford 2016

The zeitgeist is so strong right now, but if I read this post in a few years it might not be as obvious ... but in 2016, Deadhead Nation have been dying to see Dead & Company again.  Their summer tour has been VASTLY anticipated.  As posted before, we saw them in Worcester last year and I have not heard one bad thing about them.  In fact, everyone I've talked to about Dead & Company has gushed about them.  Their return is BIG news among Deadhead-dom.

The Fall 2015 tour was amazing; they didn't do a Winter or Spring tour, and when they finally announced a Summer 2016 tour (back in March?), many people got tickets immediately.  Especially with the historic venues they were going to play, including three major league ballparks (correction: two major league parks and one Div 1 football stadium).  One of these is Fenway Park and we've got "turf" tickets for both shows there this coming July.  But never mind that, we also got tickets to see them in Hartford this June 28th!!

They've been on tour since June 10 and Hartford was basically the end of the first leg, hitting up various places on the East coast and as far West as Indiana.  After the Hartford show they have a few days off and then surface in Colorado, from where they'll depart for Wisconsin, Michigan, and then back East to Fenway for the last dates of the second leg of their tour, which will resume a few days after that out in the Pacific Northwest.

But enough setting the scene, we were VERY excited to see them, to have tickets, and to have the date be so wonderfully positioned to kick off our summer.  The present day tried to fuck things up of course, including Dave being sick and the traffic being amazingly oppressive for a Tuesday afternoon.  But we were eventually trucking down to Hartford with Dave and his friend J, and arrived there through a final madhouse of cars trying to get into the parking lots by 5:30 or so for the 7:30 show.  It was mobbed!

Perfect timing apparently to get the farthest spaces in the parking lot from the venue itself (which is partly good but mostly bad).  I suspected that the parking lot was built on a toxic waste dump.  And there were no porta-potties!  But whatever, we pissed in the woods by the railroad track, set up our chairs, and had a few sandwiches and beers while the authorities did a few desultory sweeps of the lots and a few vendors strolled by with their wares.

Rain and thunderstorms had been forecast, and we sure experienced some rain on the way down there and the way back, but that evening the rain mostly held off and luckily, the lightning was being very lazy and didn't come close.  OK, done with the hanging out, time to trek over to the venue: Xfinity Theatre.

The official t-shirt stands were set up in the plaza in front of the amphitheater, and Dave ended up getting a good one.  We entered and found our seats, which were close to the stage but as far right as could be, up against the wall.  Oh well, wish we could have seen better (a lot was blocked by Jeff's keyboard setup and we couldn't even see him that well), but the sound was fine and we had a wonderful, wonderful time.  Our seats way over on the right were $85 and I saw that almost every other seat in that section was $150, so we couldn't complain.

Wandered up to the lawn to check things out.  The far side of it overlooked the load-in lot and there were 5 tour busses parked there (which of the band doesn't get his own bus?), and at least 10 identical tractor trailers with sleek, red cabs.  Then eventually wound back to the seats.  By then our section was pretty filled, though people were still streaming in at 7:30.  The show started pretty much on time anyway.  What can I say, the guys came out and lined up as expected and we were flying!  Here's the first set:

Hell In a Bucket
Cold Rain and Snow
Queen Jane Approximately
Big River
Row Jimmy
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Cumberland Blues

Dead & Company are phenomenal, and the most fascinating thing about the phenomenon is John Mayer's playing.  Great songs have a depth of melodic possibilities, and one of the great things about Garcia was that he could plumb all the melodic possibilities of a song and present them in a freaky order that had you standing on your ear.  Mayer can do the same thing, with the same songs, exposing different melodic possibilities and standing on different ears.  He plays the whole song, not just drifting on top of it but exuding the guts to dive deep under the dark surface and emerge with a gem.  Person after person I've talked to says he's the best fill-in for Garcia they've heard since Garcia's death, and then quickly follow that up with, "But he's more than a fill-in!"  I'm in total agreement.
  • Hell In a Bucket was not the most dynamic start to a set, though this song can really rock and they warmed to it very quickly.  Fantastic Barlow lyric.
  • Cold Rain and Snow has always been a favorite of mine.  This song has *possibilities* (see above) which have been plumbed by some great guitarists over the years, but Mayer has plenty to add and he went right to it.  Listen to these leads!
  • This was one of the best Queen Jane's I've heard, one of the classics from Dylan's finest period.
  • Big River started off really funky, or disorganized, or both, but then they got it together and killed it.
  • Row Jimmy and Mississippi Uptown came from outer space and thundered through our souls.  What I said about John; and Oteil on bass and harmony was incredible, and the drummers were just hammering stuff, and Jeff was so in sync with everybody...
  • BUT don't forget Bob Weir.  He played it all a little mellow, not using an aggressive guitar sound, and not over-expressing on his vocals.  But when you speak of melody or rhythm or dynamics or anything musically ... well, you just have to listen to him.  I was listening to him as hard as I could, never mind the other incredible musicians on stage.
  • Cumberland was great too, though we knew it signalled the end of the first set.  This was possibly not as good as the first set we saw in Worcester last Fall (which was AMAZING), but still beyond belief.
They've been trying to keep up the pace of their shows, being old guys playing an ambitious schedule.  Bob did a short plug for registering to vote (they had booths on the plaza), and announced a short break.  For once, we believed him!  Time for a piss and beer, but they came back pretty soon.

There had been a lot of conjecture about what they'd play, and dismay at the fact that they'd played all their best songs over the weekend and so wouldn't be repeating them.  But come on ... all their best songs?  They have so many great songs they could play for a long time at a high level without repeats ... and they did.  We anticipated Estimated and Eyes, and that's how they started:

Estimated Prophet
Eyes Of the World
Viola Lee Blues
The Wheel
Black Peter
U.S. Blues
  • Not the best Estimated I've heard, but I've heard a lot and this is one of those ineffable Grateful Dead songs.  The harmonies all night were great, with John contributing spacey (spooky in this case) overtones (and lead!) and Oteil reinforcing the tenor.  But the thing that stood out the most here was Weir's vocal, done in a subtly sad tone rather than a frenzied or preaching one.  It was like the apocalypse had already occurred and he was just repeating what he'd been telling us for decades.
  • OK, this was a great Eyes.  Again, I've heard so many, and there has to be a feature for one to stand out.  The feature here was that Oteil did a mellow, funky, spacey, perfect solo, deep into the second jam.  You have to hear this.
  • Deal has become part of the second set-Estimated-Eyes palette for them,  Still not sure how I feel about this, but this was a great cover.  They opened the second set in Worcester with it, and this wasn't quite to that level, but great.
  • Viola Lee Blues!  So glad that they're continuing to do this song, though the casual observer would have had a hard time believing that John was really up for a solid year.  He just doesn't look that tough.
  • Drums and Space were good, with Oteil (maybe someone else??) contributing some African-inflected rap and Jeff actually beating away on the drums.  Mickey got out his kalimba or something again.  As mentioned, we did not have the greatest sight lines, but we could hear the clown horns going at full tilt.
  • And then we were treated to their evolved cover of The Wheel, which was one of the high points of the night.  John does a "Stay just a little bit longer" tag (that is, he sings "Try just a little bit harder" with that melody), and then they shift it into a reggae beat that stands the song on edge.  And this song is pretty good anyway, to say the least.
  • I've come to realize that Bobby is going to sing Black Peter to me until I like it.  Search "Black Peter" in this blog to see all the times he's tried that.  I put this song near the top of my Dead pantheon and I continue to be a bit bothered when Bobby sings it and doesn't get the gravitas that Garcia (or Jim Lauderdale, listen to his cover) gave it.  But though the lead vocal wasn't there for me, it was closer, and the playing and harmonies and arrangement of this were just top-notch.  This cover of Black Peter spoke to me the way you want a great song to do.
  • Pretty quick U.S. Blues to end the set, sung by John.  They were getting tired and so were we.
OMG, what a fantastic experience!  They were on a tight schedule again, and barely left the stage before coming back for a short and tight Touch of Grey.  Then they gave quick waves and were off to Colorado.  See you guys at Fenway Fucking Park in a few weeks!!

Let the crowd exit for a bit.  One of the good things about our seats was that we were right near the exits.  Long trek over the toxic waste to our car, where J was waiting.  He'd scored a pit ticket!

We got out the chairs (and beer and sandwiches) and had to wait about 45 minutes before the line started to move at all, and then we eventually loaded up and got in it.  Long crawl to the highway before we broke free and headed back to Massachusetts.  I slept most of the way back (as did J), but Dave coached Sarah very well through torrents of rain, and the bus made it back.  In bed by 3:30 or so!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dolly Parton At the Wang Theater

Until Tuesday night (6/21, the first full day of summer and the anniversary of my Mom's death) at Boston's Wang Theater, I had never seen Dolly Parton.  And this was HIGH on my personal list of "have never seen" grievances.  I mean come on, she's got to be in the top 10 of the list of great American [music] writers of my generation, and even higher on the list of ones I think are great.  She's had 25 #1 hits in her life, and has written a bunch of songs I would put in my top 100.  Coat Of Many Colors, To Daddy, Down From Dover, Jolene, My Tennessee Mountain Home ... she writes the real country blues.

Anyway, time to stop gushing and to say that she announced a North American tour this summer that she says herself is the most extensive she's done in 25 years.  I don't remember her ever coming to the Northeast.  She announced a date in Tanglewood and one at Bangor's riverside amphitheater early on (both too far away for me), but then said she'd be adding dates drip by drip and agonizingly was not coming any closer to Boston.  Finally she announced a date at the Wang and I jumped on the opportunity to get tickets, as did a lot of others apparently, since the best seats I could get were third row in the balcony (behind the first rows of the balcony, which is called the mezzanine at the Wang).  Whatever, they were fine seats and we were psyched!

Drove into the city after work on a Tuesday and we walked through the crowded Common in beautiful early summer down to Jacob Wirth's, where we realized we were a little tired of it.  Had a nice meal despite that and then walked around the block and snuck in the back way to the Wang, which had people pouring in, many dressed in their best cheap country glamour.  Found our seats, got a beer, stared at the over the top theater (just like Dolly!), and then the show started.

Signs warned us that haze and smoke would be used in the performance, and there were several other artifices used, such as a drum machine and a taped chorus on one song, and a teleprompter that blocked off part of our view.  In some situations I would find these things objectionable or hokey, but Dolly was so up front about it, telling us at length how a drum machine (used on 4-5 of the songs only) was cheaper than bringing along a drummer, joking about her costumes and enhancements, and telling us, "But this is what you wanted to see, right?"  She was right.  And what's not artificial about the electric guitar filters, light shows, and sampling/looping we would hear and dig at rock shows?

And one of the great things was that the whole theater was a rainbow parade of horny heterosexuals, demure women who really wanted to be like Dolly, and gay guys who thought she was fabulous, as well as some people like me who think she's a plumb musical genius.  She was definitely whacked with the song stick (and the show-person stick) early in life and represents a great story of a woman singer persevering and conquering in a male-dominated world.  And that's not to mention her parents, whom she spoke of many times: an illiterate father and a mother married at 15 and with 12 kids by 30 who encouraged her daughters and sons to be themselves.  That's America.

So she came out from a gauzy haze to great applause, wearing a white jumpsuit with many rhinestones, white heels, and see-through calves.  They did a really short "Hello Dolly!" introduction and then she jumped right into her first song.  She did two sets and here's the first:
  • Hello Dolly
  • Train, Train
  • Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That
  • Jolene
  • Pure & Simple
  • Precious Memories
  • My Tennessee Mountain Home
  • Coat of Many Colors
  • Smoky Mountain Memories
  • Applejack
  • Rocky Top/Yakety Sax
  • Banks of the Ohio
  • Medley: American Pie / If I Had a Hammer / Blowin' In the Wind / Dust In the Wind / The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  • The Seeker
  • I'll Fly Away
The show was precisely orchestrated, and the setlist was almost identical to what she's been playing at other stops on the tour.  She was accompanied by a small band: Richard Dennison on keyboards (mostly a grand piano), organ, percussion, and vocals; Tom Rutledge on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, double-bass, banjo, and vocals; and Kent Wells on lead electric/acoustic guitars, bass, and vocals.  It was really amazing how many instruments each played and how agilely they switched between them on every song.  They even had a riser set up for the absent drummer ("He's at home in Nashville, trying to figure out how to remove a rhinestone-encrusted high heel from his be-hind"), and Kent popped up over there at times for variety.

But all eyes were on Dolly and she sure showed her versatility, opening on acoustic and killing it on Jolene.  Her stage manager then wheeled out a "throne" for her to sit on and she accompanied herself with dulcimer on My Tennessee Mountain Home, autoharp on Coat Of Many Colors, and recorder on Smoky Mountain Memories.  The throne was wheeled offstage and she got out the fiddle for Applejack and then a small saxophone(!) for Rocky Top.  This was amazing.

Highlights of the set for me musically were her band's country funk on Why'd You Come In Here, her guitar on Jolene (as mentioned), her incredibly tasteful dulcimer on Tennessee Mountain Home, and her vocals!!  My Dog, she is ethereal in her down-home way.  Her headset mike was not set right for the first few songs (she's been playing a mix of venues and it showed), but then they got that right and she showed us the power.  Smoky Mountain Memories would have floored me if I wasn't sitting down and packed in like a sardine, she wrung the emotion and horror out of the traditional Banks Of the Ohio in two short verses (how did she do that?), and of course some of the classic songs she sang were beyond being emotional touchstones.

The band joined her for the crowd-pleasing country-pop medley, and then she wound down with a couple more songs and then strutted off stage for the break, showing off her enhancements of course, as she had at orchestrated times.  The announcer warned us the break would be only 20 minutes, but that was enough time for a quick beer and bathroom break.  There were many people wandering around that theater with huge smiles and not a negative sentiment could be heard.

Back for the second set and she came out with a black fringe skirt and tight white top, strumming an electric guitar!  She even ripped off a lead on the first song, as if we didn't know already that this woman had it together.  Here's the second set:
  • Baby, I'm Burning
  • Outside Your Door
  • The Grass Is Blue
  • Those Memories of You
  • Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Little Sparrow
  • Two Doors Down
  • Here You Come Again
  • Islands in the Stream
  • 9 to 5
This was a shorter set, but she mostly stuck to the hand-held mike and took over with her singing, as a great vocalist will do.  Her stage manager wheeled out a white grand piano with gauzy drapes for The Grass Is Blue, which is one of her best songs.  She was humble enough to point out that Norah Jones had done it better than she can, "But it's my song!"  She then hammered it out and showed that though Norah may be more precise, Dolly can country-croon like you wouldn't believe.

The band clustered around one mike for her mini-set of songs done by The Trio (her, Emmylou, and Linda Ronstadt in the 80s ... which will be re-released with 20 extra tracks this Fall(!)).  And probably the moment of the night that will most stay with me is her singing along with the boys but DOMINATING on one of her most excellent songs ever, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.  She then laughed and told how they'd worked that out on the bus and, to stave off boredom, then did a "33 at 78 rpm" version of it that was hilarious chipmunk squeaks.

OK, the moment of the night was perhaps the next one.  She took the hand-held mike over to the side of the stage, told us she was going to bring us all down, and then sang an a capella version of Little Sparrow that brought chills up your back.  This was serious, this was the country blues straight from a master.

OK, time for the rocking, good-time end to the show.  Two Doors Down was perhaps the first song of hers that made me really consider her a musician rather than a novelty act and I was very glad to hear that one.  She had to do Here You Come Again, Islands In the Stream (a BeeGees song), and then 9 To 5, which had everyone singing along.  Talk about an anthem for the people!  Not many of us really work in coal mines, especially in Boston.

Dolly did the old person's (she's 70) nod to walking off stage, waiting for the applause, and coming our for an encore.  That is, she walked to the back of the stage, folded her arms, and then made a show of re-entering ... we all got it, she was almost done.  As soon as she said "Whitney" the crowd went nuts and then she did possibly her greatest hit (though that was Whitney Houston's cover), I Will Always Love You.  She did not leave any of her vocal power on the shelf for this one, it was magnificent.

Dolly strutted offstage with a "See y'all next time!" (we can only hope so), and the band did a last few turns of the chorus and then hit the bricks themselves.  Long tour still to come for these guys.

We headed out of there quickly ourselves, along with a crowd as stunned by the excellence of the evening as I've ever seen.  This concert was so many things in a heady mix.  We were out of there and back up the hill through the Common soon, then home and to bed before midnight.  What a show!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ol' Brown Shoe In the Wind

Great friends M&G were in town for a speaking engagement by G and it just so happened that this coincided perfectly with Ol' Brown Shoe (with our friend Larry) playing at the Black Lobster in Salem on a sunny Sunday late-Spring afternoon (6/12), with the tide coming in!  What could be better?

Well, it might have been better if it had been a little warmer.  The wind was wicked that day and I texted M&G that they should wear sweatshirts, which weren't really enough.  M wore his winter coat and seemed to be the only comfortable one on the patio at the Black Lobster, including some braving the wind with t-shirts and sandals and not really succeeding.  Oh well, there's only so much chilliness that beer and dancing can't fix!

Ran into Larry in the parking lot when we arrived a bit before 3 for the afternoon show.  They set up pretty quickly and M&G showed up just in time for the opening number, Bertha.  We'd grabbed a table "in the sun" but the clouds moved in, the wind kept up the pace, and it started raining by the end of the afternoon.  By then we'd moved to a table under the canopy though, and we were fine ... we're New Englanders.

JeffL was missing for a family celebration, but the band didn't miss a beat, with Larry and Tim filling in the rhythm and the vocals.  Highlights were another excellent Shakedown, another great cover of What's Going On, another fantastic turn on Southbound by Larry, and Toussaint's Get Out Of My Life Woman.  M and Larry had a chance to hang out at break and catch up, and we all had a beyond-wonderful time.

The elephant in the room was that the Dead & Company summer tour has started, and there was some buzz about that, who's going to Fenway for what nights. etc.  They opened in Charlotte on Friday night (6/10) and when we got home we watched the webcast of their set at Bonnaroo.  Just fantastic stuff, and Donna Jean Godchaux-Mackay sang on a number of tunes!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Jorma Sings the Shirley Blues

We were stunned a few years ago when Hot Tuna played the Bull Run in Shirley, and stunned again last year when Jorma Kaukonen played there solo.  I mean, many people would agree with me calling him one of the best musicians in the world (I probably wouldn't get as many people agreeing with me that Tim O'Brien is one of the best musicians in the world), and then he announced another stop in Shirley, this June.  To see him with some regularity in a small club in North-Central-Wherever Mass is awesome!  You can bet we got tickets as soon as we found out, and even so did not get one of the best tables, though we got front row left.

The Bull Run sold out of course, and there were a lot of very psyched (and some very drunk) Jorma fanatics there.  I had heard a story about him being picky about his chair, and he sat on the same chair we'd seen him on before, perfectly positioned between two classic acoustics, the same we'd seen him play last time.  He took a little while to warm up when he came on a little late for the listed 7:30 start (usually 8 at the Bull Run), but then he shivered a bit in his flannel shirt, smiled at the crowd and apologized for cobwebs, hunkered down a bit more over his old guitar, and played and sang one of the most masterful blues shows I've seen.

Jorma and Jack had been the second attraction at the Dark Star Orchestra Jubilee at Legend Valley, Ohio this past [Memorial Day] weekend.  Jorma ended up doing three sets on the three days, besides sitting in for a few tunes with DSO.  We had seen DSO at the Wilbur in their first gig since the weekend on Wednesday, and this Thursday was the first gig for the 75-year old Jorma since then.  Again, I hope I recover as well when I'm 75!

I'd picked up Dave and Sarah at West Concord after work and we met F&P at the table there for a fine meal, conversation, and beer.  Now it was time to shut up and listen to Jorma!

He opened with Ain't In No Hurry from his last record, perhaps trying to set a mellow tone, but then started riling us up something serious with Death Don't Have No Mercy, a song he commands, and the first of several Reverend Gary Davis songs on the night.  He perhaps didn't play this with the same gravitas he had last time we saw him at the Bull Run, but it was still a highlight.  Then he chuckled at his cobwebs, launched right into Hesitation Blues, and he was off!  Here's the setlist:

  • Ain’t In No Hurry
  • Death Don’t Have No Mercy (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Hesitation Blues (trad.)
  • Heart Temporary
  • BBQ King
  • I’ll Be Alright Some Day
  • The Terrible Operation (Thomas Dorsey)
  • How Long Blues (Leroy Carr)
  • I See the Light
  • Let Us Get Together (Rev. Gary Davis)
  • Waiting For a Train (Jimmie Rodgers)
  • Come Back Baby (Walter Davis)
  • San Francisco Bay Blues (Jesse Fuller)
  • In My Dreams
  • Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (trad.)
  • Sea Child
  • Good Shepherd
  • Bar Room Crystal Ball
  • Water Song
  • Watch the North Wind Rise [Encore]

I had thought at the time that he'd played a lot of old covers, but looking at the list I realize his originals pre-dominated.  I guess I count songs like I'll Be Alright, Heart Temporary, and Sea Child as old blues songs.  Geez, Sea Child and Good Shepherd must be 50 years old!  And to mix them up with such a variety of classic songs (Jimmie Rodgers for Dog's sake!!) made for a presentation of a swath of American blues ... played by a master of the style ... that was just awesome.

Jorma started having a good time pretty quickly, and he was effusive when Dave shouted out, "How was the Jubilee?"

Jorma said immediately, in his Ohio patois, "Had a great time.  My GOD you should hear Steve Kimock do Stella Blue, amazing!"  He reflected a second and then said, "And I can't believe those guys [DSO] can remember all those songs, I have a hard enough time sounding like myself!"

Another great interlude was when Jorma told his Jack Casady story of the night, relating how Jack had recently had cataract surgery (Jorma hasn't yet).  The normal routine is to have it done on one eye first and so Jack wore glasses to a gig with one lens missing.  He tried to clean a smudge off that lens and ended up sticking his finger in his eye in the middle of a song.  He recommends that Jack keep wearing glasses, even after surgery.  As he says, who would recognize Jack Casady without glasses?

Yet another story, this one told to introduce Let Us Get Together.  Jorma and David Bromberg were hanging out.  David played a Rev. Gary song and hit a strange chord which Jorma inquired about.  "That's an A 9th chord," David said, "Reverend Gary always plays it that way."  They visited Rev. Gary the next day and David played the song.  "What's that chord?" Rev. Gary said.  Jorma figured the Reverend was playing with David's head.

Where was I?  This was the kind of intimate concert that sticks with you.  I was delighted to hear the country blues (listen to his Blue Country Heart record) from Jimmie Rodgers and the country-boy-in-the-city blues from Jesse Fuller early in the set.  The Terrible Operation is classic Jorma and an incredible Americana chestnut!  Come Back Baby (as probably mentioned in previous posts) is one of those milestone songs for me that get the memories flowing.  To hear him whip it off in the middle of the set in a concise, straight way, was very moving.

And that's not to mention the drumbeat between those great covers of  his own amazing songs, such as I'll Be Alright, I See the Light, In My Dreams (a world-class song), Sea Child, Good Shepherd, etc.  The set was winding down and he finally switched from his regular old guitar to the beautiful one with ringing steel strings and inlays around the sound hole, just as he had the last time we saw him.  He finished the set with the same two songs he had that time: Bar Room Crystal Ball from his last record (IMO as good as anything he's done), and Water Song.  I was reminded of when we saw him and Jack for two shows at the Bull Run and he apologized for encoring with Water Song in both sets, as if that's anything anyone would complain about!

Oh was this good stuff!!  Jorma stood behind his chair while the crowd jumped to its feet and went nuts.  Not long until he was back sitting down and he entertained us with one more song, the inspiring Watch the North Wind Rise.  What a musician.

The efficient waitress had slipped us our bills and given us back our credit cards.  Jorma was gone, wending through a phalanx of fans at the far staircase.  Time to go, and we said adieu to F&P (Dead & Company next month!) and slid off into the night ourselves.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

DSO Tea Party!

Dark Star Orchestra was due to cycle back to the Northeast this late Spring after their annual Dark Star Jubilee in Ohio.  The first stop on the tour was scheduled for Boston’s Wilbur Theater on June 1, with subsequent stops in Providence, Hampton Beach, etc.  Should we go, in light of all the money we’ve been spending on Dead-related things recently and the fact that we saw Phil & Friends twice a couple of months ago and will be seeing Dead & Company thrice in a few weeks??  How could we not go?!?  DSO is never less than incredible fun, but we limited ourselves to just the Boston show.

And it was as much fun as ever if not more so.

Met Sarah and Dave to park at their building after a longer than expected drive through thick Boston traffic, then hustled over to Wirth’s for the customary German dinner and couple of beers.  Wirth’s was probably as empty as I’ve ever seen it, even though everything else in Boston was going at full tilt on a sunny but brisk-for-June Wednesday evening.

Got into line at the Wilbur (we were second!?!  we’re used to being first), exchanged our Internet receipts for real tickets, and waited with the growing crowd of fanatics.  DSO has developed their own crowd at this point, that greatly overlaps with the traditional Deadhead crowd but also includes those who find Phil/Bobby/etc. shows too expensive and/or prefer the good times spun by DSO to the sometimes new and challenging music the Phil/Bobby/etc. shows can feature.  A surprising number of these people had been at the Jubilee in Ohio and planned to continue on to Providence, Hampton Beach, etc. with the tour.  There was also a lot of talking and enjoying the moment rather than the music during the show.  DSO concerts are just such mellow fun, and that’s very appealing.  Maybe the band members aren’t “as good” as the originals or “as creative,” but that’s not a reason not to see them, or for classical fans to stop seeing Beethoven cover bands.

We debated hanging back at the soundboard, especially since we might have to get out of there early/quickly for Dave to catch the last T to Quincy.  But anticipation built and when the time came we grabbed a spot right up front, at the stage in front of RobE’s guitar and just a few feet from RobB’s organ.

And wait a minute … it *was* just a B3 with no extra keyboards!  RobE and Skip’s guitars were old large-bodied Gibsons, Jeff’s guitar was a vintage, small black thing, there was no setup for a female singer, and the only drum accoutrement was a huge gong.  We suspected that we were in for a late-60s show!!  The lineup was vintage too, with Jeff far left (looking at the stage), Skip center, then RobE (where we were standing), and RobB.

The guys came out (Dave had a quick exchange with RobB, complimenting him on the recent Q shows, which Rob thanked him for), and proceeded to rip our ears off with the 1969-12-30 show from the Boston Tea Party.  This was a great treat of a show and they played it incredibly well, though Jeff sometimes seemed to want to mellow out instead of giving it the late-60s Garcia head-on attack.  Maybe not enough acid was the (slight) problem, but whatever, this was simply incredible!

  • Good Lovin'
  • Drums
  • Good Lovin'
  • Mama Tried
  • New Speedway Boogie
  • Casey Jones
  • Black Peter
  • Me and My Uncle
  • In the Midnight Hour
  • Cumberland Blues
  • Cryptical Envelopment
  • Drums
  • The Other One
  • Cryptical Envelopment
  • Cosmic Charlie

OK, maybe we weren’t actually seeing the Grateful Dead in a small club in Boston on the middle night of their New Year’s 1969 stand … but we had no problem pretending we were there and the band played the songs with a period flair.  These guys are great musicians and VERY experienced at what they do.

Good Lovin’ was an explosive start, and then they went right into the first drum solo of the night, with Dino (left) and RobK (right) thundering up a 60’s psychedelic beat.  The set was chock full of cowboy songs (some call this their “cosmic cowboy” period) and those were short, loud, and sweet.  RobE was fanning furiously right in front of us, a bolt of lightning running through Bobby’s incredible variety of chords and colors.

The “new” songs were done perfectly: Speedway, Casey Jones, Black Peter, and Cumberland were all in their infancy, raw and stunning.  Black Peter in particular fully realized the psychic, almost psychotic  fear of death and loneliness that it’s essentially about.

And they wouldn’t stop!  The setlist was awesome but Dave didn’t recognize it and we were beginning to think that maybe it was elective, especially since they were playing such a long first set that we began to think it would be the only one.  We thought Midnight Hour would be the end, but then they launched head over heels into Cumberland.  We thought that might be the end, but then they took a breath and Jeff started playing Cryptical!  Of course that led into a second drum solo of the night, then into a riveting, loud, 1969 TOO, and then back into Cryptical.  We thought that would be the end but then they started flying into the cosmos with Charlie!  OMG … they finally stopped and RobE announced a short break.

The crowd was pressing us in and we took turns going out for bathroom/beer/whatever breaks, while Dave did some quick research.  There it was, 1969-12-30, though Dave hid the bottom of the screen so he wouldn’t see the second set.

Before we knew it, the guys were gathering in the wings behind the organ again, yucking it up and strategizing a bit.  Then the lights went down and they came back out.  What could they do to top that first set?  How about this:

  • Uncle John's Band
  • Mason's Children
  • China Cat Sunflower
  • I Know You Rider
  • Dark Star
  • Alligator
  • Drums
  • The Eleven
  • Alligator
  • Feedback
  • And We Bid You Goodnight

Radical!  More new songs: UJB (9th performance) and Mason’s, but introducing some mature songs that had reached their primal Dead peak.

A highlight for me was RobE going nuts on China Cat, which he led faster and faster down the hill into Rider.  And what a beautiful, cosmic Dark Star, which exploded into a song I’d called earlier in the set, Alligator (sung by RobB, one of his only vocals of the night).  Dino stood up and scratched the güiro on Dark Star while RobK was all over the gong, almost hugging it while hitting it with mallets in each hand, or standing behind it and hitting it with one mallet while moving the mike behind it up and down to get an even spacier sound.  For Alligator, RobK grabbed the güiro while Dino went nuts on his traps.  And then they both started pounding away in unison during the instrumental break in Alligator and steered us headlong into the third drum solo of the night.  As I say, incredible, mind-bending stuff!

And then suddenly we were in 11 time, the guitarists were flailing away madly, and then Jeff told us that there was no more time to tell how.  And he wasn’t taking questions.  The guys gave it the old-style harmony on the choruses, Skip filling in with some excellent bass (though this harmonizing was far from perfect, if you felt like being critical).  Back to finish up Alligator, a healthy dose of Feedback, and then some more heartfelt, baroque harmonies on Bid You Goodnight, with the entire Wilbur singing along of course.  Amazing!

The guys left the stage for a short bit, but then came back out and RobK told us what we already knew, that we’d just been at the Boston Tea Party in ’69.  DSO does not cheat their audience at all and still had some more for us!  They set up a mike for Lisa (though she didn’t use it, she just stood back between the three Robs and played the harp), and they filled out the night with another Workingman’s song, Easy Wind, and then a beautiful Brokedown Palace (without Lisa, being 1969).

Being at the front, we could not leave immediately, and it’s a good thing because RobK crumpled up his setlist and threw it at me, a perfect shot!  I gave it to Dave.  We got out of there soon after that though, crossed through the busy theater district, and climbed quickly up to Beacon Hill.  No problems getting home and I was in bed around 1:00.  Jorma tonight!