Monday, June 19, 2017

Dead & Co "Summer 2017," Fenway part 2

We woke up really earlier than we should after staying up late for Dead & Company’s first Fenway show in their “Summer 2017” tour, but that’s what older people do I guess.  It turned out to be good, because we had a full morning of getting ready for a planned short vacation and for the second show, as well as the housework that had to be done.  In any event, we were ready to get going by mid-afternoon and this time drove into the city and parked at the Dalton Street garage so we wouldn’t have as far to walk after the show.  Smart!

Met Dave at Bukowski’s for a beer and some highly important recapping of last night and predictions for tonight.  Trundled over the [Green] Muddy River and past an urban rabbit over to Yard House and had another excellent late lunch and couple of rounds of beers.  We were psyched, and did the now familiar truck into Fenway and out onto the field(!), this time settling into section B5 in excellent seats on a very humid and very hazy-bright late Spring day.

We’d had an easier time getting good seats for Sunday than we had for Saturday, but by the time the show started we realized it was almost as packed.  I had some nice time to spread out in the seats and enjoy the late afternoon, the funny clouds whipping by (the wind was blowing out to left, promising quite a game), and the arriving crowd.  Many people wore my t-shirt of choice that day, Fare Thee Well; I also saw one woman with my second choice, Golden Gate Wingmen.

The guys came out a bit after 6:30 again that day, and started right off into their classic Sunday song.  But before I get into the first set, let me get a little meta here.

There’s a school of thought, which is a pretty good one, that one of the things that makes “Grateful Dead music” so compelling is the element of risk and unknown possibilities woven into it, and that a band playing that type of music should be pursuing that fine edge of improvisation over rote capability.  One possible criticism of Dead & Company is that they haven’t really been pursuing that edge, though in lieu of that they’ve been pursuing performing excellence IMO, and have been pleasingly successful at that (to put it mildly).  But in their Fenway concert on 6/18 they showed an ability to walk their own edge that made the concert incredibly exciting, though it might also be labeled a bit strange.

Their recently-rolled-out twist of switching to acoustics for the last bit of the first set, their doing songs out of turn such as Dark Star and Let It Grow, their innovative vocals such as Oteil singing FOTM, and their ability to add other beats and textures (à la JRAD) to set-in-stone songs like FOTM, NFA, and Days Between, are all exciting in a new way.  And isn’t that what we want, to be excited in new ways?  Though I’ve criticized some of Dead & Company’s choices, I can’t help but admire their style, and I immensely have enjoyed every second of their performances that I’ve heard.

Well anyway, enough of generalization.  I hope to describe the event, and my point is that this was far from your ordinary “Grateful Dead” concert, if there is such a thing.  John is still new and every measure of his leads has the promise of something new, and Jeff and Oteil have a lot to say.  Bobby lets them say it and Billy and Mickey egg them on; this is quite a band.  Here’s the first set:

Samson and Delilah
Brown-Eyed Women
Big River
Let It Grow
Friend Of the Devil
Dark Star

Samson was as great as can be, with the drummers pounding out a rhythm that echoed through the Fens.  Big River was short, and Candyman was long … the kind of up and down you’d expect in a first set.  They did a great Let It Grow, though this is a song they could really add to (like, maybe do the whole Weather Report Suite!?!).  But then they switched to acoustics so quickly after the end of Let It Grow that you could tell they had lots up their sleeves and were eager to let those ferrets out.

FOTD was fantastic, including an amazing lead from Jeff on piano.  And what was next?  Dark Star on acoustic guitars over the Fenway and into American history.  Geez, you had to be there for this one.  Of course, I don’t think this will become as famous as the 1970 Fillmore East acoustic sets; but this was a rarity, a first.  And it was as successful as a lot of things this band does: John’s leads were firecrackers in the late afternoon, and Bobby’s ability to deploy his great variety of sounds was on full display.  Bobby’s had a lot of time to play this sucker, and he knows where the darkest rooms and the brightest vistas are.

And just as you were wondering if they were going to go into a second 20 minutes of the song or wind up the second verse and move on … they shared one of those “we know what we’re doing” glances and changed down into Ripple.  At the time we were amazed and delighted, but the full impact of what they were doing was a little lost in the gloriousness of the moment.

Wow, I say again!  What a first set!!  The Saturday show had been stellar to me, and I wondered if Sunday’s show would come up to that level.  Damn, it was on a whole different level and was already beyond comparison.  Oh well, time for our pedestrian between-set concerns, such as waiting in bathroom lines and trying to get around the Park without freaking out at the crush of people.  The rain was holding off and the sky was beautiful as the sun set, far behind the left field grandstand.

And then we waited … it was a long set break, seemingly over an hour.  Oh well, the guys came back out and started up into a jam.  Dave called it at the first change and a few minutes later one of the guys in front of us whipped around and said, “Wait a minute, did you call that??”  These guys were Deadicated but big … I spent a lot of the concert trying to see around or through the guy in front of me, who was wearing an Isaiah Thomas jersey (though he was maybe twice his size), and I was unsuccessful at that most of the time.  Anyway, it was Jam > Truckin’ of course … here’s the second set:

Fire On the Mountain
St. Stephen
Dark Star
Days Between
Not Fade Away

Geez, only a 7(ish)-song second set?!?  Don’t worry, we were not ripped off.  This was a feast.  Truckin’ was slow, stately, mellow, and resonant.  FOTM was sung by Oteil, only his second vocal on the tour (twice on China Doll) after many hints that he’d be doing such.  And St. Stephen was sung with reverence by John.

Let me digress a bit here.  One of the best things about the 2016 tour IMO was the tandem backup vocals by John and Oteil.  This layer is almost totally lacking in their current tour and the result can leave lots of holes and raggedness, as in the Here Comes Sunshine in Atlanta.  They really haven’t replaced this part of their sound, but the lead vocals so far have been so excellent it’s not missed as much as it could be.

Ok, what next?  How about a great Drums/Space segment with Mickey tooting those clown horns again and cranking up The Beam in the sudden Fenway night?  And then, one of the most magical stretches of the night: a reprise of Dark Star on electrics (including the last verse), and then a beautiful, beautiful deconstruction of the sound into a Jeff Chimenti piano solo that has to go down in history … slowly leading us by the hands and minds into Days Between.

As mentioned, Bobby has done a few fine things on vocals, and he was sure up to this one, singing one of the ultimate Dead anthems (maybe THE ultimate Dead anthem) into the humid dark in front of tens of thousands of awe-struck pilgrims.  No Sailor/Saint this time, or GDTRFB, or Dew, but this was the touch that we all wanted and needed.

And then they shrugged it off and ended it all with a rocking Not Fade Away with some fantastic, screwy drumming, and a masterful transfer to the crowd of the chorus.  They’ve done this before.

Back out for the encore after just a minute, and they did the Brokedown Palace we’d all been waiting for, most of all us legions with the Fare Thee Well t-shirts.  This was an epic second set, but we turned to each other after it was over and said, “What did we just hear?”  How great was this?  We’ll have to let time tell, but it sure was good.

Damn, the Fenway shows were over, and we had to get out of there through the hordes and hordes of people.  Oh well, we’ve done this before ourselves, and it actually went pretty well.  Shuffled out of the stadium and back over the Fens and finally back to the parking garage, where the attendants showed some unique incompetence of their own.

Out to Boylston at last, down to Berkeley, left Dave at Charles Circle, and then back up to 93 North.  Have to wake up early the next morning to continue the adventure!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dead & Co "Summer 2017," Fenway part 1

Dead & Company are touring again this year, they're calling it a "summer" tour, though almost all of it is taking place in the Spring.  As you might imagine, we've been filled with anticipation, especially since they've adopted an unheard of innovation, offering the first three songs of each night (the whole show in Atlanta) for free, live streaming and of course on YouTube thereafter.  This allows those among us who follow their every move to obsess even further, and it seems to have worked to bump up interest generally since last night's Saturday show was sold out and Sunday will probably be almost full.

And how have the shows been you may ask?  Well let me give you my Dead-drenched opinion: they've been great, though they could be better.  As mentioned earlier, their schedule of touring once a year and the number of side projects they all have makes one think, is Dead & Company really a working band or are they an oldies act that gets together every once in a while with a minimum of practice and entertains stadiums full of people with the old chestnuts?  The answer is that they're such high-level musicians, their ensemble performances are tight, innovative, and riveting.  They've only added three (well, one and two half) songs to their repertoire with this year's tour, but the ones they do (well over a hundred in fact) are progressing from fantastic into the stratosphere.  I wish they'd practice together more and add more new songs, but they follow their own muse and I can't fault musicians for that.

We parked in Sarah's building and walked uptown on an overcast day with the sun threatening to come out and the temperature threatening to approach 70.  The Tall Ships were returning to Boston that afternoon and the waterfront must have been a madhouse with the millions(!) of people projected to be there, but it was pretty crowded uptown too.  Made a left turn in Kenmore Square and trundled down to Yard House, where Scott and Michelle were waiting, and Dave, Leen, and Andrew showed up soon.  We had some great beer and lot of conversation about our house project and of course music.  Time rolled by and before we knew it it was time to check out Shakedown Street and then head into the Park!

Went in through the main gate and followed the normally shut-off tunnel around to the left to enter the field by the left field wall.  Fenway was as magical as ever and we were on the goddamn field.  Stopped by to have a close-up look at the visitors' dugout and the beyond-perfect infield before finding our seats in section C6 ... more center this year than last, but not close.  Getting turf tickets for Saturday had been hard and I had to make two purchases as they wouldn't sell me 4 together, so Dave and Leen were over in C2.  The rain was definitely going to hold off and the guys came on and lined up soon after 6:30.  And then they started into Music and we were right back there.  Here's the first set:

The Music Never Stopped
Cold Rain and Snow
Me and My Uncle
Big Boss Man
Ramble On Rose

As mentioned, the band was playing as tightly as could be and the sound in Fenway was excellent.  We could hear every note and flourish and every beat of the drums.  Mickey's setup is less wild this year and I think it's added even more to their rhythm section to have him playing with Bill instead of around him.  Oteil seems so comfortable with this music it's incredible and his funk and nimbleness is amazing.

John continues to ascend in the Dead milieu and some of the leads he's been cracking off this tour are phenomenal.  I've gotten beyond being gob-smacked by him, and perhaps am a little less accepting of his small miscues and forgetting exactly when the lead is supposed to come in and end, but when he gets going the world revolves around his guitar and his fingers are a blur on the fretboard.  He kills Cold Rain and Snow and though this was a bit of an up-and-down set, it sure had a lot of highlights, such as his leads on Big Boss Man (on the 45th anniversary of Pigpen's last performance) and Sugaree.

Jeff continues to get better also, contributing great organ runs and sparkling piano to songs like Ramble On Rose (we booed the "just like New York City" line, we *were* at Fenway Park during baseball season after all!).  And Bobby is as good as ever, he's obviously enjoying the heck out of this band.  He closed the set with a powerful Passenger, perhaps to make up for mangling it a bit at Fenway with Donna last summer.

Here's the slightly poofy review from The Globe from the next day.  And here's a link to Sarah's pictures.  And here's a really nice piece about Mayer appearing at his alma mater, Berklee College Of Music, earlier in the day.

Though it was only 7 songs, that was a long first set, but the bathroom lines were not too crazy and we were soon back out on the field, enjoying beautiful Fenway and gabbing about the first set with neighbors and friends.  A bunch of guys in front of us were not the best neighbors; a couple of them were loud and extremely drunk to begin with, before smoking pot throughout the evening.  To their credit though, they made it through the whole thing, though a few of them had to sit down for stretches in the second set.

And speaking of the second set, the guys came back out in the gloaming and ripped off one of the best live sets I've ever seen performed.  It's not a great setlist, but these songs were played exquisitely:

Dancing In the Street
Help On the Way
Estimated Prophet
Eyes Of the World
Eyes Of the World
I Need a Miracle
Standing On the Moon
Franklin's Tower

Oh my Dog, this band just performed those songs so well!  Every one of them showed incredible talent and technique, and as an ensemble they were almost perfect.  I should mention, again, John's leads, Oteil's ability to add funk to anything, and Jeff's presence.  And as has happened before, Bobby raised his vocal game beyond what you might have expected from the first set.  I told Dave later that I couldn't believe I was saying it, but that was the best "I Need a Miracle" I've ever heard (a song I sometimes dismiss as formulaic).  And his emoting on Standing On the Moon brought tears to your eyes, perhaps he was again thinking of Pigpen.

And a note about one the best songs ever, Eyes Of the World.  Oteil makes this so fresh with his runs throughout, and this featured a great solo section by him after the last verse.  They then went into Drums (which Oteil participated in and in which Mickey cranked up The Beam and gleefully shook the bejeezus out of the venerable old ballpark, and then even more gleefully tooted some clown bicycle horns) and a beautiful but short Space and then wham, they were back doing a last chorus of Eyes!!!

And they sandwiched that long, excellent second set with a funky, rocking, rabble-rousing Franklin's that had everyone singing along.  They stretched and stretched the "Roll away the dew" coda and then almost wrapped it up, and then burst right back into another vocal coda with all of Fenway rolling back that dew as hard as we could.  This was beautiful, well-played, and above all cathartic.  Wow!!!

They came back out for an encore pretty quickly and burst right into a small jam which turned into Black Muddy River.  I recognized the song but couldn't believe until John started into the words that they were going to repeat what they'd encored with at their first Fenway show last summer.  But I guess John was reminiscing about his student days, and perhaps back then he spent some time walking beside the Muddy River in the Fens (not too far from Berklee) and dreaming a dream of his own.

And then another encore repeat, but this was expected: closing Saturday night in Summer (actually Spring) with One More Saturday Night.  Short and sweet, and then the guys were gone into the wings.  See you tomorrow!  In fact, I have to get ready to leave for tonight's show.

Sarah and I had a long walk back to Beacon Hill, but we finally made it and were back home by midnight or so.  Will I do this again next year?  Well, of course.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dave Keyes with Popa Chubby in Beverly

Good friend Dave has been playing great music his whole life, but I don't get much of a chance to see him.  So when I heard he was playing at 9 Allis in Beverly on 5/19 with Popa Chubby, I was very psyched.  His tracks with Popa Chubby are excellent.

W&L were able to get there also, though delayed by life and traffic.  This is one of the worst times of year for traffic around Boston and getting North on 128 can be difficult.  9 Allis is a nice, small room and Dave and Popa were joined by a bassist and drummer.  They played two great sets of electric blues with some great contributions from all the guys.

Dave came by the table when he could, and we had a nice chat with him at the merch table afterwards, then back into the night and home to our mostly demoed house.

Friday, May 19, 2017

DSO Take 5 at Wilbur

Dark Star Orchestra keeps coming around, and we keep going to see them.  As mentioned many times, seeing them is just incredible fun and is nowhere near getting old for me.  They announced another, all-over-the-country, year-long tour for 2017 (they've played more gigs than the original GD did, which is astounding), including of course a date (Thursday, 5/18) at Boston's Wilbur Theater.  We got tickets as soon as they went on sale, Sarah's and my 5th time seeing DSO at the Wilbur, 11th overall.

Traffic was beyond incomprehensibly bad going into the city.  We stopped dead on Soldiers Field in Allston and I could see the Turnpike was not a good option.  Got off at the BU Bridge and tried the Cambridge side, but that was the first in a sequence of bad decisions ... there was no good way to get anywhere in Boston on that suddenly hot, bright day.  I had to do some serious coaching of myself ("You've seen worse," "You might be a little late, but you'll see DSO tonight," "It's graduation season, this is good for Boston") to stay calmed down and finally was able to bust through and crawl over the Longfellow Bridge into Boston and then quickly up to Beacon Hill.  Met Sarah and Dave and we walked over to Jacob Wirths, where we had a rookie waiter with no clue, but we refused to be hassled.  This was quite a challenging day in some ways, but we were going to see DSO at the Wilbur (which was surrounded by construction, we had to cross Tremont multiple times).

Oh well, we got there and ended up entering just in time to get spots belly-up to the stage in the "Skip Zone."  Geez did we breathe sighs of relief.  And the evening was just as much fun as ever!  One great thing was that as we were leaving Wirth's, Tom from HTR Construction was at the next table and stood up to talk with us.  Tom's a great guy and in a different world we'd be working with him now.  Great to talk with him and to meet his friend Louise.

And another fun thing was that when we got up to the rail, naturally we fanatics up there introduced ourselves, and the guy next to me (a famous R&B artist and spectacular dancer in his own right from Southern Vermont) and I recognized each other.  We both stroked our chins trying to remember where we'd met before, and compared all kinds of notes about what concerts we'd been to, what our impressions had been, and where we normally stood.  As it turned out, we couldn't have met at this concert, and were standing in different places at that one, etc.  We were stymied.

Then I mentioned how we liked to go to P&F concerts in Port Chester, we touched on the madness of traffic in the NYC area (traffic!), and I mentioned how you could sneak up to Port Chester by dropping down through CT and staying in Armonk,  "Armonk?" he said, "We stay at the Quality Inn in Armonk."  Lightning hit me, "We stay at the Quality Inn in Armonk too, that's where I recognize you from!"  The lighting spread to him and he concurred, and we cracked up.  We both thought we'd been sly and discovered an unknown spot!  Now hordes of Deadheads will be descending on Armonk.

Anyway, there we were at the front of the stage and we were all (well, those of us who obsess about these things) anticipating an early seventies show from the stage setup.  Someone pointed out that the GD had only played twice on 5/18, and that one of those concerts had been in 1972, on the Europe Tour.  And that's what we got, a stellar re-creation of the Dead's stop at the Kongreßsaal Deutsches Museum in Munich on 5/18/1972,  Here's the setlist:

Set 1:
Mr. Charlie
Jack Straw
Tennessee Jed
Chinatown Shuffle
Black-Throated Wind
China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
El Paso
It Hurts Me Too
You Win Again
Playing In The Band
Good Lovin'
Casey Jones

Set 2:
Sittin' On Top Of The World
Me And My Uncle
Ramble On Rose
Beat It On Down The Line
Dark Star > Morning Dew > Drums > Sugar Magnolia

Sing Me Back Home
One More Saturday Night

The show was sold out, and Dino got the day off, along with it being an easy day for Lisa, just playing harp on It Hurts Me Too and singing harmony on Playing, Sugar Mags, and the encore.

So there we were, in front of Skip with RobB and keyboard on our right, RobE 15 feet or so away in the center of the stage, and Jeff off over on the left.  The under-stage speakers were rippling our pants and we were back with the guys in Europe in 1972 with an amazing first set of adventurous rock and roll that just went on and on and on.

Jeff seemed a bit tired, as he has at times lately, and was perhaps the weakest player that night, though he sure ramped it up for Dew.  But RobK was as spot-on as ever, RobE was brilliant as always, and RobB played beautiful keyboards all night, over and over.  We did not want him to stop.  Always true to the canon however, he did not sing and RobE was as literal as ever, apparently forgetting lyrics in the same spots Bobby had.

And as with the other 10 times we'd seen DSO, this was such fun!  We were rocking like it was 1972 and the music was excellent.  We were dancing at the edge of the stage, and we'd turn around and see a PACKED Wilbur Theater, all full of people writhing and reeling.  Everyone knew all the words, all the phrases, all the emotion, and we were all sharing it together.

As mentioned, Lisa finally made an appearance towards the end of the first set and she looked at me like a stone when I held up 10 fingers to her, quizzically.  She played some rockin' harp on It Hurts Me Too.  Then she moseyed up to her mike next to RobE and this time when I held up 10 fingers to her she grinned at me and nodded.  Time for Playing, and then time for the 1972 Good Lovin' and a perfunctory Casey Jones to close the set.  Yay!!!

Milled around, saved seats (well, places) for each other, grabbed bathroom breaks and another beer, and then it was time for the second set.  Dave wasn't looking at his phone and we were left thinking it was 1972 sometime (I favored pre-Europe), but then they started up again and it was time for more excellence.

A long second set with Dark Star into Dew and an encore of Sing Me Back Home?  Yes please.  Don't blame me for abbreviating the second set, I'd just be repetitive describing how great RobB was, how authentic RobE was, and how much this stuff means to us.  I wasn't yet listening the the Dead in 1972, but they were out there shaping my world.

Finally time to trickle out of the Wilbur, and we got going.  Lots of stuff going on out in the theater district that night, but we got up to the Common, over to Beacon Hill, and back home in short order.  Well perhaps short, but I didn't get to bed until 1:30 or so.  As RobK had said when he talked about the show they were re-creating, it was a long night!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Justin Townes Earle and The Sadies at Sinclair

We're trying to cut down on concerts a bit, but the tracks I've heard from Justin Townes Earle's soon-to-be-released record (Kids In the Street) are just fantastic.  And when I recently saw some things by him on YouTube, including the video of one of the great new tracks (Maybe a Moment), and his recent turn on PBS's Tiny Desk Concert series, I realized that I'd be a fool to miss him at The Sinclair on Saturday, May 13.  So we got tickets,

Had plenty to do at home that Saturday, and after a quick dinner we headed into Cambridge on another cold and rainy evening in a long, cold, and rainy Spring.  We scored a great parking place at the Cambridge Common and got into the club in time to grab spots right in front of the soundboard and hear most of Sammy Brue's opening set.  He's a bit of a bluesy singer-songwriter with powerful guitar technique, good opener.

The the next opener came on, The Sadies, who are also backing up Justin on this tour.  Dallas (guitar, keyboards, and harmonicas) and Travis (guitar, fiddle, and mandolin) Good from Toronto are excellent multi-instrumentalists, and Sean Dean (bass) and Mike Belitsky (drums) are a fine rhythm section.  They've been around for a while and have backed up musicians like Neko Case, John Doe, Neil Young, and many others.  They played a great, rock with a tinge of country, set.  At times they were reminiscent of Los Straitjackets and at times the Bottle Rockets.  Some great guitar runs, some great songs, and one of the spookiest covers of Pretty Polly you'll ever hear.  They also sported some fine duds.

Then another short break and Justin came out, in a stylish sport coat himself, as well as his trademark Coke-bottle glasses.  Justin's long-time accompanist Paul Niehaus joined them on lead guitar, while Dallas moved to piano/organ.  They did not disappoint!  The subtle brilliance that I'd heard on record over the years (also seen him twice before) and recently on YouTube was on display.  If you've never heard Justin's voice, very slightly off-beat style, and Hank Williams-honest guitar, you need to go see him right away.  Or watch this.

Justin had his tenor guitar, and The Sadies and Niehaus were a beat-perfect back-up band.  When we'd seen him before, Justin was all over the place, changing his mind about what song he was going to do in the middle of the intro, etc.  It's amazing Niehaus hasn't walked out on him yet.  But this time he was very much the professional musician and took pains to make sure the band was with him, and they sure were.

They covered a large number of the tracks from the new record (which was at the merch table), but also played some of the incredible opus Justin has already compiled at age 35.  It was another case of him taking the entire audience to a different planet where we all grooved on his every note and swayed to his band.  The Sinclair was sold-out and Sarah reported lots of very disappointed people being turned away at the box office when she stepped out for a smoke.

The middle-aged guys next to us knew Justin's work as well as I did, and though the crowd besides us was predominately young, it was apparently another case of them wanting to hear Justin T.F. Earle rather than just go out for a rock act on a Saturday night.  Very actively listening crowd during the songs and very rowdy crowd between songs, while Justin looked a little embarrassed but devilish ("You liked that? Try this!") in his charming way.

Here's the setlist:
Champagne Corolla
Maybe a Moment
One More Night in Brooklyn
What's She Crying For
Move Over Mama
Black Eyed Suzy
Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
They Killed John Henry
Mama's Eyes
Gold Watch and Chain
Christchurch Woman
Trouble Is
Farther From Me
Ain't Waitin'
White Gardenias
What Do You Do When You're Lonesome
Short Hair Woman

Faded Valentine
Harlem River Blues

He opened with two of the most killer tracks from the new record, did some classics, did a mini-solo/acoustic set (John Henry, Mama's Eyes, and the Carter's Gold Watch and Chain), and finished with another string of great new songs mixed with stuff like Ain't Waitin'.

After Mama's Eyes, someone shouted out, "That's great, 'cause tomorrow's Mothers Day you know!"  I think Justin knew that.  And when he hit the first chords of Ain't Waitin', someone else yelled out, "Fried chicken!," which cracked him up so much he almost lost where he was.  And when he introduced White Gardenias with, "This is for Billy Holiday," we and the guys next to us melted.

Fantastic stuff, very short break between the set and the encore, and then he closed it with the singalong Harlem River Blues.  I think Justin had a good, mellow night, and we all did too.  He's really, really, good.

Still spitting a bit when we got out, helped a lost but well-dressed older Chinese couple find their bearings on Cambridge Common, and then a short drive back home.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lucinda Williams at Berklee

We've somehow managed to miss Lucinda Williams the last few times she's been in town, but being on a Berklee Performance Center mailing list finally paid off when we heard she'd be coming back one more time.  We got pretty good seats and everyone I talked to was shocked to hear about the appearance ... it was not well publicized, though the hall was finally filled from what I could tell.

Did the BPC thing of parking in the Dalton Street Garage and meeting up at Bukowski's ... as empty after work (Wednesday May 10th) as I've ever seen it.  We had a few beers at the bar and then checked out the Boston Burger Company on Boylston for dinner ... pretty good!  Got to our seats about 15 minutes before the show, and it started right on time.

Lucinda had a minimal band (for her) this time: Stuart Mathis on guitar and harmonica (with a rack of 8(?) guitars, including what looked and sounded like a 12-string Stratocaster(!)), Butch Norton on drums, and David Sutton on bass.  They were great, but the real story of course was Lucinda's incredible songs and her brilliant ability to emote.  She had us all in the palm of her hand from the get-go and the crowd reaction throughout the show was pretty rowdy.  People started whooping, whistling, and jumping to their feet and shouting early on, and there were a whole lot of people doing it.  I think Lucinda was ready to wind down on the last date of her tour and thought that a college hall in staid Boston would afford her the chance to do it.  But we all showed our love and appreciation early and she responded with a great show.

The setlist was just fantastic.  Not only did she do some of her stellar recent songs, she dug way back in her catalog and pulled out some things I thought I'd never see her play.  Can't remember the order, but she did:

Passionate Kisses
Can't Let Go
Prove My Love
Drunken Angel
Side Of the Road
Sweet Old World
West Memphis
Lake Charles
Bitter Memory
Get Right With God
Unsuffer Me
... and lots more.

My jaw was on the floor!  I think Side Of the Road is one of the best songs ever and I couldn't believe she pulled it out of her bag (complete with the mysterious fourth verse ... what does she mean by that?).  And to have her cover both Passionate Kisses and Sweet Old World, that were so successfully covered (by Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris respectively) was another unexpected treat.

But the most amazing, show-stopping, emotional, riotous moments, were when she just killed Essence and finished her encore with Joy.  The BPC staff probably were on the verge of getting out a firehose to try to calm down the people who were reacting wildly, jumping up and down, to Lucinda's dialog with fate, sexuality, and recalcitrant lovers.

As delighted as we were, Lucinda was apparently just as delighted.  Bless her heart, she grabbed the mike and tried to tell us (even more about) how she felt.  She said, "I'm 64 years old and so thrilled that people are still loving my songs and that I can go out and perform them."  Or something like that ... it was hard to hear her over the shouting crowd.

Wow!  Another great concert and then a pretty uneventful drive home down a Wednesday-night Boylston Street, over Berkeley to Storrow Drive, and then home on the highway.  We saw no ghosts on the highway ... they were probably all listening to Lucinda.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Not a very original selection for the annual Grateful Dead Meet Up At the Movies for 2017, but a really good one nonetheless: on the 40th anniversary of its release, the original Grateful Dead Movie, that had been recorded in 1974 and released in 1977.  I was there back in the seventies when it was released (possibly on one of my first "dates" with my wife, whom I had just met), and I've seen it maybe five times since then.  But one more time, in a movie theater with great seats, a great sound system (as always, I could have used a bit more volume), and lots of GD people had me very psyched.

Oh, and it was 4/20 too!  I cruised into the city at the end of the afternoon, probably getting to Alewife or so by 4:20, though I did not celebrate.  Got a great parking space right on Brookline Ave. and waited a short time for Sarah and Dave at a really dark Yard House.  We got dinner there, dumped stuff in the car, and then walked the couple of blocks over to the Regal Fenway Stadium 13 complex for the picture.

The crowd was late arriving but I believe all seats were full by soon after the start of the pre-features, which included a documentary on people recalling the Cornell (May 1977) concert, which is about to be released, and a teaser for the Long Strange Trip documentary, which is also about to be released.  A very busy anniversary for the Dead world!

The movie started and was as good as ever.  I've avidly seen it enough times that I can recall many, many details, and there were no fresh insights or criticisms that appeared in my mind.  I just enjoyed it!  The music is fantastic, great camera work, great production, and great crowd interludes.  Garcia really nailed it; check out the Wikipedia article for details about the cutting edge he was dancing on.

I actually got a little tired at the end, on a Thursday of an exhausting week.  I love the second disc of the movie but they didn't show it (the production was well over three hours anyway) and it may have been wasted on us.

Walking out I spied a young hipster with a *great* GD jacket, covered with album cover patches, dancing bears, snatches of lyrics, etc.  I complimented him on it outside and realized he was very young, perhaps Dave's age.  He was glad someone complimented him on his jacket and delighted to meet someone who had been there for the original release back in 1977.  I recalled that I'd seen it somewhere around that area of the city, but I'm not sure where.  He's a recent convert and probably a good one!

Jumped in the car, no problem getting Dave down to Charles, and then back home for a slightly delayed bedtime.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ricky Skaggs in Beverly

Another musician with an extensive pedigree knocked off our life list!  Ricky Skaggs (two years older than me) rarely makes it up to New England, but he was announced in the great lineup the Cabot Theater in Beverly has featured over the past bit (4/7/17), and we were really psyched to go!

But ... the tickets were *really* expensive, expensive enough to make us say, "Uh, we can do a massive interior redesign for that!"  And we sadly opted not to go.  But luckily, Cousin Kate at ZBC got a bunch of tickets to give away and I was lucky enough to cop a pair ... I think I had to be the 12th caller for that pair and was able to time it correctly.  Lots of people wanted those tickets.

But when we got to the theater, after a *long* struggle through traffic for me and a short walk from the (new) train station for Sarah to dinner at Gulu-Gulu, and a short drive up to the Cabot where we parked on the same side street we'd parked on before, and a climb up to our third-row seats in the balcony (nice seats from ZBC!), we realized that the place was not at all sold out.  They should have priced the tickets lower, I bet a lot of people had the same reaction we had to the prices.  The balcony was probably a fourth full at most, though what we could see of the orchestra was pretty full.

The Cabot is a fun, mellow place and we grabbed a beer and hung out in the un-crowded balcony, admiring the classic but touched-up theater.  I was afraid the speaker stacks on the sides of the stage would not reach the balcony well enough, and it did take them a bit to get the sound right.  But they really did and it was a fine evening of music.

Girls Guns and Glory opened and entertained with some great honky-tonk and Ward Hayden soul for an hour.  Highlights were The Wine Went Bad and Empty Bottles.  They also covered Hank's You Win Again (or is that a Dead song?) and Nick Lowe's What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?  They're an excellent local band and Ward Hayden is the real thing.

Then they reset the stage for a bluegrass show, the crowd filled in a bit, another beer was procured and there was time for us all to get excited ... our neighbor had never seen Ricky before and was as psyched as we were.  I first became aware of him as Emmylou's fiddler in the original Hot Band, and was a real fan of him in my most country phase back in the eighties.  I was amazed how many of his eighties country vinyl records I have, and I don't often get amazed by my record collection.

Ricky came out with his latest incarnation of the Kentucky Thunder band: long-time members Paul Brewster and Dennis Parker on guitars and EXCELLENT harmonies (and I mean excellent), Jake Workman on amazing lead acoustic guitar, Russ Carson on banjo, Scott Mulvahill on bass, and young Berklee product Mike Barnett on world-class fiddle.  Ricky played mandolin of course, and of course out-played them all ... though it was close at times.

Ricky also entertained with some stories and some digs at the guys, also just a few tasteful references to his being saved.  And they really played everything you would have hoped they'd play.  There were Bill Monroe classics like Rawhide and Wheel Hoss, Flatt and Scruggs classics like If I Should Wander Back Tonight, Jimmy Martin, etc.

But they also did a few of Ricky's hits, including the one song I probably most wanted to hear, his cover of Larry Cordle's Highway 40 Blues.  Ricky released this on Highways and Heartaches back in 1983 and I remember listening to it many times, loving the rhythm and the loping style.

Time after time I was caught off guard by the excellence of the harmonies Brewster and Parker were laying down, with Mulvahill contributing a bit on the low end.  Ricky had forgotten his in-ear monitors back at the hotel and was using ones he wasn't quite used to, so sometimes didn't go after it the way he might have if he was more comfortable.  But Brewster and Parker could have made anyone sound good, and when the lead singer was R. Skaggs the resulting sound was just startlingly good.  It was hard to believe that three guys on a stage, not looking like they were working too hard, could make these sounds.

And there was some great work on the strings going on as well.  As mentioned, Jake Workman was fantastic, ripping off acrobatic leads on the guitar that had the whole hall whooping and hollering.  Barnett was an artistic wonder on fiddle, managing to be cerebral in the middle of a crackerjack bluegrass band,  And of course what bluegrass is often about is setting up the star, and when it came time for Ricky's runs on mandolin, the crowd sat forward in their seats and were rewarded over and over with measures of bluegrass goodness.

Ricky wound down with some ballads, including his own, wonderful, Halfway Home Cafe.  This could be his entry in the "greatest country song" contest, though I'm sure there will be a lot of entries to come.  That's the thing about Skaggs, he's ensconced in the lineage of the greats, and makes you think that there will always be young, hungry stars coming up (Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz, etc.) who will be nurtured by the established bluegrass greats and keep the tradition going ... and will add to the canon.

Ran into Cousin Kate herself and Mager on the sidewalk after the show for some quick recapping, and then dashed on home and in bed by a bit after midnight.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Lake Street Dive Back in College

We somehow found out that Lake Street Dive would be the featured band at New England Conservatory's 150th concert and tickets were about to go on sale ... so we got some, first row of the balcony at Jordan Hall!  This show sold out fast.  The band met at NEC and are all grads and, though we knew there might be some amateurism on display in the concert, we suspected it might be fantastic.  We'd seen "amateur" concerts at some fine music schools like Berklee College of Music and Ithaca College, and they'd been vastly entertaining.  As it turned out, this concert was stellar and the number of fine, young musicians we saw (including LSD of course) was enough to make you think that maybe the world is not doomed after all.

Had a fun drive into Boston after work on Thursday 2/16: in Soldiers Field Road to the Bowker Interchange exit, between the great stone pillars at the intersection of Westland and Hemenway (which used to be one of the best places in the city (supposedly) to find prostitutes), right onto Mass Ave in front of one of the most beautiful buildings in Boston, Horticultural Hall, past Symphony Hall (and spewing busses) on my right, and then right onto St. Botolph (whom Boston was named after), past the current Matthews Arena (the old Boston Arena which predates the (original) Boston Garden), and left on Gainsborough into the parking garage.  I hadn't been in this area of the city for a long time.

Sarah and Dave were just getting off the Green Line and we met at the Pizzeria Uno on Huntington.  It was the Day Without Immigrants in Boston, one of the latest Trump protests, but the restaurant was not busy at that time and we got some over-attentive white guys to bring us beer and food.  After a relatively quick meal we stopped at the car and then entered beautiful Jordan Hall, the concert space of the New England Conservatory with practice rooms scattered throughout the building.  Bridget later said, "We first wrote 'Lake Street Dive' on a blackboard in a practice room up there," pointing beyond the balcony.

Oh yeah, we were in the first row of the balcony, a lovely soaring balcony like a standing wave surrounding a huge stage and making what was basically a very intimate space.  This was the quintessence of the saying, "Not a bad seat in the house."  There were carved wood and velvet coverings everywhere.  No beer/concessions but no one cared, we were there for an incredible experience.

The NEC Chamber Singers came out and assembled into a crescent towards the front of the stage, and then we realized that the NEC Trumpet Ensemble had filled the corridors in the orchestra.  The trumpets gave us a fanfare and the singers backed them up.  This was "Franfare for twelve trumpets," written in 1986 by Gunther Schuller.  Each trumpeter was perfect in his own way (all guys I think) and as an ensemble they seemed to be projecting an aural jewel, with each side presenting an aspect of what a trumpet could do.  Just amazing stuff and just the start.

The chamber singers then did a piece called "I Hear," written by current NEC student Andrew Haig in 2016.  Maybe I don't get out to hear enough classical vocal ensembles, but the male voices in this piece just blew me away, they were so emotional but controlled.  And the soprano soloist (Pepita Salim) was jaw-dropping.  This is the piece I'll always think of when I recall this concert.

They then shifted around a bit and the NEC Gospel Ensemble took the stage.  The conductor introduced Rachael Price, who came out as classy as always, wearing a dress that looked like a Kandinsky painting.  They did "What I'm Doing Here" and brought the house down.

The rest of the band came out at that point, MikeO in a checkered suit that John Mayer might have worn, MikeC in a stylish bandanna headband and no shoes, and Bridget in her trademark no-nonsense plain-colored skirt and top.  The Gospel singers disappeared and LSD was on!  This relatively short set showcased some of the best sides of the band, interspersed with funny stories about meeting each other in college.  MikeO was better on trumpet than I've ever heard him and Bridget took a few lengthy solos that had that incredible wood and velvet hall ringing.  In fact, several students accompanied them for some of the songs, including one guy on Jordan Hall's pipe organ!

They concentrated on the last record, doing Side Pony of course, Call Off Your Dogs (smoking Bridget bass solo), Spectacular Failure, How Good It Feels, and Mistakes (which actually wasn't as good in this smaller hall as it had been in the HOB - Boston, though of course Rachael was excellent).  They also did a song that had been in my head all day, Seventeen (which Bridget may have written in college), and a fantastic cover of Prince's When You Were Mine, that I'd never heard them do before.

Most of the people in the crowd were primarily there to see LSD, and we were rocking.  But even the ones who were there just to see an NEC event and weren't used to seeing pop concerts were rocking too.  LSD is so good and that hall was filled so well with great music that anyone would have enjoyed it, let alone be appreciative of the excellence.

That was the end of the first set, but there was much more to come.  Quickly the stage was set up with seats everywhere, and the guys came back on for the second set with a conductor (Ken Schaphorst), the NEC Jazz Orchestra (which was all guys too?!?), and the Philharmonia Strings.  There were only six pieces in that set, but they were all note-perfect.

Rachael soloed on God Bless the Child, which was done in a very traditional style.  Schaphorst had worked up versions of MikeC's I Don't Care About You and MikeO's Godawful Things that were beyond belief.  To hear the lovely string introduction that he had extrapolated from Bridget's intro to Godawful Things was like being in a dream.

But the last piece in the program, Bad Self Portraits, was the most spectacular.  Not only is this a great song, and not only were LSD playing and singing their hearts out, but the jazz orchestra was filling the room with wave after wave of brassy sound, and the string orchestra was swirling through our brains, dancing through the hall with layers and layers of vibrations.  If you count the conductor and the sound engineer, there were 46 amazing musicians on stage, telling us about why they bought that damned camera.

I guess the organizers weren't sure about the level of enthusiasm to expect, but the crowd was on its feet after this and would not stop hooting and hollering until Lake Street came out for an encore.  The stage crew hurriedly set up a large RCA mike, which Rachael, Bridget, and MikeC (with tambourine) huddled around, while MikeO stepped back a bit for another great trumpet solo.  Of course they did Neighbor Song, introduced by Rachael with an anecdote about how when Bridget sent her the first draft of the words and music, she and MikeO were living "upstairs and downstairs" in a triple-decker in Jamaica Plain.  She didn't say who was upstairs and who was down, but I have my theories.

OMG, what an excellent night of music!  Still not late for a Thursday, left Dave at Charles, and then proceeded on home.

Sarah got some excellent pictures (link coming); here are some of my favorites:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Rubblebucket Packs Paradise

We saw Rubblebucket in the Paradise Rock Club back in 2011 and that was pretty intense to put it mildly.  In the meantime they've been through a lot of life and success, and we've been lucky enough to see them a bunch.  But they announced they were coming back to the Paradise on Friday, 1/20 and ... though we knew it would be a late night again ... we just had to go see them in a small club.

It was s surprisingly quick drive into Brighton, but as soon as I got off Soldiers Field Road I was in the midst of a madhouse of traffic and pedestrians.  BU was in full swing, including hosting a hockey game (vs. Maine), but I was able to crawl up Comm Ave slowly and miraculously got a parking space right in front of the Paradise.

Met Sarah and Dave (who had Green Lined it up from work) at the Sunset Cantina and had a nice dinner and a few beers.  Lucky to get a table in the way back, probably as quiet a table as you could get in that packed and noisy restaurant.  Took our time eating and eventually wandered over to the Paradise at 7:30 or so, where we were about 20th in line.

They opened the doors right at 8 and let us in slowly after thorough searches.  We went right upstairs and got great standing places immediately to the right of the soundboard.  The place was sold out of course, and it was amazing to see the number of (very excited) people they shoehorned in there.  By the time the show started the entire first floor was packed so tightly that we wondered if anyone down there could breath, let alone be able to jump and dance.  Kalmia had been manning the merch table early on, and Alex took a tour upstairs (Sarah smiled at him), probably scoping it out to see if it would be appropriate for their end-of-show parade.

They finally had most of the people in the club and Joe Evian came out for the first set.  Joe was set up behind a massive control panel of mixers, switches, and who knows what else with a tiny keyboard, and had his blonde Strat.  His other guitar player had an identical Strat (also identical black leather shoes) and the bassist had a violin-bodied instrument that sounded great but was at first too loud in the mix.  They also had a drummer with a relatively small kit.

It was a very entertaining set.  Basically blues rock but with a concentration on sounding indie/unique and never too far from psychedelic meltdown.  Joe ripped off a few really good leads and the band was nice and tight.  But it was a short set and soon they had the stage set up for the main attraction.

The guys came out and lined up and we suddenly had cause to wonder about the definition of a band.  Because the only two remaining players from the first time we saw them were Kalmia and Alex!  They're the key ones I guess, to any definition of what Rubblebucket is, but we were shocked and disappointed that Adam Dotson and Ian Hersey were apparently no longer with them.  But the trombone player who replaced Dotson was (I hate to say it) probably an upgrade.  His tone and power were fantastic and his dance moves were every bit as good.  The woman guitarist (Maddie Rice) who replaced Hersey was not as good as him (who could be?) but held her own.

And another definition of Rubblebucket is diversity.  The new trombonist is black, the current drummer is Japanese (I think), and to see a young "girl" with long hair playing the lead blues guitar was great (though a pillar blocked her from my view 90% of the time ... that's what happens when you're upstairs in the Paradise).  And diversity was so important on that day.  January 20th 2017 was Inauguration Day and we should have been celebrating the first woman president of the United States.  Instead we were besieged by the institutionalization of hate.  It was very good to go out to see such a progressive band that night, it was good to hear Kalmia tell us how important it was to listen to each other and know that she was struggling along with us, and it was fantastic the next day to have millions of people march all over the world to protest what was happening in American government.

That day, Rubblebucket had released a new EP ("If U C My Enemies"), and they featured all four songs from it, which are excellent.  And wrapped around them was a setlist of your dreams, including some of the best tracks from their first records, including Shake Me Around, Silly Fathers, Pain From Love, Carousel Ride, etc.  As mentioned, the people on the floor were squished together like you wouldn't believe, but they still managed to jump and groove, though the only way they could do it was if everyone jumped on the same frequency.

Kalmia, in a sparkling leotard and psychedelic blouse, was rolling on the stage, bouncing around, tooting her sax with abandon (some of the new songs have excellent baritone sax textures), and singing like an angel.  One of the last songs of the set was Came Out Of a Lady ("for all the Moms"), which quickly degenerated into a Rubblebucket love fest.  They showered the crowd with confetti, both Alex and Kalmia crowd-surfed (Kalmia singing the chorus while she did so), and they tried a bit of a parade up the steps to the balcony, though this was soon aborted when the crowd was just too thick.

Incredible talent, incredible songs, and a great show!  I have to say again that Kalmia was singing better than I've ever heard her.  There was a short break before everyone came back out for a long encore, including a brilliant Triangular Daisies and finally a successful parade through the crowd, ending with a tribal circle-groove with the entire band in front of the merch table.  That was a lot of fun!

Waited a bit and then were able to push out onto the sidewalk and it was earlier than we expected, just 12:15 or so.  The car was right in front and after dancing through a bevy of Ubers we got out of there and had a quick drive home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lee, Steve, and Meg at The Armory

Scott got several of us motivated to go hear Lee Ranaldo and Steve Gunn at the Armory in Somerville on Tuesday night, 1/10.  I'd never seen either play, though of course I'd heard of Ranaldo.  Besides being 3 days younger than me, he's always been known as one of the best guitarists around.

And we'd never been to the Armory, though we'd been tempted by other events in their Arts At the Armory series over the past few years.  They were playing that night with Meg Baird opening, and we waffled a bit, but then got tickets.  Why not, this should be great!

And it was great.  I was delayed at work (ho hum, we got acquired by D&B), but finally hit the road and amazingly got to deepest darkest Somerville in time to meet Sarah at Highland Kitchen and have a quick dinner before the show.  It was one of those suddenly warm, rainy, and sloppy early Winter nights in the Boston area where the snow turns to slush and everything is damp or just plain wet.

We made it the few blocks up to the Armory (where I'd parked), and our friends were just then arriving after their walk from Davis!  Hilarity ensued, we got beers and nice seats in the middle, though Meg had already started her set.  Only heard a few songs from Meg, but she was wonderful when I got the chance to sit down and listen to her.  A classical voice, songs featuring subtle intonations, and a lovely sounding guitar (no electric guitars from any of the three last night).

The Armory impressed me right away.  It's a surprisingly big space (with two bars) and could easily seat a lot more people than the two hundred or so who crammed into their shitty plastic chairs that night, especially if they opened the balcony area.  They also could fit three or four youth basketball games if they tried.  If you took away the curtained-off green rooms, it's a very large rectangle a few city houses wide and deep, and is just as high, way up to a complicated ceiling with exposed insulation and ventilation.  The sound in there was fantastic and all three performers rocked it.

Ranaldo was in the back thumbing his phone during Baird's set and came on soon thereafter with a rack of four very similar guitars (one of which was obviously his favorite but had an E-string that went out of tune regularly).  His style involves playing on the drama of the sound he's making and he started off well by shaking a few chimes and getting some droning sounds melding around.  But then his main guitar switch fucked up on him and he had to crawl on all fours to get it right.  Hey, maybe that was part of the drama!?!

But anyway, he rebounded soon, cranked up the volume, and blew our minds.  His technique was fascinating, including playing bar chords with his thumb.  I loved his voice and many of his originals (he's recently put out a new record and concentrated on that) featured neat word puzzles and twists.  But the sonic tapestry he wove was the best part of his set, sometimes getting alarmingly close to runaway feedback or guitar angst, but always veering back into his control.

The funniest thing about the night was the crowd in the Armory.  It was like an early Joan Baez concert in there or something.  Everyone was as quiet as a church mouse during the songs, and there was a loud but short round of polite applause after every number.  When you whispered during a song you were invariably met with "hushes" from the surrounding rows (though most people were on both ends of this).  I let out a "woohoo" after a particularly good song and several others showed some psych too, but it was mostly a coffee-house kind of crowd.

Lee was fantastic and then Steve Gunn came on, another excellent solo guitarist.  As Tristan said after a few songs, it would have helped to have been high for his set.  Not that he was bad at all ... he was excellent.  But his pace was at times a little slow for later in the evening, and you had to stay with his songs for them to develop.  The careful listener was rewarded though and you soon found your consciousness going up and down with his baroque stylings.  Great stuff!

Well, that was it.  No encores for any of the three and little stage chatter.  This was the start of their "tour" and I think it likely the three of them will vary the format of their set as they go along.

Gave our three friends a ride back to Alewife so they didn't have to navigate the sloppy slush and rain, and still made it back home in plenty of time for bed.