Saturday, September 23, 2017

Alison Krauss In the Windy City

Another tough (not really) concert decision we made this late summer was to not go see Alison Krauss at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion.  Reasons that we wanted to go were that this was kind of a come-back tour for her after taking time off because of problems with dysphonia, and she’d recently released a solo record (not with her long-time band, Union Station) that featured another side of her great talent (she is the most-awarded singer and most-awarded female in Grammy history).  Reasons for passing were that we’ve already scheduled many concerts for this Fall and that BHBP sucks: it’s inconvenient to get to and park near, their sound system is pitiful, and their prices for tickets and concessions are outrageous.

BUT, on the day of the concert, Friday 9/22, I saw I had email and it was a flash from WUMB that they had tickets to give away and the first five to reply would get pairs.  I replied and got them!  So that addressed one of our concerns for sure.

It was the last day of Summer (and first evening of Fall) and another concern was that the remnants of Hurricane Jose were causing a storm near the New England coast and, though there probably wouldn’t be torrential downpours, it would be an evening of very un-Summer-like weather and temperatures.  Oh well, we could take that for free tickets!

We went home after work to eat dinner and get prepped: sweatshirts, slickers, and gloves as well as good footwear and warm socks.  And it’s a good thing we did, the wind was absolutely roaring on the waterfront, the temperature must have been in the 40s, and it was spitting rain off and on all night.  There were some people there in t-shirts and shorts and they didn’t last long, the wind cut right through you and though it may have been a sell-out, lots of people couldn’t take it and left early.

We’d decided to drive right to the Seaport rather than park in Government Center and walk, and we miraculously snagged an on-street parking spot when someone in front of us pulled out.  That upped the amount spent for the evening to $1.25, but we soon made up for that with beers in the venue.

Our seats weren’t that bad … one thing about that amphitheater is that most seats have good sight lines and aren’t too far from the stage.  But as before, we were amazed that they thought that the small stacks of speakers they had suspended from the tent, left and right, were enough for quality sound.  They sure weren’t, especially because they hesitated to turn them up!

David Gray was the opener and, though I read that he’s had several chart-toppers in the UK, he’s flown under my radar.  I recognized a couple of his songs, but only faintly.  He was mostly on solo guitar or piano, though he was joined by some accompanists later in the set.  I found him kind of boring I hate to say.  One example was that he featured sampling himself on guitar and playing those loops while he went in other directions … a modern thing to do, and he was skillful at it.  But at one point he had one bass loop going, another little rhythm loop going too, and then he played a line of melody, sampled that, and started it repeating while he put down his guitar, stood back and clapped.  I found this boring!  I mean, you knew exactly what was going to happen in the next measure and you had a pretty good idea what would happen in the measure after that, and the one after that, etc.  It wasn’t that compelling.

Another criticism, and this was the venue rather than the artist, was that their sound system SUCKED (have I mentioned this?) and that they barely had it turned up at all.  He could have been singing a cappella.  And with the howling wind you needed some boost from the PA.  It’s like the BHBP was reluctant to drown out the conversations of the many, many people chattering away during the opening act of a CONCERT!

But there were a lot of David Gray fans there straining to pay rapt attention too, and his songs were greeted with lots of whoops and hollers and he had fans singing along at the drop of a hat.  I was glad to see that, though his set wasn’t really to my taste.

Anyway, then Alison came on and they turned it up a bit, and she was awesome.  And she was joined by Suzanne and Sidney Cox!  I had no idea … here’s the band we saw: Alison Krauss on fiddle and vocals, Ron Block on guitar and banjo, Barry Bales on stand-up bass, James Mitchell on electric lead guitar, Jerry Roe on drums, Matt Rollings (from Lyle Lovett’s band and many other gigs) on grand piano, AND siblings Suzanne Cox on vocals and Sidney Cox on vocals, dobro, and acoustic guitar.

Alison stuck mainly to ballads from throughout her career and though her wispy and delicate voice wasn’t the best to combat a windstorm, the music she and her band produced was excellent.  As with other concerts I’ve seen, the difference in quality of sound between the opener and the main act was astonishing.  We thought Gray was good, but these guys were perfect.

Of particular note was Sidney Cox playing some killer dobro, Rollings being just more and more astonishing on piano as the night went along, and of course Block and Bales from Union Station.  As with other excellent concerts I’ve been to, I could almost see the music with Rollings staring at and bonding with Roe and Bales on a solid groove which was illustrating the sound coming from the other side of the stage, where you had Block doing his best Bob Weir on guitar, punctuating the lead stylings of Mitchell on electric, the flourishes by Cox on dobro, and of course by Alison on fiddle.

But the best thing was naturally the wonderful vocals, with Alison solo, her duetting with Suzanne, the small group unisons with Sidney, and the ensemble vocals when Block and Bales joined in.  As the evening went along they shrank into a smaller and smaller group, and for the encore they actually brought out an old RCA mike for the boys (and girls) to cluster around.

Can’t remember the setlist exactly, but here are some songs they played:

River in the Rain, I Never Cared for You, Stay, Forget About It, Baby Now That I've Found You, Broadway, Ghost in This House, The Lucky One, It’s Goodbye and So Long to You, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby, I Am Weary (Let Me Rest), Down to the River to Pray, Restless, Gentle on My Mind, Losing You, Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues, When God Dips His Pen Of Love in My Heart, When You Say Nothing at All, A Living Prayer

I was delighted that she did Now That I’ve Found You from the very beginning of her career, and of course the O Brother songs.  I was a bit disappointed that she didn’t do the title track from her new record, Windy City, both because I wanted to hear it and also because it was fucking windy in the city that night!  As I say, people were leaving in droves all through the evening because they were freezing and couldn’t take it anymore.

A bunch of us stayed until the end, but when it was over you can believe we all took off as fast as we could.  Not too far back to the car and only a few blocks over to a ramp down to the expressway and back over the Zakim Bridge to home.  Again, lots of fun and very well worth the price, but I wish they had a better amphitheater downtown, or would upgrade this one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Midnight North at Thunder Road

We've seen Phil Lesh a lot, you know.  And we'd seen and greatly admired his son, Grahame, for a while.  Sometimes show biz offspring can be a little painful, but sometimes they can excel and threaten to eclipse the old man/woman.  I can't imagine anyone eclipsing Phil, but Grahame has shown himself to be a true talent on his own, and a dedicated working musician, which counts a lot in my book.

His latest band is Midnight North, with the excellent Elliott Peck joining him on guitar and vocals.  Geez, he should stick with Elliott, who's quite a talent.  As a young band they don't go on many world tours, but they finally came this way and we were psyched to go see them in Somerville on a Monday night, September 18.

With the demise of Johnny D's, it seems a lot of music clubs have sprung up around Cambridge-Somerville, and Thunder Road is one of the newer ones.  We'd been tempted to go there a few times but this was our first.  After a quick nap for me and Sarah after work, we met Dave in Davis at Redbones for dinner, and then drove the 1.3 miles down Somerville Ave to the Northern edge of Union Square.  Grahame was outside pressing the flesh but we stopped for a toke (totally legal) before we went in, and missed our chance to ask him the tough questions.  And when we got inside the place was empty!

Well, not empty-empty (there were bartenders), but at the height of the evening there were maybe a few dozen people there at most, which means we had plenty of room to spread out.  There were a couple of Deadicated people there, but mostly it was locals looking for a good rocking Monday show.  And I think they got their wish with this band.  We grabbed stools right off the dance floor, but we were up and dancing after a few numbers, as was most of the crowd.  These guys are good.

Grahame and Elliott were accompanied by keyboardist Alex Jordan, bassist Connor O'Sullivan, and a drummer.  Lesh has written some great songs for the band, and Peck has written some even better ones.  Jordan is not only a great keyboardist, but is an excellent country-rock backup singer, and they were in the groove all night.

They played a bunch of songs from their new record (Under the Lights), opening with Roamin' and following that up with The Highway Song.  Lesh was very good on lead guitar and soon had the sparse (but enthusiastic) crowd whooping and hollering.  I think most of the people there were delighted to see such excellent performances on what they thought was a lazy night in a back corner of Somerville.  And Peck was supreme, perhaps most impactful when she backed up Lesh with that little bit of twang and lots of feeling that a good country rock song can hold.

Then they said they were going to do a Levon Helm song, and started into the blues beat that I instantly recognized as one of my favorites ever, When I Go Away.  Larry Campbell wrote it and Levon recorded it (on a Grammy-winning record), and Midnight North killed it.  The vocal arrangements they featured all night were challenging, and pulled off excellently, and they sure had this song down.

They broke into Tennessee Jed after a few originals and that got the crowd dancing faster than a whistle on an evening train.  If you watch their videos on YouTube, Midnight North kill a number of CSN songs, and they soon lit into Long Time Gone (David Crosby) like they wrote it.  This had some jaws on the floor, it was so good.  They mixed in a number of other originals, like Peck's great Greene County.  But then they got the crowd back on the floor for good with Viola Lee Blues and later Mr. Charlie, sung by Peck with a great growl.

For a closer they did the whole Suite: Judy Blue Eyes by Steven Stills, perfectly.  This was great stuff and though they were sticking pretty closely to the way CSN had done it, jeez, how could you argue with that?  They finished the song and then kind of trickled off stage.  They left all of us in a pool of sweat on the dance floor and we didn't know whether to shit or wind our watches.  But then we realized they were done, and we recovered.

They half-heartedly manned the merch table at the back of the room ... there wasn't really a crowd there to besiege them.  But the three of us got our stuff together and then migrated back there and had a nice talk with Elliott and Alex.  I told Elliott about just missing Larry and Teresa do When I Go Away with Phil & Friends at the Cap and she was nice enough to sympathize.  They were anxious that we'd come back the next time they were in town, and we were anxious that they'd come back to town!

Got out of there and wove through the faster- and faster-changing Kendall Square area over the Longfellow Bridge to drop Dave off at Charles, then got on the road back home.  Not in bed too late, though it was well past our normal bedtime for a Monday.  But this was really worth it, we saw a great young band in a great new venue without any crowds or hassle, and this was fun all over.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Benevento After Wolf!

We'd seen Marco Benevento, the amazing keyboardist for JRAD (etc.) at the 2016 GRF ... loved him, and he's been scheduled for Sinclair in Cambridge a couple of times since then.  Dave saw him the first time and we all were psyched for the next time.  But he was cancelled by snow early this year and rescheduled for ... September.  Oh well, we could wait.

In the meantime we saw that (JRAD guitarist) Scott Metzger's band, Wolf!, was going to be opening and were almost as psyched to see them.  The middle of September finally came around and we moseyed into Harvard Square after assembling in the newly-refurbished house for dinner on Friday the 15th.

Doors were at 8 and we had a good time waiting in the slight drizzle and hanging out with other enthusiasts, including the young guy I'd met at GDMUATM back in April.  When we got in at 8 for the show at 9 we had our choice of standing room spots, but ended up hanging back in front of the soundboard, which is very good in some ways (sound, sight lines), but not in other ways (endless streams of people passing by left and right).  The air conditioners were also going full tilt and dripping water onto the floor ... that is, if it didn't hit our heads first.  Don't look up!

Anyway, we were there with some PBRs, having a good time, and then the opening, opening act came on right at 9.  This was Spencer Albee from Portland (ME) on piano, with a bassist and a drummer (note the start of a pattern here).  He was really good and had some good rocking tunes and a tight band.  His penultimate song was Zevon's Lawyers Guns and Money, and that was right in his sweet spot.  The crowd was pouring in and we, and a lot of Cambridge, were having a great Friday night already.

Then Wolf! came on and they were fantastic, as good as we imagined they would be and better.  Though Scott is a great vocalist, they eschew vocals for fancy instrumentals and for the freedom to be able to pivot on a dime, fuck the lyrics!  Scott had a bassist (Jay Foote subbbing for regular Jon Shaw) and drummer (Taylor Flores) with him, and both knew enough to stick with him around the slippery curves.

Scott stuck to his Telecaster and milked so many styles from it in such rapid succession that our minds were spinning, let alone our ears.  He played classic rock, surf rock, rockabilly, blues rock, acid rock, country rock, a little prog rock, and lots of rock and roll.  No feedback, but that's cool, he didn't have time.  Can't name any of the songs he played, probably mostly originals; on listening to this archived performance with the same band, a bunch were definitely covered, so those may be the titles.  The one song he introduced was Sock Full Of Quarters.  Scott really showed us and the almost-packed Sinclair that he can do it.

Then it was time for Marco, the Sinclair let in the last few before closing its doors, and the air conditioners continued to drip.  It was getting near 11 by that point but we weren't paying much attention to the time, though we knew we were exhausted.  Oh well, can't rock and roll all night without a little inconvenience.

With Marco was his long-time second-string (but-almost-as-much-fun-as-Dave) bassist, Karina Rykman and substitute drummer Dave Butler (from Guster).  They were a great band and the third trio we'd seen on the night.  Guess there was some kind of rule about that.  There were times when Marco could have used a guitar, but in general he's just an incredible, incredible keyboardist with an overflowing sonic palette.

Karina and Dave were wearing white t-shirts with matching slogans (We're Using Time For Fun) and white khakis, and Marco had his top-hat and pink glasses but besides that was dressed in a white suit and t-shirt himself.  This meant they all glowed in unison when they started the trippy lights, though they were never that far from a trip.

Marco opened with the whole Fred Short suite and played an eclectic set list, mostly from his earlier records (after the opener).  He's a great showman and had the crowd at his beck and call throughout, ending with three encores and teasing the crowd to beg for more.  It didn't hurt that Karina and Dave were smiling all night, and that Karina showed some great ability to jump around the stage with her huge electric bass and rock our worlds with some booming runs.

He closed with At the Show, but we were a bit disappointed that he didn't do Heavy Metal Floating Downstream or Dropkick, two of his catchiest tunes.  Oh well, we had a great time and will definitely see him again.  It can be surreal to watch a great keyboardist tinkle on the ivories and then work them and work them, like they're an extension of his hands and fingers.  He's nick-named his stand-up piano "Gib" (I assume it's a Gibson) and he let it take a number itself, on which it excelled of course.

OK, we were done and dragged ourselves out of there.  It was already too late for the Red Line and so Dave came home with us and we all got to bed before 2, though it was close.

Beers From All Over Again

Haven't added to this list in a long time, but thought I'd get it down on electronic paper.  Current list of countries I have beer bottles (which contents I drank) from:

Costa Rica
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
New Zealand
Sri Lanka
United States Of America

This is 45 countries and as you may notice, contains places that may not be on your current list of countries of the world, which is endlessly debatable.  I figure these are "beer" countries: if they have a distinctive national style and/or advertise on their label that they are from a particular country, I figure that merits inclusion in the list of "beer" countries.