Thursday, November 30, 2017

David Rawlings and Friends at the Wilbur

As sometimes happens, we had a dearth of concerts towards the end of the summer/early Fall, and then late Fall comes around and wham, there seems to be a concert every minute!  Dead & Company are on tour of course, and besides seeing three of the shows, we've subscribed to the tour on webcast and so have been watching and/or listening to a bunch of them live or next-day.  And then ...

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings announced a stop in Boston (touring under "David Rawlings" this time) and we just had to go see that, at the Wilbur on Wednesday 11/29.  I've gone on before how their music is exactly to my taste.  It's amazing how right it sounds to me.  And this tine they were again accompanied by Brittany Haas, Paul Kowert, and Willie Watson, a super-group of impossible dimensions.

And as has happened before (stop me if I'm repeating myself), we were suffering from late Fall cold/flu bugs and, even if just a little bit, considered skipping the shows.  I even offered the tickets to Kate, but she couldn't make it.  And that turned out to be fine because we sucked it up and headed into the city, determined to at least catch the first set or die in the attempt.  We played it a little smart and parked in a very close-by garage on Charles Street before limping into Wirth's, in the middle of massive construction of course, and having a quick dinner.

We got over to the Wilbur a bit after 7 but the doors hadn't opened yet.  The people waiting were milling about the lobby and we milled too after picking up our will-call tickets, and then were some of the first in.  Several of us immediately crowded up to the stage ... and by "several" I mean several.  Though those of us there were totally psyched, there weren't that many of us.  I'm past being shocked that Welch and Rawlings with some of the best accompanists ever (I mean, have you heard Willie Watson's recent release?) are not as much of a draw as Beethoven, or even DSO.  But whatever!  By the time the show got started the place was pretty full, except for the top balcony, which had more empty than full seats.

So we were right in front of David and Brittany; they lined up as before: Hass, Rawlings, Welch, and Watson from left to right with Kowert in the second row.  As I say, those of us who were there were wildly enthusiastic and the band was full of smiles.  David (native of Pawtucket RI) had his parents in the crowd and of course Rawlings and Welch are Berklee products, so this was a home crowd.

Wish I could remember the setlist (or that it was transcribed online) but no such luck at this point.  Here's what I remember, including opening with Money Is the Meat In the Coconut and doing almost everything on David's new record:

Money Is the Meat In the Coconut
Come On Over My House
Wayside/Back In Time
Midnight Train
To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Cumberland Gap
Keep It Clean (sung by Watson)
It's Too Easy
Good God a Woman
Short Haired Woman Blues
If I Had My Way (sung by Watson)
He Will Set Your Fields On Fire
I Hear Them All/This Land Is Your Land
Put 'Em Up Solid
Guitar Man
Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home Again)
The Weekend
Look At Miss Ohio
Method Acting/Cortez the Killer
Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad
Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby

There was a set break in there and a short encore break.  Highlights were numerous!
  • Money was started, as on the record, by Gil on the hambone.  Amazing that a woman that thin can make those sounds without beating herself black and blue!  She and Brittany had beautiful complementary outfits, including long skirts from the same pattern cloth.
  • Wayside/Back In Time is one of my favorites and everyone around us seemed to feel the same way ... we were gushing over that one at the set break.
  • To Be Young had us all singing along and was as "high" as I've ever heard it.  And to be clear, I was 6 feet away from David while he did his magic on his hollow-body electric and his traditional magic guitar ... the one he plays like he sold his soul to the devil (and then his wife bashed some heads, Yup).
  • Cumberland Gap just knocked us all over and then they stopped it, they'd just summed it all up in less than 2 minutes and we wanted more!  I asked David to play it again and he laughed.
  • This Land Is Your Land was an epic folk sing-along of course, with the whole Wilbur rocking to Woody Guthrie's old words while we all nodded along to the fact that this land really *is* our fucking land, no matter what anyone pulls off (or not) in the short term.
  • Yup was another favorite, how can you not like this story?
  • Several people called out for The Weekend throughout, and we were all glad when they got around to this.
  • Look At Miss Ohio was the encore opener and got one of the biggest cheers of the night.  I mean, we were watching "David Rawlings" that night and we all loved him but ... Good God, that was a woman named Gillian Welch on the other mike, maybe 12 feet from me.  Gillian's hair is mostly white and she's sporting wrinkles and jowls like a mature person, but she's still the amazing, young, fresh, thrilling musician we all adore.
  • And I have to say something about Haas, Kowert, and Watson.  Britanny was effortlessly brilliant on fiddle, looking almost as frail as Gillian but playing it with the fervor of a Vassar Clements.  Kowert was flawless himself on bass fiddle and low harmonies.  And Watson is quite a force, taking over the mike for a couple of numbers and sometimes grabbing his fiddle and playing duets with Brittany, over at her mike right in front of me.  The iron-jawed guy next to me was captivated by Willie's wandering eye, and I think the attraction may have been mutual.
  • BUT ... perhaps the highlight of highlights was Method Acting/Cortez the Killer in the encore, that had jaws dropped down the line to my left and to my right (as well as mine).  This isn't the most dynamic song and it goes on for a bit, but we wanted it to go longer, it was just a tour de force, rising and falling and rising again until we all almost understood what it was all about.
Ack!  As Sarah said later, while the music was going on we were feeling just fine.  But by the time it was over we were almost ready to collapse.  Luckily it was only a long block back to the car and then a relatively quick drive home, though they're doing something to the pedestrian bridge from Charles Circle to the Esplanade and they tried to shower us with sparks.  Oh well, we survived!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

DeadCo Fall Tour 2017 (Hartford)

When we bought tickets to Wednesday night in Hartford (11/22) in the frenzy of planning for the 2017 Fall tour, we didn't realize that it was the night before Thanksgiving, which came a bit early this year.  Jeez, that presented a bit of a logistical problem, especially when we realized all roads to Hartford would be parking lots that afternoon.  Oh well, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, or something.

Anyway, we tried to prepare as well as we could.  And in the few free moments in the run-up to Thanksgiving we did a little research into how best to get to Hartford that afternoon and what to do if we got there and found time on our hands, neither of which, we realized, might come true.

Oh well, things went as well as could be expected.  Except it was raining cats and dogs and the wind was blowing like a Dire Wolf!  We picked up Dave at Alewife after slogging through a packed, busy, and frantic Arlington and North Cambridge.  And then we hit route 2, made it past 128, and then were in a long, long, long, long line of traffic crawling out through Lincoln and Concord, and Acton, and beyond.

Our plan was to continue West on route 2 (as bad as the traffic was on that road, at least it was moving) until Waze showed us that we could detour South-Southwest without increasing our problems.  Oh well, we thought, at the worst we can follow route 2 out to goddamn Greenfield and then head down 91!  And that turned out to be what we did when all we saw to the South was angry red on Waze.

And of course it was beautiful, even on an apocryphal late-Fall afternoon.  As we approached the Connecticut Valley the clouds started to show breaks, and streaks, and sudden beams of sunshine tearing over the gray and green clouds and hills.  By the time we finally got around Greenfield and headed South the low-on-the-horizon sun had ripped through the clouds in several spots and Dave (driving) had to put on his sunglasses.  We got tied up in rush hour traffic a bit in Springfield and then held up by an accident just North of Hartford, but in all we had done the right thing and we pulled off the highway onto Trumbull and Church Streets in downtown Hartford in a bit over three hours, perhaps a couple of hours quicker and definitely with more of our sanity left than would have been the case if we had gone straight out 90 and 84.  Who says the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides?

Got a good spot on the second floor of the garage across from the XL Center (the whilom Hartford Civic Center, built in 1974), though we suspected that this might be a trap.  We'd been stuck in a parking garage in Worcester after a Dead & Company show before and we tried to position ourselves for a quick getaway after the concert, FWIW.

As mentioned, we'd done some research on things to do in downtown Hartford, but it was already late afternoon and we figured the best thing to do was to head right for the brewpub we'd earmarked.  It was a cold, windy, few blocks but we got right up there and got one of the last tables at the City Steam Brewery ... it was packed and they were cranking the Dead on their sound system.  We'd come to the right place and were there in plenty of time to relax and get ready!

The City Steam Brewery is a really fun combination dining room, catering center, and sports bar with its own beers that sprawls through several adjacent suites in the first floors of one of the oldest buildings in downtown Hartford, the H.H. Richardson-designed Cheney building.  We had no idea about this when we got there ... it was just a brewpub we'd picked out, but serendipity had struck again.  Jesus, just when you've resigned yourself to the fact that the world is a stressed out place where you don't belong, something brings you back in.

OK, several beers and several tacos later we were out of there and got in line for the XL Center just as the doors were opening.  And it was probably a good thing we did, because this was one of the most thorough searches-entering-a-concert ever and we're sure the lines behind us soon stretched out back to 84 and beyond.  They wanted me to prove to them that my empty water bottle (you were allowed to bring one in) was really empty.

On the other hand, we were soon seated with some good beers in the arena and had an interlude for some crowd watching and some more speculation about what they were going to play.  It was about time for another Dark Star!  They'd played in DC the night before and opened with Stranger (this had been Dave's prediction for our show), had done the Help troika, and also Terrapin.  What was left?  We agreed it was very probable they'd do TOO, but what else?

We were in row G (7th) of the balcony, but the balcony stretched up WAY past us, as balconys used to do in the early 70s.  It was kind of funny to watch person after person turn up the stairs at the base of the balcony, stop short, and say, "Oh My God!" when they realized they had to climb like 70 stories on narrow concrete steps to get to their seat.  We went up there ourselves to check it out, and from the top you could barely recognize that that was a hockey rink far below you, let alone a stage at the left end.  Anyway, we had excellent seats, akin to where we'd been in the arena at Worcester, the first time we saw them.

OK, time for the boys to come out and light into the first song.  We hadn't called this one!  Here's the first set:

Iko Iko
Shakedown Street
They Love Each Other
Loose Lucy
Friend of the Devil
Bird Song

Iko knocked us all silly immediately.  The arena was jumping and twisting already.  And John and Oteil did a great unison backup in this, an element from their earlier tour that I'd complained about being lacking. And immediately Jeff was back blowing our minds on the piano, and Bobby was extemporizing on vocals!

And the "great" song we anticipated they'd repeat didn't take long.  They had a false start but then ripped right into Shakedown, with John doing the wah-wah-iest stuff and again, John and Oteil pairing on the backup.  I guess this was the municipality in which to sing "Don't tell me this town ain't got no Hart [sic]."

John took a turn at the mike with a good TLEO.  I kept hoping Bobby would pick up his walnut guitar but he stuck with the Strat with the big pickguard all night.  He had two clones on stage, which he switched between when one was slightly out of tune, but they were the same guitar.  But we really couldn't complain about a nit like that ... they were *on.*  And Bobby's a professional.

Another one we might have anticipated, especially since they were in such a funky groove, was a quick Loose Lucy after that.  Dave called FOTD from the tuning and this was excellent too.  I'd mentioned r.e. the first Boston show that the drummers were playing really well and this was more of the same.  Mickey seems much more disciplined this tour (even though he's adding samples and weird sounds at the oddest moments) and Billy is mixing it up like he thinks he's Joe Russo or something.  I think Mickey being more on the beat enables Billy to fool around more.

And then they closed the set with a great Bird Song.  A setlist Dave caught a glimpse of had Good Lovin' as the real last song, but I guess Bobby has his reasons when he cuts a set short.

We really liked these seats also.  It was great to be in such different parts of the arenas for our three nights on this tour.  High up and straight back the first night, on the floor on the right the next, and then in the close balcony on the left, this was a great variety.  I think there's something about me that likes being on the left facing the stage at a concert.  I can see the instruments a bit better, since it's natural for a right-handed guitar player to present to (his) right.  Or maybe it's a corpus callosum kind of thing and I can perceive sound slightly better with my ears at that angle.  Or maybe it's something.  But whatever, it seemed ... like it had in Worcester ... that I was right in the middle of the sound, especially Oteil's bass, which had never had a nicer tone.  I'd lock on Oteil, feel how his sound was playing around with the beat laid down by Billy and Mickey, be amazed by John and Jeff when they took their leads, and realize that there was one sound that underlaid it all, though I still wanted him to switch to the walnut guitar!

Wandered around and got some fine beer again, then settled back to watch the people climbing Mount Section 201, which was daunting to many.

Yikes, I was about to go for another piss before the second set started, thought I had plenty of time, but then they suddenly bounded out on stage and started strumming.  I guess they realized this was the night before Thanksgiving and they should not dilly-dally.  Hmmm, John was raised in Fairfield.  Maybe the band has been invited over to his parents' house for Thanksgiving, a nice thought!

Here we go with our last of 6 sets on this tour, here's to many more.  And here's the second set:

Estimated Prophet
Eyes of the World
China Doll
The Other One
Spanish Jam
Black Peter
Uncle John's Band
U.S. Blues

I think Bobby knew who was in the audience, singing me two of my favorite(!) songs.  Whatever, though there some moments, this was a fantastic, solid, second set.  In all, this was possibly the best concert of the tour so far.  This was a smooth and professional Estimated Eyes (missing Deal!).  Right after Eyes Oteil did a TOO tease, but then they turned on a dime and it was Oteil on another surreal vocal on China Doll, the whole thing a note-perfect, pace-perfect start to the second set.

And speaking of pace ... gee, I haven't been complaining about that!  In Summer 2016 they were playing stuff almost comically slow sometimes.  But that's changed; I referred to Sunday night's first encore as a "slow-tempo Brokedown," but that's Brokedown.  They've picked up the pace a lot since then and on that day were playing right at the beat of our hearts and minds.

And then Oteil stepped back after the last chorus, and they paused for a split second, and then John started on the TOO riff, and then we were flying through the air and Oteil was dominating and we knew what was coming, and this time he hit the beginning of TOO like he meant it and we were flying up the cliff vertically.  Amazing stuff!

Then Drums/Space, and then Space turned around a bit, and around again, and then they were all playing a textbook Spanish Jam, like it was a pop tune or something, it was so well formed.  This was a Dead & Company debut and was led by that beatnic Jeff on grand piano.

OK, I admit that the following Black Peter was really well played and right in so many ways, but I'll say again that Bobby has a hard time switching persona to sing a tragic song like this.  He's not a natural with the mysterious folk songs.  But this and the following Uncle John's were again, such a treat: two more Workingman's songs done with skill, respect, and brightness.  Like they were songs that had been written well over 45 years ago but still needed to be explored.

And then a closer of U.S. Blues, it's in their contract to play this regularly, like before big American holidays.

We'd all taken turns at the close-by bathroom during the second set and at this point started putting our coats on and getting ready to take off.  Needless to say, we weren't going to leave early and miss a note of Dead & Company!  But we realized that as soon as the encore ended, each added second we took to get to the highway might translate into an added minute of delay, and this would result in a shorter Thanksgiving tomorrow!

So we were all ready by the time they got back on stage and grooved with everyone to the first Dylan song on the tour, Knockin' On Heaven's Door.  Great end to a great concert but as soon as they hit the first chord of the ending crescendo we were out of there.

We had to get a third of the way around the building on the concourse and didn't knock anyone over, though it was close.  Ran down the stairs over on the Church Street side and then up to the car, which we jumped into and started like we were trying out for The Dukes Of Hazzard.  There were still a few cars in front of us by the time we got to the bottom of the ramp, but we all paid up quick; I had my ticket and my Alexander Hamilton out and threw them at the happy attendant and took off up ... well, we weren't sure where we were but I guess it was Morgan Street because before we knew it we saw the sign for 84 to Boston straight ahead and that's the way we went.  We were on the highway almost before Bobby stopped Namaste-ing, I figure.  I hope they have a nice Thanksgiving!

There were a good number of cars out on the highway, but we made fine time back to Massachusetts, did a quick McDonalds stop because we were hungry, dropped Dave off in Quincy, and made it back in better time than I'd anticipated.  Bed by 1:43!

Monday, November 20, 2017

DeadCo Fall Tour 2017 (Boston night two)

As mentioned in the last post, Dead & Company announced a second Boston show (Sunday, 11/19) after we'd already gotten tickets to the first show and to Hartford.  Well, who were we to skip that?  And I was able to get floor tickets so things were looking good!  After the fantastic sound and light in the second balcony on Friday, having the whole arena laid out in front of us, we were eager to see them from up close.

Well, not *really* up close, but a lot closer.  We met Dave at Kinsale after parking in our normal space and had another nice late-afternoon dinner with a few beers.  What did they have left to play?  The Philadelphia and first Boston shows on the tour had been extraordinary (and the others had been very good) ... maybe time for them to repeat some of their mega-songs like Dark Star, TOO, Terrapin Station, etc.  Or maybe they'd be rolling out more new songs.  Whatever, we were ready for anything.

Got down to the Garden and found our seats: take a right just after you get in and we were out on the floor, about at the opposing blue line near the boards.  They have a long, narrow enclosed area set up on the floor in this arena tour with amazing banks of soundboards at the front, the light show guys with amazing banks of computers behind them and on a small riser, and the cameras behind them on another riser.  We were parallel with the middle of that setup, over on the right.  I thought a few times while Bobby was playing that maybe I'd scoop the puck off the boards, be across the red line and into the zone in a few strides, fake right and go left and tuck it 5-hole on him.  He wouldn't stand a chance!

Settled down, met some neighbors (the guy in front of us who'd brought his wife and son was a dancing fool who drove the ushers crazy), got a beer or two, and watched the crowd fill in.  The place seemed sold out to me ... didn't see one empty seat, and before you knew it the guys came on, maybe 7:20 or so which isn't bad.

So how do I describe this show?  At the time I was captivated by the experience and thought it was musically one of the best shows of the tour.  On reflection and on listening to the tape I'd have to knock it down to the middle of the pack, but it sure was fun!  This was closer than I'd ever been to Dead & Company performing and I was able to see some mannerisms from these great musicians that weren't as obvious from farther away.  Sure, I'd seen them on video many times, but seeing, hearing, and whatever sensing you may want to include (Mickey licked The Beam!) from 100-150 feet away was just awesome.  And it was nice to be on flat ground rather than up in the vertiginous balcony and to have people all around me dancing and roaring.  After our great experience up in the balcony on Friday, this was a fantastic change of pace and was as good or better in its own way.

And the music was great too, though perhaps technically not as good as other times we've seen them (quick note, Dave pointed out that this was our 8th time seeing Dead & Company, as opposed to 7 times seeing Furthur).  Anyway, enough scene-setting.  The guys came out and did the song we knew they were going to do that Sunday ... not the hammering, frantic, dual-drum, got-to-testify attack we've seen them do before, but a loping, spiritual rendition.  Here's the first set:

Samson and Delilah
Dire Wolf
Cold Rain and Snow
Here Comes Sunshine
Greatest Story Ever Told

Then John took over the mike for a quintessential Jerry song, and he sure does these things proud.  As I and others have said many times before (and hope to say many times again), he's not a Jerry clone but rather someone who can play with the same ineffable quality that Jerry used to bring, not to mention his skill, which sometimes seems to exceed what Jerry could do and sometimes falls short ... who really cares when you get to this level?

And Jeff deserves his own paragraph and much more.  As good as all the guys have been playing on this tour, when they give him a chance he leaves everyone in the dirt.  And it's not just "Dead" songs, perhaps his best moment on the last tour was his jamming glue into Days Between and perhaps his best moment in the early part of this tour was his strong-as-a-skeleton backbone to Milestones.  But when he needs to rock or play the country blues and his piano or organ gets warmed up, watch the fuck out!

They did one of the repeats I most wanted next.  I adore Cold Rain, I think it represents such a great amalgam of folk music, primal Dead, and jungle rock, and gives the guitars and keyboards a platform on which to go nuts.  Next a song Dave had predicted as a definite, Loser, maybe not as haunting as at its best, and then they started into a beat we didn't recognize as first.  It was Corrina, and a very good version of this quasi-post-Dead Bobby song (he's performed it much more with RatDog and Further than he did with the originals).  I have a hard time believing this is a Hunter lyric, since it's over-the-top obtuse and doesn't flow.  The song almost comes to an awkward stop several times, which is perhaps the effect Hunter was looking for.  Bobby loves weird time signatures and maybe this was Hunter enabling him.

[Just saw this note from David Dodd about Corrina: "'There is no fear that lovers born will ever fail to meet.'  Hunter notes in A Box of Rain that these two lines were lifted from the portion of the 'Terrapin Station' suite which was never set to music, as he despaired of otherwise hearing them sung."]

But the rest of the first set was music to our ears.  Here Comes Sunshine is, at its least, a beautiful exercise in optimism and at its best, as it was that night, a power ballad disguised as a hippy anthem.  They had all four singers (including Oteil and Jeff that is) singing as loud as possible, and the harmony rang through the old barn, probably reverberating through the train platforms below.  This was as good as it gets.

The set close was another song I hoped they'd repeat.  Greatest Story Ever Told is one of my favorites and they hadn't knocked it out of the park when they debuted it a week before in MSG, but they sure got the timing right that night, including transcendent leads by Jeff and John.

Oh boy, what a first set!  Our local usher hadn't killed the guy in front of me, though he'd been tempted.  I told him several times that he was doing as good a job as he could.  The house lights came up and it was suddenly bright on the floor and the arena was a mass of joyous people.  Luckily, the bathroom was as convenient to our seats as could be.  I took advantage of that and then wandered around the opposite concourse, looking for the best beer and enjoying the scene.  Young and old people in funky jackets and wild t-shirts and crazy hair and colorful makeup wandering up and down the concourse of the Garden and smiling like the world was about to begin.  Lovely.

OK, back to our seats with beer and a little water and it was time for the second set.  Again, in retrospect this wasn't consistently top-of-the-heap stuff, but at the time it was wonderful.  Bobby had played four guitars in Friday and this night stuck almost exclusively to his Strat with the big pick-guard.  And the opener was him picking one of his best riffs on it.  Here's the list:

China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider
Comes a Time
Playing In the Band
Morning Dew
I Need A Miracle
Casey Jones

This was an interesting transition to Rider, driven by noodling on the lead guitar more than by the rhythm.  We were very glad to get Oteil excelling on the vocals on Comes a Time, an essential Dead song to me.  This was a gem on the bootlegs we traded long before it was ever released.  And then they went into a song everyone would agree is seminal, PITB.  Who has time for Dark Star or TOO when they roll this out in the key slot of the second set?

PITB got really spacey and degenerated into a nice compact little Drums and Space, and then they came out of it with another essential song, Dew, which featured some great spots and some great John/Jeff leads but didn't really take off the way this song can.  They made up for that with Miracle, which featured Bob at his utmost.  It's hard to say who'd been playing most great this tour, because as soon as you do you think, "Yeah but what about...."  Bobby has always been a sneakily good singer and with Dead & Company (and Fare Thee Well before that) he seems to have upped his game.  He's letting it all hang out (you thought he did before!?!) and this was him just being Bobby all over our consciousnesses.

Then another set closer with Casey Jones.  I was very glad to hear several songs from Workingman's in person on this tour, perhaps their artistic pinnacle and at the least one of the clearest, distinctive musical/artistic statements ever made.

Whoah!  We were a little tired and a lot enervated and tingling.  I'd been dancing with the guy in front of me to Casey Jones and we were one big happy family.  Even the usher was grinning his pants off, seeing how much fun everybody was having and having his own fun of course.  How could you not be crazy about this music?

Time to towel off for a bit, but as mentioned they haven't been taking much of a break before rolling out an encore this tour.  Dave was barely holding back his hope for a PITB reprise ... in fact, he wasn't.  They'd cut it short to go into Drums but they'd cut Playing short on him before and never come back to it.  This time they were in the mood for a soft landing and gave us a beautiful Brokedown with some nice slow-tempo leads in it.

But then ... wait, they weren't leaving the stage.  And the drummers were setting down a weird beat, and then it resolved into 10, and before we really had comprehended what they were doing, they were in the middle of the PITB reprise of death!  Dave grabbed my arm and tattoed it.  They crested a wave, and then another one, and then dipped down into the valley, and then were coming out of it and John mosied a little closer to the mike, and then a little closer.  He wasn't going to ... yes he was, he did the Donna Scream!!!!!  This was a John Mayer interpretation of a Donna Scream of course, but was distinctly an homage to one of the most distinctive moments of Grateful Dead music ever, and at the same time his own creation.  That was the moment of the decade for me.

OMG, this had been a fantastic experience.  As mentioned, perhaps a bit up and down technically, but in all a superior experience.  I wonder what the king is doing tonight?  Couldn't be as good as this.

Quick exit from the Garden and back onto Causeway, where we lingered for half a second but then headed back up the hill toward our car.  Got things to do on Monday morning, but this was a great Sunday night!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

DeadCo Fall Tour 2017 (Boston night one)

The life of a Deadhead keeps on getting richer and richer, which is very curious, and very wonderful.  As an example, Dave’s Picks 24 came out recently, a sonically incredible re-mastering of a restored tape from 45 years ago, when the earth was flat and I was still in high school.  But it’s some of the most delightful music I’ve ever heard … it’s got that thing that appeals to me about music, a combination of technical ability, poetic expression, great writing, and great performing.

And we continue to be blessed not only by archival releases, but by current musicians playing the Dead’s repertoire in a modern way.  That’s amazing!  Arguably the best Dead band around is Dead & Company of course, and we were very happy when they announced a Fall tour after their excellent tour this past Spring.  I was ecstatic at the prospect of seeing them again, and also extremely glad that the guys were showing a commitment to the band that could possibly be called into question if they just toured once a year.

Well, lots of people are committed and the scramble for tickets was as frantic as you may imagine.  They announced one stop in Boston (at the Garden) and another in Hartford, which we targeted and were able to snag tickets for (in the balcony) with all three of us trying hard.  Then they added another Boston date and we were lucky enough also to get floor tickets for that.  Sarah and Dave just got “wait” messages when they tried but I was able to get through and was offered the floor, which I jumped on!

Are we nuts to go see this band over and over, including the night before Thanksgiving??  That’s for you to determine, I’m not going to defend myself.  All I can say is to listen to this stuff, which in my mind ranks as some of the best artistic expressions of this century.  I’ll be vindicated when they’re still playing it and listening to it in 500 years!

So the first concert was Friday the 17th, and I did the same old thing of leaving work a few minutes before 4:00 and battling traffic on Routes 2 and 16 and then down Soldier’s Field Road and Storrow Drive with a beautiful Fall sunset at my back, lighting up the Charles in a deep blue and the Eastern sky in a hazy rose and reflecting off the buildings in our beautiful city.  Got to Bowdoin Street in plenty of time, met Sarah and Dave, and parked in their building as soon as we could.

Went down to Kinsale’s in Government Center to meet up with Leen and her family, who were attending the concert also.  Had some quick beers, salad, quesadillas, and talk, then walked quickly down to the Garden to battle the crowds getting in.  The place was packed; we waited in long lines for beers and hit the bathroom, and got settled into our seats in section 308 not long before they started.  We were way up in the balcony, but were pretty much straight on to the stage and could see fine.  We were too far away to see fretboard fingering, but everything else going on on stage was clear if you knew what to look for.  And being so far up, our view of the stage was unrestricted and better than in some situations where we’ve been very close.  And the seats were a third what floor seats cost!

The boys started some purposeful tuning, Bobby started a steady beat on his rhythm guitar, and soon they dropped into Jack Straw and we were off.  The Dead were back in Boston, making magic!

We’d heard/seen most of the first three shows of the tour (2 NYC, 1 Philly), and they started off "great" and were already at "excellent" by the time they got to Boston.  What level would they get to tonight?  And seeing them live, standing at one end of an indoor arena while they were roaring at the other end and the crowd was singing along was just an incredible experience.  The bass and drums were of course miles more vivid than when seen/heard electronically, and the sounds from Weir's guitar and Chimenti's piano rang through the whole arena.  And that's not to mention the lead guitar, which made the Celtics' and Bruins' historic banners ripple in appreciation.

In their first few tours the band has been a bit raw and has tried to stick to what they knew they could do well.  The most wonderful thing about them in late 2017 is that they seem to have said fuck that, we’ve been together for a few years now and are a mature band that can take chances.  And taking chances is a big part of what this music is all about!  As one blogger said, “When John turns to Bobby he gets instructions, but when he turns to Oteil he gets inspiration!”  And he was turning back and forth all night.

Sure, some of their forays into new stuff don’t quite ring solid, as with their debut of Beat It On Down the Line in NYC and their attempt to jazz up Big River in Boston that night.  But what the hell, we’ll take warts and clams if it means we also get the extended passages of transcendence that sometimes appear.

Speaking of transcendence, here’s the first set:

Jack Straw
New Speedway Boogie
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Big River
The Music Never Stopped

This was riveting stuff and we could hear every note and the balance was amazing.  OK, Jeff was a little quiet to start with and the vocals had to get a bit straightened out.  As always in an arena, what sounded just exactly perfect in sound check needed adjustment with the bowl full of people.  But they were soon roaring on all cylinders.

Bobby's been cycling between four guitars this tour, and has a new walnut-body electric that just sounds like buttered toast.  The drummers have been on top of their games this tour, and Billy in particular was the guy to listen to all by himself.

The first four songs were up and up, each moment topping what came before, but then Big River was a throw-away, and then they took their shot at Sugaree, which we could have predicted would be in the first Boston set (in fact, we did).  And of course they ended the set with another fantastic Music Never Stopped, in which John finally made the "Keep on dancing until daylight" bridge his own.  No longer will I say, "Yeah but Donna should have been singing that."

We were in heaven, as was pretty much everyone in the audience.  After hanging around at our seats for a while to let the crowd rush die down a bit I ventured out for bathroom and beer and met Dave, Leen, and Madison, who were having a great time.  Madison may be a Dead convert, I hear she liked the second set even better than the first.  How could you not be head over heels about this stuff?

They seemed to have converted all the good beer taps to just Bud Light and Shocktop, but I finally at least found some Sam lager and made it back to the seats right after the roar went up, announcing that they were back on stage.

And here's where it got good.  They hadn't yet done Scarlet Fire on the tour and they were not about to let that oversight go for another minute.  This was a boppy Scarlet, an ultimate hippy anthem, and then it became an exercise in controlled power that ultimately led to Oteil stepping up to the mike and sweetly telling us all how the mountain was on fire and it was all because of dragons playing with matches.  This was excellent, cream-filled stuff.

And then ... well, here's the list:

Scarlet Begonias
Fire on the Mountain
He's Gone
Viola Lee Blues
Wharf Rat
The Wheel
Sugar Magnolia

He's Gone was as lovely as could be, but then one of the moments of the night was when that dwindled into noodling, and then fucking Viola Lee roared out of those ashes and picked up the Garden and shook it.  It was kind of futile to scream our delight from where we were, but this one had me in ecstasy.

Ho hum, Drums, Space, Miles Davis, and Wharf Rat!?!?!?!  Instead of the classic Thunder Drums the guys have dual sets of giant drum pads set up behind their rig this year and they got some incredible noises and rhythms going on those.  This setup allowed them to mix in samples really easily and well.  And they were joined by Oteil soon, on bass instead of traps this year.

A little note: Oteil spent much of his time standing on a red-lined mat(?) but stepped off that to sing, so we had no idea what that was for.  But we figured he knew what he was doing!  Another note is that Bobby's been wearing glasses this tour, the first time the youngster of the Dead has ever done that on stage (except for "home" concerts, like at Sweetwater).  Maybe his vanity has finally lapsed enough for him to do so, but knowing Bobby I figure he finally said, "Hey, I can see better this way!"  You'll be glad to hear that even though he could see better and had a teleprompter right there, he kept on forgetting words at his classic pace.  Anyway, when Oteil had his on (they're on and off), that made 5 of the 6 band members wearing spectacles.

But where was I?  Oh yeah, excellent jazz piano by Jeff on Milestones.  Then epic but perhaps not the best Wharf Rat.  Bobby's vocal power and range has been consistently top-notch lately but he still has a bit of trouble bringing the gravitas when he needs it, though this is a small criticism.  But then they started into The Wheel, and the Garden woke up and started thundering.  As I say, the sound at our end of the bowl was astounding.  Not only was the bass and the rhythm guitar and the drums and the piano rocking us, the Deadheads to our left and to our right and beneath us and all around were singing on key to this epic Garcia song, and of course the lead guitar was piercing through everything with Mayer's twist on Garcia's melodies.

And then OMG, they started into Sugar Mags.  This wasn't the balls-to-the-wall rock and roll of a 1972 version, but was still exactly what we needed to finish off a wonderful musical event.  Bobby (with John on excellent harmony) was singing about love and sexual fascination and being free like irony had never been invented, and then they got deep down into the jam and then they emerged and Bobby didn't exactly jump to the mike (he kind of sidled up to it), and then they were singing about daydreams in the sunshine and life was just perfect.  This is what we come for, I guess.

Dead & Company seem to be buying in to the idea that encores need to be timely.  Jeez, when we last saw Jorma he just stood behind his chair at the end of his set, and then got back in it for the encore.  The guys came back on stage almost as soon as they left.  Billy may have had time for a quick piss in there, but as you get older that becomes a little tougher.

Anyway, John got an acoustic out but the others stuck to their electrics (I loved Bobby's walnut guitar, but he didn't play it for the encore), and they struck up Ripple, which John excels on.  What a wonderful ending to a wonderful concert!

The crowd wanted a second encore, but the house lights came up and it was time to go home.  We hung out a bit (we were in the middle of our row, way up in the balcony), but then we got assembled and got out of there pretty quickly into the cold and windy late Fall night.  Downtown Boston was going at full tilt on a Friday night and it took us a while to push through the crowds up the lower slopes of Beacon Hill (including a short cut through the back of the hill, a working-class neighborhood back say, 45 years ago, but very upscale now).  Then when we left the garage the streets were full of cars like it was rush hour, but we finally got onto the expressway, over the Zakim Bridge, and back home before it got really late.

Day off today and then back to the tour on Sunday!!!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Patty Larkin At The Burren

Thought about it for a long time, and then finally bought a couple of the last seats to go see Patty Larkin at The Burren on Friday, 11/10.  We’ve always loved seeing Patty, and we really loved seeing her again!

The November weather had turned really cold suddenly, as it can in New England, but I got a good parking space right across Elm Street and we settled in at a booth in the cozy Burren with a couple of beers to wait for the doors at 6.  We had GA tickets, though most of the room is reserved tables.  The long table right at the stage is non-reserved however, and that’s where we went.  A quick waiter got us some more beer and then dinner and it wasn’t long before Patty came on.

She was solo of course, though Merrie Amsterburg joined her for a couple of tunes later.  Patty opened with Italian Shoes and played a great setlist, featuring some gems from throughout her career.  She did a few new songs too, including one written at a writer's cabin on the Outer Cape, about the Outer Cape in us all.  She encored with Nick Lowe’s What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding (we were all aware of the very depressing one-year anniversary we were facing).  No I’m Fine or Metal Drums, but quite satisfactory anyway.

Being right at the front we had plenty of opportunities to joke with Patty, and after the show we stopped at the merch table to chat.  Sarah mentioned Louise, and Patty was nice enough to sign her “25” CD to give to her, though it’s been a very long time since their paths have crossed.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Dave and Jimmie Dale at Bull Run

I was kind of surprised to see an announcement from the Bull Run that "loud folk" Dave Alvin would be touring with transcendental Texan Jimmie Dale Gilmore in a few months, but that didn't stop me from rushing to the phone to get tickets.  Both of them are at the top of the heap, and we'd seen a couple of other odd pairings that came off great (like Bromberg and Campbell right there in the Bull Run).  We got our customary center-left table, and then the show sold out fast.

Got to the Bull Run after pickup in West Concord on a Friday night (11/3) and the place was already pretty full by the time we got there.  Got some good beers and good food quick from a very efficient waitress.  Took some last bathroom breaks (Alvin was down there and was mobbed, hard to go to the bathroom that way), and then settled down for a good show.

Dave was right in front of us and Jimmie Dale on the right, both sitting on their low metal chairs.  The show was a lot of fun and I have to say that the pairing worked, though it seemed uneven at times.  I was thinking they were going to do a lot of traditional songs that they both knew equally, but they concentrated on an Alvin song, then a Gilmore song, and so on back and forth.  They did ask for requests early in the show, but they basically wanted us to request what they had planned to play.

Jimmie Dale made a few mistakes when trying to keep up with Dave, which I'm sure can be pretty difficult.  When he took the lead he was excellent, doing Dallas, Just a Wave (which he said was written by Butch Hancock but is HIS song), and one of the moments of the night was him captivating the whole sold out and raucous Sawtelle Room with Another Colorado.  He's magic at his best.

At one point Jimmie Dale was going on about river songs, and how they were in the same vein as train songs, and how there might be outer space songs some day (I think he was losing me).  And then he stopped and said, "But there aren't any bicycle songs!?!"  Dave immediately started playing, "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.  I'm half crazy all for the love of you.  It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage.  But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two."  Or he played part of it at least.

And it was as wonderful as you might expect, seeing Dave Alvin sitting 10 feet in front of me playing acoustic.  Some yahoos shouted for Harlan County Line early on, but he pointed out to them that he needed an electric to play that.  I kind of wished he had his electric and turned it up as loud as he had last time I'd seen him at the Bull Run (that was a topic of conversation at the table, we all agreed that was the loudest we'd ever heard the place get), but he was perfect on acoustic of course and this was great!

For me, the moment of the night was him doing Evening Blues from his Blackjack David record.  I never thought I'd see him play this song and it's a gem.  Several of us requested Blue Wing, but he shook his head and said they'd played that the night before.

BUT, never mind that.  He'd opened with Long White Cadillac, soon chimed in with King Of California (with Jimmie Dale frailing the mandolin part on his guitar), done an amazing acoustic Fourth of July in the middle of the set, and his song in the encore was an amazing, delicate and ethereal version of Marie Marie, three of the best songs in the world right there.  Superb!