Sunday, April 22, 2018

Los Lobos Up Close

Back a few months ago I was kinda busy with a sudden rash of Spring and Summer concerts popping out of the ice like (really) early crocuses.  One of them was Los Lobos at The Cabot in Beverly on April 21 (Record Store Day 2018) and I thought hmmm, that sounds like it really would be fun.  So I got tickets and they were fourth row center in that lovely theater.  We almost had to give up the tickets later but didn't, and so they became a little more valuable perhaps and by the time the day rolled around we were very psyched.

And after a busy Saturday and a quick nap and a fast ride over there we strolled in and took our comfortable seats and realized, Holy Fuck, we were about to see this incredible band from 20-30 feet away!

There were no techs on stage and then they got frantic at the last minute, trying to get things ready, like they were going through a Holy Fuck moment themselves.  The crowd filled in (the seat to my left stayed empty all evening, so I had plenty of room, and a cup-holder!) and then the band came out a little late with their current drummer, Bugs González, and they lit into Will the Wolf Survive ... Holy Fuck!!  One of the best bands in the world was filling our eardrums with incredible sound and moving our limbs with incredible rhythm.  And that was David Hidalgo singing this amazing song right in front of me.

The theater seemed pretty full to me but I couldn't see the balcony of course and you can imagine that I didn't spend a lot of time *not* watching what was going on on the stage.  As seems to happen sometimes, it was an "older" crowd (well, not any older than us) and there were some well-dressed people and lots of perfume!?!  And this at a rock and roll concert??  Luckily, though the audience slanted toward privileged whites, we were all there for a kick-ass night of Los Lobos music and there was lots of dancing, lots of enthusiasm, and lots of singing along.

The first set was plagued by things going wrong, some of which the techs should really have prepared for.  First a string broke on Louie Pérez's acoustic, soon after that Conrad Lozano's strap broke on his bass and Bugs had to wave frantically to the stage manager to come fix it ... which was harder than it at first seemed.  This drama kind of detracted from the songs.  And then they realized that the real problem with Louie's setup was that it wasn't routed right through the PA.  He was kind of annoyed by this, and Cesar Rosas tried to cover for the delays by riling up the crowd.  But David Hidalgo was his usual hippie-in-the-bunch and just laughed at everyone trying to get things just exactly perfect.  Of course, his switchbox soon shorted out and that was pretty much it for his first set.

So the first set was cut short but during the break they replaced Hidalgo's box, hooked up and mixed Pérez's guitars (and electric mandolin) correctly, and everything was just exactly perfect eventually.  David gave the stage manager the thumbs up, but then laughingly tried to alarm him with other stuff later in the show.

And they opened the second set with another of their best songs, One Time One Night!  The audience was not too disturbed by the fuckups in the first set since the playing had been so incredible.  But then the second set came along and any sins were far in the past.  They played a number of their Spanish-language rockers, including one fantastic, crooning song by Rosas.  And to my satisfaction, they got way out there and jammed like crazy.  Not to minimize the contributions of Pérez, Rosas, and Lozano, but David Hidalgo is one of the best guitarists in the world and he was milking some mind-bending sounds out of his custom guitar.  He also picked up the accordion and bent some minds with that.

I think the attention they paid to Pérez's sound played out well; I've always assumed he was integral to their vibe but I'd never seen him that up-close and with that degree of sound clarity, and he was just incredible.  With song after song they'd cycle between each of the guitar players taking a lead and not just taking a lead, but taking the song in a different direction with their wildly varied filters and technique.  And then Conrad would start booming and grinning and he'd take a solo!

And I can't believe it's taken me this long to mention Steve Berlin, who was at his coolest and at the same time his most intense.  He was playing the biggest baritone sax I've ever seen (when he wasn't playing great keyboards) and some of his leads on that were as consciousness-raising as Hidalgo's.  And he was cool ... when he wasn't playing he just strolled around and mumbled to himself like a true hippie.

OK, Latin songs were over, they were returning from deep space and the night was getting on, and they calmed us all down with a slow beat.  And soon we all caught the riff ... they were playing The Neighborhood, which they did as a folky sing-along.  Hidalgo was nice enough to coax us suburbanites into taking a chorus or two, which we all responded to very well I think.

And then it was time for the Buddy Holly/Grateful Dead rocker: Not Fade Away.  Bugs went nuts on this of course, he was a solid performer all night.  And then they ended that, counted a beat, and launched into the Dead's Bertha.  Hidalgo didn't really nail this vocal, but we were all mellowed out, dancing, and enjoying every bit of this.

OK, time to take a "encore" break, and when they came out to the stage David spoke sotto voce into the mike (but with a smile, we all heard him), "Will Barrence Whitfield and Willie Alexander please come to the bandstand?"  Ack, Barrence is the greatest and Willie Alexander has the great Boston pedigree!  If you haven't seen Barrence it's hard to describe him ... he can scream and sing and shout and smile and many other things all at the same time.  And he clowns around while he's doing it.

For their second encore Barrence tried to talk about Hidalgo gearing up for a Pete Townsend rave-up we weren't going to forget.  But then he knocked us over with his Roger Daltrey: "People try to put us d-down!"  All of our generation sang along with the chorus.  We were old ok, but we were rocking in Beverly on a Saturday night.

Wow, that was great!  Soon out the side-door and then an uneventful ride back home.  Experiences like that cannot be duplicated.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Travis Tritt in Beverly

Well by gosh, I won tickets from Sunday Morning Country again, this time to see Travis Tritt solo acoustic (again) at The Cabot in Beverly.  The after-work Friday drive over to Gulu-Gulu in Salem was not as painful as it has been some times, probably due to it being school vacation week and me leaving a little earlier.  Sarah arrived at just about the same time and we had a fine meal and some fine beers and ciders.

Short drive from there up to the theater and we had 8th row or so in the center balcony, not bad at all!  Travis came on right on time and did one long set that left us all pretty satisfied.

Some criticisms were that his voice cracked from time to time and showed signs of fatigue towards the end of the set.  Perhaps he could have saved his voice a bit by not talking so much, mostly about himself, between songs.  But if he needs to remind himself that he's great, we've just got to bear with it.

So there were some low points to the concert but there were also some incredible heights.  Here's the setlist:

It's All About the Money
Where Corn Don't Grow
The Pressure Is On (Hank Williams Jr.)
I'm Gonna Be Somebody
Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man
Country Club
500 Miles (Hedy West)
Country Ain't Country
Pickin' at It
Drift Off to Dream / Help Me Hold On
Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
Best of Intentions
Help! (Beatles)
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way/Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys / Good Ol' Boys (Waylon Jennings)
It's A Great Day To Be Alive (Darrell Scott)
Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde
I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash)
The Whiskey Ain't Workin'

Night Moves (Bob Seger)

There was a nice audience singalong on Country Club, hard for this not to be a highlight.  But for me the best songs of the night were Lord Have Mercy On the Working Man and Best Of Intentions.  Tritt has a fabulous voice and works it hard, getting extra tremolo and rolling over the 16th-notes all the time.  And when it works it's just sublime classic country, as on these two songs.  Best Of Intentions really succeeded in being the tear jerker it's meant to be.

But the real highlight of the night was when his guitar tech brought out a twelve-string and (after a LONG introduction), he played the Beatles' Help!  I heard the other day that John first sang this as a blues and his bandmates convinced him to sing it instead as the quintessential rocker it's known as.  But Tritt not only did it as a blues, he did it as a *country* blues and it was fantastic.  He also did his wonderful cover of Cash's I Walk the Line, though his Waylon medley fell flat.

Finished with a Bob Seger song and Sarah and I took the prompt to leave a bit early and beat the crowds.  All in all a very fun night!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ghost Light at Thunder Road

Holly Bowling first appeared on our vistas when she did her incredible cover of Eyes for Songs Of Their Own, in the lead-up to the Dead's 50th in 2015.  This immediately got her enshrined in the inner circle of great Dead-style musicians, though her individual style is unmatched.  And of course we're huge JRAD fans, including guitarist Tommy Hamilton (who's also played in Billy and the Kids), and he has a unique style of his own.

Those two recently announced that they were making a record and soon would be on tour with a new band, Ghost Light, that also includes guitarist Raina Mullen, bassist Steve Lyons (apparently not the guy who played first base for the Red Sox), and drummer Scotty Zwang.  This caused quite a stir in the Dead continuum naturally, and when a date at Thunder Road in Somerville was announced the tickets went quickly.  I don't think they sell out very often, but the tickets were sold out (we were hoping to get one for Sally) and they were *packed* for the show on Saturday, April 14.

We were in agreement with Dead Nation and got there early so we could get good seats on the left side (they were still doing sound check when we arrived) where we could hopefully catch a view of Holly Bowling's fingering.  You should stop reading right now and watch some of her videos.  If 100 monkeys spent a thousand years practicing one particular version of Eyes they could probably do it pretty well, but she not only can kill those arranged set-pieces, her improvisation, her ear, her quickness, her fingering, her dynamic sound is incredible.  She'd played in Boston about a year ago but tickets for that went immediately and we missed it.  We weren't about to miss this!

Well anyway, they cleared up their scattered cases, clothes, and other stuff after sound check and we had a nice dinner at the counter on the left of that really nice room and then had a few beers.  And we had another beer.  The show was supposed to start at 8 but didn't until 8:50 or so and by then the place was full, and I mean full.  The rows right in front of the stage were shoulder to shoulder with rowdies ready for a Saturday night musical experience of the highest kind, and though we were having a hard time seeing over the 10 or so rows in front of us, people were milling back and forth so much we caught quite a few great views.

Holly on the left with electric piano, Rhodes, and electric organ, Tommy on the right with scarf, Scalley cap, and leather jacket (he soon discarded most of the above, it got so hot), and in the middle Raina Mullen with Lyons behind her and Zwang over on the left tucked behind Holly.

Here's the setlist, pretty much all "originals" (some were done by Tommy's earlier band) except for the Dylan song, the Dead song, and the traditional encore:

Set One: Jam> Lead Weight >Tangled up in Blue* > If You Want It (title unconfirmed) > Lead Weight
Set Two: Epic Battle Between Light and Dark > untitled (d riff) > Isosceles > Greatest Story Ever Told % **, Boy > Epic Battle Between Light and Dark > 100 Years Ago > untitled (d riff)
Encore: Old Time Religion ***
* w/ Lead Weights & Isosceles teases | ** w/ untitled (D Riff) teases | *** w/ Greatest Story tease | % Ghost Light Debut (Grateful Dead)

And I should say that Tangled was incredible, seeming to go on for hours and then to weave back into the rest of the set.  And GSET was deep and spacey and got way out there and then came back (they blew the words a few times, but it's complicated), and then went way out there again and again.  This was enough to send a Dead fan into paroxysms.

In all, this was 3.5 hours of ecstasy, great music with a pretty short set break in the middle, enough to get a beer and a toke and hit the bathroom.  There was a guy right behind us who very carefully set up his rig to stream the audio and video and I hope it appears on IA or elsewhere.  And there were people dancing like crazy in the crowd and around the edges.  This was incredible stuff.

Bowling was as good or better then I anticipated, which is saying a lot!  I expected her to be ethereal and technically great, and she was, but she was also rocking and listening to her band and responding.  And she was playing with the panache of a great piano player, using her large hands to cover and dominate parts of the keyboard and then hammering the chords until the keys were a milky swirl.  Her left hand was just incredible, pounding out the rhythm and crawling up your back to scratch that boogy-boogy itch that had been bothering you all week (if not longer than that).  And her talent for getting one roll going on one of her keyboards and then switching to another to follow it up left me smiling and laughing.

And I was incredibly impressed by Raina Mullen.  On the videos I'd seen she didn't come across as the incredibly talented musician I saw that night.  She's probably written a bunch of their original material (guess I'll have to wait for the record to come out to get that background), and she sure was singing a lot of it incredibly well.  Not only was her lead singing spot on, her
backup of Tommy was surreal, who needs Scott Metzger?  But the most wonderful bit of her performance was her rhythm playing on (what looked like) Bobby's green guitar.  Take a look at the pictures at the bottom of this review.

Gee, who else was on stage?  One of the guys was Tommy Hamilton who was playing as well as I've ever heard him and leading the band through the changes (though if Holly disagreed with him, a glance sufficed).  Some of his leads were mind-melting ... ok, most of them.

Lyons and Zwang were a very solid rhythm section and did not miss a beat.  Zwang had a solo near the end of the evening and shone on that.

But as good as those guys were, I couldn't help but think what the band would sound like with Billy Kreutzmann on the traps and Reed Mathis on the spacey bass.  They could call it Billy and the Kids if they wanted.  But we'd all know that the women in the band were *not* the kids.  And Reed would have to take a back seat to Raina on the vocals.

Yikes, what a great night!  They encored with a traditional, though they played the shit out of it.  We'd parked a couple of blocks away and got out of there pretty fast, past the phalanx of tow trucks who were removing late arrivals from the Stop & Shop parking lot.  Took the local roads back through Cambridge and Medford and Winchester on a cold early Spring night, and eventually got to bed at 1:19 by my clock.