Sunday, November 18, 2018

Can LSD Get Better?

Ack!!  The fantastic Lake Street Dive (LSD you know) has been riding that peak, and their latest record, Free Yourself Up, is just another monster (though not as good as Side Pony IMO, past their peak??).  It features their new keyboard player, Akie Bermiss, and has some of their strongest songs.  It includes their first non-personal-relations song, Shame Shame Shame, which is huge IMO.

But I love Lake Street Dive, as boring boy-girl drama as they might express, and we got tickets immediately when they announced a November 17th show at the Wang Center.  And we got pretty good ones without breaking the bank, 7th row of the mezzanine/balcony, center!

There were ticket complications, and we were complicit.  They announced that at the door they'd just swipe the credit card you'd used to purchase tickets.  But our complications were that Dave had bought tickets with my credit card and that that credit card was now defunct.  No joy calling the box office, so after showing up down in Quincy and helping to install Christmas-computer gear, we headed for the Theater District through the dangerously-swelling early Saturday-evening traffic in Boston.

Parked at the garage on Charles in Park Square and then got the ticket situation straightened out tout suite with the friendly (at that time) people in the Wang Center Box Office.  It was still just a little after 5 and we had to get dinner ... and this was a problem!  We stopped into four or five restaurants in the area and they basically all told us that they were booked until 8 ... when the first show was going to start.  That's the Theater District for you, don't expect us to work on your schedule, you will work on our schedule and love it.  And as we'd driven up there from the expressway we'd seen that Jacob Wirth's, the second oldest restaurant in Boston, was currently dark!  I hope they get back open soon ... and that they clean their bathrooms.

So we headed back up Tremont in the direction of the Hill, but then Dave took us off on a side street, seeking an obscure Mexican restaurant.  And we found it, Fajitas and Ritas [sic] in a fold between Chinatown and Downtown Crossing.  We got a seat there right away and had some fine beers and some ok quesadillas, and a chicken burrito with guacamole.  Sorry to say, I forget what (non-home made) green sauce they had, but I loved it.

Jeez, time seemed slow but then caught up and it was time to go!  Wended our way back down Mason ('s Children) Street and Head Place (no lie!) towards Tremont and Boylston and then re-entered the Theater District.  There was a small area for us to catch our breath, get out of the wind, and light up the one-hitter after we'd made it the few blocks over to near the Wang entrance.  Talked to some Wilbur personnel there and asked them if all the dead balloons on the sidewalk were because of a birthday party?  They knew we were kidding, this was the detritus of the dentist convention last night.

Anyway, time to go in, and we were way early in a way.  We had gone to will-call and gotten the tickets we'd straightened out before, and then joined a line close by the doors.  In the meantime the crowd surged around the entrance and the staff got nervous.  They knew that when they "opened the gates" then a large number of the people would not get in smoothly, because of situations like ours, which we'd already fixed.  And it was just like that.  In fact, when we went in they at first tried to deny us because they weren't supposed to be accepting paper tickets, like what had just been issued to us by the box office!

Everyone got in eventually, but this was not smooth and it took an extra hour or more to get the majority of people seated.  There must be a better way of deterring scalpers.  Anyway, there we were in our excellent balcony seats and we realized that that couldn't be LSD's setup, there was going to be an opening act!  And Jalen N'Gonda went on on schedule, though to a bunch of empty seats, a fantastic opening act for LSD.

He had a bass player and a drummer and entertained us with beautifully-crafted song after beautifully-crafted song.  A large number of us were paying attention, we were waiting for the fucking crowd to get to their seats and we peering around them frantically, trying not to let his spell get broken.  And we sure let him know we appreciated his act.  He owned his own sound like you want a big-league act to do, and at the same time with his high but rangy vocals and ready-to-squeal guitar he was very much in the soul-funk-blues tradition.  This was a great set, though he kept it short so they could have plenty of time to set up LSD.

The 4-piece (now 5) came out and played perhaps the best concert I've heard from them.  I've seen LSD many times, in many different settings, and they always excel (except for Mike Olson on trumpet).  We'd seen them in the HOB and I thought that was perhaps as good as it gets sonically, but they sure had the Wang Center resounding to their confections.  Can they get better than this?  I was just giggling inside to the sound, it was wonderful.

Mike Calabrese is always amazing and on this night he was three times as good as normal.  You could say the same thing about Bridget Kearney.  She only had one or two short solos but she dominated the string end of the spectrum, and with MikeC they were riveting themselves, especially when they harmonized behind Rachael.

And Mike Olson was incredible on guitar, fuzzing out his amp and playing with a rock-solid beat you rarely hear from him.  He was strangely not in the vocal mix as much as usual, perhaps to give Akie a chance to fill that niche.  I don't like his trumpet playing but he concentrated on guitar instead.

Rachael was being Rachael, in a billowy skirt.  But hang on, she was extraordinary too!  She just exuded an incredible energy, grooving to all four instruments around her and then topping them with her phrasing, volume, and emotion.  She is an incredible singer and as good as her band is, she's the one when they play.  And play they all did ... as I say, this was perhaps the best I've ever heard them.

Here's their one long set:

You Are Free
You Go Down Smooth
Red Light Kisses
Baby, Don't Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts
Better Than
Bobby Trilogy: Bobby Tanqueray / Spectacular Failure / Doesn't Even Matter Now
Hang On
I Can Change
You're Still the One (Shania Twain)
Got Me Fooled
Call Off Your Dogs
Musta Been Something
Shame, Shame, Shame
Bad Self Portraits
Good Kisser

Strangers (The Kinks)
I Want You Back (Michael Jackson)

Well dressed and well behaved crowd, but there were a good number of hoots and hollers as the night went on, and most of us stood up for the long encore.  Great night of music and then they and we were gone to the wind.  Not as crazy a Theater District scene that night (though crazier than average) but we got over to the parking garage, said goodbye to Dave as he struck off for the T, and then barely got out of Boston through the crazies.  Back about about the same time as Friday night, two incredible concerts this weekend!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Weir and Wolf Bros, Boston

We'd go see Bob Weir play with anyone.  Well, maybe not Drumpf.  But he was touring with a three-piece called "Bob Weir and Wolf Bros," him with Don Was on bass and Jay Lane on drums, and we had to go see them.  This was going to be an unknown quantity for us, however.  We've seen Jay Lane and he's great, but we weren't sure where this trio thing was going to go with Don Was, who's done some great stuff throughout his career but wasn't the first person you'd think of when you speculated who might sound great "with the Dead."

So we only got tickets to one of their gigs at the Boch-Wang-Citi-whatever theater in Boston, that I'll always think of as the Boston Music Hall, on Friday November 16th.  Presale/Ticketmaster sucks and we somehow ended up in the last row of the balcony, but that turned out great.  I think both nights ended up selling out.  It was sure packed even back in the hinterlands of the balcony on that Friday, and I think everyone there had a good time.

We'd seen large chunks of several of the Wolf Bros gigs on webcast, and had formed opinions about the band before we saw them live.  The impression that they weren't as full of possibilities and magic as Bobby & Phil or (e.g.) Furthur held true, and it's not debatable that Lane is a monster rhythm player and that Was can get a solid tone from his bass and not make mistakes.  But the most significant thing when we saw them live was that they truly were "Bob Weir and a couple of guys."

Weir just dominated the soundscape with an entire evening of fantastically-Weird guitar playing (first few songs on acoustic and then mostly his walnut guitar) and a lot of flawless Bobby vocals.  He didn't start drooling on us, or do a lot of jumping up and down, but his singing was spot-on.  A couple of vocal highlights were his uplifting verses on Easy To Slip and his serious funkiness on Speedway.  Also see below.

And the stage setup, at least the musical setup they fell into time after time, emphasized the fact that this was a BOB WEIR show.  He seemed to own most of the stage with his large oriental rug and his amps and guitars.  Was had a pretty huge speaker/monitor setup himself, but would end up backing up close to Jay's drums most songs, and the two of them would have the hawk-eyes on Weir, sometimes nodding their heads in unison, constantly aware of what he wanted to do next.

They had another, smaller rug and a mike stand set up to Bobby's right side, and we'd been speculating who would guest (there have been many guests on this tour), but no one appeared.  Possibly another musician was scheduled, but then was caused to cancel by the snow/ice storm we'd just had up and down the East Coast.  But after a while we were fine with the fact that there wasn't a guest.  This was Bobby's show and we were there to dig that.

So there we were up in our top-row-left seats, not too far away from where I sat back in 1973, after Sarah and I met Dave in her garage after both working at home that day (snow in the morning and then rain all day).  We bopped down to Kinsale for dinner and then it wasn't too far of a walk down Tremont to the Theater District, which was already pretty crowded (Boz Scaggs at the Wilbur that night, etc.).

The crowd was not late-arriving and the show got started without a lot of delay.  The threesome came out and lit into it with no big drama.  This was the Grateful Dead after all.  And the first song was one we three had talked about over the last few days, specifically the cover that Ratdog did in Boston, four years ago.  Here's the setlist:

Set 1:
Easy to Slip
Friend of the Devil
Me and Bobby McGee
She Belongs to Me
Lay My Lily Down
West L.A. Fadeaway
Lost Sailor >
Saint of Circumstance

We were delighted by the opener, as mentioned, and loved FOTD, which he of course he did as a cowboy song rather than as a funky blues.  Then the song I've been waiting for for so long that I'd forgotten I was waiting for it: Bobby singing gently to us that there was nothing left to lose, after that mistake in Salinas that is.

OMG, I have to take a moment here and mention how basic to my love of music Me and Bobby McGee is.  Back at 17 (see tomorrow's concert), I knew Janis's cover of that great Kristofferson song well of course, but when I heard the Dead do it on Skull and Roses my mind was bent permanently.  I've always been a country music fan at heart.  I'd never seen it performed by a Dead band (not counting DSO), and this was pretty spectacular.  No Lesh, but Lane was doing a pretty good Billy and Bobby was doing what he does best.

Then a monumental Dylan song to calm us all down, great musicianship here, and then some more Bobby greatness with one of the best, tragic songs from his cowboy album, Lay My Lily Down.  West L.A. mellowed us back down ... this had a long, long, intro.  And then Sailor/Saint.  I have to admit that I missed the middle of this fantastic Bobby creation for a bathroom/beer break.  Of course, I remembered the sage words of a fellow bathroom-breaker back when we saw Furthur in that theater and Bobby had started singing Black Peter.  This was a little like that.  And I had a chance to find the one beer outlet that had Sierra Nevada left!

It was an interesting first set.  I had enjoyed it wildly, but it was strange.  I commented to Dave at the end of the night that it was "Dead karaoke."  Bob's a great musician, I've watched him for years and want to see him more, and his "Wolf Bros" trio was very successful musically.  But I couldn't help thinking about what might have been as much as I was invested in what was happening in real time.

Was was solid but no Phil.  Lane was great but was filling a role rather than thinking about what he could do.  And as good as Bob was at coloring the whole guitar soundscape, I could still imagine another guitar.  And it was Garcia's guitar, playing around him, ripping the world apart when he took the chance, and laughing at Bob's excellence and naiveté.  And of course Jeff Chimenti would have been good too!

Whatever, we were having a fine time up in the top of the balcony.  We were standing up of course, but didn't really need to, we had an un-unobstructed view of the stage.  And the sound was pretty impressive for being that far back!  There was some whirling going on in the top-balcony lobby behind us and Sarah joined it a few times.  There was very little usher presence up there and so we all hung out.  The one down-side was that it was a long, steep climb.

Time for the second set and they came out and started up while I was still straggling back uphill:

Set 2:
Tennessee Jed
Scarlet Begonias >
New Speedway Boogie >
I Need a Miracle
Stella Blue
Not Fade Away

This set actually seemed shorter to us than the first set had been, and it was not as full of high spots.  As mentioned, Bob was at the top of his game for Speedway, and he really was fantastic on vocals for the three preceding songs, though he didn't nail us to the wall on these.  Miracle was what you'd expect, but Stella Blue was him back to being pretty perfect.  He was strumming that walnut guitar, pulling up newly-invented chords out of thin air, and singing with power and right on key, like an excellent vocalist should at the end of the night, not letting any emotional twist go untwisted.  This was a wonderful ballad introducing the end of the night.

Geez, did he get audience participation for NFA and then for the encore (Touch of Grey)!  I'm a little jaded (my fault), and had my coat on by the middle of the encore ... dah-de-dah, we will not fade away in the grey today.  But the audience loved it and was rocking until the last note.  The band did a little group bow and a little namaste, and then were gone, as were we ... we had a long downhill trek ahead of us, immediately that is.

Out on the sidewalk the rain was pretty much gone but the dentist's convention was going strong.  Can't Trump do something about this?

Tremont and Stuart was a huge clusterfuck at that time of a Friday night, and the fact that two corners of the intersection were under construction and that the dentists had taken over reality added to the confusion.  We ended up going way around the block, over to Charles Street, and approached the Common from over at the Edgar Allen Poe statue.  Wow, you didn't think there was that much uphill work in the Common, but we finally made it way back up to the top.

Dave grabbed his stuff and screwed for the T and we got out of town pretty quickly ourselves, and were back home at not too long after midnight on a Friday.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Jim Lauderdale Makes Shirley

It's happened before and I hope it'll happen again:  The Bull Run announced a great act and I called right away and got tickets at the front table.  This time is was the incredible Jim Lauderdale, a musician that no one should miss.  So we were very psyched when we showed up there on a Sunday, November 11th, as was everyone at our packed table and the 20 or so tables around it.

Unfortunately, that was it!  The Sawtelle Room is never at its best on a Sunday night, but it was shocking how small the crowd was for a veteran Nashville singer-songwriter who's authored more hits than you can sic a dog on.  Oh well, this made it a very "intimate" performance and that's what the Bull Run excels at.

The opener was Martin and Kelly (Jilly Martin and Ryan Brooks Kelly), and they were really very professional (they were on the back stairs, waiting to rush on, while I took a quick bathroom break).  They had a great mix of covers ("I know this song!") and originals, and they had some distinctive elements, like her rhythm guitar, some of her lead vocals (nice range), and some of his harmonies.  Kelly could be criticized for too often going flat or losing the emotional thread of the song while he was taking the lead ... could use a good producer.  But they climaxed the set with their potential hit, Gonna Kiss You, and they possibly aren't that far from a breakthrough in the modern country world.

Another interlude and of course a bunch of us middle-aged guys rushed downstairs for another bathroom break.  Jim (who'd visited our table in mufti earlier) was down there in his country finery (a purple suit with yin/yang designs) and I asked him if he minded if I took a piss before his show.  He told me no, that I'd have to get back up there and hold it in.  You can guess which way I went.

Jim came on eventually and seemed in fine voice (he'd had a cold earlier in the week) and spirits and he was as incredible as ever.  He played a set of 4 or so songs from his new record, including Time Flies and Where the Cars Go By Fast (which could use some more verses!).  He also did a couple from London Southern and a couple that will be on the record he plans to release in the Spring (!!! how prolific *is* this guy??).

He asked for requests and we were ready ... pretty much.  One woman asked him for "That Martian song" and he was thrown for a loop, then figured she must mean Planet Of Love and he played that.

I asked for Like Him and he did that, and then Lost In the Lonesome Pines (perhaps the song of the night) from the Ralph Stanley collaborations (my line when a woman asked for a Stanley song was, "Yeah like Like Him").  Another person requested Whisper and that's one of my favorite songs of his too.  He did a sing-along of Headed For the Hills from his collaborations with Robert Hunter.  He did Forgive and Forget and Halfway Down (made famous by Patty Loveless).  And then he closed with The King Of Broken Hearts and encored with the Buddy and Jim song, Hole In My Head!

Very fun night and he was done by 10 on the dot so we got home not too late for a Sunday.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Back In Lowell With DSO

We hadn't seen DSO in well over a year.  And though we had a busy Fall schedule, we figured we just *had* to go see them again at their stop in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on November 9th.  As I've said many times, they're always so much fun.  I have to admit though, that this concert wasn't as fun as I'd been anticipating ... with high expectations and such.  But it was still pretty good!

Memories of the last time we saw them in Lowell were still fresh (rain, pot), and it was a dark rainy night once again.  I got up to Lowell early so as to beat the traffic, or at least get a head start on it.  Sarah and Dave took the train up from work and then walked over to join me at Thirsty First, a bar/restaurant we'd found on the web.  They have an excellent beer selection there and I sampled a few while waiting.  Also made a few friends at the bar.  They were as friendly as you might expect a bunch of youngsters to be (including the owner), and may not have even noticed that I was a lot older.  I told them about the DSO concert that night and they were all dying to go to it (as had been some friends at work), though none made it there (except for me!).  Could have stayed in that place for a while.

Had some quick grilled cheeses with fries when Sarah and Dave got there.  Dropped stuff at the car in the parking garage and then crossed over the swirling canals and Concord River on the way to the Auditorium.  Went right in and it was only half full at the peak of the concert, if you count the large balcony.  We staked out seats (at 258 degrees or so) in the few rows on the rim of the big open floor, and Sarah stayed there while Dave and I crept up close to the stage.

We had read that Jeff would be playing Garcia's Wolf guitar that night and that they'd decided not to do a GD set but to re-create a show at which Wolf would have appeared.  And they did this with their usual creativity: a "1973" show for the first set and then a "1978" show for the second set.
Here it is:

Set One:
Greatest Story Ever Told
Cold Rain And Snow
Beat It On Down The Line
Here Comes Sunshine
Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
Black-Throated Wind
Brown Eyed Women
You Ain't Woman Enough
Bird Song
Weather Report Suite

Set Two:
Scarlet Begonias >
Fire On The Mountain
Samson And Delilah
If I Had The World To Give
Saint Stephen >
Drums >
Space >
Not Fade Away >
Stella Blue >
Saint Stephen >
Not Fade Away

Encore: Werewolves Of London

We had a great time as usual, including some good and puzzling crowd interactions.  The DSO fan world is sui generis.  But I was perhaps in a critical mood.  Jeff hadn't been living up to my (high!) expectations the last few times we'd seen them and I was hoping he'd bounce back.  But he didn't seize the opportunity to lead the band with Wolf.  It was still Rob Eaton's band, though Rob Barraco of course showed his quality.  So it was a bit of a non-surprising night ... the same old thing from DSO.

Lisa deserves a mention of course, with a great backing vocal on the opening Greatest Story and a sizzling Woman Enough.  Also fine playing from the drummers and Skip.  You have to be impressed by the technical ability of this band and their unified creative vision.  I wanted Jeff to rip off one of those incendiary, surprising Garcia leads, but he was too busy watching everybody else, particularly Eaton.

Oh well, had a fine time on a rocking Friday night, as did everyone else there!  We were told that the show was going to end at 11:30 and they may have stretched this a bit.  We were doing fine but when they encored with the sing-songy Werewolves we got our coats on and were out the door onto the wet street as the last verse was being sung.  Back over the swirling waters and then a pretty quick and rainy drive home.