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I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

Here's me, without baby, thinking big thoughts. (Actually, what I'm thinking is, "Hey, these aren't Pringles!") I think I look better with baby.

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5-13-09 at Oakland's Fox; A Night of the Earthy Blues
Thursday, May 21, 2009

So a belated dropping of the other shoe on the Fox shows, a week out, re: night 2...

First off I would be remiss if I failed to mention how grand it was to see the ABB on the left coast, in the house with the BAABBA, an extended family who put out a web of welcome throughout the place. You know who you are.

I had found the first show to be one mofo of a rewarding experience, almost too generous with lush offerings of "Jessica," "Rocking Horse," Dreams, and "Mountain Jam." How to follow up this heavenly show?

And as it turned out, the answer was with an earthy show. Night one was all air and water; night two was earth and fire. Which of course means the blues...

Done Somebody Wrong >
You Don't Love Me
Midnight Rider
New Instrumental >
The Sky is Crying
Come and Go Blues >
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Whipping Post

The Same Thing
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Leave My Blues at Home
Dreams >
Elizabeth Reed


Imperceptibly, the tuning and tinkering has fallen into a shuffle, and you realize the show has begun... and that soon the shuffle will resolve into "Done Somebody Wrong." Warren plays nice, round jaunty runs. Then a jumping, economical (that means short) "You Don't Love Me," followed by the just-so story of "Midnight Rider." Then the band rolls out their new instrumental. The theme has a kind of Zawinul vibe, making me wonder if maybe Oteil is the writer. Warren looms large, playing some burly, muscular lead like he's clearing a forest. Both nights I had a sense-- very likely imagined-- that Warren was enjoying this respite from the Dead, with whom he tends to play in an ambling, less immediate and more exploratory style, reveling in the straightforward ass whup of the Brothers and the blues (to be clear, I'm a fan of both). Derek takes a while to fall into place on his section, but of course finally he does, drifting closer and closer to Oteil until some musical magnetism has joined them like Siamese twins sharing a heart. I think I've seen every public performance of this piece thus far; tonight is the best I've liked it.

Then the drippy-slow, classic archetype Chicago Blues intro to "The Sky is Crying" (by Warren I think, but don't hold me to it.) Warren grinds out some earthy soul, then rocks you like your back aint got no bone. Derek lays some slide over Gregg keyboard testimony, he goes all slippery, staying barely on the blues tracks but pulling you out of your seat. Finally Warren goes back into the vocals, defiant... the crowd loves it. Oaksterdam knows its blues.

A breezy "Come and Go Blues," then Warren is up again for "Schoolgirl." More manly blues. It's one of those nights where the band makes the blues something big, larger than life, like a freight train of redemption that rolls over you and lays you flat. I don't think anyone else makes the straight blues this powerful... Derek stretches out on the outro, ringing into toffee. Warren changes axes, then pushes him with chording and body language, until you can't stop the train, have to let it roll on... then it crashes, and back into the riff, spot-on, the crowd releases a collective ovation, then vocals and out.

The set closes with "Whipping Post," all the way down to the deep dark bluesy bottom. They did this the first night of the Clapton sit-in at the Beacon, and like then it makes the first set feel like a whole show compressed down. Derek and Warren spray some whupass, then Oteil leads them off on a light, nimble excursion, Marc accenting over the top. Derek meets him with lines that question at the "Post" melody, then he stings and floats. Oteil goes way down low to grab the bassline and give it a good yank to call it all home. A perfect end to a set that sears through the jet black night of the soul, lights the sky with fire...

The density of the first set and the fact of the Dead being in town between gigs makes us all think that something is up for set two; "I smell trouble" says Becca, twitching that adorable nose. But no...

"Revival" opens the second set. A nice sprightly version; after it's done it gets interesting. Warren is a cool breeze; then he pulls the whole band through a keyhole, and on the other side it is "Revival" but inside out. The music makes some "Jessica"-style white light, then of course it barrels back to a right-side-out "Revival" from this side.

The first chord of "The Same Thing" is tossed off, hangs there a moment alone as an invocation, then the song chugs on. Oteil does his thing in the middle, taking the reins, and now he's turned it from Chicago blues into funk, an adjustment that turns out to require only the most subtle of tweaks. Derek and Oteil merge their beams, then Derek wanders over to Warren, brings him the mojo. Derek and Warren do a fiery dance to close; bam! A highlight.

The crowd adores "Dixie;" Derek is like a noble eagle. On "Leave My Blues at Home" Derek and Warren meet up in the middle of the stage and just wield the hell out of this shit. Then another bam! "Dreams."

At the Fox run in September 2004 "Dreams" was the only song repeated across three nights-- they played it at all three shows, but each night a different guitarist took the lead, told the musical story of the song. I commented on the diversity of repertoire to Warren after the last show: "You only repeated 'Dreams' across the three shows, but..." and he finished my sentence for me with a mischievous cackle: "but they were all different." And of course I understood what he meant.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that this is the one song repeated from the night before, but on air night Derek played it, so of course tonight, on earth night, Warren plays it, and it is different.

Warren, the band put out the music like it's nourishment, bracing, and it pushes you back even as you soak it up. The band shimmers and shudders on return, which amazes and delights the assembled congregation... and the born-again waltz back down the mountain. The song is big, hard-hitting... and totally different from last night's read, which floated me off downstream. This one pins my feet to the floor.

The music spills out after the song ends, and I remember Johnny Flash's imagining of Butch's direction to Clapton on March 20 as the band prepared to segue from "Dreams" to "Elizabeth Reed": "We don't stop here!" And they don't, so you know where this story is going. Finally they roll over into the song. It is the dreamiest number of the evening and I get lost in the music, a sea of dark blue... Warren plays some blue flame. The music falls away into the four-man drum solo, Butch up front, Oteil on Butch's kit. Then back into Lizzy and out. "Southbound" is the inevitable and somewhat anti-climactic encore.

After the show there was a dichotomy of opinion amongst the cognoscenti on which of the two nights was best; the split was interesting, with almost everyone having a distinct preference. Me, I think I liked the first night best. But we're splitting hairs here. The two shows taken together were a yin/yang presentation, both great, and which one you liked best was a function of which mode speaks to you best-- air or earth. Two outstanding shows, one the perfect compliment to the other, two sides of a precious coin. When these suckas are available for download (I'm making that assumption because they were selling the CDs for takeaway at the gigs) I'll be able to luxuriate in them at my leisure and decide for sure which I prefer. Although I'm pretty sure the answer will be, "both."

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Posted by: --josh-- @ 7:41 AM  0 comments

Allman Brothers Rock House in Oakland
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
So I had the great good fortune to find myself in San Francisco concurrent with the first-time-in-six-years arrival of the Allman Brothers Band in the Bay Area, at Oakland’s laid back, lovely (well, I thought so) Fox Theater last night.

Don’t Want You No More >
Not My Cross to Bear >
Trouble No More
Walk on Gilded Splinters
Who’s Been Talkin’
Statesboro Blues
Don’t Keep me Wonderin’
And It Stoned me

Aint Wastin’ Time No More
Rocking Horse >
Black Hearted Woman >
Mountain Jam

Preachin’ Blues
One Way Out

Let me tell you up front, this was one mofo of a satisfying show. It left me wondering what they planned to do for the next night; they didn’t leave a whole lot on the table.

On the bluesy slam into “Not My Cross to Bear” Warren brings me back to 1969, a heck of a feat because I was only 10 years old and 4 years from even hearing of the Allman Brothers. A timeless, grounded evocation; then Derek rings out with a wave of tone that unfolds across the room.

“Gilded Splinters” rides in on an easy, greasy wave of percussion, an especially funked-up, swampy N’Awlins version. At the end the two guitars intertwine like dancing flames.

So now it’s the slot in the set for Warren’s first vocal, and as if often the case, “Gilded Splinters” is followed by the steady voodoo Latin-tinged beat that underscores “Who’s Been Talkin’,” for my money one of the best songs in the repertoire right now. It is as if Howlin’ Wolf has been re-imagined, with Carlos Santana in the Hubert Sumlin role. Derek and Warren play wispy Latin lines, a beautiful extended Yin/Yang conversation that gives way seamlessly to the song’s melody, then Warren’s vocals. Warren plays a graceful, flowing solo, then ignites; Derek takes the band into hyperdrive, then the crowd erupts when they hit the mark and are back into the song. Warren, again, appears to be the causin’ of it all as the music gently fades.

“Statesboro” is next, recognizable and popular, but the fact that it is better-received by the crowd than the previous song is anomalous…

A passionate “Don’t Keep me Wonderin’,” a tight songish rendition of “And It Stoned Me” (apparently big in the Bay Area), and then the band tumbles into what turns out to be a truly epic read on “Jessica.” The drums crash through as the band romps into the theme. Derek goes all shiny-light, then Warren grabs you by the ass and gives a good yank. Then, instead of a rush to the climax, the music seems to spontaneously fall away. From the chaotic stillness Derek and Warren embark on a new melodic excursion that, of course, picks up momentum, hits critical mass, and seamlessly turns back into “Jessica.” A big, big close to a big song. As I say, epic.

Thank God this is intermission, because I am emotionally exhausted.

The second set begins with a particularly lush and breezy “Melissa.” On “Aint Wastin’ Time No More” Derek takes us on a little vacation; then Warren lays down a nice little three-day weekend. The sound, I should mention, is exquisite, at least where I’m standing; full and clear as a bell. It’s one of those nights where you’re a thirsty flower and the band is the sun…

Oteil lays down a sprightly little vamp, the drummers fall in, Warren sears over the top (it’s kind of like a blackened Cajun jam); Derek speckles over that; inevitably the music creeps toward resolving into “Rocking Horse.” Warren goes deep into the big muddy on his solo section, then Derek takes the band major key for what Ron E. calls his “happy kid-on-a-tricycle song.” “Rocking Horse” has become another epic, and tonight it is redolent of narrative. Back into the darkness of the “Horse,” then a fat hanging note that the band grabs onto and uses to whip itself around into “Dreams.” Mostly I drift away; Derek squeezes out shimmering gobs of molasses.

“Black Hearted Woman” is next, an assault; the mid-section, where they switch over into the Dead’s “The Other One” riff, is made of the intensity of forward motion. It feels like the drum solo, but no… they finish the song, then fall backward into “Mountain Jam.” Maybe it’s just me, but it is a dreamy version. As the music falls away after the front end, Oteil lays down some narrative from the underside (which rhymes with “thunda-cide.”) Then he gets to the end of the story, and the drums…

…some time later ensemble “Birdland” quotes call me back from my drum-induced trance reverie. The band moves into a beautiful musical space, full and rubbery, elongating space and time… “Little Martha” bubbles up, quite distinctly… then, back, back to the theme and close. More narrative, more epic.

After a show like this, I know there’s really only one way out… but because this is a night of just a little bit more, Derek and Warren come back alone and offer up “Preachin’ Blues,” Warren singing, Derek playing the delta blues. Then, “One Way Out.”

All in all one heck of a show. The bar is high for tonight.

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Posted by: --josh-- @ 6:15 PM  0 comments

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