Leave My Blues at Home
Come and Go Blues
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl > Commit a Crime > Schoolgirl (reprise) (Jimmy Hall)
She Caught the Katy (Jimmy Hall)
Black Hearted Woman
Dark End of the Street
Needle and the Damage Done
Down Along the Cove
Elizabeth Reed > drums> Liz Reed
The penultimate (that means second-to-last) night of the run... I always find myself waiting a long time after the shows end to write the final reviews, because I've just been burning the candle at three ends for two or more weeks and its time to get back to work and life (and, in this case, to go to Bogota.)
I thought the first set of this show was totally killer diller, and I even turned to my friend Bill at half time and said, "I could go home now happy." The second set was a bit... anti-climactic. maybe because Gregg had to split a third in due to his slipped disc, maybe because the first set was such a peak...
It's the last Saturday night of the run and the electricity in the air is palpable. The band rolls right off into "Done Somebody Wrong" sans the intro shuffle, swinging as first Warren, then Derek introduce themselves. Oteil rocks like he's got the boogie woogie flu. A solid start. Maybe it's where I'm sitting tonight (back third of the orchestra, left side) but I can really hear the B3 on "Leave My Blues at Home." It is an especially slippery version, with an especially satisfying rendition of the two-man guitar fire hose weave that has you bending to and fro at the waist... just like Oteil is.
"Come and Go Blues" is one of my favorite Derek vehicles; he lays out sweet lines between the verses, but on the end he soars and swoops with extra mustard (brown mustard to be precise.) Then Marc goes to town with the Santana vibe, and Jaimoe and Butch join in, as "Egypt" unfolds. Derek tickles the inside of your head, then blows it up... the band hits a wall, stops on a dime, Derek plays blue lines over calm jazzy space. Then Warren takes the band through some epic piece he's writing on the fly. Warren and Oteil are drawn together into a vortex, attracting particles... Oteil thumps out a lick that heralds the song's theme, and a sweet return. A casually stellar version.
On "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" Warren stings as the band grinds out the greasy riff. After the verse Warren goes all blooz, equal parts Howlin' Wolf (i.e. Hubert Sumlin) and Vanilla Fudge. Derek goes freight train, Warren shovels coal, Derek drives faster and faster, Oteil bumps it back. Warren blazes hard on the outro, as Bruce Katz takes a seat on the right side of the stage on keys; Katz takes a run, Jimmy Hall wanders out and starts blowing harp, and they've seamlessly segued into "Commit a Crime," another chestnut form the Howlin' Wolf catalog. Katz dirties it up, then Hall, all on top of the same single chord... then just as seamlessly back into "Schoolgirl," Warren's vocals and Hall's harp bringing it home.
Hall introduces "I Caught the Katy," which he sings, as "a song about a mule." It is good time party music that makes me wish I was drunk. Katz is all honky tonk behind Hall's vocals. Then "Dreams," which always seems epic on those rare occasions when they bust it out in the first set. Gregg misses a vocal cue early, Warren enters sublime, then it's a full, throbbing sinewy massage. Derek soar into space, then makes a beeline for the song; his solo elicits several ovations.
The place is Saturday night nuts as the song ends, a great way to close the set-- but they aren't finished; apparently there's just time to squeeze in a 16-minute blast of "Black Hearted Woman." After the first solo break, Gregg takes three tries before coming in to sing at the right spot (I don't think of it at the time, but maybe he's hurting...) Derek hangs a note as the frenetic 1-2-3, 1-2-3 coda goes all sparse. Warren plays over the top, all rhythm, no melody. Then he throws a switch and he's pulling a cart, tugging the band into a swirling, insistent-- but not rude-- jam. Then softer, till they almost grind to a halt... Derek flits and darts, then smacks his strings, slams them, Warren hits the riff that pulls everyone back into the coda. Whew!
You can imagine, after all that, how the second set might have been, as I say, anti-climactic. Although we've already climaxed about a dozen times, so really, who's counting...
The acoustic set. "Old Friend" with Derek and Warren is always nice. "Dark End of the Street" features some beautiful round Derek lines, and lovely Gregg/Warren harmonies. And as more than one person has commented to me, Gregg has a right to sing "Needle and the Damage Done"; usually you look to Warren to cover the Neil Young songs, but Gregg does this one beautifully. Then "Melissa," sort of one foot in the acoustic set, one in electric.
Scott Sharrard joins on guitar, and John Popper on harp, for "Down Along the Cove." Popper sings, Sharrard takes the first solo spot, then Derek, Sharrard, Popper on harp, Warren... nice jaunty blues. Then Sharrard goes off, and Rob Barraco is on keys right side; Barraco rains down sunshine, bringing the band into "Franklin's Tower." Barraco enters slow, then lays out the Snoopy happy dance, then Barraco and Oteil make a sunshine sandwich. Vocals again, then the guitars step forward; Derek goes all "Blue Sky," stills, Oteil gives a jazzy reinterpretation.
It's not uncommon for Gregg to leave the stage if another keyboard player sits in, but surprisingly as the band weaves it's way into "Elizabeth Reed" Barraco is still out, and Gregg is not... Barraco runs it down, Derek lays out shiny wavy tin sheets, then the riff, then he fills the room with dreamy pulsating tones. He shoots like a rocket, then Barraco goes... all solos are uniformly non-melodic... Warren and Barraco do the two-man hot potato, giving way to drums... on the back end Alvaro Benavides joins Oteil for a 2-man bass solo, Oteil scatting and playing, Benavides laying down the bottom. Then full band return, more "Les Brers" than Liz, the engine room sear, tossing in Liz Reed references, then Warren hits a minor chord and they're back into the "Elizabeth Reed" close.
Gregg still not back, they go into a "Southbound" encore, Warren handling the vocals; Barraco still on, Hall back, and James "Little Jaimoe" Van der Bogert is on drums. The usual Saturday night sit-in bake-off, round and round and round.
Solid show. Questions in the air about Gregg; as I say, killer first set is the highlight.
In 1999 I turned 40, which felt like a crossroads. Janet and I had just been to four pretty good concerts, and I found myself writing this. I wanted to put it in the blog so it would be out here in the cloud for all time. I didn't change a word, but I corrected a couple of grammatical errors, and a typo or two.
(I will note that eventually Brian Wilson DID tour SMiLE, and when he did, he took the Wondermints out with him.)
A Concertgoer’s Diary
Around the event of my 40th birthday, we (me and the chick who lives here and moved in all her stuff, so it looks like I'm gonna have to marry her) caught 4 concerts in a relatively tight time frame-- Van Morrison; Brian Wilson; Ani DiFranco; and Tom Petty, with Lucinda Williams opening. Taken together, these four gigs have positively reinforced my faith in the power of music to enhance, enliven, entertain, enrich, excite, exalt the spirit (it does some other things too, but they didn't start with "e" so I left 'em out). Not that I needed the reinforcement... But it's nice to recharge the old batteries every now and again, and the circumstance of the milestone added some extra profundity to the whole affair...Monday night June 14, a beautiful late Spring evening at Jones Beach. The theater is outdoors and backs onto the water. The sound is typically great, the ambiance sublime (or waterlogged, depending on whether or not it rains.) We missed Taj Mahal but were seated in time for Dr. John, who's N'Awlins gumbo was true, legitimate regional folk music, and for a brief while it was as if we were transported to a nice scummy Bourbon Street bar... like all New Orleans acts, the good doctor is required by local ordinance to include either "Iko Iko" or "Man Smart Woman Smarter" in every set; we got the latter...
Morrison's band hits the stage, goes through an instrumental version of "This Weight" from The Healing Game... then into a lazy version of "Moondance", during which the man casually strolls onstage, gets to his mike just in time to toss off the song's first line... sings the verse... and as the band goes into the instrumental middle, he walks just as casually off the stage! Quintessential cool.
For about the next hour forty, the man stood there at his mike-- black suit, black hat, black shades, looking like the Blues Brothers' dad, singing with as much soul as you've ever heard, pulling the sheer spirit and glory of life from some place deep down... it certainly sounded that way. Visually, we were treated to the remarkable sight of this man singing so soulfully that a 1954 Ray Charles would have been hard pressed to match up, but who moved NOT ONE MUSCLE! You know how you imagine that deep soulful singing, like say James Brown, and it involves moving, bending, clutching the mike to your chest and making love to it, falling to your knees, writhing-- well, not Van. Somehow, miraculously, this fat Irish Buddha gets to that place, and I'm telling ya, if there had been a cup of coffee balanced on the top of his hat, he wouldn't have spilled a drop all night.
In fact, at one point he said he was going to do his imitation of the old Italian singer Louie Prima... when the verse came around, he sang two lines while waving his arms.
Everything he sang was a highlight, but four songs stand out in my memory: Dylan's "Just Like a Woman", "Lonely Avenue", "The Healing Game", and the set-closing "Gloria" (On which, naturally, when he finished the lyric he walked off for good and let the band rock out the finish). Also, everything he did from his outstanding new album was stellar, and within 2 days I had gone out and bought three more of his discs.
Janet and I had a laugh imagining the conversation between Dylan and Van on their tour last year, from which I guessed he picked up "Just Like a Woman."
Van: 'tsa good song.
(5 minutes of silence)
Van: You gonna eat those fries?
June 19, Friday night at the Beacon, for the Brian Wilson Wall of Sound. Another eccentric, gifted, over-50 genius of the stuff we call rock'n'roll. In '65, when Brian stopped touring with the Beach Boys (sending at first Glen Campbell out in his place), the band really did at that point cleave in two. There was the Mike Love Beach Boys, who came to your town wearing shorts and untucked Hawaiian shirts and sang "Barbara Ann" and "Fun Fun Fun" and "Getcha Back" and "Kokomo"; and then there was the Brian Wislon Beach Boys, a studio-only unit like post-Sgt Pepper Beatles or XTC, who make glorious, intricate, complex sonic palates of Godlike music (Pet Sounds, "Heroes and Villains", "Surf's Up", "Melt Away"...). Well, finally, that second band hit the road.
While Beach Boy shows of the past 30 years have been about Fun Fun Fun and Pop-a-oo-mow-mow (hell, Carl and Dennis are gone, Brian is on his own, Al Jardine is on his own, and Mike Love is STILL touring with an aggregation called the Beach Boys), Brian's music-- and this show-- are all about intricate, genius melody, about fragility, about thrillingly happy music describing achingly sad things, articulated in a simple and childlike way. Although he didn't do this song, one of my quintessential Brian moments is at the end of "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)." As the song fades out and the boys are singing the ages one passes through in growing up ("18... 19...") someone sings "Won't last forever", and Brian's fragile reedy falsetto answers, "Feels kinda sad"; just wraps up all the melancholy and sadness and hope of life in one stupid little line.
Three songs in I realized that this was how Brian wanted his music to sound-- that he had painstakingly arranged (with, clearly, the aid of producer/keyboardist/musical director Joe Thomas) to his specs, to match the angelic sounds he hears in his head and filters through Phil Spector (indeed the night's only cover was the Spector-produced hit "Be My Baby", Brian's favorite song).
He played hits, sure-- with his song book, it would be hard not to-- but the set's centerpieces were what we used to call album tracks-- "Lay Down Burden" from his new one, most of Pet Sounds, "This Whole World", "Add Some Music to Your Day", "Back Home." The Wondermints, multi-instrumental Wilson loyalists (who's first album had a sticker that said "If I had this band in 1967 I would have toured the Smile Album"-- Brian Wilson) especially helped bring these songs to life, let them breathe, take a stroll around the hall, without losing their complex and delicate beauty.
And that is how Wilson's work must be treated. Because he is like an orchid-- barely stands on his own, needs pampering treatment to get through the day, but the heart of God lives inside the complex beauty of his work.
When it was over, I just wanted to give the big fella a hug.
Just in case you think the only music I can listen to is that by aging boomer stars in need of a high fiber diet, the next night it was back to Jones Beach for the incandescent Ani DiFranco. Ani hit the scene in '90, '91 as a bald angry lesbian punk-folkie feminist, putting records out on her own Righteous Babe label. Over the years she has softened and blossomed-- not in a sell-out kind of way, though. More like Elvis Costello, who came to us the snarling angry punk who had a fist fight with Bonnie Raitt, and has become the troubadour who records with Paul McCartney and Bert Bachrach-- but who still rocks like a mofo. Ani's albums have grown lusher and more musically daring, which some hear as selling out, but which I hear as healthy musical growth on the part of a talented artist. Also, she has longer hair now and wears lipstick. And she married a guy. But hell, I say let's get past that and move on.
Ani's guitar style is quite distinctive-- she uses the acoustic as a percussion instrument every bit as much as a melodic one, and at the same time (this attack lead to the original punk/folk label). Toss in her slightly off-kilter vocal phrasings, and she comes off as a musician truly and literally marching to her own (internal, polyrhythmic) drummer. Her songs are wordy and personal and articulate; she has a way of building a song around a simple metaphor, like for example the title track of her 1998 Little Plastic Castles:
"They say goldfish
have no memories
I guess their lives are much like mine
And the little plastic castle
Is a surprise every time"
At Jones Beach she and her crackerjack band just totally cooked, infusing her songs with a lilting, funky, reggae-like groove. The crowd was largely "clip girls"-- girls between 17 and 25, who wear stringy spaghetti-strap tank tops with bra straps showing, and who part their hair down the middle and hold each side back with a clip. Now, don't get me wrong-- I love the clip girls. Perhaps, Janet might opine, a tad too much... but they love their Ani; they tape shows, swap tapes... Ani is kind of like Phish for girls; the female contemporaries of all those kids trading Phish and Widespread Panic and Dave Matthews tapes are all into Ani. For my money though, she is the best of the lot. At the risk of pigeonholing a truly unique artist, imagine an intersection between Phish and Joni Mitchell; she lives somewhere near there.
Saturday night July 3, back yet again at Jones Beach for Tom Petty. If you like rock'n'roll-- that's R-O-C-K-apostrophe-N-apostrophe-R-O-L-L-- then you would love Tom Petty. If you've decided you don't care for the guy because you are sick of the videos for "Mary Jane's Last Dance", "Free Fallin'", and "Don't Come Around Here No More", well, maybe you watch too much TV...
Lucinda Williams opened with a too-brief 45 minute set. That crap that passes for "country music" on the radio-- all those idiots in cowboy hats singing about quittin' time and beer and pickup trucks-- well, that's not country music at all, it's middle-of-the-road, Celine Dion for shit kickers. Lucinda, now THAT's country music. Grinding guitars, a rock'n'roll sensibility, brilliant and well-crafted songs, a band tight as Maria Carey's tummy used to be, and a voice that just drips with true love and broken hearts and late nights in real live smoky honky tonks and tour buses-- Lucinda makes Travis Tritt and Garth Brooks and all those other Nashville twits look like the self-parodies they are.
And then there is Tom Petty. The core of the band-- Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench-- have been together almost 30 years. They hit the stage, blow your hair back with "Jammin' Me",
"Runnin' Down a Dream", and "Breakdown", before they even take a breath. Petty drawls, "If you just got here, I'm Tom Petty and these are the Heartbreakers." And he means it with a true humility; he is, after all, somewhat of a southern gentleman. Then its back to work, another 2 hours worth.
As the set moves on, you can see, feel, the love these men have for their work, and for each other. Petty is, with I'd say the exception of Keith Richards, the best rhythm guitarist in rock'n'roll, and that is no mean feat. He recently got divorced after a 20-some odd year marriage (his oldest daughter goes to NYU) and after some alone time has found a new lady friend. The songs off his new album (the brilliant and groove-laden Echo) are imbibed with the spirit of self-renewal, of a man who went through the ringer but came out, as he sings in one of the new tunes, "swingin'... like Tommy Dorsey." Petty's characters have always been the defiant outsiders-- from "American Girl" to "I Won't Back Down" to "Listen to Her Heart", the common thread to so many of his portraits is that attitude, that sense of, to cop a phrase, "You can stand me out at the gates of hell, but I won't back down."
Perhaps the most logical peers for Petty and band are Springsteen and the E Street Band, and the Stones. Springsteen invests his best songs with that piano/bells/sax sound that feels like summer at the shore and just sends chills down your spine; the Stones do it with riffing guitars. Petty and the Heartbreakers do it with Petty's brilliant rhythm playing, Campbell's clear-as-a-bell leads, and Tench's raucous keyboards. And of course, on top of it all, is that nasal drawl, one of the best and most instantly recognizable voices in music. Janet, who was overwhelmed by what she called "the sheer wall of sound" these guys make, said it looked like just another day at the office for them-- that no one was breaking a sweat. And so it was. Because these are guys who play this music because they HAVE to, and if they never made a dime at it they'd be playing Jimmy Reed songs at some Florida panhandle bar every Saturday night.
Rock'n'roll will never die, says Petty in this month's Rolling Stone-- "The design is flawless." As he raised his blonde telecaster high and to the side to emphasize the crunch of the power chords he was casually tossing off all night, you knew just how true this was.