In a speech similar in tone to her widely-mocked 1997 MTV Video Music Awards acceptance, Fiona Apple told her Grand Rapids audience that she’s been really upset about Rodney King since he died and that she’s been carrying a picture of him. “We really let that guy down.” The speech culminated with Apple declaring July 9 to be “Rodney King Hero Day.” Then she played “Paper Bag.”
Discussing the show with my wife on the ride home, we came to the conclusion that just like 15 years ago, while the delivery of her message was inarticulate, rambly, and painfully awkward, the content her message was right on. She was 100% correct when at age 19 she pointed out that the glossy celebrity world of MTV was bullshit. It was bullshit then and it still is. And last night, she eventually got around to the point of her story: When Rodney King sincerely asked everybody if we can all get along, people just made a joke out of it.
Think about that. In 1992, a guy who never asked to be put in the public spotlight is mocked mercilessly for asking rioters to “stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids.” Five years later, a 19 year old singer stumbles through an attempt to subvert the whole “awards show” rigamarole by telling kids not to model themselves after what celebrities think is cool but to “go with yourself.” And she gets mocked mercilessly for that.
What kind of shit is that?
Yes, she stammers a little and mixes up a couple words and quotes Maya Angelou, but the content of what she was saying was so fucking accurate that the entire world seemed to willfully misunderstand her. If half of the people who had heard that speech had taken her message to heart, the audience for future awards shows would’ve shriveled up. That world is bullshit. Who even tries to deny that anymore?
And again, last night the message of her rant about Rodney King was nearly obfuscated by her inarticulate manner of presenting it. For a person who writes such compelling lyrics, Fiona Apple is apparently pretty terrible at coming up with words off the cuff. Maybe that’s why it takes her seven years between albums!
Learning that she’s a great big stoner has actually made me feel better about her awkward public persona. She’s not stupid or crazy; she’s just super high. Which makes it funny instead of embarrassing. (We’re laughing with you, not at you.) It probably also explains her yoga/frog inspired dance moves.
And anyway, who cares how somebody talks (or dances) when they have a singing voice like that? Getting to see and hear her perform at the beautiful Meijer Gardens was an especially rare treat. And while the sunshine bothered her sensitive eyes (“I’m not really that angry — I’m just squinting.”), it made for a gorgeous setting for her haunting, otherworldly music.
If Greg asks, the show was terrible. Flat, uninspired and certainly not life affirming.
Not in the slightest.
Greg’s my friend who bought the tickets. Just before Japandroids start tuning up, he gets an SOS text from his wife to come home and help with their very newborn son.
Selfless Greg hops in a cab and does his dad duty. (awww, right?)
So let’s please pretend this brilliant Vancouver punk duo didn’t slay the sold-out crowd at Lincoln Hall — at least half of whom are 30-something rocker dads themselves.
The appeal for aging punks is clear. Like no other band, Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids are aware time is running out. They famously were calling it quits before 2009’s Post-Nothing broke through with the P-Fork crowd. Their label literally had to call them out of retirement to tour.
As a retired rock critic myself, maybe this hit me extra hard, but it’s a second chance the boys don’t seem to expect to last and they throw everything they have into the set.
They open with fuzzy Springsteen ramp-up of “The Boys Are Leaving Town.” Guitarist/singer Brian trembles joyfully on his stick-skinny legs like a mad skeleton. Drummer David dials in his fury, cracking a stick right away.
From there we dive into the new stuff. The songs on Celebration Rock, their just released album, crackle like summer fireworks: brief and radiant. Everyone all knows the shout-along choruses of “Fire’s Highways” and “The House that Heaven Built.”
A mosh pit opens. No really. A big friendly one, well padded with the beer guts of balding guys in thick glasses. It’s a beautiful, silly response that indie acts never inspire anymore.
Maybe we get into it because the Japandroids play facing each other, David’s kit turned sideways on the stage. It’s quirk that sums up what’s to love about this wild, sloppy band. A real human connection trumps everything. They play for their own bliss, not lasting glory. It’s infectious.
They charge through all of Celebration: The fist-pumping abandon of “Adrenaline Nightshift” and the moody build of “Continuous Thunder.” So what if old favorites “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Wet Hair” hit slightly harder. These guys are at their peak.
They aren’t the Black Keys, still digging up the blues to make hits. They aren’t No Age, carving out damaged art noise to make something new. They aren’t the sexy slumming of the Kills or Death From Above 1979. They’re charming Canadian dorks, apologizing for playing so hard Brian constantly has to retune his battle-scarred guitar.
Promising they don’t do encores, they close with their reckless, pounding cover of Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy.” The place erupts because everybody is acutely aware this is it.
The Heat have already won. Brian’s old fucked Fender is falling apart. Somewhere mighty Greg is cruising around Evanston with his wife and baby sleeping in the backseat.
“It’s this or fucking nothing,” Brian says. If you hold back because the end is nigh, it only goes faster.
Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Caesar’s Windsor, April 21, 2012
In 1986—I think, as that was a long time ago, after all—the year that Elvis Costello and the Attractions put out Blood and Chocolate, they went out on tour in support of the record. I saw them at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
Costello took on the guise of Napoleon Dynamite—his character, which (obviously) preceded that of the film of that name—during the show. He allowed audience participation. There was a large roulette-style wheel set up with names of songs on it. Spin the wheel and get your tune performed.
And now Elvis Costello and the Imposters are out on tour in support of The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook!!!
I have seen Costello play umpteen times. I know that as a GloNo participant I should have that number down cold. But it is a number sufficiently high that I had written here back in 2005 that I’d seen a show done so well that I probably wouldn’t see him again.
Guess what? Saturday night was better by a big factor.
Napoleon Dynamite made a return appearance.
There was the spinning wheel. There was audience participation.
There was a go-go dancer who is drop-dead gorgeous. I’d never seen a go-go dancer live before. She was so incredible, I don’t need to see another one again. Not that I’d mind. But “Dixie De La Fontaine” moved so exceedingly well, that it would be hard to imagine her being bested.
There was a hostess, “Katarina Valentina Valentine,” who brought participants to the stage.
There was a set, including a black-and-white rabbit-ear-equipped TV showing static. (Costello claimed it was tuned to Fox News.)
Yes, there was the band up there, as well—Nieve, Thomas, Faragher—and they did a spectacular job, as this was a spectacle (no, not referencing Costello’s chat show of that name).
The crowd at the venue in the Caesar’s Windsor Casino was appreciative and engaged, yet polite and reserved: They watched the show, as a show it was.
It occurs to me that when we talk about “going to see a band play” we often say, “I’m going to a concert.” But for the most part, that’s really not right. Isn’t a “concert” more along the lines of what a symphony plays? Then there is “I’m going to see a performance of __________________.” For example, when Steely Dan was out on tour and played a complete version of a given album, that was a “performance.”
And in the case of what Costello did, it was a “show,” and he gets the whole vaudevillian aspect of what that means, all the way to talking patter when doing setups between the bits.
The music. Here I go back to This Year’s Model and Trust and Imperial Bedroom and Punch the Clock and. . . .
Costello has a fulsome catalog. A rich variety of music. But in this case, it was a show of the rock and roll done slow (e.g., “Allison”) and fast (“Radio, Radio”) and all tempos in between. It was the stuff of then. And for many of us, then was better than now.
But it didn’t seem like a revival tour, a retro act. It seemed very much of the moment. It seemed like this year’s model.
But it wasn’t.
But it was damn good.
And I sure as hell hope that in 2019 I don’t write “this could be the last time.”
Greensky Bluegrass at The Loft
Thursday, April 12, 2012
The thing that struck me the most about this Greensky Bluegrass show was the crowd. By the time they stepped on stage, The Loft was packed with people. The excitement and anticipation in the air was electric. During the show, almost everyone was dancing – to music that lacked a traditional drummer or percussionist of any kind. Just the percussive banjo playing of Michael Arlen Bont, which drives the beat and the feet on dance floor. Lansing, young and old, clearly loves Greensky Bluegrass.
I got there early enough to see all the opening bands – Whiskey Riders, Flashing Blue Lights, and Josh Davis (playing solo, a Stepping in It veteran). Up until Davis started playing, The Loft was pretty quiet. Josh Davis – who Paul Hoffman (Greensky’s mandolin player, vocalist, songwriter) called the greatest songwriter he knows – took the stage with just a few guitars perched behind him. He completely engaged the crowd and got them excited about Greensky coming up. He also played a song he wrote that will stick with me called “The Ghost of Richard Manuel”. Speaking with him after the set, it turns out Davis is a huge fan of The Band. Richard Manuel – piano player, singer, songwriter – was an important part of the Band’s mix, and the song was a highlight for me.
Once they took the stage, Greensky Bluegrass moved through a solid set of originals and covers, breaking out Talking Head’s “Road to Nowhere”, The Beatles “Help”, and Bob Marley’s “Small Axe” (my personal favorite of the night). They played some tracks from their latest album, Handguns, and a few off their earlier recordings, too. Occasionally, the band would move relatively quickly through a given song. More often, they took some time exploring the outer edges of the song, with some focus on Paul Hoffman’s mandolin soloing and Anders Beck‘s trippy dobro playing.
The light show was impressive, too. I hadn’t seen them include that before, and it was a fairly sophisticated digital set up. You can see it in the photos from the show. The same streams of light from their digital lighting doodads contained multiple colors, projecting light around the venue in unison with the music. During the show I was lucky enough to meet Buddy, Greensky’s light guy, who has been working with the band for years. He seemed to have a strong rapport with the guys in the band, and I thought that was reflected in the light show.
These guys, it seems to me, grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, U2, Talking Heads, etc. Yes, they’re a bluegrass band, but they’re a bluegrass band put together by musicians with a solid footing in good old rock n’ roll. You can hear it in their originals, and their cover choices, which reflect the tastes of people growing up in the 80s and 90s, as opposed to, say, the Grateful Dead, whose covers are mostly older blues, folk, and country tunes. Stuff they heard when they were growing up.
If you go over to the Greensky Bluegrass page on the Live Music Archive and give a few shows a listen, you’ll see what I mean. You might even start by checking out the recording for their sold out show at Bell’s Brewery, which was almost exclusively covers. This is all thanks to the intrepid show tapers out there. At The Loft, I met Craig Hanger, who was taping this particular show. He’s a plumber by day, and a fearless taper by night. He tapes shows with a sophisticated set up. Four microphones mounted on an adjustable pole (gotta get above the crowd), and some sort of supercomputer in a big bag that looks like an over-sized lunch cooler. The evolution of portable taping equipment is amazing. With a not insignificant investment in equipment, though, and a commitment to the work required to convert raw recordings into something mere mortals can consume – MP3s, FLAC – anyone could do it. Which is one of the things I like about taping. With some dedication, anyone can help spread their love of music to others over the digital airwaves.
If you haven’t seen Greensky Bluegrass yet this year, don’t worry. You will have lots of opportunity this summer. In addition to a variety of other gigs, they will be playing both the Summer Camp and All Good music festivals, which GLONO will be covering this year. Stay tuned. And go see Greensky Bluegrass when you can.
Last night Sab and I and several thousand other people saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Palace of Auburn Hills, in suburban Detroit.
Sab has seen Springsteen on a number of occasions. Something like seven. I’ve never seen him before. Sab is going to write something breaking down the show. He’s got a whole lot of reference to do so. And seeing the show in his company was good, in that when he wasn’t whooping, shouting and screaming, he explained what album this song appeared on or when he’d heard this other song at another show.
For me, it was about seeing an American rock and roll icon more than anything else. I was happiest listening to Nils Lofgren playing; his solo on “Youngstown” (“That’s an acoustic song on the disc,” Sab explained to me after the guitar shredded out note after note in a remarkable display of capability; Little Steven may get the attention, but Lofgren has the chops) was nothing short of show-stopping.
One aspect that seemed somewhat unsettling was that Springsteen, who had misidentified where he was the last time he played Detroit (Cleveland?!), emphasized that he knew where he was from the start, and after opening with the anthem-like “We Take Care Of Our Own,” the sort of lyric that Kid Rock might produce, launched into “Wrecking Ball,” “Badlands,” “Death to My Hometown,” and “My City of Ruins.”
Meanwhile, back in the offices of the mayor of Detroit, the real possibility that the city could be taken over by a state-appointed emergency financial manager continues.
A little musical municipal uplift would have been nice for the denizens of Detroit. That run of songs was like something Christopher Nolan might have been listening to when he reimagined Gotham City.
He did give a vigorous nod to the importance of Motown music to his career (and arguably to that of a multitude of other acts), and they launched into the Temptation’s “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” which was written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers of The Miracles. (I am more of a partisan of Eddie Kendricks’ vocal stylings on that than Bruce’s rougher handling.) Oddly, that segued into “634-5789,” which was originally performed by “Wicked” Wilson Pickett, who was not a Motown artist. C’mon: the Motown songbook certainly has more than a sufficient number of compositions that could have followed.
Be that as it may, it was a worthwhile experience. Springsteen and his band are rare performers, people who are unabashedly about rock and roll, who are continuing to produce new music that is fresh and relevant, not pale imitations of what had gone before or the sort of mellowed-down pap that things like “American Idol” and “Glee” have led the listening public to adore.
Andrew WK at Riviera Theatre Chicago, March 25, 2012
All of the dudes were there, and that was just on stage. Flanked by four wild-haired guitarists, plus a drummer and his black leotard-clad wife, Andrew WK stood in a party line of his own making and flailed, writhed, pumped his fists to the rager soundtrack of ten years ago. This was the I Get Wet tour, featuring WK in all of his lank white denim glory ripping through the record that made him a star with the same heaping helping of gusto he’d brought out on the road in 2002. Clod-stomping metal riffs were kicked up against WK’s own keyboard flurries and supported with double-bass kicks that kept a hard and fast rhythm on two drum heads, each emblazoned with the maestro’s bloodied face. It was the same iconic shot from the I Get Wet cover art and the one that hung over the proceedings like the visage of a master propagandist. This was WK for Vendetta, and the crowd was eating it up.
“We are fortunate to be here tonight, to live here and be alive,” WK enthused to raucous cheers. And later, “Never forget the power of musical joy.” It was the same metal-vational speech he’d spouted between (too long) pauses back at Metro in 2002, and this time around he couldn’t resist playing a bloodied Tony Robbins once again. It was too much talk, not enough rock. The crowd was eating it up, sure, the same way the pit surged to the left and right during highlights like “Party til You Puke,” “Party Hard,” and the title track, hundreds of kids pushing at the stage in a tangled mess of frenzied limbs, following along with every hair whip and judo chop of their fair leader, who seemingly hasn’t aged in the interim. But WK’s shtick, fully invested as he is, still seems like shtick at heart. There’s a gear missing, that extra rev into crazed that turns a rock and roll show into a mirthful murder spree. He had so many guitars at his disposal, and so much hair whip back and forth. He had the ears and fists of the crowd in his hands. So why was the Riviera a stolid line of folks with their arms folded once you reached the sound board level? And why wasn’t that sound ripping hearts out of chests? It felt like an act, not an act of the party gods.
The post-9/11 fatalism that I Get Wet embraced and espoused in 2001 and 02 has its partner in the fuck-it-all, glittered-up party ethos of LMFAO and Ke$ha, and WK has savvily brought the record back to not only celebrate its birth, but indoctrinate a new flock to his projectile rock. And they were down there, eating it up. But just like his strange question-and-answer sessions of a few years ago, or his incessant web cam party patrolling on Twitter, WK’s rings of egoism before it does altruism. No one can question the stripped-to-its-core genius of “Party Hard”; it’s an anthem that wears the animal skins of a thousand other anthems into a battle against boredom. But why does the whole thing still feel like self-righteous zealotry and not visceral release? Why does it ultimately feel as shallow and rootless as LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”? Maybe that’s the populism innate to the I Get Wet material, though. Like a beer bong or box of fireworks, WK offers a necessary tool kit with which to party, but doesn’t do the real puking or exploding until your neighbor calls the cops. It’s always up to us to never stop living in the red.
The Levon Helm Band at The Michigan Theater Ann Arbor, MI, March 19, 2012
Me and Levon go way back. Waaaay back. All the way back to… 1985 or so. I was in my early teens, the Bob Dylan box set Biograph had just come out, and I was listening to that a lot. My dad’s copy of Dylan and The Band‘s Before The Flood was getting a lot of airplay, too. It documents their 1974 American tour together, and includes Dylan songs and songs by The Band. Double album. Gatefold. I’d also seen Scorcese’s The Last Waltz a couple of times, which documents The Band’s “farewell concert appearance.”
Collectively, these were some of the most formative rock and roll recordings for me. Just starting high school at the time, I became a bit of a Dylan freak for a while. The Band was still part of the picture, but I didn’t get crazy obsessed with them until 2000, when Capitol re-released the first part of their catalog, all re-mastered with bonus tracks. I scooped those up, and listened to them repeatedly. They were like brand new discoveries. I also read a few books about The Band, including Levon’s autobiography. I was steeped in it.
Living in Brooklyn at the time, my then wife and I had already decided to take a long weekend to visit Woodstock. It’s a quaint, beautiful town in upstate New York, whose name everyone knows from the music festival that was almost there. It also happens to be where Bob Dylan and The Band created some of the most amazing and lasting music that any American artist has ever created, then or since. There are interesting, musically historic spots all over the Woodstock area, including the house where The Band wrote the songs for their first record, Music From Big Pink, and where they recorded The Basement Tapes with Dylan. That’s the one I wanted to see. The house. Big Pink.
I found a Web page with some directions written out. It involved unmarked roads and warned against trespassing. Local people had gotten tired of the Dylan freaks. The hunt for the house did send us down a number of unmarked roads with lots of no trespassing signs along the way, but we did eventually find it. It was underwhelming. And why wouldn’t it be? Just an old house in the middle of nowhere. Some really big things happened here, yes, but they aren’t reflected in the structure itself. I dashed off a few photos with my camera, and we got back in the car. There wasn’t anyone around, but it still felt like we shouldn’t be there. It was time to go.
So you might understand how excited I was when I saw the Levon Helm Band was coming to Ann Arbor, just a few miles from me at The Michigan Theater. Levon Helm. The most recognizable voice in The Band. The only Southerner in the bunch — the only American (the rest were… Canadians!). Throat cancer survivor, road warrior, and three time Grammy winner. Drummer extraordinaire. Bringing his well seasoned 13 piece band (yes, that’s thirteen) to town. I had to go.
And it was great. What we saw wasn’t a run through a selection of The Band’s greatest hits (which everyone would have loved, by the way, myself included). It was a journey through the rich and varied landscape of American roots music — the music that forms the bedrock of rock and roll.
Which isn’t to say that there weren’t any songs by The Band in the setlist. The show started with “This Wheel’s On Fire”, followed a few songs later by “Ophelia”. Later there was a fantastic “Chest Fever”, starting with a guitar-driven “Genetic Method” from bandleader Larry Campbell. The finale was “The Weight” with Joe Pug (opener) and his bandmates.
In the spaces sandwiched between these classics by The Band, we heard country, bluegrass, folk, R&B, and more. A kind of late 60s heavy rock number, too. With two drummers, three multi-instrumental vocalists, a guitar player, keyboard/vocalist, bass player/vocalist, and a five piece horn section, the band was able to traverse any musical territory it wanted. On a few occasions, the horn section stepped off stage for a song or two. On other songs they were featured — like in their strut around stage during the cover of Wild Tchoupitoulas‘ “Meet the Boys on the Battlefront”. The crowd went nuts for it.
By contrast, another song, “Little Birds,” featured just one guitar, a mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, and two vocalists. Still another changed the configuration to an an accordion, 3 guitars, bass, two drummers. And, of course, a trombone, for the trombone solo.
Larry Campbell is the bandleader, a well respected multi-instrumentalist who sings and mostly plays guitar, with some fiddle and mandolin thrown in. Teresa Williams, his wife, and Amy Helm, Levon’s daughter, are both artists in their own right, bringing amazing vocals and more multi-instrumental awesomeness to the band. Brian Mitchell, the keyboard player, brings a New Orleans flare to the band, singing all the Cajun influenced tracks, including “Meet the Boys on the Battlefront.”
The five person horn section was the largest of any band I’ve seen. Those guys are awesome. One of them — Howard Johnson — played in the horn section The Band used for The Last Waltz. He’s a legendary tuba and baritone sax player. We were treated to a tuba solo in “The Weight.”
So the concert was absolutely fantastic. I didn’t know most of the non-Band songs they played, but each one really grabbed me. All for different reasons. Larry, Teresa, and Amy all have tremendous stage presence and the entire band has great chemistry on stage. They weren’t only fun to listen to — they were fun to watch (see the 2010 audience recording of “The Weight” below).
Unfortunately, I was also reminded of why I generally don’t get excited about rock shows at The Michigan Theater (except the Earth moving ones like this one). It’s a great place to see a movie with my kid, but a pretty stifling atmosphere for a rock and roll concert. The seats are bolted into the ground, and rows run all the way up to the stage. Standing up in your seat is generally frowned upon and there’s no where to stand up and dance. Sound is generally good, though, and site lines are pretty good wherever you are. Still, there’s just no rocking out. Despite that, the show really did blow me away.
The one thing that leaves me scratching my head is, why no tapers at the show? And why no option to buy a recording of the concert? Why not sell copies? There’s gold in them hills! They’re already taping the shows, I imagine. Run off some copies, sell them at $25 a pop. Instant memories for the fans. A little extra cash for the band. The band would benefit if they let tapers record and upload recordings to the Live Music Archive. It builds exposure, rewards the fans, and preserves their live work for future generations to hear.
Since I can’t link to any MP3s on the Live Music Archive, you’re going to have to see the Levon Helm Band for yourself. Which you should do anyway. It’s a great show, and you’ll probably get caught up in the energy of it. Check out this audience recording from 2010 to see what I mean.
So, last week I decided to check out the love show of a band I knew nothing about. I don’t get to do that nearly as often as I’d like to, but my pal and local PR man, Nathan put the word out he was looking for a date and I decided to go hang out with him. (Full disclosure: PR man Nathan Walker wrote a few pieces for GLONO in another life. He only sends me shit he thinks I’ll actually like, making him a GOOD PR man).
Nathan knows I like good rock and roll and the whole point of this site is to talk about and share the bands we think everyone should know about. Well, here’s The Pack a.d. Dig ‘em.
Dark Star Orchestra at the Majestic Theater Detroit, February 9, 2012
Detroit in February is cold. Not necessarily a place you want to visit. But on a windy and bitter Thursday night, music hungry deadheads converged on the Majestic Theater in Detroit. Dark Star Orchestra was in town. And the audience got what they came for: two sets of well articulated, passionately played Grateful Dead music. A little bit of summer for a short 3 hours to help us through the tail end of a Michigan winter.
It was my first time at the Majestic Theater in Detroit. Despite the cold and the wind, the line into the venue was practically around the block at its longest, right after they opened the doors. In reality, the long line wasn’t actually to get in. It was to get a wristband if you wanted to drink (the show was 18 and over). At least in Michigan, people are willing to tolerate a little blast of cold if it means they can get their drink on the rest of night.
I got in early enough that I got to see the venue floor relatively empty. Like any place with a bar and live music, it wasn’t the cleanest place in the world. And it’s pretty drab inside. No balcony, no architectural touches to marvel at. To top it off, without a balcony or a graded ground floor, there are really no good sight lines to the stage unless you’re pretty close to the front.
That said, once the music gets going, the Majestic is a nice venue. The sound is pretty balanced, not a lot of reverb off the walls, and it accommodates a crowd of 1,600+ while keeping easy access to the bars, which line the back wall and one side of the venue. Never a long line when you need a thirst quencher.
The set lists for this show are outstanding. There’s not a “I think I’m going to go get a beer” song in the bunch. The band kicked off the first set with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” a common opener for the Dead. This was followed by a rockin’ “Sugaree,” then Bobby’s country masterpiece, “Mexicali Blues.”
With those song selections, it felt like a 77 show to me at that early stage. Maybe that’s because I had been listening to the 1977 Mosque show, which was just released as Dave’s Picks, Vol 1, in my car on the way to the show. In any event, that turned out not to be the case. It was actually a show from 1973 – March 22 at Utica Memorial Auditorium. Just weeks after Pigpen died, and during Mickey Hart’s hiatus from the band. It was a transitional year in Grateful Dead history. Pigpen was gone, the repertoire was expanding in several different directions, and they were still adjusting to Mickey’s absence.
Both set lists had a strong country flavor to them, beginning with “Mexicali Blues” as the third song in the first set, which also included the George Jones classic “The Race is On” and Marty Robbin’s “El Paso.” The second set rounds things out with “Big River” plus “Me and My Uncle.”
And it wasn’t just a country celebration, of course. The first set crescendoed with a “China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider” sequence followed by a “Playin’ In The Band” that left the crowd exhausted and ready for the set break. And the second set was dominated by a rocking “Truckin’ -> The Other One -> Eyes of The World” sequence, which wound down with a soothing “China Doll.”
“You Ain’t Woman Enough” was a particular treat. It was the biggest surprise of the show. I’ve always enjoyed Donna’s singing, but you don’t see her take the lead vocal spot very often. With Dark Star Orchestra, it’s always a treat when Lisa Mackey (who plays the Donna Jean Godchaux role in the band) gets center stage. So I’m glad they picked this particular show to cover. Really an inspired choice.
The band, as usual, was outstanding. Only one of the drummers — Dino English — played the show, since the original show was sans Mickey Hart. The arrangements are tight when they need to be, and they know how to inhabit a jam. And they’re good at bringing the crowd with them, which, to be fair, is pretty easy since we’re all a bunch of easily excitable deadheads, and we know all the cues, and all the lyrics.
This show was early in a 25 show tour for these guys. They tour relentlessly. Always on the road. I don’t know how they do it. Take a look at their tour schedule. Granted, some are 2013 dates, but still… These guys are one of the hardest working bands on the jam band touring circuit. And that’s saying a lot. They are extremely tight. Go see them if they’re coming around your way.
Jake and I were just talking yesterday about how lame and sterile live TV appearances have become (compared to this). From lip-synching to flawless choreography to note-for-note playback of their latest singles, artists hawking their wares on TV have become a bore. Except for Guided By Voices. Watch Pollard and crew jumble through their perfectly messy power pop as their bassist takes a spill right there on national TV. Watch to the end and hear him tell Dave “I fell on my ass!” Perfect from now on.