Friday, December 30, 2011

Phish 29 Dec 2011 at Madison Square Garden, NYC


The first set opened appropriately with The Sloth, which has become my own personal theme song this vacation.  The Sloth was a welcome set opener, but not a big surprise.  The following YEM, however, was a bit unexpected.  It was especially fun when Trey and Mike bounced around on their trampolines to face the back of the stadium.  We waved like crazy.  There was a nice bass breakdown that led into the vocal jam.

After a rockin' Back on the Train, Page brought in the organ for Moma Dance.
An awesome and electric MazeRoses are Free, and Halley's Comet were packed into the set before a concluding Antelope.  It made me think of the version at Super Ball IX when Trey brought up the winners of the Runaway Jim road race (full name: The 101st Running of the First Annual Runaway Jim 5k Road Race).  It was hot as blazes that Saturday, and running a 5k on a broiling pavement NASCAR racetrack may not have been my brightest idea.  Thinking about it makes me shudder... but that might just be because I'm in sloth mode.
Crosseyed & Painless opened the second set.  They pulled the same move during the 1-1-11 show too, but I didin't even mind.
Lifeboy was a real treat to hear live, and provided an introspective moment for us all to cool down after Simple.

The real highlight of the second set (and the show, for that matter) was Mike's Song>Chalkdust Torture>I am Hydrogen>Weekapaug Groove.  That was the jam that kept on giving.

Hydrogen first sounded like a well-placed tease during Chalkdust, but the band artfully eased into the slowed-down tune in a purposeful way.

Loving Cup capped off a great show.  These were the boys that I remembered seeing at Superball.  Wednesday night's show seemed to be played by a totally different band in comparison.

After last night, it's killing me to have to wait another 30 hours for the new year's show.  Maybe I'll pass the time at the Garden.
See you tonight!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Phish 28 December 2011 at Madison Square Garden, NYC

Phish returned to the Garden last night to capitalize on the week virtually everyone has off (and to rock our socks off).  I hung out in the 300's section, but managed to snap a few good photos while suffering from murky sound quality:

In the interest of time, I've included a few of my notes from last night next to the setlist.

Set 1
Awesome glowstick war started when the band walked on stage and the lights went out.  It was fun to surprise them when they're usually the ones entertaining us.
Free - a great way to open a four-night run at Madison Square Garden.  Appropriately epic.
Glide> - I'm glad, glad, glad they played this one.
Possum - Trey kind of snuck into this Possum.  The band overdid this song over the summer, but I was glad to hear it last night.
Cities - always a bouncy and fun sing-along.
Curtis Loew
Stash - fun but really short.
Contact> - I loved this one.  My favorite out of the set.  I love the solo section before the last verse that totally gets into a down and dirty funk.
Kill Devil Falls
Bathtub Gin

Set 2
Birds of a Feather - interesting set opener.  Got me thinking that the entire show had sort of an offbeat song selection, which I liked.  There definitely wasn't much filler - every song felt purposeful.
My Friend My Friend
Rock and Roll - a welcome change of pace after the creepy MFMF.  The crowd ate this one up.
Bouncing 'Round the Room - I heard some others complaining about how Boncing sort of slowed down the set, but I got into it.
Harry Hood - I love a good Hood.
Bug - kind of a let down after a great Hood.  They killed this one at SBIX, but didn't quite bring Bug up to that level again this time.

Encore - the most fun I had all night.  After a so-so show, the encore made up for it in song selection and energy.
Rocky Top
Tweezer Reprise

See you tonight!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mike Gordon Band at the Calvin 12/10/11 (Northampton, MA)

One of the major perks of kicking around Northampton for the majority of the year is all the stellar musicians who come to play.  To my delight, Mike Gordon came to town this weekend as part of his band's five-date 2011 fall tour.

The band began the first set with Dig Further Down, a tune off the 2008 album The Green Sparrow.  Scott Murawski broke a guitar string as the song began, which led to an impromptu jam session after the first chorus while he quickly worked to replace it.
I managed to snag a spot on the rail for the night, and recognized the difference in standing five hundred feet away from the musicians and five.  I quickly realized how much fun the band was having while they were delivering an incredible show.  I got to see the eye contact they shared, the motions Mike made them to solo, and the silly faces they made at each other.  It was definitely an experience different from standing on the lawn at a Phish show. 

Of course, Mike wouldn't put his name on anything that didn't contain at least one absurdist moment.  At the beginning of Meat, he tapped his iPhone a few times and big pink letters slowly moved across the screen.  Discreetly, he propped it up against one of his amps until an entire sentence had flashed by: This song is backwards.  He read it, nodded, and began.  It seemed semi-ritualistic, like it was something that needed to be done before the song began to establish an ambiance.
And with that, the slow, funked out tune began.  During the jam that proceeded after the first few verses, each member of the band took a little time to show off.  The real magic happened during a face-off between Scott and Mike.  With each line, the pair built off of each other's ideas to create a sound and theme that was spontaneous and satisfactory.  The song wound down shortly afterward with a percussion solo.  
Andleman's Yard, another track off the Green Sparrow, provided a moment of clarity and confusion to me.  Mike and Murawski locked into different grooves with distinct time signatures, in effect creating a sound that was both hypnotic and engaging.  I attempted to study the music that flowed around me in an effort to capture the element of the sound that that I found so intriguing. 
Green laser beams erupted from a tiny black sphere that Mike carefully placed on the amplifier behind him before the beginning of Barika, an upbeat and instrumental song that sounded like a trip to the islands.  Craig Myers, the percussionist, played the fundamental melody with a Kamel N'goni, a traditional harp instrument from Mali.  The other members of the band enhanced what he was playing by emphasizing certain beats and soloing over the base of sound he provided.  It was totally unpredictable, fun, and one of the best songs of the night.

More fun and shades of Page McConnell emerged when The Band's arrangement Don't Do It began.  The keyboardist, Tom Cleary took vocals and led the band through a rockin' rendition of the classic tune.
I grinned with delight when I heard the opening notes of the Beltless Buckler, a track from Mike's 2003 album, Inside In (one of my favorite albums ever).  It was a treat to hear the band bring new life into the studio version that I had coded into my memory so well.  During the last chorus, certain beats slammed through the floor and into the soles of my boots.  

Soulfood Man, another Inside In tune, ended the ninety-minute set.  I saw Mike motion and smile to Tom Cleary, the keyboardist, and initiate a musical exchange in which they were able to take the energy and intensity of the music up, and played off that for the rest of the song.

Couch Lady began the second set.  It seemed like the bass and guitar took the lead at once, while both of their lines complimented and grounded each other.  The element of uniqueness that is incorporated into the music is what has me hooked.  The guitarist is not the star of these songs - unlikely combinations of instruments, time signatures, and modes keeps them going.  And I love it.

Jones, a funky Max Creek song, was led by Scott Murawski and flowed through Down to the Nightclub and into a highly-energized rendition of Can't Stand Still.  Spontaneous jumping by various members of the band emphasized the theme of the song - quite literally. 

I tweeted earlier this week about how I think my middle school Aerosmith phase has come out of remission, and have subsequently spent my time rocking out (and wishing I were Alicia Silverstone).  Mike did his best Steven Tyler impression during Jones by belting a line from the chorus of Last Child a few times during the jam.  It felt spontaneous, inspired, and semi-freaky.
A cool-down session began with What Things Seem, my favorite track off of Moss, the band's latest solo album.  Mike's ambiental reckonings and steady bassline contrasted nicely with the psychadelic shredding via Murawski.  A deconstructive jam happened somewhat abruptly in the middle of the song, beginning with a sweet sliiide up the neck of the bass.  After a few poignant moments of exploration had been reached, Mike laid on a restorative lick and launched back into the verse.  
Another Door ended the set on an improvisational note.  Mike picked up a tamborine, shook it around for a second, and handed it to an unsuspecting Scott.  Mike grinned at him and nodded, as if it were encouragement to go with it.  Eventually, he locked into a steady and colorful beat while Mike played around with a small electronic box that he had been playing around with all night.  It seemed like it responded to touch, so he would jab at it in weird rhythmic patterns, which would somehow end up in the mix of sound projected to the audience.  Cool magic technology.
When the band came back onstage for a highly-demanded encore, Mike asked the audience: "Do you guys want to hear a jazzy tune or to continue the funk?" After getting an overwhelming demand for more funk, they launched into C+C Music Factory's Things That Make You Go Hmmm...  The retro beats had everybody gettin' jiggy with it as Craig rapped the verses and Mike sang the choruses.
The band laid their instruments down after four unabashed hours of musical development and took well-deserved bows.  As they were leaving the stage, members of the crowd called out to Mike that they would see him at Madison Square Garden in a few weeks and couldn't wait.  Neither can I. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

7 Walkers Friday, Sept. 2, 2011 @ City Winery in NYC

The eponymous 7 Walkers album has been in constant rotation in my car stereo this summer (my iPod recently took a suicide dive at the gym, unfortunately for me... and my iPod).  The album has the perfect summertime down-South kind of feel.  Not only does it make me feel like I could be driving down to the bayou in Louisiana instead of the beach in New England, but I find every song to be endlessly interesting.  There's always something more subtle to notice about a track, or a new lyric that speaks to me. Each song is distinctive enough to appreciate but each contains the same Southern sparkle.
Even in grey downtown NYC last Friday, the 7 Walkers were able to channel that Summertime sunshine. 

The cool thing about the City Winery is that it's a restaurant and bar, too.  I arrived an hour before the show and dined on crispy chicken and grilled cactus (!).
When the band came out, they began with a warmup jam, creating space and mood for their music to flow.  After a few minutes, they sidled into the classic Grateful Dead tune He's Gone.  Papa Mali and Matt Hubbard, the keyboard/harmonica/trombone/organist, shared some sweet vocal harmonies during the choruses. 

Sue from Bogalusa revved up the slower mood by injecting a youthful energy to the show.  It's a song about lighthearted puppy love that has a distinct Southern twist.  The driving music is a blend of old time rock'n'roll (think: the Twist) and blues.  Rockin' guitar and harmonica solos totally brought it home. 
The next two songs were covers - the bass player, George Porter Jr., belted the Meters' I Just Kissed My Baby while Papa Mali artfully copied the funkadelic guitar licks.  Despite sitting on tall, uncomfortable bar stools, we all managed to groove pretty hard to that one.  Bob Dylan's song Positively 4th Street was especially appropriate when performed so close by to the real thing!  This cover was modeled more after Jerry Garcia's version than the original. 
For those of us who were still in our seats, an energetic I Know You Rider did the trick.  The bluesy Southern twist was played up with a slide guitar and thumping piano accompaniment. 

The psychadelic rocker Let the Good Times Roll was led by George Porter Jr. again, while he belted out the soulful verses in true Hendrix style.  The song was expanded with a rhythmically complex drum solo from Billy Kreutzmann.
After we got some good old fashioned covers out of the way, the band returned to some of its own material, including King Cotton Blues.  The music ambled through the winery with its own time and its own agenda - delicate jazzy organ licks layered over Papa Mali's seasoned voice and the bass strove on to drive the piece.  There are some songs that are way better in concert than on the album, and this is one of them.  Everything seems so much more alive.  (How ironic, then, that the song is about execution?) Matt Hubbard left the organ and pulled out a trombone, which he promptly used to blast the circusy outro, which gives a totally different type of sound from the album's version of the song.  A treat!
During New Orleans Crawl, a soprano sax player joined the band and gave a solo, which was artfully turned into a duo with Matt Hubbard on the trombone.  It was beginning to look like a regular N'Orleans brass band!  After a few verses that showcased some nice vocal harmony, the guitar, bass, keys, and soprano sax traded solos again.  I like the taste of New Orleans jazz world that the 7 Walkers bring to their shows, especially with this song.  It's on my bucket list to visit the Southern city one day for its jazz (and food - let's be honest). 

The Grateful Dead tune Love Light ended the set on a high, energetic note.  Bluesy harmonica solos interspersed with verses gave it the 7 Walkers touch. 
A long, slow-moving and slightly-jazzy organ solo lead into the encore, 7 Walkers.  Papa Mali sang the tune with some true soul - with a little help from Robert Hunter, the lyricist.  Even after all these years, these lyrics prove that he can still spin magic. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Phish: Superball IX - Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 @ Watkins Glen, NY

After a fabulous show on Friday, everyone was eager and ready for three sets of music on Saturday.  The day began with a scorching 5.5k run around the NASCAR racetrack.  Among the participants were a few Uncle Sams, a naked guy, a Reno 911 officer, a small marching band, and a dude smoking a cigar.
The official title of the race is the The 101st Running of the First Annual Runaway Jim Memorial 5k Road Race.  I dig. 

After a well-deserved shower, everyone headed over to the concert field to stake out a spot for the afternoon set.  At 3:45pm, the band came out and started with Tube

Phish - 7/2/2011 "Tube" from Phish on Vimeo.
The moment the band began playing, hundreds of beach balls were launched into the air.  After Kill Devil Falls and Ocelot (sigh), Page stood up fromt the piano and went into club-singer mode, kicking balls offstage while crooning Lawnboy.  
I had high hopes for the Divided Sky that came next.  It was brutally hot in the crowd, and I needed something incredible to make an otherwise lackluster set worth my sunburn and fatigue.  While well-played, it didn't energize me as I'd hoped.  Listening back, the 'Sky was nothing to complain about.  The guitar tones stayed pure and the jam was fine - I would name Page as the MVP as Trey scrambled up and down note patterns and riffs.  He just kept banging on those keys in a way that was energizing and beautiful. 

Trey took his sweet time ending the solo section - looking back, it turns out he let the crowd yell for over two minutes.  I find the prolonged pause indulgent because they do it every time they play Divided Sky.  I understand and respect that it's the artist's choice, but to me, it gets old. 
The funktastic numbers Boogie on Reggae Woman and Camel Walk spiced things up and re-energized the crowd.  These were the kinds of songs that should have been more prominent during the afternoon set.  They are short, powerful, and always crowd-pleasing.  These were the songs that made me forget how much my feet hurt or how much I wanted a dude with a mister to come by.

I love the effect that Mike uses with Boogie On - the song itself is a total bassfest, and I love it.  The slow funk of Camel Walk jam was slowly grooved over to classic rock as Trey got his solo chops back.  Quick renditions of CitiesPoor Heart, and 46 Days kept the set going.
When Suskind Hotel began, more than a few phans glanced around at one other, hoping to see if anyone recognized the Mike Gordon Band original.  I really like Mike's solo work, and wish I had caught the show in Portsmouth, VA last summer when Phish covered Idea off the Green Sparrow.  I guess Suskind is the next best thing.  I like the way the song seems to have a dynamic meter yet drives like a traditonal rock n roll.  Mike's Haus. 

The band closed the set with a song that Page did at solo shows during the second hiatus - the Rolling Stones' Monkey Man.  It was funny to hear Page belt about how he was a monkey man, and it only gets funnier as I listen for the third or fourth time.  Heh.
As promised, the band announced the winners of the morning's 5k race in front of everyone, a la Runaway Jim.  Everyone cheered as the runners accepted their trophies onstage - I can only imagine the glory.  Trey read off the winners and their times in between verses as the rest of the band looped the transition over and over.  When the overall winner was announced, the band revved up and finished the song.  Weird - it was like a switch had been flipped.  All of a sudden, the magic from Friday's show was there in the music again.
McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters came next.  It was the first time they had played the tune this tour.  Its slick jazz undertones had everyone bopping around and singing along.  I liked the way two players were able to sync beats at times for extra oomph with a solo over it.  My favorite moment is about six minutes in, when Page takes control.  Trey and Mike sync up under him while he provides color and syncopation with the piano.
A rockin' Birds of a Feather was welcomed after the crowd was riled up with Axilla I.  Trey plucked out the Simpson's Theme while the band was messing around before Stash.  Everyone in the audience (even 3.0-ers such as myself) knew what to yell: D'OH!  Then we laughed while a steamy version of Stash began.  Trey cinched most of the notes in the compositional part and the jam hit its stride around the seven-minute mark.  Fishman provided a tribal-like beat while the others swam around in the sound, exploring new places while maintaining the integrity of the meter and key. 

I always love a good Mango Song (and, according to the enthusiasm of the crowd when Trey stumbled through the first few bars, so do 30,000+ others).  This version was especially fun - there was a nice piano breakdown that provided extra energy when the band revved up to go into the chorus.  Mango is a happy, bouncy, feel-good song - sort of like Backwards Down the Number Line, but less noobish.  Yes? 
Things slowed down for the traditional-sounding intro of Scents and Subtle Sounds.  A soaring jam combined with gentle lyrics made for an instant show favorite. 

Run Like an Antelope finished the first set with a bang (and a glowstick war).  This one never fails to excite the crowd, and Saturday's version was filled with lots of shredding and cool quirks.  There was a cool segue into the Marco Esquandolas section - Page was doing some damage with the organ while Trey found a pattern of a few squeaks that he used to pace the lyrics and create a quick new groove.  

My brother and I managed to worm our way up to about twenty feet away from the stage during the set break - it was the closest I had ever been at a Phish show.  The set began with Golden Age - something I hadn't heard live since the Albany shows of 2009.  (In fact, I became thoroughly obsessed with the song after those shows that I downloaded the original version and showed all my friends the funky music video.)

I love the array of songs that Phish covers.  They choose wisely, but eclectically.  This particular version of the TV on the Radio cover was spot-on and slid it way into a nice long jam.  
The always-sunny Piper was another similarity from the Albany show.  The unity of the instrumental music contrasted with the plurality of the vocals always hooks me.  The fast-paced jam attached to this one served as a stellar way to pump up the energy diatonically and then twist it around with a key change.

Things slowed down a bit with the jamtastic Tweezer.  Trey tried out a Hendrix-esque effect for the guitar in the beginning of the jam and totally stumbled through anything he played.  I don't know if it was a new thing that hadn't been prepared enough, a fluke, or a concious choice of style, but I didn't like it.  After he switched back into his usual tone, his playing returned to its nimble self.  Mike kept the bassline slow and steady while Trey and Page played off it.  Trey got stuck in the upper neck of his guitar for a while, but snapped out of it by returning to a classic rock-style solo after a minute or two of weirdness.
After a glowing Backwards Down the Number Line, the jazzy intro of Twist brought us to another dimension.  The song itself is full of metric delights, and the jam attatched to it this time played on that characteristic.  Trey held a somewhat steady tempo with his solo while the rest of the band played on the syncopated meter of the song.  About eight minutes in, the music crept back into the song structure for an ending chorus.  Either by mistake or just for fun, Trey began the line too early - the result was an oddly-placed woo!.  All of a sudden, Fishman was joining in with shouts of what?!.  Instead of an ending chorus, the band played off Trey's mistake and ended the song in a chorus-like jam.  
Those type of moments are the reason I dig improvisational music more than anything else. 

A quick 2001 dove into Harry Hood, which let out in a bouncy, gentle jam.  It glistened.  I would definitely choose it as one of my favorite jams of the night. 

The second set closed with three short numbers: Cavern, Golgi Apparatus, and the Beatles' A Day in the Life.

Tweezer Reprise popped up after a rousing Loving Cup (to which everyone in the audience sang along) as the encore.  Sometimes I dig the reprise more than the full version of the song.  It's a truncated version of all the energy that's in Tweezer, and brings back fond memories of the double Tweezer that happened in Hartford, CT last summer. 
Leaving the concert field, I felt like I was in a daze.  Once again, I was excited and curious as to how they could top that night's show - they had another entire day ahead of them.  I crashed within twenty minutes of making it back to the campsite.  Turns out, that was a bad idea.  I woke up a few minutes later to my brother tapping me on the shoulder.  He pointed in the direction of the concert field and whispered: Cactus.  

I focused and heard strange, nonsensical noises in the distance.  Heavy thuds studded swooping synths.  Occasional clinks, clangs, and whistles.  I put on a sweatshirt and we headed over to the concert field.  I arrived sleepy-eyed and a little disoriented - not only because of my recent wakeup call, but because of the scene itself.  Spotlights streamed into the dark violet sky.  There were speaker towers set up in every direction.  People were standing in Ball Square, the area of the field devoted to art exhibits.  Some were standing, some where sitting, and all were facing the fake storage unit that was a part of the art exhibition. 
The band began the Ball Square Jam with unscripted jamming - at times it was soft and ambiental, other times it was loud and insistent.  Either way, it was always a little eerie.  Sometimes they would work their way into a neat groove, only to morph it into something else entirely a minute or two later.  

Eventually Trey picked his way through a pattern that led into the ballad-like Sleeping Monkey.  This version was totally laid-back and stripped-down.  There were giggles, interjections from other members of the band (weasel!).  Eventually their playfulness manifested into a Merriweather What?! fest.  The song ended, but the jamming didn't - for another few minutes, at least.  Mike explored chromatisicms and Page occasionally chimed in with loopy synth noises.  It sounded like the music was literally winding up and down.  The hour-long jam faded into silence, as if it had never happened.

The next morning, I couldn't help but wonder - was it all just a dream?