Whatever You Do, Take Care Of Your Shoes

A Few Choice Words On Levon Helm

Like everyone else who read the news yesterday, I was saddened to learn of Levon’s passing.  It was evident, and with his recent cancellations of several shows and his family’s announcement the other day, we knew his time had come.  It would be silly for me to eulogize him as if I knew him personally.  I didn’t, but I knew him the way countless others did; a national treasure who influenced myself and countless other musicians searching for that sound.  Together with Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel, The Band redefined Rock and Roll by seamlessly blending blues, country, bluegrass, and soul into a new-found Americana sound that others would spend their careers trying to replicate.  There’s not a bad Band song and I challenge you to find one.  Almost every band I love — Phish, Railroad Earth, Grateful Dead, etc. all count Levon as an influence and you hear it in their sound.  Just watch The Last Waltz, The Band’s 1976 farewell concert (and the first movie I ever watched with my wife) and see for yourself.  As a guitar player, it’s easy to focus on Robbie Robertson’s incredible guitar playing, but it’s Levon who anchored that Band.  It’s Levon’s voice that carries those songs.  Levon wasn’t a “boom chic” drummer; he was playing complex rhythm patterns while singing, and that was not easy.  I had the opportunity to see Levon play on several occasions, most recently being last year in Central Park.  Even in his last years, he had that excitement and energy on stage and that unforgettable smile.  It’s moments like the one below (the last time I saw him play “The Weight”) that I’ll cherish.  You might not be able to hear him sing over my voice, but that’s how he would have liked it.  Levon didn’t play Rock and Roll.  Levon WAS Rock and Roll.  Rick Danko sings in “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show,” “I’d rather die happy, than not die at all.”  I like to think Levon believed that up to the end.  Thanks for the memories.

Trey Announces Small Fall Run

The Trey Anastasio Band will play a few shows this fall in addition to their headlining slots at Langerado and the Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival.  The East Coast run sees Trey continuing picking up from his last few solo tours, playing smaller theaters and clubs.  Trey will tour with the septet that debuted on his 2010 winter tour; featuring Russ Lawton (drums), Tony Markellis (bass), Ray Paczkowski (keyboards), Russell Remington (tenor saxophone and flute), Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet and vocals) and Natalie Cressman (trombone and vocals).


10/9 - Langerado Music Festival, Sunrise, FL
10/12 - Wellmont Theatre, Montclair, NJ
10/13 - Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD
10/14 - Fillmore, Charlotte, NC
10/15 - nTelos Wireless Pavilion, Charlottesville, VA
11/11 - The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA
11/12 - Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival, Live Oak, FL

Levon Helm & Emmylou Harris’ Summerstage Ramble

Two of America’s musical legends teamed up this past Monday in Central Park, when Emmylou Harris and Levon Helm delivered a perfect night of music.  Emmylou’s set leaned heavy on newer cuts from her Hard Bargain album, but also touched on classics like “Red Dirt Girl” and a gorgeous rendition of “Long Black Veil.”  

Levon and his band, anchored by the amazing Larry Campbell, took the stage next to deliver a fantastic set of Band chestnuts, newer cuts, and covers.  Levon himself seemed complacent to stick to the drums, handling vocals only on the opening “Ophelia,” an amazing take on The Last Waltz classic “Evangeline” (with Emmylou helping on vocals), and taking one verse of “The Weight” to close the evening.  Other highlights included a powerful one-two punch of Grateful Dead staples “Deep Elem Blues,” followed by “Attics Of My Life,” which saw Levon take a step back and let Larry, Theresa Campbell, and daughter Amy Helm shine.  David Bromberg made a surprise appearance for his new song, “Tounge,” which had been recorded at Levon’s barn recently.  The night closed with an appropriate rendition of “The Weight,” featuring several sit-ins from folks including Emmylou, Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin, and David Bromberg.  I caught the whole thing below (pardon my singing…it was that much fun!).

Railroad Earth’s Patchogue Pickin’

In a game-time decision, I took the LIRR ou to Patchogue last weekend to check out the Great South Bay Music Festival.  Loaded up with many local bands and some up-and-comers, the main reason for my travel was to check out Railroad Earth’s hour set right before the headliners, Umphrey’s McGee.  The festival was beautiful; situated right on a park on the water, and featured a main stage as well as a smaller tent where other bands showcased their talents.  Bluepoint Brewery sponsored the event and had a few beer tents set up for us to indulge a bit, and the vending offered everything from great carnival food to hippie apparel (I snagged a nice Weather Report shirt for all you Dead-heads out there).  I even ran into RRE’s Tim Carbone on my way to snag a hotdog.

Railroad Earth’s set was a solid hour of quality bluegrass pickin’.  The highlight was a stunning rendition of “Head,” featuring great interplay between Tim Carbone’s fiddle and John Skehan’s mandolin.  I felt they did a nice job mixing in newer cuts with older material, to deliver a set that really captured their career as a whole.  The band seemed very relaxed and loose, which was evident right from the set opening “Long Way To Go.”  Great renditions of the instrumentals “1759” and the set closing “Fiddlee” also deserve special mention.  I had great positioning up on the front rail in front of Tim.  At one point I yelled for “Mess.”  Tim and Todd acknowledged, and Tim smiled and quietly mouthed “not today.”  Looks like I’ll have to wait for another show, which is fine by me.  In my opinion, these guys are one of the most exciting bands around and I’ll catch them any chance I get.

Saturday July 16, 2011 Great South Bay Music Festival, Patchogue, NY

Long Way To Go, Lone Croft Farewell > Head, Where Songs Begin, 1759, Potter’s Field, Black Elk Speaks, Fiddlee

The Biggest Ball Of Them All?

That’s a question I’ll leave you to decide.  But, after giving these Super Bal IX sets a few listens over the past few weeks, I have my own opinions on that.  The bar was set pretty high even before the boys descended onto Watkins Glen for their July 4th festival spectacular.  The first leg of this summer’s tour had been a strong one, seeing the band pick right up where they left off January 1 and most of late 2010.  So, naturally looking forward to this festival, expectations were large and many speculated that the best was yet to come.

So what’s my take?  Super Ball IX was a good festival.  Nothing mind blowing, but from a playing perspective and a song choice perspective, Phish delivered a solid weekend of quality playing for those willing to make the trek out to Watkins Glen.  While lacking musically from past fest’s like The Clifford Ball, Great Went, and Lemonwheel, this one will surely go down in history as a quality event.  Moments like July 1st’s  ”Bathtub Gin,” the Phish debut of Mike’s “Suskind Hotel,” the long awaited return of “Scents And Subtle Sounds” (with intro!), and the final set’s “Waves > What’s The Use?” all stick out for me as musical highlights.  And the covers?  A great balance of old and new, as the boys dropped great versions of “Crosseyed And Painless” (which I have dubbed the song of the tour so far, “Torn And Frayed,” “Time Loves A Hero,” “Peaches En Regalia,” “Life On Mars?,” a humorous yet appropriate rendition of AC/DC’s “Big Balls;” and one of my other favorite moments of the festival, the first set closing “Monkey Man” debut on July 2nd.

And there was the storage jam.  I think many of us called a mystery set before the festival even occurred.  Bringing back an old tradition, Phish emerged in the middle of the night on Saturday to play an hour long improv set, this time choosing their venue to be a storage facility erected in the town square.  The jam was certainly an interesting one, featuring instrument rotation from each band member as they played behind tinted windows that only allowed for their silhouettes to be visible.  The ambient jam was very reminiscent of past mystery sets including IT’s Tower Jam and the Lemonwheel Ambient Jam.  A large part of this set was the visuals; something that simply can’t translate onto the recordings.  As the boys dove deep into murky waters here, they closed out the madness with a spooky (and easily the strangest) version of “Sleeping Monkey” to date.

So, in total, I think Super Ball IX stands on its own, and held up nicely against other 3.0 events.  We’ve seen better playing and song choices for sure, but we’ve also seen sloppier performances.  As I sit and listen to these sets again and again, I get a satisfied feeling that I’m sure those in attendance also felt.

images courtesy of Dave Vann and Brantley Gutierrez.

Surrender To The Flow: Summer Tour 2011 Leg One Thoughts

Right before Summer Tour started, I decided to make a conscious effort to not write anything until the first leg was over.  This was a departure from my current coverage, where I typically do a small write-up after each night, but I wanted to try something a bit different and try to view the first leg as a whole.  In an essence, a tour is often like one long story anyhow.

This first leg was certainly an interesting one.  As with most tours, we experienced highs and lows, but the overall impression I got was that the band is dialed in.  While the naysayers will still complain about the “lack of jams” and exploration, I could not disagree more.  The jams are there; they’re just more structured.  In fact, if you remove some of the new tunes, it’s almost like listening to early 90’s Phish — well executed composed segments with controlled jamming.  I was only able to catch the three Jersey shows, but I believe the band is having more fun than they’ve had in years and it’s certainly reflected in their playing.

Here are a few “Free Thoughts” from the first leg:

Right out of the gates at night one in Bethel, the band delivered a profound message with the opening “Tweezer > My Friend, My Friend” combo.  First set jams have not died.  While the first set is typically one for the band to warm up before diving deep in the second, this tour had several key first set jams that have stuck out as show highlights.

5/28 Bethel “Halley’s Comet”
5/28 Bethel “Bathtub Gin > Manteca > Bathtub Gin”
5/31 PNC “Sand”
6/10 Camden “Weekapaug Groove”
6/10 Camden “The Curtain With”

Each of these moments saw the band explode with energy and unleash some of their best playing of the tour.

Every tour has it’s song (I often say that Summer 2010 belonged to “Funky Bitch”), and in an interesting move, the band broke out The Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed And Painless” four times in eighteen shows.  For a song that typically rears its head once a tour, this was a nice surprise.  Each time, it served as a launching pad into some welcomed, exploratory jamming that set the set in motion.

I think everyone was a bit unsure of what was coming out of the playful Blossom “Possum,” but what did emerge was a new funk-laden Trey original, “Steam.”  The slow, bass-driven tune is very reminiscent of “Ghost,” and one I predict will continue to be used as a mid-set placeholder (jammed into and out of).  ”Steam” was played only one other time in Merriweather (out of none other than “Crosseyed And Painless”) but I eagerly anticipate it’s growth next leg and moving forward.  The potential is there for this song to really go places.

Much of what I’ve read regarding the two PNC shows and Camden show have labeled those nights as tour low-points.  I’m in agreement that there were stronger nights, but I think there’s a lot to be said for those shows (caveat: I am a little jaded, as I attended all of those shows).  In fact, I will go as far as to say that the second set of PNC night one stands out as one of my favorites from the tour.  The jams out of “After Midnight” and “Drowned” stand right up there with some of the finest Phish I’ve ever heard.  And that “Maze!”  Easily the best of 3.0, and flowed perfectly from the “Drowned” jam.  Give it a listen again.  The following night’s “Tweezer > No Quarter” was also one of those fine moments.  Once everyone realized what Page was doing, the crowd just erupted with that wild energy.  As for Camden, I was thoroughly impressed with the “Rocky Top” opener, “Weekapaug,” and beautifully played “Curtain With” to end the first set.

The biggest complaint of 3.0 that people have is the lack of long jams.  For those longing for 1997, it’s probably best to stick to the tapes (Mike said it best the other week on his hotline).  Longer isn’t always better, but once in a while, the band will lock in and deliver some real monster jams that don’t consist of Trey simply noodling around.  The DTE set two opening “Down With Disease” is a perfect example.  The boys clicked here and felt the urge to take this one for a ride.  We haven’t had a similar jam (time wise) since Albany 2009.  So, while these are likely to be few and far between, they aren’t dead.  And I for one would rather have several 10-15 minute well played jams, than an aimless 30+ passage.

So with Superball around the corner and a month away from leg two, it will be interesting to see what else lies in store.  At the end of the day, the band sounds great and stronger than they’ve been in a long time.  Expect big things.

images courtesy of Dave Vann.

Phish Announce Colorado Dates To Close Summer Tour

Well, so much for Chicago closing out the second leg of summer tour.  Phish gave word today that they will play three consecutive nights near Denver, at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, over Labor Day weekend (September 2-4).  The band still have no additional plans to tour this fall or winter, though do we really want to believe it?

Railroad Earth’s 10th Anniversary Blowout

Railroad Earth brought it all back home Saturday night, as they descended upon the Montclair’s Wellmont Theatre for a tenth anniversary blowout.  Jackie Greene supported, and kicked the night off with a great opening set spanning his career (side note, check out his set closing “New Speedway Boogie,” complete with a “The Other One” jam and “Bird Song” teases — link below).

The men of the hour hit the stage for one long set, focusing largely on their older material, with newer gems woven in.  The show opening “Long Way To Go” was fitting, as the band celebrated not only the past, but looking forward to what lies ahead.  Todd Scheaffer gave a shoutout to the diehards, dusting off a forgotten tune, “Wavin’ Willie” that had not been played in years (If anyone has the exact date, please let me know.  Setlist.com does not have a record).  As the set progressed, the band loosened up quite a bit, jamming out staples including “Like A Buddha,” a stellar “Warheard Boogie > Black Bear” combo, and a monster “Spring-Heeled Jack” with “Mighty River” sandwiched in between.  This is a must hear!  Jackie Greene lent his guitar playing tallent, sitting in on the traditional “Duncan & Brady” and RRE’s own “Hard Livin’.”  Check out the video below to see some great interplay between Jackie and John Skehan.  The band capped an almost three-hour set with a beautiful rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Keep Movin’ On.”  Here’s hoping they do keep movin’ on, and I look forward to celebrating a twenty year anniversary.

Saturday May 7, 2011 The Wellmont Theatre, Montclair, NJ

Long Way To Go, Old Dangerfield, Bird In A House, Like A Buddha, Railroad Earth, Wavin’ Willie, Colorado, Warhead Boogie > Black Bear, Lone Croft Farewell, Spring-Heeled Jack > Mighty River > Spring-Heeled Jack, Duncan & Brady*, Hard Livin’*, Seven Story Mountain, Storms, Jupiter And The 119 > Fiddlee

E: Keep Movin’ On

*with Jackie Greene

setlist courtesy of Earthboard.

download both Jackie Greene’s and RRE’s sets here:

Jackie Greene


A Few Choice Words On Record Store Day

It was quite an eventful morning as I traveled down to the Village to partake in the annual Record Store Day.  I’ll be the first to admit, I do not have much of a vinyl collection, having built the majority of my music catalog in the CD form.  That said, I was intrigued by a few releases being put out today, especially Phish’s Two Soundchecks.

I arrived around 9:15 at Other Music (down on E. 4th) to an already patiently waiting crowd of people.  Other Music would not open its doors until 11am, but already people were eagerly waiting and talking about the treasures they found earlier in the morning at some of the other NYC hole-in-the-wall record stores.  I was clearly late to the game.  I met a few really interesting people…all friendly, and all so passionate about music.  Everyone had their fingers crossed to be lucky enough to grab limited editions of releases from everyone including Phish to Bad Brains to Nirvana to The Rolling Stones to The Velvet Underground.  I listened in on a guy who claimed to have a friend that produced the latest Foo Fighters record, and said that an engineer wanted to bring a computer into the studio to polish some takes only to have Dave Grohl tell him he’s be fired if he did so.  In a world dominated by pop music and auto-tunes, it’s refreshing to know that there are artists who still insist on recording analog, and a legion of fans who know that music just sounds better a certain way. 

I was granted admission to Other Music just after 11am.  Not to my surprise, the Phish EP was gone.  They had only received two copies and they flew off the shelf instantly.  I did manage to score three gems; Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s Live From The Carousel 10”, The Velvet Underground’s Foggy Notion/I Can’t Stand It 7”, and a reissue of Pearl Jam’s Immortality/Rearviewmirror 7”.  I ventured over to Generation and Bleeker Street Records only to hear more of the same with regards to Phish.  I’m not giving up.  I’m sure I’ll get a copy eventually.  And, I’m not giving up on music out there.  Today was a refreshing breath of fresh air in seeing a great crowd of people with a common interest and releases from a stellar bunch of artists who all want to save the dying breed that is the local record store.  Pictures of my winnings and the line outside Other Music below.

Additional Summer Dates Announced

Phish announced their second (and last?) round of dates for this summer’s tour.  As expected, leg two sees the band venturing west, beginning with a two-night stint at the Gorge.  Along the way, the band will play their first ever Hollywood Bowl, first ever stops in gorgeous Lake Tahoe, and San Francisco’s Outside Land’s Music Festival.  Summer tour will wrap up back in Chicago for a three-night run at the UIC Pavilion.  The boys will not tour this fall.

Aug 5-6 - The Gorge Amphitheater, George, WA
Aug 8 - Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA
Aug 9-10 - Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harvey’s, Stateline, NV
Aug 12 - Outside Lands Music Festival, San Francisco, CA
Aug 15-17 - UIC Pavilion, Chicago, IL