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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2008/08/22
by David Steinberg

Mmmmmmm Melty

Some years the music comes to you. This summer already had trips to High Sierra and Northwest String Summit, but the music wasn’t ending there. When Tea Leaf Green announced their first Washington show in two years, the Flowmotion Summer Meltdown was quickly added to our list of plans.
The Meltdown is located in Darrington, Washington, barely more than an hour from Seattle [1] not far from the North Cascades National Park. The proximity to Seattle was a constant shock throughout the event. The hipster domination of 21st century Seattle makes it hard to remember that there are quite a few hippies in the area. California and Oregon have the reputation but almost all of the plates in the parking lot were from Washington State and the crowd was wasn’t much different than that from the other festivals. There’s no need to hide so much.
The distinguishing feature of the Darrington Ampitheatre isn’t visible when you’re looking at the band. Whitehorse Mountain looms over the venue. The bands have the best view, as they look right out at the glacier-encrusted mountain. The constant pressure to turn around can make it difficult to focus on watching the musicians but it seems to inspire some impressive sets.

In case one amazing geographical feature wasn’t enough for attendees, there is a second option. Walking down a path behind the stage leads to the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. It’s an amazing mountain stream. Not only is the water sort of location that beer companies seek out for their advertising, but each Stillaguamish River comes with a free game.

The rocks on the bank are remarkably smooth. They’re perfect for Hippie Jenga. How high of a stack can you make? Give yourself bonus points if you can balance smaller stones on larger ones or can create interesting patterns. Once you get started, this game becomes surprisingly addictive. Entire sets of music can be missed while you search for the perfect stone to make your tower work.

Despite the temptations of the stream and mountain, this is indeed a music festival. The two days [2] managed to provide quite a bit of interesting music. Traffic (and the need to explore the grounds) meant that we saw two bands on Friday, one new one old.
McTuff is a band that I had been meaning to check out for a while now. Any project with Skerik in it is usually worth examining, especially with Joe Doria and Andy Coe in the band. It was much more straightforward than any other Skerik project, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. Sure the weirdness and insanity is amazing, but sometimes it’s enough to just play the hell out of a song and get people dancing.
As enjoyable as this set was, it was Tea Leaf Green that I had come to see. It had been 18 months since my last time seeing them. Since then they’ve released a new album and replaced their bassist with a platoon system. I was curious to see how the changes would affect the band that I used to be quite impressed with.
A lot of the power of Tea Leaf Green shows comes from the split focus of the band. Both Josh and Trevor are front men but their styles are quite different. Trevor is the songsmith, creator of intelligent lyrics and beautiful melodies. Josh, well he likes to rock and rock hard. My own personal tastes lean towards the Trevor side of the spectrum. My favorite songs (‘Vote on Tuesday,’ ‘Las Vegas,’ ‘Taught to be Proud,’ ‘Garden III’) were written by him and I’m fascinated by his lyrics. Being a Trevor fan can lead to some frustration, as his vocals always seem to be low in the mix. The Meltdown set was particularly frustrating in that respect. Trevor was especially low in the mix, almost to the point of inaudibility [3].

Perhaps because of that, the show ended on a powerful Josh note. ‘Criminal Intent,’ ‘Sex in the 70s’ rocked so hard that they needed an extra Josh – Josh Clauson from Flowmotion – to complete the effect. This was powerful rock and roll and reminded me that even though it’s not my favorite aspect of TLG’s music, the band wouldn’t be the same without it. You need both the highs and the lows to make a band complete.
Where Friday centered on the band that we knew, Sunday was about the one that we didn’t. We’re still recovering from the High Sierra Music Festival disaster. Blue Turtle Seduction was high on our list for the Sunday in Quincy that we didn’t see. Four weeks later we’d have a second chance.
If I had a gun to my head and was forced to come up with a band to compare BTS to, I’d have to say that they remind me of String Cheese of the late 90s. No, they don’t play the same style of music by any means and their songwriting is completely different, but it all comes back once again to the slogan the Incident used in 1998, ‘Your All-Weather Mountain Dance Band.’ The turtle had the same kind of infectious energy. Even this old(er), lazy man found himself kicking off his shoes and jumping up and down to the music. Not many bands hit me like that immediately. Before the night ended, I purchased their famous, ‘Keep Tahoe Seductive,’ sticker, a glass turtle pendant and their latest CD [4]. They’re a lot of fun and I definitely look forward to seeing them again. Hey Julie, they’d sound great on Jam Cruise!
Blue Turtle Seduction might have been an extremely pleasant surprise, but not even that exceedingly fun set was to be the highlight of the night. Everyone Orchestra had not yet played after all.
EO can be a very mixed bag. It comes down to the conducting. When Matt Butler is on, he can get the best out of his players, harnessing their improvisational skills but providing a direction for their explorations. The music is spontaneous, but it also possesses a coherence that usually only comes from bands that have been playing together for years. When he’s not? Well then you get Jammus Interuptus. The set started out that way. Whenever the band started to go somewhere interesting, a new note would be written and the thread would be lost. Fortunately, that was just a feeling out process. The jams rapidly improved, and then a familiar piano riff played as Butler turned the board towards the audience so we could read the writing, ‘Follow Trevor.’
Being a new band, Tea Leaf Green hasn’t yet had to rearrange their songs. The songs are still fresh enough that new depths can be discovered from their original form. Perhaps that’s what made this version of ‘The Garden (Part III)’ so shocking. The pace was dramatically slowed down, forcing more attention on the fact that this is a tale of someone lamenting the loss of a golden age of his life. The good times still happened, but instead of living them in the song, they’re filtered through the fog of memory. I’d hate to lose the power and fun of the standard arrangement of the song but as a change of pace, this was amazingly powerful. If you’re a fan of Trevor, you really should track this down.
As discovery and rediscovery was the theme of the Summer Meltdown, the encore was quite appropriate – the Traveling Wilburys, ‘Handle With Care.’ The Wilburys never get the respect they deserve. Some of the most popular songwriters of our time get together to write an album of great pop songs under goofy pseudonyms and the people seem to forget this ever happened. The albums were even out of print until recently. The Meltdown was an inspiring festival. It caused me to add a band to my list to be sure to check out when they hit down, another – On the One – was added to the great festival band department, and I was reminded that I need to pick up some Traveling Wilburys’ tracks. Here’s hoping that the inspiration will get me back there next year.

[1] Without traffic. The trip on Friday afternoon took just a little bit longer.
[2] Friday and Sunday. Why not Saturday? Two reasons. August 9 still seems like it should be set aside to think about Jerry instead of seeing random bands. Secondly, it absolutely poured that day. It makes it hard to be inspired to drive to the mountains when a cross town drive is a half hour due to lack of visibility.
[3] It’s possible this could be largely my own fault. We were standing up front and there’s a chance we were largely hearing leakage from Josh’s monitors. If that’s the reason for this, please ignore my objection and let the picture below taken from that spot serve as an apology.

[4] Is it me or are half the songs on 13 Floors about sex? I suppose it worked for Dave Matthews so I shouldn’t mock the approach.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at http://www.livejournal.com/users/thezzyzx.

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