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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2004/04/27
by John Zinkand

Spring in the Northwest

Spring has been heating up the Northwest to unusually warm temperatures. Nice weather means more and more national bands are coming through all the time. After a relatively quiet winter, the Northwest jamband scene is blooming like so many high mountain meadows filled with colorful flowers. In the past few weeks here in Portland we’ve seen the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Gov’t Mule, Vinyl, and even Skerik’s Critter’s Buggin’ come and go. With such a diverse cross section of bands hitting our area of the country right now, it’s a great time to be here. And even when there isn’t a band in town, the warm sunny weather provides the perfect backdrop to enjoying an inspirational day in the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest. This spring has been jam-packed with two of the things I love more than anything else: seeing bands and hiking. And when there hasn’t been a band to jam out to late into the evening on a weekend night, there always seems to be a bottle of Tequila, some live tunes in the stereo, and plans for the next day’s hike to keep me busy. And right about now there’s always a glut of music. After waiting patiently through the cold rains of winter for some musical sunshine, it seems many of my favorite bands visit the area all at once, forcing me to lose sleep and scurry around trying to catch them all in a two week timeframe. Like last week and this coming week, for example. On Monday night Umphrey’s McGee played in Eugene and I really had no choice but to attend. Umphrey’s is one of my favorite young jambands, and I know a visit to the Northwest from them is a relative rarity. So after work I found myself cruising down I-5 for almost two hours to get my Umphrey’s fix. The show was at the McDonald Theater, which is a nice old theater in downtown Eugene. Of course, the band had already started playing by the time I arrived. The small theater was only sparsely filled with weeknight revelers, but the band seemed to be having a good time. If anything, the show was a bit mellow as I think the guys were still recovering somewhat from an extended Las Vegas hangover and lack of sleep. Maybe that’s why the tunes Hangover and Water showed up in the first set. Solid versions of Walletsworth and All Things Ninja, as well as a unique version of Ringo with Wes Cichosz on tenor saxophone were highlights. The second set was even more enjoyable as the band picked it up a notch. Andy’s Last Beer was as frenetic as most I’ve heard, and the crowd didn’t even do too badly on keeping the oddly timed claps in unison at the end. I really enjoyed the spacey groove that slowly turns into a heavy riff during the song #5. A killer version of the Umphrey’s classic 2×2 set closer and a stellar Glory>Uncommon encore rounded out the show. I found myself driving back to Portland after the show and then working all day the next day. Later that evening, Umphrey’s played their 4/20 show at the Crystal Ballroom. Unfortunately, there were two or three other bands opening and Umphrey’s was just the headlining act of a 4/20 Fest. I would have much preferred a three set Umphrey’s 4/20 extravaganja, but what can you do? The band was definitely more consistent on this night delivering one long, powerful set peppered with newer tunes that kept the audience dancing and excited for the entire night. The Ocean Billy>Jimmy Stewart>Ocean Billy at the beginning of the set was a drawn out, jammed out affair that have everyone sitting up and taking notice. The version of Blue Echo was much faster than the ones I’ve heard in the past, giving the tune an interesting new feel. Versions of the songs Divisions and 40’s Theme were among the best I’ve heard. And the new tune Bridgeless to end the set was explosive, leaving the audience in shock to ponder what it was, exactly, they just witnessed.

Then, after only a few short days to rest up, Garaj Mahal came to town on Friday night. The band played The Fez and rocked out to a packed house. Portland loves these guys and I think the band can tell, as the show was powerful from start to finish. Weapons of Mass Destruction kicked things off and set the stage for the night showcasing bassist Kai Eckhardt as the lead man. The band played many of their signature tunes, but Fareed was not as prominent as usual. He did play many tasty guitar solos, but Kai, Eric, and Alan seemed to really be fueling the show. Kai had multiple sick solos and speedy bass runs as the band backed him up. Meatless Patty was a show highlight as the band played it at the normal speedy tempo (the last time they were in town they played a slowed down version that, while good, was not as funky and danceable). Garaj Mahal appreciated the energy of the enthusiastic Portland crowd as they played two lengthy sets and the show lasted until just after 2:00am. After this great week of my personal jamband favorites in my hometown, the weather could not have been more perfect. Both days were sunny and in the 70’s – perfect hiking weather! My soul quenched with music, we headed out for some hiking to further satisfy the soul as well as get some additional exercise. Rooster Rock is an old cinder cone in the ancient Western Cascades that sits perched near 4000 ft. Table Rock is it’s sister formation sitting just to the north that is made up of long basalt columns that jut out above the forest like some huge rock table. The hike up was excruciating, going basically straight up steep switchbacks for 2 or 3 miles. While there were some easier sections here and there, overall this is a difficult hike and a definite thigh burner. But the view at the top was worth all the pain and effort. The summit was sunny and open, providing pristine views of Table Rock, Mount Jefferson, the Willamette Valley, and even distant views of the Coast Range. Waves of forested green mountains fanned out in all directions and were an awesome and somewhat belittling site to see. And now with this weekend of music and hiking in the rear view mirror, there is already another one quickly coming into Technicolor view on the horizon. The weather is supposed to be great all week, including next weekend, so more hiking will definitely be in order. Not to mention the deluge of music in the Portland area seems to keep on coming, as well. This week is Derek Trucks Band on Thursday, Steve Kimock Band on Friday, and the Everyone Orchestra with Kai Eckhardt, Jon Fishman, and Tony Furtado on Saturday. So we’ll keep on keepin’ on here in the Pacific Northwest, checking out shows, and hiking and exploring the vast and awesome wilderness regions. With some big acts like The Dead, The Allman Brother’s Band, and Bela and the Flecktones already on the schedule for the Northwest summer, the temperatures are sure to keep rising.

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