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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2004/09/29
by John Zinkand

Moses, Trey, and David

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write, and it feels good to be back. My computer died at the beginning of July and it took a little while for me to get a new one. Since quite a few significant jamband oriented events have happened to me since my last column, I’m going to talk about a few of them in no particular order. First, I want to discuss the outstanding three-show run by the band Moses Guest I saw about a month ago here in the Pacific Northwest. Then there’s the surreal experience of witnessing the final Phish show from the comfort of my local Regal Cinema movie theater. I also want to mention the excellent David Byrne show I saw at one of the best venues in Portland, The Oregon Zoo. Back in July, the Houston based band Moses Guest made their way out of the south up to the Northwest for a handful of shows. I saw them back in late 2003 at the Goodfoot here in Portland, enjoyed the show, and bought their self-titled double album. What the show lacked, the album more than made up for. The songs are well-crafted, thoughtful, and melodic. There are catchy melodies, deep, pensive, and sometimes philosophical lyrics, and some very tasty jams. I could tell the sound was not mixed very well on the night I first saw Moses Guest play live back in 2003, and had been eagerly looking forward to their return. When I saw their schedule had them playing in Portland on a Wednesday, and then playing two Seattle area shows on Friday and Saturday, I jumped at the chance to see what these guys would do over a small run of shows. I was not disappointed at all.
The Portland show was mellow as Moses Guest opened for a local Portland band in a small jazz club, but it was excellent. The turn out was surprisingly good for an opening set by an obscure southern band. The first thing I noticed was that the old keyboard player, Rick Thompson, was no longer in the band. I am always wary of personnel changes in a band as sometimes it takes musicians a little time to click with one another, but was very pleasantly surprised to see the new keyboardist gel flawlessly. I unfortunately forget the guy’s name, but his organ solos and palpable energy on stage seemed to elevate the jams to a higher level than the previous show I saw without him. The drummer, James Edwards, plays with a skillful, jazzy subtlety that enhances the band’s overall sound. And while Jeremy Horton’s bass playing is understated and sometimes a bit too low in the mix for my personal taste, he rounds this four piece band out nicely. Anchoring the entire ensemble down, however, is the infectious vocal style, great songwriting, and powerful guitar jams of Graham Guest. At the end of the Portland show I promptly purchased the band’s newest album, Guest Motel, and quickly memorized the newest set of great songs from this young band.
The next night the band played for an even smaller crowd at the Rainbow Room in Seattle, but at least the PA system was much bigger and more powerful than the previous night in Portland. We played some pool in the back of the room while the band ripped through many of their great songs. The last night of the run took place in Fall City, a little town just east of Seattle. This was, ironically, my favorite show of the three. The bar itself was a tiny dive and the clientele were mostly locals, but it was apparent that there were at least a few other Moses Guest fans that had made the trip out from Seattle just to see the band. Although the mostly male audience would have me dub this show "a sausage fest," the band seemed to be having a great time anyway. By the end of the show, a small crowd even started dancing on the dance floor in front of the band. With the entire room grooving, it was sad to see the band play their final song. We took some time to talk to all the guys in the band and tell them to come back soon. If you haven’t seen or heard Moses Guest, I highly recommend checking them out. While their style is not musically complex, the emotion, jams, and great songs with a southern flair make them an entertaining young act to see (and cheap, too!).
From one of our scene’s smallest bands, I will quickly change gears to touch on the undisputed heavyweight champion of our world, Phish. My first Phish show was in a small theater in Somerville, MA back in 1991. My last Phish show, ironically, was at an even smaller theater in Portland, OR. Of course, my final Phish show was weird because the band wasn’t really even there, just their images splashed up on a big screen while their music was transferred digitally thousands of miles from Vermont to Oregon. Seeing Phish’s final show from the comfort of my local movie theater was more than just a little bizarre, it was completely surreal. The episode started with the manager of the theater letting us know that no smoking…..of anything…would be permitted in the theater. During the first set break, we walked to a friend’s house for a quick visit since they live close to the theater. During the second set break, we walked over and got some sushi (what better snack during a Phish show than some raw fish?).
It was a very emotional experience. People were dancing in the aisles, cheering, crying, yelling at the screen in frustration, or listening closely. The parts of the show where the band members choked up were extremely touching and sad. Some of the jams were intense, and the Down With Disease second set opener jam and glowstick war was completely off the charts. And while the mix of sentimentality and exploratory high-energy improvisations made me wonder why this band was breaking up, every composed section of almost any song they played seemed to answer that question all too well. Overall, it seemed like Trey has just lost interest and needs to move on.
Huge swaths of Taste, Glide, Split Open and Melt, and Slave were played terribly. I also found it slightly shocking, considering the back-story and seemingly well-planned placement of the tune, that Phish’s final song, The Curtain With, would be played so poorly. Maybe the reason was that Trey and company were overrun with emotion and couldn’t get it together to play the song well. But I think a more realistic reason is pretty simple: they just didn’t practice it. So while it is trite to say at this point, the entire experience of the final show was bittersweet. It was fun, entertaining, bizarre, surreal, and sad. But in the end, it seems like the right decision. And I’m glad I didn’t have to hike for miles or deal with mounds of mud to experience it
The next thing I want to mention is the David Byrne show I saw a month or so ago at the Oregon Zoo here in Portland. Although Byrne ended the band that earned him fame a long time ago, he manages to reinvent himself with every new album or project he tries. His newest album, Grown Backwards, is mellower than some of his past works, but is quite eloquent. Byrne explores the use of a small string orchestra and the influence of opera, and it works surprisingly well. The live show was a great mix of his newer material juxtaposed against old Talking Heads favorites. Byrne’s energy on stage and his magnanimous presence is undeniable. I’ve never seen the entire crowd up and dancing at the typically mellow Oregon Zoo, but on the night Byrne played, there was a rare exception. Even with their bellies full of food and snacks brought from home and bottles of local wine purchased inside the venue, folks danced until the bitter end of the second encore (and David played past curfew until the houselights were glaring in our eyes at the end of the show).

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