2002 In Review: Editors’ Memorable Live Shows
Like many people I was happy to see 2001 leave. Besides the stress of world affairs, the musical year was inconsistent at best. Luckily, 2002 was much stronger; in fact, so strong that great nights of music became almost commonplace. From MMW’s in-store performance on West 4th Street to the many, many sets of Jorma Kaukonen and Blue Country, from psychedelic rock to soul jazz, music of the highest caliber was everywhere. With that in mind, understand that my five favorite events were truly great moments.
Early in the year, Steve Kimock Band had a two stand at the Bowery Ballroom that was so rich and warm, from the first note of Sea Blues to the final crash of New Africa, that I smile just thinking of it. The Tongue n Groove that opened the second night is my favorite single song performance by any band, ever. Not long afterwards Sector 9 player a transcendent show at Irving Plaza. The subtle atmospherics were balanced with layers of percussion, bass and ecstatic energy, making for a night of serious musical exploration. In the first set, tabla player Karsh Kale sat in for an amazing suite, the intensity building to an apex and then soaring far beyond- a moment comparable only to the frighteningly large encore.
Also on the instrumental front, the year closed out with Ropeadope’s New Music Seminar at the Mercury Lounge. An early Scofield/Sex Mob set Uri Cane was enough to win the night a spot on my list, truly a glimpse of the future, but the real sex came with the marathon Project Garaj set that closed the night. Half of Project Logic and half of Garaj Mahal, along with a host of New York’s finest and brightest musicians exposed the assembled crowd to a brutal onslaught of the funkiest, baddest improvisation around, and in doing so set a new gold standard for what all star jam can and should be.
The big news this year was undoubtedly the return of Phish and the Other Ones. I was pleased to restart a tradition begun in 1991 by spending New Year’s Eve with four guys from Vermont. While the performance itself contained its share of both fun, energetic jams and some distinctly rough areas, the actual New Year’s moment out of Seven Below, with the prancing polar pantheon, blizzard, lasers and the knowledge that Phish has returned, was the finest one yet- better than the utterball, better than the time machine, better than the hotdog. As for the Other Ones, their fall tour was a dream come true- a synthesis of GD, PLQ and Ratdog with the huge jolt of electricity. The shows seemed only to improve as the tour progressed, each one amazingly topping the previous, constantly pushing the envelope. Be that as it may, the second set from Saturday night in Philadelphia was potentially the best Dead related set I’ve ever seen (the Friday and Monday shows from the Beacon in fall ! 2001 were equally insane). The Shakedown, the Lazy Lightning > Sup, the monstrous Terrapin- if they release a live album, they need only use this set.
It’s also worth noting that the worst moment of the year was Soulive’s Saturday night set at Berkfest. While it was cool when Alan held his busted drum above his head in mid-song, tossing it aside and ruining it was not. The pause was eternal and Sam, Kraz and Neal were either incapable, or unwilling to fill the void with some free form improv. Later they were unplugged during Tuesday Night Squad, and that just created an ugly, ugly scene. Coincidentally, Berkfest also hosted the one set I really regret missing: AGP, with a little help from Mister Rourke on the ones and twos, absolutely killed on Sunday afternoon, churning out some of the finest sophistifunk of the year- required listening.
If we ever get a chance to replay our lives through our own visual perspective but without any of the pressures or distractions of the first time through, then I know I’ll really dig 2002. I had a number of profound, sublime moments at musical events but in many instances they were brief because son-of-a-gun I actually had to do something. This held true at the Jammys as well as Bonnaroo (where we put together the Bonnaroo Beacon), the Grateful Dead Family Reunion (where we did the Terrapin Tribune) and even our weekly Jam Nation radio show as we’ve have some amazing live bands perform. Still my most intense engagements with music took place in those contexts and I’m psyched to have been at all of them, let alone involved with them to varying degrees. So here’s a rundown…
1. The Jammys- the final jam, the move into "Gloria," in particular left me loopy. One of the times I really had a chance to kick back and take it all in was during the B-52’s/Particle and the ‘Love Shack" was captivating for me (as it was for moe.‘s Chuck Garvey as we jostled for viewing positions on the opposite stage). The ABB performance was real satisfying as well.
2. Grateful Dead Family Reunion- The first moment I saw Jimmy Herring up there with the Other Ones, I started beaming and couldn’t stop. Plus the Born Cross-Eyed and that final collective jam will stick with me.
3. Bonnaroo- I’ll always associate this weekend with Widespread Panic and the 6/22 first set closers with Dottie Peoples really hit (I was psyched that the Bonnaroo disc leads off with this). The race back and forth between Galactic and moe. in the wee hours of Sunday was a rush in its own right as was the move between the Superjam and Phil/Bobby later that day.
4. Jam Nation- Our first live performance of the year was the Steve Kimock Band which we prerecorded during the Patriots-Steelers AFC Championship game. There were some cool moments when the band played to the game which was on the TV in the performance space. Other highlights for me (for various reasons) included Tom Tom Club, Derek Trucks Band, Warren Haynes (my debut as a roadie and Waful’s as an engineer), The Slip, Strangefolk in the round and Keller Williams. Of course there were about twnety more all of which had entertaining moments in their own right, both musical and non-musical alike (such as watching the members of Galactic wake up, stroll off their bus, caffeinate and perform one afternoon in November).
Plus: Sonny Rollins, Ronnie Earl, Gov’t Mule, club d’Elf, moe.down, White Stripes, Down From The Mountain tour, Galactic Freezestyle, Michelle Shocked at the Middle East, the ABB at the Beacon…
Patrick BuzbyDue to scheduling and the lack of much interesting going on, I didn’t make it to any big shows this year except for Trey’s stop in Chicago (which was fun, and a nice point of reference for his solo disc, but not quite one for the ages). However, I did have a few fine musical experiences at one of our city’s venerable jazz watering holes, the Green Mill. The Mill has a reputation as an uptown bar with late hours, which can sometimes work against its music. (One time I saw a drummer making a noticeable effort to quiet the people at the table adjacent to the stage.) However, get there an hour or so before showtime and you’re likely to get an intimate perspective on some fine musicmaking. My peak Mill experience this past year came in the summer with one of the regular tenor "battles" between Von Freeman and Ed Petersen. Two saxes and a rhythm section working off the simplest templates, blues, ballads and 32-bar forms. Sets typically last an hour, and the first set included only two songs. Nothing close to a dull moment, though. Freeman, now 80, is a local hero now coming closer to national attention, stylistically wedged between hard bop and the early hints of avant garde. His slippery way with melody seemed at first to put him automatically on top of this "battle," despite lacking Petersen’s chops. The younger Petersen held his own, though, and by the second and last set that I saw was coming close to claiming the show. It was a fun night, and showed how strong players can keep bringing vitality to forms stretching back so many decades.
The best show I witnessed in 2002 was the powerful summit of Johnny Vidacovich, James Singleton, Stanton Moore, and Skerik on 5-6-02 at Old Point Bar in New Orleans, LA. On the west bank of the Mississippi River, nestled into the small hamlet of Algiers Point, sits this quaint and homey bar that held court over a marathon of shows during Jazzfest. This being the Monday after Jazzfest had ended, a few straggling tourists, locals, and out-of-towners lucky to be working in New Orleans (me) converged on this tiny venue for a grand musical finale to the mayhem of the previous two weeks. However, what made this night truly special was the absence of drunken debauchery and partying in favor of a celebration of improvisational music.
On the inviting porch of the building, a few enterprising women sat and boiled crawfish sacks for hungry patrons. Across the street sat the mighty levee of the Mississippi, where fans gathered to ingest their drinks, listen to the music, relax, and enjoy other recreational activities. Staring into the vast river, I felt like Huck Finn, except that weren’t no tabacky sittin’ in me corncob pipe.
Inside, four titans of the jazz-funk scene gathered on a postage stamp of a platform. New Orleans legend and bandleader Johnny Vidacovich sat his drum kit perpendicular to the edge of the stage, facing off against his student and Galactic drummer, Stanton Moore. Directly behind them stood the saxophonic enigma known as Skerik, and to his right dwelled the rock-sold foundation of Astral Project’s James Singleton on upright bass. Armed with no semblance of a setlist, the four carried a two-and-a-half hour conversation of riffs, fills, solos, quotes, and crashes with few breaks in the music. For a jamband lover, it was pure nirvana.
Vidacovich would alternate between attacking his drums and laying back to gently brush the cymbals, while pausing every once in a while to deliver some dark and rhythmic spoken-word like a frightening shaman. Moore, his prot, was eager to fight the Jedi master, playing off his every roll and engaging him in a battle of contorted faces and tensed muscles that was exhausting to watch. Ever the catalyst, Skerik took plenty of opportunities to step up and challenge each drummer with a rapid-fire riff. While a tremendous melee ensued, Singleton sat back and ran his steady bass all over the map.
The beauty of this show was the fact that the music could change at any time, and no one, not even the musicians, knew where we were going next. At one moment, everyone would be locked into a frenetic jam, and then suddenly, Skerik would quote Caravan, Iko Iko, or the Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There, and the band found itself moving inside a new song. Even within the framework of a given song, someone would slip into a swing groove that would yield to a rock movement that would glide into a traditional New Orleans second-line dance party before landing into an all-out free-for-all and dissolving into a lush and beautiful harmonic passage. By turning on a dime and improvising every step of the way, these four musicians parlayed the true spirit of jazz. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to end my time in New Orleans.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Madison Square Garden
In the summer of 2001, I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash at Jones Beach on Long Island. The rainy night was unable to dampen the spirits of the crowd. Midway through the first set, Stephen Stills took control of the group. His signature guitar work was flawless and his voice never sounded better. The mood was mellow and the crowd sang along with virtually every song. It was truly a joy to be there and yet, something was amiss.
In 2002, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young appeared at Madison Square Garden in New York. This band added Neil Young to the ensemble that night and what a difference he made. Young energized the band, who in turn energized the crowd. The Garden was truly rockin’ that night because of him. Although each member of the band did the obligatory solos with their excellent style and grace, the solos performed by Neil were nothing short of incredible. It was evident to me that Neil Young was the piece that made the band complete. David, Graham and Stephen individually and collectively are among the top musicians in the world, but Neil is in a class by himself. He proved it that night.
Two shows from two days in August stick out as distinct and memorable experiences. In both cases, the situation of the show had every bit as much to do with the evening’s course as the music played. That’s not to downplay the music — both times, the music was ultimately responsible for the night’s character.
The first night, August 19th, I got a list minute invitation to see Brian Wilson at BB King’s on Times Square for free, by myself. I smoked some pot and sailed by subway directly into midtown’s neon maw — Las Vegas and Disneyland and Tokyo all concentrated into a small area. Across from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is BB King’s, which feels across between a chain restaurant and a speakeasy. Onstage, Wilson was backed by an entirely sympathetic band, who supported his troubled, warbling voice with diamondy reverence. Wilson, who sang all of "Pet Sounds" in what was unmistakably a partially disintegrated version of his voice, resembled a reprogrammed automaton, albeit one who I wanted to hug.
The next night, August 20th, the RANA boat set sail from the West Side Highway — a two deck ship filled with a rowdy crew of friends and familiar faces. The boat headed north up the Hudson River as the band played upstairs. It was fantastic. As actively as they could manage, the band has carved a certain vibe for their shows. Through a combination of music and thoughtful presentation (the kinds of venues they play, making sure they have Pabst’s, organizing after-parties, their choice of heavy metal accordion players as opening acts), they’ve created a kind of experience at their New York gigs. Picked up and plopped onto a boat on an agreeable summer evening with a view of the skyline, it made for a rather kick-ass show. The boat lingered under the George Washington Bridge, turned around, and headed back to the pier.
The second night of the Haymaker Music Festival in Virginia featured many great acts like Keller Williams and Bruce Hornsby, but my favorite of that night and the entire year was The Disco Biscuits. Not only did they have their own stage at Haymaker, The Biscuits pretty much had their own crowd. Roughly 1000 people made their way to the "Nature Stage" that night (Oct. 5, 2002) and were treated to a show that is widely considered to be one of the best of the year. The four-song first set featured a chaotic "Astronaut" that sailed out of a majestic "Hot Air Balloon" opener. The highlight for me was "Aceetobee", a song that I have seen many times but enjoyed enormously on this night. The jam seemed to have the threat of complete meltdown at all times. It was one of the most engrossing and experimental things I have heard them play and after it was over, echoes of "best ever!" rang in my head. The second set is unfettered Bisco madness. A psychotic standalone "Save The Robots" to OPEN the set…then an extended run through three of my favorite songs. The hopeful "Very Moon" galloped around our field of Bisco underneath an absurdly clear sky, and the galaxy/light show combination was, well, stellar. "Very Moon" raged into "Helicopters" and this set was ON! This fantastic version of the consummate Bisco jam stretched its way back into the fist-pumping climax of "Very Moon" and then the wicked funky introduction to "Shem-rah Boo". "Shem-rah" then served as a vehicle for the hottest jam of the night before finding the central "Helicopters" riff, which brought this incredible musical patchwork to an end. My favorite of the most recent batch of new Biscuits songs, "Kitchen Mitts", followed and did not disappoint though the vocals could always be better. The song has a big, pulsing refrain that is destined to become lodged in the brains of all who hear it. Playing one of their most beloved cards, the band ended the two-night stand with Pink Floyd’s "Run Like Hell". I didn’t think they would ever top Camp Bisco, which took place about 40 days before Haymaker, but somehow they did! That’s what keeps me coming back!
In a year that went down as one of my least favorites in a long time, is there any question as to what my favorite show will be? Sure 12/31/02 wasn’t the best Phish show ever, but it was pretty solid. The Piper itself was better than anything I saw last year other than the Tacoma Land’s End from SCI, and the snow falling during Seven Below was the kind of moment only Phish could create. Phish are back and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Waful’s Top 1
Great Barrington, MA
Looking back on the year that was 2002, several musical highlights come to mind, but if I were to just pick one, it would have to be the late afternoon and early evening of Saturday August 10th at the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival. Consecutive sets by Michael Franti & Spearhead and The New Deal coupled with picture perfect weather made for a blissful musical experience. As the bright afternoon sun ducked behind the mountains, thousands of silhouetted fans danced in unison, arms raised triumphantly, hands open. Franti’s message of unified peace was as clear as the deep blue sky. Overwhelmingly positive energy radiated from the stage and no one could stand still. Experiencing Franti gives our generation a tiny glimpse of what a Bob Marley concert must have felt like. Not musically, but spiritually. Yeah, it’s that good.
Next up was The New Deal, the perfect contrast to the flower-wielding Franti. As dusk fell on Berkfest Nation, the Canadian trio suddenly turned sinister. The cosmic break beats became the soundtrack to the setting sun and impending darkness. A hillside of bobbing heads accented every quarter note effortlessly, as if a mass of professional dancers had been hired as extras in a music video. Keyboardist Jamie Shields’ intricate Moog lines intertwined with Darren Shearer’s robotic pulse and Dan Kurtz’s perpetually re-harmonizing bass lines. Rave on.
It seems like a distant reality at this point; sitting huddled in front of my space heater as the negatively-numbered January wind howls outside. Looking back on the year 2002, Bonnaroo, Phish and the Jammys were great, but that day in the mountains outshined them all.
I tried hard to narrow it down to one supreme favorite live show for the year 2002, but I just couldn’t do it. I attended too many great shows for there to even be a remote possibility that I could narrow it down to one. In fact, I’m still torn by my decision to exclude certain shows from this short list, but I guess I gotta do what I gotta do. What I’m trying to say is that there was almost too much great live music to choose from this year…and that’s a problem I love to have! The following are my four favorite shows of 2002.
4/20/02 – Umphrey’s McGee – The Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR. This was a raucous 4:20 party of a show! The band came out firing on all cylinders and everyone in the crowd seemed completely locked in to what was happening on stage (as well as being really, really high). The result was a mind-blowing show. The train got rolling so fast and hard by the end of the first set that it exploded into a climax that I truly feel lucky to have witnessed first hand. Plus, it just doesn’t come across as well on the tape.
5/03/02 – Gov’t Mule – The State Palace Theater, New Orleans, LA. I was going to mention Karl Denson as my favorite Jazzfest show, but Mule’s show not only ripped, it showcased the talents of many guests to make this the most unique Gov’t Mule show I have ever seen. I usually think of gritty, southern-tinged, blues rock when the Mule comes to mind, but put them in New Orleans during Jazzfest and anything can happen…and it did! Guests, including Jimmy Herring, DJ Logic, Skerik, the DBB Horns, and Les Claypool, spiced up the show by infusing their own respective styles to the mix. The result was one of the most varied and eclectic Gov’t Mule shows I’ve seen.
8/31/02 – Phil and Friends – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO. Anyone who has ever been to Red Rocks knows the incredible qualities of this venue. The place is magic. This show was my first at Red Rocks, but I don’t think that is the only reason why it is one of my favorites for the year. Sure, I could have seen almost any band at Red Rocks and walked away a happy camper, but this Phil show made the experience almost orgasmic. Not only was I in awe of the Amphitheater, the massive rocks, and the great views, I was in awe of the band, too. Great versions of classic tunes such as Help on the Way, Slipknot, Franklin’s Tower, Lovelight, St. Stephen, The Eleven, The Other One, Till the Morning Comes, and Mason’s Children made this show something special. I urge you to get this tape as there are plenty of great quality copies floating around.
12/06/02 – The Other Ones – Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium, Oakland, CA. This was one of those shows where everything came together. We scored great seats, met some really nice people, and had a mellow relaxed vibe around us before the show. The sweet chocolates we ate digested perfectly during a very tight performance by the band, making for quite the psychedelic experience. Ah, memories! The show included Bobby gems that I never really heard performed too much by the Dead like Lost Sailor>St. of Circumstance and Lazy Lightnin’. The Terrapin>Darkstar sandwich to end the second set was almost too much for my little brain to grasp. And to top it all off, the excellent musical performance was enhanced by the great family vibe that is always prevalent at Bay Area shows.