Our Writers and Readers Picks: Memorable Shows of 2003
We received many submissions from our staff and readers alike. It was quite overwhelming but we offer selections from the following folks, which appear in alphabetical order: Dan Alford, Josh Baron, Dean Budnick, Jason Casey, Steve Clare, Adam Epstein, James Girardi, Mike Greenhaus, Mike Gruenberg, Jesse Jarnow, Wally McLendon, Michael Peterson, James Robinson, Aaron Schimmel, Mick Skidmore, David Steinberg, Jeff Waful, Jenny Wood, John Zinkand
To my ears 2003 was a very nice year. An attempt to
make an honorable mention list quickly resulted in two
pages of bands, dates and venues, so instead here are
the top five: The Dead at Hartford for the Summer
Solstice. While many shows on the Getaway tour had
strong suites and sets, this one was great straight
through. I return to it often in memory and on CD.
It was a cold, rainy Solstice, but you'd never know by
the magic on stage. A twenty minute Low Spark with
Stevie Winwood, a wild Stranger to open the second
set, a monster Hard to Handle > Drums > Space >
Thousand Stars, and Joan pushing those boys to their
limits- definitely a fantastic night. Also from the
GD camp, the second Ratdog gig at the Beacon was not
just one more Saturday night. Shining straight
through, the highlights included an amazing acoustic
Jam > Blackbird to open the second set, and the genius
of Josh Roseman on a number of songs, and a freeform
jazz explosion with the trombonist, Kenny, Jeff and
Jay. Absolutely breathtaking musicianship.
Switch gears, IT was it. I've hit every camp out in
Phish's history, and had the most fun at this one,
from listening to the sound check in the last hotel
room in town, to the Ya Mar to the Rock and Roll to
the Ghost to the 46 Days. It was an utterly
satisfying event, but the Control Tower Jam was the
greatest moment of my life. I can't describe it, so
suffice it to say if you were at IT, and hate yourself
for missing the jam, you are entirely justified in
Far be it from me to give all the top spots to the big
bands. Late in the spring, the John Scofield Band
played at Mass MOCA, a contemporary arts museum in the
northern Berkshires- the ideal location for a night of
Sco's progressive jazz. At the beginning of the show,
the college kids and groovers swarmed around the
stage, while in the back, the art establishment
skeptically sat at tables or in the bleachers. Sco
learned down to the crowd at his feet, away from the
microphone, and said, "I guess it's us and them, huh?"
A barn burning night of music followed with lots of
new material, a completely unique Hottentot and
colossal Uberjam closer- a show beyond perfection.
The top show, however, has to go to Phish at Nassau on
February 28. If you don't have that moment at just
about 10:50 in Tweezer running through your mind
constantly, there is a gap in your musical vocabulary.
And that is not to mention the Gin, GBOTT, Destiny
Unbound, or Soul Shakedown. THE Phish show, start to
It's also worth mentioning the ugliest moment of the
year, which had to be Garaj Mahal at Bill's Bar in
Boston. Generally a conduit for positive vibrations
and love, when anger was on stage the quartet could
not help channeling that too. During the first set,
tension, struggle, all manifest in the music and
during the set break Fareed grabbed his guitar and
took off, while Alan, exceedingly negative, spent the
second set talking about how all things must come to
an end, including the jambands scene. The saving grace
was Sam Kininger who stepped in to fill Fareed's shoes
and did a great job of cleaning up an ugly, ugly
Housing Works Benefit #7: Featuring Erin Mckeown, Josh Rouse and Edie Brickell, Housing Works Used Book CafNYC- July 18
I recently read a piece in Harper’s magazine on scored music for television news. The author, Carter Burwell, composer of more than 50 films including Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and all of the Coen brothers’ work, writes: "Postructuralist literary theory holds that the meaning of the written word is diffuse, forever contingent on a web of constantly shifting contexts. How much more so for a filmed image? How much more still for music?" It was all about context for me on a warm July evening in New York City this past summer.
Housing Works is a non-profit that sells quality used clothing, furniture and in this particular location, books, to help the homeless living with HIV and AIDS. The space is constructed of creaky, worn wood and reeks of books but has undeniable warmth. And remember, it's primarily a bookstore, so the stage and seating are all makeshift for the roughly 300 in attendance. My longtime friend come recent girlfriend and I were perched up above everyone in a little balcony area devoted to, if I remember correctly, philosophy.
The first to take the stage was Erin Mckeown, a singer/songwriter from the Burlington area who looks like she could have been a pro soccer player. In a trio setup, she ran through about five songs, including two gems from her Grand release, "Slung-lo" and "Cosmopolitans." The guitar seemed immense in her hands (a classic looking Gibson (-like?) hollow body preferred by jazz musicians), but they flew over its neck, releasing subdued but bright notes. As we’re listening, I look over to my right and there’s Josh Rouse flipping through some book he’d just pulled off the shelf. I couldn’t blame himthe hundreds of book spines staring at us were a forgivable distraction.
Nashville-based Rouse meandered up next with acoustic guitar in hand and sat down with longtime collaborator Curt Perkins, also armed with an acoustic guitar plus keyboard. Rouse's latest release, 1972, was do out the following month so he previewed a handful of the songs. "Slaveship," "Come Back" and "Love Vibration" were refreshing stripped down, the crowd nodding thoughtfully to the upbeat numbers. His voice has a wonderful smokiness to it and when he hits near-falsetto notes, it makes them all that much more sweet. The music has an inherent sense of vulnerability to it and in the intimate context, it seemed particularly fragile. He closed with "Nothing Gives Me Pleasure," an older song and one that kind of makes you feel fuzzy when you’re with someone special as the rest of lyric concludes, "like you do."
Edie Brickell stole the show though. She confessed to having not performed in front of an audience in at least six years. Her first album in nine years wasn't due out for another three months. Alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, she played roughly 40 minutes of all new material. The music may have been simple but it was great. Edie Brickell was back and those trademark vocalsthe ones where even if you can't see her you can hear the smile on her facewere as fresh as ever. And the songs seemed to be sung right to us. Friends becoming lovers, life renewal, forced maturation; they all seemed uncannily pointed. Edie seemed to have a pretty good time too, overcoming initial fears and nervousness.
No one ripped it up. No solo lasted more than a minute or two. No special guests sat in.
But the context, that was just right for me.
Phish, "Great Gag In the Sky," Limestone, ME- August 3
It's good to be giddy.
When it comes to engaging music, as one gains experience and perspective, this can be all too rare. Some people I know are always chasing that next fix, regulating their levels to keep themselves energized (which to my mind is preferable to those commentators and critics who just trudge forward- although the balance between art and craft can provide a discussion for another day). The reality is that the more music you see the less likely you are to be knocked onto your ass by any given performance (some might view this as ironic, others would suggest it is to be expected).
But don't cry for me Argentina, while the moments may be diffuse I still get my share of joyful noise. As I mentioned in the past, I have the good fortune to co-host a radio show and during 2003's Jam Nation, I had my share of euphony, in particular during Jazz Mandolin Project, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Assembly of Dust and the Radiators. Similarly, I can point to shows I attended from John McLaughlin & Remember Shakti, Derek Trucks Band, Ornette Coleman, moe., and Neil Young that elicited that same reaction. Still above all else in terms of protracted, resplendent doofy glee, I have to squint my eyes and gaze back at an airfield control tower. As I think back upon Phish's late night IT set, I recall dodging puddles and then embracing the muck so as to keep my eyes skyward, mouth agape, mind agog. There was something ineffable, transcendent and yes, geekily giddy about that performance, one that reminds me why I continue to dance about architecture.
In the year that Phish returned, Widespread 's line up changed and the
resurrection of the "Dead" the "best of 2003" is difficult. This year I
choose a tie between 3 bands outside the 1st tier ticket sales realm of
arena's and huge holiday events. This year its a 3 way tie between the
North Mississippi Allstars 8-29-03 Riverfront Park/Portland,OR. In my
opinion, 2003 is the year of the small gem shows, the roots of our
obsession. The Greyboy Allstars, 8-31-03 the Portland Zoo/Portland, OR, and
Galactic, 10/11/03 Crystal Ballroom/Portland, OR.
The NMA show was the quintessential "gas money gig". right before the huge
Bumbershoot festival in Seattle and the California gigs the Mississippi hill
blues road warriors showed up without Duwayne Burnside (his son was sick I
believe). The festival was the typical set up, two stages at opposite ends
of the property with the acts alternating time slots. On this day we had a
true treat with Derek Trucks and his band making a Joyful noise on one
stage and the NMA's playing later on another. NMA short a guitarist,
got Derek to play the whole set with them. It was a great meld of the
Earthy Otha Turner, Junior Kimbrough, and RL Burnside tradition with
Derek's musical pedigree and Joyful Noise slide guitar, to top it off my
friends and I got to enjoy the show from the left side of the stage, not 5
feet from Chris Chew.
The Greyboy Allstars reunion tour, consisted of three dates and the one in
Portland showcased the city's best venue, the Zoo Amphitheatre. Make no
mistake these guys are the best, Robert, Carl, Zak, Chris, and Elgin slew
the animals in the crowd and entertained the ones in Zoo. The infectious
groove made it impossible to sit still, concession lines were dancing,
bathroom lines were boogying, and the set was the perfect close to a summer
of great music here in Portland. Robert's facial contortion and B-3/Leslie
virtuosity, Carl's woodwind whirlwind, Chris Stilwell's bass, oh the smooth
liquid punch of Chris' bass, at once Donald "Duck" Dunn, George Porter Jr.,
and nothing short of a gravitational force, Elgin Park's seemingly
effortless but definitely amazing guitar licks and the Zak Najor, this guy
has the chops Crupa dreamed of, during his solo he gave us a clinic of Jazz,
hip hop, funk, and rock, including commentary and segued back into the show.
And the tri-fecta, Galactic at the Crystal Ballroom. The Ballroom was made
for Galactic, and vice-versa as the floor bounces. Anyway this little band from NOLA keeps on keeping on.
This marked another incarnation of the band with Sister T, Houseman, the
boys, and a new graphic back drop that shot images of Mississippi shotgun
houses, mid 80's video game graphics and the Ruckus logos into the retinas of the revelers all the while the band and the floor shoot the beat through
Widespread Panic, Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA- December 30 and 31
Had the question of the year's best show been proposed
to me 3 weeks ago I would have slapped you across the
face and said the Saturday night (11/1) Widespread
Panic concert at Madison Square Garden. That has all changed since we rang in the new
year in WSP's backyard, Atlanta, Georgia.
"yankee" packing up my carpetbag and heading down to
the south for my 2k3 celebration I had a feeling that
the band wouldn't be able to touch the pure magic they
showed us over Halloween … I was wrong as Panic proceeded to burn Atlanta down
with wild tunes like the "Love Tractor" opener and a
"Surprise Valley" reprise to encore the 1st night …
The second night
featured a Ball-heavy acoustic set followed by the
world's shortest set break that came to an end with an
unbelievable "Bowlegged," followed by a personal
favorite, "Stop-go." The next set was packed with
ripping tunes like "Bust It Big," "Ribs and Whiskey,"
"Thought Sausage," and when you thought that they were
done they blew the roof off with the Talking Heads
tune, "Life During Wartime." But what put the icing on my new
years cake was the encore: a heartfelt
tip of the hat to our dear Michael Houser with "Vacation">"Driving Song." Then if anyone had doubts JB walked up to the mike to belt out "Makes
Sense to Me," which is fitting as it makes sense to me to name WSP NYE 03 the best show of the year.
The New Deal/The Disco Biscuits, Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC- December 31
While I have attended many shows in 2003, it is apparent to me that the old adage (perhaps a bit trite, even), "save the best for last," indeed still holds true. On December 31, 2003, I headed out to the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City to see the Disco Biscuits perform their celebrated NYE show. While Relix had intimated to fans that there would be some sort of a "battle of the bands" taking place, I don’t think anyone really knew what the Biscuits had in store for us that evening. A three set show replete with fan favorites, costumes, and an epic NYE countdown will easily place this show in its proper place the top show of 2003.
Why was this show the best? First off, the vibe at the show was incredible; everyone was extremely excited to see their favorite band take us into 2004. The New Deal played some of their best music, and it definitely got everyone moving before the Biscuits came on. The perfectly executed Morph Dusseldorf > Aceetobee opener by the Biscuits got the fans excited even further. A classic Basis For A Day NYE countdown brought us into 2004 with a bang. At that point, a "Battle of The Bands" began that featured the Disco Biscuits as five separate entities (including themselves). This segment of the show was extremely original and very fun to watch. No one could ask for anything more than having the Biscuits dress up as South Park characters and perform renditions of the songs from that show. Also, there are definitely no other bands around, anywhere, that will cover their own songs under a different name in the Biscuits' case, the cover band, "The Perfume," has produced two of the most enjoyable concerts of the year. The Perfume's performance during the Battle of the Bands was truly stellar, as they have revived "Pilin' It High" to become a new fan favorite. After a two hour battle that ended with the Biscuits winning (of course), most fans were probably weary-eyed from an evening that started at 9PM. Perhaps most fans would have found the show to be sufficiently fun at this point; however, even at 2:15AM, the Biscuits did not feel that way, and consequently came out and performed a great 3rd set palindrome involving Rock Candy, Voices Insane, and Pygmy Twylyte pure musical bliss. A great "encore" of Munchkin Invasion > 42 left fans in awe of a truly spectacular evening. If one were just there to see the excitement omnipresent in the venue as soon as 2004 started, and the concomitant confetti that came down from the ceiling, then one would truly understand why this was the concert event of 2003. And if you don't believe me, listen to the recordings.
Ominous Seapods, Valentines, Albany, NY- February 7
Let me share with you why this was the best show I witnessed in 2003. First off, for a first reunion show in nearly a year, the 'Pods sounded fresh and amazingly tight. The small venue was packed to the walls with NORTH COUNTRY FREAKS, fans there to enjoy great music, and embrace the band who they would give anything to see back on tour again, the energy in the place was amazing. This night was extra special because ALL the Seapods were there, including their original lead guitar Max Verna, so there were three guitars on stage for the whole show.To hear the intricate guitar solos of Max Verna open the show with an inspired version of "Leaving the Monopole," was amazing. Let's not take away from the skills of Seapod Todd Pasternack, who smoked us all with a sick and twisted mind blowing in your face guitar soloing in "Money to Burn." Dana had the wah pedal cooking all night in his unique style which really helps give the Seapods their excellent rhythms, along with the amazing bass, keys and drumming of Tom Pirozzi, Brian Mangini, and Ted Marotta respectively. Set II opened with "Bong Hits and Porn," that put the crowd into a frenzy, for the next several songs the audience was yelling for them to play the song again, which eventually lead to a "folk version" of it by Dana Monteith, briefly before the next song was played. "Stephen O'Rourke>La fiesta>Till Then and the "Michael Murphy Trilogy" were song sequences that kept you grooving and shouting and bouncing off the energy all around you. Capped off with a crowd-rocking version of "Blackberry Brandy" that left us shouting for an encore. What followed was truly something special: at first just Ted (drums) and Max (lead) took the stage for "Keep in Mind," before they were joined by the rest of the band, to bust into "Hey Donnie Osmond." It was about 3 a.m. when they finished.
This was the finest show I saw in 2003 because no other show I had seen came close to the energy of the band or the crowd. The Music, the energy, the feeling, the live music experience was unequaled by any other show I attended in 2003.
Decision making has never been my strongpoint. So choosing five-favorite shows is about as exciting for me as studying for an exam on Friday-night. Thus, instead, I've created my own little, awkward award ceremony (call them the "Mikey's" if you will)...
Best New Trick For an Old Dog: The Dead, Willie Nelson, moe. (6/29/03, Vernon Downs, NY): By day, Vernon-Downs Raceway doubles as a dog-racing track. So it makes sense that the Dead seemed to eat raw meat during their mammoth, eight-hour mini-festival. Jumping through some of their best cowboy songs during the day ("Loser," "Jack Straw," and "Me and My Uncle,") and digging a bit deeper into psychedelic pastures at night (an Al Schiner enhanced "Estimated Prophet)," the Dead’s Summer Getaway truly got someplace.
Best Reason to Support the Steelers: Phish (7/29/03, Burgettstown, PA). Phish fans found the holly-grail somewhere between Erie and Pittsburgh. Emerging alongside "Camel Walk," "Fee," "McGrupp," "Daniel," and "Scent of a Mule," "Harpua" unearthed itself as a post-hiatus metaphor even the most jaded Phish fans couldn’t complain about. Check out the thirty-minute "Cross-eyed and Painless" incase your jam-fix isn’t complete.
Best Coming of Age Concert: Addison Groove Project (4/19/03, Clifton Park, NY)- Around the corner from bassist John Hall’s alma-mater (Skidmore) and a few feet from Falstaff’s (where Wicked Live was recorded), Addison Groove Project went pro. The final show from the group’s collegiate days featured the Boston sextet in fine-form, ripping through mature versions of their college-staples, while offering a final good buy to basement parties.
Best Reason to Skip Phish Tour: Disco Biscuits (11/29/03, Hartford, CT) It was almost a sleeper. While most of jamantion focused their attention on Phish’s Philadelphia performance, the Disco Biscuits ripped through their best segues of 2003. Yet so many fans turned out for this packed performance, which included creative versions of "Crickets," "Triumph," and "Run like Hell," sleeper doesn’t seem like an appropriate moniker.
Best Moses Moment: Disco Biscuits (5/31/03, Lyonsdale, NY) The Adirondack Mountain Music Festival was a wet, rainy, frigid affair. So when the Disco Biscuits emerged for their headlining set sometime around 2AM, fans danced simply to stop the frost form forming on their skin. Parting the clouds for at least a few hours, the Biscuits offered such fan-favorites as "Astronauts" and "Voices Insane."
Best Jamband Theft: New Deal (11/22/03, New York, NY) CMJ has never been the most jam-friendly journal. So when this Canadian-trio were chosen to headline the CMJ Music Marathon everyone knew something special was about happen. Utilizing Webster Hall’s wooden dance floor and creative lights, the New Deal allowed hipsters and hippies to tango.
Best Reason to Scream for Fluffhead: Phish (8/2-3/03, Limestone, ME). Sure, "It" stood for seventeen hours of traffic, but Phish’s first post-hiatus was perhaps their best. Offering a smorgasbord of crowd pleasers ("Meatstick"), rarities ("Dog Log"), jams ("Seven Below"), and theatrics ("The Great Gag in the Sky"), Phish managed to accomplish the impossible: for a few minutes we all forgot about the traffic.
Best Phantasy Tan: Phish, (12/28-31/03, Miami, FL): As my report card surely proved, I can’t master math. Yet, even I can figure out that three vacuum solos, six members of P-Funk, and a twenty-five minute version of "Stash" most definitely adds up to something special: Phish’s most precise set of shows since the hiatus. (I’m still figuring out how to factor in the spliced "Tube" and "Wilson.")
Peter Gabriel, Jones Beach Ampitheater, Wantagh, NY- June 24
Peter Gabriel has a loyal following of fans that usually fill up the concert halls and arenas when he appears in their cities. His fans remember his Genesis days and his subsequent solo career. They are supportive and knowledgeable of all his tunes. On a balmy night in June, he appeared to the delight of his fans that packed the outdoors Jones Beach venue on Long Island.
There are certain "constants" at any Peter Gabriel concert. You can expect great musicianship, spectacular theatrics, a bit of political preaching, examples of world music, audience interaction and recognizable tunes that you are obliged to sing along with the band. All of that was present at the show that I attended.
Opening with his now standard, "Red Rain" Gabriel delighted his fans although his voice seemed somewhat raspy. I particularly enjoyed a duet that Gabriel did with his daughter Melanie for "Don't Give Up." For "Digging In The Dirt" Gabriel wore a camera suspended from a hat that showed close-ups of his face on a big screen. Now don't get me wrong, but a close-up of a 50+ aged man who was sweating quite profusely on a hot summer night was not the highlight of the show for me. Cute, perhaps, but not a reason to buy a ticket for the next show.
On the other hand, the theatrics performed by Gabriel for "Growing Up" was cool. As the opening chords to the song were played, he situated himself in the middle of the stage, holding out his arms when an enormously large translucent ball descended down on him from the rafters and engulfed him within the ball. Once inside, he bounced within the ball all over the stage while singing the song to the utter delight of the crowd.
At one point of the show, the entire band except the drummer ventured into the audience, but perhaps the high point of the show was when Gabriel sang "Sledgehammer." Ever the showman, he had exited the stage when he completed singing "Solsbury Hill" only to return wearing a coat adorned with a myriad amount of mini flashlights while singing "Sledgehammer." The crowd went wild.
Tony Levin, Gabriel's bass player led the band with his usual style and efficiency along with Ged Lynch on drums and long-time Gabriel guitarist David Rhodes and daughter Melanie. For me, another highlight was Gabriel's last song "Father, Son" where he describes spending time with his 91 year old father while they took yoga classes together and got to know each other better than before.
There was some political chatter from Gabriel which neither added to or detracted from the evenings' concert. It was a beautiful night with great music, inventive theatrics from a man who has been entertaining us for over thirty years.
Yo La Tengo, Bowery Ballroom- October 12
For now, my favorite show of 2003 was Yo La Tengo's tour-closing gig at
Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom on October 12th. There were others that I had
more ecstatic reactions to – Dylan in Florida in May (weeeeird), The Flaming
Lips at Bonnaroo (I wore a pink bunny suit), The Dead at Red Rocks in July
(an escape into the hills), Radiohead at Madison Square Garden in October
(my birthday), RANA at Tobacco Road in November (evoking the Wetlands),
Phish in Albany in December (jaw-dropping improvisation) – but, as a
performance-considered-objectively-as-a-unified work, looking back, Yo La
Tengo wins this round. The setlist was dotted with classy touches (a pair of
tunes off of 1990's Fakebook, the cream of the superb this year's
Summer Sun) and the crowd was perfect, quiet and blissfully
Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, TN- June 13-15
Bonnaroo itself was the most incredible event of 2003. This has become the most diverse and laid back festival to hit the scene. I saw so much great music there but I have to say the three bands that made marks for me this year at Bonnaroo were The Funky Meters with there incredibly thick funk set late night, Sonic Youth's set on the first day that blew my head off, and The Flaming Lips late night on day two that left everyone smiling and a little puzzled.
The Funky Meters are the masters of the funk. At Bonnaroo they proved it time and time again. From the opening Cissy Strut you knew it was going to be a special night for the Meters. By the time they got to "Fiyo on the Biyo" the place was going nuts. But, I will say that the best thing I saw in all of 2003 was Warren Haynes coming out for the "Voodoo Chile" Brian Stolz and Warren basically stayed near the back of the stage about 6 inches apart, facing each other, getting off really hard. Incredible! It was Hendrix birthday and a full moon.
A quick note on the other two performances….
Sonic Youth- I had never seen them before and it blew me away. That guitar player is a beast. How could I not have heard about him before? I will go see them anytime they are around.
The Flaming Lips-The most celebrated show of Bonnaroo 2003! Hardly anyone there had ever scene them and everyone loved it! What a great show these guys put on. From the nun during Yoshimi to the birthday song to my friend Dax, it put a smile on everyone's faces and really opened up a lot of doors for the Lips.
Bonnaroo 2003 was even better for me than 2002. Better diversity of bands and a better setup. I can't wait for 2004. See you at the Roo!
The Dead, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO- July 8
I was fourteen years old when Jerry Garcia played his last show in my hometown. I was a half hour from the show, but I arrived a year too late. When I heard my first Grateful Dead show in 1996, which was One From the Vault, I knew I missed something spectacular. By the time I turned 15 I had a five-disc-changer loaded with Dicks Picks, and both tape decks occupied by old bootlegs. I fell in love.
Throughout the last seven years I have gotten into different jambands but one thing has remained constant, and that has been the Dead. In 1998 I went to Alpine Valley for a life changing experience known as The Other Ones. When I found out about the Family Reunion I immediately bought tickets for the show, and a plane ticket back to the place of my youth. Again, Alpine Valley was the place to be.
Now the year is 2003, July again, but this time the place is Red Rocks Amphitheater. For all of those who have been here know that this is the most beautiful amphitheater in the country. The first two nights of the five-day-run were smoking. The third night, July 8th, was something different as the Dead grabbed on to the inspiration and road it all night long.
Without giving a play by play of the whole night I will hightlight some of the more stirring moments of the evening. The show started with a wonderful jam leading smoothly into Friend of the Devil. The song, sung by Bob Weir, was soft and precise, with tasty playing all around. A newly arranged Mississippy Half-step was a surprise. The end of the song (A>D) was beautifully played and forced me to call an old friend on my cell to share the moment. (Ahhh…Technology). New Speedway Boogie was tight and very well done. Joan and Bobby traded off lyric as if the song was written to be sung that way. One of my favorite Bobby tunes (Looks Like Rain) was performed with such passion and intensity tears that came to my eyes. At one point I thought to myself, even though I missed out on Jerry, I am so grateful to be here for this. Then came the blues: Deep Elem> School Girl and Mr. Charlie. The best part of this for me was the playing by Jimmy Herring. I was awestruck by the sophistication and precision of his playing. Not a very animated guitarist, but the music stands on its own.
Second Set, Playing in the Band> Shakedown Street was some of the best playing I have ever heard. Drums had the whole Amphitheater in sync followed by a cool space and a happy birthday to Joan, with the children of the band members presenting a cake on stage. Then the event went a dozen notches deeper and more meaningful with Joan Singing "Comes a Time," one of the sweetest Jerry songs. " John's">"Playing (reprise)" "Lovelight" reminded me of the hundreds of amazing shows I have in my collection, but I can't say any of them sounded quite as good as this. Then, the "Brokedown Palace" just seemed so well placed. It felt sentimental, reminding me of all the shows I missed. Something about it said, "Yeah this is it, this is the energy, this is what I loved all these years."
High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy, CA, July 3-6
We have all survived the vortex that is the High Sierra Music Festival, where the boundaries between day and night are temporarily eroded, where the laws of physics are suspended and the only constant is music. Let us hope that everyone has healed from a long weekend of joyous revelry and celebration of the music and community that we hold so close to our hearts. The highlights are almost too numerous to list, and certainly everyone has their personal favorites, but who could forget Fareed Haque's set on the main stage to kick things off in fine fashion. Little did I know at the time that Mr. Haque would soon establish himself as the MVP of the festival, sitting in with seemingly anyone who would let him. Or Marco Benevento's outright assault on his organ at the Vaudeville Stage. Or Del McCoury and his band playing old-time bluegrass to an appreciative crowd. Not to mention Steve Kimock's nimble exploration of almost the entire gamut of human emotions during his late night set. Rodney Holmes provided the thunder to balance Kimock's lightning, which could be very powerful and bright at times but at others was a faint distant flash reminding us of the vastness of the universe. The night wound down with introspective versions of "Cole's Law" and "Avalon" to usher in the new light of dawn.
Day two brought about Soulive's swinging set on the main stage, with Eric Krasno tastefully soloing on top of the heady grooves laid down by the Evans brothers. Steve Kimock's triumphant main stage set both started and ended with Kimock's soaring pedal steel work. SKB's wonderful interplay during the sunset Independence Day set reminded us of the stoic ideals that this country was founded on: resistance, justice and non-conformity. The fireworks at High Sierra were provided by the undisputed heavyweight champion of the late night throw down, Mr. Karl Denson himself. The Tiny Universe proved that it would be a long time before they relinquish that title as they played and epic set, easily one of the highlights of the entire festival. The myriad of special guests that graced the High Sierra Music Hall stage all contributed to the burning intensity of the set, from the extra horns for a couple of Afrobeat tunes, to the stunning guitar interplay between MVP Fareed and Brian Jordan, to the impromptu saxophone summit with Jessica Lurie and Chemichanga, to the sheer intensity of Alfred Howard's conscious rhymes. Karl D reminded us all that "the music is good for your soul," just in case anyone had forgotten. Saturday's highlights included a relaxing afternoon set by the Yonder Mountain boys. Fareed Haque Group provided yet another uplifting set, this time in the friendly confines of the Vaudeville tent. Then there was Les Claypool's raucous, packed set at the Big Meadow stage. The Frog Brigade's downright filthy grooves enthralled the capacity crowd as Les proved there is much wisdom to the saying, "better late than never."
Sunday began in earnest as my body reminded me of the emotional and physical intensity of the musical roller coaster ride of the last three days. That morning, the two guitar gurus of the festival, Fareed and John Scofield, treated a small crowd to an intellectual playshop as they masterfully and articulately handled fans' questions about playing in the moment and the point in their distinguished careers where they were finally able to play what the universe was telling them instead of what they were thinking about. This set marked the first time that these two guitar greats had played together. It was a very dialogue-friendly playshop, though the crowd was treated to tattered yet interesting covers of "Cissy Strut" and "The Chicken." Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra was a personal highlight. The 13-piece band laid down highly textured instrumental grooves and infectious rhythms that you cannot help but get down to. The band always channels the energy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti at their shows and always remembers his spirit of joyous resistance, much needed in these times. The frontman of Antibalas jovially and cleverly reminded us that the social and political injustices of today are merely reflections of the social and political injustices of yesterday. Let us wake up and realize the sordid path that imperialism has led us down. John Scofield's set masterfully fused jazz and funk with electronic music and R&B, with Scofield reminding everyone at the end that you don't ever disrespect John Scofield. And who better to close down the main stage than Michael Franti, one of the most important and courageous men of our time. Franti is one of those performers who lays it all on the line every time he steps onstage, and this night was no different. Franti's powerful, energetic stage presence and Spearhead's grooves catalyzed a joyous feeling amongst the crowd, reminding us that music, positivity and love will slowly erode the barriers of oppression that can sometimes seem insurmountable. Michael Franti and his band were able to harness the good vibes flowing between bands and audiences all weekend and to synergize these two forces into one greater force, essentially a message of love from High Sierra.
Steve Kimock summed it up well after his remarkable set on the main stage when he thanked us for coming together to honor and support this live music scene that is so vital to all of our lives. He also praised the crowd for uniting to create good vibes in this "crazy fuckin world." And it became apparent that the scene is even greater than the music and that loving music, and people coming together to honor and celebrate loving music, is a force to be reckoned with in this "new American century." Our scene is helping to inspire us to be better people and to sow seeds of love that can be reaped by future generations. So many thanks to the musicians and festivarians and the crew and the volunteers, and friends and families and the sun and the moon and everyone and everything else that allows us to come together and dance and sing and give thanks. Until next year.
Phish, American Airlines Arena, Miami,FL- December 28-31
Miami Heat Up as Phish Provides-Reef Relief**
Celebrating friendship, love & life make for the most spectacular musical moments; even more so when the band you're seeing is sharing in that same experience. If you were fortunate enough to have made it to Miami, December 28th-31st, and hit the American Airlines Arena; then you have tasted one of the most delectable rock and roll events of the year, compliments of Phish.
The energy was electric, much like the late nights in South Beach and the neon surrounding it. Everyone couldn't be more thrilled to be in this destination and it showed. The band was playful, the sound was right on, and Kuroda lit up the Miami Heat's home like it was a Willy Wonka boat ride.
The 28th kicked off with a monstrous "David Bowie". Later "Frankie Says" screamed for attention, as it blew up into larger than life proportions. Fishman, always humorous, forgot the words to "Love You," then fell as he ran around the stage during "HYHU". The 2nd set "Suzy Greenberg>Jam" was disturbingly good and the "Sleeping Monkey> Loving Cup" encore sent everyone rocking into the warm night.
The 29th heated up, with a powerful "Piper" opener. The boys supported each other exceptionally well, and blew it out, albeit, the unfinished "Limb by Limb". Even Kuroda's spotlight couldn't pull the words out of Fishman, perhaps, prompting the laughter and "Wolfman's Brother" to follow. The 2nd set was nuclear; every song enormous and well executed. From the "Rock and Roll" opener to the "Free" face off between Mike and Trey—this was hands down the best set with "Good Times Bad Times" closing it out. Page's presence was so large that you could feel the "Squirming Coil" coming.
The 30th started with "Wilson," (unfinished) followed by "Sand," which sent fans into a frenzy. The seldom played "Shafty" & "Weigh" came out, as did the big thumb pounding out "Scent of a Mule." "Tube," (unfinished) opened the 2nd set only to warp into "L.A. Woman">"Birds">L.A. Woman madness; bringing to mind the Jim Morrison-Miami incident. The band then drifted into "Makisupa Policeman," when appropriately enough out comes George Clinton and P. Funk. Clinton stroked his microphone while doing the P. Funk booty jam, making that picture worth a 1000 words. This night also included a true double encore: "Contact" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," during which Trey was magnificent on guitar, although singing Mr. Mojo Rising may have caused a little vocal strain.
NYE had that special sparkle, as the band took care of some amusing unfinished business. The 1st set opened with the conclusion of "Wilson" and closed with the conclusion of "Tube", both from the night before. Fishman also took care of things and ran around the stage again without falling. The 1st set included traditional 2nd set songs like "Mike's>Hydrogen>Groove" and "YEM". The 2nd set opened with a stellar "Stash" and a nod to last NYE with "Seven Below", showing just how far that song has come.
At midnight, a fluorescent clown car was lowered from the ceiling to the stage as balloons fell. An entire marching band exited from the car in full regalia. The stage was filled with antics as the marching band played and bunny girls danced to "Jungle Boogie*" which segued into "Auld Lang Syne," then into a wicked bust out of "Iron Man*" as Trey popped balloons with his guitar. "Feel Feel Feel Feel My Heat*" (*1st time played), made for good humor and "Frankenstein" closed the run."The Phish" as many now say, have once again ripped wide-open the roadways of Florida. Yes, following the lines going south actually does pay off. The four nights were a living breathing box set of magnificent music and teases, filled with fun and laughter. Not a fan was left feeling hungry for more, at least not till next tour.
**Reef Relief is also one of the charitable foundations The Water Wheel Foundation supported on this run.
*Ekoostik Hookah, The Steve Kimock Band,Dark Star Orchestra,Railroad Earth
The Shantee at Frontier Ranch Music Center, Kirkersville, Ohio- August 30*
Usually picking out the best show of a year is pretty difficult and obviously very subjective. What was it that made it the best show of the year, the music, the vibe, a special jam, the sound, the crowd, the venue? For me the choice for 2003 is very easy. It has to be the second day (8/30/03) of the Hookaville Festival, it had all the aforementioned and more. The first day of the two day event also had its moments but the weather hampered things considerably, but the second day was truly something special with a full day of superb music in a wonderfully serene setting. Oftentimes the reaction between the crowd and the bands adds that something special to a show and that was evident in the good natured crowd here. Sure, they were mostly there to see ekoostik hookah, but they were open minded and appreciative of each band that played. Although not the "biggest name" line-up for a festival this past summer the five bands that played on the 30th typified the diverse array of music that comes under the jamband moniker.
Local favorites The Shantee kicked things off early on with a solid set that was built around tight songs and spunky grooves. Railroad Earth showed why it is so highly rated with a stunning set of eclectic bluegrass/newgrass. The band's instrumental prowess acted as the perfect backdrop for Todd Sheaffer's finely crafted songs. The next best thing to a real Grateful Dead set is undoubtedly the Dark Star Orchestra and their stripped down set was a delight. In contrast to DSO was the Steve Kimock Band with its complex jazz-fusion grooves. The grand finale was hookah's two sets that closed a magical day of music. Not only did hookah turn in an explosive first set they were joined by a variety of guests. After a dynamic rocking "Ragin' River" they were joined by Steve Kimock for "Treasures That I Travel For>Life is Good" which boasted some By "Autumn Day," the title cut of Dave Katz's new solo album, Andy Goessling from Railroad Earth was adding saxophone. They kept with the more country mood with sprightly takes of the traditional "John Henry" and the upbeat country rocker "Silvertrain" both of which also featured John Skehan, Tim Carbone, Carey Harmon and Gosseling, all from Railroad Earth.
The second set featured no guest but hookah really cranked it up, beginning with "Float(Epilouge)" and closing with an epic "Alexander." If that wasn't enough hookah turned in a joyous and fun-filled series of encores beginning with "Space Oddity" seguing into "Treat Her Like a Lady" with "Respect" thrown in the middle. A scorching "Through Hiker" slipped into a playful "We're An American Band."
Phish, USANA Amphitheatre – West Valley City, Utah- July 15
It's not often that I fly out with to a show with the intention of not
having any plans. Taking travelling light to a whole new level, I
flew to Salt Lake City on July 15 with nothing more than my clipboard,
some paper, and my ticket. I knew I would spend the night sleeping
in the airport. Somehow though this was the right decision.
The second set perhaps doesn't match up musically to some of the sets
at It, but concerts are about set and setting too. Rather than
fighting traffic for eighteen hours, I got to spend the day out in the
dry Utah heat looking at some rather stunning mountains. We were all
prepared for an amazing show in the half empty brand new venue, and
that's what we got.
The second set opened with the debut (and so far only version) of Mr.
Completely, had a thirty minute jam, some setlist antics, returned to
the Mr. Completely theme, and finally ended the section with yet
another debut. Add in a solid Walls and a completely gratuitous
Slave tacked onto the end of a set that should have been over, and you
have an amazing concert. I might have spent the night in the
airport, but I spent it with a smile on my face.
Neil Young, Tweeter Center, Mansfield, MA- July 1
The focus seems to be shifting as the years pass me by. Lighting speed guitar solos used to impress me more than anything in the world, but as I approach the ripe old age of thirty, it is the honesty and emotion of music that truly captivates me. I've somehow arrived at a point in my life where I'd rather hear the perfect heartfelt note or vocal sustained over several seconds rather than a barrage of 16th note arpeggios crammed into a few measures. When I look back on a year filled with such a wide array of concerts, festivals and impromptu jam sessions, the true musical highlight that jumps out is a performance by one of the all time greats.
I've been listening to Neil Young for longer than I can remember. In the days before I knew how to pronounce "Hey Hey" or "My My," his music surrounded me. My parents played it constantly in my developmental years and it's no wonder that twenty-something years later, I sat with Neil in a New York hotel room speaking with him about his latest project, Greendale.
I caught three dates on the Greendale tour, in addition to Neil's set at Bonnaroo, but there was one particular moment that was the pinnacle of 2003 for me: July 1st at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, MA. While most of the concert featured all sorts of props, actors and video projection, during "Bandit" Young sat alone with nothing more than a sparkling old Martin acoustic and a rugged baseball cap. The stage was dark all around him as he struck the opening note: a wobbly, rumbling B flat. Now, I'm no virtuoso, but in my somewhat limited experience as a guitar player, I've never come across an open tuning in the key of B flat. I have no idea how he thought of it, but for this particular song, Neil uses a tuning of Bb, F, Bb, Eb, G, Bb. Because the strings are so loose, they flap around much more than normal, achieving a truly unique vibrato. The chorus in "Bandit" was one of the only moments of the concert (as on the album) to feature Young's trademark falsetto vocals. It's a landscape of extreme highs and lows with nothing but a few twanging harmonics in between.
It's such a gentle song and my initial concern was that the meathead Bostonian masses would be too drunk to remain quiet for an acoustic ditty they had never heard. To my surprise, it was absolutely silent and the fans did ol' Beantown proud, [the FleetBoston Pavilion show two months later would be a different story however]. At the end of the chorus, when Young cried out "Someday, you'll find everything you're looking for…" it felt as if 18,000 people collectively embraced the optimism, each with their own colorful interpretation. You could have heard a pin drop.
Simon & Garfunkel 12/11/03, FleetCenter, Boston, MA ("Bridge Over Troubled Water")
Phish 8/3/03 set II, Loring Airforce Base, Limestone, ME ("Ghost")
Gov’t Mule, Saenger Theater, New Orleans- May 3
As I think back to the show that overwhelmed me even as it reminded me why I obsess about music, there is no question that it took place at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans on May 3 (and 4th!). This was the night of Gov't Mule's Deepest End. Given all that takes place during Jazz Fest it is a mark of distinction to create such a stir but the Deepest End performance did just that.
Heading in we had some idea of the guest musicians who would join Warren, Matt and Danny but we had no idea of the all-out frenzy that would occur. Since you can take a look and a listen yourself via the CD/DVD, let me just suggest a few personal highlights: "Blindman In The Dark" with Dave Schools and Karl Denson, "Chameleon" with Paul Jackson, Bernie Worrell and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, "32-20 Blues" with KD, Will Lee and the always-stunning Sonny Landreth and "Voodoo Chile" with Jack Casady and Ivan Neville. Another stirring moment took place late in the show when Warren offered up a solo version of "Wasted Time" while waiting for George Porter Jr. to arrive for "Thorazine Shuffle" which itself became a show-closing bass-fest with Jason Newsted and Schools.
The night that ended around 4AM. We left exhausted, overwhelmed and yet if they had decided to stay out there for just one more we would be been right there with them…
Trey Anastasio, Warfield Theater, San Francisco- May 30 and 31
This essay is drawn from Zink’s column that appears this month on the site.
After a few weeks of musical void, it was time for me to hop on a plane and fly down to San Francisco to see Trey Anastasio play with his solo band at the Warfield Theater. The last time I stepped foot in the historic Warfield Theater was to see three consecutive Phish shows there in the spring of 1994, so this particular two-night stand with Trey loomed large for me. How things have changed in our scene over the last decade! These shows proved to be as enjoyable and significant as the venerable old venue itself. The first night was a solid rollicking performance that included many of Trey's staple tunes like Drifting, Money, Love and Change, and Alive Again. The show ended with the entire band, minus Tony Markellis, jumping down off the stage and parading through the floor while still playing a groove. This was an amazing treat that gave the audience a feeling of camaraderie with the musicians.
But of course, the following night was the musical a-bomb no one could have expected as Carlos Santana emerged as guest guitarist for much of the first set and all of the second set. I couldn't help but think back to the Santana shows I saw in 1992 in Philadelphia, PA and Pueblo, CO where Phish was the opening band. How things can come full circle in an incredible synchronicity is amazing to me sometimes. Seeing these two old friends trade licks on the Warfield stage is something I will never forget as my ultimate musical high of 2003. The energy the band exuded with the help of Mr. Santana on stage was mesmerizing. Trey was giddy with excitement with a smile plastered on his face the entire time Carlos was present. And man, did they ever wail. They traded lick after lick developing different themes in the jams and obviously were having a high time on stage. The show was very inspirational and it is impossible to deny that it had that "extra special something" that jamband fans crave. I don't think anyone levitated out of the Warfield Theater that evening on anything lower than cloud nine or ten. Wow.