Favorite Shows of 2004: Readers’ Picks
We asked Jambands.com readers to pass along their thoughts on their favorite shows of the past year. We received dozens of responses. Here is a representative sampling
So many shows, so little space. But here it goes.
1) New Orleans Jazz Festival, May 1 — Dancing in a parasol-filled parade started things out that afternoon, followed by a trip to the main stage to see a tight set by The Funky Meters. Carlos Santana ended the afternoon’s festivities and had the crowd in the palm of his gifted hands for about two hours. The music-filled day was capped off that night with performances by Gov’t Mule at a local theater, then a late-night set by a European-style jazz band at Fritzel’s on Bourbon Street. The jazz fest is simply the best, as long as your body can make it without sleep.2) The Slip at the Pearl Street Nightclub, in Northampton, Mass., Oct. 30 — Massachusetts was surreal on this Saturday night, with Halloween being celebrated — and with all those crazed Red Sox fans, fresh off their first World Series victory since 1918, prowling the bohemian-filled streets of Northampton. The Slip were in fine form, delivering, as usual, the sum of a show that was stronger than its parts. Aided by keyboardist Macro Benevento, the bands version of "Sometimes True to Nothing’‘ was spectacular.
3) Festival of the Lakes, Lake Placid, July 30, Little Feat, Donna the Buffalo and Los Lobos on the same bill. Little Feat got things going, highlighted by a lovely version of "Willin’‘’ and by some serious jams that included Scarlet Begonias and Dark Star teases. Donna the Buffalo stole the show, though. This roots-country-zydeco band usually takes time cranking up, but, playing in the confines of a multi-band festival, Donna was tight and dynamic that day. They blistered through "On the Funky Side.’‘ "40 Days and 40 Nights’‘ was a personal highlight. Los Lobos’ spiritual sounds kept the party going as the sun started its descent in the Adirondacks.
4) The String Cheese Incident and Railroad Earth, Camden, New Jersey, Nov. 27 — Railroad Earth is a beautiful jamband, giving wooden music the good name it so richly deserves. After their set, Railroad Earth members came out with String Cheese to perform such standards as "I Know You Rider.’‘ Later, String Cheese sent the crowd into a frenzy with a rockin’ version of Yes’ "Roundabout. The techno Irish tune "Valley of the Jig’‘ was simply riveting as the night started to come to a close.
5) Wilco, The Chance, Poughkeepsie, June 6 — It was packed, it was hot, and the beer selection was not — but none of it matter. Wilco relied heavily on their most recent release, "A Ghost is Born,’‘ knocking out energetic versions of "Spiders" and "Hummingbird.’‘ among others. A mesmerizing version of "Poor Places" off "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" was the night’s highlight, and they tucked in a nice surprise during a protracted encore set, breaking out the light-hearted "Passenger Side" from their alt-country days.
6) Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the Palace Theater in Albany, Oct. 9 — The Flecktones are a wonderful mixture of talent and discipline, shown aptly this night with their first-set version of "Cheeseballs in Cowtown." And no Bela’ show would be complete without solo performances from "The Big Flecktone Himself,’‘ or "Futureman," or Victor Wooten, arguably the planet’s best bass player. The Flecktones have reportedly announced they won’t be touring in 2005. Seen through this lens, 2006 can’t come quick enough.
7) John Esposito Trio, Rosendale CafJan. 10 — I could have picked any number of intimate jazz performances held last year in this vegan-friendly cafust a few miles north of New Paltz, N.Y., where I live. Mark, the owner, is doing yeoman’s work at keeping live music going in the Hudson Valley. As for Esposito, well, let’s just say he knows his way around the keyboard. Thanks for giving me the chance to reflect on such a fun year! Bring on 2005. "Go See Live Music!"
The String Cheese Incident, April 18, 19, 22 and 23, JapanWhen considering my favorite live musical moments of 2004, first and foremost would be my trip to Japan to see The String Cheese Incident in Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo in April. This experience had several reasons why it was one of my favorites of 2004, and my whole life. Of course the four performances by SCI, in small, very interesting venues were absolutely amazing. What truly made this experience stand out though was to be a part of this musical experience in a completely foreign land. While I didn’t speak the same language as most of the people at the shows, everyone there was on the same wavelength, dancing, smiling, and just having a great time, music served as the universal language which united everyone in the room. The great music, amazing cultural experiences, and the wonderful Japanese people all combined to make this run of shows a musical experience I will never forget.
Picking the best live moments from 2004 may seem like a clear-cut choice on everyone’s list this year. After all, the summer concluded the career and legacy of the jam juggernaut that is Phish. One of music’s most epic and respected acts, bowing out unexpectedly in front of 70,000 dedicated fans who braved mud, rain, and miles of Vermont highway on foot to see their heroes off into the sunset. What better moment to top your list? For many, I’m sure that Coventry was the highlight of the year, a two day send-off that featured all the unpredictability and craziness that so many of us have grown to love for the past 21 years. It will no doubt be a live moment that will forever be etched in our minds, the icing on the cake of over two decades of joy, memories, and fabulous music.
But for me, the greatest live moments of 2004 were spun not from the web of the obvious, but from what we read (or experienced in this case) in between the lines. As news of Phish’s final bow swept through the veins of the internet, it seemed to me that the many faces of the shocked and the excitation of one final hoorah diverted the attention from the normal hustle and bustle of summer festivals, shows, and yes, even Phish’s June run. They were dimmed out in anticipation, blurred in a rush to ponder what August 14th and 15th of 2004 might hold for the future of music.
It is often said that it is the journey and not the final destination that matters. In my mind, Coventry was that final intention, tucked away in the Northeast, its emotion and energy manifesting it as a separate entity. It made other events seem not so vital to the history of 2004, cutting the value of the customary summer journey a bit short. As big and as important as Coventry was, it didn’t seem to fit the natural course of the musical pulse of the summer. It was almost supernatural, an event that was unfair in comparisons to the rest of the happenings of the music scene.
I think in the end this was why the best live moments of 2004 for me were in the ordinary groove of the summer’s offerings. I will never forget the four days I spent with thousands of others, descending the hills of Deer Creek and Alpine Valley like ants to witness Phish’s last stand at these venues. These were two venues whose history of musical lore with the band was enough to write volumes, and it was quite the privilege to be there to finish the last chapter. On July 2 in Madison, I was lucky enough to stand 2 feet behind Jon Fishman as he played with Jazz Mandolin Project. Watching the metronome of Phish play at such close proximity, and even meeting him after the show was a thrilling experience, one that was personal, and one that will not soon be forgotten. And finally, like going to see your favorite grandfather, there was The Dead on July 24 at Alpine. Still kicking after all these years, still sensational. Watching those pioneers on stage was a reminder of how deeply roots can run, and how a simple and stoic performance can leave you amazed and wondering. It was a testament to the true colors of grassroots that are still holding strong in the summer sun.
So for me, the best live moments of 2004 resided somewhere in between. In between "An Announcement From Trey," and the final notes of "The Curtain With." History will always remember 2004 as the year Phish stepped away, but for me and many others, the musical world that turned as the famed quartet released out of orbit didn’t miss a beat.
Really, there are two distinctive shows that stand out in my mind for 2004. Although they took place in two different places, with two different bands, each were equally as magical. My number one show would have to be the first and only Phish show I have ever been to. The June 26 show at Alpine Valley commemorated the supposed last show for Phish at Alpine Valley. This was also my first time at Alpine Valley, having driven about 6 hours from Detroit. I had been to many great concert amphitheatres, but never to this one and never for this band. Phish blew me away, with the musical roller coaster that encompassed the sold out crowd on that warm summer evening. I had just really started to listen to Phish in the past year, when I made the journey to see Trey relish the crowd with amazing guitar solos in a sea of lights. The mood of the crowd was perfect. They played old and new favorites in an evening I’ll never forget.
This was only a few weeks after my first trip to Bonnaroo (2004). It was a road trip with two friends that had never met each other and were worlds apart. The camping and self-sustaining atmosphere was one that brought me back to Woodstock 99 (the part the media never pointed out). Through rain and mud, one band captured the crowd on a cold evening in mid-festival; The Dead. Although I had seen them as the Other Ones and the Dead several times, it was the first time in this atmosphere. Maybe it was just the fun activities I was sharing with my friends before the show, but it was spectacular. They opened with Tennessee Jed, fitting for the area we were in, and played everything you wanted to hear the rest of the night. This trip was the first of many Bonnaroo’s to come for me.
1. Wilco, Granada Theater, Dallas, Texas It was one of those nights…catching what will assuredly be THE important band of this era with their best live lineup to date, in a perfectly sized sold out venue, breathing life into an amazing catalogue of work. Wilco had us in their hands from the opening strums of "Handshake Drugs" throughout a 25 song set featuring songs from every single one of their albums.
2. Soulive, House of Blues, New Orleans, LA
Jazzfest: Mardi Gras of Music. And while funk may be an authentic cajun dish, these New York cats played the hottest set of the weekend. The Evans brothers laid down tight grooves, but it was Eric Krasno’s jazzy guitar explosions that kept fists punching the air till the sun came up. With Cheme, Reggie Watts and Oteil Burbidge (on a hot "turn it out" > "jesus children" > "turn it out") sitting in, this was the hardest I danced all year.
3. Clapton Crossroads Festival, Dallas Texas Clapton. King. Santana. Guy. They were all there celebrating the glory of the guitar. And they did it with gusto. From a seated jam session between King, Clapton, Guy and Jimmy Vaughan to a fiery Jingo from Santana featuring Clapton, Crossroads was a veritable orgy of guitar gods. And Clapton stole the show with his set, playing like a 30 year old raging hits like Cocaine, Layla and I Shot the Sheriff.
4. Beastie Boys, American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas I wasn’t sure what to expect seeing the Beastie Boys in an arena. There is something slightly awkward about white guys rapping. Gray haired white guys to be sure. Ad Rock, Mike D and MCA (and Mixmaster Mike) had the near-capacity crowd bouncing from beginning to end. And not just to greatest hits…they did a short instrumental set playing instruments and featured plenty of songs from old albums like Paul’s Boutique. They even went into the crowd, rapping in the stands followed by spotlights.
5. Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Sons of Herman Hall, Dallas, Texas One of those shows you almost miss…noticed a small ad in the paper while looking for movie times. Brown played an acoustic set at a tiny venue—the first acoustic set he had played in nearly 40 years. We ended up sitting cross legged at his feet, soaking up 80 years of great blues, Texas swing and hilarious stories. Apparently he caught a VD once in Moscow. I scooted back a little.
Well… it was a fun filled year of shows, it is very hard to pick out one or even two shows that were favorites. I did put my finger on two shows that took place in the poudre canyon during august. I can’t say one day was better than the next, but the Saturday show, in the evening could have taken the cake. Not only was it the fact that the venue was and is one of the most incredible yet intimate settings, but it was the fact that thousands of phish fans were trapped in gridlocked commute while I was enjoying the modern day sounds of a band called moe. The "phuck" coventry shirts were out in full force, just reminding everyone how lucky they truly were. Not only because they were seeing one of the most talented groups of the modern day jamband scene. Yes, without the likes of a three day widespread panic run at red rocks, 2004 was a lackluster year for some, but I made up for the hiatus with as many Al, Chuck, and Rob sightings as possible. I’m not sure if it was just the vibe of the place or if it was due to the fact that I love seeing shows in Colorado, but this weekend of music was definitely one to remember.
String Cheese Incident, Kansas City, MO, 7/29
By far the highlight of my summer, this Cheese show was absolutely right down my alley. I had driven about 500 miles the previous day to catch up with my friend from Kansas City. Being my first trip to KC, I had no idea what to expect. Typically, when I hear Kansas mentioned I think of corn, flatness, and down home folks, but this was not to be the case. The show was at the Uptown and to my surprise; a small hippie community surrounded it. I was in heaven. Head shops, incense, and fine hand crafted beers were abundant.
The show was absolutely phenomenal. We sat on the side of the venue slurping down Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat, a treat that we folk living East of the Mississippi do not get to enjoy often. After enough beer we fumbled into the Uptown which was quite a pleasure. The only way I can describe the place is as Ancient Greece on a psychedelic substance. Statues of Gods and Goddess, surrounded by vivid color, peered down from the sides as the crowd filed in a very personal venue. Most of the String Cheese shows that I have seen are typically in medium to large venues and I have never been extremely up close and personal, but this all changed in Kansas City.
Standing stage left, about eight rows, back I discovered the perfect spot, close to the band and close to the beer. The showed opened with an "Outside and Inside" which I was pleased to hear, but for some reason hear a lot. Following "Outside" I fell in love with "Betray the Dark". This was my first time to hear the song and it floored me. Nershi tickled the open guitar riffs with Kang ripping the opening verse over the top. I was extremely impressed and really fired up from that point on. I spend most of the night doing what I call the String Cheese dance, hopping around, smiling a lot, and spilling beer. The first set wondered on and to my surprise out popped a "Little Hands". This song has a storied past in my circle of first and appeared at the pristine time.
My friend, who was with me at this show, was the person who introduced me to Cheese. We spent hours sitting around listening to Cheese shows as a change of pace from our regular regiments of Widespread Panic and The Grateful Dead. One of the shows we really listened to was the 1998 Louisville Brewery show which has a killer "Little Hands". Call it fate or what you will, but this "Little Hands" arrived right on cue and was incredible. The timing was perfect and so was the show.
I am one of those lucky show people that usually get to hear one of two things at most shows: all of their favorite songs or something unique. On a muggy night in Kansas City, I got to hear both. The second set was outstanding. The calypso of "Pirates" took me on an island vacation, the ripping mandolin of "Desert Dawn" and the following jam sent my emotions on a billowing journey, and the Celtic thump of "Rivertrance" vaulted me into ecstasy. At some point the show has to end. Normally you think two song encore and a "Thank you, Goodnight." Not so much. The show ended with a three song encore with one of my favorite Stevie Wonder song’s "I Wish". I might have been one of five people that screamed my head off when I heard the opening base riff. Everyone else just kind of stared at me and wondered if it was a Will Smith song. The show finally ended with a second encore featuring Mr. Taj Mahal on "She Caught the Katy". Not much more can be said, especially after Taj showed up, but this was just an outstanding show and one of my finest and happy moments of 2004.
My defining live moment of 2004 was Phish’s first night at SPAC on June 19th. I was one of those fans who became jaded as their popularity exploded in the mid 90s (my last show was Hershey, 8/14/96), but a friend of mine from work had turned me back on to the band right in the nick of time. I had been to the Coney Island simulcast the week prior, but had forgotten the formless beauty of an actual live Phish show.
Adding to the anticipation was the fact that it was to be my girlfriend’s first show. She was only going because I asked her to, but I had been priming her with some of the more accessible tunes. She quickly fell in love with Runaway Jim and Gotta Jiboo, as well as anything else I could get stuck in her head.
It was a beautiful summer day in Saratoga. After checking in to our room and greeting some fellow fans in the hallway, we set off for the show. I had never been to SPAC, but could already feel the relaxed vibe passing through the tall trees on our way in. I was meeting my buddies Jordan and Jason from work, but they had some issues getting in, so my girlfriend and I spent the pre-game together, listening to the sweet murmurs of Scents and Subtle Sounds and Army of One coming from the sound check in the distance. True bliss.
We finally met up with Jordan at the gate and walked in together, but he had seats, so we soon were on our own again. From the opening notes of Reba, I knew we were in for a treat. When the band kicked into an energetic Jim, they grabbed a hold of my girlfriend as well, before segueing into a much welcomed NICU. The Scents was tight, and Wolfman’s is always welcome (though I am more contemplative than kinetic), but what was to come truly blew my mind.
Walls of the Cave was tentative as usual through the dark opening section, but truly exploded once they reached the faster second half. Everything just fell into place perfectly. I have always dug the acid surf rock of Walls, but Phish kicked into overdrive. They rollicked through several incredible peaks, bringing back the chorus not two, but three times before wading into the gentle beauty of crystalline psychedelia that dwindled into an above average late period Bowie. What a first set!
In the melee of set break, we managed to find our friend Jason. Mission accomplished. No one was left behind. After the killer first set, I had high hopes for the second. The Song I Heard the Ocean Sing opener was awesome, probably their best reading of the tune, but nothing could have prepared me for the much lauded 30 minute Piper. It was simply an out of body experience. My girlfriend even fell into the trance, turned to me about halfway through and said "NOW I get it." When the band shifted gears into Jiboo, her prayers were answered. The concert could have ended then and she would have been satisfied. It couldn’t have been any better. The rest of the show was great, with an energetic Limb By Limb and average Cavern, but while listening to the delicate sounds of the Wading in the Velvet Sea encore wafting through the air, all I could do was reflect on what an incredible night it had been. Truly blessed. Perfect.
After driving through the golf course (!) to find our way out of the pitch black forests of Saratoga, we sat in silence, letting it all sink in. It wasn’t until I got the download the next week that I truly realized the gravity of our experience. Even standing in the mud at Coventry, watching the disintegration first hand, I never could get that one out of my head. Luck shined upon us, giving us the privilege of seeing the best show of Phish’s final tour. Fantastic.
Let see, so many roads so many shows, blurred into a continuous year of Phun filed music and friends. So here goes a standout of some of the many shows that I attended yet to be narrowed to a few under 250 words. If I start with January and go forward, one of the few standouts would have to be the 2/14/04 DJ Logic Show at the Blue Note with John Popper. Project Logic at the Blue Note with Popper to add some extra Phunk. Late night groovies in NYC after skiing upstate all day only to be spanked by Project Logic, yummy give me more.
So much in between that and my next standout would be the 6/3/04 All-star Jam honoring the life and music of the late Blues Traveler bassist, Bobby Sheehan. What a great night at Southpaw Brooklyn USA with a beautiful sunset to be capped of with a show with many guests and Warren Haynes Shredding away with all Phriends.
Jumping forward to THE BIGGEST standout (in my opinion) with many in between again would have to be 8/1/04 The Dead at Beautiful Saratoga Springs. First of all Summer time when the living is easy and the Phish are jumping up in Toga is a great start but to cap it of with a Beautiful SUNNY Sunday with a massive rain storm just south of Toga shining on all the Happy people at SPAC, with many good vibes all around and JERRY’S BIRTHDAY to boot the boys pulled out all the goodies.
The end of the year standout would have to be 12/28/04 String Cheese Incident at MSG theatre, once again the music boys let it all out and it showed. I went to all three NY shows and the first night was the best in my opinion. All throughout the year the one thing that really stands out and I participated in and many others did too was the Conscious Alliance Food drives. God Bless America and the right to free Expression !!!!!!! Long live Music and Peace.
1.) Keller Williams March 31, Next Stage Theater, Ketchum, ID: Sweet set list and only about 200 people there in a little room. Keller was having fun, and plenty of room to spread out.
2.) Galactic Grandstand Stage, High Sierra Music Festival: Never been a huge fan of Galactic, but they blew my mind on this night. The guest spots w/ Skerik were amazing. Time stood still during this show.
3.) SCI 6/20/04, Horning’s Hideout (night 3): The perfect capper to a perfect weekend. One of the best festivals I’ve been to, and the music on this night made me feel real good.
4.) YMSB 10/9/04, The showbox, Seattle, WA: Saw a couple of shows on this run, and they were all amazing, but this one had something special going on.
5.) Garaj Mahal Late night at High Sierra Music Festival: Only caught the end of this show beginning about 7am but WOW.
Sometimes I get this nagging feeling that I am behind the curve. Perhaps I share a feeling that is common among tour-rats, frat-boys, businessmen, and housewives all over the country, relating to thousands of other trends. Or maybe nobody really ever recognizes their present situation as it really is; it’s easier to glorify the past. Phish was like that for me. I first heard their music on the radio when "Bouncin’" was released, then heard the single off of Billy Breathes, and then heard A Live One through my roommate’s stereo in 1997. But I didn’t get out to see them until Alpine ’99, and never followed them from one city to another. I collected hundreds of hours of shows, but probably the best show I actually saw them play was Target Center ’99. Good show? Yes. Life changing experience for me? Yes. Their best show ever? Not even close. Maybe it ranks in the top 5 for the tour. But the tour was fall ’99.
This summer I had the opportunity to head to Alpine and witness my 7th and 8th Phish shows firsthand. Initially, I was only planning to attend the second night, but then, on an April evening, I noticed phishook abuzz with threads devoted to the band’s demise. After a quick check for permission with my then-fiancSara, I ordered a single ticket for Friday night as well. We had an impending wedding that would take place a month after the shows, and it seemed fitting that one chapter of obsession in my life was making way for another.
I would be going alone and a meeting friend there the second night. Sara worked the weekend overnight shift at the nursing home, and was not inclined to make a special effort to get the time off for what would have been her 3rd and 4th shows. And so it was that I found myself alone, together in a crowd of angry, smelly, stoned 20-somethings in the most inefficient will-call line imaginable. But that was okay, somehow. I was alone. I was invisible. I did not exist in the cloud of angry haze in the mob, save as an observer. I did not notice my position within the mob change, but after 45 minutes and nearly the first set in its entirety had passed, I had my ticket and was floating down the sloped amphitheatre, again invisibly, to see Phish in arguably their last good run.
I bounded my way to the bottom of the hill and managed to position myself in a gap between three different groups of people who would become my friends. It was at some point during I Am Hydrogen in the second set that I realized the magnitude of what we were witnessing. My neighbor and new friend Larry swore that Trey had reached "Jerry Garcia levels, man." He was enamored. He was also more than likely hallucinating, I mean the dude was on shrooms, but I understood what he meant. The beauty of this song, and its place in this sea of 50,000 people, with each person hanging on the phrases coming from Trey’s guitar, would be gone in two short months. Say what you will about small clubs, but there is something entirely unique about that large mass of electricity that cannot be replaced. The beauty of the moment was in the faces of those around me…in the lights reflecting on the sundress of the blonde girl dancing under the pavilion…in the taste of the final 7 dollar beer I sipped…in the crazed eyes of Larry, who was talking out of his ass and didn’t care who knew it…in the image of Trey, holding the notes that sound so crappy on tape later on.
And then, like every other moment, it was gone. The band threw itself into Weekapaug and beauty was shed for abandon. Somehow this made it even easier to appreciate the feeling, because it was so easy to separate soft & sweet from fast & funky. Forty-five minutes later the set was over, and I was bounding up the hill, invisible again in a sea of people. One person can move three times as fast as two or three in that situation. I was out of the lot in short order.
About a month later, watching my bride walk down the aisle at my wedding, I realized that I had never been behind the curve. I had never missed anything. Had I been in the scene earlier, this moment would have never come to me. If I am happy now, and all of the stuff leading up to now had to happen to give me this happiness, why debate past events?
To hell with the past.
To hell with Phish.
Thank god for the past.
Thank god for Phish.
Living in Denver, Colorado I am more than overwhelmed with the vast array of quality performers that consistently stop through town, giving concert junkies like myself plenty to feed on. And 2004 brought some of the best shows I have ever had the pleasure to experience: A five-night run of The Dead at Red Rocks, Umphrey’s McGee at the Gothic Theater, String Cheese Incident’s annual Winter Carnival at the Fillmore, and many, many more. So choosing a performance that overshadowed the rest seems next to impossible. Thus, one must choose the show that had the best overall "feel". It had to be the one that still provides an eerie sensation when I think about it. For me, that show was the November 19th performance of the Big Wu at Denver’s most chill venue interestingly named Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom.
First of all, I must get something off my chest. The Big Wu has always been one of my favorite bands. I really dig their Americana rock n roll and tight psychedelic jams. It has been an honor to see them grow from a Grateful Dead cover band to the dynamic four-piece force of nature that they now are. Yet, therein lies the problem: four-piece. Many older Wu fans like myself remember them as a five-man-Minnesota-jam-band, anchored by the harmonious guitar and warm smiles of Jason Fladager. Jason left the band in 2001 to pursue more time with his family. Very honorable, yet somewhat detrimental to his other family (go to a Big Wu Family Reunion sometime, and you will know what I mean). Until the Wu can figure out some way to reunite their broken family, I am afraid they will never be more than a really good bar band. Trust me, it hurts to say that. Yet at times, the current lineup of Chris Castino (guitar, vocals), Terry Van DeWalker (drums, vocals), Al Oikari (keyboards, vocals), and Andy Miller (bass, vocals, spoken word) still rifle through the bullshit and seriously thrown down…as they did that chilly November night in Denver.
Before the show I ran into Andy Miller at the doorway. I said hello and asked him how he was feeling tonight. He replied, "Tim…I am fucking tired". A few more minutes of small talk concluded with me heading in, and Andy to his van for a quick nap before show time. That nap must have done him some good. Either that, or the famous Old Style t-shirt he dawns must possess some magical energy, because Andy and the rest of the boys came out blazin’ that night! They had a little help as well; a short, bearded "hobbit" joined the band on guitar and vocals for the entire evening (I still swear to this day it was the twentysomething Bill Nershi whom hopped aboard a time machine to be there that night), which only reiterated the band’s need to have Fladager back.
The first set began with "Break of Day", a common but apt opening tune. Castino’s guitar rift on that song just sets up the night perfectly. The boys then packed the set with more Wu favorites like "Chateau in the Know", "Kensington Manor", and "Minnesota Moon" (sniff, tear), all the while testing covers like the Beatles’ "I’m Cryin", and Zevon’s "Werewolves of London". I knew I was in for something special this evening as they closed with a fiery "House of Wu". Everybody was on. The crowd was grooving with perma-grins. This is how I want concerts to be!
The second was even more amazing, showcasing many of VanDeWalker’s tunes like "Tequila" and "Precious Hands". More sweet covers ensued like "Up on the Hill", and a very upbeat version of the Dead’s "Eyes of the World". Of the two hundred or so heads present, not a single one could be seen silent or still. The energy was phenomenal, and it made me remember why I fell in love with this band in the first place. Fladager or not, the Big Wu is and will always be one of my favorite bands to see live.
Michael Green McGee Koslow
String Cheese Incident, The Wepublican National Convention, Madison, WI 10/31
Madison was a cruelly cold Halloween day. As I truly believe that a concert review must be a review of the experience of going to a concert, I couldn’t completely review the concert without reviewing the experience of that day.
My friend Dose Ordonyz and I had driven in from Chicago. We visited my aunt & uncle in the west suburbs when I was inspired to design and purchase the materials for my custome: a Halliburton Employee. I purchased a painter’s outfit an excellent low-budget catch-all, and a Sharpie marker.
The problem was, it was the last day of tour and I had a grand costume budget of $10. Dose had pre-thought of a much better outfit a spary-painted foam Lincoln Log. They were truly commentaries on both locales and life in the midwest in 2004.
We assembled items and drove to Madison. Once in town, we attempled to check in at the hotel. We actually got there a few minutes early, so waited a bit and finally wound up in room 420.
Inside the venue site of the 11-6-98 Madison crazy naked guy’ (sadly, I watched Carini tackle the guy from behind the stage) the floor was abuzz with activity. Each of the Delegations: The State of Contentment, Edgar Allen Poets (look these up), the Lovers, the stoners, and the artists (other than the poets).
Does and I, Green McGee, each signed up with the State of Contentment. The brite-light style marquee projector was setup behind the band showing a pumpkin before the concert started.
First set had a lot of energy. Was instructed to meet our Delegation directly to the the left and behind the stage in the concourse basement. Was informed of the second set setlist: Ride the Peace Train, Rock the Cashbah (after which we were to meet back up for parade prep), Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World, then Revolution (during which the parade kicked off).
Does got to hold up banners and I waved flags. The rest of the second set was all covers, except a raging Howard instrumental.
The third set started with Howard. Next was the first Jellyfish I’d seen since June 2002. Several rockin’ tunes later, punctuated with a slow but beautiful Hotel Window, they closed the Way Back Home and Rivertrance. The encore was Rollover > Power to the People > Rollover.
We walked back and snoozed for a few hours before beginning what for me was an 18 hour mostly solo car ridge home.
This review is dedicated to Johann the Swede, and to all the victims and friends and families of the victims of the 2004 Tsunami. Put into perspective, the 226,000 (as of 1-20-2005) victims is easily 75 times the number of victims of 9-11-2001. Here’s hoping 2005 will be much more peaceful.
Chris Whitley, Club Metronome Burlington VT, 9/9
Chris Whitley played Burlington Vermont’s tiny club Metronome twice in 2004, the first show in February to a decidedly devoted audience. When the idiosyncratic musician returned in early fall, it was to appear in front of an audience comprised as much of curiosity-seekers as fans. Oddly, or perhaps not considering Whitley’s iconoclastic almost contrary nature, he seemed unusually inspired, as if to win over a crowd not convinced he was worth the attention (especially the loud-talking coterie asked to move to the back of club mid-set).
Whitley was focused and intense during his set, some of the concentration perhaps the result of his recent studio work with Malcolm Burn (who produced his best-known album Living with the Law and his now helming the next studio release.). No matter the reason, as Chris’ fingers flicked and curled their way along his various guitars to conjure the delta-blues rooted sound with which he’s most comfortable, he hit all the right notes. If you happened to be one of the more than a few who weren’t all that familiar with his work, you might’ve imagined he was simply improvising his way through chord changes, glancing off as many notes as he hit square on, then vocalizing as interludes to his improvisation.
But as Whitley played this Saturday night, the sequence of his original songs such as "Phone Call from Leavenworth" and especially the haunting "Hotel Vast Horizon," when heard in a string, heightened the sense of impromptu jamming. There is, after all, little that is predictable about Chris music even now after thirteen years of touring and over a dozen official and unofficial recordings. His albums as well as his concerts follow no discernible pattern except that of the instinctual artist willing to follow his muse wherever it takes him, all the while never forsaking the inimitable style he can rightly call his own. When Whitley’s voice skips to a falsetto, as it did on his cover of The Doors’ "The Crystal Ship," it never fails to surprise and delight.
In marked contrast to his appearance at this same club in the middle of winter, Chris performed virtually none of his most familiar material such as "Living with the Law" this early autumn evening. Perhaps it was because he knew that those loyal followers who inhabited the crowd were more than willing to listen to what he had to play (those loud-mouthed laughers relegated by management to the rear notwithstanding). Whatever the rationale, it was a perfect treat to hear Whitley’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s "Fourth Time Around" and not just for the structure it brought to the set: the man can seem totally without humor, in his sometimes painfully introspective style. But the dry delivery of this tune—-as well as Chris’ comments about the downstairs disco at Nectar’s club belowprovided some insight into his psyche.
Which is also true of his hour-plus set in its entirety. As if to prove himself to the small but willingly captive audience that he deserved a larger crowd than he got, Chris Whitley illustrated once again that he is always worth seeing.