VEGOOSE, BABY!Plenty of Green, the Hunt for Red in October & Blackalicious Grooves
“Did I just say that out loud?” – Raoul Duke, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
We were somewhere outside the Hoover Dam when the traffic kicked in. I remember thinking: “HIT THE BRAKES FOR CRISSAKES!!! Will this project ever get done?!” The roadwork leading in and out of the dam between Phoenix and Satan’s Playground has been undergoing a massive overhaul since 2003. The signs read 2003-2008. Great. The five-year project coupled with post-9/11 security checks of every car. Welltimes have momentarily changedthey waved the thundering auto herd on ether through the checkpoints and we were on our way. It was 8pmthe late night Trey Anastasio gig starts at Midnight. Plenty of time to get to the Tuscany Suites, check in and get about two hours of sleep before the night really began.
We got through the dam, pulled over at a gas station to take a restroom break and were finally hit with all of the cheesy Vegas merchandiseeverything from hats, posters, shot glasses, whips and chains and T-shirts emblazoned with the best of Sin City’s slogans: “What happens in Vegas, stays in…” “The cards don’t lie but YOU will.” “I went to Vegas last year and I’m bound to leave next weekI thinkhonest(send more $$$).” We pulled the black beast into the Tuscany, got out and spotted our first gaggle of Wooks. Smiles lit our faces. “Ahhhmust be the place.” Let’s get upstairs and sleep. Wellthe non-writing members of the heady populace were too excited so they left for the strip and I slept for about an hour and a half before anticipation said, “Fuck ityou’re in VEGAS, baby!”
Changed clothes, hit the strip and caught up with the group at the Harley Davidson Cafe. Two STRONG stomach-rotting coffees, two beers, one heaping plate full of Nachos (hey, Vegas requires fine eating at all times) and one shot glass filled with some sort of bizarre concoction of whiskey, radiator coolant, rum, lighter fluid, mouthwash and the juice from some odd fruit and I was ready to hit the Aladdin Theatre to see my old beleaguered friend, the redhead himself. Visions of Phish, 12/6/96, at the old Aladdin danced in my nostalgic head, fueled by a three day menu of jam, rock, pop, funk and hip-hop. I was bouncing around the booth with a mixture of giddy anticipation, tourist moonshine and tourette’s syndrome. My wife laughed and asked: “You’re pretty excited, huh?” My psychotic blood shot eyes shot back the answer“YESH!!!!!!”
The first annual Vegoose festival over Halloween weekend succeeded on every level and a few invented ones, as well. The three days coasted along with nary a lull, a momentum lapse or a technical glitch. The outstanding music included the kings all lined up outside the gate’: Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, moe., Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, Colonels Hampton and Claypool and the Bad Lieutenant himself, Mr. Anastasio. From there we got an incredible dose of genre-less transcendent tunes from Beck, Primus, Blackalicious, Talib Kweli, Steel Train, The Decemberists, The Shins, The Meters, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Spoongloriously eccentric beauty from Devandra Banhart, the epic ragged glory of the mind-melting ROCK from Ween, a ball busting set of nitro garage punk from the searing trio known as Sleater-Kinney and a massive menu of late night gigs that stretched from the Joint to the Hard Rock.
Quite frankly, my only two complaints once I was back home and my own mythical backpack was sprawled on the floor next to me in a chair contemplating the ceiling during a period of 72 seconds of soul-searching for the proper level of rock critic cynicism sprinkled with a healthy dose of “there just HAD to be something that reeked of rank stanksville, eh?” Well, no. Two complaints? Walked back to the Tuscany from the Aladdin at 3:30am on Friday eve/Saturday morn with a whiskey buzz without getting a cab which required about a mile of just-off-the-strip comments: “hey, homeboy, wazzupcan I get ya anything?” and “ditch the chicks and I’ll show ya a good time;” meanwhile, where’s this damn hotel again?!
Second minor quibble? Sunday’s crazy dance back and forth to see Beck and Primus. Alas, those dark days of running five miles in baseball practice finally paid off. Knees be damned! This is Hanson and Claypool, gots to checks dem BOTH out. Overall, Vegoose was a masterpiece mixture of stellar music, fantastic weather and, as Relix and Jambands.com writer Mike Greenhaus suggested, filled with the warm vibe of Captain Trips smiling down from jam heavena 72-hour grin lit the strip from the Mandalay Bay to Circus Circus to the southeast corner of the city where the festival took place on Halloween Weekend ’05: Sam Boyd Stadium. Let the games begin.
Friday, October 28
Scribbled Notes on Coffee & Whiskey-soaked Pages from the Aladdin Theatre
Birds of a feather flocked outside and I loved itnothing like hundreds of beer bottles, glassware, hipsters and Wookies hittin’ the strip for The Invasion of the iPod people. Met up briefly with Relix’s Benjy Eisen, Mike Greenhaus and a visiting dignitary from Relix Japan and we entered the Aladdin for the unofficial festival opener. Later, Michael Franti would joke to me, “It was great to see the freaks descend upon Las Vegas for a little while!” And more to the point, Umphrey’s McGee’s Brendan Bayliss would quip: “Vegoose was fan-fucking-tastic.”
That alliteratively awesome aftermath assessment aside, it has been a rough fan base year for the definitely NOT ex-Phishheads. A year after Coventry, a civil war exists between former Phish front man Trey Anastasio’s supporters and the hardcore fans who DO NOT appreciate his new melodic adventures. Well, that all got thrown out on Friday night as Trey and his band, 70 Volt Parade, tore through a set of torrid rockers which included the recent obligatory acoustic sequence with solo Trey playing a combo of new work and Phish gems like a sublime “Pebbles & Marbles.” “Ether Sunday” was dedicated to those in attendance: Trey’s best friend since childhood whose name I forgot to scribble, Shine producer, Brendan O’Brien, and old friend, Les Claypool who Anastasio wanted to embarrass: “He always hates when you show him attention so let’s give him yet another round of applause!” And we did. An enchanting “Bug” with the requisite crowd sing-a-long and, then, the mythical 2nd Set’ of the show bumped the energy level through the roof as the band tore through the nod to The Ghost of Guyute Reba’s past, “Goodbye Head” which segued into the glorious crunch of “Mr. Completely” before the heavy riff rock of an extended “Low.” The strip beckoned as I bypassed a taxi for a stumble/walk. You can turn your back on a man but never turn your back on whiskey.
Saturday, October 30
Notes from the Field of Daydreams: Part I The Craft of Festival Euphoria
Shakedown Street in the Sam Boyd parking lot offered two dark beers for five bucks, JGB music and lots of homemade food that beat anything else anywhere hands down. Perused the shirts, fine grub, random dogs, glassware, hetty, dude’ trinkets and soaked in the grand and timeless vibes of the lot for about an hour before heading inside.
Steel Train was my first stadium encounter on the Joker’s Wild Stage and that was afternoon bliss personified. Later, they would play an acoustic mini-set in the Media Tent and the smile continued. Beans featuring Holy Fuck (I shit you not) got the Clubs Tent rolling with loud and fantastic rap with two DJs on either side of the stage, bass and drums. However, it would be Blackalicious who would be the first act to really setup the hot and heavy atmosphere that would roar from that tent throughout the weekend. The band’s current CD, The Craft, is a smart blend of soul and hip hop but the volume was increased ten fold in the tent as the funk was thick and rich, the music, scorching and the crowd responded in kind. The band’s performance was not so much a breakout performance as an accurate definition of what would make Vegoose an extremely successful festival: diverse sounds and challenging music that ROCKED. Atmosphere and Talib Kweli would close out the tent with two more sets of heat and magic.
The North Mississippi Allstars offered Southern-fried blazing rock with temperature mentionssonic or solar: “Let’s all be HOT together!” Down home and crispy, indeed. Devandra Banhart followed on the Snake Eyes (clever, yesh?) Stage with his intoxicating blend of 78-record old school madness and eccentric song craft. At around 1:45pm (according to my San Fran Mardi Gras/Smilefest/Roo/10kLF/Red Rocks banged-up cell phone), he picked a gal from the audience (“Is there anyone here who has written their own songs?” bellowed Banhart). Sure enough, she was jerked onto the stage and played a bluegrass tune that had the crowd shaking and smiling. Nice touch, indeed. Banhart was my personal favorite of the day but I’m a writer, ya dig, and I’m not known for following the crowdhence, my favorite link with Dylan’s phrase “to live outside the law, one must be honest.”
Gov’t Mule had me running out of the Tower Records tent to catch their cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” which rocked a plenty before I noticed the time and raced over to the media tent where Anastasio, Claypool and DJ Excel gathered to answer questions from the press as Anastasio clarified that “jamband music is all about great live music,” and “when we started out, there were only one jam band and that was the Dead!” Excel was gracious about the opportunity of being on the Vegoose roster and Claypool joked that the new Oysterhead was right there on stage as he pointed to DJ Excel and said that he was “Stewart Copeland.” The best bit of the conference was seeing Trey tune out the media because the ever-present Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule was cranking out the guitar at volume 11 from the Jokers Wild stage. We all had a bit of a time hearing the Q & A because of the comical titanic battle between Haynes and our illustrious guests. On Sunday, the Lips’s Coyne would dominate the press conference with wonderfully passionate and eloquent discourses on everything from to “our live music doesn’t really translate well to tape because it’s so much about the party atmosphere” to Bush-bashing.
The Shins came on during the early eve hours on the Snake Eyes stage with garage rock played while dressed in nun outfits. They were fairly ballsy but their set failed to ignite; although, hey, that may have been just me, dig. Then, the real goods began, the track meet back and forth between the Jokers Wild Stage performance of Primus and the Snake Eyes set from Beck. Primus had the wonderfully crazy funk and hard rock with huge inflatable bathtub Godzilla-sized rubber ducks on the stage while Beck played hard party music with witty lyrics while dressed in Boy Scout uniforms and performing a myriad of “you’ve-got-to-see-this-to-believe-it” antics on the stage. Their sound was precise and catchy and Beck certainly remains near the top of today’s best studio and live performers.
The main stagethe stadium, itself (cleverly titled the Double Down Stage)hosted an insanely exotic mixture of jambands from the reggae urban beat of Slightly Stoopid, to the crowd-pleasing SCI, to the epic X-factor strands of Phil Lesh & Friends and the evening’s finale, Dave Matthews & Friends featuring Anastasio. Slightly Stoopid rose above their band name to deliver some unique rhythms, the String Cheese Incident raised the Vegoose bar to an impossible level with a nitro set of sonic goodies while Phil Lesh defied his 65 year old body and delivered a massive dose of jam music for the ages including my personal fave trippy rave, “Unbroken Chain.” Haynes partaked, as well (as if I needed to mention that fact). Dave Matthews tractor-beamed his charisma across the stadium and Anastasio, once again, proved the perfect foil during his old friend’s set of grand music with lyrics that seemed to be memorized by every soul in the joint.
I went back to the hotel for twelve minutes of sleep before returning, yet again, to the Aladdin Theatre, as moe. called and I did what every good moe.ron should do: I answered and showed up, sho thang. This is where it all got REALLY insane. The first set was the Good moe.’: Luke Skywalker, Angelic Elvis, an altar boy, the Boston Red Sox and Mr. Incredible and good proper jam music, to boot. (Fineyou write that shit down but you forget to write down Trey’s best friend’s name?!) The second set? Evil moe.’: Evil Elvis, Darth Vaderuh, I think Cruella DaVille or some other cartoon villain, and, wait for it, the New York Yankees (hey, pipe downI don’t want to hear it. I live on the West Coast, so what do I care? Plus, my editor’s a diehard Sox fan so).
The songs matched the wonderfully dichotomic (a new word!) mayhem as Good moe. opened with “Let the Good Times Roll” from the Cars and “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zep (which, if you want to be technical, is an odd good moe. choice since Zeppelin was (and still is) known for their various nefarious vice squad and occult shenanigans). Bad moe. JAMMED with a capital J. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap” by AC/DC recalled my high school daze and “Evil Woman” by ELO recalled my sister’s high school dramarama. Consequently, two nights of Aladdin magic coupled with the fantastic Sam Boyd aura produced some great memories that put Vegoose at the top for me.
Sunday, October 30
Notes from the Field of Daydreams: Part II Vegoose Hits the High Water Festy Peak
My wife and her girlfriend decided to check out the strip’s many attractions for a while today so while they spent money and had a blast, I slaved over a hot stove and watched and heard the best music on the planet cook within
ALO began the day with yet another rousing set of fantastic music. I scribbled “Life in a Bottle,” “Just Wastin’ Time,” and a Vegas’ song as the hot trio for the day after a second trip down Shakedown Street in the lot. I bypassed some T-shirt purchases but gobbled some excellent grub and chased them down with my only alcohol for the daytwo beers for, drum roll please, five bucks. The early highlight for the day was ten minutes checking out the Further bus and chatting with one of the enlightened and informative members of the Pranksters. They were in Vegas to enjoy the festival and gather the tribe for the 40th Anniversary of the Acid Trips. Alas, I would miss this great event as my non-writing day job’ called me home early Monday morning. Insensitive bastards.
Magic Numbers offered steely British pop rock that went over very well to jam-encrusted ears. Michael Franti & Spearhead just got everyone up and up and up and up and “How ya feelin’?” on the Sunday afternoon Double Down stadium stage. Franti’s mom was in the front row on this occasion so he was especially energetic throughout. The man is a charismatic icon and he coupled that with humorous abandon that always seems to sooth the weary soul. “I have to laugh. My mom. My mom said that Burning Man used to be cool but, now it’s just a drunken orgy.” The irony was not lost on him, as he knew he was saying this to a crowd that had probably gotten a grand total of three hours and twenty-two minutes sleep the entire Sin City weekend.
The rest of the day and the festival was just plain fucking stupid with WAY too much great music. Umphrey’s McGee in the afternoon? Say it ain’t so. They still cooked despite their own harsh appraisal of their daytime’ performance after an incendiary set at their late night gig on Friday/Saturday. WEEN!!!!!!!! The field was so packed I couldn’t turn around nor did I care. The reunited Meters (am I dreaming?) and the wonderful sonic strands of Jack Johnson. Again kicking some serious ass: moe. and Trey. Panic closing the fest with yet another display of sheer volume and jam bliss. Spoon rocking our collective asses. Flaming Lips doing their own version of circus music and Arcade Fire torched the Jokers Wild stageeffectively closing that glorious location. Lyrics Born and Digable Planets continuing the underrated blitzkrieg from the Clubs Tent.
Vegoose seemed to distill the best of music festivals into a solid valid point: people want to have a good time, take in some sun before winter kicks in, get a buzz, walk around and see the amazing sights like trapeze artists, circus tents, giant pumpkins, near nudity, fine threads and new & weird products, great grub and beer and liquor and smoke-filled glassware and, once again, hear the best music on the planet.
And we did.
The poetic end of the journeyUlysses returns home or just another wild party?
Fast. Really fast. Mosaic whirls of air pearl their way out into gorgeous lines stretching west and east, as the sleek, thin, beast daredevil-dashes across the green grass. “Why is the grass green?” he asks the fellow artist. “Green with envy for those that run across its luxurious span.” Friend has no name, interesting, but he is one of us. Why use the word is’? Was and is and were and are have no meaning in this place. His newfound friendhmmmnew and old have no relevant symbolic place here either. “Brrrrannng.” “WOW!” “You hear that sound?” “Cow singin’, listen.” “Rahrrrrrrrr“ Let’s dance. Symphony of joyous hootenanny. Shake a leg, an arm, wag a panther tail. Tossle a hair, uncurled from locked anal retention to straight and free, shoooshoooshoes off with cascading flourish of strength all the notions of yesterday, today, two months from nowindeed, there is only NOW, and right now hunched, paper thin next to the green, envious grass is a creature of ginseng black paint-stroked grandeur. The fellow artist is teaching the panther how to run. Fast. Really fast. Learning to run. “Ain’t he just the quickest thing you’ve ever seen, Paradise?” “Yes, Cowboy. Indeed, he is.” “Whoosh, right past our baby cheeks. On the road to tomorrow for you n me.” “You see that?” Way off the scale. 70 miles an hour, torpedo great wide open under the lyrical sky that is sad and blue because it don’t have no clue, no how, how to drag itself down onto grass to see this sight. “We must teach the sky how to lick the grass.”