Wednesday April 30
Wednesday April 30
The phone awakes me. It’s Cristina, a New Orleans music journalist with whom I had tentative lunch plans. We head for Uglesich’s or "Uggies" as the locals call it (John Medeski has been known to frequent the joint). The line outside is massive and the hot afternoon sun burns the back of my neck in the 10 minutes or so that we wait. Realizing it could be hours before we get in, we decide on Plan B: Mothers, the legendary sandwich shop famous for its po’boys.
The place is overrun with people and once inside I recognize nearly a dozen familiar faces, both of musicians and fans. There’s a cafeteria-style food line, which moves quickly, as an army of employees takes orders and barks out corresponding names moments later. Every name sounds the same, especially those with only one syllable. "Mark!"... "Tom!"... "Bill!"... "Sue!"... "Jeff!" Somehow, they all sound identical drenched in thick Southern drawl. I sip coffee and gobble down a catfish po’boy alongside Marc Brownstein, who ridicules me for not seeing a Disco Biscuits show in the last five months. "Fuckin’ Waful…"
Red Fish Grill
Enter Relix staffers Jon Schwartz and Sage Litsky, who have just come from the airport and are ravenous. The plan was to hit the world famous Jaques-Imo’s, but we’re told that even with a reservation we could wait for up to two hours for a table. Scratch that idea. A half-hour later, we’re seated in a beautifully decorated room with peach wallpaper and diffused lighting. Schwartz is sucking back a fruity girlie drink called a Hurricane ("dude, it’s strong"), while I opt for a Bloody Mary and Sage orders her third glass of wine. Once again, the food is amazing. I start with crawfish cakes, which are drowned in a sweet mustard cream sauce, and then move on to blackened red fish and oysters. Having grown up on Cape Cod, I’m a bit of a seafood snob, but this is about as good as it gets.
House of Blues
One of the keys to great improvisation is eye contact and Umphrey’s McGee clearly grasps this concept, constantly communicating through facial expressions. The sextet is ripping shit up early, exchanging blistering solos and ensemble textures. The composed sections are dead-on, often comprised of odd-metered melodies, which the group nails seemingly effortlessly. In the back of the room, the band’s lighting director hunches over two consoles, hitting every change in perfect rhythm. Suddenly drummer Kris Myers launches into the double-bass pedal assault of Van Halen’s "Hot for Teacher," as the lights turn red and the crowd erupts. It’s short-lived, only a verse or two, and just minutes later the jam slowly segues into Metallica’s "One" while the small stage fills with ominously swirling fog. A barrage of white strobes distorts my senses and several silhouetted hippies raise their arms, hailing the devil and banging their heads. Later in the set, Umphrey’s covers one of the best tunes of all time, Sting’s "When the World is Running Down." The bass line is downright addictive, outlining a driving three-chord progression, while the processed guitars accent only two chords. During the solo section, I’m convinced that guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger are playing a pre-composed melody, as their parts fit together perfectly. Brendan later tells me it’s all improvisation: "I just look at the shape of Jake’s hand on the fret board and play a third above it."
Andy Gadiel’s rental car
I’m surrounded in the car by fellow Internet geeks Andy Gadiel, Ted Kartzman and Deanne Herman of Jambase. An old friend who I haven’t seen in years is also here, randomly. (In my mind, he’ll always be the guy I ran into at set break of the 8-9-98 Virginia Beach show, when he informed me that "they’re going to do something special for the encore.") Kartzman, a six-year Jazz Fest attendee, pulls a pair of sunglasses from the glove compartment, declaring "I’ll need these later." Indeed, our night has barely begun, with The Disco Biscuits gig slated to start in a couple hours and last until well past dawn. We drop off Deanne at Twi-Ro-Pa for the Garage A Trois show and head for Tips.
Soulive with everyone
I’ve only been in town a week and already I feel like a regular. When I approach the upstairs bar, the friendly bartender greets me with a smile and says, "Sorry Jeff, I’m don’t have any Sierra Nevada tonight." Am I that predictable? I opt for the local brew, an Abita Amber, which more than suffices, especially in the sauna-like conditions of the venue. It’s as packed as I’ve seen it all week and people are dancing their asses off in every nook and cranny. Some dude is even throwin’ down in the bathroom while he waits for a urinal. Soulive is on fire, as usual, powering through upbeat funk and soul numbers that whip the crowd into a frenzy. Alan Evans grabs the mic in between tunes and states, "I think it’s about that time!" John Scofield is then introduced and joins the trio for the next few tunes, going toe to toe with Eric Krasno. During "Hottentot," the stage is flooded with white light, as both guitarists mimic each other’s rousing solos. Before Sco departs, he address the fans: "It’s such an honor to be on stage with these guys. They’re one of the most talented bands on the planet." That’s quite the endorsement. The rest of the show is filled with special guests including Fred Wesley (James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic), trumpeter Nicholas Payton, tenor saxophonist Ryan Zoidis (Lettuce), alto saxophonist Sam Kininger (Lettuce, Soulive) saxophonist Karl Denson and vocalist Ivan Neville. The backstage area is filled with even more well-known musicians that never make it on stage. "This isn’t supposed to be a special guests show," the road manager tells me. Riiiiiight.
The Disco Biscuits
What a well-rounded night of music this is shaping up to be: from prog-rock to funk and now trance-fusion. Just as the venue opens up the balcony, alleviating the overcrowding downstairs, The Biscuits rage into "Run Like Hell" and dready kids everywhere are doing the "Bisco Hop" in the newfound space. The light show is out of control, constantly shifting and strobing, stimulating the altered minds of many in attendance. Somewhere around 5 a.m. I get my second wind as guitarist Jon Gutwillig enters the zone. Eyes closed, shaking his head back and forth, he appears to be letting go for the first time tonight. The music is just flowing through him and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. Midway through "Digital Buddha" everything clicks. Each band member is playing a simple phrase that falls on a different part of the beat, gradually increasing in intensity with every passing measure. As the jam explodes, a friend from New York rushes over and shouts in my ear, "Dude! When you write your diary for the website, just put Sick’ for this…just one word SICK!’" The show as a whole had its ups and downs, but yes my friend, the jam in "Buddha" was sick.
My head hits the pillow and I’m out within seconds.