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Published: 2004/12/31
by Benjy Eisen

Vida Blue and the Spam Allstars- Live at the Fillmore

Most events aren’t planned. C’mon, we’re all experienced here. We all know this. We listen to music that embraces risk because we know that only in chance is there a chance of the Big Reward. The Hose. The Pearl. Whatever. Still, there’s something gratifying in recognizing this great notion while Page McConnell sings, "Most events aren’t planned" in the song of the same name. As he sings those words, he grins. So do the other people in the band. Tonight, that band is called "Vida Blue." On any other night, it’s called something else, depending on the musician. If you’re Oteil Burbridge, it’s the Allman Brothers. If you’re Russell Batiste, it’s the Meters. For seven others, it’s the Spam Allstars. And for McConnell, well….

And so anyway, the song lasts nearly 10 minutes. When they’re not playing, the Spam horn section flails and bops and hops around "as the spirit moves." Musicians smile at one another on cue. Although the music is as dense as a continental jungle squeezed into the last remaining warehouse in NYC’s meat-packing district, it is also open and free. It can go anywhere, do anything. No single player dominates, nor do any of them hesitate to step on toes. There is no such thing as "out of turn." Yet, everyone finds space. Everyone is in time. It clicks. It grooves. It works. So Page is grinning.
Moments before the song started, he welcomed famed baseball player Vida Blue to the stage for a quick bow. Page named the band after him with the same serendipitous approach that leads them through their jams and lands them on their feet. Apparently.

Apparently too, and likely another result of serendipity, Page has picked up a rather peculiar hobby demolition derby.
Apparently too, Page likes to vacation in South Beach. This is where he first caught the Spam Allstars and decided, whimsically, that he’d like to record a Vida Blue album with them. Sure, why not? A couple months later, The Illustrated Band was released and (between Phish tours) gigs were scheduled, dates arranged, and a live DVD filmed. Sure, why not.
None of this makes much sense. This all makes perfect sense. Trust me and trust them most events really aren’t planned.
But all of these events come together on Live at the Fillmore as if they were calculated from the start, in a boardroom meeting where Page sat down with fans and asked them, "Do you dig it?" The meeting never happened, of course. But yeah, we dig it.
It goes without saying that if these events were planned, they wouldn’t have worked. Some would argue that they still don’t Phish fans remain about as divided on Vida Blue as the country is between red and blue, except they’re not quite as passionate about their differences.
And yes, Vida Blue still may be the acquired taste that all my sophisticated friends tell me it is. It’s heady fuckin’ music that takes some digesting to sort out. But happenstance and fortune shine on this jewel of a concert film.
The band puts in a fiery performance Oteil Burbridge and Russell Batiste are like the Swiss Army Knife of rhythm sections. Page is back to eagerly exploring different sounds and shades on his keyboards, like he once did with Phish in the mid-90s. And the Spam Allstars add vibrancy and buoyancy. Sure, Adam Zimmon is more of a bar player than a big-ticket guitarist, but he, along with the rest of this "group within a group" bring the vibe. And that’s important, man. Very important. For it turns "Cars, Trucks, and Busses" into a Havana daydream and it takes Vida Blue’s older material for a walk on the topless section of South Beach.
The disc’s bonus material a short "Team Vida Blue Racing" montage and a bonus track from the previous night’s concert are as surprisingly entertaining as the rest of this DVD.

As for me, I’ve seen Vida Blue in concert; I have their albums. They’ve always been capital "O" capital "K" in my book. But Live at the Fillmore is the accidental product that makes all of it click suddenly. Like when peanut butter found jelly.
You know what I’m going to conclude from all of this, right? Why, yes. Most events really aren’t planned. At least, most of the good ones anyway. Live at the Fillmore being one of them.

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