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Published: 2002/01/02
by Dan Alford

Vida Blue, Roseland, NYC- 12/31

New Year's Eve is an important holiday in the modern
world. There are few occasions left when debauchery
is acceptable, even encouraged, when masks are let
slip and the people behind sneak out to show some raw
excitement and camaraderie. The event is the oft-
mentioned cultural release valve, a time to let the
laws crumble for a few hours so that they can be built
again, the universe rejuvenated. For many it is a
time of introspection, a time to take stock and look
at path traveled, as well as the horizon ahead. For
others it is a new start, a fresh beginning. For most
it is a mixture of the two. Concepts of reflection
and rebirth are primal to the extent that they escape
the word "concept"; they are more deeply ingrained
than any idea, the urges that tug at the outsides of
consciousness, escaping rational thought in favor of
action. People are drawn into themselves and
eventually pulled back into society, very often with
little understanding of the event, but set nonetheless
to begin another revolution. New Year’s Eve is the
modern incarnation of that ancient ritual, the
celebration of crossing over, the celebration of the
cyclical yet entirely organic movement of life.

Beginning in 1991 I established my own ritual for
celebrating NYE, annually joining four guys from
Vermont and thousands of screaming fans to greet the
New Year. In Worcester and Boston and New York and
even a large swamp, it was always the event that
created just the right set of vibrations to help set a
new course for the next 13 lunar cycles, roughly
speaking. And last year, when the ritual was
cancelled, substitution was simply inadequate. Being
more vocally in favor of all things involving Live
Soul Groove than most around here, I was nevertheless
deeply disappointed by a lame and short set by
Soulive, working as the support act for Maceo Parker,
who walked on stage during the then-trio’s set, but
did not play! The year that followed was marred with
a variety of low points, globally, locally, personally
and musically. As such it became nothing less than a
necessity that I joined revelers at the Roseland
Ballroom, a mere ten blocks from the infamous Ball, to
cheer on 2002 from the start with at least one of the
four masters of ceremony from years past.

It was a surreal scene, climbing out of the subway to
barricades, checkpoints ("Where are you headed
tonight, sir?") and clusters of 4 to 8 police officers
every 10 yards. Granted it was still early as we made
our way to the venue, but the emptiness of the streets
and quiet that had settled in the place of taxi cabs
and busses were eerie to say the least. As we turned
onto 52nd street, a building crowd was noticeable in
Times Square itself, but there was certainly a tame
tone in the air. Inside it was much the same, with a
slowly building crowd milling about, sipping champagne
and chatting with friends and neighbors. The opening
act, Ropeadope clan member Kid Koala, took the stage
for 20 minutes or so of record spinning and light
scratching before being joined by his band Bullfrog.
A live music enthusiast through and through, I am
often caught off guard by solo DJ work, unsure how to
approach it. In this case it was particularly
challenging as Koala offered more of a background of
sound than danceable rhythms. It was far from ambient
music though, being comprised of not only
instrumentals, but also vocal tracks from what seemed
to be a sociology class, along with samples from the
Muppet Show and Sesame Street. I settled on the floor
next to the soundboard and watched Paul play with his
CDs.

When the band joined, Koala blended in nicely, adding
effects and scratches to a variety of four to five
minute songs that ranged from standard pseudo-roots
material to slick instrumentals to mellow hip hop
rhymes. They sounded good, tight and focused, but
mellow is the key word. This was not music to get a
crowd charged, but they were greeted warmly
regardless. After the set, Koala remained, spinning
discs for another 15 minutes or so.

Just before Vida Blue began their set, Kuroda finally
strolled past. I was beginning to think he was not
going to add his magic to the night. As much as I
miss Phish musically, I miss Kuroda in a unique way.
It’s easy enough to pop in a favorite Ghost or
Fluffhead, but it’s nearly impossible to be immersed
in light sculptures the likes of which he creates. As
with Phish and Trey’s solo work, Kuroda added to the
overall experience of the evening in ways too subtle
to mention. Well, OK, I can at least mention the
forest of white light shafts mid-way through the set
that kicked randomly, shaft by shaft as Page worked
over the clavinet- that’s the stuff that makes you
smile.

The opening tune included the phrase "waiting
patiently" which pretty much sums it up. The sounds
were very loose and flavored with something of the
Phish ambient jam, only quieter and with less
intention. The first few bars had many in the crowd
swapping glances, 2001 sparkling in their eyes, but it
was not to be. The exiting jam, or perhaps an
instrumental, returned to idea, Page noodling on the
clav and synth as Russell Batiste moved across his
kit. Throughout the show the Meters’ drummer was in
constant motion, relying heavily on the smaller drums
in his kit, washing over them but never playing a real
back beat, nor flying off with arrhythmic structures.
Instead, he produced constant movement, superficially
conservative in range, but subtly intriguing on a
closer listen. He was a very nice addition to the
mix, keeping to music flowing but quickly shifting to
respond to any movement from Oteil or Page- a drummer
who was really listening.

The next tune was also quiet, but had Oteil playing
along with Page’s vocals as he often does with his
own. It was nice effect and it had them both smiling
across the stage. The center of the tune was a short,
but hopping B-3 solo. The following composition was
another techno instrumental, this one a bit more
focused and in the groove. Techno may be a little
misleading, because although the song started with
that notion, it headed into areas more familiar to
MMW. In fact, a good way to characterize Vida Blue’s
overall sound would be a mellower version of Blue
Note’s golden trio, just as loose, but not as
aggressive, blended with the ideas that produced The
Siket Disc. While Trey’s mini-tour in late winter was
exciting, the summer tour lacked some of the magic
potential. In fact the most interesting moments were
when the horns left the stage and the quartet explored
some really fun, quirky areas- but at the time I
couldn’t help thinking that there was another group of
three musicians that could easily make those same
sounds with Trey. Vida Blue’s music, however, was not
something that Phish would have produced, other than
in a Bowie jam. It was Page’s material, and to state
the obvious, lacked Trey’s idiosyncrasies, making it
both familiar and new in a more profound way than
Trey’s solo work.

Page finished the song on the piano, the distinctive
lushness and fluidity of his playing on full display.
Oteil rose up to give one of his patented solos before
stepping back to hand out a heavy bass line, over
which Page through a hailstorm of notes from the
synth. The song can be called Yesterday until titles
are confirmed, as that is the repeated line. It had a
tighter composition than everything that preceded it,
slowing down for the vocals, shared by Page and Oteil,
opening wide for a long jam segment that climaxed with
the beginning segment and returning for the final
verses. As a follow up, they played a tune from the
upcoming Peacemakers album, the song about Oteil
overcoming his wild ways. Having heard it a few times
over the past year, it offered more familiar
territory. It also included a hot Hammond solo and a
fantastic drum solo from Russell.

The trio grooved around on nice NYE jam, Page thanking
everyone for coming and watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’
New Year’s Eve on a small TV. Oteil was digging with
increased ferocity, hunched over and kicking now and
then. Fireworks shot up behind the stage and balloons
and confetti settled on the crowd as the trio made
short work of Auld Lang Syne and plunged into Instant
Karma, an appropriate choice for a young year in a
tense and tender world.

Another instrumental song, perhaps Jam 1 of the MP3
releases, shot off the stage with confidence and was
the best performance of the night. The band was
tight, each musician reacting to his aural
surroundings. Again they left the techno shades,
slipping into a funkier groove, Page prancing on the
clav. The sounds eventually settled into a quieter
zone, where Page moved to the electric piano for an
engaging segment that had wonderful compliments from
Oteil. To end the set the trio played a very pretty
number, filled with advice along the lines of Strange
Design, that included a reference to the band’s
namesake. Without question, the end of the set was
stronger than the beginning- the performance showed
greater focus and direction and energy. While the
earlier material was interesting, the later material
gave me chills.

Of course the encore was an event in itself. The
second the trio walked off the stage, techs pulled one
monitor from behind Oteil’s and another from behind
the drum riser. The crowd went nuts, howling and
whistling, but that didn’t stop anyone from cheering
all the louder as Oteil finished a solo version of
America the Beautiful and Trey and Mike ran on stage.
Mike had a little red guitar and played rhythm for the
most part, busting out a couple lead licks here and
there as the band set out on a lengthy Light Up or
Leave Me Alone. Trey was all smiles as he tore up the
stage with periodic leads, often leaning towards
Oteil, watching the bass man’s enormous hands run
across the fret board. After Page’s solo, Russell and
Oteil dropped out entirely leaving the three members
of Phish to grind out a short but enthralling
rhythm-based jamlet. What a moment!

NYE is an important event. It is important because it
celebrates something that allows people to get out of
bed in the morning and something that, coincidentally,
is central to jam music: potential. It is the
potential inherent not only in the new year, but in
every day, the potential to be a moment of change, of
enlightenment, of history, that urges people to face
the unknown on a daily basis. It is likewise the
potential of every concert to be the best, most
challenging, most cathartic, most exhilarating night
that draws fans back night after night. So to
celebrate the potential of the New Year with music
rife with possibilities, and ultimately to have the
potential partially realized in the form of old
friends, what could be better than that? Happy New
Year!

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