Monday, December 10, 2007

Z is for Zorn

“It’s sorta like jazz, but it’s really hard to explain.”

As I was taking a leak after the show, I heard someone outside the bathroom use the above words in a futile attempt to describe the brilliance he had just witnessed from John Zorn's Celebration Of Light - Bar Kokhba at the Abrons Arts Center. Admittedly, talking about music is like dancing about architecture, and when you encounter a performance this incredible, there are no words that can do justice to such an ingenious work of art. Nevertheless, I’m going to do my best to recount what I experienced last night.

I’m relatively late to the John Zorn party. People I know and respect have raved about him for years, and while I have appreciated the few tracks I’ve heard, I’ve also known that he has a predilection for noisy free jazz, which is not always my cup of tea. That being said, after years of hype from this guy, I decided to suck it up and catch the final performance of the acoustic Masada Quartet at Lincoln Center last March. I was simply riveted by what I saw, particularly the diverse and engaging skills of Joey Baron. Afterwards, I theorized “this Zorn guy is pretty good.”

The Abrons Arts Center is located in the middle of nowhere in a weird, isolated, desolate section of Manhattan near the Lower East Side and Chinatown that resembles the Land That Time Forgot. The building has a couple of different theaters, and this particular one was perfect with stellar acoustics and sightlines, holding only 200 people. Two days ago, the venue was only half sold, but there must have been a mad rush of last-second patrons because by 8:05, there were no seats to be had, and people were parking their asses in the aisles. I grabbed a perfect spot, dead center in the small balcony, which gave the ideal vantage point to observe Zorn interacting with his band of merry men.

Oh, yes. The band.

Four major reasons why I had a hunch this show would kick ass were: guitarist Marc Ribot, percussionist Cyro Baptista, drummer Joey Baron, and bassist Greg Cohen. I was unfamiliar with cellist Eric Friedlander and violinist Mark Feldman, but their names would soon be written into the hallowed “Never Miss These People Live” scroll, which resides in my cerebrum.

My adviser, Dr. Wheelwright, had informed me that this music would be nothing like the wild sonic explorations of the Masada Quartet, as the evening was billed as the “world premiere of new compositions from Zorn's Book of Angels (Masada Book Two)." Little did I know that this work would produce so much positive energy that it felt downright medicinal. I had read some cockamamie description of this music that included so many different genres that it just sounded fake and unrealistic. Truthfully, I had no idea what to expect, but from the first notes, I knew Zorn was about to take us on a wild adventure.

The only legitimate word I can use to describe these compositions is “cinematic,” as Zorn paints these lush, vivid, detailed landscapes and then he sends you flying through them on the back of a magic carpet. Never before have I heard instrumental music so immensely visual, and at times, I felt as if Zorn was saying, “Eat your heart out, Dvorak!” The sounds were gorgeous, smooth, and incredibly accessible, and like the description I had read earlier, the music did indeed draw upon film scores, klezmer, surf rock, classical, jazz, blues, latin, and a host of other now meaningless categories. Musically, you could never say that a song belonged to only one of these genres, as it was always an enthralling, simultaneous amalgamation of three or four or five different types of music that worked beautifully in conjunction with one another. Thematically, there did seem to be a slight undercurrent of the self-deprecating Jewish sense of humor that weaved its way through each work, an effect occasionally emphasized by a laughter-provoking turn from Baron’s Chaplinesque stumbling across his kit or Baptista’s punctuation with a quirky percussive instrument that seemed to ask “Why me?” The images created in my mind were also a lot of fun, as one song had me envisioning a derringer-toting, trenchcoat-wearing Hasidic Jew riding a surfboard in an outtake from the forgotten James Bond film, Goldsteinfinger. Another favorite image appeared in a later song as Vida Guerra crashed an Orthodox wedding and danced the Lambada with the men, who were so mesmerized by her sumptuous curves that they did the forbidden dance and later ate the forbidden fruit: bacon, sweet bacon.

Throughout the entire performance, the audience sat transfixed, rapt with attention on the edge of their seat, eagerly awaiting the thrilling new direction conductor Zorn would lead them on this engrossing journey. Everything was so quiet that you could even hear the musicians whispering between songs. The only bad vibe in the room was created by the tool behind me, who (somewhat understandably) wanted to snap along to the songs. It wasn’t that he was off the beat, it was just that Baron and Baptista were much more talented percussionists than he. However, after 13 seconds of a lacerating, soul-crushing stare, I convinced him to abandon his musical dreams and retreat back to his lonely life as an administrative assistant.

As far as the musicians go, Cohen was rock solid, laying down amazing grooves that fueled every exploration. Baron and Baptista worked brilliantly in tandem with Baron often resorting to mind-bogglingly complex fills as Baptista found the ideal beats to compliment on a bevy of lighthearted instruments that would typically produce grins throughout the hall. Feldman and Friedlander each oozed tremendous emotion from their strings and also showed an impressive virtuosity with their fingerpicking. Ribot was usually the man in charge of making the tunes groovy, bringing that 1960s secret-agent flair to the compositions and creating an enticing air of mystery that lurked around each corner. Technically, he did some amazing things, including one moment when he went on a rapid diminuendo that got so soft that his amp was suddenly inaudible and you could only hear the sound of his pick hitting the strings before quickly rising back up to full volume. Tying all of this together was Zorn, who would conduct as if he were holding a sock puppet on his hand. Each little bite into the air would drill an accent or theme change, and he would sculpt the improvisations by tweaking and massaging the accompanying musicians. He was a wonder to watch, and it was obvious that he and all the guys on stage were enjoying this every bit as much as those of us wearing shit-eatin’ grins in the audience.

Every song seemed to finish on such a warm and happy note, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve attended a seated show that produced such an overwhelming sense of joy in the house. After the final tune, the place erupted into a raucous standing ovation. This was not one of your typical we’re-clapping-because-it’s-our-job-in-this-charade-to-bring-you-back-out-for-the-pre-planned-encore situations. Nay, the audience was demanding an encore. The reaction went from loud to explosive, and no one was leaving until we had another taste from the buffet of good vibes that Zorn was serving. When he brought everyone back out to triumphant applause, Zorn yelled, "a whole set of material learned in one day by these fucking geniuses!" If this was true, and I have no doubt that it was, I’m stunned. The level of virtuosity on this stage was unparalleled, and to think that everyone had just learned these complex charts in one day is just…just…hbfnagvzlwdroaonesdgjnaejnrglaenrgaredmghmzsqplkarejghjaer!*

* - I just searched Roget’s for a half an hour, and I can’t come up with a word for this. “Mindboggling,” “shocking,” or “Earthshaking” are all way too tame.

I bounded out of this theater with much more than a mere spring in my step. Great art often makes you question your own life, but sometimes great art makes you feel lucky to be alive. Last night was definitely a case of the latter, an irony underscored by the fact that I felt years of my life flying away while sitting in Katz’s and recounting the show with Dr. Wheelwright over an artery-cloggingly delicious pastrami sandwich.


This video is of this ensemble from a while ago. While it’s nowhere as good as I what I witnessed, it does give you a feel for their sound. Listen to this, and multiply the excellence factor times ten, and you might have some idea of what I experienced on Saturday.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween From Both Sides

I had been planning this costume for a few months, and when Phil Lesh announced he was playing a show on Halloween, I knew this would be the ideal show for it. I spent 6 weeks growing a beard for this occasion, which was not really a chore for me, as I am a direct genetic descendant from neanderthals; hence, my love of meat and natural fur coat.

Okay, so this is nothing out of the ordinary...

Yes, Brian, we've seen that side of you, too...


You would not believe how many people didn't even notice. Granted, Halloween in New York is kind of redundant because we all see freaks on a daily basis, but unless you were looking at me head-on, you probably wouldn't realize that you were looking at two different people.

This costume fulfilled a life-long desire to walk the streets with half a beard. Now I have essentially run out of facial hair styles to try. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

During the concert, I would be dancing next to people, and they'd have no idea. If they were on my right, they just thought I was another Deadhead. If they were on my left, they just thought I was some tool who came straight from work. Then I would turn around and blow their mind. A lot of people were very confused.

However, I must have had at least 10 different guys come up to me and say, "I get it. You're me! I understand how it is!" Obviously, there are many business folk who live the secret life of a Deadhead.

As an added touch, I only wore deodorant on my left side.

I never really came up with a name for this costume, aside from calling myself a "Split Personality." Seeing as how this was a jamband show, some ideas I had were:

"Two Souls in Communion"
"Two Versions of Me"
"Evolution of the Species"
"Blue State/Red State"
"Good vs. Evil"
"Andy Cahn vs. Mitch Cahn"

Oh yeah, I only shaved half my neck.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

3 Firsts: Pies 'n Thighs->Warsaw->Wilco

After a quick post-work visit to a friend and having a small sample of a very tasty blueberry, I made my way to Hipsterville. I'd never been to this part of Williamsburg before, and the conditions were right to enjoy a nice walk through the neighborhood. Following weeks of unusually cool weather, the heat felt nice, especially the warmth of the bright orange setting sun baking my skin as I descended 5th St. toward the East River.

I found Pies & Thighs, and the reviews were correct in that it was easy to miss. Heading into the sweltering, dingy former beer closet that was a haven for freeloading flies, I surveyed the menu and ordered the pulled pork sandwich with the spicy mac 'n cheese and a mint limeade. (I had considered the cheesy grits, but the guy at the counter strongly suggested I'd be a bloody fool to pass up on the mac.) There was no one else there at 7:00, so I took my seat outside in the courtyard surrounded by beautiful barbed wire.

Shortly thereafter, my food arrived. The mint limeade was essentially a virgin Mojito, which was both a blessing and a curse because it had great flavor but made me long for Demon Rum. At first glance, the spicy mac 'n cheese looked pretty weak. "All they did was pour some Tabasco on it," I thought. One bite and I realized that was only the half of it. The macaroni was nestled in a mild and creamy roux that was well accented by piquant little spices, and the Tabasco was there for added kick. Speaking of kick, this dish had it and then some. First, I tasted the mild, cheesy blend, and then the spices began to slowly kick in before the Tabasco worked its magic. The whole dish really progressed in three steps: mellow, a spicy finish, and then a significantly spicier kick in the balls. Getting kicked in the ‘nads never felt so good.

The pulled pork was Carolina style and heavily soaked in vinegar, which bothers some people but not me. It was also flecked with crushed red pepper, adding yet another layer of heat to the plate. As I alternated between the spicy mac and bits of the peppery pulled pork, beads of sweat began to cascade down my scalp. The pork sat on a plain white bun and the top half had a spread of some creamy and tart coleslaw and two of those neon green pickles, the kind that make Jews cringe but somehow work wonders in barbecue and Southern cuisine. Just as the reviews had advertised, after letting the pork sit on the bun for several minutes, the bun became soaked with precious pork juice and nearly dissolved. Oh, the magic of pork juice!

Mark, Jim, and Curtis arrived and dug into their food. I tried the potato salad, which was some of the better potato salad I’ve ever tasted with a lot of fresh dill, but it wasn’t good enough that I’d advise choosing it over the mac. The pinto beans had some hunks of pork and bacon in there, but I would have preferred more smokiness. The little bit of fried chicken I tried was pretty good, although it was not in the same league as the incredible stuff I’ve tasted at Fiorella’s in New Orleans. I had wanted to try either the revered Key Lime or Peanut Butter Pie for dessert, but they were all out of each, so I opted for the Chocolate Chess Pie, which was silky, smooth, and deliciously creamy. Naturally, Curtis brought a cooler full of Hoegaardens, and we drank them outside in plastic cups. Since the Rock Star Bar that is connected to Pies ‘n Thighs lets you get your beer in a go cup, we probably weren’t supposed to bring our own, but no one cared because we were the only ones there for a while. The location under the Williamsburg Bridge was so desolate that we wouldn’t see a single car or person pass by for several minutes at a time.

We then made our way to the Warsaw and surprisingly found nearby parking with relative ease. The search on the way in consisted of one Polish security guard shining a flashlight and asking people to remove stuff from random pockets. He really wasn’t very thorough, and as long as you pulled something out of your pocket, he didn’t seem to care what else was in there. Inside, there was just about zero visible security presence, which was appropriate because for the most part, this crowd was way too cool to be worried about breaking the law.

This was my first visit to the Warsaw, and I really dug the space, a small, fairly drab ballroom (I think it holds 600) with a stage that reminded me of an elementary school multipurpose room because of its plain, beige curtains, rudimentary lighting, and American flag off to the side. The lonely macramé owl who hung on the back curtain only added to this elementary school effect. The Warsaw definitely had a spartan Old World feel, and almost everyone working there had a thick Polish dialect. As an added bonus, draft beers were only $4, the cheapest in-concert beers I’ve ever seen, beers that practically begged you to drink them. They weren’t bad either, especially the I.P.A. from the Somethingorother Brewery. There was a presumably Polish beer on tap, as well.

On this night of firsts, I would be losing my Wilco cherry. To make the situation even more unique, I was almost entirely unfamiliar with Wilco’s music, a statement that is somewhat remarkable considering the fact that nearly everyone I know is ankles-over-ears lusting after this band. I know and love Mermaid Avenue, but that album is more about Billy Bragg and Woodie Guthrie’s lyrics than Wilco. For some reason, once the crazed hype began around the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I shied away from them and somehow managed to stay away. Sure, friends had played a couple of songs here and there, and I had liked everything I had heard, but I never really sat and intensely listened to any of their work. My ignorance was partly the result of my mistrust of everything considered “indie rock,” a faux genre of music that is neither indie nor rocking. Heading into this concert, I was pretty sure that I would only recognize one song: “Handshake Drugs.” I thought these circumstances would put me in a very unique position to appreciate the show because my judgment would not be clouded by the dreaded double-pronged spectre of familiarity and bias.

Right from the start, I was very impressed. The band was incredibly tight and rocked hard-— real hard. The three guitars scorched, and Nels Cline was truly ripping. Without having any real familiarity with their music, I thought I heard some segue-ways between songs, although these could have been different movements of one song. In either case, the crowd applauded all of these smooth transitions. Speaking of the crowd, I really, really loved them. I was shocked at how silent the room got. I mean, it was quiet-- not just quiet for New York (which doesn’t get quiet for anyone), but it was quiet for Nordkapp, Norway. If people weren’t silent, they were singing along—with fairly credible pitch! It was so refreshing to be amongst fellow music snobs who were focused on the art being crafted on stage, but it also felt a little odd, as if I were the only real “non-fan” in attendance, sneaking amongst the hardcore groupies.

“Handshake Drugs” was great in every way that I expected it to be, and I surprisingly recognized “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” which were both excellent. By the time the second encore began, I had retreated to the air conditioned bar because I was getting a little wobbly in the heat. Then I saw these lovely Polish ladies selling pierogies. Did I need to eat pierogies on top on all of the fattening pork and mac and pie and beer I’d already ingested? No, I didn’t, but fuck you, I’ll eat whatever I damn well please. I entered this evening with every intention of undoing all the good I’ve done in my recent trips to the gym, and nothing would stand between me and my goal. By the way, I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, a notorious pierogie haven, but these were the best damn pierogies I’ve ever tasted. That being said, anything slathered in butter tastes good after six beers.

I really enjoyed the tremendous passion Wilco brought to the stage. In my mind, their performance was somewhat like a well-rehearsed play: I got the sense that they weren’t truly improvising, yet they were so committed to their music that it sounded as if they were creating this music for the first time. They seemed to get a kick out of playing a small venue in Brooklyn for a predominantly local crowd, and they really gave it their all.

No doubt about it-- I am now a fan. I will probably get their albums and assimilate into the mainstream. It’s an awful fate, but I have little choice. Even the pretentious must eventually cave in when faced with sheer musical talent.

I hate you, Wilco. I compromised my principles for you, and now you’re making me into a whore.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Price Is Right - The Final Chapter

I am home from work and wearing my bathrobe, perfect viewing conditions for the final TPIR. (Note: the show will be re-broadcast this evening from 8-9 E.S.T.)

11:00 AM - The crowd is going apeshit. The audience is going berserk. My favorite guy is Francisco who is wearing a Grateful Dead Bear tie-dye and looks like he is tripping his balls off.

11:03 - Denise, an extremely excitable woman who looks like she is about to burst has the honor of playing the first game, Lucky Seven, for A NEW CAR! It's a corvette. YES! She won the fucking car on the last number. Oh, this is gonna be a great day.

11:07 - Bob recognizes Philip from the line outside. Philip has been waiting five days and now he's on contestant's row. Katrina Walter just got called to come on down and she's crying. A Barker's Beauty is showing off an expensive necklace, but I can't bring myself to look up that high. I'm bidding on the silicone.

11:09 - Bob says, "You can expect this audience to explode when Rich says...You're playing PLINKO!" FUCK YEAH! Plinko never comes this early. Oh, a wonderful day is upon us.

11:11 - She's got 5 chips...$ close and a zero...another $500...another zero...$500...What a friggin disappointment. I don't know if I can go on with this. This was the moment I was really looking forward to today, and now I'm crushed. I feel very sorry for Katrina, who was wearing the Plinko Princess t-shirt but never got to play. She could have done a better job.

11:16 - Francisco, the tripping Deadhead, is up to play The Range Game for a new Ski Boat. It's a tough game. I don't like his chances. He's gonna be distracted by the colors.

11:17 - Everyone is screaming at him to stop it, and...HE DOES IT JUST IN TIME! He won the boat. This guy is jumping around like a monkey. Fantastic.

11:20 - Promotional consideration has been paid for by Beano. Beano, making your farts silent and scent-free for years.

11:21 - It's a young crop of wheel spinners here. Kristen gets 85 cents on two spins. I like her odds.

11:22 - Francisco is totally distracted by the spinning wheel. He doesn't get enough on two spins, and he's totally disoriented, walking in circles before being escorted off stage. I'll miss him.

11:23 - Denise gets 85 cents, and we have a playoff, folks!


11:25 - No dice on the bonus spin, but I am still floating on Cloud 9.

11:26 - Dean Lindstrom, a big dude, gets called from the back and then takes a massive faceplant in the aisle. He recovers to run down to Contestant's Row and announce, "I"m a big guy!"

Yeah, we noticed.

11:27 - Dean has the best bid, and we learn he's Canadian. Bob talks about how TPIR has always been popular in Canada. Dean's up for a new car, playing Double Prices. Bob is teasing us by not revealing the price and asking questions. Oh, Bob, stop fiddling aboot and get on with it.

11:28 - DEAN WINS THE CAR! Incredible. This is an amazing day so far.

11:29 - My roommate reminds me that the Palestinian government was dissolved yesterday. I remind her that TPIR played Plinko today. I need to take a break to make a foie gras and truffle sandwich with a side of caviar.

11:31 - Melva, who has an enormously long pony-tail, wins the bidding on the motorcycle. She is a crying spaz who is trying to molest Bob. She cannot stop shrieking. If I kick my television will she shut up?

11:34 - Melva craps out on the Grocery Game, which kinda surprised me because I didn't think she'd stop shrieking long enough to formulate a single word. After she loses, she thanks Bob and says, "This has been my lifelong dream to be on your show."

Aim high, Melva. Aim high.

11:37 - Rich calls down a guy named Elijah. Now if he ran in with long white hair, holding a cup of Manischewitz, I'd shit myself. Instead, he's just an overenthusiastic frat-boy. I wonder if he'll win the bidding on a pair of Dave Matthews tickets?

11:38 - Philip is the winner, and he's playing for...A NEW CAR! CBS is gonna be bankrupt by the end of this show.

11:39 - Any Number is the game. It's a car vs. board games vs. the piggy bank. Philip is doing well with only one number left in the price of the car...

11:40 - Philip guesses 3...and it's wrong. Wah-wah-wah-waaaaaahhhh. He won the shitty piggy bank. This sucks.

11:43 - Showcase Showdown time-- for the last time ever with Bob's steady hand. Philip gets 55 cents, and wisely decides to press his luck, hitting 25 cents for 80 cents total.

11:44 - Melva nearly dies in two spins of the wheel. Both times she nearly hits her head on the spinning wheel. She only hits 70 cents and escapes unscathed. Dean, the big guy with the propensity for falling down, gives the wheel one massive fucking spin. Bob suggests we take a commercial break as we wait. He takes a second massive spin and says hi to some folks in B.C. (I hope he thanked his grower.) Bob suggests he had time to say hi to everyone he knows. At times like these, I always wanted to see the wheel come flying off its axis, crashing into the audience and mowing down some Californians.

Unfortunately, that does not happen. Philip is the winner.

11:45 - Ah, a pet medicine commercial from Betty White. Love those Golden Girls.

11:49 - The Final Showcase with Bob

Showcase #1 is based on a "Saint" theme, including a Saint Martin vacation, and St. Patrick's Day vacation to Ireland, and "your friends will think you're a saint if you take the kids to soccer practice in a new Lincoln Navigator!" It's a giant showcase, and Denise, who notes she has already won a car, shockingly passes to Philip, who bids $61,000.

11:51 - Showcase #2 is all about waiting in the dentist's office WTF, right? The one Barker's Beauty remembers she left her new Electric Grill on. The second silicone wonder remembers she's supposed to be on a Mediterranean cruise. The third hottie remembers she has a coupon for a car wash for...her new Cadillac Convertible! This would be a nice pair of cars for Denise, who has already won a Corvette. She bids $84,823. I think that bid is higher than I ever was while watching this show in college.

Commercial Break. Tension mounts...

11:55 - Actual retail price for Denise's showcase is 90-something. Philip is under by 7 grand or so. Denise wins by about 2 grand. Denise wins more than $140,000 in prizes! Incredible. Enjoy paying those taxes, Denise!

11:56 - Bob gives the final sign-off. It's not quite as emotionally cathartic as I had expected. He's straightforward and thanks everyone for welcoming him into their homes for the last 50 years. (Thank you, Bob. I don't think I'll ever call in sick from work again. What would I do?) He closes like he always does, advising us to help control the pet population and have our pets spayed and neutered.

And with that, I hear a stray in my backyard. If you'll excuse me, I need to go cutoff that cat's balls.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Phil Lesh 4-9-07 or Waiting For Godot

Phil Lesh & Friends
SOB's - New York, NY 4/9/07

(seltist from very generous annotators on

Set 1:
Funky Jam>
Big River
Built To Last
Let It Ride

Set 2:
Shakedown Street
Tumbling Dice
McCray intros the band
Gentleman Start Your Engines>
Spacey Jam>
7 Minutes to Radio Darkness>
Elevator St Stephen>
Not Fade Away

Intros/Donor Rap

enc: Turn On Your Lovelight

Estragon: Charming spot. Inspiring prospects. Let's go.
Vladimir: We can't.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We're waiting for Godot.

It was hard to ignore the impending sense of dread many felt walking into this show. On one hand, I thought that I may have just been acting like an unappreciative, jaded New Yorker. After all, I was one of the lucky 400 people who had clicked fast enough to get this impossible ticket (which was inexplicably being sold for $500 on Craigslist and went for $300 cash in front of the club). But on the other hand, I couldn't forget the fact that Phil's shows in the past year have been missing more than hitting, and the band's success has become more and more reliant on high profile guest sit-ins. Phil has moved from the stellar lineup of the PLQ to a downward spiral of B-list and C-list supporting players, and it's been kind of sad to watch, especially since rumor has it that such personnel decisions are more financial than artistic. That being said, this was Phil Lesh I was going to see, and the man is always risky, so anything could happen.

The real wildcard in this lineup was Larry McCray, and I had no idea what a bluesman might bring to the table, so that was appealing. Plus, John Molo was going to be toting the rock behind the kit, and he’s always a bonus. It was enough to make me forget that the forgettable Larry Campbell and Steve Molitz were also on board.

After an approximate 8:20 start, it was evident that Molo was not there, and his chair would be filled by Jaz Sawyer.

Boy: (in a rush). Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won't come this evening but surely tomorrow.

Later, we would learn that Molo had a bad bout of food poisoning and was incapacitated for the night, so this guy with an obvious jazz background stepped in two hours before the show. It’s never good when the evening begins with an ominous sign like food poisioning.

The opening jam was your typical mush that doesn't go anywhere, but it was okay because they were warming up. “Birdsong” continued to signify that something didn’t sound right, although Phil’s vocals were surprisingly decent. When "Althea" began, McCray sang, and people appreciated hearing a genuine, bonafide singer in this outfit. He was also sounding rather ballsy in his playing, and it seemed as though he was being asked to take the lead. This was a good thing because Larry Campbell plays with all the aggressiveness and ferocity of a neutered manatee. Listen, I'm not a Campbell hater because I loved what he did with Dylan. I just really haven't heard him do a damn thing with Phil. I keep waiting for him to do something noteworthy (and I did a lot of waiting on this evening), but each milquetoast solo continually reinforces the fact that he can't seem to rise above the role of sideman.

At this point, I realized that the drum situation was going to be a problem. It's not that the drummer was bad because he wasn’t bad at all. It's just that he didn't jell with the freewheeling jam-friendly demands of this music. He also didn't seem too familiar with the Grateful Dead repertoire, and after he succeeded in laying a funkier beat on "Althea," his ideas didn't seem to mesh well. The drummer needs to be the metronome in Phil's band, but when the drummer doesn't know what's coming next...Houston, we have a problem.

Vladimir: What are we doing here, that is the question.

“Big River” was uneventful, aside from the fact that Campbell’s square vocals made this the first time that anyone actually sang the words “Saint Lewis” (instead of “Saint Louie”) in this tune. In truth, everything was rather uneventful at this point, but now it was going to start getting quite eventful, although these were not the kind of events you look forward to experiencing.

“Built to Last” was an odd choice for McCray to sing. It was evident that he was not at all familiar with the song, and he botched the vocals badly. He was trying to follow the sheet music, but he was visibly confused and frustrated. He was nowhere near the mark, and it showed. Like a sheep crying out in the night, this song was baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

Vladimir: A—. What are you insinuating? That we've come to the wrong place?

Why McCray was asked to sing a very obscure work from the Dead’s least prolific era, a song that he clearly did not know, was beyond me. Flustered, his playing and confidence began to suffer for the remainder of the show, despite the crowd and Phil’s good-natured efforts to pump him up. The show had gone from flat to bad, and the “Let It Ride” that followed did not redeem the abbreviated and tremendously unfulfilling set.

Setbreak is when shellshock set in. I had seen frustrating Phil shows before, but I had never seen anything like this. The band was not together, there were no transitions at all, and McCray and Sawyer were being asked to play tunes that were almost entirely unfamiliar to them. Instead of letting the rookie quarterbacks shake off their rocky start with some easy dumpoffs (standard covers) or screen passes (bluesy Pigpen numbers), Coach Phil kept attempting gadget plays (Built to Friggin’ Last?) and deep routes (a Ryan Adams song?). This was not a good gameplan.

We were in bar watching a bar band trudge through covers that leaned heavily on the Grateful Dead songbook. All of of this was heard for a mere $50 cover charge. Yes, this was the most expensive bar band in New York City.

Those around me quickly agreed that we were witnessing an unprecedented display of mediocrity from Phil Lesh and Friends. One guy decided to buy a t-shirt as a souvenir of the band’s newfound low point. Of course, this being a Dead alumni show, the lemmings were out in full force, tickled pink to hear a song they could sing along with (no matter how badly the vocals were being shanked). Oblivious to what was being played, their sentiment seemed to be “Would it be better to sit and sulk at home over the fact that Jerry’s been dead for 12 years?” I find such bizarre logic to be depressing because this music was not good.

Vladmir: The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener. At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on.

Set Two began and I held out hope for improvement, waiting for something good to happen.

Estragon: Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.

“Shakedown Street” started funky, and Sawyer felt comfortable. McCray seemed like he was doing okay for a few minutes, but then he got completely lost with the vocal lines, and he had no idea where to go before the song abruptly ended with a thud. The same held true for “Loser.” It was not pretty.

Vladimir: What do you do when you fall far from help?
Pozzo: We wait till we can get up. Then we go on. On!

Suddenly, redemption seemingly arrived in the form of a familiar Stones riff. “Tumbling Dice” began, and it was evident that everyone felt comfy. McCray was especially in the groove, relishing the vocals and guitar lines. It was here that I learned that Christina Durfree was singing backup vocals in the band. All night long, she had been stationed behind a support pillar, so I couldn’t see her. Up until this point, I couldn’t hear her either, but when she sang “You got to roll me,” that was her first and only contribution of the night. I am not kidding. Those five words were the only time her vocals were audible throughout the evening. Speaking of, the sound was embarrassingly bad, with a very weak P.A. that featured no backup vocals, no keyboards, and not enough bass. On the plus, side drinks cost 10 bucks and bottles of water were $4, so it was a great venue for a show!

“Tumbling Dice” was the first adequate number of the night. It really was adequate and not much more. People will say it was awesome because it was unexpected, and it was the first time the band sounded like a band, but it was still nothing special. It only looked awesome in comparison to the crap that had preceded it.

Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

After the song ended, McCray took an impromptu moment to introduce the band. A bandmember jumping on the mic to start talking was definitely out-of-character for Phil Lesh and Friends, but McCray’s candor and attitude was refreshing. Then he genuinely thanked Phil and the crowd for the opportunity to play this music. He also admitted that he was "hanging on by the seat of (his) pants" and he didn't "really know what (he was) doing up here." I am not kidding when I say this, but this thank you was the highlight of the night, which is both a testament to McCray’s heartfelt sincerity and the crowd’s appreciation, as well as the overwhelming mediocrity of the evening’s music.

“Gentlemen Start Your Engines” and the spacey jam that followed were a return to the blahs. I had noticed that almost no one was really dancing this evening. Some people were bobbing their head and one dude was obnoxiously clapping, but that was it. This music wasn’t moving us.

That being said, there was some excitement in the air, as someone was apparently outside selling balloons on the sidewalk. How this was happening without the knowledge of the NYPD was beyond me. I never thought I'd see the day when people would walk out of a Phil show for the chance to huff some Argon in 35 degree weather, but it apparently happened.

You know something is fucked up at a Phil show when you’re psyched to hear the Particle tune. “Elevator” was Molitz’ first and only chance to play some audible notes, and he went full bore with weird synth effects. Campbell actually held his own on some decent guitar lines, Sawyer laid down a decent groove, and the band had a credible trance thing happening. Of course, it was a trance, so it was incredibly repetitive and relatively uneventful, but the whole jam was still a welcome escape from the rest of the night’s boredom.

When “St. Stephen” began, two very odd things occurred. One, the intro was destroyed and they started over. Two, this was the only time in my life that I heard the opening notes to “St. Stephen” and thought “No, please don’t play this song!” I was deathly afraid of what McCray and Sawyer might do to this classic. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it was very rough. Mike and I then began debating whether or not they would throw the entire show in the shitter by attempting to tackle “The Eleven,” which would surely be the trainwreck of trainwrecks. (We actually envisioned a worse-case scenario where they would attempt King Solomon’s Marbles>Slipknot!>The Eleven.) Thankfully, it did not come to pass.

However, Phil attempted to transition into “Not Fade Away,” but Sawyer was confused and everyone stopped playing. Molitz then banged out the riff and a slow recovery was made. Again, NFA was quite lackluster and just didn’t have much juice. The wind had already come out of their sails.

Estragon: Nothing to be done.
Vladimir: I'm beginning to come round to that opinion.

Before the encore, Phil made a point to tell everyone that this group had only one day of rehearsal and Sawyer only had two hours to learn the music. (Believe me, it showed on all fronts.) It was almost as if he was admitting, “Yeah, I know this kinda sucks, but we’ll get better tomorrow.”

“Turn On Your Lovelight” was a good choice for McCray, and he handled the vocals well, although the song was very short, and like everything else over the course of the night, lacked real fire or grit.

I’ve seen less-than-stellar Phil shows, and I’ve seen some bad Phil shows (featuring Paul Barrere and Billy Payne or Barry Sless and Campbell), but this was clearly the worst of the lot. It wasn’t so much that the bad parts were horrible, it was more about everything being so damn dull and pointless. Even those lousy shows in the past had some true peaks, but this show had no peaks at all, just a lot of low plateaus and valleys. I can’t fault McCray and Sawyer because they tried hard, but they were both out of their element and were too unfamiliar with the music to succeed in their roles. Phil could have made it easier by tweaking the setlist to play to their strengths, but he went the opposite way, and they couldn’t really handle it.

Perhaps tomorrow will be better, especially if Molo recovers from his encounter with bad sushi. However, I don’t know that one day of rehearsal will cause a miracle here. Of course, rumors abound for Tuesday’s show, citing possible sit-ins from everyone from Warren Haynes to Trey Anastasio to Elijah. (Word has it that all three will be free after sundown.) Truthfully, I don’t know if such prospects will be enough to lure me back for one more night. I just kept waiting for something to happen on Monday, but Godot never arrived.

Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.

They do not move.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Mardis Gras Blog!

Okay, it took me a while, but it's all here. I originally attempted to blog in New Orleans, but technical difficulties killed that idea, so I took some time to compile detailed accounts of everything I could remember, especially every last morsel of pork.

It's all here chronological order, so you can can just start at the top and read on down.

Thanks to everyone who provided the great photos I've posted.


My Gumbo Is Getting Cold...

I was all excited to arrive in New Orleans in time for a nice lunch at Gumbo Shop. Then I got to the Philly airport at 7:45 and saw the largest line ever inside. People were snaked everywhere, and there was no room to move. It was ridiculous, so I went outside into the balmy 13 degree air to wait in a much shorter line for the skycap. 10 minutes later, he's telling me that there's something wrong. "Your flight is restricted. Come with me." We went inside and he told me to wait in front of the monitors. He walked off with my I.D. I didn't like sound of this at all. So I waited...and waited...and waited...and stared at the monitor, which indicated that the flight to Nola was on schedule. After an eternity, he returned and said, "Your flight has been cancelled. You're on Standby for the 11:00, but she says it looks good." Ugh.

I walked to the B1 gate for the Standby flight, but I was way early and there was another flight waiting, so I walked down to the gate with the original 9:30 Nola flight, Gate B16, conveniently located at the furthest possible point in the terminal. Gate B16 & the monitors both showed that the 9:30 flight was still on. WTF??? Passengers at the gate thought that the flight was still on. Of course, there was no one from USAir around. Eventually, someone got through on the phone and learned that the flight was originating in Buffalo, but they decided to skip Philly and fly straight to New Orleans. Makes sense to me. Why would they want to stop in Philly to pickup the people who paid for a flight to New Orleans? (Later I learned that this Buffalo flight had an entire 7 people on it. Friggin brilliant.) Back to B1.

After waiting for about 20 minutes, the man at the B1 counter, an “I’ve-seen-it-all-before” kinda guy named Geno, tells the Standbys that the 11:00 is fully booked and we'd have to wait. Oh yeah, because of sheets of ice that keep remelting and refreezing, the flight is now changing to gate B4. Before we leave, this one Nola native asks him to check on the status of our original 9:30 flight because she had been told it was rescheduled for 10:45. She's a little stressed because she flew into Harrisburg yesterday for a brief work trip and when she tried to drive back to the airport, traffic ground to a halt at the exit ramp and she missed her flight, as she was stuck for hours. She had driven to Philly and needed to get back to Nola because her guests were arriving before she was.

There were a few characters in our similar predicament, including a doe-eyed blonde, two beaded partying guys who looked like Jazzfest vets, and a guy who was turning 50 running around barking into his bluetooth headset with his kid in tow. Normally, I would hate a guy like this with his mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion, but there was something about his I-will-break-your-balls aura that I found charming. Anyway, the guy at the B1 desk says the 9:30 flight is rescheduled for 10:45, so we all trudge back to B16. The clerk at B16 is an ass. He looks like he could care less about anyone or anything. He is inattentive. Quite frankly, it is not his problem. He is an embarassment to customer service professionals everywhere. I hate him.

After a lengthy delay that involved a lot of mashing of keys, a phone chat with a friend, and some odd squatting behind the desk, he tells beaded partying guy #1 that he's in. Beaded partying guy #2? You're shit outta luck. There are 10 Standby seats, and he's #14. This does not look good. Doe-eyed blonde is in the same boat. Then I get the same spiel. I calmly ask what happened, and I'm told that when I was put on Standby for the 11:00 flight, I lost my seat. I explain that I purchased a seat for 9:30 and was never given a choice for Standby, as the Standby ticket was just given to me by the skycap with no other option. He doesn't care. The Nola-native-stuck-on-the-Harrisburg-exit-ramp woman is next and she magically gets her seat, despite being in the exact same predicament I was in. Okay, keep it together, Brian...

So then guy with mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion steps up and gets rebuffed, as well. I don't feel so bad until he asks Mr. Aloof clerk to check on something in his account. Suddenly, he gets tickets. Obviously, guy with mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion is some sort of VIP. I don't like him anymore. Now I am pissed, so I go back to the side of the counter and ask why two people in the same situation got tickets and I didn't.

Mr. Aloof clerk says, "You lost your seats when you went on Standby, but they did not." My voice raises slightly, but I am not yelling. I would describe my tone as bitter resentment with a delicate hint of hatred. He says, "There are no seats. I can't do anything, and I have a line to deal with." A request for a supervisor is met with a suggestion to stand in the "customer service" line that wraps and wraps and stretches far back into the terminal, a line that would take 2-3 hours to navigate. Forget that. Then Nola-native-stuck-on-the-Harrisburg-exit-ramp woman suggests I go to B5 to try to find the supervisor who told her about the flight being delayed not cancelled. On my way, I attempt to call USAir's Manilla-based customer service department but hang up after being informed that it's an estimated 30 minute wait before you can talk to someone who can't speak English.

My man at B1 listens to my story. I beg him for advice. He takes my Standby ticket and magically prints a ticket for the 10:45 flight. I love this man. I want to carry his children. When I return from New Orleans, we will wed and live happily ever after. God bless you, Geno. You are a model citizen. Mr. Aloof at B16? Y ou are a dead man. I storm back down the hall ready to raise hell. I show Mr. Aloof the ticket and he says, "Where were you? I looked for you. Your ticket is here." I ask why he couldn't do anything earlier and he says, "You were yelling and you made me uncomfortable, so I couldn't help you at the time." Bullshit. When I yell, the whole world knows about it. I didn't even give him a muffled roar. As I was telling this story to other passengers, one wise old sage says, "You know, you'll get further with sugar than vinegar."

Who the fuck asked for your input, Morgan Freeman? I was plenty nice to this asshole clerk, but he tried to pull a power play. There was no reason for this piss-poor service and USAir should be ashamed. I found doe-eyed blonde and told her to check the desk for her ticket. He had one for her, but decided he would not make an announcement and was probably waiting to give her seat to someone else. Same goes for beaded partying guy #2, who took my advice and successfully visited my newfound life partner at B1. Now beaded partying guy #2 wants to gratefully buy me drinks throughout the entire time we'll be in New Orleans. Mr. Aloof's name is Devin Coleman, and I will make it my mission in life to see to it that he is fired. Devin Coleman, you fucked with the wrong guy, and you will pay.

USAir has been incredibly pathetic, as only one man, the amazing Geno, has been of any help to me all morning. There were no announcements about cancellations or postponements. There was no one to explain what was happening. This airline does not care.

And it gets better. On the plane, I learn that the pilot of the Buffalo flight with 7 people was all set to skip Philly until this one passenger with a Dad in a high-ranking position at USAir, called his pop and made them fly to Philly. Amazing. On the runway, we taxied and waited for well over 90 minutes before the pilot announced, "Folks, we've been cleared for takeoff, but there's a weight ratio that the baggage handlers need to program into our flight pattern and apparently, they all went to lunch without entering the data. They are in trouble, and we're looking for them, but we can't go anywhere until they input that information." Perfect. Now I just can't wait until they lose my luggage.

Baubles, Bangles, and Beads

Miraculously, my luggage was waiting for me when I arrived, as there was a lineup of bags just sitting next to the carousel. They must have been on the 11:00 flight, which surely landed before my flight did. Since my bag was waiting for me, this was truthfully the quickest I'd ever received my baggage after a flight. The cab ride to my destination was strange, as I rode through neighborhoods that were mostly unharmed by Katrina. I think I only saw three trailers, but I'm guessing that's a heavily-skewed number that is more indicative of the comparative affluence of the neighborhood than the actual recovery.

I dropped off my luggage and met up with Craemer and Lindsay. After hauling in some futon mattresses to prep for the frat-like invasion of testosterone that would be soon to overwhelm Lindsay's domecile, she dropped us off on Magazine St. Craemer and I went into Ignatius for a very late-but-I-don't-care-because-I-came-here-to-grub-like-a-doomed-man-eating-the-last-meal-of-his-life kinda post-lunch chowdown. We drank Abita Restoration Ale and I had the crawfish etoufee, which was warm and buttery with a slight hint of spice, exactly what I had craved. We then moved on to the Hermes parade.

This was my first parade (and also the first for Craemer), and we really had no idea what to expect. With the temperature in the lower 40s it felt rather tropical (compared to 13 degrees). The air had that musky, smoky scent, and with the marching bands warming up, it really felt like we were in the midst of Fall. Craemer and I found a perfect spot on the corner of St. Charles & Napoleon. We had a newspaper dispenser to set our drinks on, and we had an unobstructed view of the action. It was ideal.

The high school marching bands were awesome. These kids are born with funk in their trunk. I think back to when I was playing Swan Lake in marching band while these kids were tearing the crap out of a Jay-Z tune. When the dancers started shaking their thing, and the batons started flying, well, it was badass.

Strangely enough, there is an old tradition where poor people called flambeaus carry these torch-like things in between the floats to keep the parade illuminated. They have some sort of fuel on their backs, and from what I’m told, the tradition is that people throw money at them, and then the flambeaus bend down to pick up the change. (My, how wonderfully degrading!) As the flambeaus would bend down, they would spill fuel everywhere and flames would fall across the street. As you might imagine, it felt incredibly safe.

A flambeau barely controls the flames. Photo by J-R.

A flambeau spills fire and fuel all over the street.

Nothing can really prepare you for the floats. One second you're looking at this amazing display and the next second you are being pelted with beads and dubloons. This catching the beads thing is pretty serious here, and people were diving and jumping for them, but by and large you needed to protect yourself. Beads were flying from all angles. Dubloons were being hurled. Frisbees were chucked, footballs thrown, and tons of plastic cups were hoarked from the top of the float. We quickly became skilled short-fielders, and we caught beads and cups left and right. I tried to take pictures, but it was too tough-- the beads just kept flying. Cramer got drilled in the side of the face when he turned his head to look at another float, but he made a nice grab when someone tried to pelt him with an entire bag of beads. Oddly enough, the green beads seemed to be the hardest to find, so we made it our quest to get the green.

We covered ourselves head to toe until we looked like two gay Mr. T's. What can I say? It was fun.

Welcome to the Feeding Trough

We followed up the Hermes parade with a big dinner at Jacque-Imo’s. This is one of my favorite restaurants on Earth because the food is incredibly bold and damn good but the environment is really festive and down-to-Earth. In this way, Jacque-Imo’s is like a microcosm of the entire City of New Orleans with its high standards presented in a low-brow, hard-partying fashion. This was my third trip to Jacque-Imo’s in New Orleans. (I went to the New York branch once and the entire experience was so hideously bad, I doubt I’ll ever return. Call me picky, but I don't like my chicken rare.)

Our group had our own little room in what looked like it was once an alley between two buildings. We shared a ton of appetizers, and I will admit to being shocked that I loved the rich chicken livers as much as I did. I had had the alligator-andouille cheesecake in the past and had been underwhelmed, but there was magic in that gator this time, and the creamy-spicy combo was dead on. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to grab a piece of deep fried roast beef po boy, but I guess that’s reason enough to return. My entrée was the fried chicken plate (and you know I went with the dark meat). While the late Chef Austin Leslie was a renowned Fried Chicken Guru at Jacque-Imo’s, he obviously taught his skills to the staff because this was easily the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, falling somewhere between light and crispy. Oddly enough, the slices of pickle on top were the perfect compliment. I paired it with some tangy smothered cabbage and country greens. They brought out a ton of desserts for our table, and I don’t remember what we had, but I remember liking all of it. (Shock of shocks.)

Fried chicken-- nothing short of amazing. Photo by J-R.

Teddy gets ready to dig into his enormous fried fish.

One thing I did notice was that everyone, and I mean everyone, was eating wayyyyyyy faster than I was. I don’t know why this is because I typically have a bad habit of inhaling my food like a starving Ethiopian gorging himself at the Old Country Buffet. Perhaps I was downshifting my internal rhythm to match the slower pace of New Orleans? Maybe New Orleanians do everything slowly except for eating? Or it could be that I finally learned to savor my food….nah, I doubt it. Anyway, this seemed to be a running theme wherever I ate during my trip, as everyone was always waiting for me to finish and pull away from the feeding trough.

We left Jacques-Imo’s and went back to our gracious host Lindsay’s home. We stocked up on some beer. Once again, I must my express my affinity for states that allow you to buy copious amounts of alcohol in a gas station. (Get with the times, Pennsylvania!) We also spent a good amount of time blowing-up inflatable toys and action figures. We have a friend who owns a novelty company in Rhode Island, so he sent us a bevy of inflatable things, including musical instruments, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, and a blow-up doll that we named Ofeelya. These inflatable objects provided hours upon hours of joy. I honestly don’t know why we loved them so, but this was a bachelor party, and I tried not to make too much sense of it.

Ofeelya enjoyed it as she was blown by three of us. Photo by J-R.

Le Bon Temps Roulé

We were off to Le Bon Temps Roulé. It was my first visit to this venue that many love dearly. From the start, I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. The front room had a completely different vibe, initially playing redneck rock on the jukebox, than the back room where Anders Osborne was playing. The back room had terrible sightlines, thanks to a “stage” that was an entire two inches off the floor. It was also incredibly crowded and very uncomfortable. I was not a fan.

Many words have been used to describe Anders Osborne, but "sober" is not one of them.

Photo by J-R.

To make matters worse, Anders was not very good. Typically, I would walk miles to see him play, but on this day, he looked much more tanked than normal and was unimpressive to say the least. In addition, this was the first time I had seen him playing without Kirk Joseph on sousaphone. He had someone on electric bass, and while the guy was a fine player, it just didn’t sound right to my ears. About 45 minutes into the set, I had wiggled through the crowd enough to see who else was in his band, and then I saw the king of New Orleans drumming, Johnny Vidacovich. Suddenly, I didn’t give a shit what Anders was doing because THE MAN was on drums.

If I did nothing but watch Johnny Vidacovich play the drums for the rest of my life, I would die a happy man. Simply put, he is an incredible musician. His mastery of rhythms and creativity always lead to one immensely danceable beat. Speaking of dancing, he is the only drummer I’ve ever seen dance across the kit with such grace and swagger. Okay, I’ve seen footage of Bill Kreutzmann doing it in 1974, but Johnny’s drumming is really a sight to behold.

The group decided to split at setbreak to go shoot B.B. guns in Kevin’s kitchen (word has it that Craemer is a great marksman—a very scary thought), but I stayed to grab a spot on the rail in full view of Johnny. Per usual, the bassist, Johnny, and Tim Green all got back on the stage to start Set Two but Anders was AWOL. Johnny seemed a little pissed and suggested that the band just start playing, so he whipped into a beat and a little jam began. A harmonica player came up from the crowd, and he lent some throaty vocals to what became an excellent version of “Hey Pocky Way.” By the end of the song, Anders showed up and seemed much more inspired. Later, Monk Boudreux appeared wearing a wig and sang vocals on a few tunes before acting all cracked out and sitting on the floor. Anders tried to get him up, but Monk wanted to sing from the floor, so he did. It was odd.

Craemer shoots a gun indoors. Even though we are in New Orleans, there is no way this can be legal.

Photo by J-R.

Monk cannot be talked into getting off the floor no matter how hard Dude With Tambourine tries.

Photo by J-R.

Vince Herman, formerly of Leftover Salmon, also sat in on vocals and washboard. I ran into him after the show and asked him whether he would be playing with a band this week. He said he was filming a documentary on the recovery (or lack thereof) from Katrina, and it would be posted online at

J-R and Craemer returned for the end of the show, which had vastly improved since the first set, and we left somewhere around 2 or 3. Carmody and his friend Barrett were finishing their 8-hour drive from Asheville and would be arriving shortly, so we walked over to St. Joe’s, a cool little bar near Lindsay’s place. The Ashevillians arrived, and we had a few drinks. St. Joe’s has cool, dark feel, and the jukebox didn’t play a single song recorded after 1974, so I was in my power alley.

We retired back to Lindsay’s, had a few beers, and called it a night/morning.

A Nice Lazy Start to the Day

We got up and had lunch at Frankie and Johnnies. I wasn’t as crazy about this low-key joint as everyone else was, particularly because my jambalaya was really lousy. It was little more than rice, tomato sauce, and a few pieces of sausage, the kind of crap they would serve in your high school cafeteria. Thankfully, my stuffed artichoke was much better. It was filled with breading, garlic, parmesan, oregano, and lemon juice. Yum.

Craemer has clearly been humbled by Frankie & Johnny's.
Photo by Carm.

We then went grocery shopping to prepare for Sunday’s party. It was at the Winn Dixie where I encountered one of the best wine labels ever:

Dinner at Dante's

This had been our only day that was really relaxed and laid-back, so we took the next couple of hours for our makeshift frathouse to drink a lot of beer, engage in infantile behavior, and take showers to get ready for dinner.

Creamer bonds with Ofeelya. We all knew this was the start of something special.

Photo by J-R.

A genius creates a masterpiece. Photo by Barrett.

A brilliant work of art, Love and Lust Among the Plastic, is completed.

Photo by Barrett.

Every bachelor party commits sins of the flesh, and it's only a matter of time before J-R is the one in the doghouse.

Marshall graciously hosts us for some pre-dinner drinks. Photo by J-R.

Craemer finds his intellectual equal. Photo by J-R.

Everyone gets ready to dine at Dante's. Photo by Teddy.

I had done some advance scouting of Dante’s menu, and I was pretty sure I’d order either the Trois Mignion plate or the rack of lamb. Unfortunately, they were out of the lamb, but they had something phenomenal in its place. I ordered the special crab trio appetizer, which included marinated crab claws (incredibly tiny, flavorless, and rather pointless), moist lump crab meat on top of avocado (buttery and smooth), and one crab cake that made a serious case for best-ever status. Then came the entrée of entrees…a roasted pork shank on top of a maple-turnip puree with a mustard green vinaigrette. Wow. This was a Fred Flintstone-sized, mammoth piece of swine that just fell off the bone into the delectable mush of flavors below. It was phenomenal and probably the best thing I consumed all week. I followed it up with what was probably the best, most creamy and luscious piece of key lime pie I’ve ever tasted. The best crab cake, best pork shank, and best key lime pie in one meal. That’s not too shabby.

Ladies and gentleman, observe the pleasing plate of pork perfection.

Photo by J-R.

Succulent pork shanks have been reduced to nothing but bones.

Photo by Carm.

Barrett enjoys the cosmic artwork. Photo by Carm.

Saint Richard, The Divine. Photo by Teddy.

Liftoff at Tipitina's->Crash Landing at Le Bon Temps Roulé

We went back to Lindsay’s, had a few drinks, and then made it to Tipitina’s for Galactic. We missed Eric Lindell’s opening set, but we did catch him sitting in with Galactic for a few great tunes.

J-R had made these great laminates for everyone in the bachelor party. These things had everything you needed to know: tons of cellphone numbers, numbers of cab companies, addresses for our food/music destinations, and a daily schedule of events. J-R even included phone numbers for both Cara and his parents, which would have come in handy had he lost a limb or needed a sudden liver transplant or something. (It was a bachelor party during Mardi Gras, so you couldn’t be too careful.) The laminates were a godsend and they even looked rather professional with a hologram at the bottom. As if all of the above were not great perks, these laminates also inexplicably got everyone into the VIP area at Tipitina’s, so we had our own private place to watch Galactic.

Galactic put on a great, guest-laden show, and we had a blast. In particular, Barrett was channeling some sort of divine spirit through his dancing. He was living on an entirely different plane than the rest of us and having the time of his life during his first trip to New Orleans. I don’t know what happened during the encore, but Galactic ramped it up to new heights, and in a frenzy, I got lifted up into the rarified air where Barrett was floating. Andy also felt the power, as he ripped off his arm brace and started swinging it around his head. It was a powerhouse ending to the show, and I was now covered in sweat, but it was only 3 or 4:00AM, so the night was far from over.

2/17/2007 - Tipitina’s - New Orleans, LA

SET ONE: The Moil, Lickity Split, Spiderbite, Buck-it like a Horse (w/ Coolbone Brass Band), Blacktalk, Goin' Down (w/ Eric Lindell), Lady Day (w/ Eric Lindell), Groove Holmes, Immigrant Song

SET TWO: Little Miss Lover, Linthead, Crazyhorse Mongoose, Bottle Up and Go (w/ Papa Mali), Jump Into the Fire (w/ Papa Mali), Chicken Pox> 2 Dots, Hercules (w/ Ivan Neville), Big Chief (w/ Ivan, Big Sam, CoolBone BB), Sunday Araq (w/ Glenn Hartman on accordion), Bongo The Dog, Bakers Dozen (w/ Big Sam)

Fess was decked out in grand style for Mardi Gras.

Photo by J-R.

Stanton tears it up. Photo by J-R.

The Hevy Duty Krewe at setbreak. Photo by Barrett.

Coolbone Brass Band sits in with Galactic. Photo by J-R.

Papa Mali sits in, too. Photo by J-R.

We made our way back to Le Bon Temps Roulé, and I’m not really sure who was playing. Word has it that Papa Mali was onstage with some sort of brass band. In all likelihood, I couldn’t see the stage from wherever I was, but don’t ask me where I was. I don’t remember much of this, but I vaguely recall drinking and having a good time.

Carm guards the entrance to the hallowed temple of Le Bon Temps Roulé.

Photo by Barrett.

Someone is onstage here, but don't ask me who they are or what on Earth they were playing. I would call this show a blur, but such a phrase would imply that I actually remember something other than the drinking and the temporary happiness it brought me.

Either Barrett really likes the music or the guy next to him just grabbed his ass.

Photo by Carm.

It was pretty late/early when we left, and Kevin took us to some bar (again, don’t ask me where) to do snakebites. The shot tasted awful, and that’s the last thing I remember. I didn’t get sick or cause a problem or anything, but I’m sure I was really tired, and everything is a blank from there on. It was probably around 5 or 6AM when we crashed.

Thoth Brings the Pain

There was a flurry of activity, and we had to get up around 10 or 11, which wasn’t fun. After not recalling much from the prior evening, my hangover was surprisingly mild, but I still was far from 100%. I made a trip back to the Winn-Dixie, which took a very long time. My brain, running slower than normal, just couldn’t comprehend where the bacon would be, and J-R eventually called my phone, worried that I had passed out somewhere in the pork section.

The Thoth parade was starting right near Linsday’s house, but we walked up a couple blocks onto Magazine to stand in a more festive area.

Brothers Mitch and Andy Cahn enjoy a pre-parade beer. Photo by Rich.

Carm feels like a million bucks. (He hasn't eaten anything yet.)

Photo by Rich.

The Thoth float presents Dick Cheney's worst nightmare.

Photo by Carm.

In the middle of the parade, a skywriter made a big smiley face. This was later followed by "Jesus loves you," but the wind was blowing and it took him so long to finish that it just looked like "sus loves you."

Photo by Carm.

We all caught a ton of beads, cups, and other crap, and most of us got whacked in the face at least once. Of course, no one had it worse than a guy who was basically asking for it. One of Kevin’s friends wore a Saints helmet and held up a sign that said “(name of some guy he knew on a float) throws like Brooks.” Apparently, this guy and his floatmates did not appreciate being compared to the Saints former, interception-prone quarterback, so they pelted him with beads. I mean, he got drilled. The float stopped in front of him, and everyone threw everything at him. He was pummeled by beads, dubloons, cups, footballs, and more. The poor guy even sunk to the ground in the fetal position, but they showed no mercy. It was so brutal that the bead throwers broke a store window.

The Thoth victim before he took his fall. Photo by Carm.

From Backyard to Bacchus

After the parade, everyone started coming over to Lindsay’s for the backyard party. Someone brought over a bunch of boiled crawfish, and I had a great time pinching the tails and sucking the heads. The boil was really flavored well with a good amount of spice but not so much that your lips would go numb. There were also a ton of oysters (which I sadly could not eat because of my dammed allergy), and they were eaten raw, deep fried, and grilled with a garlic-parmesan butter. In addition, we grilled sausage, burgers, a big London broil, and corn, which I served with my garlic-cilantro lime butter. Yeah, we ate well.

Chowing on crawfish. Photo by J-R.

Ofeelya becomes a painted lady. Photo by Teddy.

Even though the party is in full swing, Craemer decides to consumate his relationship with Ofeelya. Photo by Carm.

Everyone wants a piece of Craemer. Photo by J-R.

Kevin shucks the oysters. Photo by J-R.

Teddy applies the butter. Photo by J-R.

Photo by J-R.

From there, it was off to the Bacchus parade. We didn’t get there early enough to see James Gandolfini as the King of Bacchus, but we did catch a lot of the parade. Of course, we caught a ton of stuff, per usual. At this point, the bead bin back at the house was starting to get quite full.

The beads come off the float and are thrown right back into the shark's mouth.

Photo by Rich.