Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some People REALLY Hate Me

A very funny thing happened on Friday night.

I went to Banjo Jim’s to meet my friend, Portia. (NOTE: The names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.) We were there to see Adrienne Young, backed by members of Railroad Earth, including Tim Carbone, John Skehan, Johnny Grubb, and Andy Goessling, a conglomeration that is often referred to as The Shockenaw Mountain Boys. It was an awesome show, and I told Portia that I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen that many virtuosos in such a tiny room. When the band started, the joint was filled (around 25 people), but it was comfortably filled. By the time the set ended, around 10-15 more people had arrived, which forced the manager to turn on the air conditioner…on a night when it was 30 degrees outside! Nevertheless, there was tremendous energy in the room, as everyone was whoopin’ and hollerin’ after every blazing run down the frets by the Railroad Earth guys, who were really on fire.

It was also a rare chance for New York folk to see these guys in a different element, particularly Andy Goessling, who normally plays the role of “the quiet one.” In fact, during soundcheck, they asked Andy to say something on his mic and “keep talking,” which caused a guy to turn to me and say, “Who are they kidding? He hasn’t said anything in four years!” Something must have been in the air last night because Andy suddenly became very Biden-esque, loquaciously grabbing the mic during tuning, telling jokes that weren’t very funny, but we all gave him a big laugh anyway because it was funny to see him play the role of comic relief.

Somewhat amazingly, the guys were not really familiar with Adrienne and had only rehearsed with her for a few hours prior to the gig. Nevertheless, they culled together a setlist of her originals and some choice covers, including a thrilling bluegrass rendition of “Midnight Rider.”

Adrienne played clawhammer banjo, a style of playing that you rarely hear these days. She also shifted off to play some snare with brushes for a number. Her voice had an earthy twang, and it was obvious that she writes some great songs. Could she instrumentally hang with The Shockenaw Mountain Boys? Honestly, not many people can because their talents and skills reside on another plane. However, she added nice texture to the sound, and her singing and compositions gave them a launching pad for their swirling solos. Her show closer, “Jump the Broom,” was especially fine, and the entire bar was going nuts after its wild (and seemingly impromptu) breakdown. There was no way that the musicians were escaping without one more, and the loudest 40 people in New York City made sure they would play an encore. “Ragtime Annie Lee” is probably my favorite encore that I’ve seen from Railroad Earth because I love how they keep ramping up the tempo to truly insane levels. Such was the case Friday night, as they took they song to a frenetic pace…and then continued to kick it up several more notches. Ms. Young’s eyeballs started to bulge out of her head with every tempo increase, and when she finally realized the song was ending, she had this hysterically funny look of relief on her face. It was priceless.

Afterwards, Portia and I set out to get some dinner. Cassius, a friend of hers whom I had just met, said he would join us in a bit, so we walked over to Mercadito and put our name on the list.

Sidenote: Thanks to a delectable lunch at Artichoke Basille, I was still rather full. I had been wanting to visit the fabled pizzeria in a space the size of a broom closet for some time now and was thrilled to try both their crab slice and their artichoke-spinach slice. The crab was deliciously luscious and rich, and the artichoke-spinach was like having a huge terrine of creamy artichoke-spinach dip on a big, thick slice. If you like those flavors, you will love this slice. Thankfully, I do! I will say it’s a pain in the ass to eat because the slice is so fresh and lava hot, and it’s loaded with toppings that slosh around everywhere. This is no high-end joint, so if you get a little messy, that’s okay. The prices ($4 for each slice) are a real bargain because the artichoke-spinach slice is hearty enough to qualify as a meal for most people. I also have to mention the friendly reg-u-lah guy vibe the men who work there exude. I will definitely be back.

Meanwhile, back in the recent past…

While waiting for a table at the tiny and cramped Mercadito, we went across the street for a drink at Rue B, a charming little spot with welcoming décor, fine cocktails, and an inoffensive if not noteworthy jazz trio. We had some fancy but not very memorable drinks before Cassius joined us. Being a generous lad, he graciously bought me a margarita.

We then went over to Mercadito, where we ordered margaritas from a very attractive and helpful bartender. Since I’m a fan of good tequila, Cassius asked for my recommendation. I suggested he opt for Herradura Blanco, which is exceptionally smooth and blends well in margaritas. I opted for a Pepino Margarita, which subtly combined cucumber, lime, and chile de arbol into one fantastically refreshing concoction. Portia ordered the Jamaica Margarita with hibiscus, lime, and orange juice. For dinner, we all split an order of smoky, house-made chorizo and a large house salad with corn, jicama, queso fresco, and a tasty chipotle vinaigrette. Portia ordered the Corn Masa Quesadillas, which were more like little Mexican calzones. Cassius ordered the Carne Tacos, loaded with succulent rosemary grilled steak, potato-rajas fondue, and avocado-tomatillo salsa. His was an excellent choice. However, we universally agreed that I hit the jackpot when I went with the Estilo Baja Tacos, which featured beer-battered mahi mahi, Mexican-style cole slaw, and chipotle aioli. I only chose to eat at Mercadito last night after reading this article rating it as having served the best fish tacos in NYC, and even though the fish tacos I ordered were not the same as the ones featured in the review, they were so light and airy and had a wonderful blend of juicy flavors. I savored each and every bite.

After dinner, I returned from the restroom, and Cassisus asked, “So Brian, are you going to write a review of the show for”

I immediately asked him how he knew I wrote for that site, and he just sat there smiling. I then asked Portia if she had told him who I was and what I did, and she said she hadn’t.

“You’re Brian Ferdman. You know Rainbow Brutus, right?”

Well yes, and yes, but that didn’t explain how he knew my last name without anyone telling him. I began to get a little uncomfortable but also incredibly curious as to where this was headed. He asked if I had seen any of the recent Phil Lesh and Friends shows, and I told him that I saw one, and it was mostly okay with a stellar ending, but the band would be better served with a dominant lead guitarist. He replied that he had seen all of the recent Phil shows and then asked, “So you wrote that review of the S.O.B.’s show that was posted on, right?”


Now I knew what was happening. That particular Phil show was one of the worst concerts I have ever seen. It was disjointed, uncomfortable, and unprofessional, and naturally, I wrote one of the harshest reviews I’ve ever written in response. This royally pissed off the collective of sycophantic apologists who reside at, people who think we should be eternally “grateful” for every note of music, praising everything we hear. You know, I not-so-humbly disagree with their philosophy and believe that if every piece of art is praised, the praise is worthless. I call it like I see it, and the brilliant moments receive ebullient praise while the horrendous experiences are described as such. It’s called being honest and fair, but many feel that any sort of criticism is unfair.

I’ve been known to enjoy a good argument or two, so I tried to reason with Cassius, who was now very drunk and close to foaming at the mouth. Not surprisingly, he was not interested in my rationale and laid into me on a variety of topics, such as my complaining about the ticket price (I had said that the $50 show made Phil & Friends the most expensive bar band in America), the fact that I like Warren Haynes (guilty as charged, no apology necessary), and the notion that I’m a Trey “Anastahsio” (sic) and Phish apologist. On the latter front, he deridingly asked if I was going to Hampton, and I told him that I didn’t even try because I think Phish won’t sound very good until they get their feet wet again. My response didn’t seem to faze him, as he went on a rant that involved the words “fuckin’ Phish” several times. Why is it that people who dislike Phish are always filled with such vitriol?

Circling back to my comments on the Phil show, he actually said, "YOU'RE the reason why Phil can't play small clubs anymore!" Seeing as how that's a totally absurd statement, I tried to argue that little ol' me has absolutely no effect on the venues where bands play, and why on Earth would Phil not be able to sell tickets to a 400-person venue when he just successfully sold plenty of tickets to a fourteen-night run in a 2,500 person venue?

However, he wasn't going to let me talk. He had waited a long time for this moment, and it was his time to shine.

"Your review was on the Internet-- it was seen by thousands of people!"

I hate to break his heart, but an average of seven people visit my blog daily; four of them are looking to pimp their junk technology website from Southeast Asia, two want to sell me a mail-order bride from Ukraine, and one is a deposed Nigerian prince who wants to deposit a large sum of money in my bank account. On the rare day when I actually post something, I pimp it to my friends and family, and about 50 of them click on it, mostly skimming and looking for pictures. Generally, only one person reads the entire long-winded entry. (Thanks, Mom!)

"Everyone listens to what you have to say, and all you do is rain on everyone’s parade."

Not true. The deposed Nigerian prince thinks I’m a positive and kind-hearted person, and that’s why he comes to me for assistance.

"No one cares what you have to say," he continued, completely contradicting everything he had previously said. Then, while leaving the jaws of the friendly lesbian couple to our left agape, stood up and shouted, "Everyone thinks Brian Ferguson (sic) is just a pompous, self-absorbed asshole, and Rainbow Brutus thinks so, too!"

Crestfallen, I looked upward and whispered, "Et tu, Bruté?"

And in a drunken, zigzagging flash, he raced out the door.

Wow. I was truly amazed by what had just transpired. Then I realized that I have finally made it, because I have my very own stalker. Now I know what it's like to be Paula Abdul! Knowing your stalker thinks you are a cold-hearted snake and picking up on all of that negative vibeology really improves the promise of a new day.

Ironically, in desperately trying to meet me face-to-face for over a year to tell me that I have a big ego, dear Cassius only served to swell my ego to epic proportions. Now that I have my own stalker, I am completely and totally full of myself, and I have the biggest head you've ever seen. Mom and Dad, I'm sorry that I won't be home for Thanksgiving because I can't fit my noggin through the front door.

I've always thought that my opinion on music is ultimately worthless to others because when it comes to art, the only opinion that matters is your own. I’ve just been writing these long-winded pieces to amuse myself, but now Cassius has made me realize that the influence of this little blog is rather far-reaching. Yes, my friends, I have truly arrived and my Intelligent Rectum is a global force to be reckoned with. Since I am apparently all-powerful, I’ve decided to use my powers for good. Therefore, I am officially finished with writing about music, food, and drink and have decided to focus on global affairs. Obviously, Cassius would back me up on the fact that if there is anyone who wields enough clout to solve the world’s problems, it’s me.

Consider this your warning, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because my Intelligent Rectum is coming for you.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys at Drom 10-7-08

Hot damn! This show was great!

It was my first visit to Drom, and I'll definitely go back. I've wanted to visit this club that specializes in world music (typically of the Eastern European variety) for about a year now, and I’m happy to report that it’s very nice inside with good sound. There is a decent amount of open space to sit or stand at the bar (far more room than a place like the Blue Note), but the ideal view is from the tables, which carry a $20 minimum that is easily met with their fine array of tapas. Senor Hochstat and I made this journey, and amongst the small plates we shared, I'd definitely recommend the Deep-Fried Okra with Sea Salt and Lemon and the Spanish Chorizo in Turkish Chili Pepper Sauce. The sauce was so damn tasty that I lapped it up with what must have been half a loaf of bread. I also had a Turkish beer, Effe, which was like a more flavorful pilsner. Believe it or not, “flavorful pilsner” is not an oxymoron.

Clarinetist Margo Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys (Barry Mitterhoff, Kenny Kosek, Joe Selly, and Marty Confurius) came on stage around 8:30 and the fairly crowded house was treated to a phenomenal blend of klezmer and bluegrass. Others have mined the "Jewgrass" hybrid territory before (offhand, Hypnotic Clambake as well as Andy Statman and David Grisman's collaborations come to mind), but there was something different about this lineup, and I think it was Leverett's clarinet. Capable of oozing Eastern European sorrow and klezmerized unbridled joy, it was a great treat to really hear her delve into the traditional bluegrass numbers, such as "Lee Highway Blues." While there, she fit in perfectly. Her sound was very different than other reed players who’ve worked in this genre, forgoing the emotionally detached and smooth styles of Paul McCandless or Jeff Coffin and moving more toward an imitation of a mandolin or fiddle. I don’t know the term for it (I’m sure someone can correct me), but she was able to duplicate that sound mandolin and fiddle players make when they’re accompanying a soloist by just plucking on the upbeats. It was very cool.

There were special guests galore, including vocalist Jen Larsen from local bluegrass band Straight Drive, who sounded nice on “Lil’ Moses,” Klezmatics drummer David Licht, who was ripping it up all night long in a unique style that relied solely upon brushwork, and banjo machine Tony Trischka, who brought an amazing level of virtuosity and tasteful fills to the ensemble. Of course, everyone was buzzed to see Jorma Kaukonen, who had taught a class upstate earlier that day and rode in a car to come to this gig, only to immediately make the 3.5 hour trip back afterward. It was hilarious to watch the musicians fumble around and trip over each other on the tiny stage, as they attempted to untangle a web of powerstrips and microphone cables in order to get Jorma plugged in. I believe his first song was called “Electric Kugel,” and with him heavily in the mix, this became some sort of weird psychedelic kosher cowboy odyssey. He switched to acoustic for the next and last song of the set, which was more of a straight-ahead pickin’ number.

This really was a special show, and I can’t thank Gayle Kaufman enough for bringing it to my attention. I gave their new album, 2nd Avenue Square Dance, a quick listen this morning, and it’s great. It, too, is loaded with guests. In addition to those musicians mentioned above, the album boasts Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Bryn Bright, Hazel Dickens, and many more on mostly lively instrumental tracks. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of EITHER bluegrass or klezmer because more than likely, you will become a fan of both genres by the time you finish hearing it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who's in for Oktoberfest @ The Beer Garden?

Is anyone interested in going to Oktoberfest at the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall in Astoria?

Because this is Queens, i.e. the land of no common sense, Oktoberfest is held in September, more specifically, Saturday, September 27th at noon.

I've gone the past two years, and I've gotten quite intoxicated each time. It happens.

There's a $10 cover charge, and I would strongly suggest arriving at 11AM (it opens at noon), as a line will form to get inside. It's vital to be there early to not only grab a table but also to get those coveted pitchers. If I remember correctly (and considering how much I drank, that's debatable), the pitchers of Czech, German, and Belgian beer were rather affordable. It's also important to get there early so that you're tired of drinking and want to leave before the fratboys in plastic lederhosen take over the joint.

The Beer Garden gets so crowded these days that Oktoberfest seems to be my only annual appearance there. If you're ever going to visit it, it's probably the day to go because not only does everyone get smashed, but there are also oom-pah bands...and lasers...okay, maybe not lasers...but there will be people drunkenly dancing, which is just like lasers...except that it's not.

In any case, they limit the number of people they allow inside, so it doesn't get too crowded and the beer lines are manageable. Last year, they served roasted pig and kielbasa with dumplings. For vegetarians, I think they had something exciting like potatoes. Don't look at me, chief. I didn't create the cuisine of Eastern Europe. If you want something green, they might have rotten potatoes. Are you enticed yet?

Anyway, here's the tentative plan:

11:00AM - Arrive at Beer Garden and get in line. If coming from foreign boroughs, be sure to avoid arriving fashionably late and pissing off your friends who have waited all day long.

11:01AM - People from foreign boroughs complain about their commute, exaggerating how long it took them to get there on the train, bitching about having to travel "all the way to Queens."

11:02AM - People from Queens seethe internally towards Brian for inviting narcissists from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

11:08AM - Someone has to pee.

11:25AM - Someone is late driving in from Brooklyn and calls to complain about how confusing the streets of Queens are, despite the fact that Astoria is arranged with far more common sense than hallowed Park Slope.

11:40AM - To break up the mundane routine of waiting, Brian tells an inappropriate story that he thinks is hilarious.

11:41AM - Awkward silence.

11:59AM - Someone who believes Manhattan is the center of the universe arrives, bitching about the trains, even though everyone knows that she/he just woke up and got on a train 25 minutes ago.

12:01PM - Our large group secures a table.

12:02PM - We begin drinking pitchers of Hoegaarden, Spaten, Pilsner Urquell, etc.

12:03PM - Nicky Ray spills beer on someone.

12:59PM - Brian inspects roasted pig on a spit, declares it to be inferior, but states, "I will eat it anyway."

1:10PM - The first band ends, and a bus load of tourists from Texas leaves. Everyone is puzzled as to why/how they got here.

1:11PM - As the Texan bus pulls away, a hipster slaps an "Obama For Change" sticker on it. Victory is declared.

1:15PM - Fox News reports that crazed Obama fanatics are vandalizing vehicles of McCain supporters across America.

1:16PM - The McCain campaign declares the hipster's actions to be sexist and an obvious example that Obama wants to raise taxes on the middle class and teach Kindergarteners to have sex.

1:17PM - Republicans everywhere chant "Drill, baby, drill!" for no apparent reason.

1:30PM - Food is consumed.

1:45PM - Beer is consumed at a much faster pace.

2:30PM - Several individuals in our party are tempted to get up and dance the polka.

2:35PM - Several individuals in our party realize that their motor-skills have declined significantly.

2:40PM - After watching the first dancers fall down, several individuals in our party feel relieved that they decided to sit this one out.

2:50PM - Dancers start dropping like flies; torn MCLs are arriving like presents on Christmas.

3:00PM - J-R pukes under table then brags about how he will run a marathon tomorrow in record time.

3:15PM - Fratboys arrive and begin applying plastic lederhosen.

3:25PM - Our party has seen enough.

3:30PM - We stagger out in a zig-zag motion, singing theme songs to 1970s television shows in harmonic chord structures that have yet to be invented.

3:40PM - Someone reminds Gerrard that he's not allowed to walk around on the streets of Astoria in the daytime without pants.

3:42PM - Brian attempts to tear down No Parking sign.

3:43PM - Brian gives up, realizing that not only is he no longer in college, but he is also no longer strong enough to pull said sign out of the ground.

3:44PM - Brian weeps inside.

4:00PM - We arrive at a festive Greek restaurant in Astoria, perhaps Zenon Taverna or any other place that is willing to accommodate a phalanx of drunken people.

5:30PM - To the relief of the restaurant staff, we leave without breaking any more than 9 plates and 7 glasses.

5:48PM - Brian falls asleep on couch, waking up in puddle of drool hours later.


Who's in?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Quest for the Sacred Burrito

Four days ago, an acquaintance on a discussion list posted remarks about a transcendent burrito, the kind of life-changing meal that causes one to stand up and scream “I’ve seen the light!” to a crowd of confused onlookers. The burrito was from the new Calexico Cart on 25th and Park, and mere mention of it ignited a passionate conversation from those who had tasted the wares of the original on Prince and Wooster. These disciples of the burrito raved about an essential ingredient, which they had dubbed Chipotle Crack Sauce. Well, as luck would have it, this new cart was located mere blocks from my office. If you haven’t noticed, I like food. Therefore, I needed to taste of this Holy Grail of Mexican street grub.

A couple of hours after reading the email, I dashed out the office door for this mythical land of burrito manna, but when I arrived on the spot, there was no burrito cart to be found. I stormed up and down Park Avenue, calling out, “Where are you, rice and beans? Here Chipotle Crack Sauce!” Alas, I didn’t get anything aside from strange looks, so I settled for a boring old lamb platter from Raffiqui, a chain of street vendors.

After politely voicing my displeasure with the situation to the discussion list, it was suggested that I try an earlier time. No problem. On Wednesday, I went to the magic spot again, this time at 12:30, but yet again there was no magic cart. However, I did find a place called Latin Thing (I’m not kidding-— that really is the name of it) on Lexington, and they did serve a fine pressed Cuban-style sandwich with braised beef, peppers, onions, Monterey Jack cheese, and spicy chipotle sauce (sans crack). As I did on the day before, I calmly informed the list of my frustration with this new vendor’s curious business practices. Apparently, I was not the only one who felt this way, and a couple of us formed a secret Burrito Watch Network, an alliance of foodies who would use a phone chain to inform one another if the cart ever appeared again. It was never said, but it was implied that if the cart tried to leave early, members of the BWN would lay down and block its path until all BWN members were served.

Does this seem like it was a lot of effort for one burrito? Absolutely. No one should have to jump through this many hoops in order to buy a rollup of beans, cheese, salsa, and meat.

Nevertheless, word broke out early yesterday that the cart was in its place, so a swarm of people began migrating to the neighborhood with record speed, me chiefly among them. I finally saw the cart and wondered why it was sponsored by a beer company when the cart couldn’t sell beer:

Then I placed my order and was told there would be a 10 minute wait. Fine. You can’t rush greatness.

As I waited, a friend appeared behind me. He had traveled from midtown on his lunchbreak. It was now clear that the hype had gotten out of control.

The two of us grabbed our burritos (which both arrived in less than 10 minutes) and we walked over to Madison Square Park to eat.

For starters, one of these burritos is a hearty meal. I am a man, and I eat man-sized portions. No, scratch that. I eat American man-sized portions. I cannot nor do I ever want to fit into those annoyingly skinny H&M jeans that are popular with the hipsters, models, and Heroin addicts. They won’t allow me into Williamsburg because my waist is larger than 27 inches. (Literally, a ironically leather-clad midget henchman steps onto the G-train with a tape measure, and he will not allow me to get near the egress until we’re deep into Brooklyn.) But I don’t care because I enjoy my food, and I need it. I walk fast and mine is an active lifestyle. Food is fuel, and I need a lot of fuel to survive these multi-borough exploits that last way into the wee hours of the morning. This engine does not run on diesel-- well, maybe sour diesel, but I digress…

Anyway, it’s a substantial log of a burrito, measuring almost 8 inches in length and nearly 3 inches in diameter.

My compadre ordered a side of rice and beans, which was totally unnecessary unless he was trying to make up for the recent lack of imports of Russian natural gas.

I ordered the Carne Asada, i.e. grilled hangar steak with rice, beans, cheese, pico de gallo and avocado salsa, although there was nary a trace of this avocado salsa. I also asked for the Chipotle “Crack” Sauce, which to my amazement, is actually called “Chipotle ‘Crack’ Sauce,” and they didn’t charge me for it. The sauce was on the burrito, and it was tasty and went well with the meat, which was a little salty and maybe a little dry but still filled with flavor. The burrito was really well-constructed, guaranteeing that you get equal parts of everything in every bite, and there were lots of chunks of steak on board.

The tortilla also had the right consistency. It was not too wet and not too dry and there was just the right amount of it. Sometimes you get burritos that are nothing but tortilla or ones that are falling apart for lack of tort, but this one was just right. My amigo ordered the chicken, and he liked it but felt as though the Chipotle “Crack” Sauce overpowered it.

For good measure, I went back again today and ordered the Chipotle Pork, i.e. pulled pork in chipotle sauce (no word on whether or not crack is involved), rice, beans, cheese, pico de gallo, pickled red onions, and sour cream.

I again asked for the Chipotle “Crack” Sauce and stressed that I definitely wanted it on the burrito. Again, I was not charged for it. This tortilla was a little dryer, which was probably a good thing because the burrito was very wet and leaking out of the bottom. The drippage was certainly there, and it was not easy to eat like the Carne Asada. However, it was much tastier, undoubtedly thanks to the delicious Chipotle “Crack” Sauce. (Have I mentioned that enough times yet?) The whole burrito had a mellow chipotle flavor, and I was not complaining about it.

I do get the sense that the guys who run this stand are a tad too laid back about things. They say they “try” to be there every day, but we already know we can’t count on it. I can see that while their flavors are good, they might not be offering the same consistency on a regular basis. Plus, God only knows what the deal is with the crack sauce and why you never have to pay for it. If they took a little more serious approach, I could see this cart doing some big business. Yes, $7-8 is expensive for a burrito, but it’s a filling lunch, and let’s be honest, most takeout lunch in New York costs about this much money, if not more so. If it tastes good, we’re all willing to pay out the ass for it.

I will now admit that people might be a little free with their hyperbole-laden praise for these burritos. I’m no burrito connoisseur, but I did think they were pretty good and probably the best non-knife-and-fork burrito I’ve had in the city. That said, I think that Calexico probably fell short of the life-altering experience that many have claimed it to be. Then again, exaggeration is the hallmark of my friends’ reviews. After all, earlier today I had to suffer through some asshole’s long winded blog entry about some show about Fela Kuti…

Go See Fela!....NOW

If you have ever heard and liked a jam, song, or note by Fela Kuti, you owe it to yourself to get over to 37 Arts for the off-Broadway run of Fela!

Musical theater people have a natural gift for screwing up a great story with unnecessary excess and schmaltz, but in this instance, they set their gift to the side and let the tremendous story of a tremendous giant among men do the talking. In fact, there is very little “musical theater” in this performance of musical theater. Thankfully, the man in charge of this show, Bill T. Jones, truly loves the life, legacy, and music of Fela Kuti, and this all comes out in the wonderfully thrilling work he has created.

The show envisions a fictional night inside Fela's Shrine nightclub in Lagos, and what you see is the real deal. Sahr Ngaujah *becomes* Fela Anikulapo Kuti, engaging the audience with radiant charisma that has you eating out of the palm of his bruised-but-never-broken hand. His really is an amazing and uncanny performance that sucks you in and never lets go. While essentially watching Fela and company put on a concert in his Nigerian club, the audience is both engaged and cleverly informed about the back-story of this world-renowned iconoclast, antagonist, humanitarian, artist, and spiritual leader, who was routinely tortured and jailed by a corrupt government that could never break this man’s indefatigable spirit.

The music is provided by Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and these guys are a natural fit. In fact, they’ve rarely sounded better. For a while now, I’ve felt as though Antibalas plays best when they are pissed off. I’ve seen them give a rousing and angry performance that pumped up a genteel Shakespeare in the Park crowd, transforming the middle-aged, upper middle-class NPR-Democrats in the audience into a rabid pack of fire-breathing gargoyles who nearly destroyed the old Delacorte Theater on the cusp of the 2004 Republican Coronation of Supreme Leader and Decider, George W. Bush, and then last summer I saw Antibalas play a very pleasant show on a gorgeous, sunshine-kissed day on Governor’s Island. The former show raised some serious Hell. The latter was fun for the whole family but more than a little vacant.

Antibalas was born to play the music of Fela Kuti, and their slinking guitars, thumping bass, pounding drums, and attacking horns relish every note of these layered and meandering compositions. Fela’s lyrics are blunt but powerful, and Jones wisely projects many of them onto the backdrop, which really allows the brute force of this man’s art to sink into the deepest reaches of the brain. Visually, the entire theater is transformed into the Shrine club, and people can bring drinks to their seats. (Thank you, Musical Theater for finally waking up to this revolutionary concept; it only took you about 98 years.) Of course, I would be only telling half the story if I failed to mention the gorgeous and extremely lithe dancers (of both sexes) who sensually grind around the stage to these hypnotic compositions while showing more than a little leg. Unfortunately, there are no cold showers to be found.

This is not your normal theatrical event; it really is like a concert, and I think the show works best when people treat it as such. I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say that at one point, the crowd gets up and dances to the music. Last night, everyone was having a great time during this sequence, but as soon as there was an opportunity to sit, 70% of the crowd dove for the seats, blowing their golden opportunity to blur the line between performer and audience. The folks in the front kept dancing, and some ridiculous old ladies tried in vain to make them sit, but the vibe was too strong and they wouldn’t acquiesce. Eventually, I said, “Fuck it,” and got up to dance in my spot, which amazingly didn’t cause a mutiny in the rows behind me. If only everyone had felt free enough to let themselves go, they would have enjoyed it oh, so much more.

I should also add that last night’s show was not without what has become a bizarre musical theater phenomenon: the union audience clap-on-every-down-beat during the curtain call. It’s like the cut-time version of a soulclap, but it sounds more like a soulless clap. I have no idea why white people do this, especially when there is incredibly funky music being played on stage. Isn’t there a way that we Caucasians can overcome our genetic deficiencies and learn to channel our inner-James Brown?

If I know my friends well enough, many will be intrigued by this review and will think “I should go see that.” Then they’ll get very lazy and never buy the tickets, waiting until the show is about to close months from now and not being able to afford the full-priced ticket. Don’t make that mistake, folks. The show is still in previews, and if you use this TheaterMania discount code, you’ll only pay $26.25. The discounted price will soon rise to $51.25, so you should get off your ass and order tickets at this bargain rate yesterday. For the record, everyone in the theater LOVED the show last night, and I expect the word-of-mouth will be tremendous. I also anticipate great reviews because not only is the show great, but I think that politically correct reviewers will be loathe to criticize it because Africa is very *in* right now, and no one wants to say something bad about a product of a continent that supplies cute little orphan babies to so many beautiful American celebrities.

In an ideal world, Fela! Will be the saving grace of the dying off-Broadway commercial scene and will run in this theater for a long time. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually makes a Broadway transfer because with some judicious cuts, it could appeal to an ever larger audience. That said, I advise you to see it now, and see it on the cheap. This is a great show for anyone who loves live music, history, or even life itself. Get your ass in the seat now…and then standup and dance!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Great Show Withers and Dies an Uncomfortable Death - Hal Wilner's Bill Withers Project Prospect Park Bandshell 8-9-08

Saturday's Bill Withers Project season finale of Celebrate Brooklyn had its place reserved on the Great Calendar of Life for a long, long time. Whenever producer Hal Wilner assembles and creates these types of events, you're usually in for a star-studded lineup of major talents congregating to take part in a moving and thrilling ritual. Last year's tribute to songwriter Doc Pomus was a very emotional and incredibly well-crafted affair that earned its spot as the second-best concert I saw in 2007. I'd be lying if I didn't say that my anticipation was through the roof for Saturday's event.

We began our evening at Bierkraft, home of fine beer, excellent cheese, high quality meat, and impressive chocolate truffles. Because Celebrate Brooklyn is the most chill venue on Earth, they let you bring your own food and beverage inside, as long as you leave the glass and cans at home. Bierkraft sells growlers, and in a maneuver that I will not hesitate to label a stroke of genius, I figured out how to get beer from a glass growler into a plastic bottle. First, I bought, emptied, and rinsed a couple of two liters of cream soda. Then we bought the growlers, and in order to get the beer from the wide-mouth glass growler into the small-mouthed two liter plastic bottle, I used a pitcher with a tap spout dispenser as the magic middleman. Gingerly filling up the pitcher to reduce foam, the tap spout worked perfectly to load the two liters. A gallon jug of spring water worked perfectly to rinse the pitcher between pours so as not to contaminate one beer with another. After pouring the two-liter into plastic cups inside the venue, victory was ours. I knew that if anyone had tried to bust me, they would be forced to let me off the hook once they recognized the amount of ingenuity and effort that went into this operation. Its success has given me a whole new outlook on life.

The Wolaver's Organic Pale Ale and Six Point Sweet Action were complimented by a great sandwich that included some very fancy Italian ham, creamy "Naked Goat" cheese, grainy mustard, arugala, and roasted peppers on ciabatta. For only eight bucks, which includes a small bag of Louisiana’s mouthwatering Zapp's kettle-cooked potato chips (I chose the Spicy Cajun Crawtaters), this large sandwich is a phenomenal deal. Yes, you do have to deal with a bit of, how shall I say this delicately?...outer borough inefficiency. While the staff may be less than expedient, they do know what they're doing, and they deliver a fine product. This stellar meal was completed with a juicy chocolate, peanut butter, and jelly truffle.

We arrived early enough to throw down the tarp in the unofficial NYC-Freaks spot just behind and right of the soundboard. Slowly but surely, our crew amassed and morphed together prior to the 7:30 start. Steven Bernstein led a major force of a backing band that included Lenny Pickett on sax and legendary guitarist Cornell Dupree. I have to admit that I was not prepared to be hit with such funky music. I expected a lot of soul, of course, but this was some very funky soul, and vocalists like Nona Hendryx and Eric Mingus paired wonderfully with the super-tight band.

I've been admittedly slow to become absorbed by the My Morning Jacket phenomenon that is sweeping the nation, and much of my resistance can be attributed to frontman Jim James' often Kermit The Frog-like delivery of his vocals. Insulting the vocal stylings of a man who is being revered as a demigod isn't going to win me any new friends, but I don't understand why his voice frequently sounds so nasal and far back in his throat when he's also proven himself to be capable of not singing in this grating way. That said, James' "It's Not Easy Being Green" style was in full effect on Saturday, and it sounded absolutely perfect on "Ain't No Sunshine," the obvious peak of Set One. Somehow James' unique singing blended with an overabundance of soul to create an ideal fit on this classic slow burn of a tune. (Dear My Morning Jacket fans, before you fire off the hate mail, note that I complimented your idol. Maybe this is a sign that one day I will share your belief that MMJ is the bestist band ever.)

Setbreak saw a minor exodus of those who had youngins with early bedtimes. I understood their plight, but I felt bad for them because they missed one of the weirdest sets in musical history.

The set began with an introduction of Dupree, and the band laid down a nastified funk groove, as the old guitarist soloed over top. It was a righteous moment, and when Bill Withers walked out on stage, the place went nuts. Apparently moved by Dupree's soulful solos, Withers decided to surprise everyone by singing. He strode out with a mic in hand and sat down next to the guitarist while delivering a few lines of "Grandma's Hands." This sequence really sent a phenomenal musical moment over the top. Withers' voice wasn't particularly impressive and was honestly a little rusty, but it passionately oozed with feeling and relished every bit of emotion in the lyrics. The seemingly improvised nature of this slice of the show just added to the euphoria, and it became the undisputed highlight of the night. Dear Bands Everywhere, this is how you open Set Two. Take note.

The funk continued to flow deep and thick with Mingus pulling out some freestyling lyrics about war and Angelique Kidjo pumping everyone up higher and higher. She even tossed her microphone down to Withers, who was now sitting in the audience but was still moved enough to engage in another improvised, albeit very short, duet. Everything was rolling along and a good show was truly tiptoeing on the cusp of greatness.

Then the Swell Season came on stage.

I don't know what makes this indie duo "swell," but it certainly can't be attributed to the female singer's monotone leanings. Perhaps her pitch-deficient warblings can be called "European harmony," but I'd just call it "lousy." It was a damn shame because the band and the male singer sounded pretty good, but Yoko did her best to flush their valiant effort right down the drain. Lenny Pickett did have a killer sax solo.

To be perfectly honest, she sounds much better on this video than I recalled her sounding at the show, but I'd still rather hear the guy without the ball and chain:

The vibe was redeemed with a funky number or two before Bernstein brought up “co-producer” Janine Nichols to sing a song. One might think that a co-producer and co-artistic director of such a star-studded event would be able to display audible talent. One might also think that a guy can become rich and famous by waxing poetic in long-winded blog entries about food and music. So far, neither statement has been proved true.

It wasn’t so much that Nichols’ voice was terrible; it was just that Nichols’ voice was not very good. Aside from her possibly “just wanting to get into the act like everyone else,” I see no reason why anyone would give her a microphone. Her ballad was very dull and boring.

But we weren’t out of the woods yet.

The other guitarist (not Dupree) was then introduced, and he sang a song. He sounded somewhere between abysmal and God-awful. It was yet another ballad, but this one just kept going and going and going… Every time I thought he’d show mercy and put us out of our misery by stopping the singing, he went into yet another coda. At this point in the show, I seriously contemplated just walking down the aisle and asking to sing a song, as well, because I couldn’t be any worse that what we had just heard.

The consensus around us was clear: What was shaping up to be a brilliant evening had suddenly gone right into the shitter, as people were leaving in droves. From an organizational standpoint, I couldn’t understand why anyone would craft a setlist that started with such a bang and then degraded into such sludge. What was Wilner thinking?

Everyone had assumed the curfew was 10:00, but that time was already upon us, and we couldn’t see any way that this terrible song from the guitarist would close the evening with a fizzle. Thankfully, Howard Tate picked things up a little bit, but we were still far from the infectious joy of the set opener. The Persuasions then appeared for an acapella “Grandma’s Hands” reprise, which led into the expected finale of “Lean on Me.” This was the moment we all were waiting for, and the Persuasions’ opening was cool. Then Withers’ daughter sang the lead and sounded horrible, begging the question, “Why are people with pitch problems being allowed anywhere near the microphone?” Thankfully, James took over and the song was briefly redeemed before Withers’ progeny sent us spiraling downward again. The song closed with an extended we’re-not-gonna-let-it-end jam, led by the Persuasions, who successfully drowned out the young Withers’ attempts at singing. This jam went on for SEVERAL minutes, and Withers, himself, appeared on stage and walked around to shake hands with every single musician during the jam. We were all holding out hope that he would sing again, but that didn’t happen.

The show ended, and he took the mic to say a few words of thanks. When he introduced Hal Wilner, he said, “Who thinks Hal Wilner and I should sing ‘Just the Two of Us’?” Suddenly, the light bulb went off for everyone—they didn’t play “Just the Two of Us!” Withers realized he was on to something, and he immediately huddled with the band. It was clear that they were going to try to play a song that they had not arranged at all. Somewhat awkwardly, they paused for what seemed to be four or five minutes as the musicians tried to figure out how to play the tune. It was a strange but nonetheless exciting moment. Withers was going to deliver some cathartic vocals that would close this show out with the bang it deserved.

Ah, no.

The song began, and it was the younger Withers who took the vocals, which she energetically delivered without much semblance of pitch. She seems like a nice young lady, but in her case, the apple falls far from the tree. We’re talking miles and miles from the tree. I now understand why we haven’t heard anything about her recording career. As for the guest of honor, all hopes that he might join in to rescue this song and provide some correct notes were dashed when he just wandered around the stage, smiling and playing the cowbell. Finally, the song ended…but then Withers let go of his cowbell to say, “Let’s do that again!”

I kid you not, there was a very loud groan that came from the remaining people in the audience. These were not just cynical assholes like me who made this noise. There were lots of super-positive people who never say a negative word about anything who were audibly grumbling. The vibe had become incredibly sour as the ill-conceived reprise began. Some people just ran for the exits, while the rest of us just stood there in a catatonic state. I saw that the clock was close to 11:00, and I can honestly say that this was the first time in my entire life when I actually rooted for the curfew to kick in so the musicians would be forced to stop playing.

It’s a damn shame that what was shaping up to be an incredible night of musical genius descended into such an awful shit pit, but hopefully, the film crew taping the event will be able to edit out the garbage and save the moments of brilliance that occurred earlier in the show. Overall, this night did make me realize that Bill Withers created some amazing music in the 1970s, and I know that I’m going to have to re-visit his back catalog to take another listen to many of these gems.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Start of a Nice Run (MMW 6-19-08)

Thursday, June 19th was the start of yet another excellent run of music in New York City. When the summer hits, there is so much happening here that it's easy to pull a double or triple header without too much effort. Of course, the unfortunate aspect of this musical embarrassment of riches is that you often are forced to skip one or two tremendous acts each night because they either conflict with one or two other tremendous acts or you need a little time to sleep. Then again, I'll sleep when I'm dead.

On this particular Thursday I hauled ass out of work to get to the best venue in the city, the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn. Nothing beats the laid back vibes of the tree-dotted lawn, which serves as the ultimate chill zone. I motored to get there because we were expecting a huge contingent of New York City Freaks, and we needed to save a good-sized swath of land. Arriving at 7PM, I relieved poor Kilgour, who had been trying to hold a patch of grass by laying down and making snowangels like a three-year-old child with no concept of the seasons. We unfurled my tarp, and gradually, more and more compatriots joined us, as we successfully annexed the territory to our right in a way that would have made Thomas Jefferson proud.

Taylor McFerrin and Cell Theory were up first. I'll admit that they essentially served as background music, but I did enjoy them when I paid attention, as they had a bit of a jazzy, turntable-enhanced groove that was later augmented by an MC.

Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog was next on the docket, and while I'm a definite fan of the incredibly versatile Ribot, I'd never seen this particular project. It started out strong, intense, and very noisy. Occasionally, he would drop in some less than beautiful vocals, and I did enjoy it when he would briefly bust out a little psychedelic guitar. By this point, I knew about 100 people around me, and everyone wanted to talk, which enabled me to tune out the noise and the refocus when he'd hit the grooves. I know, this makes me a bad music fan. You can't see it, but I'm slapping my wrist right now.

Medeski, Martin, and Wood were the headliners, and you never know what you're going to get with these cats. Sometimes, it's a lot of banging, smashing, and clanging of pots, pans, and rattles made from parts of an animal, and then other times, it's a sweet and funky groove machine. Everyone has their preferences, but it's safe to say that most of us came on board when they were in their groove period. Of course, in the eyes of the elitist MMW aficionados that makes us mainstream fans who is intellekshully defishint.

From start to finish, this was the funkiest MMW show I'd seen in years, if not ever:

I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree and I likes my MMW fonkay. The average age of the crowd was about 25 years younger than the contingent who were at the same venue for Isaac Hayes' season opener one week prior, and the band rewarded our (relatively) youthful exuberance with a litany of danceable grooves. It was a stone gas.

Ribot and slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein joined them for some interesting jams:

I really enjoyed their great Masada number from the band's upcoming album of John Zorn compositions:

When MMW gets this deep into the grooves, I love every minute, even though such practices make the esoteric elitists squirm. Because their repertoire is all over the map, I often wonder exactly how MMW decides what they're going to play each night, and as I’ve said elsewhere:

You really never know what you're going to get with these guys, and I have to wonder how they decide what they'll play at each performance. On this particular night, I was envisioning the following pre-show conversation.

WOOD: What say, John? Can we please make it funky tonight?

MEDESKI: I'd rather not, Chris. I'm really in the mood to produce some noise in changing time signatures.

WOOD: (sighs) Again? Well, there's only one way to settle this. Billy, what's your vote?

MARTIN: Oh, I don't care, as long as I get plenty of time to play the deer hooves.

WOOD: Damn! I'm always losing this game. (dejected) I guess it's John Cage's wet dream once again.

MEDESKI: Hold on. I'm sick of those fucking deer hooves. In fact, I hate them so much that I'll make it funky just to keep those deer hooves locked up.

MARTIN: C'mon! I wanna play the deer hooves! I wanna play the deer hooves!

MEDESKI: Alright, you get one fucking song, but it's at the end of the show. Don't even think about trotting them out early. Ribot will never sit in with us if you start in on that shit too soon. You know he hates venison.

MARTIN: You never let me have any fun.

Thanks to the phenomenal stealth efforts of Scott Bernstein, you can download this show via BitTorrent.. By the way, why don’t you allow taping if the artists are okay with it, Celebrate Brooklyn? Everything else about your venue is pretty chill, so there’s no reason to act so anal about this. I’m warning you, Celebrate Brooklyn. You had better get your act together or I might start skipping your free shows.

Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and The Cure and Dale Watson and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Beer 6-20-08

Now The Cure is not a band that is high on my radar. When I was in high school, a lot of my friends were very into The Cure, but I had little interest in such mopey music. While they were digging The Cure, I was listening to psychedelic and classic rock. There were a few Cure songs that interested me, but I wouldn't be caught dead at one of their shows, as I never wear eyeliner unless I'm getting paid for it.

However, my stockbroker is a huge, colossal, die-hard fan of The Cure, and he's been cajoling me to see Robert Smith live for many years, assuring me that Cure shows are a wild time. My stockbroker is also a man who knows how to party, as evidenced by his pre-show estimation that he'd consume close to 45 beers before the end of the night. With the possibility of witnessing such a record-breaking feat in mind, I decided to see how the other half lives and took the plunge on getting an $80 ticket for the show.

I met my stockbroker at Penn Station, and we rode back to my neighborhood for the pre-game. Knowing that I'd need something substantial in my belly to soak up the incoming flood of alcohol, I grilled peppers and corn (with my beloved green chile-garlic-cilantro-lime butter) as well as figs wrapped in pancetta and sage. For the main event, I fired up the smoker and made succulent, moist barbecue chicken that was falling off the bone and Pig Candy, which is a revelatory recipe that involves smoking bacon, then coating it with brown sugar and cayenne pepper before continuing the smoking to create a smoky sweet and hot piece of delicious swine. We ate well, although time constraints really prevented me from ingesting enough food. At the time, I knew it wasn't worth worrying about because I'd surely be paying for this mistake much later on.

We high-tailed it to the Garden and made it to our seats with time to spare, thankfully missing the opener, 65 Days of Static, who were described as 65 Days of Pounding Eardrums. I expected to see a crowd comprised of people in their 30s to early 50s, but to my surprise, almost half the audience appeared to be in their mid 20s. Since The Cure haven't had a hit in 16 years, I'm not really sure how the band would even be known by this younger generation. The crowd was ethnically diverse, as well. Of course, the homosexual population was well represented (both those out and those locked safely within the closet). For this reason, I shaved off my Village People-esque fu man chu before the show, as it's always a good idea to avoid looking too gay when you're amongst many regular patrons of the Blue Oyster Bar. There was a surprisingly small number of goths, and my stockbroker incorrectly assumed that the thing in front of us was a woman. Having lived in New York for over eight years, I am well-versed in the old Milton-Bradley game, Spot The Tranny, and I knew she was all man, baby.

I'm not gonna lie. I was really hoping I'd see lasers at this concert...or at least some fire. I don't get to see mainstream arena shows all that often, and the bands I like tend to do stupid shit in concert, like focus on the music. For once, a big spectacle would be nice. I don't need to see David Lee Roth dry-hump a gigantic inflatable microphone again (an image that permanently scarred my retinas), but I don't think it's too much to ask for a few lasers or a little fire or maybe even a strobe light. The Cure had none of that jazz, although the light show and backdrops were certainly respectable. They were supposed to have video screens, but a security guard told us that the screens weren't working. Umm...WTF? How can you come to Madison Square Garden, the most legendary arena in America, and not have everything in working order? And seriously, this is New York. We kinda know a thing or two about this here entertainment business, and we have no shortage of electricians.

Regardless, the show was pretty cool. Robert Smith's voice sounded in fine form, especially when he held out a high note for a really long time, which garnered enthusiastic approval from the fans. While I enjoyed Smith's singing, in my opinion, the real star of this show was guitarist Porl Thompson. Certainly one of the strangest looking musicians I've seen, thanks to a shaved and tattooed head, white-face and raccoon-eye makeup, and black leather boots with platform heels, this guy was shredding all night long. Never in a million years did I expect The Cure to rock so hard, but Porl was really raging for the entire show and brought everyone along for the ride.

I should also mention that I felt a tremendous amount of inexplicable nostalgia at this concert. Of course, it didn't make sense for me to feel nostalgic because The Cure was definitely not the music of my youth. Nevertheless, I felt swept up into the surprisingly positive atmosphere.

When a band has been in the business for nearly 30 years, you'd figure they've learned a thing or two. Towards the end of the set, Robert Smith showed his savvy by using the setlist to connect with the audience and dial up the energy in the room. "Friday I'm in Love" brought elated screams from the girls (and some boys) in the room, and while I'm not much of a fan of this tune, it was hard to deny the cheerful feelings it evoked. “Inbetween Days” immediately followed in a similar vein, and the good times were ramped up yet again in a jubilant "Just Like Heaven." By now, a solid 86.2 percent of the arena was up and dancing, a site I never expected to see.

There are tons of video clips of this show on YouTube, and these three are my favorites, all pro-shot from the FUSE TV broadcast.

“Friday I’m In Love”

“Inbetween Days”

“Just Like Heaven”

There were three pre-conceived encores that were well done, although I have to say that I'm officially over pre-conceived multiple encores. One pre-conceived encore is bad enough, but two and three are utterly pointless, aside from the band getting a little extra exercise while trotting on and off the stage. Listen up, bands, it's time to stop this pre-conceived multiple encore bullshit. That's right, I'm talking to you, too, Bob Dylan. Either play longer or leave. Stop toying with our emotions.

The final encore was one of my favorite Cure tunes, the gritty and raw "Killing an Arab." Due to political correctness, Smith has changed the song to "Killing Another," rendering the lyrics pointless until someone digs up Albert Camus and asks him to change his novella. In this day and age where idiocy knows no bounds, I could see some whacked out white supremacist using the original lyrics as some sort of warped mantra, so I guess I understand the change. Nevertheless, the tune smoked and was an excellent, fist-pumping ending to a fine three-hour show.

Since it was only midnight, our evening had just begun. My stockbroker, his brother, and I hopped in a cab, jetting cross-town to the comfy confines of Rodeo Bar, where Dale Watson was holding court. The Austin resident has a bit of Johnny Cash in him, and his full-throated bass sounds great when singing about outlaws and injustice. As soon as we arrived, my stockbroker immediately saw to it that our pace hastened in the Beerlympics. If I was going to have any shot at the Silver Medal (my stockbroker was a stone cold mortal lock for the Gold), I knew I needed to get something solid in my belly. My stockbroker and I split some delicious and mellow Chorizo con Queso, and I inadvertently hoarded and plowed through a plate of loaded nachos. It was dark and I have no idea of what was on them, but they were solid.

With another layer of protection in the digestive system, we cabbed on down to Sullivan Hall for Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. I had given my stockbroker lots of late night options prior to his visit, and to my surprise, he chose this dark and one-of-kind trio. I really thought their brand of jazz would be too esoteric for his tastes, but shortly after walking in, we both concluded that the robed and hooded band sounded a lot like a jammed out version of The Cure, making theses guys the perfect post-show act. (If only they had known about this, JFJO could have made a living playing after-show concerts in the way that Particle leeched off of Phish for years.) While downing a few more beers, I watched Reed Mathis unexpectedly play a lot of guitar (I think it may have been either pedal or lap steel, but don't ask me because my depth perception was waning at that point) before switching to bass. In between songs, several annoying friends approached us to crow about the life-changing event they'd witnessed at Radio City, thanks to some band called My Morning Waistcoat. None of them could believe The Cure show was good, let alone great. Their loss.

After JFJO ended around 3:30, we grabbed a cab home and went straight to my backyard, where I immediately fired up the tiki torches and cranked up The Cure on the stereo, undoubtedly delighting my neighbors. The plan was to eat the leftover smoked chicken, but as we stood there, wobbling back-and-forth with beers in hand, I realized that we should be sitting. Now I have about 63 chairs in my backyard, but I decided that we needed to be sitting in my most comfortable camp chairs. I retrieved the chairs, and we sat down, which was the evening's kiss of death.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up, slumped over in my chair, the sun shining across the 6:45AM sky with all four torches still blazing away. My stockbroker was inside, conked out on the couch, and while I was tempted to wake him up and shout, "Why'd you leave me sleeping out there, asshole?" (he would later claim that he thought I was slumping over while talking on the phone), the best I could do was make my way inside the house to lay on the floor. Oh, you wonderful floor with your amazing stiffness and your wonderfully uncomfortable carpet. In no time at all, I would be awakening to begin suffering from a world-class hangover, which was a sure sign that I had a great night.

Pass the Ibuprofen.

The Redemptive Powers of Hot Empanadas and Warm Cookies (Alice Russell and Bonerama with Pimps of Joytime 6-21-08)

That morning was an incredible struggle. My head was pounding, my body ached, and I was exhausted. I spent a few hours trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again before my stockbroker departed and I caught a brief nap. I had to get something at Costco, so I soldiered off into the scorching heat to wait for a bus. After shopping, I wandered into nearby Socrates Sculpture Park, which was hosting some sort of Summer Solstice Celebration festival. While there, I heard a drum circle of children banging out a multitude of discordant rhythms, which sounded great while I suffered from a pounding headache. Technically, this qualified as my first musical event of the day.

However, the virtue of this detour to Socrates Sculpture Park was not found in the performance of 40 budding, little Tito Puentes with a John Cage sensibility. Nay, I found salvation in the form of Mama's Empanada's, a small tent that was serving up a host of the deep fried Latin treats. I saw exactly what I wanted in the Guava and Cheese Empanada. Now I don't know what genius accidentally discovered the combination of sweet guava with mellow, nutty queso, but I'd like to shake his or her hand. Wrap those two up in dough, deep fry it, hit it with a little powdered sugar, and you have just what the hangover doctor ordered.

When this day began, I had lofty dreams of pursuing a multi-state, double-river crossing quadruple header involving two parties in Jersey and two concerts in Manhattan. The quadruple header is not nearly as difficult as one might imagine, but it does require a bit of preparation, efficiency, focus, and solo travel. (Gentlemen, I highly advise against attempting this with a girlfriend/wife/call girl unless you want to get dumped/divorced/sued between stops 2 and 3.) Unfortunately, I had broken my own rules and lacked both preparation and focus for this effort. Not only was I suffering from a relentless hangover, but I was also way behind schedule and only capable of moving slowly. An executive decision needed to be made, and I had to abandon to Jersey half of the plan, which was unfortunate because I knew that both parties would feature fine food and even finer friends. Instead, I took a little time to regroup before heading out for the first of two concerts.

The Hiro Ballroom is a gorgeous venue underneath the swanky Maritime Hotel. With its stylish Japanese motif, it appears to be a lounge for the beautiful and talented...yet somehow they let me inside.

Arriving at 8:45, I figured I'd be walking in late, but I actually opened the door at the perfect time, as Alice Russell's band struck their first note. Initially, the scene was awkward because everyone was afraid to move into the middle of the floor for fear of blocking the views of the beautiful people sitting at perfectly stylish but naturally uncomfortable low-slung tables. Then Alice motioned everyone to come forward, so I shoved my ass right in front of those models, Middle Eastern princes, and their gay hangers-on.

As a performer, Alice Russell exuded an incredibly infectious charm. She's a pint-sized woman with a powerhouse voice and excellent diction (which was required to spit out her often dense lyrics), and her smile and jovial demeanor really lit up the room. Everyone seemed to be having a blast in her slightly randy but cheerfully seductive presence.

Her band was comprised of a Buddy Holly look-a-like on guitar and a fiddler who sang backup vocals flamboyantly (as all fiddlers seem to do these days). These two were imported from Russell's UK, and they were joined by San Franciscans on drums and bass, neither of whom missed a beat.

Her new tunes sounded tre funky, particularly "Dreamer," and the audience had to be filled with fans-in-the-know because they reacted with ebullient praise when she mentioned her old band, Quantic, playing some great blaxploitation-sounding numbers from their repertoire. I particularly enjoyed the uptown funk strut of "Hold On Tight," as well as the expected encore of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

This clip is from a different show, but it gives you an idea of what she’s all about:

While I've enjoyed but haven't been blown away by Alice Russell's My Favourite Letters album, I thought her live show was fantastic. She's a very engaging performer with a nice set of pipes and some cool songs. I'll be seeing her again.

I bolted from Hiro and hopped on the cross-town bus, exiting at 14th St. and 5th Ave. for a nice stroll through the Village. I knew I needed to eat something, but I wasn't sure what I wanted, so I was on the lookout for something new. It arrived in the form of a sign that said "Warm cookies inside." I went inside Insomnia Cookies (which is open until 3AM) and felt the uncomfortably warm air before ordering a chocolate peanut butter cup cookie to go. It cost $2 because it was a "specialty" cookie, but their regular offerings were reasonably priced at 90 cents apiece. The cookie was warm, moist, and just melted into a delicious clump of peanut buttery chocolate goodness. I'm so happy I found this place. I shall return.

I went into Sullivan Hall and caught the last song-and-a-half from Pimps of Joytime. It's hard to fairly judge an act by such a short performance, but I heard enough fine music to pique my interest in seeing these guys play a headlining gig. Their sound was a unique mix of afrobeat, funk, reggae, and other global styles, and the decent-sized crowd seemed to be just as impressed as yours truly.

Here’s a video for one of their tunes:

At setbreak, I strolled around for a while and looked for the perfect dinner. With a desire to try something new but with only minimal hunger, I settled on The Creperie for the Grilled Vegetable Crepe, which included Peppers, Zucchini, Onions, Garlic, and Ricotta Cheese. It was quite tasty, although at $8 it was way overpriced for its meager portion and MacDougal Street home of typically cheap eats. Nevertheless, the line of people, most of whom were young women in tight outfits, proved that people apparently don't care about the prices (as long as they live by the light of Daddy's AMEX). I would probably go back to The Creperie again, but I'd opt for one of their numerous and more reasonably priced dessert crepes.

I went back to Sullivan Hall and walked in the door while Bonerama was finishing "The Ocean,” which you can hear now:

Bonerama was a band that we used to see all the time when they first began, but after a while, many of my fellow freaks and I began to tire of their endless Zeppelin and Sabbath covers, which eventually lost their novelty and became old hat. However, after the release of 2007's Bringing It Home, the band hit on a creative upswing. I was very impressed with what I heard at Jazz Fest, and this night’s performance was no exception.

Truth be told, I'm probably not the greatest judge of the quality of the performance because I was completely exhausted by midnight and my eyes were redder than a baboon’s ass. However, the band was able to pick me up and get my butt moving, grooving, and secondlining, particularly on an excellent Meters medley that included "Cabbage Alley," a completely original brass band spin on "Folsom Prison Blues," and an uplifting "When My Dreamboat Comes Home.” I should also mention the fine first set sit-in by Roswell Rudd, who played a couple of swingin' tunes, including Count Basie's famously smooth "Lil' Darling," while bringing the onstage trombone tally up to five. Craig Klein said, "Y'all make sure you go to YouTube and search 'Roswell Rudd.' R-U-D-D," so
here’s what you’ll find.

Thanks to the fine folks at Radio Johnson and taper extraordinaire Scott Bernstein, you can download podcasts of both Bonerama’s and Pimps of Joytime’s sets here.

I'm pretty sure the show ended close to 2:00, and I trudged into the subway, somehow managing to avoid falling asleep before my stop, which was a nice bonus and sufficient ending to a long day.

And on the 7th Day...

...God took a nap.

I really wanted to continue my streak by going back to Prospect Park for Salif Keita and Haale, neither of whom I had heard before (but both sounded intriguing), but my mortality was becoming apparent, as I was beat from the previous three nights. I needed a day to veg out and rest.

I apologize for letting you all down. It won't happen again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

8th Ave. Freeze-Out (Coldplay at MSG 6-23-08)

I’m not the world’s biggest Coldplay fan, but I do think they’re the only pop group that interests me these days because they have their own unique sound, and I will admit that I dig a lot of their songs, too. I’d heard that they put on a great live show, so I was geared up to buy tickets for this tour, but when they announced that their show at the Garden would be a free gig where the winners would be chosen from a drawing, I was S.O.L. Thankfully, my friend, Jennifer, who is inexplicably not ashamed to be seen with me in public, was both lucky and willing to take me to this special event.

We pre-gamed with friends at F.A.T.S. (Fat Annie’s Truck Stop). It’s an alternative to the crowded bars that are close to M.S.G., and like many joints in the area, they played a Coldplay DVD the entire time to rev up the crowd. I ordered the Grilled Buffalo Chicken Po’ Boy, which was nothing like a true po’ boy and was served with shredded carrots and blue cheese dressing on a warm pretzel roll. The roll could have been a brilliant revelation, but it was in dire need of salt. Along the same lines, the chicken was as bland as bland could be, and my compatriots deftly pointed out that had it been fried, it could have absorbed more flavor from the sauce. I guess I learned my lesson, Fat Annie’s Truck Stop. Thanks to you, I’ll never eat healthy again.

The arena was only 1/4 full at 8:00, and the 400 Level was curiously empty, which didn't make sense at all. It's a free show, and you're inexplicably not playing another show in New York, even though you could sell out the Garden in minutes, so why not give away as many seats as possible? Are you saving the upper deck for a rainy day?

Matt Pinfield excitedly introduced the opener, Long Island's The Blue Jackets. I found their music to be quite inoffensive, and that's probably the best thing I can say. There seem to be countless bands that sound like this being given daily reach-arounds on, and not one of them interests me in the slightest. That being said, The Blue Jackets are one of those slightly better than mediocre bands that play really loud, accent every single downbeat, and have a whiny lead singer. In other words, most of my friends would love them. I hate my friends.

The Blue Jackets played for a merciful 25 minutes. Looking at the clock, I started to wonder if Coldplay was only going to play a short set because it was a free show. That would be weak sauce.

At setbreak, I strolled around as Jen discovered that MSG has good beer after all. Internally, I cursed myself for having consumed hangover-inducing, Bud Lite on Friday when there was Hoegaarden to be had. I also discovered a disproportionate number of people in their early 20s, and I felt like the entire state of New Jersey was at this show.

A screen was oddly positioned on stage during the changeover, and when the lights went dark, the now 2/3 full arena screamed, as a countdown appeared on the screen and a guy at a rig did what appeared to be a combination of spinning and keyboard playing. When the countdown arrived at zero, I was hoping for a big explosion and then Coldplay flying in from the rafters. Instead, the DJ/keyboard guy spun this mundane new-agey electronica crap as we watched a mildly trippy cartoon that was more repetitive than creative. The cartoon improved and eventually became more interesting than the cotton candy vendor to my left, but the music got progressively worse and rather plodding. YAWN. At the very end, the screen said the musician's name was Jon Hopkins. I only mention this to warn all of you, so you can avoid having to sleep through one of his future performances. He finished and received satirical cheers from the relieved crowd.

It was now 9:10, the lights came up, a curtain dropped on the stage, and atmospheric music played. Coldplay was successfully boring the shit out of me, and they hadn't even taken the stage yet. At this point, I thought to myself, "They better have some fucking lasers. Only lasers can save this show. A little fire wouldn't hurt, either."

The lights went dark around 9:30, and the crowd went wild. During the “Life In Technicolor” opener, the large orb hanging from the screen turned blue, and I suddenly felt as though this show might have some promise. (Beforehand, I made it clear that I was hoping a little glowing green creature would appear inside this orb during the set.) Sure enough, the second song was "Clocks," and it featured a host of red and yellow lasers! BOO-YAH! Not only was it a song that I really love, but it had fucking lasers, people! LA-SERS! Coldplay immediately became untouchable in my eyes.

The next song featured Chris Martin running down one of the ramps into the crowd and looking like a somewhat confident front man instead of the fragile introvert role that he's been playing in the press as of late. The following cut was the new single, and I was shocked as the entire arena, aside from me, sang along with gusto. I think the song had only been out for a week, so it was clear that I was surrounded by hardcore fans.

At the conclusion, the band moved down to the front of the stage left ramp for a patented mini set. Thanks to U2, The Rolling Stones, and just about everyone else who puts on a big arena show, the mini set in a new location amongst the crowd has become an essential but relatively pointless exercise that never fails to drive the audience crazy.

The second number in this configuration was “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face.”

In my opinion, this was the highlight of the night, featuring some intense, ripping guitar. Very sick. Then Martin played piano in the mini set while the rest of the band accompanied him onstage in a lackluster number.

This video of “Square One” shows a little of Martin’s swagger as a front man:

At this point, more orbs slowly began to appear, and I became impressed with the orbs' mating habits, as they were multiplying almost as fast as rabbits. When the orbs turned different colors, I started to think that there was a good chance of my dream coming true. Since I already got my lasers I thought I had a decent shot at getting a little glowing green creature inside an orb. By now, there were a lot of orbs, so I figured that at least one of them might have a little glowing green creature inside.

After Viva la Vida's "Stawberry Swim," Martin said, "We're going to try something we've never done before." Then band proceeded to leave the stage and walk through the aisles, up the stairs, and all the way around the concourse until they were at the rear of the arena (about 50 feet from me), facing the stage. They pulled out a couple of acoustic instruments and started "Yellow" to the frenzied delight of the crowd. A minor flub caused their second restart of the night, but with 18,000 people singing along, no one seemed to care:

Then the drummer, Will Champion sang a gospel-like “Death Will Never Conquer.”

Afterwards, the band vanished as dramatic music played while they traveled around the inside of the arena.

They reappeared to begin “Fix You,” and Martin shouted "Oh, shit" after flubbing the lyrics. The orbs had disappeared and were replaced by cannons shooting confetti, which I can only assume was made of recycled paper (and not the hides of African orphans, as is the case with most confetti in concerts by British pop acts). One “Lovers in Japan” amongst a background of a giant projection screen, and that was all she wrote.

It was only 10:35, and the crowd stomped and cheered wildly, despite the house lights coming on. If there ever was a time when the audience deserved an encore, this was it. The absence of house music and the relative stillness of the crew during the long break told us that we'd be getting more Coldplay. Then figures strode out on stage, and everyone went crazy...until we realized that it was just the crew in another classic concert encore psych-out.

While there were some lighthearted flubs here and there, it was still a very entertaining set from Coldplay, but it was so short that I feel as though I deserve my money back. Pony up, Coldplay, and don’t try to butter me up with lasers, either. If you can’t give me an encore, the least you can do is put a little glowing green creature inside an orb.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

The 7th Annual Jammys Report Card

Here we are at Madison Square Garden's Theater for the 7th Annual Jammy Awards. Never mind the fact that the 6th Annual Jammy Awards took place over two years ago. As I always say, the Jammys can be bold and adventurous, leading to moments of unexpected brilliance, or they can be extremely boring opportunities for B-list popstars to appear uncomfortable alongside talented improvisers.

As an added plus, we have Phish winning the Lifetime Achievement Award this year, and since we know that at least three of the band members will be in attendance, one has to wonder about a possible reunion. Of course, it's been rather surprising that very few people seem to think this reunion will happen, yet many are here tonight to see the show "just in case."

(NOTE: I wrote this as the show progressed, so in some instances, I may have gotten a songtitle or musician name incorrect. If that's the case please reply with the correction, and I'll try to take care of it as soon as I can. Also, feel free to reply with responses degrading me for grading something as subjective as music. I love that shit.)

The shows starts at 7:30 PM.

Warren Haynes, Grace Potter, Joe Russo, Booker T. Jones, and Will Lee - "Find The Cost of Freedom->Gold Dust Woman" - Wow. Usually this show starts out with a real dud, but hosts Warren and Grace are wailing through this one. Seated next to me is my financial advisor, who has already received a summons for having an open container in front of The Garden and is shaking uncontrollably. Grade: A-

"Take Me To The River" - Dear Mr. Cameraman, More close-ups on Grace Potter in that flapper dress, please. Regards, All The Men In The Audience. Grade: B+

Dean Budnick comes out and teases the looming Phish reunion a few times.

Pete Shapiro comes out and thanks sponsors, including Live Nation. Apathy has already set in, and no one in the crowd boos.

Live Album of the Year - Umphrey's McGee - Live at the Murat

Rose Hill Drive with Matisyahu, Rob Marscher (and someone on guitar) - "In the Morning of the Magicians" - I'm not entirely familiar with this Flaming Lips song, but I can tell you that it started out as the wussiest thing RHD has ever played... Matisyahu is now howling off-key and shouting unintelligible things. It's getting a little funky, aside from Matisyahu's rapping. And it's over. Grade: D+

Some dude shouts "More cowbell!"

Rose Hill Drive with Leslie West and Grace Potter (on keys) - "Goin' Down" - Awwww shit! This is nasty. I'm loving this and rockin' out, but most of the crowd is pretty stationary. Must be a lot of Umphrey's fans. I don't wanna ruffle any feathers, but I never thought I'd hear anyone rock this song harder than Gov't Mule, yet these guys are going way beyond the call of duty. Mr Haynes, the gauntlet hath been thrown down. Grade: A+

West makes a comment about how he's not used to having such a good looking organ player because the guy who originally did the song was an ugly fucker.

"Mississippi Queen" - Um...yes! This is killer stuff... Dammit, now I have to re-think my decision to skip Rose Hill Drive’s show tomorrow. Grade: A

Grace introduces Matisyahu. My financial advisor begins drunkenly taunting him.

Relix Man With the Moolah Steve Bernstein introduces a video of an 8 year-old Japanese kid shredding metal classics on a Flying V. The kid comes out and delights the audience with surprisingly good English.

New Groove Award: Cornmeal

Cornmeal's fiddler, Allie Kral, gives a nice, short speech.

Keller Williams - "Cadillac" - As he's introduced, there's a lot of excited wooing, showing this crowd is surprisingly filled with 19 year-old dreadlocked hippies who don’t believe in showers and the dogs they tour with. I like Keller without the electronics and loop toys, and this is okay but kind of boring and rather irrelevant. There's a lot of talking amongst the crowd, and people have stopped paying attention. Grade: C-

Keller Williams with Chevy Chase - "Natural Woman" - As he walks across the stage, I recall that I once saw a story on Chevy Chase that showed him to be an amazingly talented pianist. There's a long wait as Keller vamps before we finally hear Chevy play anything. Wow. Keller really has no soul and sounds whiter than a Grand Wizard. At least Chevy is providing humor with his backup singing and whistling. I guess this is a comedy number. I chuckle a little but cry inside. Grade: B-

"Sweet Home Alabama->Take The Money and Run->Sweet Home Alabama" - This jazzy and light version is actually kind of cool. My financial advisor leans over and says, "I hate myself for liking this." I wish we could hear more piano. Now my financial advisor says, "The novelty has worn off." My financial advisor is now so tanked that he has the attention span of a gnat. Grade: B+

DVD of the Year: Disco Biscuits - Progression

Download of the Year: Phish Headphones Jam

The crowd goes wild for Page. Drunks ignore the good things he has to say about the funds this download raised for charity and shout, "WHERE'S TREY!?"

Tea Leaf Green with Allie Kral and Big Head Todd Park Mohr - "Taught To Be Proud" - People actually like this Tea Leaf Green? I have to admit that I don't get it. This song is so remarkably milquetoast. There's no jamming, either. The fiddler is adding a little interest, but it's still rather lame. Grade: D

"Sister Sweetly" - It begins kind of funky but soon becomes repetitive and tiresome before being briefly saved by 8 good bars of a guitar solo and some nice fiddle work. Whoops. Spoke too soon. It's mundane again. Grade: C-

"Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)" - I don't like this song. It reminds me why I think the ‘90s sucked. Nevertheless, it is inoffensive and better than the previous musical dosage of Ambian. Grade: C

Tea Leaf Green with Allie Kral, Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze, and Warren Haynes - "Tempted" - Now I really hate THIS song. Can Warren save it? Not if they don't do anything interesting with the arrangement. Warren sings but barely plays guitar. I have my eye on this Tilbrook character. He's having way too much fun, and even money says he's the guy who has no business being in the end of night jam session but will be so excited that he'll step all over everyone's toes. Grade: C+

Grace Potter changes outfits. I do not approve of this.

Jon Fishman and David Shulman are introduced, and the crows goes wild for David Shulman.

Mimi Fishman Memorial Award: Marc Ross and Rock The Earth

Marc is a great guy who has made plenty of sacrifices, and gives a good speech, but his speech goes on a little too long for the drunken New York crowd, and they let him know about it.

Ken Dashow and some other douchebag DJ from Q104 come out and shamelessly self-promote their shows, which, of course, do not feature jamband music. Somehow these two clowns escape being booed for the third year in a row.

Song of the Year - "Cadillac" Keller Williams

Chevy Chase accepts the award as Keller Williams, and it's rather amusing.

Tour of the Year: Disco Biscuits and Umphrey's McGee - D.U.M.B.

No, the above is not the punchline to a joke about the intelligence level of their audience but rather the actual name these bands gave to their tour.

Roy Haynes on drums, Christian McBride on bass, James Carter on sax, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Page McConnell on piano - "Magilla" - Hey, who let all of these world class musicians in here? Page is actually holding his own with the creme de la creme of the jazz world. Me like. Grade: A-

During the song, a guy using a flash camera walks onstage and gets right up close to the musicians and takes pictures, including self-portraits of him and the band. It's bizarre. He is soon escorted offstage.

People are now hassling other people around me for dancing. At present, this is the lamest crowd in the history of Jambandia.

"Cars, Trucks, and Busses" - McBride switches to electric. Something doesn't sound quite right, as if McBride and Haynes aren't entirely familiar with the song, which they probably aren't. On the other hand, Carter sounds like he knows it better than Page, and he scorches. Payton ain't too shabby, either. Now McBride is playing a wicked solo and laying down a thick groove. Forget what I said earlier. This is pretty good.
Grade: A-

Grahmmy Jammy (The Industry Patting Itself on the Back Award) - Lee Crumpton, Homegrown Music Network

While presenter Ken Hays speaks, my financial advisor is just chanting "Fuck you" over and over again. I admire his style.

moe. gets booed when their name is mentioned as a nominee for Archival Album of the Year, and I’m fairly shocked by this. Right now, I sense that this must be a pro-String Cheese anti-moe. pro-Phish crowd.

Archival Album of the Year - Grateful Dead - Three From The Vault

Galactic with Booker T. Jones - "Hip Hug-Her" - Personally, I love this tune, but I wasn't wowed at the start, feeling that Stanton Moore was playing a bit too heavy and not as funky as normal. Thankfully, Ben Ellman and Rich Vogel threw some grit into the song and Galacticfied it. Grade: B+

Galactic with Booker T. Jones, Chali2na, and Sharon Jones - "Born Under A Bad Sign" - Oh, yes, my friend. This is fonkay. Grade: A-

Galactic with Booker T. Jones, Chali2na, Laidlow? - "Think Back" - It had a lot of energy, and I thought this performance had far more energy than the one I saw late-night First Saturday at Tipitina's. Grade: B+

Galactic with Doug E. Fresh and Chali2na- "The Show->La Di Da Di" - Guess what? 90% of the crowd is now up, groovin' along, and diggin' the 1980s call-and-response. Doug E. Fresh's beat-boxing is excellent, and he and Stanton get into an awesome beat box vs. drums showdown. Grade: A

Studio Album of the Year: moe. - The Conch

Everyone cheers. I guess they like moe. again.

Live Performance of the Year: Gov't Mule and guests at Bonnaroo

Fab Faux with Joan Osborne - "Come Together" - Joan turns this into a slinky and sultry moan. Ouch. I'm told the lead guitarist is not Jimmy Vivino, but I think he is. Whomever he is, he is smokin'. This is hot. Grade: A

Fab Faux - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - I've seen them nail this before, and they nail it again, but I feel like they need to do something different here...Holy shit. Right as I thought that, Trey comes on stage, and the crowd goes wild. He shreds like he's been dying to do this for a long time, and he and Vivino/Mystery Guitarist duel ferociously. This definitely qualifies as something different. Grade: A fucking +

"Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except For Me and My Monkey)" - More of the same brilliance. Anastasio and Vivino/Mystery Guitarist are perfect guitar foils. Grade: A+

They play a cool video montage in tribute to Phish.

Danny Clinch gives his tribute to Phish with a brief slideshow.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Phish

All four guys speak with Mike talking about how he wasn’t feeling well but realized it would be great to get out of bed and come down here to be with all of his friends, Fishman asking if we knew “The Prison Joke,” informing us that he would not tell us “The Prison Joke,” and then bizarrely walking away, Page genuinely thanking the fans, and then there’s Trey. Trey gives a trademark rambling speech, and the room gets completely silent. The silence doesn’t last long, as drunks and assholes start shouting things. He’s losing the crowd (as he usually does when he talks at the Jammys), but his speech is actually quite good, particularly the part about enjoying watching us dance and take the cultural phenomenon of Phish to another level. He also tells everyone that on the way to the show, he learned that his composing mentor, Ernie Stires, passed away a few days ago, and he wants to pay tribute to the man who was influential in the development of Phish's sound.

Judging from the ovation, people seem to be really into this here Phish band. It's quite a contrast from a few years ago when Phish was booed by the crowd for winning an award.

Afterwards, Phish all walk off the stage, and everyone in the crowd looks less than pleased with this non-musical reunion-like development.

Joe Russo, Kyle Hollingsworth, Jake Cinninger, Marc Brownstein, Jon Gutwillig "The Headcount All-Stars" - "Wilson" - Someone in the audience throws a bunch of glowsticks. The All-Stars make a couple of mistakes, but it sounds pretty good, thanks to Russo, who is really pounding the kit. I really wish Marco Benevento were here because I think he'd do a lot more than Hollingsworth, who ain't doin' much right now. Grade: A-

While I would hope that this is going to be some sort of tribute where an all-star band plays the honoree's songs before the honoree comes up and joins and eventually is left to play alone for the audience's delight and I hit the lottery and buy a small island where I establish my own nation-state and create a new system of autocratic rule that yields a higher gross domestic product and ends poverty and vastly improves infrastructure and builds a feeling of euphoria and unbridled joy in the general populace which eventually leads me to bring this ingenious system of governance to other countries in an ultimately successful movement to usher in an eternal era of world peace, it's becoming obvious that this dream is somewhat unlikely.

"Run Like an Antelope->Also Sprach Zarathrustra" Barber and Brownie really shine on this. I wonder if these guys sound better doing this stuff than Phish would right now. No one in the crowd is complaining during 2001. Grade: A

Joe Russo, Kyle Hollingsworth, Jake Cinninger, Marc Brownstein, Jon Gutwillig, and Aron Magner - "Maze" Russo is chugging along well, and Cinninger and Barber sound great dueling with Cinninger really ripping up the tension-and-release solo. My financial advisor says, "I saw Phish 4 times. They were never this good.” My financial advisor is drunk. Grade: A

Wait. That's it? No jam session? Just that little bomp-a-domp-domp-domp ending of "Maze"? Houselights up and not even a "Thank you"? Well, it's hard not to feel a tad disappointed even though this was a pretty good show.

Overall: I think this was a very good, very entertaining program, although it lacked in the real bold and adventurous pairings of Jammys past. I also would have liked to have seen host Warren Haynes sit in more than once and play more of a leading role. That said, I appreciated the way they made the evening revolve around the Lifetime Achievement Winner, and while Phish obviously did not want to play, I thought the "Headcount All-Stars'" tribute to them was a very smart and enjoyable way to resolve that dilemma. It was also a plus that very little this evening truly sucked. Overall Grade: A-