Tag Archives: Stratocaster
January 26, 2013
Mahavishnu Orchestra is in the pantheon of jazz fusion pioneers. Black hole density, volcanic intensity and ridiculous virtuosity. I had never heard anything quite like John McLaughlin’s searing fretwork, Jan Hammer’s prog-funk sounds and Jerry Goodman’s violin thrown to the front of what truly seemed to be an inner mounting flame. Not for the faint of heart. Beneath it all was drummer Billy Cobham, who played at Mach tempos and time signatures with the necessary muscle to stir the mix.
While Mahavishnu (especially in its original lineup for three brilliant albums) occasionally slowed down, more often than not, there was an avalanche of notes and spaces were usually avoided. The influence of McLaughlin’s Eastern spiritualism was very much present and the music omni-powerful. After Mahavishnu, McLaughlin turned away from the fire and the volume way down with his acoustic Indian trio Shakti, Jan Hammer went on to Miami Vice fame and blazed rock fusion territory with Jeff Beck, and Billy Cobham recorded his first solo album, 1973’s “Spectrum”. Cobham brought along Hammer, session master Leland Sklar on bass and guitarist Tommy Bolin (all of 21, before he went on to play with the James Gang and Deep Purple), as well as the great Ron Carter on acoustic bass and Joe Farrell on reeds/winds. A mix of funk and fusion, Hammer’s trademark mini-moog squelches and electric piano, Bolin’s cross-over agility, and Cobham’s furious chops placed up front, in the middle and sideways, “Spectrum” stands on its own as one of the seminal albums of its genre. Opening with a stampede of toms (“Quadrant 4”) and closing with Crusaders like funk (“Red Baron”), the album still holds up, even 40 years later.
Cobham has been recording at a Woody Allen like pace over the years, with over 40 albums under his own name and a resume that includes Miles, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Quincy Jones, McCoy Tyner and other jazz luminaries too numerous to mention (I’m partial to 1976’s “The Billy Cobham – George Duke Band: Live on Tour in Europe,” with John Scofield and Alfonso Johnson). Looking back on where it started seems appropriate.
To say Cobham is almost machine-like in his playing is more a testament to his strength and precision than a description of his breakneck pacing and explosive fills. In fact, on more recent listening, it is Cobham’s snare that is the constant. Always bubbling and percolating under whatever he is playing. While his double kick drum set up is rock in posture, it should not be taken as a jazz equivalent of Spinal Tap. Far from it (though I was curious how his traditionally monster kit plus band would fit on the snug Mint stage).
The Spectrum 40 tour reunites Cobham with Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman, with Cobham vets Dean Brown on guitar, Gary Husband on keys and Ric Fierabracci on bass. The tour had been in the Northeast and followed that up with West Coast dates in L.A, Santa Cruz and Oakland.
Beginning with a snare roll that barreled into the theme of “Mushu Creole Blues” (from 1994’s “The Traveller”), the Spectrum unit started to swing quickly as Goodman and Brown enthusiastically tangled with each other. Husband’s topically named “If the Animals Had Guns, Too” (from his 2012 release, “Dirty & Beautiful, Volume 2”) went to darker, freer corners in a more compact tune. Husband is an exceptional drummer in his own right, which must bring added intuition to his keyboard interplay with the bandleader. Cobham was relaxed and loose with the crowd as he introduced the band, admittedly a bit “fuzzy” after their escape from New York, just before a Nor’easter shut down travel. After the intros, the band jumped into Dean Brown’s “Two Numbers” (from Brown’s 2012 release, “Unfinished Business”), which found an interesting African marimba like feel at its mid-point. An extended Cobham solo stitched rhythmic fits and starts into a locomotive, mixing sheets of tom fills with his snare and cymbals, drawing the snare down to the barest paradiddle before an inundating flurry of strikes that launched “Stratus” (from the original “Spectrum” album and a fusion “greatest hit”, deservedly so). This being the first time I saw Cobham live, I was struck by how he played such a large kit (2 kicks, 2 floors, 4 rails and enough metal to melt into a car) like one half its size. That’s finesse.
The second set began with Goodman’s “Brick Chicken” (from 1999’s, “Stranger’s Hand”, a collaboration of Goodman, harmonica player Howard Levy, drummer Steve Smith and bassist Oteil Burbridge), and a flat out boogie that wouldn’t be out of place as a jam band crowd pleaser. “Fragolino” (also from “The Traveller”) and Ric Fierabracci’s “Sphere of Influence” (from 2007’s “Hemispheres” with Phil Turcio, Brett Garsed and Joel Rosenblatt) brought some (relatively) gentler passages between feverish highs. The set closed on the heels of another Cobham solo with “Quadrant 4”(from “Spectrum”), a total stomp with rock hero sensibilities and a 405 pileup of a crescendo. “Red Baron” had to be the encore (which also appropriately closes “Spectrum”), the band returning to its feel good theme many times over and leaving the stage to a very happy and appreciative audience. This was an outstanding night of music and the material a worthy revisit 40 years later.
A special shout out to The Mint. The Spectrum 40 show was the second KKJZ sponsored event at the venue in a week (following Joe Lovano and the US 5 with Esperanza Spalding), and if these shows are any example, the versatile booking of The Mint is a welcome and vibrant addition to the Los Angeles jazz scene. The room is a not a traditional clinking glasses, hushed at your seat jazz club. It is informal, open and intimate (but be prepared to stand). With Stanley Clarke leading his band through a three date run across town, not a bad week for Los Angeles jazz either.
Check out this recent interview with Billy Cobham talking about the tour and the band. Good stuff.
For the drummers reading this, Billy Cobham also teaches online at ArtistWorks (and gives students feedback on their playing, really). Pretty cool.
October 26-28, 2012
As an unabashed Jazzfest vet, I approached my first Voodoo with excitement and a hint of fear. The mix of rap, EDM, and the often indefinable, sprinkled with the best of New Orleans contemporary and traditional, on a bed of arena headliners, eclectic rockers, funk and blues artists, is uniquely Voodoo. Look, I’m an old school guy who knows enough to be dangerous to himself. Not a banger, a mosher or a surfer. I know Skrillex drops bombs that turn your bones to jelly and have never been to a Metallica show in my life, but I approached Voodoo with anticipation and an open mind. After all, there was Mr. Neil Young touring with Crazy Horse for the first time in eight years. Gary Clark, Jr.’s, blues without boundaries and the omni-bluesusical Jack White closing it out.
OK, so much for the obvious. How far would I go to connect with my inner Voodoo? Would I make it to Borgore (an Israeli DJ formerly of a death metal band), the total bizzaro of South African rappers Die Antwoord or Electric Daisy Carnival main stager Nervo (all three made “Rolling Stone’s 10 Must See Acts at Voodoo Fest”)? Maybe Voodoo would leave me forever changed and socially morphed. Or play it safe, reveling in New Orleans talent like the Soul Rebels, George Porter, Jr., Lil Band O’ Gold and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Hmmm. At Jazzfest, FOMS (“fear of missing something”) always runs high. At Voodoo, where I should be and where I could be was a kind of personal dare.
City Park is one of New Orleans’ great spaces and home to Voodoo since it moved from Tad Gormley Stadium (near the top of the park). It’s a relaxed setting of endless greenery and moss-draped oaks, crossed by footpaths and waterways. Perfect for the last big fest of the year and a contrast to the nearby fairgrounds that host Jazzfest. The weather was spectacular; a mix of late summer warm and crisp autumn cool. The five stages are easy to access and not more than a 10-minute walk from one end to the other.
Unlike Jazzfest, Voodoo goes well into the night and the weekend before Halloween in New Orleans gooses the id of the crowd even higher. Corsets and fishnets, the entire food chain (yes, that giraffe had just enough headroom to clear the porta-john), dudes in tutus. Just another day in NOLA.
‘nuf with the travelogue. Friday’s schedule was packed with Gary Clark, Jr., The Avett Brothers and Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the Ritual (main) Stage later in the day and rich with other bands I throughout. I headed to the Preservation Hall Stage, which featured local talent during the weekend. Both the Pres Hall Stage and the nearby WWOZ/Bud Light Stage are insanely intimate and, early in the day, they had the feel of a backyard barbeque. I needed an infusion of big horns right away and found it with the TBC (“To Be Continued”) Brass Band. Yup, officially back in NOLA. Next move was the soul pop of Brooklyn’s Andy Suzuki and the Method. Not quite blue-eyed in sound, but definitely soul directed, the instrumentation of fiddle and djembe (an African hand drum) augmented Suzuki’s strong vocals and keys to create vibrant, easy on the ears material. Back to the Pres Hall Stage for Little Freddie King and his traditional duckwalk , after which he threw in a little James Brown (ala “Sex Machine”) along with the usual blues staples. Guitar “Lightnin” Lee joined Little Freddie for a few tunes of dueling 3-ball red Lucilles. Stuck close by for C.C. Adcock who was sporting some impressive hardware including a steel Thinline Tele that he played with tons of tremolo and a hard tailed hollow body Flying V replete with whammy bar. Accompanied by an upright bass and two drummers facing off on a riser (giving the appearance of interlocking kits), these guys were howlingly loud and kicked up some stompingly serious boogie.
As the day was picked up, I had to be strategic heading up to Gary Clark, Jr.’s 5 o’clock start time and the bigger names that followed. New Orleans’ 101 Runners’ tribute to Big Chief Bo Dollis was my next move and I arrived mid-set with Mardi Gras tunes on full boil. Rolling Stone pointed me next to Delta Rae, a family band featuring rooted arrangements and sweet harmonies. They hit nice Mumford-like notes without the sadness or overearnestness that befalls many of their contemporaries that played well with the younger crowd. I can see why RS called them out and look forward to hearing more than the few tunes I heard. The Le Plur/Red Bulletin Stagepulled me away for a taste of Nervo, the sister EDM act. Now, I’ve been to Electric Daisy Carnival about as many times as I’ve been (or will be) to Burning Man, but I have to say the energy was playful, totally fun and infectious. Maybe it was the safety of the daylight, but I kind of got it in my own I don’t do this thing sort of way. Then the 80s called. Thomas Dolby was playing at the Le Carnival Stage. Dolby was one of the most successful to mix effects, danceable beats and tech with sophistication and rock that was neither the cousin of 70s electronic manipulation à la Kraftwerk or the pop candy of Duran Duran. It was 80s music with a brain. Early tunes included “Europa” (a personal favorite), the band had more strings than electronics and keys, and Dolby himself lent a very affable presence. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Time to get my roots on with Gary Clark, Jr. at the Ritual Stage. With his ACL set scorched in my brain (which I streamed) and a show-stopping Jazzfest set in the Blues Tent (opposite Springsteen), any chance to see Clark, Jr., at this point in his career is an opportunity to witness prime time talent on the rise. No surprise he draws well at big festivals, even though two years ago only a few had really heard him. I could only stay for the first few tunes, but as soon as he hit stage it was if a huge Texas storm had just taken a blue sky day and tossed the place. The Texas shuffle of “Don’t Owe You a Thang” was especially smokin’. Next stop, George Porter, Jr. and His Runnin’ Pardners back at the OZ Stage. I appreciate Porter, Jr.’s playing even more in non-Metersesque settings (that he brings NOLA funk to Dead grooves with 7 Walkers is especially a treat) and Pardner Brint Anderson’s Les Paul and slide are well matched. After a taste of George, The Avett Brothers hit the Ritual Stage, their thrash banjo-cello attitude showing why they have such a great festival following. These guys are the anti-ramble, wielding bluegrass instruments like sharp knives, and have unstoppable energy. After a few of Avett Brothers tunes, I couldn’t miss Malian stringer Cheick Hamala Diabate. Diabete, a Washington (DC) resident, is a griot (West African troubadour of sorts) who has collaborated with Bela Fleck and performed for the US Congress, and builds musical bridges between traditional griot instruments and their western counterparts. His banjo playing and jamming were remarkable and one of the days many highlights. One last stop before the headliner, one more special Voodoo collaboration at the Pres Hall stage that brought together George Porter, Jr. and Johnny Vidacovich, with Skerik and Mike Dillon of Garage a Trois, and the legendary “Kidd” Jordan. Jordan swapping and merging tenor squonks with the crazed and incredibly innovative Skerik over a hard groove from Porter, Jr. and Johnny V. was not to be missed, except for Neil Young.
Neil Young has been headlining large arenas, sheds and festivals for his first tour with Crazy Horse since 2004 and his body of work remains seminal to my personal soundtrack (and has since the 70s). Young’s last performance in New Orleans at the 2009 Jazzfest is the stuff of legend. Seriously. After shredding the strings of Ol’ Black at the end of his “Day in the Life” encore, the swollen skies opened up just when the last note faded. This night was mild, and the skies clear, as Young and the Horse took the stage for a 2-hour set that can only be described as primally charged. Largely sticking to a set list consistent with the tour to date, Young was fresh from a gig in Tuscaloosa with the Horse the night before and his annual acoustic Bridge School benefits the prior weekend. The tour has featured nuggets from early 90s Young and Crazy Horse including “Love and Only Love” (the opener) and “F*!#in’ Up” from “Ragged Glory”, tracks from the just released “Psychedelic Pill” and obligatory classics.
With just a few exceptions, the set was pure cronk. Jurassic and thunderous from start to finish, perhaps never more so than with the seemingly endless coda to “Walk Like a Giant”. There was the 10+ minutes of the song and the 10+ minutes to the finish that was reduced to nothing but sustain, distortion and apocalyptic howl. Young was literally hugging the top of his stack, squeezing every last possibility for noise out of the thing until there was nothing left to give. At one point in the middle of “Giant” Young, back turned, raised his arms and shook his fists at the heavens as if channeling planetary frustration through his Les Paul to get the Almighty’s attention. He got mine. Nothing like the junkie ballad “Needle and the Damage Done” to take the edge off after that.
Later in the set, with a long pick scratch down the neck and some time machine humor, Young launched into a raucous “Mr. Soul”, before closing with “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” upon which the 40-something woman next to me proclaimed, “old guys know how to rock!”. Now there’s some Voodoo wisdom for ya. He came back with “Like a Hurricane” as an encore, at one point drifting on the words “somewhere safer”, as if repeating them would make them truer. It all ended in a ritualistic roar with Young deconstructing Ol’ Black yet again, then disintegrating into a primordial rumble that had him nudging the barely beating carcass of his guitar like a big cat over a fresh kill. A fitting end to Voodoo Day 1.
The great thing about Voodoo is sleeping in. While gates open 11ish, the music can go another 12 hours. Especially in NOLA, it is important to recharge, so rolling in around 3 seemed reasonable (as much as I wanted to check out Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, it just didn’t happen). My first Day 2 stop was the Soul Rebels Brass Band at the OZ Stage. The Rebs are Jazzfest fixtures, and get around plenty during festival season. By the time I hit their set, they were working Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” into a joyful, brassy lather. Contemporary Cajunistes Feaufollet were a worthy detour at the Pres Hall Stage before catching some of the Revivalists set at the Ritual Stage. I’ve written a lot about them lately and what I saw of their Voodoo set only reaffirms a New Orleans band playing vital rock and roll that is going places (with a Soul Rebels walk on that made them sound even better). Ingrid Lucia Presents the New Orleans Nightingales was a showcase for female vocalists of blues, jazz and traditional persuasions backed by a crack band with Alex McMurray on guitar and a 5-piece horn section including Bonerama’s Craig Klein. Irma Thomas (who I missed) is always a draw, but it was great to hear a wide range of stylings in a back-to-back format from Debbie Davis, Alexendra Scott, Banu Gibson, Meschiya Lake, Holly Bendtsen and others.
One of my must do Voodoos was Dave Stewart, who I had not seen perform since the Eurythmics days. Stewart’s recorded collaborations with Annie Lennox swung radically from the sythn-pop, tech heavy (and beautifully executed) cool of “Sweet Dreams” and “Here comes the Rain Again” to the fiery funked up rhythm and soul of “Would I Lie to You” and “Missionary Man”. Knowing he had taken a bluesier, rootsy direction in recent years had me very curious. Stewart came dressed for the Voodoo vibe with a band that included Nashville guitarist, Tom Bukovac. The set liberally featured material from last year’s “Blackbird Diaries” as well as Stewart/Eurythmics hits including “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Missionary Man”, “Here Comes the Rain Again” and a “Sweet Dreams” mash up with the Soul Rebels (they were everywhere). From the outset, Stewart and his band were also one of the most photo friendly and audience engaging acts I have covered in a long time. He was frequently playing to the pit, freely posing and smiling, and having a great time every minute he was on stage. A lot of artists could take a page from his book.
At the Ritual Stage, I hit the start of LA’s own Silversun Pickups gasoline-fueled set then circled back for some timeless reggae courtesy of Toots and the Maytals at the OZ Stage, where Toots was given a generous 90 minutes.
Unfortunately, I was not shortlisted to shoot the headliners, including Metallica. Sometimes things work out the way they’re meant to. Anders Osborne’s set with VOW collaborators Johnny Sansone and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in front of a few hundred was another highlight. Opening with the thrumming urgency of “On the Road to Charlie Parker”, it felt like they’d been playing for hours, and they just dug in from there. I’ve heard Sansone perform “Lord is Waiting the Devil is Too” many times, but this night he was truly a man possessed by the spirit. I mean scary potent. Oh, and only at Voodoo could you check a guy in an Anders costume and everyone is in on it.
After Anders’, I slid over for the very end of MyNameIsJohnMichael’s set. Spanky horns, uptempo arrangements, great energy. I’ll make sure to catch them come Jazzfest time, if not sooner.
I managed to get to some of Metallica’s set. These guys put on a highly entertaining and totally energized performance, with world class staging and lighting for a festival setting that is second to none. Consummate professionals, for sure. Me, I was pretty spent after two full days and some two dozen plus acts, and just wasn’t feeling my Metallica (I’m a little old for fireworks and explosions, anyway), but I totally get why they are kings of their scene.
Sunday was lighter on acts that pulled me, a perfect opp to go outside my bandwidth. I started with some New Orleans Bounce at the Le Carnival Stage and the younger, totally buoyant crowd way in to all the shakin’ it on stage. Long, tall Marcia Ball at the OZ Stage could not be passed up, even it was a drive by en route to the prog-metal weirdness of Coheed and Cambria (classic Voodoo whiplash). “Afterman: Ascension” the latest installment in the band’s ongoing epic mythology, sits at no. 5 on the Billboard charts, somewhere between Ellie Goulding and Mumford & Sons. Formed in 1995, each of the band’s six albums to date are concept pieces for the “Armory Wars”, a science fiction storyline written by singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez. I can’t say I really got it for the early tunes I made, but the sound was big and crunchy, more metal than prog. And Sanchez’s mane makes Jim James look like he just got a no. 2 at the local barbershop.
Needing to chill, I quickly checked out Borgore at the Le Plur/Red Bulletin Stage. This former drummer of the Israeli death metal band Shabira (not a genre I’m overly familiar with) is all dubstep and according to Wikipedia, “some songs have been compared to horror movies, farm animals, and sex”. Not sure I got that anymore than I am a dubstep aficionado, so I pressed on to Lil Band O’ Gold back at the OZ Stage to bring me back down. Lil Band O’ Gold is somewhat legendary in New Orleans circles, featuring C.C. Adcock on guitar, Steve Riley on accordion (delayed by weather) and David Egan on keys. Perhaps most impressive were the vigorous vocals and playing of 75 year old drummer Warren Storm. A joy to have finally caught up with these guys who represent the best in New Orleans roots music. Then there is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Few names are more synomonuos with New Orleans musical traditions. With Big Al Carson sitting in on vocals, the Pres Hall Band swung and sang there way through a spirited set capped off by a warm rendition of “Goodnight, Irene”.
Skrillex (only at Voodoo could you bounce from the Pres Hall Jazz Band to Skrillex). Holy crap. These weren’t bombs, they were cannonballs to the chest. I can only relate the visceralness of the sonic/visual experience. The music itself just poured over me, submerging me behind a wall of visuals and sound that left me in a puddle. And that was for the 10 minutes I could shoot.
Voodoo wrapped with a closing set by Jack White and (for this night only) The Buzzards. With upright bass and pedal steel adding raw texture, they stayed low to the ground, gritty, pushy and fiery, delivering a set of shape-shifting blues rock that was a wholly satisfying conclusion to my first Voodoo Experience.
So, at the end of it all, did I Voodoo well? I went places I’ve never been, found shelter in the New Orleans rhythms and brass I love and heard 30+ acts over the three days. It is just this mix that is hard to duplicate anywhere else. The traditional and the contemporary, the edgy and the extreme, the local and the global, headliners and up and comers. All set in “this stew called New Orleans” (as Paul Sanchez puts it). I’m not off the reservation yet, but maybe a little closer to the edge than I was before. That’s a good thing. Voodoo done me right.
You can check out many of the Voodoo Experience 2012 performances on Voodoo TV. The event would not be possible without the good people of Rehage Entertainment (RE). RE owns, operates, produces, books and manages the Voodoo Experience, which has twice been nominated for Pollstar’s festival of the year.
August 14, 2012
It’s apropos that the Honey Island Swamp Band would return for a summer gig at The Mint following an appearance at Outside Lands the prior weekend. After all, the Bay Area figures so prominently in this NOLA band’s origin story. Stranded by Katrina. Crescent City players a long way from home. Meet up on the west coast. Bond big time. Keep their chops strong. Throw a few songs together. Land a regular gig in the heart of town. Cut their debut in the one and only Record Plant in Sausalito. It could only happen….where?
This is their third trip to The Mint in 14 months. That’s not a bad thing. Whether it’s covering their LA dates, staking their ground from the big stage at the Fest or enjoying their pop up everywhere Fest club dates, I have been a fan since first catching them at Jazzfest in 2008. The Bay Area meets bayou influences are everywhere in the HISB sound. Solid songwriting, tight arrangements and enough room to stretch, their self-coined “bayou americana” is rootsy strings first stuff. Swamp driven, but not dripping, and often sprouting ensemble fed jams from tasty hooks, HISB sets include staples from their first three albums “Honey Island Swamp band (2007), “Wishing Well” (2009) and “Good to You” (2010), and more recently, new material from a pending fourth release.
Guest Robert Walter was on hand to thicken the gumbo a bit. Many an HISB gig add horns up top, so it’s a fresh twist to double down with Walter and Trevor Brooks on keys. Behind the stringed attack of frontmen, Aaron Wilkinson who moves between his Thinline Tele and mandolin, and Chris Mulé’s excellent Strat fed slide work, HISB serves up material reminiscent of Little Feat, Creedence, Black Crowes and many of the band’s NOLA peers, while remaining totally original. Sam Price’s stage energy is only exceeded by the pulsing, bubbling work on his Lakland bass. Garland Paul is a great foil for Price and the rhythm section drives and roots a band that feeds one another with spirited stage IQ in a deceptively comfortable musical setting.
Opening with the country ramble of “Honey” (from “Good to You”), the tune had Trevor Brooks off to the races. “Josephine”, (also from, “Good to You”) is simply a good time song of love on the road with a great hook. Some muscular playing from Price and kick ass exchanges between Chris Mulé and Trevor Brooks drove that point home. Walter’s jazzier inclinations added another layer to the already jammy “Chocolate Cake” (from “Good To You”) and his soul jazz sound on his own “Snakes and Spiders” (from his 2008 release, “Cure All”) and later in the set, “Hard Ware” (from 2005’s “Super Heavy Organ”) and “Quantico, VA”, were an intriguing match for HISB that worked better than expected. “300 Pounds” (from “Good To You”) is a classic tale of weed running that again had Mulé satisfyingly meshing with four hands on the keys. “Slip” from their self-titled debut and “One Shot” (unreleased) were feisty, with the latter beginning with a reggae on the bayou feel and the former featuring some nice wah-wah like effects from Mulé, when the band was not hugging the go to m7/dom 9 change. Throughout the set, Aaron Wilkinson’s mandolin work showed how much that little box can rock, when he wasn’t tangling Fenders with Mulé or working a hot summer day harp in to the mix. His 8-string touch on “One Shot” climbed all around the blues step of the tune.
No song captures the musical strengths of HISB like “Wishing Well” (from the 2008 release of the same name). Swampy riffs, a sing along chorus and deep stretches of purposeful jams. At The Mint, the snaky intro, Mulé’s slide and the ensemble spirit had me deja vuing for long lost brain cells. “Till the Money’s Gone” (from “Wishing Well”) is an all NOLA romp and “Jitterbug Swing” (an old Bukka White tune, also unreleased) is fleet footed front porch bluesgrass. “Cane Sugar” (unreleased) and “Country Girl” (from “Good To You”), with its Van Morrison if he could boogie flavor, closed things out.
Singer/guitarist Clarence Bucaro opened the show with a well received set culled from his five albums, including the just released “Walls of the World”.
HISB is deceiving. The tunes feel like your own backyard throwdown, but go deeper. The funk, blues, bluegrass, jam, country, bayou sound they have cultivated will satisfy jam fans and roots devotees alike. Fest vets know what I’m talking about and the thousands who caught them Saturday at Outside Lands do too. And they just keep getting better.
August 10, 2012
Into the blues or not, it was impossible not to look forward to the crossroads on the road summit of Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang – two giant slingers for the ages. Myself, I’ll get me some 8/12-bars all night long from just about anybody, let alone these guys. Seriously, I was raised as far from the blues as a Westwood kid could get, yet the in your bones familiarity and launchpad of guitar heroes past, present and future intoxicated me early on. Blame Clapton. Blame Hendrix. Blame Duane Allman. The roots of my personal soundtrack lie in the blues and blues driven rock. Few musical idioms are as simple, fundamental and elemental. And in this day of economic hardship and digital overload, the blues have never been more important.
The setup of Lang, the original teenage blues phenom (now 31-year old father of three) with Buddy Guy, the elder Chicago blues king, could not be passed up. The Fargo born Lang was signed to A&M at 15 and “Lie to Me”, the first of his four studio albums was released in 1997 (his most recent effort is 2009’s “Live at the Ryman”). These two actually crossed paths earlier in Lang’s career with his appearance on Guy’s 1998 “Heavy Love” release. No surprise Lang has toured with the likes of the Stones, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Sting, and that Clapton tapped him for the first Crossroads Guitar Festival (2004). Buddy Guy, 45 years Lang’s senior, started performing in early 50s Baton Rouge and he’s never stopped. His discography on Chess, Vanguard, Alligator, Reprise, Atlantic, MCA and many others, spans a lifetime, and he is a six-time Grammy winner. To put it simply, Clapton once described Guy as “the best guitarist alive”. The list of worshipful guitar legends Guy has influenced is pure hall of fame. I was only hoping that this performance would be a master class in 6-string heartache and rags-to-riches showmanship that come with the territory.
While I am less familiar with Jonny Lang’s material, he connected with the OC crowd early. Beginning with more brooding tunes including “Turnaround” from the 2006 album of the same name, Lang took to either side of the stage as he dug into solos with a fleshy, perfectly baked tone delivered from a gorgeous Les Paul and especially his Tele Thinline Deluxe (Tab Benoit is another notable blues artists favoring the Thinline). By the time he hit “Red Light” from 2003’s “Long Time Coming”, the audience swooned a bit as he reached for quieter falsettos between a Marley-esque sing along of “everything’s gonna be alright”. Not exactly steeped in the delta, but a solid showcase for Lang’s musical and vocal range. A too short cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” was a terrific match for Lang’s strengths and the crowd really responded to the gospelly “That Great Day” from “Turnaround”. A thomping intro to “Angel of Mercy” from 1998’s “Wander this World” found Lang facing off with guitarist Akil Thompson’s hollow-body Gibson for some of Lang’s nastiest soloing of the set. Lang closed things out with a solo acoustic intro to “Lie to Me’” from his 1997 debut album of the same name, that grew to full band drama on a tune that had an “everyone’s been there” feel to it. A blues that anybody knows well.
As Buddy Guy strode to the stage with a huge smile and a signature polka dot Strat (blue with white dots, to be exact), he took a healthy moment to pause and respect the crowd. While it would be easy to trade on his legend, the man takes nothing for granted. He then jumped into the Leon Russell penned/Freddie King associated “Going Down”, a propulsive early 70s tune made a little more famous by Jeff Beck. Guy advised us that we were going to get “so funky, we could smell it” before taking “Hoochie Coochie Man” from a quiet rumble to a roar. He roamed the stage, even going off-mike to create living room intimacy, then fired away with guitarist Ric Hall in a sizzling exchange of solos. Between songs, Guy jokingly (or not) confessed he “don’t rehearse, or I’ll fuck it up”. Believe me, he didn’t. The key no longer fit the lock with the cheatin’ blues of “Someone Else Is Slippin’ In”, from his 1994 release “Slippin’ In, after which Guy noted “you don’t hear blues on the radio anymore”. A sharecropper’s son who didn’t have running water until he was 17 would know.
“If you don’t try and please the fans, go home”, Buddy Guy remembers telling some fellow musicians. It’s so obviously true. “76 Years Young” (updated from “74 Years Young” from 2010’s, “Living Proof”) was a highlight, and not just for the humor of the autobiographical intro. With lines like “I’ve been a dog and I’ve been a tomcat, I chased some tails and I left some tracks”, this is a man who’s lived every word. Guy’s vocals showed off a warm spot-on vibrato on the 1956 Little Willie John classic “Fever”. Then it was time to plunge into the crowd with an Albert King tribute (and this ain’t no mosh pit). Guy took his time entering from one side, leaving from another, moving from the front of the room to the back. Allowing fans to take a picture with him, laughing and smiling the whole way, all the while shredding up a storm and seamlessly staying connected with the band. Yeah, I think the fans were pretty happy.
When Buddy Guy steps aside for another slinger, you know the player’s special. When the guitarist is 13-year old (barely) Quinn Sullivan, it’s jaw dropping. Guy first played with Sullivan when he was 7 (“I thought it was me playing”). Try and process that. Sullivan confidently took his spot and sparked up a gorgeous Strat for his own “Blues Child” from his 2011 debut “Cyclone”. That Guy compared his playing and sound to Clapton is not to off the mark (and I can’t believe I just wrote that). Sullivan stuck around for “Buddy’s Blues”, also from “Cyclone”. “The whole world turned upside down, when I first heard the master Buddy Guy”, Sullivan growled as deep as his teenage pipes could reach. Well put, Quinn. Jonny Lang had to be smiling off stage. Perhaps what’s most powerful about this collaboration is the legacy of the blues that transcends generations. Where a 13-year old with the world ahead of him can meet up with a 76-year old master on equal footing. Wow.
Guy’s set concluded with his popular take on John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain” from his 2007 album of the same name, and a loose cover of Cream/Clapton’s vintage blues “Strange Brew”. “Feels Like Rain” was a crowd pleaser that resonated well with the Grove audience. Lang and Sullivan joined Guy for “Strange Brew”, which could have had more spark given the lineup, but was hardly a disappointment.
Buddy Guy’s generous spirit was on display to the very end. High 5-ing and signing autographs as he left the stage. A shout out to Guy’s band is also called for. The rhythm section of bassist Orlando Wright and drummer Tim Austin, Marty Sammon’s keys and Ric Hall on guitar were far more than predictable accompanists, they were a soulful unit that played as a very tight band.
I came to the show to bask in the notes of a blues legend. Check. That Buddy Guy spun stories like I was on the bar stool next to him was just as meaningful. This was a night of blues as uplift, warmth and connection. Not the dark stuff. Damn right, they got the blues and ain’t we the lucky ones. Don’t ever forget that.
From the Revivalists passionate opening Gentilly set to the final moments of Springsteen’s plaintive reading of Saints, the first weekend of Jazzfest 2012 was an abundance of special moments. Yes, the draws were the Acura headliners. Petty and Bruce delivered deep satisfying sets (from what I was able to catch), and Springsteen’s presence was a rallying cry of celebration and reflection. A reminder of how New Orleans has healed since his epic 2006 post-Katrina Seeger Sessions appearance, and how far there is still to go. Even the Beach Boys brought their game, judging by the smiles and sing alongs from a nice size Acura crowd. But, hey, did you check out Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Congo Square? The four generations of players from 9 to 90+ that filled the Fais Do Do on Saturday for the Savoy Music Center Cajun Jam? How about Bon Iver’s stirring (and unexpected) connection with the Jazzfest crowd? Gary Clark, Jr. absolutely tearing down the Blues Tent opposite the Boss with Texas blues that left teeth marks? Not to mention the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars and Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen showing Tom Petty how it’s done in New Orleans. Sure until self-cloning is an app, we all pang for what we missed. Weekend 1 proved, yet again, no matter where you are at the Fest, it’s exactly where you should be.
The days between were not too shabby. Instruments A’ Comin’ on Monday night at Tip’s and New Orleans Musicians for Obama at Generations Hall on Tuesday had my head spinning (in a good way). IAC was loaded this year, as always. The sight/sounds of the best young brass in town marching along a closed Napoleon Ave. is breathtaking, and Shorty, Galactic, HISB and a cast of thousands made for a very satisfying 4:30 AM bedtime. Tuesday night’s “ObamaFest” had some unfortunate ticketing glitches, but once inside Generations Hall, there was a little bit of everything with two stages, multiple bars and a great relaxed vibe. The mostly Meters mini-set with Dr. John was locked in and tight, the highlight of the night by far.
The second weekend of the Fest boasted one of the richest lineups in year. While the Foos and the Eagles were not in the cards for me (my closest encounter was fighting the 65,000 Eagles fans for the exit), the Gentilly Stage and the Blues Tent pulled me like magnets. Thursday can never be a bad day. The crowds are lighter and headliners undemanding. It’s easy to roam, chill and eat. Like a bonus day. Flow Tribe completely entertained, Glen Hansaard sang/played his heart out with a 6-string that makes Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” look new. Honey Island Swamp Band’s “Bayou Americana” keeps getting better. George Porter, Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners were totally in the groove. Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread was magical and Florence Welch had me completely under her spell. Only at Jazzfest could Florence + the Machine be counterpointed with the earthy grit of James Cotton’s blowing in the Blues Tent. If that’s a down day at the Fest, give me more.
Friday was a highlight. Grace Potter’s scorching stage presence was topped by the Nocturnals go for broke delivery. Hornsby’s long overdue Fest debut was juicy and this Bruce was loving every minute of it, especially when joined by dem ‘bones. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s metal rooted world nylon string mash up was mesmerizing. Zac Brown showed why he is a festival circuit favorite, and so much more than a solid country rock comer.
Saturday brought a rollicking (and rocking tight) Allen Toussaint set. Anders Osborne, fresh from the release of “Black Eye Galaxy” dug deep and raw, then vulnerable. Dropping the guitar and backed by strings, “Higher Ground” was simply beautiful. John Boutte brought the house down with a triumphant Jazz Tent performance and running between My Morning Jacket, Herbie Hancock and the Warren Haynes Band (with Dr. John) sums up why there is nothing like Jazzfest. The Haynes Band especially shined in the slot originally scheduled for Levon Helm. Levon’s spirit was all over the Fest, whether it was Hornsby covering “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” or Mavis Staples bringing the crowd to tears in the Gospel Tent with “The Weight”.
By the time Sunday rolls around, you tell yourself the tank is more than half full, not running down fast. You believe the flight home is just a scheduling mistake, rather than a cruel joke. Then Galactic overpowers the Acura crowd. Glen David Andrews brings out that red horn and everyone rises a few inches off the ground. You go to church with the entire Boutte clan. David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco seize the Jazz Tent crowd before the final coming together to honor 50 years of Preservation Hall, with guests that celebrate all that is New Orleans music. Go shake it with Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings before the reality sets in that there are only 355 more sleeps to Jazzfest 2013. Now that’s a life. Thank you Quint and every human who make Jazzfest possible.
April 18, 2012
Jim Brock Photography is donating prints to raise funds for the Tipitina’s Foundation Instruments A Comin’ on April 30th. Each year, Instruments A Comin’ (IAC) purchases instruments for school band programs in the greater New Orleans Area, and to date, has raised over $2.5 million for 75 schools. The 11th Annual IAC features a stellar line up including Galactic, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, BIGI (Ivan Neville, George Porter, Jr., Ian Neville, and Russell Batiste), Honey Island Swamp Band, Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes Shamarr Allen & The Underdawgs, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Anders Osborne, Brass-A-Holics, Johnny Vidacovich, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Mia Borders, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Donald Harrison & The T.I.P. Interns (and more). Other events include a silent auction, battle of the marching bands, walk and wall of fame induction ceremonies and more. In addition to the silent auction, items are available for bidding online now. If you believe in the City, have a love for the music and want to make a difference from wherever you are, please considering bidding. Two Jim Brock Photography prints are currently available for bidding, with more to be added.
Prints are 16 x 24 on Type-C Kodak Endura paper and verso signed for authentication.
March 1, 2012
Dumpstaphunk is slippery, stinky, smelly, funked up stuff. It says so in the name. We get it, but just to make sure nobody misses the point, Nick Daniels III and Tony Hall lock up dueling basses at every D-phunk gig. The prowess of the players is unquestioned, the history and Neville legacy familiar. Ivan’s indulgences and 14 years sobriety. His time as a Stones/Richards sideman. The fat Hammond sound and rich vocals he’s cultivated with Dumpstaphunk since 2003, along with numerous other projects and collaborations. Cousin Ian carrying the torch with the Funky Meters. Tony Hall’s double barreled Strat/bass attack and emcee theatrics. Nick Daniel’s III’s powerful digits. New addition Nikki GIaspie’s huge resume and Berklee chops. It all adds up to a solid unit that puts it in the dumpsta night in, night out.
Back in the day, Ivan Neville had more than a few residencies at The Mint and he’s no stranger to LA these days, either. The last time I caught Dumpstaphunk in town, they headlined a double bill with Rebirth at the Roxy and the energy was crazy. This time around, they were playing a room half that size over two nights. Scary. The LA dates kicked off a March tour schedule more demanding than a 2012 NBA road trip (14 dates in 24 days in California and the southeast). Dumpsta’s latest, Everybody Want Sum, was released in November and Jazzfest is around the corner, so I was counting on a good night. And with tunes like “Greasy Groceries”, “Stinky”, “Standing in Your Stuff” and “Everybody Want Sum” in the repertoire, I’m pretty sure ballads were checked at the door.
The Thursday show I caught didn’t get going until minutes before Friday. From the get go, the band was sticky tight. Between the Hall/Daniels III twin bass attack and Ivan’s clavinet, the ‘phunk felt plenty good. “Everybody Want Sum” from the new album has a perfect R&B soul hook that could be easily mistaken as a Sly Stone cover and featured nice Hammond work from Ivan Neville. The rubbery dual bass mixed well with Ian Neville’s right on top of the beat rhythm work. With “Blueswave”, Dumpsta moved to an almost Texas like stomp and some gritty Strat slinging by Tony Hall.
The stew really started to simmer closer to 1 AM, as affirmed by a crowd yell of “taking it to a whole other level!” And that was before the band even launched into “Deeper” (from Everybody Want Sum) > “Put It in the Dumpsta” (a D-phunk staple). Ivan Neville and Tony Hall turned “Dumpsta” into the best kind of group therapy, totally groove heavy with some healthy demon exorcising for good measure. “Living in a World Gone Mad” (from the 2007 EP, Listen Hear) brought guest Val McCallum to the stage (Jacksh*t, Lucinda Williams), and McCallum tore into his solos with sufficient fury to smoke out the room, clearly enjoying trading lines with Ivan’s Hammond. The gloppy dual bass interplay was especially pungent with the jam rock feel of “Lt. Dan” and the pre-encore set closed with the almost gospelly hinted call and response of “Meanwhile” (from Listen Hear).
Over the years I’ve been to my share of Dumpsta shows, and often took them for granted as just another NOLA side project that dependably delivered. The Mint gig brought me back into the fold with deeper appreciation for the band. High energy and high impact, drawing funk influences from the best of the Meters, James Brown, Sly Stone, Prince and countless others to shape their sound with precision and soul. Meaty stuff. Don’t miss them at Jazzfest.
February 10, 2012
You couldn’t miss it. She was vintage. All black and chrome. Gleaming under the streetlight. Probably mid-80s, but who knows. The guys had a bus. Rolling from gig to gig in comfort, if not style. Not flashy. The sight of that thing parked smack in front of the Mint on Pico (couldn’t fit it in around back) was pretty sweet. Not about ego, all about pride. For a band that has been a staple at Jazzfest for years and hitting their stride, it had to feel pretty good to be back in LA under their own power.
After making their Southland debut last June (see my post of that show deeper in this blog), HISB returned with a generous (2+ hour) Friday night set. The tunes are familiar, the vibe upbeat. Everyone seems to leave an HISB gig pretty damn happy.
The band is back in the studio aiming for a late spring release to add to their 3 album catalog (their eponymous 2007 EP, 2009’s Wishing Well and 2010’s Good To You), and the set had generous helpings from all their material. The raucous “Till the Money’s Gone”, the jammy “Wishing Well” and the front porch fun of “Natural Born Fool (all from Wishing Well) made for a satisfying night in themselves. And “Josephine” and “Country Girl” from Good to You took a little bit of the February chill off with a summer kegger for grown ups feel. Strains of Black Crowes, Steve Miller, Petty, even the Eagles, stirred in with the band’s bayou roots give HISB some real kick that’s original, not derivative.
No horns for this performance, so the sound was a little leaner than their last Mint show (which featured Karl Denson working on all cylinders). All the more room to showcase Chris Mule’s slippery slide work and the brotherly interplay between Mule and Aaron Wilkinson. Sam Price’s usual stage exuberance was matched by his pulsing lock step work with Garland Paul and the rest of the band, including Trevor Brooks on keys, who added a lot of flavor throughout the night.
The encore set ended with shots for the band. Well earned. Their ride wasn’t going anywhere and their dorm room was steps away. Nothing like Sunday dawn on Pico Boulevard. Seriously good times. More to come.
December 31, 2011
Bill Graham spoiled me. The man knew how to throw a New Year’s party. 4-5 hours of cosmic Dead jams, epic substance abuse and 6,000 or so of my newest friends. The calendar would turn, Uncle Bobo would descend, Sugar Mag would kick in and all was right with the world. OK, so that was 30 years ago. Still, that ecstatic pull set a high bar few 12/31s have matched since. These days when milestones are counted in decades, New Year’s is often kept in quieter company and places, and indulgence swapped for reflection. But damn, the echo still haunts and the spirit craves a hit that only a hard wired all night jam or funk groove can provide. Add a few hundred people (or thousands or multiples thereof) primed to kick last year in the ass and anything’s possible. Call me a seeker.
Such was my latest NOLA pilgrimage that landed me at Tip’s in the waning hours of 2011 for Galactic’s annual year-end bash. With Eric Lindell’s Trio opening and billed guests including Anders Osborne, Corey Henry from Rebirth and Corey Glover of Living Colour (both Coreys vets of the last Galactic tour), prospects for New Year’s salvation seemed reasonable. Galactic’s newest release “Carnivale Electricos” is described by the band’s web site as a “carnival record that evokes the electric atmosphere of … whole cities – vibrating together all on the same day”. Sounds pretty 3 AMy to me. Throw Anders Osborne and Lindell into the mix and confidence was high going in.
Lindell’s trio delivered a healthy solid set to get the room closer to midnight. Spirits were high as the last hour of 2011 approached and the crowd was appropriately exuberant (deliberate choice of words). Galactic landed with “Boban” (from the 2011 release, The Other Side of Midnight:Live From New Orleans) and didn’t let up from there, in what turned out to be the first of (count ‘em) 3 sets. “Hey Na Na” from “Carnivale Electricos” cranked up the energy a little before midnight when we all reverted to the timelessness of Auld Lang Syne because we could and that’s what you do. 2012 was inaugurated with Lindell joining Galactic to romp through Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner”, a killer cover that gets better each time Lindell busts it out. Other first set highlights had Corey Glover working the crowd into a lather (and in an argyle sweater vest, no less) with “Heart of Steel” (from 2010’s “Ya-Ka-May) and Stanton Moore elevating for the first time in the show.
Announced guest Anders Osborne went straight for “Darkness at the Bottom” (from his 2010 American Patchwork release) to start Set 2, one of my favorite rip your soul open Osborne tunes. Jonny Sansone joined Anders with just plain nasty harmonica turns on his own “The Lord is Waiting and the Devil Is Too” (from the 2011 release of the same name). Anders and Sansone stuck around to cover “Who Took the Happiness” (featured on Moore’s 2008 release, Take It to the Street) to wrap up a killer set within a set. Much of the second set featured Corey Glover, but the band really had me with a loose and frenzied “Manic Depression”. Ben Ellman moving from baritone to ballsy harp wasn’t too shabby either.
With just enough in the tank to start the third set, I profess to not making it all the way to the end, but an appropriately funky cover of Lee Dorsey’s/Allen Touissant’s “Night People” and the Arabian-brass-prog-metal tinged flavor of “Garbage Truck”(from The Other Side of Midnight) were perfectly suited for the hour. Somewhere along the way Corey Henry stepped into the crowd and climbed atop the bar never missing a note. Exhausted, satiated, I left Tip’s past 3, ready to take on a new year. Spiritual awakening, nah. Uplift, hell yeah. That’s good enough for me. Think I’m ready to kick some 2012 ass now.
November 22, 2011
Some songs, some artists, never go away. That’s not always a good thing. Times change, everyone ages, life gets tougher or better, and we go on. Since I was probably all of 8 the first time I heard “For What It’s Worth”, I was too young to really understand it, but still old enough to feel something. I knew the world was pissed off and somehow I grasped that music was more than a soundtrack to the events around me.
At a recent stop on Stephen Stills’ Fall tour, the 60-something Hall of Famer (twice, on the same night) introduced “For What It’s Worth” as for the “99s”. It’s 2011, the world is still angry and artists from Tom Morello to Crosby and Nash have taken up musical arms with OWS. Some songs age well, even if the audience and performers don’t. Some find new life in new times.
I wore the grooves down on every CSN/Y platter in all their permutations. The harmonies were the hook, but Stills’ fret mastery reeled me in and I’ve been an admirer of his playing and songwriting ever since. His wah-wah laced exchanges with Clapton on “Go Back Home” and dark blues encrusted wailing on “Black Queen” (from his eponymous debut) are still chill inducing, and I’ve no argument with his ranking at 47 among Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists. Sure, CSN had me (and the rest of humanity) at “Suite Judy Blues Eyes”. Only it was Stills’ intense, flying, punctuated acoustic work, more than the soaring vocals of the three that gripped me. That just about every instrumental track off their debut album was handled by Stills is often overlooked.
The light/dark tableau of Crosby/Nash harmonies and Stills/Young fury, fueled jams and music tabloids for decades to come, and the CSN/Y dance often played out like overripe “Behind the Music”. CSN’s constant touring could be taken for a creaky nostalgia trip some years, but collectively and apart, they all kept coming back to that well, and still do (their aborted covers project will hopefully have a life after producer Rick Rubin’s departure). Earlier this year saw a brief tour under the Springfield banner with the Stills/Young chemistry fully intact. The sight of these two getting in each other’s faces while scorching through “Bluebird” was something to behold. The slimmed down Stills was on his game and ready for anything Shakey threw at him. Neither backed down and the interplay was still furiously epic.
Stills has been on the road the past month or so with East and West Coast dates and set lists sprinkling in a few unexpected covers (Dylan to Mudcrutch) with the usual Springfield, CSN, Manassas, Stills touchstones. With no LA dates scheduled, I headed to Anaheim for the show at the City National Grove. Backed by long-time CSN drummer (and Joe Walsh alum) Joe Vitale, Todd Caldwell on keys and Kenny Passarelli on bass (new rule – matador pants do not = rock fashion), Stills launched right into “Bluebird” to kick off the first of two sets to a packed house. Switching to his trademark Gretsch for “Helplessly Hoping”, he established a relaxed, warm tone that flowed throughout the first set. His vocals have been road worn and ragged in recent years but he was far from dialing it in. To the contrary, he reached and pushed through his more limited range with conviction and emotion. Pegi Young joined Stills for “Long May You Run”. He seemed delighted to share the stage for the signature tune from the only collaboration under the Stills-Young name. Stills shared stories throughout the night, including his purchase of a rather large home replete with gardener ala Peter Sellers (in fact, it’s former owner was indeed, Peter Sellers) – cute trivia to tee up “Jonny’s Garden” from the first Manassas album. Stills then went unplugged for “So Begins the Task” and a beautiful take on Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” that has been a staple of this brief tour. The latter with simple single note soloing that suitably echoed the longing of the bard’s lyrics. “Blind Fiddler” followed, a forlorn traditional tune well suited for Stills’ repertoire. That the set would close with the inevitable “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” was established earlier when Stills alluded to Judy Collins recent book portraying him as “nicer than he really was”. That it would be bookended with Stills’ solo reading of the Beatles “Within You, Without You” was unexpected, and I found, a little gutsy. By the time familiar passages of SJBE rolled over the crowd, the balding 50-something dude in the front and the barely 20-ish dude with the lid a few rows back were singing in sync. Stills respectfully reached for the higher notes and nailed a few, at which he paused with a rehearsed admonition of, “I’m just as astonished as you are”.
After a brief break approaching many of the elder demo’s bedtime, Stills and band returned for a more up tempo set that kicked off with a spunky version of “Woodstock”, his playing generating some real sparks while working his way up the neck of the vintage Strat. A languid “Southern Cross” included a few obvious flubs in his soloing that didn’t seem to bother anyone, though Stills appropriately stepped back from the edge of the stage at just the right moment. Having arrived at that point in the show where he would really cut loose was signified by Stills taking off and pocketing his specs before the predictable blues roll of “Wounded World” (from his last solo album, 2005’s “Stills Alive”) into “Rocky Mountain Way”, with Stills and the crowd clearly having a good time with this. “Want to Make Love To You” (also from the Stills-Young “Long May You Run”) began with jazz inflected picking, trademark muted soloing and understated whammy flourishes. Like many of the best, he knows when touch trumps burn. By this time, Stills returned to prowling the front of the stage and playing to the crowd to close with “Love the One You’re With” (group hug, anyone?). Much lore surrounds Buffalo Springfield and “For What It’s Worth” (those words never appear in the lyrics) and there is no other encore for a Stills show. There shouldn’t be – the power of the lyrics fermenting with contemporary context. Stills grabbed all of it, driving the song with a slow cook and heavy reverb that lingered well after the lights went up.
Pegi Young and the Survivors opened the show with a set featuring songs from her just released third album “Bracing for Impact”, with fine backing by Muscle Shoals and session vet Spooner Oldham on keys, Kevin Holly on guitar, Phil Jones on drums and LA fixture Rick “the Bass Player” Rosas (late of the very brief Springfield reunion and husband Neil Young’s recent tours). Holly shredded up “Bracing’s” “Lie” early on and the set featured a touching cover of the late Danny Whitten’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”.
Those of us in this middle mojo of life have kept the concert industry going by supporting the same acts for the past 30 years. Some of us fare better than others as the orbits pile up. It ain’t about staying young. Stephen Stills brought all that he had to an appreciative audience basking in tunes they know by heart and can’t get enough of. Not exactly a tearing the roof off night, but kicking a little age appropriate ass felt alright for all. I probably was not the only one thinking, long may we run, as I made my way to the door.