Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Steely Dan @ Massey Hall, Toronto - Nov 26, 2009

Some ask me if Steely Dan aren't another of those washed-up relics of the sixties and seventies that aren't worth the dough to see live. Well, if you haven't got the news already, let me tell you.

Fagan and Becker are still the geniuses of cross-genre rock-jazz-funk-fusion and their live show is in its prime. Why? Because back in the day, when it was a hassle to tour, these guys made their money exclusively by recording albums with session artists who were some of the best musicians in the industry. Now, in the age where musicians are losing big on recorded music, the Dan are out on tour. They only started touring in 1994 and they have made only two "new" albums since 2000: "Two Against Nature" (2000) and "Everything Must Go" (2003). The live show is the focus: the roster of musicians, the quality of the material, and the working arrangements make it so that there has never been a better time to hear Steely Dan live.
Not only was I excited to hear one of my favourite bands live, but in my favourite venue, Massey Hall in Toronto. I've heard some pretty great shows there over the years and I have sung on that stage myself as part of a combined high schools' chorus. The building has so much to say. We moved to our seats, which were the very top centre of the gallery, chosen specifically so we could dance against the back wall without bothering anyone. The floor seats for this show were out of the question for us: $160 before service charges. Knowing that there are virtually no bad seats in the house, we opted for the $60 seats so that our family of three could go. I'm sure our 16yr old was the youngest person there. She's a Dan fan and she loved it!
As we found our seats, we were treated to a special surprise opener: the Deep Blue Organ Trio from Chicago. The sound of the Hammond B3 is my version of heaven. Chris Foreman on B3, Bobby Broom on guitar, and Greg Rockingham on drums was sweet music to my ears and got me psyched for more.

We caught Steely Dan on last year's summer tour. Let's compare:

Orillia, ON – July 4, 2008

Instrumental blues intro >
Everyone’s Gone To The Movies >
The Fez (minus Becker, Fagen & singers)
The Royal Scam
I Got the News
Everything You Did (reggae version)
Show Biz Kids (recent rearrangement)
Two Against Nature
Hey Nineteen
New Frontier
Do It Again
Gaucho (Becker vocal)
Glamour Profession
Parker's Band (Mizelle/Agee vocals)
Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart (Supremes cover, vocals by singers, band intros)
My Rival
Home At Last
Third World Man

E: Kid Charlemagne
Outro minus Becker, Fagen & singers

Steely Dan, Live @ Massey Hall, Toronto Nov 26, 2009
(night 2 – the Royal Scam)

Instrumental blues intro (sans Fagan & Becker)
Kid Charlemagne
Caves of Altamira
Don’t Take Me Alive
Sign in Stranger
Fez (sans Fagan/Becker/singers)
Green Earrings
Haitian Divorce
Everything You Did (reggae)
Royal Scam
Hey 19
Dirty Work (singers shared lead vocal)
God Whacker *(great!)
Aja (Fagan on melodica)
Daddy Don’t Live in that NYC no more
Show Biz Kids (rearranged)
Yearnin & Burnin (singers on leads)
piano improvisation (on Aja themes)
My Old School

e: Reelin in the Years (the “original version")
Instrumental outro (sans Fagan, Becker)

It would appear that the band in 2008 was already drawing heavily from the three albums it chose to feature on Rent Party '09 tour: Gaucho, Aja, and the Royal Scam. Some who were at both Toronto shows said the setlists were barely distinguishable from one another, drawing heavily from both Aja and the Royal Scam on both nights. With the difference that the Wed night crowd was treated to my fave, Babylon Sisters. That's okay, the Royal Scam is full of gems including: Haitian Divorce, Sign In Stranger, Green Earrings, the Caves of Altamira, and, of course, the favourite Kid Charlemagne. I love Kid Charlemagne because it sings of Owsley and San Francisco, the birth of the acid experience, and the disillusionment as a result of the changing of the scene.

Another interesting coincidence in terms of the Grateful Dead was that singing onstage was none other than Catherine Russell, amazing singer and musician in her own right, whom we heard with the American Beauty Project in Nov '07 as part of the Unbroken Chain conference, UMass. She led an incredible version of New Speedway Boogie with bluesy vocals and accompanying herself on mandolin. But that's another story...
The musicianship of this group is very tight. They are monsters! Full horn section, grand piano in addition to Fagan's keys, and an energetic drummer... The ensemble is well-rehearsed, and have to be with this kind of repertoire. This is musician's music - easy to listen to, difficult to play. I can't recommend to you enough what an enjoyable experience it is to hear the Dan live. If you love this music at all, go out and catch them next tour!

Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards)
Walter Becker (guitar)
Tawatha Agee [Backing Vocals: '08, '09]
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery [B. Vocals: '00-'09 Rent Party ]
Catherine Russell [B. Vocals: '08, '09]
Jim Beard [Keyboards: 08, 09]
Keith Carlock [Drums: 03-'09]
Freddie Washington [Bass: '06-'09]
Jon Herington [Guitar: '00-'09]
Michael Leonhart [Trumpet, Keys: '00-'09 Rent Party ]
Jim Pugh [Trombone: '00-'09]
Roger Rosenberg [Baritone Saxophone: '06-'09]
Walt Weiskopf [Saxophone: '03-'09]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Grace Potter, NYC - Nov 20, 2009

Well, lucky me... I found myself in NYC for a performance of a Debussy Opera of Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher" in which my brother was singing the lead. Great excuse to get out and check out some good music over the weekend. So I ventured to Terminal 5 @56th St. & 11th Ave. for a double-bill of Brett Dennan with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. These two groups have been on tour together, often with Dennan closing, but this was an opportunity to see the Nocturnals headline a show. And NYC is about as high-energy as it gets!
Here you can see an epic shot of Grace at her Hammond B3. Yours truly is admiring from the very bottom right corner. Glad to be included in this shot! The crowd was appreciative, and who wouldn't be?
Not only is Grace an energetic and engaging performer, she's got mad skills. Her voice is very powerful and her organ playing is superb. She has gathered around her a collection of excellent musicians - the band is solid and tight, high-energy and rocking, with good communication. I especially liked their new bass player, Catherine Popper, who blends fitting harmonies to Grace's strong melodic lines.
My favourite part of the night, though, was meeting the Deadhead tapers who took me to Chinatown for a debrief and a listen to the recording over a bowl of veg soup. Thanks Todd & Mike!

I highly recommend checking them out on tour:
for show dates.

GPN Setlist, Nov 20,2009
Terminal 5, NYC

Some Kind of Ride
Tiny Light
Things I Never Needed
Ah Mary
Big White Gate
Sweet Hands

E: White Rabbit
Nothing But the Water

For complete coverage of the show, including Brett Dennan, check out this article:


Saw this one recently, surprisingly for the first time. What a show. This film is an incredible document of the Talking Heads at their most energetic. Jonathan Demme's got lots to work with here.

He gets out of the way and lets the band do its thing. It was shot over the course of three nights at Hollywood's Pantages Theater in December of 1983, as the group was touring to promote their new album Speaking in Tongues.
Some musical highlights include:
The building setlist, especially when they hit Slippery People, Burning, Wartime and Flippy Floppy. I'm a fan of Naive Melody, and the Tom Tom Club performance of Genius of Love is sweet and boppy. Crosseyed and Painless ends the film and we are left with a rich document of a great band.
Highly recommended!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Goodbye Rothbury!


What a party!
I'll be singing your praises for a long time to come. I'll miss your vibrant reveling spirit...
Your jumbo, non-stop party campgrounds that are such a challenge to walk... making it so attractive to ride the funky taxi carts...
Your hula light magic...
Your naked freedom...
Your Sherwood forest...
And your unique beauty.
You are a haven and a phenomenon.
Can't wait to find out what's up your sleeve for next year. I can imagine it will be a whole different musical vibe, but the Rothbury experience will surely prevail.

Peace! Love! 'Til next time!

Monday, September 28, 2009

ROTHBURY pt.9 - Sunny Sunday

Well, all good things come to an end, but not before one last day of music! The weather at Rothbury seemed to just get hotter and hotter, and by Sunday we were baking - not just in the warm glow from all the music we'd taken in. And to think there was still more to come...
Toots Hibbert gave the most beautiful Sunday sermon in the form of a soulful reggae set. His version of Country Roads was a nod to Willie who would appear on the same stage later that afternoon. 54-46 got the crowd singing and topped off this feel-good love-in of a set. Toots' energetic performance and moving messages were a call for unity... the perfect embodiment of the Rothbury mandate. On Sunday morning it felt like worship: we danced blissfully, giving thanks for a great communal weekend together.
Heading over to the Sherwood Court, we found the only piece of shade and caught a very energetic performance by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I was keen to see her, having just caught on to her many talents. I was also motivated because she was one of few female performers at Rothbury, let alone fronting her own band. Don't let the Josie & the Pussycats look here fool you - she's not just a pretty face.
Grace is an accomplished B3 player and her singing is gutsy and soulful. Kudos for choosing the best instrument and for being dedicated enough to haul it around on tour!
Here's Willy - he's got the sad expression because I didn't make it out to his show. Too bad! I heard from the fans that it was a fine performance, as usual. I'm sure I'd have appreciated it, but I'll have to catch him another time... cause you know he'll still be singing well into his 100s...
Dear Ani,
It's a good thing I've seen you before because I couldn't make it to your set either! But my pal did and he had a blast. Great review from a very critical listener. I enjoyed your past performances and I hear you're still givin'er... Here are some very energetic shots...
And here is the panoramic view of Dylan's crowd from the VIP area - magnified I can spot my best friend =) Couldn't have asked for a more beautiful evening.

Okay, now I've seen Bob many times since the early nineties, and I've heard some pretty questionable performances, and some amazing, moving, and musically exciting ones as well. This was my 12th Dylan show and I'm going to say it for the record, folks...

Dylan is officially now way past his due date. He came back there for awhile, had a great band in the mid-nineties when he actually sang again... but now, in recent times, it's back to the croak. And worse than before. He used to get stuck alot on two notes in rhythmic loops, but at least he sang some semblance of a melody, whether original or improvised. Now the frog is permanently trapped in his vocal chords and it's hopping incessantly, trying to escape. Just listen to Tangled Up In Blue from any YouTube clip from this show...

I love Dylan. I love his work, his spirit, even his voice through its many evolutions over the years. I'm convinced that few people deliver his songs as well as he does. But this show, as well as shows from the past year, are evidence that it's not working anymore. And there is no one in his entourage or in the industry who can stop him from touring. At this point he's driving away many more fans than he's attracting at his live performances... I hate to be the one to tell a man to stop touring, but maybe it's time to consider it, Bob...

Or maybe it's just that I miss Larry Campbell so much. I'll have to catch him with Levon's band.

Still looking good, though, Bob...

I'm surprised that Rothbury chose him to headline. It only reinforced how much other exciting music is out there...

"New ones coming as the old ones go..."

Dylan @ Rothbury, MI July 5, 2009
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
SeƱor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
Tangled Up In Blue
Rollin' And Tumblin'
Spirit On The Water
High Water (for Charlie Patton)
Til I Fell In Love With You
Po' Boy
Highway 61 Revisited
Ballad Of A Thin Man
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Nettie Moore
Thunder On The Mountain
Like A Rolling Stone
All Along The Watchtower
Blowin' In The Wind

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ROTHBURY pt. 8 - The Dead!

Now is the time we've been waiting for:

The Dead at Rothbury. Having seen them on Spring Tour, I was very excited at the possibility of hearing them again, in the headliner spot of a festival. Well, the festival itself blew my mind but didn't take away from my principal purpose: hearing the Dead outside!

You can listen to the show here:

It was a perfect day as the crowds assembled, some to witness a legend for the first time, others to revisit the music and the scene they loved so well. Camping with Deadheads for 4 days was a treat, but the scene was also diversified along generational lines, as well as musical tastes and subcultures. A very colourful and vibrant crowd greeted the Dead on Saturday - some purists will argue that it wasn't a real Dead scene, but I was enjoying the mix very much. We were all there to dig the music, and this was definitely achieved, by young and old, veteran and newbie alike.
Like the night before, the crowd came out in full regalia. Even Clifford the Red Dog likes the Dead =)
Uncle Sam was there...
As was this beautiful Stealie lady.
The crowd was looking good, kicking up the dust and wavin' those flags high.
High spirits, a glorious afternoon, and a sense of good things to come made for a great vibe. The band started off with a gentle jam that led into Sugar Magnolia. What a great way to start a show - very up-tempo. An American lovesong with a feel-good country-rock rhythm. Everyone was grooving from the first note and this set the tone for a great party.
As the sun started dipping, we bathed in golden light and long shadows. Then came my favourite moment of the show: Eyes of the World. I'd been waiting to hear this song for my whole GDead-following life and wasn't disappointed.
Phil took on the singing duties and delivered it with just the right spirit. Jeff Chimenti played some soaring solos and then it was Warren's turn... any dissatisfaction from Spring Tour about Warren not stepping up to the plate and soloing was completely washed away here. Listen for yourself and you'll here a beautiful, jazzy and faithful rendition of Eyes from this show.
The phenomenal Eyes was evidence that these boys were still able to find that collective improvisational space and turn a song inside out. Then came a sweet surprise: Eyes' companion piece, Estimated. I love this suite for its contrasts and complexities of arrangement. I was already on cloud 9 from the start of the show - already got what I came for... the rest would be bonus! Little did I know that this was a sign of things to come - many more of my favourite suites all in the same night!
Here's a glimpse of Bobby, still alive and kicking. His energy was definitely up, his guitar playing was sharp, though the envelope filter effect became a bit predictable... It must be difficult to alter the way he plays after trying to find his peculiar space between Jerry and Phil for so many years. Now he's more the defacto leader, yet his parts are all supportive. It's got to take awhile for Bobby and Warren to get used to playing together. They've been at it a few years and there was some nice evidence of their styles gelling at this show. Unfortunately his singing is getting weaker, but I guess that's what comes with age! His version of Loose Lucy was still a lot of fun, despite his failing vocals.

Next came Friend of the Devil, which harkened back to the Wild West and brought the archetype of the outlaw to the fore. I started to see a theme developing... Fourth of July was shedding a particular light on all these songs. Place names: California, Reno, Utah..., character types like Loose Lucy and the Sugar Mag, and themes that reoccur in American history: freedom, possibility, self-determination. The Dead were once again conjuring the American folk-mythology that they are known for, in light of the national holiday, in the new temporary intentional community of Rothbury. Playing in the present while remembering the past. Brilliant.
Here's a rare shot of one of my favourite Dead members - Mr. Kreuzmann. This guy is sharper than ever and a real treat to listen to. Thanks Billy!

Warren sang a gentle version of Van Morrison's Into the Mystic, and then it was time for yet another epic suite, another of my all-time favourites, Help>Slipknot>Franklin's. Have a listen to the Slipknot - this is the place in the show where the jam got thickest. People were grooving so hard at this point that we looked up and had that knowing moment when the band is really taking off.
Phil and Bobby, cementing their rekindled relationship. Working together again was so much fun, they decided to tour again this September!
Second set: Saturday Night opener. This set the stage for the major party vibe of the second set and was a real blast. Fireworks indeed!
Then came the bass-bomb opening of one of my all-time faves, the bell tolling four dark times announcing the SHAKEDOWN! Now, I am a Shakedown fanatic and heard a killer version at MSG on Spring Tour '09, so hearing it again at Rothbury was a real treat. The crowd was freaking at this point and we were really getting down. I love the sentiment of the song - the seedy side of life in the free world - and the imperative that you just gotta poke around to stir up some magic.
Here's a great shot of Mickey and his gear, and Warren focusing intently on the huge task at hand... China>Rider. Nice to hear this as a suite instead of separately, like earlier in Spring Tour. Bobby fails at the near-impossible task of playing the lead line and singing complex psychedelic lyrics at the same time. It's tough! Luckily he and Warren trade off at singing time and eventually pull it off. Everyone felt the Northbound Train, which roars through the subconscious of the American people.
Next, Rhythm Devils. The Dead invited members of Toubab Krewe and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident to join them for the drum jam. It seemed like they were off to a rough start - but don't let the delayed video feed fool you - listening back in retrospect they managed to pull off a jam that was heavy and very trippy. Mickey and Billy have really been able to shine this year and this was an interesting musical moment, in the spirit of collaboration at Rothbury.
Space went deep, and then the band burst into Viola Lee Blues, an early adventure in hybridity which joins blues with psychedelia. The Fourth of July theme was apparent again here, remembering those who can't excercise their freedoms.
Morning Dew is a difficult song: the pace is slow and makes for careful playing, the singing is mournful, and the message is stark. The possibility of atomic annihilation has left its mark on the American psyche and this song is a reminder of this. Morning Dew coloured Weir's delivery of Throwing Stones, extending the consciousness of culpability from the local to the global. Message music on the Fourth of July - a celebration, but it's not all a party...

Then the band wanted to bring back the lighter side and threw in a Sunshine Daydream reprise. That lifted spirits and got us ready for the big finish: BIG FIREWORKS! What could be better than the US Blues, an ironic song of celebration and condemnation both, set to the biggest fireworks I've ever witnessed? Not a whole lot could top it. A killer set, beautiful musical suites, multiple messages in the songs that allowed us to contemplate the enigma which is America. Ending on a satirical note while the party goes on... leave it to the Dead to capture the spirit of the USA just right. But the last note of all was, aptly, Not Fade Away. Seeing as this was probably the Dead's last show of the year, it's nice to know that they won't be gone for good, and that the love they share will circulate and spread out from this moment.

To see these boys doing their thing and loving it was very contagious. I really enjoyed their song selections and came away feeling like I'd just ingested a 10-course, 4-h meal! Ultimate satisfaction was seeing the Dead at Rothbury. It was definitely worth the trip. Thanks guys, and keep on truckin!

7/4/09 Rothbury Setlist
* Sugar Magnolia
* Eyes of the World
* Estimated Prophet
* Loose Lucy
* Friend of the Devil
* Into The Mystic
* Help on the Way
* Slipknot>
* Franklin’s Tower

Set II:
* One More Saturday Night
* Shakedown Street
* China Cat Sunflower
* I Know You Rider
* Rhythm Devils
* Space
* Viola Lee Blues
* Morning Dew
* Throwin’ Stones
* Sunshine Daydream
* Donor Rap
* E: U.S Blues (With Fireworks)
* Not Fade Away

Monday, September 21, 2009

ROTHBURY pt.7 - Saturday

Saturday!!!! The day of the Dead. We eased into Saturday with a warm glow from the night before. Made our way to the festival grounds a bit late, unfortunately missing Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. But there is something called *pacing* that necessitates a certain amount of energy conservation, even at a 4-day party. Jackie Greene was another casualty of our slow-moving morning. Too bad! I heard he was great, and that PHIL came out to join him for a few tunes... but I'm sure I'll have another chance to catch him in the future.
We wandered through a bit of Railroad Earth and made it to one of my most anticipated sets of the fest: Zappa plays Zappa! Whoa, I was blown away by the musicianship of this band. Tall order, given the complexity of the material.

And here he is: young Dweezil doing justice to his dad's incredible work. This is unique music at its wackiest. The band smoked - great xylophone player, sax player, and a fun lead singer who looked like the most clean-cut guy you'd never expect to be spouting such oddities. I was ecstatic when they launched into Inca Roads - got my guitar solo and danced my bones. A great start to a psychedelic day of cerebral music.
I also regret missing Les Claypool, though I hear he was in fine form. Luckily I've heard Primus a few times and get a sense of the kooky sounds that he can generate. One of my bass heroes.
Well, without further delay, let's move on to the main reason we're here: The Dead!