Sunday, May 19, 2013

Great Googamooga My Ass!

Just waited in the rain for an hour to have them cancel it. Rain or shine, huh?

Rayland Baxter Talks Turkey & Nocturnal Scott Tournet Steps Into the Light

I became an instant fan of Rayland Baxter when I saw him open for Donavon Frankenreiter at Brooklyn Bowl last July.  Fast-forward almost a year (after he's put out one of the best records of 2012 and dropped one of my favorite Daytrotter sessions) to when I noticed his face on a poster on the wall during the Spin Doctors' album release party. I immediately went to the box office to buy a ticket.

"I can see the weird juxtaposition of the next hour.  There's gonna be a lot of shit going on over there," Baxter said, motioning to the rowdy bowlers, "compared this calm bit of music we've got over here.  I'll try to concentrate."  Accompanied by Scott Tournet's guitarist, Lowell Thompson, Rayland made it through folk-country ditties "Birdy Blue" and "Willy's Song" without interruption.  One gratified yelp from the lanes during "Dreamin," however, was too much for him to dismiss, and he laughed into the mic as he continued with the tune. "Either they got a strike or they sure liked the middle of that song," he said afterwards.  "Or a turkey," offered Lowell.  "What's a turkey?  Two in a row?" Rayland asked the crowd.  "Three!" I yelled.  "What's four?"  A shout from the audience.  "Snowman?" Rayland said in disbelief.  "Four-bagger!" enunciated the crowdmember.  "I thought you said snow tiger." This unassuming nature is key to Rayland's persona.  While he may look like a mustachioed hipster in his Good Year cap and sea green and ruby socks that match his guitar, it's not an ironic statement.  It's his life.  He lives in a small house in Nashville that he shares with five people and a menagerie that includes four chickens.  It may be crowded inside, but that's okay because Rayland sleeps on the porch.  He played his entire set seated in a metal folding chair.  Halfway through "Take Me to the Tower," he stopped to adjust a piece of paper at his feet.  "This is a new song. I don't know all the words by heart yet," he admitted.  If a hipster said that, you'd hate him, but it just made Rayland more enduring.  He whistled the end of the tune, which would suggest it was unfinished, but he's so astonishingly precise with his whistling, that if you heard it again without it, you'd be disappointed.  My favorite performance came next on "Olivia."  "If I was a wealthy man, don't you know I would spend all my dimes on you?" he sang genuinely.  The fact that if he was rich, he'd still count his money in tenths of a dollar says something.  With lyrics so well-crafted, it'd be easy to sing them the same way every time and coast along on their worth, but it was obvious he was reliving the failed relationship with every phrase, lingering on certain words.  He closed out the set with two extended takes on "Brown Water" and "Bad Thing," backed by Tournet's band.  It's amazing how much drums can cover the sound of a bowling alley.

Scott Tournet is one of the guitarists in Grace Potter's band, the Nocturnals.  He just released his third solo album, Ver La Luz, this week, so his set leaned heavily on the new material.  The record is a subdued effort, full of gentle love songs that focus mainly on the lyrics instead of guitar virtuosity.  Which is a real shame because Scott's a great axeman and not an especially great singer.  He stayed in tune alright, but there was nothing really unique or impressive about his voice.  At least he was enthusiastic, singing every song with a huge grin on his face, happy to be performing.  And that's not to say he completely repressed his six-string chops either.  The band laid down a thick groove on "Stand by You," which he flirted on top of, and "Take You Down" featured some jammed-out rocking that had an extremely inebriated woman going nuts on the dancefloor.  "Who's bowling over 100?" he asked.  "Woo!" shrieked the drunk girl.  "You're not even bowling! You're dancing over 100; that's for sure," Scott laughed.  He finished the set with "I Ain't Changin'," a song he admitted didn't sound like the others.  It was a rip-roaring blues number that made me wish the others were more like it.  But it's almost unfair to compare his solo work to his day job with the Nocturnals because he's competing with my favorite frontperson ever.  In his licks, you can hear how indispensable he is to Grace Potter's sound.  Is it really his fault he doesn't have the same pipes or sex appeal?

RAYLAND BAXTER - 05.18.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 2 minutes)

Birdy Blue / Willy's Song / Dreamin / Take Me to the Tower / Olivia / The Mtn Song / Brown Water / Bad Thing

SCOTT TOURNET - 05.18.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 14 minutes)

Treasure / Song for You / Lights Go Down / Demons / Stand by You / Not Too Late > Ex-Lover / Here in the Morning / Crawl Back > Judgment Day > Take You Down / I Ain't Changin'

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hey Anna Celebrate New EP at Rockwood Music Hall

I discovered Hey Anna back in March at Muchmore's in Williamsburg, and I said I'd be keeping them on my radar.  Well, they played a gig at Rockwood Music Hall last night, so I decided to head on down.  Hey Anna is fronted by the three Rauch-Sasseen sisters (Erin, Katie, and the band's namesake, Anna), and rounded out by Andrew Smolin on guitar and Matthew Langner on drums.  They recently released their second EP, Pompette, which you can download for free at their Bandcamp.  "Or for some money if you're feeling generous," said Erin.  "$3000?" offered Katie optimistically.  "You never know," replied Erin hopefully.  They played all four songs from the EP, starting the set with the sweet love song "Superglue."  Erin reminded me of a mid-1990s songstress on this one, but make no mistake, they are not a revival band.  Smolin's staccato stringwork is the superglue that holds Hey Anna together, and sets them firmly into today's indie pop scene.  On the EP's best song, "Pia," Erin matched him on the verses with her jerky vocals as Anna tried her best to contact aliens with her keyboard.  Unfortunately, the room was quite talkative for the first half of the set until Anna and Erin harmonized a cappella on "Rollercoaster," which silenced the chatterboxes.

More stage time should allow them to command a crowd better, but they're so new that right now they seem to mostly just be playing the songs as they would when jamming in the studio.  Smolin was the exception, looking up from his guitar to clap and sing along (He doesn't have a mic.).  I suggest starting a set with Katie's spunky "Love Love Baby," which got the crowd dancing and the band smiling.  The shift was noticeable, with Smolin and Langner laughingly displaying their wingspans as they pretended to coast like birds at the beginning of "Cloud Bird."  When the band announced they had one more song, there was a collective "aww" from the audience (Awwdience?), followed promptly by a request for "Blackout" from their self-titled EP.  Erin retuned her guitar and they honored it, Smolin leading the crowd on the shout of "Woo!" towards the song's end.  If you were disappointed by Vampire Weekend's new album this week, give Hey Anna a try.  It could be the best $3000 you ever spend.

HEY ANNA - 05.16.13 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL (38 minutes, 28 seconds)

Superglue / I Don't Care About Your Money* / Tim McQue / If You're Wondering How I'm Doing* / Pia / Rollercoaster* / Dance Until Three / Love Love Baby / Cloud Bird* / Blackout

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Postelles Dominate a Free Gig at the Standard Hotel

The Postelles played a free gig at the Standard Hotel's Chez André tonight to warm up for their ...And It Shook Me tour.  But you can hardly call it warming up when you're on fire.  The last time I saw the Manhattan group was in early March at Santos Party House.  The sound mix was unflattering and the band seemed tired until the encore.  Not the case tonight.  Daniel Balk coaxed the crowd forward with a "We don't bite," (Sure, but maybe that cavernous mouth behind you does.) and kicked off the set with an energized "Running Red Lights."  His soulfully shouted vocals toward the song's end were the best I've ever heard from him; not to mention some of the best I've heard this year.  They followed with two crowd faves, "123 Stop" and "Hey Little Sister."  "This song is called..." Balk said as he looked down at the setlist, scrawled on the back of a McSorely's postcard.  "It's called 'Sweet Water.'"  They played the delectable summer pop nugget, making a spur-of-the-moment decision to follow it with live debut of "Heavy Eyes," featuring some winsome harmonies from David Dargahi.  A small amount of crowd chatter rebounded off the muraled walls, but it was no match for John's punchy Rickenbacker and Billy's thumping drums.  The Postelles returned to the program for the rest of the set; not that there was any filler.  In fact, "Caught by Surprise" has been stuck in my head since the show, cemented there by one perfect "Your eyes!" that Daniel hit with an almost reggae lilt.  They wrapped up the short set with their frequent closer, "White Night," leaving everyone wanting more.  The tour begins next week in Santa Barbara and finishes in New York on June 11th at Webster Hall, so I guess we'll have to wait until then.  In the meantime, my fingers remain optimistically crossed for a vinyl release.

THE POSTELLES - 05.14.13 - STANDARD HOTEL (33 minutes, 25 seconds)

Running Red Lights / 123 Stop / Hey Little Sister / Sweet Water / Heavy Eyes / Can't Stand Still / Whole Wide World / Caught by Surprise / Tidal Wave / White Night

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spin Doctors Album Release Party at Brooklyn Bowl

Last night, I went to my third Spin Doctors concert in three years.  When I told my coworkers where I was going, they asked, "For real?"  "Yeah, it's an album release show," I replied.  "They have a new album?"  Yes, folks, Spin Doctors have finally delivered on their word and unleashed a blues record, If the River Was Whiskey.  To celebrate their first album since 2005's Nice Talking to Me, the Doctors treated fans to an almost two-hour concert at Brooklyn Bowl.

The show was opened by James Maddock, who looks like Lt. Dan (but with legs) and sings like Joe Strummer.  With such a great voice, I expected less generic lyrics.  When he started singing about "wrapping his coat around you" in the already sticky sweet "Beautiful Now," I rolled my eyes a little. I was impressed, however, by bespectacled drummer 
Doug Yowell, and how he was able to create a whole kit's worth of noise with just a cajon, a cymbal, a snare with brushes, and some bells strapped to his ankle.  Maddock dedicated "Step Into the Water" to Willie Manning, the Mississippi Death Row inmate who was granted a stay yesterday, hours before his scheduled execution.  After Counting Crows' guitarist David Immerglück led the band to a crescendoing climax on mandolin, James laughed and said, "We are not fucking Mumford & Sons, so just get that out of your head."  Maddock was selling advance copies of his upcoming album, Another Life, but there was another new LP we were itching for.

"This is a record release party.  This is not so much a concert as a party.  I hope you feel that way too," announced Chris Barron as Eric Schenkman strapped on his Flying V for "Scotch & Water Blues."  When he wasn't singing, Barron stood to the side intently watching Schenkman play.  The smile on his face revealed a musician genuinely impressed by his bandmate, a refreshing attitude in rock and roll.  When Barron felt the crowd wasn't cheering loudly enough for the solo, he yelled off-mic, "Come on, you motherfuckers! What the fuck?!"  Bassist Mark White was so tickled with his bandmates that he spent part of "About a Train" snapping their photos with his iPad.  It was great to see a band playing together so joyously after so many years.  "We're the original Spin Doctors," informed Chris.  "If you have any doubts to the veracity of that statement, I ask you who else could do this?"  Three quick hits from Aaron Comess, and Schenkman revved up the famous riff to "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong."  The crowd devoured it, proving Barron correct.

But even if most of the audience was there to hear their favorites from Pocket Full of Kryptonite, the Spin Doctors weren't there for that reason.  They were pushing If the River Was Whiskey, playing nine of the album's ten songs, and shooting the music video for the title track.  The record is currently number one on iTunes blues album charts, leaving Chris glowing, "We're fucking relevant."  Spin Doctors have always incorporated several styles into their songs, so the Whiskey tunes fit into the set swimmingly, ranging from the funky "Traction Blues" to barroom stompers like "Some Other Man Instead" to that archetypal, slow song about the devil, "So Bad."

However, it was the blues of one Jimmy Olsen that really ignited the fans.  The call-and-response section was easily the loudest I've ever heard a crowd sing at Brooklyn Bowl.  That is, until the band played a damn near perfect "Two Princes" that had everyone belting, "Just go ahead now!"  There's typically some sort of exodus after "Two Princes" (Why you would leave right after they bring the house down is beyond me.), but those who departed missed some of the night's best moments, including an extended jam in "Lady Kerosene" and an 18-minute encore that ended with rarity "Yo Baby."  Unfortunately, some people will only ever remember Spin Doctors as the band who did "Two Princes."  I know them as a band that always puts on a solid live show.  

Previous Spin Doctors review:

JAMES MADDOCK - 05.07.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (42 minutes, 18 seconds)

Another Life / Chance / Beautiful Now / Happening To* / Keep Your Dream / Step Into the Water / Living a Lie / When the Sun's Out

SPIN DOCTORS - 05.07.13 - BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 55 minutes)

What Time is It? > Nice Talking to Me / Traction Blues / More Than She Knows / Scotch & Water Blues / Little Miss Can't Be Wrong / Some Other Man Instead / If the River Was Whiskey / Charge (tease) / Yo Mama's a Pajama > About a Train / The Drop / Sweetest Portion / Jimmy Olsen's Blues / Refrigerator Car > Genuine / Two Princes > Lady Kerosene

Happy Birthday / Ben's Looking Out the Window Blues > So Bad / Yo Baby

Monday, May 6, 2013

Beale Street Music Festival: Day 3 Review

We woke up to sunshine at our hotel, optimistic for the final day of the festival.  We'd be seeing full sets instead of splitting our time between performers, and it was finally warm out!  We took a MATA bus that drove past Sun Studio on its way downtown, but that was the last sun we'd see all day.  When we got to Tom Lee Park, the clouds rolled in and the wind whipped the snot right out of my nose.  But after Friday, it was a relative cakewalk.  We set out for the Bud Light Stage, where we'd be watching three consecutive acts.

First up were the Kingston Springs, who I'd first seen supplying some gorgeous harmonies to Rayland Baxter's "Olivia" in this video.  Left to their own devices, however, the Tennessee band are rockers.  Sure, that rootsy Nashville sound is present, but on "Sweet Susie," Ian Ferguson sounded a lot like Jack White (although I guess Jack's been picking up that Nashville sound too).  The vibe was friendly and relaxed, with long-haired bassist Alex Geddes asking the crowd, "Anybody out there getting drunk today?  We are."  Ian expounded, "We got off to an early start. We already finished all the beer in our trailer."  "So whoever heard that, bring us some more beer," added Alex with a smile.  The boys were accompanied by some squealing harmonica on "Lover," courtesy of Patrick Weickenand, who used to play with War.  They clapped it up on the chugging "1991," which was enhanced with a little trumpet from James Guidry, before they closed it out with the hard-edged "Lowest of Animals."  I would've bought a vinyl if I didn't have to carry it all day.

And who wants to carry anything but two beers during a Deer Tick set?  They kicked things off with "The Bump," John McCauley punctuating "They call me the Bump" with a long snort on the microphone.  They weren't entirely satisfied with the sound (or lack thereof) coming from their monitors, but McCauley skillfully worked in his "Hey! Hey!" mic-checking to the transition into easily the best "Easy" I've heard.  After playing the catchy "The Dream is in the Ditch," Ian O'Neil asked the crowd, "How was that?  Because I couldn't hear it," which was kind of nuts, considering the mix offstage was the best of the festival.  As the technicians tried to remedy the issue, McC admitted, "We're the problem children at every festival," following it with a few Bon Scott screams of "Problem child!"  For new number, "Really Just Friends," John put down his guitar, singing at the mic while holding a beer can and a cigarette like a white trash Sammy Davis, Jr.  "If I was you, I would be watching Public Enemy right now," he confessed.  But then I would've missed the funky keyboard jam in "These Old Shoes" that briefly turned into "Superstition."  After a winning "Ashamed," McCauley said, "Happy Cinco de Mayo, bee tee dubs."  The band crept into "Sleep Walk," and although I knew what Mexican treat was coming next, most in the crowd were delightfully surprised when they launched into their fully Spanish cover of "La Bamba."  It was one of the top sets at the festival that I'm sure resulted in dozens of new Deer Tick fans.

My brother had pinned Gary Clark, Jr. as a "legend in the making" when he saw him at the 9:30 Club, so it was time to see for myself.  Gary walked onto the stage, picked up his guitar, and smiled briefly before asking the eager crowd, "Y'all ready?"  We all clapped like we were, but no one was prepared for the 13-and-a-half-minute "When My Train Pulls In" he pulled out.  Gary Clark spent half of "Please Come Home" crooning in a sweet falsetto, and the other half ripping into his guitar, with members of Kingston Springs and Deer Tick watching studiously from the wings.  "Travis County" and "Ain't Messin' 'Round" charged up the audience for the set's biggest moment, Clark's reinterpretive "Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say" medley.  While returning to "Stone" from Collins' song, Clark transmogrified his six-string into a turntable, scratching out a string-breaking solo that dropped jaws.  "Y'alright?" Clark asked with a wry grin.  Because we'd only just gotten a taste of Albert Collins, GCJ covered the bluesman's "If Trouble Was Money."  It was nice to hear so much Collins after seeing his guitar on the wall at Rum Boogie Cafe on Friday.  He finished with "Bright Lights," and you could be damn sure that everyone in the constantly growing crowd knew his name by the end of the song.  In fact, I bet you could edit the entire concert together from all the iPhone footage that was taken.  "Well, it's been fun. Thanks for listening to me," he said bashfully at the song's end.  While he did seem shy with the banter, there's no doubt the man has stage presence.  His band spent the entire show flanking the drum riser, so it may be a bit forced, but this towering figure in front, grimacing in pain at the emotion he was dispelling out of his fingers and onto the strings is exactly what the blues are about.  I foresee a brass note on Beale St. in his future for sure.

I was excited to see many of the bands at the festival, but after hearing Phoenix's new album Bankrupt!, the French band stood out as number one.  They kicked things off with "Entertainment," pumping me up for a set of new tunes.  Thomas Mars counted off, "Un, deux, trois," and the band launched into "Lasso."  "Lisztomania" had the crowd going crazy, but not as much as I was while screaming out the chorus to "S.O.S. in Bel Air."  They followed that with "Love Like a Sunset" with a hunk of "Bankrupt!" squeezed in the middle, a mash-up some have taken to calling "Sunskrupt!"  When the first verse of "Too Young" gave way to "Girlfriend," I finally noticed a saddening trend: They weren't just favoring Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; they were playing the entire album.  Don't get me wrong; I like the record.  But it's not on the same level as It's Never Been Like That or Bankrupt!  In recent interviews, they'd discussed the possibility of failure after the success of Wolfgang, so it seemed too safe of them to play the album in full here.  In spite of the song selection, they sounded excellent and put on a great show.  Mars climbed offstage and onto the barricade mid-"Armistice" and stayed there for all of "1901."  He even took the opportunity to crowdsurf a little during the encore.  Fortunately, his shoes didn't appear to be muddied.

If I'd been hoping that Phoenix would play their new album, it was the complete opposite for the Flaming Lips.  My first listen of The Terror was disappointing, finding it to be somehow both abrasive and boring.  But I'd only ever seen them play a few songs at StePhest Colbchella, so I wanted a full FLips set.  I even had a backup plan: If things get too weird, just go watch the Black Crowes.  Things got weird alright, but it was an engrossing live experience that demanded my attention.  Flaming Lips shows have always been strange, but they may have been getting too cuddly with people dressed as life-sized stuffed animals, "She Don't Use Jelly" singalongs, and Wayne Coyne crawling across the crowd in his space bubble.  If that aesthetic was an all-embracing, stoned lovefest, their new one represents a harsh acid trip.  From a four-foot-tall platform amid a nest of sparkling tubes and silver globes, Coyne coddled a baby doll while he sang over the nightmarish groove of "Look... The Sun is Rising."  At the song's end, he informed us, "This baby's sleeping," and set it aside for a louder, more frightening version of "The Terror," the screen behind him rapidly hurtling through a succession of sharply toothed mouths.  It was audacious and horrifying. The relief of the crowd was audible when the band kicked into "The W.A.N.D." but that didn't stop Wayne from shining a spotlight into fans' faces.  The assault on the eyes continued later with "Try to Explain," when the lighting rig lowered to eye level and continuously strobed red into our retinas.  It was annoying and yet mesmerizing.  The dichotomy of Wayne's banter and the eerie songs was interesting.  Aside from a kooky tangent about a girl in the front being an alien who was there to see Phoenix, he spoke pretty much like a normal guy.  "How you all doin'? My fuckin' pants are too tight," he said, tugging at his waistband.  Well, I guess the invocation about the Mississippi River was a little bizarre too: "We're gonna command it to just fucking overtake us.  See you guys swimming together.  That fried chicken stand over there is where we'll all huddle together."  Then, back to tormenting us with menacing music.  And just when you weren't sure if you could take any more, they dropped a Yoshimi classic like "One More Robot" or "Do You Realize??"  I'm actually excited to revisit The Terror now that I have some visual mindfucks to accompany it.  Nice job, Flaming Lips.

I even got to see the Black Crowes play "Hard to Handle," and Smashing Pumpkins encore with "Today" to finish off the best day of the three.  Despite all the mud, I'm highly considering a trip back in 2014.

DEER TICK - 05.05.13 - BEALE ST. MUSIC FESTIVAL (59 minutes)

The Bump > Easy / Baltimore Blues No. 1 / Main Street / Problem Child (tease) / The Dream is in the Ditch / Bastards of Young > Mirror Walls / Clownin Around / Born at Zero / Really Just Friends* / Houston, TX / These Old Shoes > Superstition (tease) > These Old Shoes / Ashamed / Sleep Walk > La Bamba

GARY CLARK, JR. - 05.05.13 - BEALE ST. MUSIC FESTIVAL (1 hour, 13 minutes)

When My Train Pulls In / Don't Owe You a Thang / Please Come Home / Travis County / Ain't Messin' 'Round / Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say / If Trouble Was Money / Bright Lights

PHOENIX - 05.05.13 - BEALE ST. MUSIC FESTIVAL (1 hour, 7 minutes)

Entertainment / Lasso / Lisztomania / Long Distance Call / Fences / S.O.S. in Bel Air / Love Like a Sunset pt. I > Bankrupt! > Love Like a Sunset pt. II / Too Young > Girlfriend / Trying to Be Cool > Chloroform / Armistice / 1901

Countdown / Don't / Rome > Entertainment

THE FLAMING LIPS - 05.05.13 - BEALE ST. MUSIC FESTIVAL (1 hour, 15 minutes)

Look... The Sun is Rising / The Terror / The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat) / Silver Trembling Hands / Try to Explain / Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die / One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 / Heroes / Turning Violent / All We Have is Now

Do You Realize?? / Always There in Our Hearts

Beale Street Music Festival: Day 2 Review

For day two, we had wanted to get to the festival in time to see Blind Mississippi Morris because Brad Webb would be playing with him, but our ride lied to us, so we made the journey downtown via the Memphis city bus system.  It gave us a chance to see the city from a local's perspective, driving past tiny brick houses and Speedy's Donuts & Deli, which was advertising a "Toast Sandwitch" as part of its grand opening.  The scene at Beale St. was completely different than the previous day, with vendors selling fishbowls of alcohol to ponchoed pedestrians.  Evangelical Christians with signs were out to protest the debauchery.  We timed the rain shower perfectly with a meal at Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe, where I had some of the best chicken and waffles I've ever had.  The waffle was crisp with a fluffy inside, and the fried chicken skin pulled back to reveal juicy, tender meat so delicious it made me consider eating chicken again permanently (I gave up chicken a few years ago, but make an exception for chicken and waffles.).  We paid our respects to the Elvis statue, and walked down to the riverbank, joining the line to enter the festival.  The female security guard was intense, confiscating Carrie's granola bars because she couldn't prove she was diabetic.  God forbid someone sneak some healthy food into this place.  "You got any knives on you?" the guard asked me.  I laughed in her face.

Jerry Lee Lewis' band was getting the crowd's mojo working when we arrived just in time for them to introduce the Beale St. Music Festival stalwart.  "Well, at least it ain't rainin'," Lewis offered with a laugh, taking a seat at the piano.  At 77, his voice isn't what it used to be, but his piano-playing hasn't suffered a bit, pounding out a set of originals and covers in his trademark style, chock full of glissandos.  He came across as a funny grandfather, especially when commenting on the weather.  "It was cold when I got out here.  Now it's kinda... little bit cold," he said, wiggling his fingers.  But rock's original wildman hasn't gone completely soft either.  "Nice piano.  Don't worry; I'm not gonna burn it up.  Not unless she gives me a really hard time.  Then I might strike a match to it," he warned the audience.  After a rollicking "Roll Over Beethoven," Lewis slowed things down with his take on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  Somewhere, a fan blew a few soap bubbles into the sky, creating the illusion of Glinda floating by.  "I know there's a lot of requests out there, but I can't do all of 'em," Jerry Lee said, settling for his two best-known singles, originally recorded down the street at Sun Studio: "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" and "Great Balls of Fire."  Everyone sang along.  It may have been an abbreviated set, but I'm glad I got to see him perform. 

"It feels good to be back in the dirty South," proclaimed Big Boi after opening with an Outkast medley of "Bust," "ATLiens," "Skew It on the Bar-B," and "Rosa Parks."  A DJ spun his backing tracks, supplemented by a live guitarist and drummer to enhance the concert experience.  "Shutterbug" had me grinning from ear to ear, especially when Big Boi and his hype man hopped on one foot in a choreographed dance.  The Sir Lucious Left Foot barrage continued with "General Patton," "Follow Us," and "Daddy Fat Sax."  He followed that with two Outkast bangers, "Ghettomusick" and "B.O.B." before cooling out on "Ms. Jackson."  Turning the mic to the crowd to sing "ooh ooh ooh" while the DJ dropped the audio only furthered the inclusive, party feel.  Though it was tough leaving, we departed when Big Boi brought out special guest, Killer Mike.

We only left Big Boi because we had to see Mavis Staples.  Her band was just finishing an instrumental as we snagged a choice spot in the center of the mat.  Mavis used a cane to return to the stage, looking like a soulful Yoda.  Bundled up in layers, including a scarf and a hoodie, Staples led the group on the Staples Singers' 1975 #1 hit "Let's Do It Again."  I could hear the bass from "The Way You Move" bleeding from the other stage, but when the band dropped into "I'll Take You There," I knew I'd made the right decision.  Mavis took her time with the song, chatting to the audience throughout.  "We've been takin' y'all there for 63 years!  And we ain't tired yet," she announced.  Then, with a smirk, "How 'bout dem Grizzlies?" causing the crowd to go nuts after the previous day's advancing win over the Clippers.  After embarking on some crazy vocal riffing that sounded like a cross between the fairy godmother and the boogieman, she urged the audience to participate by singing the four little words of the hook back to her: "I know if we can take y'all there for 63 years, y'all can take us there for 60 seconds."  She held out her microphone, and we took her there.

The Black Keys drew the biggest crowd of the weekend, so we weren't able to get super-close, but we were still closer than at Global Festival.  Unfortunately, the sound was muddier than the ground we were standing on, the drums flat and the vocals barely audible.  It's a shame too because Dan Auerbach was really letting his solos rip on "Howlin' for You" and "Gold on the Ceiling."  Maybe if more time was spent soundchecking instead of stringing up the giant flashbulbs, it could've been improved.  They still hadn't switched up their setlist from last year, so we retreated halfway through "Your Touch."
I've seen Warren Haynes sologuesting with Grace Potter, and sitting in with Soulive, but never fronting the Mule, so we trudged back to the Orion Stage.  Sadly, they were most of the way through "Soulshine" by the time we found a spot, Haynes teasing the Allman Brothers' "Jessica" in his final licks.  They proceeded with the crunchy "Thorazine Shuffle."  "Banks of the Deep End" was the perfect vehicle for Warren's gruffly beautiful voice, and he inserted a bit of "Ohio" into the song on the anniversary of the massacre at Kent State.  They closed with a pair of funky By a Thread tracks, "Steppin' Lightly" and "Broke Down on the Brazos."  The crowd cheered for more, but the band had to clear off to make way for ZZ Top.

The Roots capped off the evening perfectly with a continuous set lasting over an hour and a half.  Nothing could stop them; not even the light rain that had some fans reaching for their ponchos.  The first third of the set focused mainly on Roots classics like "Table of Contents," "The Next Movement," and "Proceed," with the first pause coming 33 minutes in, mid-"Mellow My Man."  Black Thought breathlessly remarked, "I need a cup of coffee, y'all," and they jumped back into the song, not breaking for another 28 minutes until a fake-out ending in "Immigrant Song."  "Immigrant Song?" you say.  Already no strangers to the cover tune, the band's time on Late Night has allowed them to pick up even more, injecting bits of "Love to Love You Baby," "Bad to the Bone," and "Mercy" into the mix.  Even the "Inspector Gadget Theme" made an appearance!  "Welcome to Memphis," their take on Damian Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock," saw them creating some eerie live dub sounds, the crowd singing back, "Out in the streets they call it murderrrrr!"  The band was in top form, ?uestlove keeping the ferocious pace, Tuba Gooding, Jr. blasting on his sousaphone, and Kirk Douglas singing along with his guitar solo.  After rocking us with "The Seed 2.0" and "Move on Up," they closed up shop with Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo's "Men at Work."  "Thank you! God bless! Goodnight!" said Black Thought, finally able to exhale.  Legendary Roots crew, indeed.

Check out Day 1 and stay tuned for Day 3.


Move on Down the Line / You Win Again / Wine Spodee-O-Dee / Before the Night is Over / Waiting for a Train / She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye / Why You Been Gone So Long / Roll Over Beethoven / Somewhere Over the Rainbow / Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On / Great Balls of Fire

THE ROOTS - 05.04.13 - BEALE ST. MUSIC FESTIVAL (1 hour, 32 minutes)

Table of Contents, pt. 1 > The Fire > The Next Movement > Step Into the Realm > Let's Take It Back > Proceed > Get Busy > Jungle Boogie > Drum Solo > Dynamite! > Inspector Gadget Theme > Mellow My Man > Jusufckwithis > What It Is* > Who Are You & Who is Your Crew* > Break You Off > You Got Me > Shame on You* > Love to Love You Baby > Shame on You > Sweet Child o' Mine > Bad to the Bone > Who Do You Love > Bad to the Bone > Welcome to Jamrock > You Got Me > Mercy > Thought @ Work > Apache > How I Got Over > Get Into It* > Here I Come > The Seed 2.0 > Move on Up > Men at Work

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Beale Street Music Festival: Day 1 Review

I felt like I was living the lyrics of Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis" when my plane "touched down in the land of delta blues in the middle of the pouring rain."  A horrible cab driver left my friend Carrie and I stranded in the downpour at a dead end near the park.  Thankfully, we were able to take refuge in the lobby of a church.  We put plastic bags on our feet, slipped our shoes back on, and headed to the notorious Beale St.  There was no one outside drinking "fat ass beers," but it was amazing to see entire blocks of live music venues, piping hot blues out into the chilly air.  We drank some beers, ate some gumbo and fried veggies, and set out for Walgreen's to stock up on socks, ponchos, and Memphis Tigers sweatshirts.  We stopped by the Peabody Hotel to watch the famous Peabody ducks march out of the fountain and into the elevator, but the crowd was so thick that we didn't see much.

By 5:30, the rain had stopped, so we walked to the swollen river and joined the massive line of festivalgoers.  The ground was saturated with two days of rain, but fortunately the organizers had the forethought to put out a large, interlocking mat in front of each stage, creating a plastic island in what would become a sea of mud.  We got a spot near the front for Welsh power trio, the Joy Formidable.  "If we all huddle together, sort of like a penguin effect, we'll keep each other warm and have a great afternoon," Ritzy Bryan offered optimistically, wisps of breath billowing from her mouth.  The plucky frontwoman was a delight to watch, grinning as she rocked out on her guitar, occasionally making her way over to Matthew James Thomas' kit to punch one of his cymbals.  With her wide eyes, bleach-blonde bob with bangs, and black dress, she gave off the appearance of a doll that had come to life, possessed to entertain.  Childhood friends with bassist Rhydian Dafydd, the two shared a playful dynamic, touching noses, flipping each other's hair, and Ritzy plopping herself on Rhydian's back while he was bent over by his amp.  Their enthusiasm was contagious, winning over the unlikeliest of fans, including a bearded man sporting a camouflage jacket and Confederate flag hat.  "I wanna know your name, and I wanna know your name!  What are your names?!" he yelled as he smiled widely, revealing teeth stained brown from tobacco.  Closing their set with an exuberant "Whirring," the festival was off to a promising start.

Next stop was the Southern Comfort Blues Shack, a small stage that hosted regional blues musicians, just beyond some signs that boasted the achievements of legendary festival regulars (B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, and... Saliva?!?).  We happened upon Brad Webb, a local guitarist who has been playing gigs in Memphis since 1966. Webb was accompanied by a drummer, a bassist, and his frequent collaborator, vocalist/harmonica player David Hudson.  The tiny stage, housed beneath a rusty metal roof, was decorated to look like a front porch, complete with a door swaying gently on its hinges.  It was a picturesque view, trains chugging across the railroad bridges spanning the Mississippi River, the sun shedding light somewhere in Arkansas.  Sadly, much of the music was muffled by Southern rapper Don Trip, shouting expletives from the overly loud Fed Ex Stage.  In the brief respite between sets, we could finally hear Webb and his cohorts clearly.  They covered "I Got a Feeling" by Fred Sanders, a late Memphis guitarist who has a coveted brass note on Beale St. (the blues equivalent of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame).  "Biscuit Blues" was my favorite tune, the dirty bass grumbling out of the speakers forcing me to dance.  "It's in the low 40s out here, so if you hear any squeaks and pops, it's the instruments.  We're sorry," apologized Hudson.  Any squeaks and pops were forgiven, especially when the shit-metal finger-tapping of Yngwie Malmsteen blasted across the park, drowning out Webb almost completely.  The band thanked us for watching, and I bought a very homemade-looking CD.  As I learned at last year's Catalpa Festival's High Times Stage, don't underestimate the local talent on the smaller stages.

We were just barely able to snag a spot at the back of the mat for Sheryl Crow, who seemed to draw the largest crowd of the day.  Crow started her set with the obvious choice, "Steve McQueen," riling up fans with its opening line: "Well, I went to bed in Memphis."  She kept the momentum going with a countrified take on "All I Wanna Do," modifying her intro to "This ain't no disco; this is Memphis."  She followed it with her most recent single, an ode to staycations called "Easy."  After "My Favorite Mistake," Crow squealed, "It's freezing!"  Her legs shook in her skin-tight leather pants as she belted out "Can't Cry Anymore."  Introducing "Real Gone," Sheryl admitted that her two children were asleep on the tour bus, and that she liked having a post-bedtime gig.  "Mom does her work after they go to bed," she said, chuckling at the innuendo.  "But when the boys watch the movie Cars, they're reminded that Mommy has a job that pays for all the Legos."
We made our way to the FedEx Stage to see a sizable crowd fist-pumping to Deftones.  "This song is for Chi," said Chino Moreno, dedicating "Change (in the House of Flies)" to their recently departed bassist, Chi Cheng.  Moreno donned a fan's cowboy hat for "Bloody Cape."  I had one Deftones song on a mixtape when I was younger, but now they're not really my cup of tea.  "I feel like we should come to Memphis more. Look at this," he said, taking stock of the roaring crowd, definitely Deftones tea drinkers.  They finished with two numbers from Adrenaline, "Engine No. 9" and "7 Words."

The temperature dropped even further for Daryl Hall and John Oates, who didn't start until 11:15, forty-five minutes late.  They warmed up the crowd with "Out of Touch" and "Family Man," and followed with a remarkable "Say It Isn't So," which saw excellent solos from Paul Pesco on guitar and Charlie DeChant on saxophone.  Daryl Hall absolutely killed it vocally, as if the 30 years since the song's release had never passed.  "Last time we were here, we only got two songs in.  We're doing a hell of a lot better now," he said, introducing "How Does It Feel to Be Back."  Next up were two Abandoned Luncheonette tracks, "Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)" and "She's Gone," the latter with a little assistance from Sheryl Crow.  I hated leaving Hall & Oates behind, but they should've started on time.

I heard strains of "Rooster" coming from across the park as we made our way over to Alice in Chains.  I would've run to catch it, but by this point, the ground was a Mississippi mud pie, made with authentic Mississippi River mud.  We made it in time for "Angry Chair," the letters "LSMS" glowing red on the bass drum in tribute to deceased band members Layne Staley and Mike Starr.  While Staley's voice was definitely missed (It's what I think of when I think of Alice in Chains.), "Man in the Box" rocked so hard that I forgot the muck I was standing in, sloshing through it to get closer.  "Let's all sing together again. One more time, for the road," said Jerry Cantrell before closing out day one with "Would?"  At the song's end, he offered a suggestion: "Here's an idea.  How about next time we have this festival, we have it indoors?"  As it turns out, it rains for this festival almost every year.  The organizers shouldn't have to move it inside, but it wouldn't hurt to switch it to a later weekend.

Stay tuned for reviews of Day 2 and Day 3.

THE JOY FORMIDABLE - 05.03.13 - BEALE ST. MUSIC FESTIVAL (50 minutes, 15 seconds)

Cholla > Austere / This Ladder is Ours / The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade / Little Blimp / Cradle / Maw Maw Song / I Don't Want to See You Like This / Whirring