Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Phish @ Hampton 2009: Charging Back up the Mountain

Before I add my $0.02 on the Phish reunion at the venerable old steam cooker known as Hampton Coliseum, I urge you to read Ace Cowboy's hilarious but nail-on-the-head review of the weekend down in southeast Virginia. Read here. Or read Randy Ray of, pretty good takes on the shows: 3/6, 3/7, 3/8.

Jon Pareles of the New York Times also helped frame the context of the shows here.

For good video clips of the Hampton shows and general commentary check out the Coventry Phish blog.

(More of my pics from the weekend are here.)

Now that you've read that, I'll try to make a bit of my sense of what went down, though I wholeheartedly concur with Ace's remarks.

My journey from New York City to Hampton, VA was not without it's own drama. Through sheer cosmic luck I was invited to join a great old friend who suddenly had a set of tickets come available. After witnessing the Coventry debacle on a Cineplex simulcast nearly 5 years ago, I was not too thrilled about jumping back on the Phishwagon when tickets went on sale back in the fall of last year. But as soon as I knew I'd be heading down, that good ol' pre-show "stomach churning" that Ace Cowboy mentioned began in earnest. Fast forward to Thursday and I am boarding a direct-to-Newport News-bus in Chinatown, my shoes soaked after stepping in a chilly pool of slush while loading my gear in the luggage bay (a quick thaw of the recent blizzard turned all NYC curbs into footbaths). I had visions of stepping on the bus, raising my devil-horned fists in the air and shouting to all the NYC phish fans on board, "What's up Phish heads, ready to rock!" Alas, all I saw was row upon row of weary African American and Asian faces, who no doubt had not the faintest clue why a white boy would be cheering about a slimy soup ingredient. I took my assigned seat in the back of the bus, next to a 300 lb. Jamaican man and right in front of the bathroom door. If you've ever sat near the bathroom on a Chinatown bus... no need to go on. I will say it seemed to provide a convenient venue for smokers who couldn't wait until the next truck stop. At least the cigarette stench masked any other odors dwelling within. We barely pulled away from East Broadway before more drama unfolded. A near riot broke out when the Chinese woman managing the passengers, I'll call her the busführer, got into a verbal exchange with an older African American woman who refused to sit in a broken seat in the very last row.

"I will not sit there for 6 hours. You have to fix this seat!" she cried.

"Sorry, bus full, sorry, you sit there," barked the Chinese woman in her broken English almost as abrasive as when she spoke Chinese.

"You cannot treat us like this, you must fix this seat, are you listening to me!"

"Bus full, no other seat, you sit there or leave now!"

Finally the complaining passenger managed to finagle a seat up a few rows when a younger fellow left, and the Chinese busführer came back with an unsuspecting female Chinese passenger who was frogmarched into the broken seat. Not only was she infuriated by getting the broken seat, she was visibly nervous about sitting between two young African American men. You could see her inbred fear of darker races oozing from her pores. She released a fusillade of verbal projectiles in Chinese at the busführer, and they took turns insulting each other's ancestors, or so it seemed. Even the large Jamaican man next to me seemed nervous. Not more than two minutes after the dust settled, our kamikaze bus driver was pulled over by NYC's finest for running a stop sign. All I could do was nestle under one of my neighbors arm flabs, crank up my iPod to full volume and enjoy the phish show in my mind for the next 6 hours...

Fast forward to my reunion with Jeff and Kenny at the hotel in Hampton around 1 a.m. I thought all the drama and discomfort of the bus ride was behind me and I could focus on enjoying the bigger reunion that lay in store for us... Until we decided to grab a late night bite at the Waffle House. Jeff at the helm of his rental car sped us around the block toward the nearest Waffle House, which I surmised is a down-market southern cousin of IHOP, if you can imagine. We couldn't make the left turn due to an endless median, so we sped on another half mile or so to where a left was permitted, whereupon we spied another Waffle House. Let's eat our grease closer to the hotel was our consensus, so we sped back to the first one. Once inside we simply could not find a seat as too many like-minded phishheads were seeking the same late nite grindage. "Screw it, let's go back to the second Waffle House." We walk in and are immediately aware of a vastly different scene, similar to my initial encounter on the bus; we were the only whities in the joint. Perhaps we were on the wrong side of the interstate. Perhaps we foolish yankees had crossed an unspoken color line that stubbornly persists down here. It wasn't like we had just driven into a crack-infested ghetto on the other side of the highway, all around stood Cracker Barrels and other 'big box' stores. Anyway, folks there seemed to be caught up in their own late night reveries to pay us much mind, and we were just happy to dig into some cheap and salty breakfast food. Little did we know it would all be served up with a front row viewing of the next episode of Cops: Hampton.

Short-staffed and falling behind on orders, our waitress took a break from bickering with the cook to put on a sugary smile and patiently take our orders. It would be our last direct encounter with our waitress. From then on she became entwined in a passion play with an intoxicated customer who refused to pay her bill, threatened bodily harm to the waitress, and sin of sins, call our waitress a 'ho'. Oops. Waitress would have none of that, and quickly the gates of hell swung open.

With eyes ablaze and finger in full wag, she let out a barrage of vitriol I hadn't seen since, well since a few hours earlier in Chinatown. Damn, what a day. "You do not come in my restaurant, threaten me, then call me a ho! I served nine years in the pen and I do not let that happen to me! I will get my justice, mmmm-hmmm. I am on the phone with the po-leese right now. I have your license plate number bitch, you will not get away with this... (on the phone) Uh-uh, yeah, are you sending someone down here now? How soon? Send them now, they's about to walk out. Send someone now!"

The dine-and-dashing ho-calling customer was in disbelief things escalated this far, but she and her girls were not gonna let it go either.

"Oh, what, now you be callin' the cops? Shit bitch, look at you, a 'po-po ho', callin yo po-po!"

We were sitting between the waitress and the naughty customers, and I was ready for our waitress to jump over the barrier, across our table and throw her whole body onto the crowd. If 9 years in the pen taught her anything though, it was showing restraint when you have a prior record. Unfortunately, this whole drama prevented our food from getting delivered some 20 minutes after ordering, so our man the cook saw we had been sitting there quivering in the corner without our order so he kindly delivered it up. Sure enough, more cursing and yelling ensued when not one but three patrol cars showed up. They must've been doing dry runs for the Phish mob coming into town. At that point we didn't even dare ask for our drinks, and were happy just to leave some cash on the table without even seeing the check and getting the hell out of there. Keep the change guys!

Sated yet confused, we settled in for a night of quiet rest before the main event. Oh yeah, the Phish shows. Well, without going into blow by blow detail, I will say that it was just an overwhelming joy just to be back in that old familiar spot; sitting in a steamy, hazy old school arena with great old phish-loving friends, catching up on five years of life stories, waiting for the lights to go down as the pre-show jitters fueled all kinds of speculation and excitement. Even when not on stage Phish was building the tension, and the release was oh so sweet: Fluffhead. It will be hard to forget 14,000 diehard phans screaming "and I sure got some powerful pills, OH YEAH!" in unison. I sure hope some anthropologists were on hand to document our curious social phenomenon; surely it must seem like a bizarre cult to the uninitiated.

Anyway, though not entirely mistake-free, the first night's show was a huge 'thank-you' to all the phans who stuck with phish throughout the years, and indeed, pushed them to great heights, and perhaps great lows as evidenced at Coventry. Of course you can't blame the phans for the Coventry debacle, I would put that squarely on Trey's drug-addled condition at the time, but they clearly were trying to make up for that embarrassing display by playing incredibly long and energetic shows all weekend. I was also struck by the hopeful tone of the first night's song choices and build-ups/improvisations within the songs. Definitely resonated with Trey's remarks in the NY Times article about picking up a nation in the dumps. If that is truly Trey's mission, he will find a lot of yearning listeners as they travel across the country this summer. And judging by the confident performances of Page and Mike, the always rock steady foundation laid by Fishman, and the renewed sense of self exhibited by Trey, the fans will be well rewarded for their patience. While Trey may been the weakest link among a group of incredibly talented musicians finally maturing in their musical identities, I had the sense he only needs a few more months of steady rehearsing and performance to exceed the great guitar heights he climbed night in and night out throughout the 90s. Welcome back guys. Just in time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Massacre on the Hudson: Birdstrike!

Yes, God was his co-pilot that frigid day in New York City. Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III is rightfully crowned the hero of the day after he expertly glided the engines-out Airbus A320 jet down to a perfect water landing in the chilly Hudson River, where all of the passengers were able to miraculously escape alive. Any number of other variables could have determined a much more gruesome outcome. If the flight was at night, most certainly there would have been fatalities, probably due to a magnified sense of panic leading to death by drowning or hypothermia. Or who knows if the pilot, a decorated veteran of commercial and military aviation, who fortuitously even had glider-flying experience, would have been able to time the landing right in the dark–one miscalculation and the landing could have resulted in the break-up of the fuselage in the frigid waters. Or what if the pilot tried to go for it and land at Teterboro Airport in North Jersey, only to fall far short in some swanky, Sopranos-like suburb.

Well, these scenarios are moot of course, and along with the media, it all ignores the greatest tragedy of the day: the death of dozens of innocent birds, who were wrongly accused of causing this near-disaster. "Birdstrike!" they glibly say, was to blame. Birdstrike–as if the birds planned all this; as if they were some Al Qaeda sleeper cell of islamic Canadian Geese who struck their target with the precision of a shoulder-fired Stinger missile. In fact these poor geese were the unwilling victims in the whole affair. With visions of Florida in their tiny brains, they thought they were on their way to a long winter of grazing and pooping on unfrozen golf courses across the Sunshine State. Instead they were cuisinarted, atomized, and finally, unfairly blamed for their own blood-and-feathers fate. Where is the Audobon Society? Where is the Friends of Waterfowl Avoiding Aircraft Collisions (FWAAC!)? Where are the morally-upright people of Canada, standing up for their national geese?

What I hope is that I can start a national debate on the efficacy of the term "birdstrike." It's as neutered, insidious and unjust a euphemism as "collateral damage" or "post-traumatic stress disorder." Then perhaps we can start recognizing the senseless tragedies of these birdkills going on all the time thanks to our lust for air travel. Otherwise, we will all have bird blood on our boarding passes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Les Savy Fav Rubs Its Hairy, Sweaty Gut in Brooklyn's Face

The Brooklyn-via-RISD art rock (what is that?) juggernaut, Les Savy Fav, cranked it up for the hometown crowd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg Sunday night. They charged through a tight set of oldies and newer stuff from their latest album, Lets Stay Friends. Equally compelling was the over-the-top performance of lead singer Tim Harrington, who was literally climbing up into the rafters a la early Eddie Vedder. Fortunately his growing gut kept him from climbing out too far into harm's way. Many a hipster might have been squashed had he slipped. Others were not spared though when he waded into the audience, mic in hand, smearing the audience with his body slime. He even stuck his hand through his pants and out his zipper, allowing lucky gals in the first row to felate his finger. His rainbow striped knee socks, 70s-gym-shorts, bald-head, lumberjack-beard, bare, sweaty,pear-shaped torso, and histrionics all made for a distracting sideshow in the finest, anti-glam tradition. I was amused, but had to work to focus on the music. It just made my girlfriend want to vomit and leave. All in all twas a nice eve of Brooklyn rock, with local young lions The Bear Hands stepping up with an impressive opening set. In many ways I was more impressed with their hopeful sound and youthful energy than the aging ironic rage of LSF. Both are still worth seeing any chance you get.
Check out more pics here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Liberals of America relax!

Wondering where to flee to when another Republican administration gets voted in? Don't worry, Canada welcomes you with open arms!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sarah Silverman shleps for Obama! Why the hell didn't she speak at the Convention???

Viewer discretion is advised. Not recommended for highly sensitive or morally astute people.

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Sarah, in her infinite, smutty wisdom, hits on a huge nugget of electoral truth; Florida has more grandparents per capita than any other state. It's time we leverage the unconditional love of our grandparents and blackmail them into voting for Obama! It's such a hyper-Rovian idea, I'm sure Karl is slamming his pasty forehead into his keyboard for not thinking of this first. And she gamely reminds us that Florida is basically responsible for delivering W. to us in the first place. Thanks, I almost forgot about that. If they hand us a McCain/Palin presidency, I vote to excise them from the union. What do you call that? Excession?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jesus Is A Friend of Mine

This lost treasure was unearthed and properly enshrined on It's genius really - a sublime mixture of christian rock, ska and hip-hop. Check out the bass player just humpin his bass. Classic!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Open Air Disco at the Yard, Brooklyn

Following my mandolin recital I danced away a balmy Sunday night at the Yard, an open lot on the Gowanus Canal in the heart of Brooklyn. DJ Danny Wang spun golden disco hits from Europe and the States, whipping a relaxed and happy crowd into a frenzy on the outdoor dance floor wedged between a grove of trees. Though the Gowanus Canal, a tributary of the East River that flows through the heart of industrial Brooklyn, is far from a fresh mountain stream, it lent the scene an almost European feel. Just avoid deep inhalations through your nose while standing at canal's edge.  But if anything was living in that urban urinal of a canal, it was groovin' on some slammin' beats that night.
Cheap beer and sangria was served from a makeshift bar, and hungry hipsters wolfed down humongous organic quesadillas from the owners of a beloved Red Hook taco truck. Though the forces of gentrification are encroaching ever closer on the Gowanus industrial area, it still felt like we were far from the baby strollers and lattes and we could dance to tunes as loud as we wanted. Sunday Best promoted a series of outdoor events at the Yard throughout the summer, and seem to be promoting more indoor events as the seasons turn.
More photos here.

Recital at Jalopy Theater

After months and months of intensive study with my mandolin teacher Michael Daves, I finally had the chance to show Michael, fellow students and attending friends how my playing has progressed. With the illness of my performance partner, I had to perform my two songs, "Midnight on the Stormy Deep" and "Bluegrass Breakdown" with Michael. I always feel a little bit of nerves before going on stage for the first time in a long time, but I felt very comfortable right away. Adding to the fun was the honor of playing on the Jalopy Theater stage, one of my favorite live music venues in all of NYC. It's a real down-home theater in the heart of Red Hook in Brooklyn, way off the beaten path in many ways. It's a bit of a trek to get there by subway, but always worth it to check out the music and the vintage instruments for sale in the front. Anyway, it was a fine show, with many heartfelt performances by fellow students, including the first ever public performance by Michael's 10 year-old daughter, who sang a murder ballad with the gravitas of a 75 year-old bluesman. Well, almost. She definitely had the crowd by the ears. A group jam on "Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms" wrapped up a memorable Sunday afternoon. Next time, oh Jalopy stage, I'll be back with a band! More photos here... (Photo above by Robb Wood)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ween Rocks Brooklyn

Ween is back and better than ever. In their last stop on their Summer 2008 tour, the brown boys, allegedly more sober than ever too, threw it down for two and half hours with one of the tightest, most energetic sets of music I've ever witnessed. Ween highlighted a fantastic summer line-up at McCarren Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. McCarren features an emptied-out pool that's hosted concerts and events for the past few years, but it will close down as a concert venue after this season when construction begins on a new water park. Except for a tease of Hendrix's "Hey Joe" at the end of the second encore song, "You Fucked Up", Ween abstained from covers and dug deep into their huge catalog of music, which we should celebrate as fervently as Bob Slydell celebrates Michael Bolton's. Other highlights included: "Booze Me Up and Get Me High," "Spinal Meningitis", "Learnin to Love," "Transdermal Celebration," "Buckingham Green," "The Stallion Pt. 3," "The Argus," "Mollusk," "Dr. Rock," "Marble Tulip Juicy Tree," and many more (see set list and video here) Though the venue was not filled to capacity, the mood was raucous and upbeat, with a dash of the weird thrown in per usual at most Ween shows, evidenced by the orgy of nitrous tanks planted in a grove of trees just outside the entrance. Many a stoned, giggling fool were seen stumbling around Williamsburg as we wandered back to the subway. My photos here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Skerik and the Beta Popes Create Satan's Soundtrack

Knitting Factory -- Seattle-native Skerik, enfant terrible of the saxophone world, invaded New York with his noise-rock trio, the Beta Popes, featuring New York's downtown jazz-scene legend Bobby Previte on drums and a hirsute (or in his case, hair-suited) Jimmy Saft on guitar. A sparse crowd was on hand to drown in a tsunami of sound during their hour-long set, during which they played two long sonic collages of death metal. Skerik spent much of the time adding to the clamor with his unique style of synthesized vocals. It was not for the faint of heart, maybe not for anyone with a heart. Satan would have been dancing for joy amid the sturm and drang, and perhaps he was in this subterranean venue. But it was good to see Skerik and his mates frolic with total freedom and see how far and deep they could go in pushing the boundaries of noise art, though according to the Beta Popes myspace page, they urge all to "say no to art." More photos of the carnage here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Chris Thile and Michael Daves Rock the Rockwood, Again

Chris Thile and Michael Daves tore it up at the Rockwood once again. This time, the presence of a professional video camera and Phish bassist Mike Gordon (his gray-haired mop in the foreground) standing amongst the over-capacity crowd at this cozy club in Manhattan's Lower East Side seems to have spurred the duo to new heights. Or perhaps it was the result of continued collaboration and a growing symbiosis between the two shred-meisters, carrying on the tradition of the close-harmony brother acts of yore, as they honor and redefine classic bluegrass, honky tonk, and fiddle tunes such as: "Blue Night," "Rabbit in a Log," "The First One to Love You, "Loneliness and Desperation," "Little Girl in Tennessee," "Darlin' Corey," "Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes," "Cold Rain and Snow," "Molly and Tenbrooks," and fiddle tunes like "Fisher's Hornpipe," "June Apple," "Arkansas Traveler," Uvpick's Waltz, Billy in the Lowground, and Back Up and Push. For more photos check em here. Chris and Michael's unannounced gigs around Manhattan may take a break while Chris goes on tour with his new bluegrass supergroup, The Punch Brothers, but you can always catch Michael every Tuesday night at the Rockwood. I've seen him play numerous times now, in addition to taking lessons from him every other week, and his music never gets old, even though it's plumbed from the depths of a country music landscape long gone.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mandingo Ambassadors: Best West African Band in NYC?

Tonight we managed to catch the Mandingo Ambassadors for the second time at Barbes, the cozy, world-music venue in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood. Legendary might be a stretch, but everyone here seems to know it as one of the best places to catch great African music and a wide range acts. I first caught the Mandingo Ambassadors at Jalopy Theater in Red Hook, and I was thoroughly blown away by their tight, energetic performance, charismatic vocalist, the cheery tones of their balafon, and the liquid-lightning sound of their guitarist, Mamady Kouyate, a musical god from Guinea who certainly should be legendary here as well. Here is a blurb about the band from the website of Barbes, where the Ambassadors usually have a residency every Wednesday night:

This legendary band was originally formed in Guinea, West Africa, in the late 1960’s by Guitarist Mamady “Djelike” Kouyate and singer Emile Soumah. Their music became some of the most beloved and influential of their generation and their songs were widely imitated. Mamady later went on to perform for many years with Guinea’s most popular group, Bembeya Jazz National. Now based in New York, Mamady Kouyate has decided to revive The Ambassadors. His electrifying guitar-work is supported by the new Mandingo Ambassadors, a crew of Guinean and American musicians who have steeped their glorious sound in classic 60's Guinean mandingo music.

Here is a clip of Mamady and the band at Barbes in 2007:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chris Thile and Michael Daves at the Living Room

Thile and Daves once again wove their magic as a duo, this time at the Living Room in the Lower East Side. On a Monday night they drew an over-capacity crowd to witness their evolving 'brother harmony' act. I got stuck in the back, where good camera angles were hard as hard to come by as the drinks from the deluged waitress. Nevertheless it was good to see a larger crowd (100+) flocking to see these maestros. And their sound filled the room nicely–I wasn't sure how it would compare to the much more intimate space at the Rockwood.

After the show Michael urged me to stick around for Jim Campilongo's late night set. Campilongo, a virtuoso instrumentalist, even left Michael and Chris shaking their heads in awe as he made tasty musical sparks fly off his gorgeous-sounding '59 Fender Tele. He has a residency at the Living Room every Monday night. Like Thile and Daves, he must be seen to be believed. More pics of Thile and Daves here.