Low’s Perfect Sound in Birmingham

Low entranced a Birmingham, Alabama audience on Friday evening with a set of music spanning their 16-year history. 20160205_233014The set list was magical, the sound full and melodious, the visuals, the drinks, the venue, all of it so right that I thought about how great it was to be alive. Screenshot (5)It was like childhood contentment, almost knowing something to be true, turning ahead, out of nothing, more real than metal, naked, science and math and art and language, all of that in their sound. (Click here or on the picture below to hear for yourself) lowmarqueeAnd so, I was pretty excited after the show and tracked all of the band members down – Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Steve Garrington – and tried to explain it all to them.absence
I admit that I did go on and on and my wife tried to pull me away, realizing that I was acting like John Steinbeck’s Lenny, squeezing the beauty and truth out of a thing, but none of them seemed to mind too much. And then I wanted to thank them for that too.

Low Plays Anchorage, Alaska

We went to see Low play in Anchorage, Alaska, and hoped for the Northern Lights too. We had never been to The Last Frontier; neither had Low. P1000739The flight from New York was long – 14 hours with a change in Seattle – and we were verging on collapse by the 10 pm showtime (2 am our EDT). P1000703But the venue was great – an intimate bar, Taproot – and there with only a hundred others in attendance, all of whom were bushy and rough.

“We waited for twenty years!” Someone called out.

Allan Sparhawk gazed back. “Actually it’s been 22.” IMG_1100The band looked tired – or were we projecting? – starting slow with Gentle and other lullaby-like songs from their remarkably listenable 2015 release Ones and Sixes, before gradually picking up with Sparhawk’s characteristic distortion and intensity in No Comprehende and Pissing. IMG_1103The light show was understated – 90’s style mandalas blooming and transforming behind Mimi Parker, making her look like a weary Madonna – as was the sound, lilting in and amongst the non-stop chatter from all corners.

“Yeah, I saw you there, but I was talking with RJ!” His beard puffed out like a cartoon character’s. “I haven’t talked with him in months!”

The only exception to the swirl of drink-inspired banter was a young couple in front of us, she with short blonde hair, he with a blond streaked beard, sitting side by side at a wooden table, gazing into each other’s eyes every 15 seconds, talking quietly and mysteriously, consuming a beer with stoic regularity, not once looking at the stage.

A woman looked at my wife and asked if she was a mail order bride. “There’s a lot of them here!”

I imagined that many of these people had come in from distant logging camps and moose hunts for this magical night, and tried to forgive them their boisterous manner. P1000745The PA was louder the second night – although the feedback from some songs seemed at times beyond system’s capacity, enveloped in white noise. Sparhawk, Parker and bassist Steve Garrington were more upright and clear, and so was the crowd, almost twice as large as the night before, drunker, louder, crashing into one another, spinning my chair to and fro as they went back and forth to the bar.

“I’ve got four bands now, man!” A heavy man stroked down at his scraggly greying beard as he yelled out to his friend. “Our shortest song is seven minutes! We got one that goes over 40!”

“It was a family event!” The woman’s eyes were sharp, her hair wild. “What do you want from me?!”

I was more tired this night, so damned tired that I just stared stupidly at the spinning mandalas and let them coax me to sleep. mandalaI switched to water and then Coke, and counted the bearded men yell with their dates, while Low played on, their subtlety lost in the tumult, until Sparhawk played his guitar like Hendrix which quieted everyone for a moment.

Sparhawk announced that there would be no encore, just one more song. The band had a flight in four hours.

“Don’t wait another 20 years!” Someone pleaded.

We went out into the cold night, looking into the sky, deep and empty, searching the horizon, seeing nothing but the haze of the city lights, not knowing yet that the only Northern Lights we would see were those in Taproot, both they and Low at the center of the madding crowd.

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Ratdog and Mayer

The hype on Dead and Company, the latest Grateful Dead side project, is befuddling to say the least, although the success of 50th anniversary shows have certainly led us here20150704_235138The truth is, however, that the fall tour of this hodgepodge and questionably-named band has little to do with the concerts in Chicago. Not only is founding member Phil Lesh nowhere to be seen – indeed he is concurrently playing in his eponymous band – but neither were Bruce Hornsby and Trey Anastasio included.

This group lacks the soul of earlier post-Jerry Garcia incarnations, The Dead and Furthur, neither of which were bedazzled by all the hype.furthur_0This band, headlined by pop guitarist John Mayer who has nothing whatsoever to do with the music of the Grateful Dead, is a dubious path for Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann and, if they are not careful, could lead to moments they might regret. bobby-bucket

The Ecstastic Soul of The Grateful Dead

And so we went to the July 4th Fare Thee Well concert. 20150704_163240The Grateful Dead, even without Jerry Garcia, played with heart and inspiration.20150704_193831The sound was almost as great as was the feeling of being back at a show, that feeling of ecstatic calm, where it seems there is nowhere else ever to be, just in the music, surrounded, like a child, soothed, where everything else turns off, except thinking about what they might play next. 20150704_235138It is a precious, precarious thing that, now gone, has left me melancholy, thinking that they have to do it again – just one more, man –  where they just yet might get into a Lazy Lightning-El Paso-Supplication jam.20150704_235443

 

The Grateful Dead Is The Drug

I’m off to see The Grateful Dead this weekend in Chicago. dead-fair-thee-well-homepage-pfaAlthough tickets for the Fare Thee Well concerts were too expensive and The Dead’s marketing branch is selling 70-CD box sets for $700, the music remains the thing.

Santa Clara, CA - June 27:  performs on Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years Of Grateful Dead at Levi Stadium on June 27, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Santa Clara, CA – June 27: performs on Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years Of Grateful Dead at Levi Stadium on June 27, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

I was so wound up during my workout today – listening to The Dead – that I went through a series of adrenaline rushes, each one almost ending in tears, until I finally started to settle down after an hour and then had to do another hour to get my energy out. old dead showI saw my first Grateful Dead concert in Hampton, Virginia on March 9, 1983 and went on to follow the band over 12 years, seeing 48 concerts in such places as Lake Placid, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Boulder, Providence, Eugene, San Francisco, Miami and, yes, Chicago. bumper stickersKnown for a wide range of rock genres, The Grateful Dead will likely play much of their Americana at Saturday’s July 4th concert, including covers such as Me and My Uncle (John Phillips), Big River (Johnny Cash), El Paso (Marty Robbins), Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristoferson) and I Know Your Rider (traditional) as well as their own true America standards Jack Straw, Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, and US Blues. usbluesDamn it, I’m getting worked up again.I need to breathe.

 

Kubrick and Weir: The Laudatory Human Condition

Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has been praised as a great filmmaker and artist, one who probes the shades of humanity in such great films as Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon. Screenshot (994)Bob Weir, not as highly praised, is certainly recognized for “chasing the music” as he says, on his 50-year journey as rhythm guitarist with The Grateful Dead.  Screenshot (1020)And so I was intrigued to watch documentaries on each man this weekend to perhaps gain an insight or two through understanding their trials and tribulations.

It was not to be.Screenshot (1031)Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2007) offers brief moments of filmic analysis amidst a tidal wave of laudatory praise, Steven Spielberg gushing, “He was a conceptual illustrator of the human condition”. Screenshot (1009)And so despite a 50-year career, we are left with the trite summation that Mr. Kubrick worked terribly hard and loved his family, little else.

The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir (2013) is worse. While some fellow musicians offer comments on Bob Weir’s work, the documentary is almost solely guided by bland recollections by Weir – “Here’s my Jerry Bobbblehead” – occasionally, boyishly and evasively hinting toward his notorious off-stage reputation. Screenshot (1027)His band mates are only briefly interviewed, likewise alluding, saying little else. Screenshot (1017)It’s a shame that both of these these documentaries offered so little, not that they should focus on personal scandal, but that they veered so very far from the very same human condition that these men had endeavored to understand and instead settled on empty praise.Screenshot (1004)

Jane Says, “Sex and Violence!”

Jane’s Addiction is back on tour, playing their critically acclaimed Nothing’s Shocking from start to finish. janes3As Perry Farrell asked the crowd last night at the Brooklyn Bowl, “Is it shocking that Nothing’s Shocking is having its 25th anniversary?” MI0002215536Meant to be rhetorical, it wasn’t. Because it is, shocking that is. Dave Navarro remains as tattooed and rocking’ out as ever while Farrell maintains his crackhead je ne sais crois. Janes-Addiction-OmahaBut even with the bra-and-pantied girls swinging above the stage, the music isn’t as raw, nor as overwhelming, but has deteriorated into more of a burlesque. janes2All of which was made worse by the Williamsburghians, in their hats and beards, chanting “Let’s Go Rangers” at the bar.Brooklyn Hipsters