Tag Archives: Grateful Dead


An Impressive First Night of PhilRAD at the Capitol Theatre

December 30th, 2014

PhilRAD – Capitol Theatre – December 29, 2014

About 80 minutes into their first set last night at the Capitol Theatre, PhilRAD finally paused and the audience let out a collective sigh that was easily translated to “What just happened!?” The band—consisting of four-fifths of the upstart Grateful Dead cover outfit Joe Russo’s Almost Dead with Phil Lesh leading the way on bass—had just opened their sold-out three-night run with a twisted jam-filled expedition that on paper looked like “Truckin’”“Jack Straw” > “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes of the World” > “Crazy Fingers” > “King Solomon’s Marbles.” It was like watching a kid get a new bike with training wheels for Christmas and in the course of an hour or so go from wobbly beginner to look-ma-no-hands to X Games medalist. The stretch was full of highlights: Russo on drums cracked open the jam in “Truckin’” like an egg as Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger played a runny-yolk two-guitar jam; Marco Benevento led a glorious jam in “Jack Straw” on the grand piano; five guys seemingly played at five different tempos but all somehow fit together in a feeling-out-each-other-moment in “Estimated”; Metzger crafting a peak-upon-peak solo in “Eyes”; and, of course, Lesh playing the adult in the room with his beautiful, exploratory bass playing. If it was sloppy at times, the music seemed to benefit: This material longs for looseness and the surprises that come with imperfection.

Everyone had a moment to shine, individually and in the group dynamic. Russo was in fine form, a firm hand on the back of the bicycle seat that knew exactly when to let go and when to rein in things. A first-set highlight was the jam out of “Crazy Fingers,” which under Russo’s guidance went free then beautiful then funk-rave until finally crashing into “King Solomon’s Marbles.” The crowd reveled in each moment that was half nostalgia, half groundbreaking. There were sing-alongs for their old favorites and revelations at new discoveries in decades-old material that lurked unknowingly beneath the surface.

The second set, which alternated between straight-up guitar rocking, out-there space-drifts and shall-we-dance? grooving, was somehow even looser, and the surprising second song could sum it up. “Throwing Stones” formed out of a free-flowing underwater jam lead by Benevento that finally coalesced around the up-tempo theme. Metzger, sounding every bit like Bob Weir on vocals, led the crowd in a fist-pumping sing-along before turning in on Russo for a climactic, crowd-pleasing guitar solo. After another verse, Lesh and Hamilton bounced on a theme that as much Sly and the Family Stone as the Dead, which Russo somehow brought back for a short bit before things went into space-funk-fusion for an unexpected segue into “Dark Star.” That tune was a platform for some of the most inventive exploring of the night, ceding way to a raging-under-the-red-lights cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” plus a jam-fueled “The Wheel.” Sure, they occasionally lost track of where they dropped the breadcrumbs along the way, but that was OK, Lesh or Russo eventually brought them back to where they began. PhilRAD rounded out the superlative set list with “Terrapin Station” > “I Know You Rider” before encoring with a heavy-boogie version of “Shakedown Street,” white lights whirling around the Cap like the band had set off a fire alarm. As great as the show was, there was a definitive just-getting-warmed-up feeling in the room. Two more nights of jams, surprises and, I’m sure, people in the crowd looking at each other wondering, “What just happened!?” —A. Stein | @Neddyo


Guitar Maestro Steve Gunn Celebrates New Album in Brooklyn

October 13th, 2014

Steve Gunn – Rough Trade NYC – October 12, 2014

sg-in-the-park-2There was an old kind of guitar nerd who would go cross-eyed from a solo of Malmsteenian technical skill muttering in awe, “How does he do that?” But nowadays, there’s a new kind of guitar nerd that was out in full force at the Steve Gunn show last night at Rough Trade NYC. These ladies and gentlemen still appreciate the technical skill, which was to be found aplenty throughout Gunn’s set, but along with and really beyond the proficiency, there is an emotional connection that goes deeper. Gunn and his soul-probing band seemed to be performing therapy by six-string, wowing the crowd and then asking, “And how does that make you feel?”

He was an unassuming guitar maestro in denim, his banter was almost accidental and his vocals were understated (part mumble, part moan), but got the job done and counterbalanced the music behind them. The set began with a quick in-line sound check that itself was pretty great, reminiscent of a 1973 Grateful Dead jam, the band tossing around a melody like no big thing. Once the set got swinging, though, it was a cascade of musical emotion, jubilant, cathartic, evocative. The songs were mostly from Gunn’s excellent new album, Way Out Weather—with one or two of the longer jams drawn from older material—the show serving as a release party (with Gunn the type of musician who drinks water at his own Sunday night celebration). Each seemed to evoke a feeling, from the nostalgia of “Wildwood” to the bickering of “Milly’s Garden.” The latter, Gunn explained, was basically about an asshole neighbor, and his guitar and lap steel went back and forth in musical argument, building to an angry crescendo.

Later, those same two instruments overlapped again on “Way Out Weather.” This time the guitars felt like they were in deep, respectful conversation, the jam moving from quiet and beautiful to fiery, the whole band expertly coming together. Whatever the feelings evoked, it was Gunn’s guitar as the source. Impossible amounts of notes poured from his instrument, acoustic and electric, his fingers moving effortlessly up and down his fretboard, like a minimalist masseuse who knows the exact location of each melody’s pressure points. The notes layered into nonlinear masterpieces that stretched out in time and filled the room with a steady hypnosis. After the “session,” a big hug felt appropriate, but a deserved ovation and a soul-searching encore did the trick as well.  —A. Stein


Two Nights of BoomBox at The Bowery Ballroom This Weekend

October 8th, 2014

BoomBox, a Muscle Shoals, Ala., rock duo, formed when Zion Godchaux (guitar and vocals) and Russ Randolph (sequencers, groove boxes and turntables) met in 2004. They had each become interested in music at a young age. Godchaux—the son of the Grateful Dead’s Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux—began playing drums when he was just two, and he took up the guitar and writing songs in his teens. Randolph, too, picked up the drums early before taking a keen interest in engineering and producing. All of this comes through in the band’s electronic rock and blues soundscapes designed to make you move. But when it comes to playing live, the guys in BoomBox (above, doing “Mr. Boogie Man” for MoBoogie) don’t like to get tied down with set lists. Instead they let the crowd dictate a musical direction. (“On a really good night, it’s like people are almost telling us what to play,” said Randolph.) Touring behind their most recent album, the lively Filling in the Color (stream it below), BoomBox play The Bowery Ballroom on Friday and Saturday. Belgian beat-maker Ramona opens both shows.


Woods Take The Bowery Ballroom into Orbit

May 19th, 2014

Woods – The Bowery Ballroom – May 16, 2014

In recent years, Woods have gone from just a band to the gravitational center of a small musical universe. Other bands sounding like Woods is a thing. And artists having their albums released on Woods’ label or produced by that guy from Woods are things other bands rightly aspire to. Take Quilt—the opening act at The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night—a far-orbiting body, but orbiting nonetheless with its cross section of weird-folk songs and free-floating jams. Performing live, the emphasis was on the latter, with several Grateful Dead–of-the-’60s excursions, democratically elected brain fodder that were long but not too long. Showing off a real tour-tested cohesion, Quilt were in good form, relying heavily on material from their recent Held Up in Splendor album. The final movement of the set was either multiple songs seamlessly stitched together or a far-reaching opus with twists and surprises, trippy spirals, groovy jogs and hairpin turns.

As enjoyable as Quilt were, the sold-out crowd wanted the source, and it was good to see Woods in their element. Drippy Eye Projections provided the show’s visuals with old school liquid light displays bubbling behind the band. The projections had the effect like Woods were playing in some petri dish, part of a Technicolor ooze on the hinge between chemistry and biology. The music shared in the metaphor, natural, organic folk-based songsmith-ing meeting explosive, entropy-building jam outs. For the most part, the show was a live imagining of the excellent new With Light and With Love album. Each song was recognizably Woods at its core, but small variations on the basic theme and evolution in the sound make large changes. The title track was a representative highlight, Jeremy Earl’s unique falsetto vocals setting the mood and then releasing the tension as the band escalated into an ecstatic improv.

Little spacey ambient noodling filled the spaces between numbers: the primordial ooze from which the songs bubbled through, the medium of the goo as important as the shapes and colors moving through it, superlative songs like “Moving to the Left” as enthralling as the jams they set adrift. At one point, Woods introduced their new bassist, Chuck, for whom the packed crowd enthusiastically boogied down and/or attempted to keep their minds from leaving terra firma altogether as the scrambled rainbow colors cascaded over the stage. The encore featured a dedication to their “Vermont friends” (and fellow orbiteers) MV & EE and an excellent cover of Pink Floyd’s “Green Is the Colour,” Jarvis Taveniere playing an earthly 12-string, Woods making it beautifully their own. It was the end of one of those shows that felt, in its glorious reverie, like it might not ever end at all. But, alas, we were finally released from the Woods orbit, but hopefully not for too long. —A. Stein




Phil Lesh and Friends Freely Jamming Without Ego at Capitol Theatre

April 11th, 2014

Phil Lesh and Friends – Capitol Theatre – April 10, 2014

Phil Lesh treats his band’s lineups much like the jams those groups end up playing: There are (probably) themes, riffs and improvisations underlying some grand design. Of course, some work better than others and stick together longer, but in the end, most of them deliver. This week at the Capitol Theatre, Lesh seems to have once again found magic, this time with his current group of Friends, running the gamut from Jackie Greene’s soulful, smooth vocals and blues-rock guitar to Marco Benevento’s indie-pop groove jazz keyboards to John Kadlecik’s singing and guitar playing, which ooze the Grateful Dead ethos for which Lesh continues to be the standard bearer. Bill Evans, who drifted on- and offstage at a rate of about every other song, added a saxophone to the mix. In between, Lesh and drummer Joe Russo formed a two-man Rosetta Stone, deciphering, decoding and interpreting so that the musical conversation formed a coherent dialogue.

Last night, the band got off to a rollicking start with the crowd favorite “Truckin’.” There were notable solos galore, too many to catalog, although I will note that Benevento particularly shined on the keys, which, in Lesh’s band, often has trouble finding moments in such a heavy guitar-bass-drums environment. Throughout the night, there were subtle pairings of musicians, conscious couplings with, for example, Benevento bantering with Kadlecik or the two guitars playing off each other. But the best parts were when everyone melded into a single entity, freely jamming without ego. There were two such moments in the first set, first a gorgeous, atmospheric noodle coming out of a cover of former-Friend Ryan Adams’ “Let It Ride.” The second was a highlight improv in the middle of “Cassidy,” spontaneous composition without a net

Often the best Grateful Dead moments weren’t the songs, but rather the spaces in between them, with the jam dividing “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” a favorite historical example. On Thursday, Lesh took this to the extreme, placing not just a big jam in between those two songs, but the entire set. It was like looking at your fingernail beneath a microscope and discovering an altogether new universe. Along the way, the band hit on many themes and genres. There was the funk chunk of “Shakedown Street” led by Lesh’s elegant bass playing, with Greene eventually leading the band to an impromptu vamp on the Meters’ “Cissy Strut” and then a fantastic slide-guitar solo. There was the catchall rocker “New Speedway Boogie,” which contained its own multitudes, jams within jams, everyone getting their chance at the wheel. The high-paced “Caution” had Lesh and Russo banging out the theme while Greene did his best Pigpen imitation. The set ended in grand fashion, “Caution” leading into a charged version of the Dead’s take on “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” Kadlecik shining as he did all night, before the band moved into a wonderful “Terrapin Station,” Russo taking complete control of the Dead opus. Finally, the show closed with the predetermined sing-along “I Know You Rider,” like a wanderer returning from a journey around the world, none the worse for wear. —A. Stein

(Jackie Greene and Rich Robinson play Webster Hall on 6/15.)


Cut Loose with BoomBox at The Bowery Ballroom on Friday Night

March 19th, 2014

BoomBox, a Muscle Shoals, Ala., rock duo, formed when Zion Godchaux (guitar and vocals) and Russ Randolph (sequencers, groove boxes and turntables) met in 2004. They had each become interested in music at a young age. Godchaux—the son of the Grateful Dead’s Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux—began playing drums when he was just two, and he took up the guitar and writing songs in his teens. Randolph, too, picked up the drums early before taking a keen interest in engineering and producing. All of this comes through in the band’s electronic rock and blues soundscapes designed to make you move. But when it comes to playing live, the guys in BoomBox (above, doing “Lost Ya”) don’t like to get tied down with set lists. Instead they let the crowd dictate a musical direction. (“On a really good night, it’s like people are almost telling us what to play,” said Randolph.) Armed with a new album, the lively Filling in the Color (stream it below), BoomBox play The Bowery Ballroom tomorrow night.


Brendan Canning: Worth the Wait

January 27th, 2014

Brendan Canning – Mercury Lounge – January 24, 2014

The jokes kind of write themselves: Canadian musician postpones show due to visa issues, comes “down South” to New York City in January during a historic cold snap instead of October when climes may have better suited him. But as Brendan Canning explained at Mercury Lounge on Friday night, it was all for the best—the delay had given him time to tweak his band and the music, and judging by the resulting set, who am I to argue?

Looking every part the veteran and an elder statesman of the Toronto music scene, Broken Social Scene’s Canning and Co. opened with a wash of spacey instrumentals, his band, a full guitar-heavy sextet, trending toward the subtle and the beautiful. The wall of sound eventually turned into tracks from Canning’s new album, You Gots 2 Chill. It’s filled with lo-fi songs and ideas, many sounding almost like he had made them lovingly, in his bedroom. Live, though, the band added an oomph and a measured interplay to the material, each song sounding like it could just keep going forever without complaint from musicians or the audience. Random film clips were projected on the back wall, giving the impression that the band was playing on that magical other side of a movie screen, perhaps an entire other audience out there unaware of the cinematic music being made.

Late in the show, when Canning had loosened up with the banter, he gave a helpful recap of the set: “spacey intro, first songs off You Gots 2 Chill, old Broken Social Scene, album material, new songs,” and that’s pretty much how it went. But song selection was only part of the appeal, the band felt totally frictionless, free to glide unimpeded in any direction. “However Long” was a highlight, stripped of the electronic bleeps on the studio version, the band dug into the breezy melody with vigor. It’s always a pleasure to see a band of this caliber deliver quality new material, and Canning didn’t disappoint. “Once I Was a Runner” was an indie-rock keeper with a jangly mellow outro. “Hey Marika,” advertised as a cross between the Everly Brothers and the Grateful Dead, didn’t disappoint with a rollicking jam that Canning hoped might get them into Bonnaroo. The final song, “Your Turn,” kept that open-ended theme going, starting sweetly and then building to a big BSS-esque finish while the projection turned appropriately to a rocket blasting into orbit. Canning stayed onstage with his acoustic guitar plucking a beautiful little instrumental solo to end a night well worth the wait. —A. Stein




More Than Just a Creative Name

January 24th, 2014

Hard Working Americans – The Bowery Ballroom – January23, 2014

Last night at The Bowery Ballroom was, as frontman Todd Snide mentioned several times, only the second gig the Hard Working Americans had ever played. Second gig together, that is: As individuals, the members—Snider, Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, Neal Casal (the Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood) on guitar, Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi’) on keyboards and Duane Trucks on drums—have logged probably closer to a zillion shows, and this kind of pedigree and professionalism made all the difference during show No. 2.

The supergroup primarily played songs off their self-titled debut, released earlier this week, comprised mostly of well-curated covers of the bluesy rock and roll variety. They opened, as the album does, with “Blackland Farmer,” a slow-build take that featured the thick-paste bottom layer of Schools, playing a four-string Fender, and the tasteful electric guitar chops of Casal. With Snider holding court up front, the music felt like what it was: old vets playing dress-up as up-and-comer kids. Each song seemed to unfold into multiple sections, like a sandwich cookie with a tasty substantial cover hiding a creamy, change-of-direction center. “Run a Mile” had the band clicking against a heavy duty bass beat with some counterpoint slide guitar, the whole band building into a slamming coda, each musician comfortably in his element.

Hard Working Americans had a lot of emotions in their arsenal, but they excelled with the dark and moody—as in the highlight, “I Don’t Have a Gun,” with low and slow smoking rock—and the high-energy ecstatic, as in “The Mountain Song” with its gliding cheerful Casal guitar solo and one to match from Staehly on organ, leading into a jam reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider.” Snider was on point all night, seemingly happy to shed his singer-songwriter cloak and just “watch people dance.” Still, the encore brought out the best in him as he sang a great heartfelt version of Drivin’ N Cryin’s “Going Straight to Hell” and matched that with a terrific take on the Bottle Rockets’ “Welfare Music.” As the crowd thinned out, the band returned for a surprising second encore, Snider owning a take on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Wrecking Ball,” which also closes the album, the remaining audience swaying and singing along. It was pretty clear that the Hard Working Americans wasn’t just a clever name. —A. Stein





Les Racquet and Dangermuffin Live Up to Their Advanced Billing

January 17th, 2014

Les Racquet/Dangermuffin – Mercury Lounge – January 16, 2014

It can be hard to separate your personal journey from a concert. Last night’s late double bill at Mercury Lounge was a perfect example: A week ago someone in the Merc bathroom pointed to a Dangermuffin flier, saying, “They’re good,” when I realized that they were on the bill with Les Racquet, whom my brother had previously recommended to me, saying, “They’re good!” I took it as a sign. Dangermuffin, out of South Carolina, immediately brought to mind the kind of mixed-genre, loose fitting bands that proliferated the mid-’90s that today we call a jam band. It was folkie-Americana with a freer jazz strain running through it. “Homestead” was an early highlight, a well-structured composition that jittered through multiple sections before dropping down for a build-’em-up slide-guitar solo.

The sound had some interesting twists. Operating as a trio without a bass, frontman Dan Lotti had his electro-acoustic guitar mixed so that he simultaneously played the basslines and rhythm guitar while lead guitarist Mike Sivilli took the solos with hints of Jerry Garcia and Dickey Betts clearly shining through. It’s always good to have your suspicions confirmed, and Dangermuffin obliged with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” midway through their set, Sivilli playing a couple of slippery noodle solos without meandering or getting too ostentatious. The second half of the set built up steam on a range of bluegrass, blues, country, rock and reggae, often at the same time, and tightened up with sweet harmonies and danceable rhythms. Or as the man said: “They’re good.”

Brooklyn’s Les Racquet opened comfortably with guitarist Patrick Carroll setting up some little loops of sound before the whole band hopped into their tough-to-tackle repertoire. They opened with “Haiku,” which combined a soulful presence with some interesting twists and turns that were at once complicated and endearing. It didn’t take long for the trio—Carroll plus Kenny Murphy on the six-string Modulus bass, Daniel Malone on drums—to find their comfort zone. Songs like “Devil Girl” displayed their well-honed skill set: nice harmonies, delicious melodies and brainteaser changes that brought to mind Frank Zappa. It’s an ambitious repertoire, but they pretty much nailed it. “Daydreams” was a bass-heavy supergroovy rocker highlighting Murphy’s talents—you can’t carry that bass onstage and not take a meaty solo, and he did not disappoint.

Of course, it’s still good to have your suspicions confirmed, and Les Racquet obliged with a cover of Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia,” Carroll perfectly leading the way through the prog classic. After a couple more draw-you-in songs, including “Obviously,” with Carroll singing about someone who is obviously “bat-shit crazy,” the band announced that Malone would sing a couple of numbers, resulting in a surprising but fantastic pairing of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and a loose rendering of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The set ended with a long triple-helix instrumental called “Bruce Lee,” which flexed every muscle in the Les Racquet body, and “Oh Yeah!” the kind of rocking sing-along that every band should have at their disposal to end a show. Or, just as my brother said, “They’re good!”  —A. Stein


Joe Russo’s Almost Dead: The Legend Grows

December 30th, 2013

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – the Capitol Theatre – December 27, 2013

(Photo: Scott Harris)

Last January, NYC drummer Joe Russo gathered some of his best friends for a one-off night of Grateful Dead music at Brooklyn Bowl. It seemed like a lark: buddies riffing on Dead tunes. But it just so happens that Russo’s friends—Tom Hamilton, Scott Metzger, Marco Benevento and Dave Dreiwitz—are also some of the best musicians in the city, and the gig, billed as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, became the stuff of legend before you could say, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Naturally, an encore performance was in order, and the long-awaited second gig on the much grander, steeped-in-Dead-history stage of the Capitol Theatre took place on Friday night. Expectations were obviously higher, but in the end, I think, the legend only grew.

It seems impossible to say this, considering that the raison d’être of the Grateful Dead canon is loose improvisation and noodling jams, but JRAD stretched and explored the repertoire like few have. The marathon two-set show stripped off layers and layers of old fraying wallpaper from the catalog, sandpapered through coats of paint and found the raw surface of the music. From the ripping, rocking opening couplet of “Cream Puff War” > “Truckin’” to the lilting melody of “Row Jimmy” to the split-level groove of “Shakedown Street,” JRAD proved to be expert innovators. With these guys, familiarity breeds content: They’ve played countless gigs together in various permutations and it showed as jams zigzagged across multiple themes with ease. From behind the kit, Russo controlled the action, pushing and pulling his pals in various directions, letting things drift into uncharted waters and then bringing back the energy into focus. Hamilton shone on guitar and lead vocals, charging through jams and singing with a comfortable confidence.

Of course any Deadhead worthy of the tie-dye on his back knows the real action is in the second set. JRAD did not disappoint, opening with a racing wet-noodle jam before breaking into the fan-favorite pairing of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain.” Dreiwitz bounded through the bass parts here, one foot in Phil Lesh’s shoes, the other firmly anchored in his more familiar, ragged rock-out roots. Metzger, Hamilton and Benevento were mouse, cat and dog, chasing one another through multiple levels of jamming, half homage, half sledgehammer. The set was one jaw-dropping jam after another, peaking with an ambitious rendering of the full “Terrapin Station” suite. With classic skeleton-and-roses iconography spiraling across the Cap’s ceiling, the band raised “just some friends hanging out” to an art form, perfectly hitting every subtle change and movement of the suite while still taking it to new, exciting places. Just like the Dead would’ve done after a superlative show like that, JRAD encored with the heartfelt harmonies of “Brokedown Palace,” Russo and Co. proving they can match the soulful depths of the source material as well as the ecstatic peaks. And as they wished the audience a “fare you well,” we could only guess when these pals would get together next, hoping they’d be kind enough to invite the rest of us. —A. Stein


We’ve Got You Covered on Halloween

October 30th, 2013

Let’s face it: Halloween is one of the biggest amateur nights of the year. So rather than trying to fight your way through a parade or going to a costume party surrounded by people who think they’re supposed to drink as much as they possibly can, let us do the heavy lifting for you, because we’ve got five stellar shows on All Hallows’ Eve. Grateful Dead guitarist Phil Lesh brings his traveling group of Friends—guitarists Grahame Lesh, Anders Osborne and Luther Dickinson, keyboardist Jason Crosby and drummer Tony Leoneto the Capitol Theatre; New York City’s own Holy Ghost! bring their post-disco dance party to Terminal 5; Avan Lava, mixing electronic music, rock and R&B, will have the Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd moving in unison; another hometown band, post-punk five-piece Crystal Stilts, will think global and rock local at The Bowery Ballroom; and taking a break from playing Madison Square Garden, English crooner Ed Sheeran (above, performing “Wake Me Up” for Live from the Artists Den) plays Mercury Lounge. Tickets for that show go on sale—only online—tomorrow at noon.


Phil Lesh and Friends Captivate the Capitol Theatre

July 24th, 2013

Phil Lesh and Friends – the Capitol Theatre – July 23, 2013

Phil Lesh and Friends makes it sound so benign, like a group of toddlers on a play date. Phil Lesh and Conspirators might better describe the guerrilla warfare that Lesh & Co. inflicted on the Grateful Dead canon in the second of two sold-out shows last night at the Capitol Theatre. For 15 years, Lesh has played off and on in this format with a rotating cast of jam-worthy musicians, and the current incarnation features John Scofield and John Kadlecik on guitars, John Medeski on keys and Joe Russo on drums. It’s a classic Lesh band: it might make you wonder how the pieces are going to fit, but when the music starts, you appreciate how everyone brings a vital piece to the group. The song-oriented first set provided plenty of opportunities for the packed house of Deadheads to sing along. The set closed with a “Box of Rain,” which took the touching ballad to all sorts of interesting places, Medeski charging ahead on organ and Scofield cascading down while Kadlecik raced to crescendo.

Of course, every Dead fan knows it’s all about the second set, and last night’s was no exception, with top-notch song selection, lengthy full-band improvisations in unlikely places and surprise segue pairings. The band opened with “Here Comes Sunshine,” which found each member playing in constant, relentless jamming, Scofield looking one pointy hat short of a full-fledged wizard as he led the way through more than 20 minutes of major-key majesty. The second set was largely triangular, rotating threesomes locking into themes both acute and obtuse before the rest of the quintet found their way in. The “Sunshine” outro jam found Russo, Lesh and Medeski kicking into a funkier, up-tempo jam, Russo finally exploding into a superlative arena-rock drum lesson that finally settled with the whole band into the classic “Uncle John’s Band” riff. Longtime fan-favorite “St. Stephen” featured a rollicking Kadlecik-led jam with Lesh and Russo providing backup and eventually devolved into a noise thing, equally free-form and funky.

For me, the set’s highlight was “Mountains of the Moon,” a soothing psychedelic ballad that unleashed multiple viral forays, notes multiplying exponentially with everyone fully locked into the ever-changing melodies until Lesh impossibly reined in everyone for another verse before repeating the process all over again, while moonscapes were projected onto the Capitol’s walls and ceiling. This perfectly transitioned into “Fire on the Mountain,” with huge solos from Scofield and Medeski. The set finished with a pair of cover tunes that the Dead made their own, a stunningly gorgeous “Morning Dew” followed by a straightforward, rollicking “I Know You Rider.” It took Phil and his Friends all of seven songs to traverse 80-plus minutes of time, deftly maneuvering through themes and melodies all the while, reconstructing and rediscovering the Grateful Dead catalog as only Lesh can. With a swinging-Russo-beat encore of “They Love Each Other,” the show came to an end: mission accomplished for the conspirators and their fearless leader. —A. Stein




Swedish Extraterrestrials Descend on Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 24th, 2013

Goat – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 23, 2013

The backstory on Goat is that they’re from some isolated region of Sweden, but after watching the great cosmic freak-out that is their live show Tuesday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, I’m not so sure that isn’t some sort of elaborate cover story for actually being a bunch of extraterrestrials here to rearrange our brains. The band, their music and the buzz surrounding them seemed to all appear at once in some kind of spontaneous combustion some time last year adding to my conspiracy theory. The coup de grâce, though, was how the entire group appeared onstage with masks on, fully dressed for some psychedelic costume party, hiding something.

Once they started playing, though, each instrument jumping in one at a time, the sold-out crowd wasn’t too concerned with Goat’s origins. The music was largely from last year’s World Music album, which is an apt title: Their show was like these aliens had swallowed the planet whole—the people, their music, their clothing, their cultures—and then regurgitated it in mind-numbing musical form. The result was Indian raga crossed with Afrobeat and Native American tribal rhythms through some sort of Black Sabbath-meets-the-Grateful-Dead rock and roll lens. In a word: Whoa!

The set was 60 minutes of relentless activity, the crowd alternating between funk-night boogie, arms-raised raging and eyes-closed beatification. Most pieces opened into an extended instrumental jam, guitars, bass, drums and congas reaching some interplanetary spot. As awe-inspiring as these forays were, the keys to the operation, surprisingly, were the two ladies up front who sang, undulated, danced and maraca-ed their way across the stage in constant motion. Their voices brought form to the songs, their percussive flourishes were the imported finery the music was draped in, their movement rooted the audience to terra firma, lest our bodies join our minds on the mother ship, to be taken back to that spot in Scandinavia, or whatever planet Goat call home. —A. Stein


After Midnight, We’re Gonna Let It All Hang Down

December 31st, 2012

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks/Prince Rupert’s Drops – Mercury Lounge – December 29, 2012

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks

There’s an old “Your father used to tell you” saying: “Nothing good happens after midnight.” But I think we can all agree that’s demonstrably false. Take Saturday’s late-night after-party double bill at Mercury Lounge put on by Dog Gone Blog for those coming from earlier shows. This one was an extrasensory delight with old school projector and Day-Glo liquid light show and some deep, mind-altering psychedelic music. First up, Prince Rupert’s Drops played music from their excellent debut album, Run Slow. The pulsing colors behind the band nicely matched the music, strong candy-coated pop one moment—like the single-ready “Almond Man”—and then stretched out taffy-like, with jams like the title track lasting the better part of 10 minutes, the next.

Finishing the night, Alex Bleeker and the Freaks played a decidedly open-ended set with perfectly pitched ambient late-night groove instrumentals mixing with some crowd-pleasing covers. The wee morning suited Bleeker and Co. well: It was as good as I’ve seen them play, nailing a rocking “Sweet Virginia” and a great “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” But the highlight was a cover of Phish’s “Bathtub Gin,” which launched a long, coherent space jam that went beyond Phish or Dead territory to the after-midnight place where maybe nothing good ever does happen. Just don’t tell your pop. —A. Stein


Learning to Love of Montreal

December 12th, 2012

Of Montreal – Webster Hall – December 11, 2012

Despite my friends’ urging, I could never fully get into of Montreal. I’m no stranger to music with a heavy dose of drug culture—a quick check of my dresser in high school would have revealed the most glorious tie-dye shirts from the Grateful Dead, Phish and a plethora of lesser known jam bands. Despite of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes’s knack for catchy pop lines (to which I am completely endeared) and even my own brief obsession with “The Party’s Crashing Us,” the group resided just a bit left of center for me. However, I couldn’t continue to ignore the incredible reputation their live show has built. So last night, I decided to take the plunge at Webster Hall.

And what a terribly deep descent into weirdness it was. From the very beginning of the night, of Montreal confirmed my deepest fears. In the first minute, four people in fat suits and skeleton masks ran onstage and danced around. As it turned out, these dancers became the focal point of the stage show. Each of their costumes was more elaborate and bizarre than the previous, and each song on which they appeared was more intricately choreographed than the one before. At one point, they fed the crowd a solid stream of balloon tubes, as if to dare everyone in the audience to make their own balloon animals. Later, we were treated to a saga involving the murder of a rat by an owl, with subsequent desecration of the carcass by an ant. All the while, trippy and colorful animations were projected all over the stage. Phish’s light show couldn’t hold a candle to this stuff.

But this immense spectacle never took away from of Montreal’s music. While the band couldn’t possibly replicate the energy of their multitracked studio recordings, they kept the set tight and spunky. Barnes sounded absolutely stunning vocally, and he also didn’t allow himself to be outdone by his own show. He crowd surfed, made a few costume changes of his own and even joined in on the fun by sitting on the shoulders of the dancers, appearing like Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride. I’ve never seen anything like it. And just like that, I began to love of Montreal. —Alex Kapelman