Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eric Clapton (bust)

Well, as the wise Dude says, "Sometimes you eat the b'ar, and sometimes the b'ar eats you". My usual routine of pacing the sidewalk at show time let me down tonight, making this the first time I wasn't able to get a ticket for the Sommet Center ever.

There are a few factors that have to fall into place and tonight none of them did. First, the crowd was way too long in the tooth. These types of people go to one show a year, buy a ticket for them and their wife, and think an extra ticket would be ridiculous. And even if for some reason they were to have one, they're not taking one cent less than what it says on that ticket, even if they have to take it in. Another setback was the actual price of tickets. The cheapest ones were 72 bucks, and it appeared that a lot of people were willing to pay that as it was pretty close to sold out. The ratio of extras to buyers was way out of whack, there were people everywhere trying to buy. I even saw a dad teaching his two young boys the fine art of ticket finding, which although it was hard to compete with that, I like to see kids learning the ropes.

I guess I'm not too upset about missing this one, definitely not worth 72 bucks if all I really wanted to hear was "Crossroads". This was really more of a concert bucket list thing, not knowing how many more chances I will get to see Clapton, even if half of his catalog bores me and the other half is played so slow nowadays that it's more of a novelty. I guess for now, I'll have to settle for cheesy cell phone commercials, televised relief events, and geezer reunions.

Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB

There were a few reasons why I didn't think I was going to make it to this show. I had been disappointed by a few Trey solo shows before, and with Eric Clapton on Saturday, I figured I could only afford one of the two. Boy am I glad my friend came through with a free ticket (front row center balcony) and I was able to go. It was by far the best Trey show I have been to. Classic TAB was a great band and the Ryman is always a memorable place to see a show.

This tour with Classic TAB is similar to when Trey set out on his own during the first Phish hiatus. There was a 3 piece horn section containing sax, trumpet, and trombone, along with bass, keys, and drums. Trey of course took on all of the guitar responsibilities. The first thing that stood out to me was Tony Markellis, the portly bassist, sitting in the back on a riser. What is this, a Panic show? He sat as still as a statue the whole time. His playing was adequate, maybe even above average, but not stellar enough that someone with some personality couldn't pull it off. The horn section included Russell Remington on sax and the occasional butt scratching yawn inducing flute solo, Jennifer Hartswick on trumpet, and Natalie Cressman replacing her father in the band on trombone. This element of the band added something that I hadn't seen at a Trey show before. Also adding back ground vocals, they basically doubled the size of the band and made the sound huge. Their parts in the songs were well composed, their solos were a welcome alternative to constant lead guitar, and they knew when to leave the stage while Trey did his trademark jams. Ray Paczkowski on keys was one member I recognized. His work with one hand on the B-3 and one on the Clav made the band sound extra funky. Russ Lawton was just a straight forward rock drummer, a far cry from the technical scientist that is Jon Fishman. And of course, Trey was Trey, although I must say he was more animated than I have ever seen him, even in his cocaine days. He was bouncing around that stage like a dreadie with a head full of molli. It was good to see him having such a good time, obviously feeding off of the crowd and the amazing building.

Some first set highlights were "Louise", "Stars Above", and "Night Speaks to a Woman", which included one of those aforementioned Trey style jams. It was long enough, but not too long and reached a huge crescendo. When he picked up the acoustic guitar for "Backwards Down The Numbers Line", I skipped out for a smoke, but upon my return, I was surprised to see the Del McCoury band joining Trey on stage. I was thrilled when they played two of my favorite old Phish bluegrass numbers "Blue and Lonesome", and the Del original "Beauty of My Dreams". Even if the "special guest bluegrass/country star" thing is a little tired, Trey and the Del band have played together before and obviously like each other and have great musical chemistry.

The second set was a little more Phishy, including a "Gotta Jiboo" opener and a long jammy "Sand", which where both more rocking versions due to the different drumming style of this show, but really just made me miss Page McConnell's singing. The set ending suite of "Sultans Of Swing" and "Black Dog" sent the crowd into a frenzy. "Sultans" has always been one of my top 5 favorite songs, and this band did it justice. Trey nailed the middle guitar solo note for note and the horn section equaled his efforts in the outro, killing that solo exactly. Jennifer Hartswick took the vocals for "Black Dog" to a new level, ending the show with a huge bang. "First Tube" served as the encore, being the first song Trey wrote with this band back in 2000. It was fun, I've always liked this song when Phish did it, but again this band rocked it out more.

I would like to take this chance to thank the Ryman staff for their diligence. I agree there where just far too many elbows leaning on the stage and the show couldn't have gone on for one more moment if that guy didn't put his shirt back on. I understand there should be a certain level of due respect for this room, and it's cool that you've been working here for fifty years, but aside from snuffing out joints and cigarettes, just keep the place free from riots and let the kids have fun. I've seen people get away with more debauchery on stage (Jesco).

I really am glad I made it to this show. I underestimated Trey and more so this band. My overall feeling was "why go see Trey when I can still go see Phish?" This was just completely different from a Phish show, as well as the Trey shows I've been to before. There was a sense of simplicity in the fact that there wasn't a huge light show, in fact it was just the house lights. There was also a kind of humility from Trey himself that I have never seen before. It was refreshing and a pleasure to see him have such a good time, almost enjoying his band and the show like a fan. I can't believe I was going to pick Eric Clapton over this. I'm still going to Clapton, but he's gonna have to bring it pretty strong to reach the energy level from this show.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element

Here we go again. Playing 2 shows in 2 weeks after a 6 month break is a great way to get back in the swing of things. This time it was 12th and Porter playing host and the C.E. were the third of four bands, the fourth being Shauna P and the Earthfunk Tribe, the soul singer I missed last time.

The first band was The Ugli Stick, who appeared to be the same members of the Earthfunk Tribe doing their own thing without Shauna P. The second band was the Cooling System, who were a funky band with a great horn section. I missed both of these groups while running about before the Element but what I heard was cool.

The Criminal Element started their set off with what appears to be what you might call the "single" from the upcoming Volume 3 record, "Sum of it All". They also broke out another new one, a really cool reggae tune called "Closing In On You". This one was one of my favorites of the night with a super slick bass line and some tight vocal harmonies. About mid-way through the set Johnny announced that they were going to make up a song for Drummer Curt Redding who was celebrating his 31st birthday. If he hadn't announced this, you might have thought that this was another song they had been working on. They nailed it right off the cuff proving that some of their best work is made up right there and then. It had everything you would expect from the C.E. including a catchy riff and mumbled jibberish words from Johnny, both of which even their most well-known songs have. It was funny to hear guitarist Randy Boen say "that's gonna be on our next album", which is probably true. Later on they invited a whole gaggle of people up including some of the horns from the Cooling System and Shauna P for a song that I didn't recognize but Shauna seemed more comfortable with than last time. It went over well with some good singing and a nice sax solo from Adam Livingston (yes, from Boom Ticket). The rockin' "Damn Right" is always a great show closer and didn't disappoint this time. Good show from the Criminals. It looks like they're getting back into the groove.

I was exited to see what Shauna P and the Earthfunk Tribe could do after hearing everyone rave about them for the past two weeks. The first thing that stood out was her awesome bass player. Aside from rocking out, his technique was very unique. Imagine him holding the bass way up high, cradling it on the inside of his right elbow, pointing the head stock towards the floor, and playing with right hand coming up on the strings instead of from above. Something cool to see and like I said, he was thumping that thing like it owed him money. Moving on to Shauna P herself, she sure is quite the singer, although I couldn't help thinking on more than a few occasions that this was the lady funk equivalent to Bon Jovi. There's no denying that she is a great singer, but her stage moves, dramatic facial and body contortions, and her adult contemporary-themed songs pushed the cheese envelope just a little far for me. The robust Wednesday crowd was really into it, which is saying something for after midnight on a school night in this town. The band was great and again, she can sing real well but I probably wouldn't go see them again if they weren't opening for someone else.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Old Union

I've been looking forward to two things on this, the second weekend of February. Celebrating our presidents and sucker relationship savers? Not so much. The beginning of the Olympics and the Old Union show at Third and Lindsley with Ballhog were on the calendar and the talk of the town. Third is not my favorite place to see a show. With the L shaped layout, it's hard to find a place to stand without being in I-65 like traffic and you might as well get right back in line for the bathroom because it will take that long to get back in. However, the sound is usually pretty good and it is a sentimental favorite for me, as I have done and seen some great shows there.

The preliminary round featured local string band Ballhog. As I mentioned before, the sound at Third is usually pretty good. On this night however, I don't know what happened. Actually I do. The sound guru Mikey split after the 7 o'clock show and left the late night to some apparent amateurs. An obviously bad connection kept producing loud popping noises on stage and after a couple of songs' worth of frantically turning knobs and running around, the sound guy duo finally looked at each other and shrugged, leaving the rest of the set prone to deafening feedback bursts and connection pops, which was unfortunate because Ballhog was really on. The return of sax man Chris West to an already ample horn section and a crowd full of Ballhog enthusiasts provided an energy boost to some already fun songs, even if there were some early forgotten lyrics and slight confusion. Starting off with a crowd favorite "Holy Ghost Train" got everyone singing along and "I Can't Hide Where I'm From" got everyone dancing. Some other favorites of mine included "The El Fandango" and "Cameras", which is a clever Randy Russell song about the ever-intrusive big brother. I also love when banjo man Craig sings. Although I don't know the exact titles of his songs,he is the classic case of how you don't have to sing like an American Idol to be a great singer. All in all a great Ballhog show and a good opener for the U.

Old Union came out with a bang. Unfortunately, the combination of my O.U. song title ignorance and a missing pen along with a raging buzz by this time made it hard to gather much of the set list. Highlights for me included "Last Chance", with Chris West being invited back up on stage to trade sax licks with Chuck's electric piano, which was pretty cool to see in a band with two spectacular guitarists who usually take that role. Speaking of spectacular guitarists, Johnny Z won the gold medal for his performance on this night. I might be wrong but it seemed like Johnny took more solos than usual, reaching those epic, finger in the air Woo Hoo moments that make this band awesome. Another good one was "Traveling Show" with Patty D adding another sax and Spotty Dog killing it on his Les Paul. I'm pretty sure this is also the song that featured Dave's drum solo. His solos are unique in the fact that they aren't all about playing a million beats per second with high flying fills. Not that he couldn't do one of those, but his are more groove oriented with lots of rolls and cymbal crashes. By the way, bass player Jason Williams or "J. Dub" is so tight I can barely stand it. He is the classic soft-spoken, quirky bass powerhouse. O.U. is lucky to have obtained him a few years ago.

Even though I can't name every song they played, I do know that there was a steady mix of old and new ones and the entire show rocked a hundred or so asses, including mine. An Old Union show has come to mean not only a good concert, but also a party with a close community of friends and fans alike that make the whole experience a blast.