02 December 2006

(Long) Review: Road Trip w/ MMJ|DUO|SLIP

Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA, 1 December 2006

(photos provided by our old friend GA)

Act I: Roast pork -- relocating.

Well, hello there Philadelphia! Is that a massive triple bill in your pants or are you just happy to see me? Despite the serious hit driving down to Philadelphia on Friday caused to my personal carbon meter ( in lieu of an easy train ride to the dreaded Roseland) the prospect of the epic epicness of a Slip > Duo > My Morning Jacket show at the Electric Factory was too much to overcome. Two words: road trip!! To the Nedmobile!

Sure getting out of NYC at 4:30 on a Friday is never an easy prospect, but with plenty of time cushion, some good company and an assortment of accredited tunes for the drive, the trip was relatively perfect affair. T'would be a long evening so we made sure that our souls were aligned with our physical beings by, naturally, loading up on some Tony Luke's beforehand. My first time at the original location and the NYC-version's got nuttin' on the real deal. Messrs Roast Pork & Provolone welcome to your new home at the bottom of my belly!

Easy jaunt over the venue, the Electric Factory. I've seen a bunch of shows in Philly over the years and almost all of them have been at the E-Factory and almost all of them were of the sick variety. Yup, looking over NedBase I see plenty of sweetness with Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh Quintet, Mule and a particularly awesome SnoCore show with Frog Brigade, Galactic and Drums+Tuba. It's a nice venue and all, nothing special on first blush, certainly a major leg up on Roseland Ballroom (for which, still, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart), but as history has proven I've just seen great shows there, and if history has taught us anything it's that it repeats itself. Was there ever a doubt I'd be hitting "submit order" the day these tickets went on sale?

Act II: [blank] sliding away

You know how you'll have an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, for example, who you only see every once in a while, always hit it off when you're together, but you never actually become friends, hell you might not even know the other guy's name? That's me and the Slip. I feel like we've known each other for ages, have always gotten along swimmingly and yet.... Well, Mr. The Slip, I think it's time you and I became friends.

The writing was on the wall when they played a highlight set at the ACLFest a couple years ago. A totally lighter-than-air mindfuck that had me shaking my head and my ass and
thinking: "Oh yeah, the Slip kicks ass." Last night, they took the stage a completely different beast. On first inspection, they appeared to be much closer to My Morning Jacket than the Duo. Wearing nifty little animal hats (elk, fox, wolf) the Brothers Barr/Friedman took zero minutes and zero seconds to get into it. Hey, it's a 45-minute opening set, why fuck around? But this was no jam-a-thon, this was an in-your-face rock and roll show and in my face is just where I wanted it. Pimping their acclaimed new album "Eisenhower," they brung it and brung it good!

Interestingly, as they've slowly morphed into indie powerhouse, the jam roots have come more and more into focus. Listening to them nail one song after
another I had the notion that this was not the endgame, but one step in a decades long progression. Have you ever seen Bottle Rocket (great fucking movie)? Dignan has this notebook that he takes out at the beginning where he's meticulously drafted a 20-year-plan for their life in crime. High comedy there, but I feel like the Slip is living it; they've all along been planning their whole arc out and when they reach whatever exotic, uncharted island they're paddling to, it's going to be nothing short of paradise.

In the meantime, we've got The Slip circa late-2006 and I suggest you get involved. For the casual observer such as myself situated in the NYC-area I feel like Brad (guitar) is out and about and Marc (bass) po
ps up around town regularly with guys like Marco and his ilk. Last night, it was Andrew on the drums that stuck out. Song after song he was just propelling things forward, bridging the gaps between free-form play and straight-up rock-telligence. It was a damn impressive performance on the drums, exactly what I had been looking for last Wednesday. It's really awesome to watch how all those years of jamming provide the support for the brilliant music they're making now. Sure, the lovely meandering jams are on hiatus, but the more important aspects of build-and-release, of foreplay and climax are still alive and well. And I must admit, it's a turn-on.

Luckily for the boys, the Philly crowd is a punctual lot and the place was more than half full when they started and nearly packed to its sold-ou
t capacity by the time they started up "Children of December." This was nice planning by the Slip, because it was easily their best number of the night, the most rockin' and the closest they came to jamming out and best summed up their strengths: groovy rhythm-driven melodies reminiscent of The Sea & Cake (who I adore) with tight, twisting bass playing holding it up on its shoulders. As if we needed a visual, Brad Barr became the walking, breathing metaphor for the music as he climbed up on the bass amp cabinets as the music built to its awesome climax; literally standing head and shoulders above his trio-mates as he was shredding chords on his guitar. Finally releasing with an athletic hop down to the stage, the crowd went nuts, and, no doubt, more than a handful of albums were sold immediately following. Nice work, The Slip, let's be friends.

Act III: The Fluffernutter

Now the room was packed and after probably 10 minutes too long, the Benevento/Russo Duo's gear was ready to go. There is a very good chance that I am seeing way, way, way too much of these guys at this stage of my life. My kids are starting to ask if I love them as much as I love the Duo. I'm man enough to admit, these guys are my favorite thing going right now and Friday night they, once again, showed why. Of course, I've spewed enough fluff about Joe & Marco to slap between two slices of Wonder Bread with some peanut butter and get a schoolful of kids well on their way to dangerous obesity, so I'll try to restrain myself.

Short version: this was one of the most powerful Duo sets I've seen in a while. Do I always say that? Probably. I've heard pretty much all the material several times and yet it always takes on a different life each night and last night it had like virgin-rainforest levels of life. Of course, every time something different jumps out at you. Last night it was how the coda to "Soba" just very well be the greatest thing ever; how my first time seeing "Powder" live once again redefined the upper limit on what these guys can achieve; and once again how "Something For Rockets" nearly brings me to tears every time I hear it. It's amazing to think it, but these two guys had more going on in the low end than any of the bands on the bill.

Blissfully dark energy which was well-accompanied by the constant stream of smoke billowing out of the back of the stage. With the lights positions just right, it was appropriately otherwordly. Joe and Marco's music is like those dark, multi-hued clouds in Flash Gordon, taking you to strange new worlds.

There were a ton of people, apparently oblivious Philadelphians, who not only didn't know the Slip or the Duo but didn't even know that they were on the bill, or that there were even other bands on the bill. I only hope they appreciated the two opening acts (mere 45 min. sets each at that) a scintilla as much as I did. When Joe and Marco crashed down on a weird, slow-down/speed-up quiet/loud version of "Best Reason To Buy The Sun" the trip down was already worth every second, cent and potential falling-asleep-a
t-the-wheel nightmare of a drive home.

Act IV: My Morning Neck-Soreness

I've got a whole sliding scale of live-music awesomeness and certainly near the top of that is "you've made my body sore the next morning." Well, here I am, weary and worn and fighting a bad case of headbangers remorse. My Morning Jacket, welcome to the upper echelons of Neddom!!

I mean, good God, where to begin? Perhaps the most logical place to start is with Jim James the Miyagi-san and Daniel Laruso of MMJ all rolled into one. I'm always searching for the ultimate in musicianship,
which I call the Five Tool Player: (1) writes great songs, (2) has a great voice, (3) plays his instrument at the genius level, (4) works wonders in the studio and (5) kicks ass on stage. There are guys and gals who can do 3 or 4 of those things, but someone who truly excels at all 5 are a rarity (feel free to hit me with your suggestions in the comments below), and after watching him last night, I am comfortable tagging James as an FTP. So, Jim when you're ready to pick up your certificate, it'll be sitting on my desk.

Letting those traits guide us through the rest of the review, let's look at #1. I mean these guys are hitting for both average and hitting for power: My Morning Jacket has one helluva rock and roll slugging percentage (if I may mix, invert and otherwise mangle my metaphors). It's like every song is a greatest hit and every one goes the distance. The first half hour of the show was an unavoidable onslaught of sonic fury -- I kept touching my ea
rs to make sure no blood was coming out. The crowd was as good as I've been a part of for a long time and every time they finished one song and immediately went on to the next, the audience erupted with one of those enthusiastic cheers that say "Sweet, this song? I love this song!!" I mean like every single song and I was right there with them and each one kicked ass. Every fucking song, one after another. The amount of energy expended on stage and by my body was tremendous and the result was 40 minutes that felt more like 4 hours. Most bands you see save a little something for the last song of the show such that the regular live-music-goer has an innate sense of when the set's coming to a close. MMJ brings this energy to every number and it's unbelievably exhilarating and exhausting and quite possibly the greatest thing to happen to live music since someone pulled the "your chocolate is in my peanut butter" trick with a guitar and electricity.

What about that voice? Is there anything in music like it? Utterly unique and yet so freakin' perfect. It's like someone in the halo-and-wings set plucked a little bit of Janis, a little bit of Ella and a little bit of 'Trane and made a voice out of it and gave it to Jim James of all people. It's the disembodied voice of a rock and roll angel channeling through James' vocal chords. There was a perfectly minimal (i.e. zero) amount of stage banter all night until about 2/3 of the way though the set when he expounded on how Philadelphia is like a cozy beanbag chair at grandma's over Thanksgiving (don't ask) and how really heavy low end music can impregnate both women and men (like I said, don't ask). That's when it really struck me that that voice is a completely separate entity from this Midwestern Muppet of a rock and roller.

The great thing about the way the vocals are mixed during the set, or at least were last night, is that they were sort of at an equal with all the instruments, which are, for the record: 2 guitars, bass, keys and drums. Totally democratic: the voice is one of the instruments, no more or less important than anything else. And while it makes it difficult to discern the lyrics (let's face it, you were either singing along with every word or you don't care about lyrics) that pretty much sums up the music. James is a kick ass guitar player and as he showed multiple times (on multiple guitars) he can shred a meaty rock and roll solo with the best of 'em. But his genius-at-instrument level comes from his playing in the 2-guitar, full-band sound that My Morning Jacket employs. Big, fat, juicy rock and roll shoved involuntarily down your throat right to your heart, soul and beyond. This isn't guitar solo music, nor would I say that they were jamming last night. Nearly every song, whether it started low and slow or with a band, got to DEFCON Raging, but I wouldn't call it a jam -- I'd call it rocking out... with your cock out (i.e. ROWYCO(TM)). I've never seen a band ROWYCO like these guys did in Philly on Friday. And the crazy thing is that they do it every night. By all accounts the Roseland show was equally insane and tonight's gig in Boston will be up the task as well. How they bring it like that every night is beyond me. A fool might say: "it's pretty much the same show every time, so no big whoop!" but, to me, that's like saying "perfectly prepared filet mignon tastes the same every time, so...." Why fuck with perfection? I wonder, personally, how many times I could see the same set I saw Friday before I tired of it... 25, 50, 100?

So, yeah, these guys bring it live. And it seems like they play everything, I mean you feel like they've hit all the "big" numbers that you can remember and then they keep pulling out another one and another one and another one (not that I could tell you two song titles let alone construct a setlist). The set was perfectly constructed. That first 40 minutes was a veritable cudgel of energy and then they slowly relieved some of that to-the-roof aspect, pulling back over a couple of songs. Not quite putting their (metaphorical, I assure you) dicks back in their pants or anything, but.... This valley culminated in a tune which ended with the other guitarist (yes, there are other people in the band, and they kick nearly as much booty as James, if you can believe it) Carl Broemel playing a beautiful outro on an alto saxophone. Then he sat down at a pedal steel guitar and played a gorgeous duet with James on acoustic guitar that was both completely tangential to everything up to that point and perfectly placed. The rest of the band returned and they did a mini-set while Broemel played some great change-of-pace stuff on the pedal steel. From raging front-line guitar to alto to pedal steel, tres impressive!! Yeah, the bass player raged, the keys were always right-sound/right-place/right
-time and the drummer... oh man, that drummer was made for rock and roll, it's coiled in his DNA not to mention coiled in his long, unkempt hair. I was waiting for him to self-combust Spinal Tap style. From that wonderful dip in the action, they built it back up parenthetically to the point where, once again, I was wondering whether each song was going to end the set. At that point I was convinced the set had gone on for 12 hours, but the whole thing summed up in less than 90 minutes. The encore was another 30 or so and when they kicked into "Off the Record" I was certain they had played it several hours back. I couldn't have taken much more without an oxygen mask and a foot massage, or one of those ridiculously fancy flavored waters.

What else am I missing? Wait a second while I go get the kitchen sink. Grade A light show with A+ usage of smoke machines and strobe lights: best I've since circa-93 Phish Mike's Songs. Never underestimate the power of awesome lights, it can turn a kick ass rock and roll show to an out-of-body life experience. The next leap, with all the obviously justified buzz swarming these guys, is inevitable. They are arena-rock ready and when the time comes, I'll be there ROWYCO, fists a-pumpin, thankful for the chance to have seen them at the Bowery Ballroom and now the Electric Factory and wherever else they stop on their way up.

So, once again, My Morning Jacket, welcome to the Pantheon.

Act V: In sum...

  • Best show of the year (personal)
  • Made it home safely
  • Head-on-pillow at 4:22
  • First Junior ROWYCO-in-training wake up call at 7
  • Life is good.


Brian said...

Wow! You captured the essence of the entire show. They were tight all night and really brought it.

jtnt said...

Excellent review! Almost makes me not feel so bad about not being able to make it.

Jacki C said...

Kickass review Aaron! If I had any neck mobility or hearing left after Thursday's not-even-a-bathroom-break rockathon at Roseland, I would have driven down the NJ Turnpike to catch these guys again. Completely NOT surprised that they brought that level of Heat to the E-Factory! Show had me smiling for days - and your review was a great reminder why.

Thols said...

My favorite show of the year,hands down. The show was everything that I have come to expect - and more - from MMJ. Had my fav seats on the balcony and a wonderful view of everything. Hopefully they will come back to Philly sometime soon. I can't go too long without my MMJ live fix.