31 December 2008

2008 in Review: Summing Up

Already looking forward to 2009, but one last shout out to 2008... recapping:

Caveat: these are my favorites who knows what the best are. Who cares. I didn't listen to every album and I didn't see every concert, so your mileage may vary.

  • The Russo/Metzger award for Artist of the Year: Apollo Sunshine (read about 'em here)
  • Album of the Year: Stephen Malkmus "Real Emotional Trash" (full list here)
  • Live Album of the Year: Fiery Furnaces "Remember" (fantastic couldn't-have-said-it-better review of this album from Salon)
  • Jazz/Instrumental Album of the Year: John Zorn "The Dreamers"
  • The "Nedstalgia" Award Archival Release of the Year: Phish 5/8/93 & 2/20/93 (tie)
  • The HankNLil Kiddie album of the Year: Medeski Martin & Wood "Let's Go Everywhere" (runner up: Kimya Dawson's "Alphabutt")
  • Producer of the Year: Danger Mouse (rockin' it w/ Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys and Beck... damn!)
  • Live Show of the Year: John Zorn's The Dreamers at St. Ann's Warehouse (full list here)
  • The I-Spilled-My-Drink-Again Party of the Year Award: Freaks Ball VIII
  • The "This better be worth the ticket price!" Award for Benefit show of the Year: HeadCount pre-election throwdown (runner up: Scotty Hard Benefit @ Highline Ballroom)
  • The "Good Riddance Knitting Factory" Award for Venue of the Year: Mercury Lounge -- was surprising how many awesome shows I saw there this year including Apollo Sunshine pre-Halloween Hendrix hit, the return(s) of Rana and the wild CD release party with Broken Social Scene. Good times. (runners up: Sullivan Hall, Music Hall of Williamsburg -- two old rooms under new names and attitidudes are welcome additions to the NYC live music diorama)
  • The "You Just Blew My Mind" Award for Jam/Interlude of the Year: The Bad Plus playing Giant at the Village Vanguard. My lord, that was gorgeous!
  • The "This sounds like the Talking Heads... sorta" Award for Influence of the Year: Prince. From My Morning Jacket to TV on the Radio to local faves Pimps of Joytime, it seems like this was the year to sound like the Purple One. Could be worse.
  • The "1's and 0's" award for Best Download of the Year: (tie) crazy Mojito residency from the Benevento/Russo Duo in San Fran (just get this and listen to the whole run from beginning to end & My Morning Jacket from Bonnaroo.
  • The "Medium Popcorn & Cherry Coke Award" for Best Movie: Happy Go Lucky (full list here)
  • The "I Love my DVR" Award for TV show I'm Not Ashamed To Declare My Love For: Chuck
  • The "I Dunno about this Facebook thingie" Award for online-app: Twitter.
  • The "Guaranteed to Have some LIRR-related mishap" Award for Night on the Town: (tie) 12/28/08 (Gov't Mule > Bustle > lost my phone (I was too hungover to integrate this into my shows of the year, but both were on the list somewhere)); 12/12/08 (ask me about the 2-act dramatic rendering if you haven't seen it); 8/15/08 (the return of Rana, 'nuff said)
  • The "Yes We Can!" list of things I'm looking forward to in early 2009: Andrew Bird's new CD and seeing him next month at Carnegie Freakin' Hall; The Bad Plus' new album and everything they will do ever; the new Marco Benevento CD; my finding Phish Hampton tickets, rocking it from the front row and coming back to tell you all about it (finger raised, c'mon, help a brutha out!!)

Nedstalgia: 2 Years Ago

I am starting to get really stoked for my New Year's Eve.... My morning Jacket at Madison Square Garden followed by a late night with Benevento/Russo and Surprise Me Mr Davis. I just realized that I saw this almost same exact threefer 2 years ago this month. It was one of the best shows I saw in 2006 and the review was probably the most-read thing on this blog. So, if you're killing time before you crack your first celebratory beverage, check out the review.

30 December 2008

Nedstalgia: 15 Years Ago

Tis the season to be Phishtalgic!! Yesterday, I had the pleasure of going over to livephish.com and streamed the sublime 12/29/97 to endorphin-releasing effect. That second set was the kicker of arguably the best New Year's run of them all. But that was last year's flashback, I wrote about it here at length.

Today, I'm looking 15 years back, which may or may not be the best NYE run, but it certainly is my absolute favorite of all time. Why my favorite? Well, of course, there's the music: Phish 1993 saw the band undergo a quantum leap in quality while maintaining that raw, we're-still-learning-how-good-we-can-be edge. [Of course, I saw a crapload of Phish in 1993, so I'm probably biased, but it still does it for me. See here (2/4), here (4/23), here (4/29-30), here, here and here (5/6-8) as well as here (7/15) for much music and blathering.]

But these shows were more than just 4 great 1993-era Phish shows strung together. No, looking back 15 years and recounting that stretch, it was more like an epic postmodern tale, a brilliant David Foster Wallace novel with multiple themes weaving together, blending the music to the musicians, the musicians to the audience, the stage to the venue, the venue to the world and its goings on outside the venue... and of course, me personally: who I was with, where I was standing, how I got from point A to point B and how I and we connected to the rest of the audience and the venue and the musicians and the music. Yes, it was the various themes and the way they played off each other that elevated a jaunt from Washington D.C. to Worcester, MA to something worth telling your grandkids about.

And pretty much all of these themes were there for the reading by the time the first song of the first show had finished. We had the weather, the recent death of Frank Zappa, the decoration of the stage, the front couple of rows and the people contained there, the fact that it was New Years, the first NYE where the band had moved from theaters to arenas culminating in a sold out Centrum, by far the biggest room they had carried on their own; and the music. It was not one moment or one song or one event, but broad strokes of ideas and feelings, swaths of Phish smeared across 4 venues in 4 cities in 4 nights.

The first night we found ourselves in Washington, D.C. on the campus of American University. The weather was godawful: a mix of rain and sleet and freezing rain that we had to stand in to get inside. By December of 1993 I was a certified front row junkie and there was no doubt that even though we were well back in the line, we would be standing right up there for showtime. Thankfully, this was an era when such a thing was possible without pissing off barely a soul -- somehow the magic of the front row was still a secret. But before even getting up there, I remember distinctly getting my ticket ripped, walking into the small arena and looking straight at the stage, seeing how it had been decorated and realizing that all of the excitement doing somersaults in my stomach had not prepared me for the next 4 nights. Glee. Utter, unabashed, "19 years old and not a care in the world" glee. The stage had been mocked up like it was an aquarium. Everything was brightly fluorescent with fish up on tracks in the lights which moved back and forth and seaweed and coral arranged amongst the amplifiers. In the middle was a gigantic clam shell. For this New Year's the guys in Phish were going to be fish! Later years would see more elaborate get-ups, but I'm not sure they set the stage on the 1st of 4 nights like that and remembering the low-rent version of the Famous Mockingbird they had done the previous year (see here) made me realize how much energy they were putting into these shows. Good lord, I was elated and they hadn't played a single note.

We easily settled in up front and were chatting with the guys there. I believe this was group 2 of about 5 that I got to know just from hanging up front. Of course, we're all geeking out hardcore (no surprise), and inevitably the conversation turns to what they'll open with. A lot of the old standby's are thrown around and then someone makes the "Peaches En Regalia" call. Zappa had died earlier in the month and that was the one Zappa song that had been in regular rotation at all in Phish's past. This wasn't to say it was a wise call, they hadn't played it since 1989, but somehow a consensus coalesced. They were opening with Peaches. We were sure of it. Finally, the band takes the stage and with a grin from the fishes, they busted into the first Peaches In Regalia in nearly 500 shows. Fantastic. This was going to be a good run. The cold rain and snow outside were forgotten for a couple of hours and we were underwater.

That first night is remarkable mostly for one or two things. Really, this was the warm-up; a standard 1993 Phish show. Plenty of solid moments and really a pretty good setlist. Besides the Peaches, though, there is one thing that continues to stand out from that night. It may surprise you to hear me say that it was the "Fast Enough For You." It certainly surprised me. It came about in the middle of the second set and I saw it as a breather moment. But then Trey got a hold of it and just blazed a superlative solo through the end section. It flat out blew me away the way the band crushed that thing: like taking a knife to a piece of driftwood and carving an intricate sculpture out of it. I am quite confident in saying that 12/29/93 is the best version of "Fast Enough" I've ever heard and maybe ever. It's the little things that persist.

From Washington, it was up I-95 to New Haven. The wintry mix segued into a full bore snowfall: not the first or last snow storm I've driven through. The New Haven hit was no general admission and the only night I knew I wouldn't be within two rows of the stage. The fact that I was back in the seats on the side of the Colesium probably colors my memories of that night. Really, the first set was about as standard issue as you could find for the era. Well-played, sure, but this was safe Phish at its finest. The only thing to distinguish the first set was squeezing in a repeated Peaches between the opening Runaway Jim>Foam cliche opening. Things loosened up a bit midway through the second set with a sweet Fluffhead>Antelope followed by a wicked, wild Big Black Furry Creature>Walk Away. Even at their safest, you couldn't hold these guys back for long. Still, this isn't a show I go back to too often.

Post show we walked out into a freezing cold ice-and-snowscape. We were supposed to stay at a friend's place nearby and got into the car, quickly exited the parking garage and made our way to her place. There we sat in the car and waited and waited... and waited. Now this is a classic "if we only had cell phones back then" moment. Cause we were waiting a good long while and it was freezing cold and we were packed in the car with the motor running. Turns out they had much more trouble getting out of the parking garage than we did and probably had moved a couple of inches in the time it took us to get over there. It had to be at least an hour, maybe more before we finally said "fuck it!" and decided we would get back on the road. It was my, The Big Squeeze, Brother Liffy and one of his high school friends, so I don't take full responsibility for the decision to get back on the road during some of the worst driving conditions imaginable. As we shuffled our way back up I-95 the highway was like a 4-year-old's play room with trucks and cars scattered at all angles along the side of the road. Except these weren't toy vehicles, but jackknifed tractor trailers and spun-out automobiles littering the New England night.

It took us a long, long while, but we made it to Portland as the sun was coming up. It was the kind of day where "crisp" doesn't quite describe the air. I remember it well. The sun conspired with the fresh snow to achieve near-blinding brightness and your nostrils pinched together in pain with every breath. It was cold! We parked the car in the garage next to the venue and figured we had a couple hours to kill before we could conceivably start waiting on line. We found a nice diner and filled up on bacon, eggs and the like then discovered the Portland Children's Museum where we decided to act like children for a bit. That became boring quickly and we walked back over to the venue, it couldn't have been later than noon, we got on line. We may or may not have been first, I can't recall... we were stupid. Freezing our asses off, we waited on that line in anticipation of the show that night. More and more people came and the excitement built from the near zero of our sleepless, bone-cold zombie state to a total state of delerium. I've waited outside of many a Phish show and as ridiculous as all that time spent seems looking back at it now from my adult perspective, I don't think my enjoyment of the whole experience would have been a fraction of what it is without that time there. Standing there, conspiring and commiserating with your fellow fanatic, knowing you're going to be standing there on the rail when the lights go down and that it didn't come for free. I have no qualms saying that some of the best moments I've had occurred in the front row of a Phish show. Like 12/30/93 for instance.

The thing about that night in Portland, that cold cold night, is that they were a little late in getting going, so with all that waiting, we had to wait even more than we thought. It's a nerve-racking thing waiting like that. Over the course of that year I'd discovered that with a little effort, I could get a song played by the band by the simple act of screaming. the question always was: what to shout for. I had been listening to this old show from the Front in Burlington where the band plays a goosepimple-raising version of Slave to the Traffic Light. It moved me. I knew that they had brought it back over the summer. I needed to hear it. I was able to convince everyone around me that that was the song that we would get that night. They were on board. It was the cold that did them in. As the hours passed I remember we broked out into an impromptu version of "I Didn't Know" except the lyrics we were singing were "I didn't know it could get this cold..."

Finally, they let us in. The problem sometimes with waiting out like that even with hours and hours of due dilligence, there's no guarantee that you'll be in the spot that you want. That spot for me was FRT (front row Trey). When we finally got inside the Cumberland County Civic Center, it became clear that there was another entrance on the other side of the building and there were people coming in from that. Shit! Bad news. Also... good news: a large portion of those filling in the front row were buddies from college. Excellent. I filled them in on the Slave thing. Ah sweet warmth. We were back in the aquarium.

Now 12/30/1993 is easily a top 10 Phish show for me. Maybe even #1 when it gets down to it. If you do not know why this is the case, please go find a copy and listen (I'll wait); I suggest the awesome matrix version floating around. I think someone might have even done a 5.1 version of this. Why would someone put that kind of effort into a Phish recording? Cause the music it contains is otherworldly. It is fucking good shit.

The band comes out and Trey's wearing a hat. A baseball cap. I believe he is wearing it backwards. That is weird. Has that ever happened before? He wore that thing the whole night, up until a critical point that we'll get to in a bit. But at the beginning, there it was. So now, he's underwater in a fish tank with a hat on. Curiouser and curiouser. Lights down, crowd up, cold forgotten, from that moment we're screaming for "Slave! Slave! Slave!" but we're just planting seeds at that moment. First: cymbals.... tss, tss, tss, tss... David Bowie. Oh shit, this really is going to be good. From the minute we rolled into Portland, maybe even from the moment we decided to get back on the road, it was clear that this was the night. I don't know how it was clear, but everything pointed to the Cumberland County Phish show on 12/30/1993 being the show of the run. Predestined. And then they opened with David Bowie and the truth was revealed. Monster Bowie, no farting around, no warm-up, just dive right in, the water's fine. The band was glued together, epoxy style and they were gyrating as a unit with such a force that the entire crowd was pulled in by the gravitational field. When the Bowie broke, the crowd erupted and it was clear that this night wasn't going to be one for the faint of heart. When the band lapsed into Aerosmith's "Dream On" mid-Bowie, it was glorious. Just the way they did it, so smooth, so perfect. Classic Phish tease.

The energy in the room that night was unbelievable. On the floor it seemed there was no space between each person and no one seemed to care one bit. Pulses would fire from one side to another so that waves of people would ripple back and forth and you'd just be swaying around without any control over where you ended up. Such fun. The whole show is a gem, great Forbin/Mockingbird with a nice acknowledgement about the freezing cold. Then the ice turns into water and we're all surfing. But the real goods are in the second set. The Also Sprach > Mike's song was a total out-of-body experience. The lights go down for the set, the rumble of the music as the smoke starts to fill the room. Purple beams of light slicing through the fog as the electric piano begins. Then the Mike's. I love this version of Mike's Song. The next semester when I had this on cassette, every day I would listen to the 2001>Mike's from this night. It was the perfect length to get me from my apartment to class. Then rewind it and do it over again. Excellent. In the then and there, though, it was utter mayhem. The orderly cascade of flesh that pushed back and forth became a full-fledged mosh pit... or at least the friendly Phish-version of a mosh pit. It was total, glorious chaos. The gentle Phish aquarium became a nasty, fun shark pit and the band did nothing to allay the madness. You can listen to this sickity shit on tape, but you can't experience the craziness that went along with it in that room.

As the smoke cleared on the last nutty Mike's Song of 1993, the crowd simmered and Brad Sands appeared with the acoustic-guitar-on-a-stand that Trey was playing that year for a couple songs. He would expertly slide his Languedoc behind him and segue to the acoustic and then back again. Here he was transitioning beautifully into a nice Horse/Silent in the Morning. I loved the way he played the crowd, building to a frenzy and then relaxing it for a moment. Just a moment. Next up was a nice PYITE>McGrupp before back into Weekapaug. All quiet nice. But don't take my word for it.

Shit was so jacked up, almost forgot about getting that Slave to the Traffic Light. But when Purple Rain came to a close, we saw our moment and pounced. "SLAVE!" Now, as usual, who knows if they would have played it otherwise, if we had anything to do with it. But play it they did. Oh, and how!! Note for note, glory, glory hallelujah! Everything about it was just perfect and when Trey got to the jam and started building, I'll never forget: his head just rocking back and forth, feeling the music, working on a building and then, like it was holding him back, he remembers that hat and reaches up and throws it off, almost in disgust. Hat gone, he really lets loose and explodes the golden hose. Crowd goes nuts. We got our Slave and so much more. What a freakin' set!

And it's not even New Year's yet. After the show in Portland, we did not drive on. We were at a hotel and utterly exhausted. Barely a wink of sleep and some monster Phish to digest. Still, even if we weren't in that state, I'm not sure we wouldn't have been totally useless. We spoke in grunts and half-phrases: "Slave!... Er. Sick! [belch]"

On to Worcester. On 12/31 all the themes came together. Flash back to earlier in the fall when the shows were announced. The Centrum. That's huge. We decided we'd go to Worcester, get bracelets for ticket onsale and then drive back the next day to buy tix. This seemed like a smart move until we realized, too late, that this didn't guarantee anything. We got good seats, not great. Luckily for me, there was a guy there that I had met at a couple shows who was 1st in line. Out of the kindness of his heart, he traded me a 2nd row seat. Nice. So, there I was, by myself, but still in perfect position, 2nd row just to the left of Fishman (who was on the right side at the time). Very nice.

While 12/31 wasn't the best overall show of the run, it featured some of the best versions of the run, the year and, frankly, ever. Reba, Tweezer, YEM, Harry Hood -- all are superlative versions. The great thing about that night was how they brought together the whole Peaches thing: teasing it at every moment that they could. In the middle of jams, in between songs, etc. there was the Peaches theme. Everyone was in the game.

I really love the Reba from this night. There was a moment when the jam was about to kick it up a notch, a guy appeared on stage, and before anyone could notice had jumped into the crowd. It's kinda ridiculous, but he had the thing timed out perfectly. It was very fluid, he didn't stop moving, just walked up through the middle just as the jam was beginning its ascent and then disappeared over the edge. I will never forget that. You can hear it on the recording because the crowd gives a roar and then the music just goes batshit sickness.

The second set was kinda ridiculously good. The Tweezer is a swift, concise clinic in the brilliance of Phish circa 1993. The entire band clicking, no wasted motion, not a note out of place. That Tweezer > Halley's Comet (my first) was a great way to open the set. The YEM to close it was equally brilliant and equally up to the task. This was a band that was on fire, no doubt. The vocal jam that came after was marked by the band singing while getting into wet suits. That's right, wet suits being donned in the aftermath of a monster set. Only at a Phish show. Only at a Phish show. Of course, with the pink and green fish floating overhead, it wasn't too hard to figure out where this was going. "We're going to go on a little excursion here..." Trey says as the big clam that had been sitting in the middle of the stage opens up and the band crawls inside.

As midnight neared, all of the sudden you hear the voices of the band, but don't see them. Then -- look up! There were four guys in wet suits being lowered by ropes onto the stage. It was quite clear that they were "stunt doubles." Then the countdown begins with this deep monster voice and the clam starts moving again like it's the thing that's calling out the countdown. Then the band appears sans wetsuits and plays Auld Lang Syne. Totally bizarre, but the fun's just beginning. They immediately bust into the Down With Disease jam like guns ablazin'! No one has heard this before so it's an interesting moment. And as the jam is heating up a Frank Zappa look alike walks onto stage and raises his arms to the crowd. Whoa! Was this some Zappa jam? Maybe. It was wicked fun, though. Later I remembered how the band had announced they were filming the video for their new song that night, your likeness may be used, blah, blah, blah. That made more sense. Not sure where the Zappa dude fit in, but all those themes that had popped up from the first night through the 31st were tidily packaged in that whole New Year's shebang. And all the while, I was just dancing my ass off.

Third set is always bonus, but this one was continuously solid. My 1993 Phishperience had started back in February and was marked by the most gorgeous Harry Hood I've ever heard, so it was appropriate that this show featured an almost equally magical version near its conclusion. May I never tire of listening to these shows. But, the real theme for all of 1993 was Amazing Grace and so, the last song of the night and the run was an a capella version to send us out into 1994 and beyond.

In conclusion, the NYE run of 1993 was my favorite NYE run.

Thanks for reading...

29 December 2008

2008 in Review: Shows

Seems like I don't get out all that much and then going back over what concerts I went to, it averages to more than one night a week. I should be thankful. Also thankful that the quantity is backed up with some real quality. Not too many bad shows. I won't list them all (although I'm happy to). Here are the top 25 with some notes and links to reviews for the ones I wrote.

1. The Dreamers/Essential Cinema @ St. Ann's Warehouse (Brooklyn) 28 February/1 March
an amazing couple of nights of music in a great room; review here

2. Marco Benevento January residency @ Sullivan Hall
especially 1/10 and 1/31 which were transcendentally jamtastic; reviews here (1/3/08), here (1/10/08) and here (1/31/08)

3. All Points West Festival [Radiohead, Andrew Bird, Mates of State, Grizzly Bear, Go Team, et al] @ Liberty State Park (Jersey City, NJ) 8 August
As a festival, this was pretty shitty, but the music was hard to beat. Watching a set of Bird and then walking over to Radiohead is nearly as good as it gets.

4. Freaks Ball VIII [Bustle In Your Hedgerow, American Babies, Mocean Worker] @ Southpaw (Brooklyn) 9 February
Like clockwork, the party of the year. Just like it will be in 2009. Sloppy, rocking sets from Bustle.

5. Broken Social Scene @ Mercury Lounge 17 July
This was the Brendan Canning release show and was an utterly ragged, drunken show from start to finish. But it was quintessential BSS and in a nice intimate room. Couldn't have been more fun. Don't miss these guys!

6. Widespread Panic @ Fillmore 19 November
Review here.

7. My Morning Jacket @ Radio City Music Hall 20 June
It was the standard MMJ show. Except it was at Radio City and Jim James was literally climbing the walls while shredding his guitar. In reality, this is probably just a placeholder for the NYE show at MSG, but that'd be getting ahead of ourselves.

8. The Musical Box @ IMAC (Huntington) 2 May
Hometown dork out. Review here.

9. Stephen Malkmus & Jicks (John Vanderslice opened) @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) 2 April
Malkmus backed up his superlative album with a superlative live show at this kick-ass new venue in Brooklyn. Lots of expansive, rocking post-jam goo. This band is tight.

10. Rana @ Mercury Lounge 15 August (& 12 October)
The return of Rana was triumphant. The morning after was not. Neddy's faves. Review here.

The rest of the top 25:
11. Apollo Sunshine @ Half Moon Cruise (8/5), Monkeytown (Brooklyn, NY) (9/16), Mercury Lounge (10/29) Review
12. HeadCount Benefit (11/3)@ Highline Ballroom
13. The Bad Plus @ Blue Note (3/19), Concert Hall (6/24) Village Vanguard (9/23),
14. David Byrne @ Landmark Theater (Syracuse, NY) (11/29) Review
15. The Sea and Cake @ Music Hall (Brooklyn, NY) (11/11)
16. Benevento/Russo Duo @ Spiegeltent (9/23), Mexicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ) (3/27)
17. Scotty Hard benefit @ Highline Ballroom (3/19)
18. Grey Fox Festival @ Walsh Farm (Oak Hill, NY) (8/19)
19. Neil Young/Wilco @ Madison Square Garden (12/16)
20. Rashanim @ Stanton St. Shul (4/3 review, 5/22 review)
21. Widespread Panic @ United Palace Theater (4/5) Review
22. Rilo Kiley @ Terminal 5 (6/2)
23. Medeski, Martin & Wood/Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog @ Prospect Park Bandshell (Brooklyn) (6/19)
24. The New Mastersounds @ Sullivan Hall (11/8)
25. The Wood Brothers @ Bowery Ballroom (5/17) Review

28 December 2008

Shows of the Week

...and a happy New Year!

Click here for upcoming shows

Matisyahu (Mike Doughty opens) @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
The Disco Biscuits @ Nokia Theater
Soulive @ Highline Ballroom
Patti Smith (Stephane Wrembel opens) @ Bowery Ballroom
Jerry Joseph @ Crash Mansion
Jason Crosby @ Living Room
Les Paul @ Iridium (early/late)
Kevn Kinney et al @ National Underground
Dj ?uestlove @ SOB's
Gogol Bordello (Apollo Sunshine opens) @ Webster Hall

Gov't Mule (Dumpstahphunk opens) @ Hammerstein Ballroom
Gogol Bordello (Forro In the Dark opens) @ Webster Hall
The Disco Biscuits @ Nokia Theater
Patti Smith (Stephane Wrembel opens) @ Bowery Ballroom
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue @ Sullivan Hall
The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
101 Crustaceans @ The Stone (early)
Mike Doughty @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Pnuma Trio et al @ Highline Ballroom (late night)
Dark Star Orchestra @ Wellmont Theater (Montclair, NJ)
Matisyahu (Brett Dennen opens) @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
The Breakfast @ Ace of Clubs (late night)
Earl Greyhound et al @ Santos Party House
Adam Levy et al @ Rockwood Music Hall

My Morning Jacket @ Madison Square Garden
Benevento/Russo Duo|Surprise Me Mr Davis @ BB King's (late night)
Yo La Tengo @ Wellmont Theater (Montclair, NJ)
Adam Deitch @ Blue Note (late night)
Akron/Family et al @ Knitting Factory
Blonde Redhead (Elvis Perkins opens) @ Terminal 5
The Disco Biscuits @ Nokia Theater
Crystal Castles @ Music Hall (Brooklyn) (early/late)
Gov't Mule @ Hammerstein Ballroom
Patti Smith @ Bowery Ballroom
Joan As Policewoman @ The Stone (early/late)
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue @ Sullivan Hall
The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Joan Osborne @ City Winery
Matthew Dear et al @ (Le) Poisson Rouge
Chuck Berry @ BB King's (early/late)
Julian Velard @ Rockwood Music Hall (early/late)
Nation Beat @ Barbes (brooklyn)
Wollesonic et al @ Nublu
Mike Doughty @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
A Place To Bury Strangers, Dirty on Purpose et al @ Mercury Lounge
Jerry Joseph @ The Delancey
Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout @ 55 Bar (late)
Mr Brownstone @ Mercury Lounge (late night)

The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard (early/late)

Gregg Allman (Honeytribe opens) @ Blender Theater
Todd Sickafoose @ Barbes (brooklyn)
The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Nicole Mitchell's Sonic Projections @ The Stone (late)
Deez To Blues Sextet @ Cornelia St. Cafe (early/late)
Dub Is A Weapon et al @ Sullivan Hall

The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Gregg Allman (Honeytribe opens) @ Blender Theater
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad @ The Studio at Webster Hall
Nicole Mitchell's Sonic Projections @ The Stone (early)

The Musical Box @ Nokia Theater
The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Sylvie Courvoisier @ The Stone (early)
Stephane Wrembel @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (late)

Click here for upcoming shows

26 December 2008

minimix: Phishtalgia: NYE run 1993

15 years ago this week... favorite New Year's run of all time. More text on this after the weekend. For now, enjoy the tunes. So much to choose from, they were crappin' the good shit that week. Here's 100MB worth for your weekend enjoyment.

Download the mix

01 Peaches In Regalia: 29 December 1993
02 Fast Enough For You: 28 December 1993
03 Tweezer: 31 December 1993
04 Fluffhead: 29 December 1993
05 Reba: 31 December 1993
06 Also Sprach Zarathustra: 30 December 1993
07 Mike's Song: 30 December 1993
08 Auld Lang Syne: 31 December 1993
09 Down With Disease Jam: 31 December 1993
10 Slave To The Traffic Light: 30 December 1993
11 Tweezer Reprise: 31 December 1993

25 December 2008

2008 in Review: Movies

It's Christmas -- movie time! It's rare that I get to the movies (in reality I'm probably better off doing the 2007 releases I saw on DVD this year), but what the hey! Here are my top 10 films from this year... if it's not on this list, I probably didn't even see it, so I welcome your recommendations and they'll go straight to my Netflix queue.

  1. Happy Go Lucky -- Even more than the whole Obamanon, this movie presents the perfect antidote to the spiral of despair this world seems to be in these days. Cause when shit gets a bit hairy, you can always go trampolining. I loved everything about this movie. Sally Hawkins = performance of the year.
  2. Wall-E -- Seems like there's a Pixar movie near the top of my favorites every year with good reason. Not quite the masterpiece that Ratatouille is, but still a pretty complete package. Some hauntingly beautiful imagery and a simplistic point of view. The best movie about holding hands I've ever seen.
  3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona -- This movie single-handedly moves Barcelona to the top of my "places to visit" list. It's good to know Woody Allen still has it in him when he puts his heart to it... this one has none of the things you might find annoying about a Allen film and all the things that make you keep giving him another shot. Plus, Penelope Cruz kissing Scarlett Johanssen!
  4. The Dark Knight -- It was a comic book movie year (again). This had to be the best of them, even if it's a little too self-important at times. It's been said plenty already, but Heath Ledger as The Joker elevates this to that next level. I only wish I could take my kids to see a Batman movie.
  5. Pineapple Express -- Funniest shit I've seen in a while. Much more brilliant than your average Rogen/Apatow nonsense... although still quite nonsensical, wonderfully so. The ending was one of the better things I've seen in a while.
  6. Encounters at the End of the World -- Documentary by Werner Herzog as he visits Antarctica and the mix of weirdos living and working down there. In typical Herzon fashion, his viewpoint is a bit bleak, but his insights and the amazing imagery make this a pretty fascinating film.
  7. Burn After Reading -- Ever since "Blood Simple" the Coens have been the A-1 masters of the plot where one stupid decision begets an even stupider one which is horribly misinterpreted repeating the cycle until the whole thing collapses in a bloodbath. This isn't necessarily the best example of it, but it's the most neatly (and messily) packaged. Like all their other movies, I expect this one to age very well. I thought this was severely underappreciated.
  8. Chop Shop -- Depressingly realistic tale of a kid hustling his way through life in the rough-and-tumble in the shadows of (the old) Shea Stadium. The kid who plays the lead does one hell of an acting job taboot.
  9. Kung Fu Panda -- I see a lot more kiddie flix than I'd care to admit, but it gets me into the theater and sometimes they're pretty good. This one had me laughing both times I saw it. Great animation, good voices, decent plot. Fun for the whole family.
  10. Iron Man -- That's one freakin' awesome suit! Not looking forward to the tarring of this one with an endless array of sequels, so let's enjoy it while it's still fresh and new.
Decent fun but, in the end, not worth wasting a valuable night out at the movies: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Indiana Jones; Harold & Kumar; Madagascar 2

24 December 2008

2008 in Review: The Burger List

So, we were driving up to Syracuse last night and shortly after (finally!) getting over the George Washington Bridge, the Big Squeeze was asking about stopping for food. Suddenly, a revelation, we were passing through Hackensack... I'd finally get a chance to check out the fabled White Mana. I never realized how easy-on/easy-off it was... well, easy considering considering the quality of these sliders. My only regret is not grabbing napkins and having to drive the remainder with yummy, greasy fingers. Could have been worse. It is unlikely that we'll pass that exit without a little detour again.

Anyway, this year I fully embraced my love of the cheeseburger and made it a point to check out as many of the big NYC-area burger joints as I could in 2008. Seeing as I'm mired in my year-end extravaganza, it's a good time to debut my top tri-state burger rankings. I'll update from time to time as I certainly intend to continue my quest into 2009. Any recommendations are appreciated.

Ned's NYC Burger List (4/7/2009)

  1. Shake Shack
  2. American Roadside Burger (Smithtown)
  3. White Mana (Hackensack)
  4. City Burger (Black Label)
  5. Dumont's (Brooklyn)
  6. J.G. Melon
  7. Five Guys (Brooklyn)
  8. Blue Smoke
  9. Veselka
  10. Hildebrandts (Williston)
  11. All-American Burger (Massapequa)
  12. Island Burger
  13. Burger Joint
  14. Corner Bistro
  15. Fatburger (Jersey City)

23 December 2008

2008 in Review: Artist of the Year

There were a few bands that spent a good time in my consciousness this year, in the car stereo, through the earbuds, popping up in my RSS feed, on my mind and up there on stage. I seemed to see Marco Benevento on a monthly basis and his "Invisible Baby" was in heavy rotation from back when there were plenty of calendar pages to turn. Heck, even Phish wormed its way into my days with reunion talk going from rumor to reality and several amazing archival releases scattered through the seasons.

But one band's blip on my radar screen was a bit brighter and a bit noisier: Apollo Sunshine. There was a three month period in the heart of 2008 where I saw these guys on three separate, silly sweet occasions and was bunkered down with their "Shall Noise Upon" CD while my love for the band just grew and grew.

Yeah, it's great to see a lot of shows from your favorite bands, but the Apollo Sunshine shows I saw this year somehow transcended your average "gig" -- each was a one-of-a-kind snowflake, a unique crystallization of the basic elements that became something much more wonderful. It seems like they don't do run-of-the-mill shows and so the average Apollo show is already a special occurrence. In August, they played on the always a-rockin' Half Moon Cruise Ship as it sailed its famous course over the East River. The cruise shows always lend themselves to drunken, summer fun: loose and constantly teetering, literally and figuratively. The setting is perfect for Apollo, the style is intentionally ragged -- a pair of distressed jeans where you don't know if the holes and bleach spots were made purposely or actually worn down naturally over years of heavy use. That August night didn't quite reach the epicness of their 2007 cruise, but it still was quintessential Apollo Sunshine: loud, fast and constantly teetering on the edge of chaos although never quite toppling.

Barely a month later, I caught wind of the band's return. Of course, it was a "special event," this time two gigs in the back room of a Williamsburg restaurant, Monkey Town. 50 people max in the room each night, I would not be missing it. The room was one of the cooler places I've seen music this year, a truly unique spot to see a show. The band was set up in the middle with very low couches lining the four walls and tables for food and drink not too much higher. Each wall was covered with a gigantic screen so there was a wicked quadraoptic effect as bizarre clips and animations were projected. The setlist couldn't have varied too much from the boat cruise a few weeks earlier, but the show couldn't have been more different. Apollo Sunshine has a way of filling up the space before them, much in the same way the Aquarium Rescue Unit used to. Yes, the stuff they use to fill that space -- the songs -- is the same, but the way they fit together to fill that container, like rotating pieces in a Tetris game, is unique and interesting and almost always awe-inspiring. The September hit at Monkey Town felt like something out of a different time. Part of it was like being a Greek emperor, lounging in Dionyisan excess, food, whiskey and blissful entertainment at our utterly relaxed fingertips. On the flip side, we could have been the Austrian aristocracy, sitting in a chamber while beautiful music was presented for our liking. With the tripped-out visuals and Apollo Sunshine's psychedelic power trio, we could have been dropped-out stoners in a basement in the bowels of Summer-of-Love San Francisco. The band was all those things and also just straight up rock and roll.

Finally, in October, the band announced a gig at Mercury Lounge as part of their short Halloween tour. A couple days before the show they announced they'd be donning the costume -- both music and attire -- of the Jimi Hendrix Experience... the Apollo Sunshine Experience. Well, that just about settled it, so on the Wednesday before Halloween, I found myself back in front of these three guys listening to much the same songs and hearing them as if they were fresh and new. This was the most standard of the gigs for a while, as they played a too-quick hour of the standard material. The crowd was thin that night and it sapped some of the energy in the room. Still, it is a testament to how much this band does it for me that I was still raging with every thumping bass lick, rollicking guitar solo and off-kilter drum splat. They left the stage and returned in full regalia, big fat wigs and wild, psychedelic outfits. They looked the part perfectly and launched into an extended encore/short set of Hendrix tunes. 100% kick ass... even in the most vanilla of circumstances, they found a way to elevate the situation, pouring a bunch of hot fudge and whipped cream and giving us a nice Halloween treat.

In between all these shows, the band put out "Shall Noise Upon" which was one of my favorite releases of the year. The best bands are those that grab you a bit at first, but don't sink their teeth into you right away... and then, as time goes on, you realize that you're smitten. Apollo Sunshine has been that way for me and this album is that experience in a nutshell. "Shall Noise Upon" diverges pretty strongly from the raging, haphazard glory of their live shows. It's a details-oriented wunderkammern with little baubles of music popping up in between some real yummy songs. The styles hit on the rocking, grooving and freak folk from their past albums, but also gets into some nifty Latin moves with "Honestly" and adds vast swaths of string section and other accouterments to flesh this out into an all-encompassing near-masterpiece. If anything, it seems a little overambitious at first, but after several listens you realize (once again) that these guys love to rock and go crazy time, but they're actually supremely talented musicians and songwriters. The sound is just right in each spot. The pedal steel, which is like a bonus throw-in during the live shows is featured prominently here. The opening one-two punch of "Breeze" and "Singing to the Earth" is as poignant and wonderful as any introduction to an album you'll hear this year. "Coming of the New World Government" is a total Beatlesque production freakout with music going forward and backward at the same time leaving wicked vortices to wrap your brain around in between. The track of the album is certainly "Money." Jesse Jarnow did a much better job explaining the potency and relevance of this song, so check out his blurb.

As usual, having trouble organizing my thoughts 100%, so here's a bunch of worth-checking-out links to get you to the next brain-dump. Enjoy you some Apollo Sunshine!

The great video for Singing to the Earth:
Video for Money:

Here's a nice idea of some live Apollo Sunshine from early in the year... "Lord":

One of the more fun live tunes "Bach" in shaky video form from this summer:

22 December 2008

2008 In Review: Year End Mixes

If you're interested in my year end mixes, please drop me a note...

21 December 2008

Shows of the Week

...to you and your kin...

Click here for upcoming shows

Matisyahu @ Webster Hall
Yo La Tengo @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Talib Kweli @ BB King's
*Kevn Kinney @ National Underground
Les Paul @ Iridium (early/late)

*Chris Thile & Michael Daves @ Living Room
Matisyahu (U-Melt opens) @ Webster Hall
Wu-Tang Clan @ Hammerstein Ballroom
Yo La Tengo @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Donny McCaslin @ 55 Bar (late)

*Yo La Tengo @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)

*Matisyahu @ Webster Hall
Yo La Tengo @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Piamenta et al @ Highline Ballroom

Yo La Tengo @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
The Disco Biscuits @ Nokia Theater
Kimya Dawson @ Bowery Ballroom
*The Fab Faux @ Terminal 5
Bloedow/Amidon @ The Stone (early)
The Moonlighters @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)

The Fab Faux @ Terminal 5
The Disco Biscuits @ Nokia Theater
Yo La Tengo @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Gov't Mule (acoustic) @ Angel Orensanz Center
Dar Williams @ Southpaw (Brooklyn)
Club D'Elf @ Crash Mansion
Smokey's Roundup @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)
Improv Night @ The Stone (early/late)
Clutch @ Starland Ballroom (Sayreville, NJ)
Forro In the Dark @ SOB's
Matisyahu @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Gregg Allman @ Capital One Theater (Westbury, LI)
*Topaz & Friends @ Sullivan Hall
Tony Trischka @ Mexlicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ)
New York Dolls @ Fillmore
Gogol Bordello @ Webster Hall

Gov't Mule (acoustic) @ Angel Orensanz Center
*Bustle In Your Hedgerow (BuzzUniverse opens) @ Knitting Factory
The Disco Biscuits @ Nokia Theater
Matisyahu @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Ollabelle et al @ Banjo Jim's
Elysian Fields @ The Stone (early/late)
Stephane Wrembel @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (late)

Click here for upcoming shows

19 December 2008

2008 In Review: Albums

Think I read something last year that said something like "2007 was a strong year for album releases... because every year is a strong year for album releases." I tend to agree. Lots of good stuff. I'll follow my example from last year and list in groups of 10. As always, a strange mix of jazz, rock, pop, etc. But that's the way I listen, so why change. I think I can honestly recommend everything up to about #60. Never got around to doing any CD reviews this year, so some comments do follow. Happy to give out more opinion on others down below.


The top 10 (alphabetical):

Apollo Sunshine -- Shall Noise Upon
A real masterpiece of an album. Not sure how a band that is so loose and carefree on stage can put together something so crisp and concise. I'll be writing more about Apollo Sunshine in the near future.

Marco Benevento -- Invisible Baby
This one came out real early in the year (as his next one will in 2009) and has had plenty of time to stew in my soul. I believe Marco has been in my top ten by himself or with the Duo for several of the past year. Not much more I can say about the guy.

Blitzen Trapper -- Furr
I feel like if I had any talent at all and could make music, this is the music that would result from my various influences. Perfect balance of good songs, rocking, grooving... definitely the big surprise for me this year. Looking forward to seeing these guys live in February.

Broken Social Scene presents... Brendan Canning -- Something for All of Us
Personally, this is my favorite Broken Social Scene album. A bass players sensibilities and songsmanship brought to the big, bad sound of the BSS.

Gnarls Barkley -- The Odd Couple
I'd couple this and the Racounteurs together with almost the same comments, even though the music couldn't be more different. Darker, deeper and more complete than their first effort. Doesn't sound like a "side project" any more. Less poppy, radio-friendly hits = more meat on the bone.

Stephen Malkmus -- Real Emotional Trash
This list is in alphabetical order, but make no mistake about it, this is my album of the year. Top to bottom, each song has "classic" potential. I've not yet determined the number of times I can listen to this before getting sick of it... such a number may not exist. Even my 4 year old digs half the tunes on this one.

Medeski, Martin & Wood -- Zaebos
MMW put out 3 awesome albums this year and Zorn released at least 3 awesome Masada Book 2 discs. In the Venn Diagram of groovy, Jewy awesomeness, this one makes the grade. Classic, deep funky shit. Out there just enough to make it interesting. A perfect Chanukah present.

My Morning Jacket -- Evil Urges
I guess part of me is disappointed that this didn't quite live up to "Z." Still, the more I listen, the more deeply I fall in love with MMJ. This is more of a repertoire-builder than a game changer -- that album we all know they still have in them. Blazing rock riffs, Prince falsetto rip-off and some touching lyrics. I don't think this album is as sick as they intended it to be, but it's still pretty sick.

The Raconteurs -- Consolers of the Lonely
See above. Damn, this thing shreds. If they play their cards right, we might look back on the Raconteurs in 20 years the way we look back at Zeppelin right now.

John Zorn -- The Dreamers
I guess you'd file this under jazz, but as with all Zorn's music, there are no genres and no boundaries. This album stretches from Funkadelic Maggot Brain guitarotechnics to groovy surf music to offmetered brilliance to straight piano jazz without one jarring moment. It helps to have, pound-for-pound, the most talented musicians playing your music. At that, JZ does not fail. Even if you think you'd never want to listen to anything like this, it's a must have for any discerning music lover. Yes, that good.

11-20 (alphabetical)

Cyro Baptista -- Banquet of the Spirits
Bar Kokhba -- Lucifer
The Black Keys -- Attack & Release
Drive-By Truckers -- Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Aimee Mann -- @#%&*! Smilers
Medeski, Martin & Wood -- Radiolarians I
The Sea and Cake -- Car Alarm
Todd Sickafoose -- Tiny Resistors
TV On The Radio -- Dear Science
McCoy Tyner -- Guitars


Beck -- Modern Guilt
Steven Bernstein -- Diaspora Suite
Death Cab For Cutie -- Narrow Stairs
The Fiery Furnaces -- Remember
Fleet Foxes -- Fleet Foxes
Jenny Lewis -- Acid Tongue
Man Man -- Rabbit Habits
Edgar Meyer/Chris Thile -- s/t
Jenny Scheinman -- Crossing the Field
She & Him -- Volume One


Ryan Adams & the Cardinals -- Cardinology
Andrew Bird -- Live In Montreal
Dr Dog -- Fate
The Felice Brothers -- The Felice Brothers
Bill Frisell -- History, Mystery
Stanton Moore -- Emphasis! (On Parenthesis)
Ratatat -- LP3
Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog -- Party Intellectuals
Secret Chiefs 3 -- Xaphan
The Wood Brothers -- Loaded


Grand Archives -- The Grand Archives
Charlie Haden & Friends -- Ramblin' Boy
Medeski, Martin & Wood -- Let's Go Everywhere
JJ Grey/Mofro -- Orange Blossoms
Of Montreal -- Skeletal Lamping
Old Crow Medicine Show -- Tennessee Pusher
What Made Milwaukee Famous -- What Doesn't Kill Us
Robert Walter -- Cure All
John Zorn -- Filmworks XX
John Zorn -- Filmworks XXI


AC/DC -- Black Ice
Theresa Andersson -- Hummingbird, Go!
Mike Gordon -- The Green Sparrow
Juno -- Soundtrack
Daniel Lanois -- Here Is What Is
Brad Mehldau Trio -- Live
Tift Merritt -- Another Country
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band -- Whole Fam Damily
Jenny Scheinman -- Jenny Scheinman
John Zorn -- Filmworks XIX


Calexico -- Carried To Dust
Cat Power -- Jukebox
Kimya Dawson -- Alphabutt
Girl Talk -- Feed the Animals
Jimmy Herring -- Lifeboat
I'm From Barcelona -- Who Killed Harry Houdini?
Sonny Landreth -- From the Reach
The Mars Volta -- The Bedlam in Goliath
Marc Ribot -- Exercises in Futility

15 December 2008

2008 in Review: Videos

I've never really considered myself to be interested in music videos, but I saw a bunch in the past 6 months or so that have really made an impression. So, figured I'd assemble them to kick off my couple weeks of a 2008 rundown. Kind of a random mix here, not sure how many of these are "official" or what, but good shit all around and good tunes taboot, of course. I'm sure there are plenty of masterpieces I've missed, so please enlighten.


Apollo Sunshine "Singing to the Earth"

Marco Benevento "Real Morning Party"

The Sea and Cake "Weekend"

Bjork Wanderlust

She & Him "Why You Do You Let Me Stay Here?"

Radiohead "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"


and this one, just because it cracks me up:

14 December 2008

Shows of the Week

Good tidings we bring...

Click here for upcoming shows

*Neil Young, Wilco @ Madison Square Garden
Iverson, Grendier, Waits @ Small's
Al Dimeola @ Drom

*Jenny Scheinman @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)
Of Montreal @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Doveman @ The Stone (early)
Howard Fishman @ Galapagos (Brooklyn)
Golden, Corn Mo & 357 Lover @ Glasslands Gallery (Brooklyn)
Christian McBride Band @ Dizzy's (early/late)
Neil Young, Wilco @ Madison Square Garden
Diva @ The Stone (late)

Bela Fleck & The Flecktones @ Blue Note (early/late)
*Aimee Mann @ Nokia Theater
Oasis (Ryan Adams opens) @ Madison Square Garden
CSS @ Webster Hall
Vetivier, Crystal Stilts @ (Le) Poisson Rouge
Christian McBride Band @ Dizzy's (early/late)
Bill Malchow @ Living Room (late)
Leona Naess @ Piano's
Howard Fishman @ Joe's Pub
Twi the Humble Feather et al @ Glasslands Gallery (Brooklyn)
Adam Levy et al @ Banjo Jim's
The Gene Ween Band @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Jaik Miller Band et al @ Sullivan Hall

The Gene Ween Band @ Highline Ballroom
CSS @ Webster Hall
Christian McBride Band @ Dizzy's (early/late)
Jason Crosby Band @ Sullivan Hall
*Sex Mob @ The Stone (late)
Joe Deninzon, Van Davis @ Fat Baby
The Sweet Devines @ Joe's Pub (early)
Karsh Kale @ SOB's
Evan Dando, Leona Naess @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones @ Blue Note (early/late)
Aimee Mann @ Nokia Theater

Aimee Mann @ Tarrytown Music Hall (Tarrytown, NY)
John Medeski solo @ The Stone (late)
Becca Stevens @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)
Evan Dando, Leona Naess @ Southpaw (Brooklyn)
Hal Wilner's Parade @ The Stone (late)
Christian McBride Band @ Dizzy's (early/late)
*Bela Fleck & The Flecktones @ Blue Note (early/late)
Budos Band @ Mercury Lounge (late)
Chris Bergson, Mamie Minch @ Union Hall (Brooklyn)
Wolff @ Piano's
The Bogmen @ Nokia Theater
Bill Malchow @ The National Underground
Sherman Ewing @ Ace of Clubs
Rakim et al @ Knitting Factory

*Menahan Street Band (Naomi Shelton opens) @ Southpaw (Brooklyn)
The Bogmen @ Nokia Theater
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones @ Blue Note (early/late)
Lake Trout @ Mercury Lounge
Gary Lucas @ The Stone (late)
Christian McBride Band @ Dizzy's (early/late)

Matisyahu @ Webster Hall
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones @ Blue Note (early/late)
Christian McBride Band @ Dizzy's (early/late)
*Yo La Tengo @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Pharaoh's Daughter @ (le) Poisson Rouge
Stephane Wrembel @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (late)
Black/Dunn/Speed/Noriega @ The Stone (late)

Click here for upcoming shows

11 December 2008


in case you were wondering, the minimix has moved slightly more underground. if you've been looking for these and want to know where to find them, get in touch. enjoy your weekend.

(ps coming soon: year end lists and minutiae!)

10 December 2008

Freaks Ball IX

It's one month and counting to the ninth annual Freaks Ball, so might as well get my hordes of loyal readers on board! We've featured some great acts in the past, helping many get their start: Robert Randolph, The Duo, Apollo Sunshine, Ollabelle, Skerik & Mike Dillon, etc. This year's no different, in fact we're going international! Extra special incentive to come join us is that the Ball is on my birthday this year, so come to Brooklyn and help me celebrate 35 years of freakishness.

The Rodney Speed Experience will kick it off with some wild rock and roll. The main event will feature the Brit ubergrooves of the f'in New Mastersounds. Late night drunkenness will be accompanied by the face-flipping rawk of the back-in-action RANA. Good times.

The details:

Freaks Ball IX
January 10, 2009
Brooklyn, USA


  • The New Mastersounds
  • The Rodney Speed Experience (feat. Scott Boom Boom Metzger, Sir Joe Russo, Eddie Eyeball of 2 Skinnee Js, Phil Costello of Tragedy, Backyard Bill, Szuf Daddy of Tragedy, Ginger of the Wildhearts)
  • and a special, rock your socks off late night set from RANA.
tickets $25, on sale now!

This show will sell out as the past few Balls have.

Some more links:

07 December 2008

Shows of the Week


Click here for upcoming shows

*Vampire Weekend @ Wellmont Theater (Montclair, NJ)
Les Paul @ Iridium (early/late)
The Famous Accordion Orchestra @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)
Deerhunter et al @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Nada Surf @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)

The Lee Boys (Licorice opens) @ Sullivan Hall
McCoy Tyner Trio (w/ M. Ribot) @ Blue Note (early/late)
*Jenny Scheinman @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)
Indo-Pak Coalition, Dave Douglas @ (le) Poisson Rouge
Jean-Michel Pilc w/ W. Krantz et al @ 55 Bar (late)
Marissa Nadler et al @ Mercury Lounge
Roy Haynes @ Birdland (early/late)

McCoy Tyner Trio w/ J. Lovano @ Blue Note (early/late)
Bon Iver @ Town Hall
Roy Haynes @ Birdland (early/late)
Pharoah Saunders @ Iridium (early/late)
Jenny Scheinman, Adam Levy et al @ Banjo Jim's
Manchester Orchestra et al @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Rachael Yamagata @ Bowery Ballroom
Bob Schneider solo @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Will Johnson et al @ Piano's
*The Gene Ween Band @ Mexicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ)
Loney, Dear et al @ Mercury Lounge
Bill Charlap Trio @ Zankel Hall

BuzzUniverse @ Ace of Clubs
Roy Haynes @ Birdland (early/late)
McCoy Tyner Trio w/ R. Coltrane @ Blue Note (early/late)
*Wayne Krantz @ 55 Bar (late)
Fred Frith's Cosa Brava/Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog @ Kntting Factory
Pharoah Saunders @ Iridium (early/late)
Will Sheff @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
The Meat Puppets @ Maxwell's (Hoboken)
Melvin Gibbs solo @ The Stone (early)
Donna the Buffalo @ Mexicali Blues (teaneck, NJ)
Bon Iver @ Town Hall
Erik Friedlander w/ T. Dunn, M. Sarin @ The Stone (late)

Ghostland Observatory @ Terminal 5
Will Bernard Band @ Blue Note (late night)
*Motherlode, Pimps of Joytime @ Southpaw (Brooklyn)
Ray Davies @ Hammerstein ballroom
McCoy Tyner Trio w/ R. Coltrane @ Blue Note (early/late)
Roy Haynes @ Birdland (early/late)
Bill Martin solo @ The Stone (early)
Pharoah Saunders @ Iridium (early/late)
Twi the Humble Feather @ Galapagos (Brooklyn)
Rhett Miller @ Maxwell's (Hoboken) (early)
Steven Bernstein/Peter Apfelbaum @ Symphony Space
Bon Iver @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Jay Brannan @ Joe's Pub
The Butthole Surfers @ Warsaw (Brooklyn)

Motherlode, Pimps of Joytime @ Mexicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ)
*McCoy Tyner Trio w/ B. Frisell @ Blue Note (early/late)
Roy Haynes @ Birdland (early/late)
Glenn Patscha @ The Stone (late)
Meat Puppets @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Pharoah Saunders @ Iridium (early/late)
My Brightest Diamond et al @ (Le) Poisson Rouge
Andy Statman @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)

McCoy Tyner Trio w/ J. Scofield @ Blue Note (early/late)
Pharoah Saunders @ Iridium (early/late)
Roy Haynes @ Birdland (early/late)
Jay Brannan @ Joe's Pub
*Rashanim @ Leopard Lounge
Ollabelle et al @ Banjo Jim's
Jim Staley/Joey Baron @ Roulette
Stephane Wrembel @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (late)
Duran Duran @ Wellmont Theater (Montclair, NJ)

Click here for upcoming shows

03 December 2008

Review: David Byrne (and the spaces within)

Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY 29 November 2008

Of course, it came as no surprise. I had read about it, been warned about it and had gotten other people's reactions to it. Still, when the trio of dancers took the stage during the 2nd or 3rd song at David Byrne's show on Saturday night, it kind of... I dunno, made me gasp. Like you know you're going to get a serious chill when you go outside on a sub-freezing winter day, but as prepared as you are, it still gets under your layers and prickles the skin. I knew it was going to be something, I just didn't know what exactly it was going to be. What it was, was pure, vintage David Byrne. This is a guy who doesn't look at anything and doesn't think about capital "D" Design. Whether it's afrobeat inflected pop, bike racks, concert films (or films in general), urban decay, or even his freakin' amazing blog, Byrne brings an eye to life that few today can match. Dude is an artist, through and through. So, when David Byrne looks at a stage, he doesn't just see a place where he can play music, he sees, like he sees with everything else around him, a space to fill; a blank canvas on which to smear his aesthetic.

This is nothing new for Byrne: "Stop Making Sense" isn't just an amazing film of some amazing music, it's an artistic reconstruction of the live concert. The concert itself as an art form. It's an art form that few have had the vision to properly dabble in -- most musicians, even the very best of them, get on stage, play music and get off, with a trippy light show being the extent of the added value. It was interesting, then, for me to realize during this show that I've seen 3 shows in the past few months that seemed to go for it, to experiment, to not just make great art with their voices and instruments, but to create sculpture with the live show itself.

Starting with the most recent and moving backwards, we have Saturday's Byrne show. It's been a long while since I've seen any music over Thanksgiving weekend... I think I'd have to go back to 1992 when I ditched my family post-turkey to head down to Port Chester for Phish (a band that probably reached that level of live showmanship once or twice, but maybe could have gone even further (and maybe will someday soon)). Since then, I've been content to stay with the extended clan in Syracuse and recover in a cloud of leftovers and football. Never did I think great music would come to me, but lo and behold, David Byrne happens to be playing the Landmark the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Not only would I get to see music, but I'd have the rare opportunity to do it with my brother, sister and wife: the rarest trifecta of them all.

We arrived a bit early and the theater seemed empty... too empty. I feared a dead crowd, but it started filling up and from our vantage point in the balcony I had no clue how full the orchestra was. The band was on stage by 8:20, everyone dressed in a crisp white from head to toe. Byrne pretty much by himself at the front of the stage with his guitar, backed by 3 singers (2F/1M), a bass player, a drummer, a percussionist and a keyboard player. I imagine the show was similar/identical to others in terms of setlist and everything. A perfect blend and balance of Byrne/Eno stuff and Talking Heads/Eno stuff. The second tune was "I Zimbra" and I believe that's about when the dancers came out. There were three of them (2F/1M) and not knowing anything about dance, I wouldn't know how to categorize it. They were also dressed in white and they were a mix of goofy dance-to-the-funky music grooving, interpretative motion and graceful ballet-like maneuvers. The thing was, they weren't just dancing to the music, they were weaving themselves into and around the musicians themselves. At times they even elevated their presence, but manipulating the very matter of the live show itself: moving microphones and people around, imparting their presence on the entities that make up the concert.

Of course, this is all a touch discomforting to anyone who goes to see a concert every now and then. It's hard not to take it, at least initially, as a joke. Then, the song ends and they're gone and we're back in normal music mode. But, the reality of the show has shifted a bit... we're at least a step into meta-land and, of course, right where Byrne wants us. The 4th or 5th song was "Houses in Motion" from the Talking Heads Remain In Light album and by this point, I and the rest of the crowd had internally recalibrated our eyes and our ears and were, as a unit, more prepared. Everything up to this point, musically, had been terrific: David Byrne sounds just about as good as he probably ever has (and probably looks cooler with white hair than anyone since Andy Warhol) and the music really soars on its own. These songs are just damn good... the old stuff we all know and love is some of the best shit out there and the other stuff maybe even better and we just don't know it yet. When the "Houses In Motion" ended, however, it was like we had crashed through the glass roof of the chocolate factory. We were only 5 songs into the set and the crowd started cheering like they were demanding an encore. I'm not sure I've ever seen a reaction like that so early in the show. The song was so ripping and grooving and perfect and the combined glee from finally clicking with the dancers, finally getting the brilliance of what was going on in front of us, and sort of the fact that it all clicked for everyone so crisply at the same time.

(Update: here's Brother Liffy's video of the Houses in Motion)

The crowd finally settled down and the show continued in the same fashion, just getting better and better with each tune. This may be the most rocking, funky show I've seen with nary a guitar solo to be found. The band just grooves and is in perfect sync with Byrne from top to bottom. No one stands out -- literally whitewashed into a single band. Everything was a highlight, but of course, the Talking Heads tunes stand out. Seeing Byrne play "Heaven" is as sweet as I imagined it would be and is certainly an "I can now cross that off my list" moment. "Cross eyed and Painless" was totally scintillating; raise the roof good. As the show went on, the line between dancers and musicians seemed to blur and bleed, with the musicians sucked into the dancing and the dancers faux-guitar playing. Like so much of Byrne's stuff, it all comes off so effortlessly, but it's quite clear once you peel back the curtain a bit, that there's a wizard pulling the levers on each and every detail. As the supermodels say: it takes a lot of work to get this beautiful.

What I loved most about the dancers was just how understated it was. On one hand it's a pretty bold stroke -- it's the thing everyone's going to be talking about. On the other hand, it's very natural in retrospect. Unobtrusive, at the worst neutral, at the best purely augmentative. My favorite moment was one song when everyone was seated. The singers, the bass player, David Byrne and the dancers, everyone. DB & the dancers were up front in office chairs -- the same kind you're probably sitting on now. The tune was one of the mellower ones of the night, Dave on an acoustic guitar and the chairs, with their wheels and the potential of reclining just leant a relaxed, ergonomic vibe to the stage. Sometimes bands are able to achieve this through the right mix of colors in their lighting, but here Byrne delves deeper into what's going on up there on stage. He's filling the space and not just doing it willy-nilly.

And so, when I'm watching this, I thought back to seeing Radiohead this summer. It was part of the largely not-too-notable All Points West Festival in Jersey City in August. Of course, Radiohead headlined and played the main stage. That stage was equipped with large television screens and earlier in the day they had been manned by what felt like tha Junior High A/V club, using primitive wipes and 80's-MTV style faux-psychedelic effects that surely couldn't have gotten even the most crispy stoner off. I actually remarked to myself how ridiculous these were and cringed at the thought of Radiohead playing with those screens going behind them. Ah, me of little faith...

When the band finally took the stage, the screens seemed to have transformed, like gigantic plasma flat screens had replaced some old CRT's. Weird. Meanwhile, these long rectangular columns which had been stashed in the wings during the day (and certainly piqued my curiousity) were now arrayed above the stage like high tech stalactites. By the time the rumbling electro-noise had stopped and the band took the stage, we were no longer in Jersey City, but rather in Superman's fortress of solitude. Check out the pix over at BrooklynVegan. For the first few songs, the screens just acted as visual aids to those thousands in the I-can't-see-the-stage-from-here club of which I was at least a half member. The columns just lit up monochrome. But as the band made their way -- brilliantly -- through the setlist, these standard visuals came alive. Split screens synchronized to the music, the functionality of the pillars of lights increased and suddenly every song seemed to have its own visual story to tell. This was no ordinary light show, it told its own story, imparted itself upon the music -- it changed the way the instruments sounded. As the setlist carved out an arc in musical space, so did these lights as things went from a cold, singular blue to a dichrome red-and-purple to a fully progressed futuristic rainbow. Radiohead had a much larger space to fill than Byrne did on the stage of a municipal theater, and they brilliantly daubed brushstrokes of electrons and photons. Colors gave birth to new colors which then chased each other across the sky, matching the music, pushing and pulling the mood and generated an full sensory experience. The music was frickin' sick as well, quite possibly the most perfect set of music I've heard this year, not to mention that it came right after a tour-de-force from my platonic-male-crush-of-the-moment, Andrew Bird made the utter hassle of the whole event worthwhile... but no time for details here (wait, you still reading this??).

Of course, just saying you're going to be an artist don't make you one. Take it from me who has but a neutrino of talent to inspire. So, while I'd like to give them points for trying, Of Montreal who I saw back in October -- a show I wrote about here -- is a good example of what it looks like when someone throws shit at a wall and calls the result "art." There's a good distinction here between what Byrne and Radiohead do in the space within their live show and what Kevin Barnes did with his. That show was a true smorgasboard of an experience -- songs sung from the back of a horse, with a head in a noose, from inside a grave, dressed as the pope, etc -- certainly entertaining, but more in the kitschy "I can't believe I'm seeing this!" way, not in a "Holy shit, this is fucking brilliant!" way.

All three artists made me say "I've never seen that before." Two of them truly inspired me the way great artists do.

The end of the David Byrne show turned into almost a pure Talking Heads set: Life During Wartime, Once In A Lifetime, and then the first encore of Take Me to the River and The Great Curve (which was just made to have dancers gyrating while Byrne sings "the world moves on a woman's hips!"). Of course, the 2nd encore is undoubtedly part of the show every night, but undoubtedly every night he gets the same response he got in Syracuse on Saturday: pure, wild, audience love. It was the second great crowd I was part of over the holiday weekend. Always sucks to know stuff beforehand, but reading his blog, I knew that Burning Down the House and Air were now parts of the show and sure enough they returned and killed 'em both. What I didn't expect was that third encore, when they returned to the stage and brought everything back down to earth with the title track of the new David Byrne album. It was subtle and quiet and beautiful and a perfect end to another perfect show.

It was art. It was prepositional art: in, around, within, under and over. And really good shit taboot.


Of the minute? I'm Twittering now... follow the ridiculousness @neddyo. Heady mix of music, bitchin' suburban lifestyle, minutiae of the laboratory and a little bit of et cetera. Point me towards what's kewl.

30 November 2008

Shows of the Week

Welcome December...


Click here for upcoming shows

Tina Turner @ Madison Square Garden
Snow Patrol @ Bowery Ballroom
Dave Mason @ BB King's
*Les Paul @ Iridium (early/late)
Oz Noy Trio @ Bitter End

*The Bulletproof Lincolns @ Fat Baby
Hot Tuna (Ollabelle opens) @ Town Hall
Dr Dog @ Webster Hall
Steven Bernstein's MTO, Curtis Hasselbring et al @ Knitting Factory (all club)
Butch Morris Orchestra @ The Stone (early/late)
Doug Wamble (w/ B. Marsalis) @ Joe's Pub
Bruce Hornsby, Dar Williams, Felice Bros et al @ The Concert Hall
Jenny Scheinman @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)
Nellie McKay @ (le) Poisson Rouge
Wayne Shorter @ Carnegie Hall
Stellstarr* @ Piano's

Tina Turner @ Nassau Colesium (Uniondale, LI)
Vampire Weekend @ Terminal 5
Stellstarr* @ Piano's
Sylvie Courvoisier @ The Stone (early)
Gods & Monsters et al @ Cake Shop
*Hot Tuna (Larry Keel opens) @ Town Hall
Kevin Costner @ Blender Theater
Organ Summit @ Iridium (early/late)
Digable Planets @ Highline Ballroom

Jose Gonzalez et al @ BAM (Brooklyn)
Stellstarr* @ Piano's
Organ Summit @ Iridium (early/late)
Vampire Weekend @ Terminal 5
The Radiators @ Mexicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ)
*The Nouvellas et al @ Zebulon (Brooklyn)
BB King @ Wellmont Theater (Montclair, NJ)
K. Andreasson/J. Hamer @ Banjo Jim's (late)
Philip Glass, Zeena Parkins et al @ Roulette (benefit)
Sugar Hill Gang @ Blender Theater

*Grace Potter & The Nocturnals @ Webster Hall
BB King @ BB King's
Stellstarr* @ Piano's
Ha Ha The Moose @ Sullivan Hall
Jose Gonzalez et al @ BAM (Brooklyn)
O'Death @ Bowery Ballroom
Organ Summit @ Iridium (early/late)
FREE Ben Allison @ LaGuardia PAC
Crooked Still @ Drom
John Prine @ Wellmont Theater (Montclair, NJ)
Twisted Sister @ Nokia Theater
The Squirrel Nut Zippers @ Southpaw (Brooklyn)
Charles Gayle Trio @ The Stone (early)
Peter, Paul & Mary @ Carnegie Hall

Budos Band @ BAM Cafe (Brooklyn)
Twisted Sister @ Nokia Theater
Vampire Weekend @ Terminal 5
The Hungry Ghosts @ The Stone (early)
Organ Summit @ Iridium (early/late)
Ha Ha The Moose @ Sullivan Hall
Stellstarr* @ Piano's
Nada Surf @ Bowery Ballroom
Yuka Honda & Petra Haden @ Joe's Pub (midnight)
Michael Blake's Hellbent @ The Stone (late)
The Clarks @ Highline Ballroom
*Phonograph, Salt & Samovar @ The Studio at Webster Hall

*Ceramic Dog @ The Stone (late)
The Seldom Scene @ BB King's
Steve Cardenas Trio @ 55 Bar (late)
Stephane Wrembel @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (late)
Erin McKeown @ Ailey Theater
Love Is All @ Bowery Ballroom
Nada Surf @ Webster Hall
Organ Summit @ Iridium (early/late)

Click here for upcoming shows

23 November 2008

Shows of the Week

This week's a little light on music, but heavy on calories, so it all evens out.


Click here for upcoming shows

Les Paul @ Iridium (early/late)
Family Guy Sings @ Carnegie Hall
Shayni Rae w/ Kevn Kinney et al @ National Underground

Tea Leaf Green @ Mexicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ)
Nasheet Waits w/ J. Moran et al @ Tap Bar
Tony Trischka @ Joe's Pub (late)
Family Guy Sings @ Carnegie Hall
Nasheet Waits Trio @ Tap Bar
Jerry Joseph/Bret Mosley @ Union Hall (Brooklyn)
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2 @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Sean Wayland w/ T. Lefebvre, K. Carlock et al @ 55 Bar (late)
Hubert Sumlin @ BB King's
Ludacris @ Highline Ballroom

Tea Leaf Green @ Highline Ballroom
Steel Train @ Bowery Ballroom
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2 @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Tina Turner @ Prudential Center (Newark, NJ)
Hubert Sumlin @ BB King's
Erik Friedlander @ The Stone (early)
Jean-Michel Pilc w/ W. Krantz et al @ 55 Bar (late)
Steel Train @ Bowery Ballroom
Los Amigos Invisibles @ Fillmore
Joey Baron solo @ The Stone (late)

Turkey Thursday:
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2 @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Serena Jean @ National Underground

Dark Star Orchestra @ Nokia Theater
Dave Brubeck @ Blue Note (early/late)
Reed Foehl et al @ Rockwood Music Hall
Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout @ 55 bar (late)
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2 @ Village Vanguard (early/late)

Dark Star Orchestra @ Nokia Theater
Lotus @ Fillmore
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2 @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Ned Rothernberg's Aggregate @ The Stone (late)
The Moonlighters @ Barbes (brooklyn) (late)
Guthrie & Seeger @ Carnegie Hall
Dave Brubeck @ Blue Note (early/late)
Fishbone @ Knitting Factory

They Might Be Giants @ 92Y Tribeca
Eskelin/Saft/Black @ The Stone (late)
Dave Brubeck @ Blue Note (early/late)
Ollabelle et al @ Banjo Jim's
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2 @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Stephane Wrembel @ Barbes (brooklyn) (late)
Butch Morris Orchestra @ The Stone (early)

Click here for upcoming shows

22 November 2008

Nedstalgia: 15 Years Ago

I've been horrible at keeping up with all the nostalgic posts I had meant to do, but couldn't let this one slide by, even if I am two weeks late.

[Download Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit playing the Paradise in Boston, MA on 12 November 1993]

See it was 15 years and 2 weeks ago that the Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.) and the Aquarium Rescue Unit returned to Boston, MA. Seemed like they came through town about once a semester and played an almost identical setlist to the same bunch of folks that about half filled a club. Yes, the situation was almost the same to the point of getting a wave of deja vu around the time Bruce introduced "Jimmy Herring from Boston, Massachusetts" somewhere between "Yield Not To Temptation" and "Basically Frightened." And yet, in the warped time/space continuum of the Aquarium Rescue Unit everything was exactly the same and yet worlds apart. It took me a while to get hip to the magic otherworld that Bruce had created with this band, the way he could take the same lump of clay and reform it again and again, the musical sleight-of-hand he employed with perhaps the greatest band of talent ever assembled.

As I walked up to the Paradise on that cold night in November, waiting in line to get in, I noticed the marquee advertised the opening band: The Dave Matthews Band. Something struck me as familiar about that... then I remembered a friend from Virginia extolling their virtues and became psyched that I'd have a chance to check them out on a certainly rare trip up north. The names of the bands that opened for ARU through the years are the names of the bands that fill many of your hard drives right now: Phish, WSP, Dave Matthews, MMW, Flecktones, Leftover Salmon... these guys weren't just supporting acts, they were disciples learning from the masters and on November 12, 1993, a hot-to-go crowd in Boston was allowed to sit in on a lecture of the highest degree.

The DMB set was about a solid opener as you could ask for. In fact, they came off as anything but a supporting act -- they were a fully formed, formidable live act and it was clear they'd be opening for no one in the near future. They had it, no doubt. The cool thing about the whole night was that they had two drum kits set up side by side the whole night. Jeff "Apt Q258" Sipe and Carter Beauford played in tandem for the entire Dave Matthews set and you can just imagine! Pound for pound, two of the hardest hidden, skin-pummeling, nasty, nasty drummers you can find, playing at the same time for extended bouts of music. Sure, there's the chance it could be too much. But it wasn't. This was no throwaway opening set, it was a leading indicator: this was going to be a special night. This was not just a concert but a celebration of what live music can be. The club was the perfect size, the crowd within it was tuned in, the caliber of music was of the highest quality from the first hit of the opening set. The tapes were rolling right of the SBD so we'd still be able to listen to it 15 years later. Sometimes the stars are aligned and if you're lucky, you're standing there with your thighs banging against the stage to every single note.

The ARU set started off in standard fashion. Their shows were like Choose Your Own Adventure books, where the first couple of pages were always the same story and then before you knew it there was a point at which things would diverge. The thing was, though, that they were the ones doing the choosing, and that quite often the new directions had no root in the physical universe. Standard blues and bluegrass would explode in fractals of jazz and jam, musicians would appear and disappear from the stage, the bassist became the lead guitarist or lead vocalist... and then things would get really weird. Somehow, going into an ARU show I was always incredibly excited to see Oteil play and not even think about Jimmy or that wicked, wild drummer, the Apt Q258... but in about 2 songs time I had the same thought: "man, I forgot how fucking amazing Jimmy Herring is!" Eventually, I was able to remember past the encore and came to be the sycophantic Herring nut I am today, but for a while it was actually quite nice to be blown away again and again like it was the first time.

Anyway, so the band is grooving and doing all their nutty ARU things. Bruce was especially active on his "chazoid" (a kind of cross between a guitar and a mandolin that Bruce would play with his fingers, a slide or any other crazy shit he would pull out of his pocket) that night and you can hear he is constantly engaged with Jimmy and Oteil, which wasn't always the case. It was hot shit, but really, there'd been no way to pull out that first 45 minutes and say it was any better or worse than the last time they'd come through town. Then, at some point, Carter comes back out, kinda just snuck up on stage. I can't recall exactly when it was, but by Time Is Free, he's up there and like a little spark to a pile of dry leaves, shit just got combustible. We're not talking about just a little campfire, nosiree, things exploded into full-on book-burning caliber bonfire, consuming ever bit of sanity in its path. The 258/Beauford combination which had gotten its practice work in during the opening stanza were as locked in as any two drummers I'd ever seen or ever seen since. That Time Is Free is what I'd call a definitive version, just totally epic. Jimmy's as raw as ever and just banging back and forth between the two drummers in what feels like a 5 minute pure-climax orgy of notes that finally gives way to the requisite Oteil bass solo. That bumbles and builds and almost lets the fire die until the two beatmeisters return to the pulse and it explodes once or twice more. Totally exhilarating.

Of course, this was just the beginning. Next they bring up (the late) Leroi Moore on saxophone to join in the fun as they slink their way into the Sun Ra phantasmagoria Zambi/Space Is the Place. Under Bruce Hampton's tutelage, the Aquarium Rescue Unit always created just the right amount of musical space. They could expand or shrink the sound as much as necessary seemingly at will. Almost every time I saw them, there was a different collection of musicians, either in the core unit or with a variety of guests and yet it was always the right group at that certain moment. When Moore hops on stage, the sound grows, the right moments get stretched out, the music gets a little more focused and a hell of a lot more jazzy. Later on, when Boyd Tinsley joins in, they elongated over a completely different axis and got down with a totally down-country "Fixin' To Die." That was the thing -- there weren't 3 dimensions in the ARU universe, well, unless there had to be 3. Sometimes there were 12 and sometimes there were just 1 or 2. They were the original string theory and there were never too many guitars. Moore brought a sultry, grooving saxophone to Zambi and, listening to the recording I've heard again and again, seems 100% right in place as he leads the band through a short jam and a perfect segue into the Space Is the Place section. The band perfectly encapsulates the saxophone, it's like it was always there and always meant to be there.

The jam melts away into a more extended drum section where Sipe and Carter really go at it once more time before closing out the entire section with a wild, egg-to-strings Col. Bruce chazoid belch... something that probably needs to be seen to be appreciated in full. Finally, the band, as if coaxed through telepathy, pulses as one underneath Bruce's insanity, counting out beats in the perfect syncopated countermeasure to the chazoid's self-possessed meandering. Next thing we knew, we had passed through the looking glass, the band had gone from silky smooth saxophone jazz to free-flowing Sun Ra weirdness and came out whitewashed in an uptempo bluegrass jam as Fixin To Die. Tinsley has joined them on stage and it's a ARU-style hoedown... which is to say a totally freaky, up-is-down bluegrass jam.

That whole 3 or 4 song stretch (depending on how you count) was and is the perfect embodiment of what the Aquarium Rescue Unit stood for. There were rules, but the main one was that there were no rules. Seeing a show like this wasn't just a concert experience --yes, it was amazing on just a music-being-played showcase, but it was also a seminar in what live music means and a field trip into the unknown. The next thing you know Oteil is dedicating a song to "Curious George... the monkey" and you're not sure if Col. Bruce Hampton is just some wild, fictional mind trip. Fun while it lasted, but wait, where was I??

Anyway, it's fun to go back and listen to this show and to think about how things turned out for so many of the players on the stage that night. Like a breeze to a dandelion, the seeds have floated all over the music world and made their own little universes almost always for the better and most certainly deeply influenced by nights like that one in Boston.