15 May 2008

Review: The Jammy's

WaMu Theater at MSG, 7 May 2008

Day late and a dollar short on this one, but gotta get my two senses in... I saw my first and only Jammy's sale-a-bration in 2001 and stood aghast at what I witnessed at the Roseland Ballroom. So disgusted was I that night, that I swore I wouldn't return. But as 007 once warned -- never say never -- with my mug overfilling with Phish reminisces and the Jammy's giving 'em a "lifetime achievement" award well, I couldn't stay away. Well, actually, that's not true, I was planning wholeheartedly to stay away, far, far away; get away from me cootie finger, ten-foot-pole away. Then I got offered a free ticket -- so, whaddya got to lose, right? Wrong.

First the good. Yes, there was some good shit on display. You throw enough poo at the wall, some of it's gonna stick; or more appropriately, you wrap that diaper tight enough, not all the poo's gonna leak out.

First and foremost, the feeling returned. What feeling? The feeling I once got watching Trey do the Trey. It's more than just playing guitar, because even the greatest guitar playing doesn't make my stomach squirm like an 11-year-old girl reading Tiger Beat. Anastasio joined The Fab Faux on stage, walking out in anti-dramatic fashion midway through "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and proceeding, without pause, to bring the proverbial house down. Good lord, Trey is back. Or at least was back last Wednesday. His solo there and then how he went right ahead and no-big-deal topped it on the next number -- "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except for Me and My Monkey" -- were blog post worthy. For those moments, the Earth kicked back onto its true axis and everything was right again in the universe. Yes, that good. Again, this wasn't the best Trey ever, it just was Trey. It's been too long. Hopefully he will sustain it. Anyway, for that one, I give you a merit point, Jammy's -- inspired work getting Trey on stage and putting him in the right spot at the right time. Worth the train ticket...

There were other great moments, too. Less than I could count on my left hand, but still. I really enjoyed Rose Hill Drive pulling the surprise Flaming Lips cover. Hard to conceive that they would even try such a thing. The heavy power-trio blues became prog-popsters for a moment and did a pretty good job at it. Matisyahu came out midway through and did his thing. Usually, this would piss me off and I think most in the crowd were put off by it. Yeah, maybe it fell a little short of gloriousness, but it was interesting, it was risky, it was cool and it wasn't a disaster, by my estimation at least. That's saying a lot. Rose Hill Drive went from one zone-of-discomfort to another and actually killed it in both instances. Very impressed. That's what live music is all about. What's not so risky is having Leslie West come out for "Goin' Down" and "Mississippi Queen." Really, who gives a shit? West didn't sing so much as screamed and pretty much did the same thing with his guitar, not to mention his outfit. There are a million people out there who can turn their guitars way up and scream their way through these songs, why should I care about you, Mr. West? It's amazing how much he was out-talented and out-classed by the RHD guys. Sorry, had to be said. Summing up his appearance -- he finished his time on stage vamping a "Star Spangled Banner." Pathetic. That was the norm for most of the night.

The other great highlight came early on with the leadoff hitters -- the opening band which was Warren, Grace Potter, Joe Russo, Booker T and Will Lee on bass. See, that's not so hard is it? One of the best versions of Take Me to the River I've heard. Take a bunch of sick ass musicians, stir until well-mixed and let 'em loose like Templeton at the country fair. That's a sweet band any way you look at it. That short set got me so psyched for the rest of the night, that I forgot about why the Jammy's make my skin crawl inside out...

So, can I say that if I never see Dean Budnick in a tuxedo again, it'll be too soon? Really? This is how we represent this scene? I never understood why the "jam" scene felt the need to conform to the way the rest of the entertainment industry does business. Isn't the whole point of grassroots music to do things differently? Everything the Jammy's represents, from the beyond ridiculous awards (tour of the year?? song of the year?? really!?!?) to the plugging of sponsors, to the award presenters (for the most part -- I'll give you a pass, Gadiel!) is the complete antithesis to what this community strives for. It's funny how Phish was honored that night. A band that actually grew organically, did things by their own rules and succeeded because of it -- because the product was good. Ugh, I don't want to rant forever here, but certainly could. Hopefully you get the idea. We HATE the guys who do the Grammy's and Oscars and Emmy's and People's Choice Awards!! (Don't we?) Why on Earth do we want to become them in any way shape or form? This is the best we can do? Shoot me now.

And then the musical acts. Sure, they always look great on paper, but they so rarely succeed. One of the few bright moments for me was when Cornmeal won the award for best new/upcoming band. I've never heard them before, but the woman fiddle player who accepted the award was quick, concise and heartfelt. Later on when she joined the Tea Leaf Squeeze jam, she was easily the most revelatory part of that whole thing. She didn't step on anyone's toes, but picked her spots (without ever being offered a chance to solo) and outclassed and outplayed everyone else on that stage. And you know what, I'm psyched to check out Cornmeal now. That set perfectly illustrates what's wrong with the Jammy's (the show the Jammy's, not the concept of the Jammy's which should be taken out back and beat with a two-by-four) and yet what could be right. In the perfect world, Jambands and JamBase and Relix and the multimedia powerhouse that is Peter Shapiro would concentrate on bands we haven't heard of and pimp the shit out of them. The Cornmeals and the rest of 'em I haven't heard of yet. I want to know what I'm missing out on! Isn't the whole point of this community to turn people onto new and wonderful music? Or is it to trot out Chevy Chase with Keller Williams in the hopes that some mainstream media outfit will come to the show -- sponsored by Douchebag Guitars and WeLoveMoney.com -- and give it the coverage it so desperately wants and needs. Excuse me, stomach churning.

In sum: Dean Budnick in a rented suit. That's all you need to know. Please let me know why I'm wrong, and I'll tell you more why I'm right. I'm limiting myself before my veins start pulsing.

I hate you, Jammy's. I'm glad to see they're probably sticking a fork in you.


Some Dude said...

Nicely put. There has always been this need to fluff everything coming out the jam scene, by people that write about. Glad to see someone has the balls to step up to the plate and say what's on their mind.

While I wasn't there so I can't really vouch for your assessment, but kudos on the write up.

neddy said...

As Bartles would say: Thank you for your support.

Anonymous said...

"I never understood why the "jam" scene felt the need to conform to the way the rest of the entertainment industry does business."
---right brah, i forgot you were still on Phish tour '96

Anonymous said...

Glad to see somebody besides myself who sees *through* the Jammys! It has always been about the promotions of jambands.com and Relix more than the artists they hawk. I won't miss The Jammys one but, but I never took them seriously to begin with. - JJW, Boulder, CO