30 December 2009

Favorite Shows of the Year

Another great year of live music! Almost got to the century mark, but hit a wall of inertia, weather and holidays in early December and haven't been out in 3 weeks. That's OK, had my fill. One more show to hit this year tomorrow night, Bad Plus on New Year's @ Village Vanguard. Something tells me there's room for that on on this list.

The raw data:
Number of shows: 95
Number of different bands seen: 180+
Number of bands seen for the first time: 119
Band seen most often: Phish (12)
Number of different venues: 39
Venue hit most often: Mercury Lounge (15)
Number of cities hit: 16
Number of states hit: 7
Number of festivals: 4 (in 4 different states)

Here are my favorite 50 or so...

  1. 6/11-14/2009 Bonnaroo: Manchester, TN -- every year I've looked at the Bonnaroo lineup and thought about how amazing it would be to go; this year I confirmed my suspicions. Would love to be a regular, but glad I've made it at least once.
  2. 10/31/2009 Phish: Empire Polo Grounds Indio, CA -- Phish on Halloween. In a perfect setting. Not much more to say
  3. actually let's call this 2A -- for every other time I saw Phish this year. The band is back and sounding great and would likely litter the rest of this list. I've listed/ranked my favorite Phish shows I saw this year below.
  4. 2/25/2009 Krantz/Lefebvre/Carlock: Sullivan Hall -- I've seen these guys play together plenty and am always blown away. This might have been the best yet. No words.
  5. 2/7/2009 The Dreamers/O'o: Abrons Arts Center -- in my opinion the most talented band out there playing at the highest level imaginable. Pity they don't play more often, but more special when they do.
  6. 8/5/2009 Portugal. The Man: Mercury Lounge -- my new favorite band. Saw them 5 times this year, this was easily the best. Review here. More PTM love here.
  7. 2/20/2009 Medeski, Martin & Wood: City Winery -- looks like I saw a lot of mind-melting shows in February. Wish I had seen all the intimate MMW shows during this week, but this one will suffice.
  8. 1/1/2009 Surprise Me Mr Davis|Benvento/Russo Duo: BB King's -- 2009 was barely an hour or so old when this party got going. Masterful weaving of sets by two distinct bands with that distinction getting blurrier and blurrier as the morning went on.
  9. 1/10/2009 The New Mastersounds/Rana: Southpaw Brooklyn -- there's always room for the Freaks Ball on this list. Was also my 35th birthday which meant extra fun... until things went black.
  10. 3/23/2009 Allman Brothers Band: Beacon Theater -- the Allmans went extra large every night this past March and the show I caught was no exception with JB and Jimmy Herring highlighting some exceptional sit-ins and stellar jamming.
  11. 7/13/2009 Wilco: Keyspan Park Brooklyn -- Wilco playing the best rock show you ever saw is like you tying your shoes. They just know how to do it and do it every time without fail. Great spot for a show, great weather, great people, great music.
  12. 8/1-2/2009 Newport Folk Festival: Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI -- killer line-up straddling all sorts of musical boundaries. Such a wonderful festival. Can't wait to go again in 2010!
  13. 10/16/2009 Portugal. The Man, Hockey, Drug Rug: Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ
  14. 11/22/2009 Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: Tilles Center, Brookville, NY -- the original Flecktones with Howard Levy and no saxophone... superlative playing of all old-school Flecktones material. A hop, skip and a jump from home. Now that's a Sunday night!
  15. 10/20/2009 Bustle In Your Hedgerow: Brooklyn Bowl -- old standby favorites at the best new venue in town.
  16. 5/14/2009 Bill Frisell Trio: Village Vanguard -- the Wilco of brain-probing post-jazz guitar music. Never miss Frisell when he's in town @ the Vanguard... never!
  17. 6/18/2009 Andrew Bird: Radio City Music Hall -- review here.
  18. 2/28/2009 Clutch/The Bakerton Group: The Crazy Donkey, Farmingdale, NY -- thanks to C-Dawg for inviting me to this one! Always a pleasure to stand at the fringe of a most pit down route 110.
  19. 2/17/2009 The Bad Plus w/ Wendy Lewis (Yacouba Sissoko opened): Bowery Ballroom -- TBP in a rock club doing amazing covers/standards with Lewis on vocals. Awesome!
  20. 10/23/2009 Portugal. The Man, The Temper Trap: Bowery Ballroom
  21. 4/15/2009 Of Montreal (Janelle Monae opened): Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- review here
  22. 4/29/2009 El Ten Eleven: Mercury Lounge|11/20/2009 Pianos -- love these guys. Do not sleep on El Ten Eleven!
  23. 8/27/2009 Widespread Panic/Allman Brothers Band: Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY -- did I really see the Allmans more times than Panic this year? Guess so. This was fun.
  24. 5/14/2009 The Bad Plus|Benevento/Mathis/Barr: Merkin Hall -- somehow in my mind this combination was more awe-inspiring... but it was still pretty damn good.
  25. 7/17-18/2009 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival: Oak Hill, NY
  26. 9/5/2009 The Black Hollies: Mercury Lounge -- another one of my new favorites. review here
  27. 11/12/2009 White Denim (Brazos opened) Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- review here
  28. 10/17/2009 Avett Brothers: Terminal 5 -- review here
  29. 10/16/2009 Bonerama: Sullivan Hall
  30. 9/10/2009 Do Make Say Think/Charles Spearin's Happiness Project: Miller Theater
  31. 11/9/2009 Wolfmother: Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- review here
  32. 10/13/2009 Clem Snide: Mercury Lounge|3/18/2009 Bowery Ballroom -- review here and here
  33. 2/27/2009 Blitzen Trapper (Plants & Animals, Alela Diane opened): Bowery Ballroom
  34. 2/6/2009 Masada Sextet: Abrons Arts Center
  35. 3/28/2009 Les Claypool, O'Death, Secret Chiefs 3, Saul Williams: Terminal 5
  36. 7/15/2009 Emergency Party/The Stationary Set: Mercury Lounge -- review here
  37. 6/26/2009 The Slip: Bowery Ballroom -- review here
  38. 9/8/2009 Mike Gordon (Marco Benevento (solo) opened): Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- review here
  39. 11/21/2009 Surprise Me Mr Davis/Land of Talk: Mercury Lounge -- review here
  40. 11/4/2009 Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (Portland Cello Project opoened): Bowery Ballroom -- review here
  41. 10/7/2009 Rana, Chris Harford, American Babies: Brooklyn Bowl
  42. 11/21/2009 Serena Jean: The National Underground
  43. 8/13/2009 NOMO: Mercury Lounge
  44. 10/18/2009 Bustle In Your Hedgerow: Studio House, Middle Island, NY
  45. 7/28/2009 Jenny Scheinman/Robbie Fulkes: Barbes
  46. 12/9/2009 Krantz/Lefebvre/Carlock: Sullivan Hall
  47. 10/16/2009 Ben Allison Quintet: Jazz Standard
  48. 9/25/2009 Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band: Mercury Lounge
  49. 11/20/2009 Jonah Smith: Rockwood Music Hall
  50. 10/8/2009 Thee Oh Sees: Mercury Lounge
...I think that's enough, although I could go on. (More shows reviewed for Bowery listed here.)

Ned's 2009 Phish shows
  1. 10/31/2009 Indio
  2. 12/4/2009 MSG
  3. 3/6/2009 Hampton
  4. 3/7/2009 Hampton
  5. 6/2/2009 Jones Beach
  6. 11/1/2009 Indio
  7. 5/31/2009 Fenway
  8. 12/2/2009 MSG
  9. 6/12/2009 Bonnaroo
  10. 10/30/2009 Indio
  11. 6/14/2009 Bonnaroo
  12. 8/16/2009 SPAC

29 December 2009

ResideNYC's (TM) of the Decade

An addendum to the last post about my favorite shows of the 2000's, here are my favorite NYC residencies, either long-running or one-off's, that made the decade what it was...

  1. Wayne Krantz @ 55 Bar, Thursdays -- this residency came to a close a year or two ago, sadly. I'm quite certain that this high a level of music was not made consistently for this long on a weekly basis anywhere at any time. The backbone was the K3 trio, but no matter who was playing with Wayne, it was pure magic.
  2. Benevento/Russo Duo @ Tap Bar, Knitting Factory, Thursdays 2002 -- every up-and-coming band should come to New York, find themselves a weekly gig and just play as long as it takes to find "it." If "it"'s out there, they'll find it. Here is the quintessential it-finding.
  3. Jenny Scheinman @ Barbes, Tuesdays -- the only on this list that are still going, and perhaps the most intimate and special. If you happen to be in Brooklyn early on a Tuesday night, make your way to Park Slope and hope that Jenny is playing. Doesn't matter with whom she's playing, just go.
  4. Marco Benevento @ Sullivan Hall, 1/2008 -- even when this sucked it was pretty awe-inspiring.
  5. Rana @ Tribeca Rock Club 1/2003 -- the residency that was. I may be imagining it, but I think Pink played drums with them during this run?
  6. Robert Randolph @ Lakeside Lounge 11/2000; @ Mercury Lounge 4/2001 -- watched a guy go from too shy to even speak to shaking his hips with any young lady who dared step on stage in a matter of 5 months. Now that's a residency!
  7. Joe Russo, Matt Rubano et al (Summer Sessions) @ Lanksy Lounge, Summer 2001 -- short lived at an even shorter lived venue, but it was some magic. Turned me from a Joe Russo admirer to a full-fledged zealot. Residency went on to reside at other venues, but none were the same as Lansky.
  8. Allman Brothers Band March of every year @ Beacon Theater -- what could be said?
  9. Derek Trucks Band 3/2000 -- Back in 2000, Derek was already amazing, but still young and hungry as heck. While the Allmans did their thing uptown, Derek hit every venue he could playing jazz clubs, rock clubs and all those places in-between. Sometimes a lot of people came to see him, some times just a few, but it was always amazing.
  10. Marco Benevento 11/2006 @ Tonic -- Marco makes this list thrice -- he's the ResideMVP!

Favorite Shows of the Decade

OK, so keeping tabs on these things, I was able to go back and see that I've seen right around 850 concerts in the past decade -- ~85 a year! Not too shabby seeing as I also had two children, got a PhD and maintained a happy marriage over the same period.

Here is a limited list of some of my absolute favorites over the past 10 years, with some comments where appropriate; it's possible that more recent shows got more love due to my fading memories

  1. Bonnaroo 2009 -- I have to admit I've never been to a real orgy before, but I imagine it would be something like the weekend I had in Tennesee this past summer. I literally saw live music from noon til 4am every night, discovered tons of great new music, saw plenty of my favorites and had an all-around amazing time. Put it this way, I saw two pretty decent Phish shows and neither was in my top 10 moments of the weekend. That good.
  2. 9/12/2000 One for Woody -- Allen Woody's passing hit me as hard as any musician's passing in the 2000's and this tribute show was utterly befitting the man. With emotions running rampant throughout, the music was both hard-hitting and phenomenal. It was a little bit of everything and a whole lotta love.... and Warren. I'll never forget Haynes singing Low Spark with the videos flashing images of Woody -- powerful stuff. Also notable for the first Phil and Friends lineup with Jimmy/Warren/Rob/Molo which became one of the nastiest bands to play the entire decade.
  3. 10/30-11/1/2009 Phish in Indio -- the perfect weekend.
  4. Panic Halloween run @ UNO 2000 -- WSP played some great weekends in NOLA, but this has to be my favorite.... and they didn't even play on Halloween proper Bustouts, breakouts, blow-outs, special guests and plenty of sickity-sick-sick playing, I don't think I've ever had as much fun at run of shows as I had that weekend in New Orleans.
  5. 9/2003 -- Zorn month @ Tonic -- In September of 2003, John Zorn celebrated his 50th birthday by taking over a month at one of my all-time favorite venues of the decade. I reviewed it here for Jambase but suffice it to say, it was a month to remember (and I only saw a sliver of it!).
  6. 9/17/2005 -- Burton/Lent wedding, Whitehall, NY -- the wedding to end all weddings... Joyce and Bret are the only people I know who not only get a top-notch band (Col Bruce & Codetalkers) to play their wedding, but have a late-night aftershow that tops just about everything else. NYC/Neddy faves Rana played the epic set to end all epic sets in a cloud of smoke (yes, smoke machine in full effect) in a tent in upstate NY. Fuelled by Makers Mark and a whole lotta love and lovely people, it was illegally fun. And the food was pretty darn good, too!
  7. Freaks Ball I-IX -- like my own children, I love them all. Starting in 2001, every year of the decade was marked by a party for the NYC-Freaks that was inevitably the party of the year. It'll be much the same next year and the year after that. So long as I can remember it all in the morning...
  8. 4/28/2001 Phil & Friends @ Asbury Park -- For a while, it seemed the best band on the planet was the "Phil Lesh Quintet" and, undoubtedly, this was my favorite show I saw from these guys. Standing front and center and watching Jimmy Herring and Warren Haynes pick each other's brains clean via the electric guitar was a sight to behold.
  9. 9/10/2001 -- Project Logic @ Wetlands Preserve -- It was the night before the world changed, but all we knew at the time was that the Wetlands was closing and we'd better get boogeyin'! Featuring sweet sit-ins by Mike Gordon and Warren Haynes, the Project kept it going until well into the morning of the 11th. It was the end of an era in more ways in one, but mostly it was a really amazing night (and morning) of music.
  10. 5/4/2003 -- Rock N Bowl New Orleans -- Hanging with two of my favorite people in the world, this turns out to be my favorite Jazzfest show I ever saw. The bill was Snooks Eaglin, Anders Osborne and Sonny Landreth = 3 Louisiana guitar giants... and they all played like giants. So much fun.
  11. 12/1/2006 - MMJ/Duo/Slip @ Electric Factory, Philly -- my review
  12. 1/2008 -- Benevento Residency @ Sullivan Hall -- wow, just wow! Reviews here (1/3/08), here (1/10/08) and here (1/31/08)
  13. ACLFest 2004, 2005, 2007 -- looking back it's hard to separate these. Easily my favorite festival of the decade was ACLFest. Quite perfect for my own personal sensibilities. Hoping to get back there some day and you should make it a point to get there yourself. 2007 reviews day 1 day 2 day 3
  14. 1/20/2005 -- Rana w/ Hell is For Children opener -- whole residency turned me from mere mortal fan to superfan in a matter of a few weeks, but coupled with this opener, whew! Review here.
  15. Krantz/Lefebvre/Carlock: 2/1/2001 @ 55 Bar (1st time), 4/2/2004 @ Tribeca Rock Club, 2/25/2009 - @ Sullivan Hall -- almost every time K3 plays together is absolute magic and utter insanity. Here are three of my favorites including the 1st time (you always remember your first time).
  16. 2/19/2004 - Broken Social Scene @ NYU -- My wife was 7 months pregnant with our second, but still a card-carrying NYU grad student, so we got a babysitter and trekked into this show. The Big Squeeze bulging amongst a small crowd of maybe 100 freshmen and sophomores, the band who's album I dug a whole bunch showed me a new level of awesometown that I couldn't have imagined existed.
  17. 8/29/2003 - Duo w/ Metzger - Zeppelin cruise -- I've had some good ideas in my day, usually no one listens, but this time someone did. The idea was "why doesn't my beloved Duo play a set of Zeppelin;" the facilitator was Jake S. who added some Scott Metzger; the venue was the Half Moon Cruise Ship floating on the east river; the results were rock and roll history. The opening notes of "Song Remain the Same" still give me tingles when I remember that opening riff, but things weren't the same after that night on the boat.
  18. 5/11/2001 -- Randolph & Friends @ Walker St Studio -- some parties just work better than others, and this private gig set up in a loft in Tribeca worked out perfectly. Robert Randolph playing with Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Tony Trischka and others (with a keg tapped in the back) was like some surrealistic fantasy coming true.
  19. 4/26/2002 -- late night "nasty" jam @ Lennox Lounge in Harlem -- speaking of surreal; every once in a while you go to a show and look around and think "what is going on here!?!" This was one of those nights. Perhaps the funkiest show I saw in the decade... ladies and gentlemen, Justin Wallace.
  20. 11/21/2000 Robert Randolph @ Lakeside Lounge -- first time for everything. Just the right amount of whiskey in my system; just the right number of people in the room. The fog in the window and people looking in with a "what's going on in there?" look on their faces. The music, oh that sound! Chills thinking about it.
  21. 7/28/2000 - Panic @ Atlantic City -- I saw a lot of Panic shows in 2000, maybe too many. This one stands out all these years later.
  22. 7/18/2003 - Stephen Malkmus @ Prospect Park Bandshell -- Let's put it this way, Malkmus & Co. were so good the good wife and I stood in the pouring rain the entire set. Even better -- we made our 1 and a half year old daughter sit in a barely-protected stroller in the same downpour.
  23. 2/29 & 3/1 /2008 - Dreamers/Filmworks @ St Ann's Brooklyn -- What would my decade have been like without John Zorn? I could do a best Zorn of the decade list, too... this would be near the top. Review here
  24. 6/20/2004 - Phish @ SPAC -- I will admit that Phish didn't do a whole lot for me between 2000 and 2008, but this night seemed a bit different. With things winding down, the band proved it still had it inside of them. I figured this would be their last shot, so both the kids were in attendance this night on a beautiful night on the lawn in Saratoga.
  25. 3/21/2002 -- Benevento/Russo Duo @ Tap Bar -- first time. Maybe 5-10 people there in the old Tap Bar. And then every other time after that. I do miss the Duo.
  26. 11/6/2001 -- Widespread Panic, Syracuse -- This was a special Panic show for a couple reasons. One is that I took my Dad -- he doesn't know WSP from Adam, but I always trace my love for the band to my discovery of his record collection, so it was great to find that he really enjoyed the show (except drums!) -- and we even got some Blind Faith (Do What You Like). The second reason is that this is the last time I saw Mikey Houser play. The third reason is that it was a really nasty, deep dark Panic show in my hometown. I've made many pilgrimages up to the Cuse for music and rarely has it been worth it. It was worth it on this night.
  27. 10/25/2002 -- Anders Osborne @ loft in SoHo -- The private party by which I will measure all others. You know how there's "drunk" and then there's drunk. The difference between them was the difference between a party/show/night and what transpired in this private space on Houston St. A Halloween to remember.
  28. 12/31/2002 -- Electric Masada/Marc Ribot>Gov't Mule>Robert Walter/Duo -- I had tickets in my hand to see Phish's post-hiatus return @ MSG and parlayed those into 3 shows each of which I am positive I enjoyed more than I would have enjoyed the Garden. One of my all-time favorite NYE's. Review here.
Also: 6/6/2001 -- Russo, Rubano et al @ Lanksy Lounge; 2/17/2001 Snow Core -- Galactic, Claypool et al @ Electric Factory; 4/2/2003 - The Bad Plus @ Joe's Pub (first time); 7/1/2006 - GRAB, Phil, Duo @ Holmdel; 12/31/2004 -- Wilco, Flaming Lips @ MSG NYE; 8/3/2005 Frisell plays Buster Keaton @ Bandshell; 2/9/2007 Midlake, St. Vincent @ Bowery Ballroom

22 December 2009

Favorite Albums of 2009

Just looking back over my list from 2008 and realized I've got nearly the same number of albums for this year and can recommend about the same. Few disappointments and plenty to pick at. Here are my favorite 60, grouped in 10's. Usual caveats apply: these are my favorites, not pretending these are the "best" or that your opinion will jibe with mine; also not pretending that I've heard every album there is... if your favorite isn't listed, there's a good chance I didn't hear it. Don't whine, just recommend, I promise I'll take your opinion to heart.

Here it is:

The top ten (alphabetical):

The Bad Plus (w/ Wendy Lewis) -- For All I Care
The list of "can't do no wrong in Neddy's eyes" musicians is a short one, but any regular reader should know that The Bad Plus is near the top. The most postmodern piano trio in the history of the piano takes it to the next logical step, adding a vocalist on an album of covers. I could write 10000 words on the levels of deconstruction and meta-music and commentary on music and jazz and pop and how we listen to what we listen to and like what we like that may or may not be going on over the course of this album, or I could just tell you that it's plain brilliant.

Andrew Bird -- Noble Beast
Usually a musician with the set of talents that ABird has at his disposal ends up lacking something in the soul department. That doesn't seem to be a problem here as Andrew has (once again) put together an album made up of lots of little masterpieces. Each track stands on its own and within each song, each moment seems to do the same. But taken together... mmmm. Be sure to get your hands on the companion "just messin' around" Useless Creatures release: instrumental forays from a self-admitted instrumental hater. Good stuff.

Neko Case -- Middle Cyclone
With this album, Case has evolved into her own entity: untethered to another band or musicians, disassociated with any genre or type. Haunting voice, unique point of view, wonderful songs from top to bottom.

The Flaming Lips -- Embryonic
For Wayne Coyne, going into cruise control would seem to be so easy and yet, at the same time, utterly impossible. It's not like they've zigged when you thought they'd zag, but rather that in some manifestation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, once you've tried to pin them down and get a good look at the Flaming Lips, you've lose total track of how fast and in what direction they were heading. This is a psychedelic epic, hard edged and yet totally accessible -- on the scale of "Yoshimi."

Bela Fleck -- Throw Down Your Heart
The synopsis of this story is: Bela Fleck goes to Africa and makes music with everyone he meets. What could be bad? Once again, Fleck rises above. What is banjo music? What is music? Seems like these are the questions Bela is always trying to answer, but never before in such a fundamental way. Mixing old and new, western and African, traditional instruments with their forebears as well as voices and smiles that shine right through the stereo, Bela Fleck has done it again.

Heartless Bastards -- The Mountain
Looking at this list, it seems like maybe I forgot how much I love the f'in rock and roll. Well, I'm not sure anyone rocks harder and with higher fidelity than the Heartless Bastards. The ingredients are few: guitar, drums, bass and the baddest female rock vocals you'll ever heard. They are mixed together at just the right proportions and poured into some kick ass songs right to level. The title tracks may be my favorite song of the year.

Portugal. The Man -- The Satanic Satanist
I couldn't have written all this and not had PTM on this list. In the studio, the songs that trip the light fantastic live reveal themselves for the well-crafted gems that they are. Just as powerful through the headphones as blared through the loudspeaker, just as penetrating acoustic and quiet as they are loud and electric. Pull them out track by track and dig deeper, or play the whole thing and let yourself go. And don't sleep on the psychedelic packaging which only enhances the listening experience.

Dave Rawlings Machine -- A Friend of a Friend

This is the machine that drives Gillian Welch, now out front with his own thing. This release is one of those perfectly formed pieces of Americana with fantastic covers, heartfelt originals, plenty of tasty guitar picking and the most genuine pair of voices you can find.

Charles Spearin -- The Happiness Project
In 8 tracks Spearin (of Do Make Say Think) has reinvented, for me, what music, sound, speech, love and happiness. You can learn about the Happiness Project here, but in a nutshell, Spearin went out and recorded people talking, nominally about "happiness." Taking snippets of these recordings or large swaths of speech, he wove a tapestry of music, pulling meaning not just out of the words but the way that they are spoken, finding music in the syntax and beyond. The result has given me the chills, literally, every single time I've listened to the album... which has been plenty - I think I had it on repeat for about a week straight when I first got it. My description does it no justice, if you buy one CD this year, let this one be it.

Wilco -- Wilco (The Album)
Yeah, this is kind of a surprise to me, too. But it shouldn't be. Is there a band out there that consistently comes out with new great music so regularly for so long? Maybe Radiohead? Here Tweedy and Co. are evolving only slightly from their former selves, slowly integrating Nels Cline into the sound more and more, but remaining true to the Wilco sound.

(11-20 alphabetical)

Black Joe Lewis -- Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!
The Decemberists -- The Hazards of Love
Do Make Say Think -- Other Truths
Medeski, Martin & Wood -- Radiolarians III
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band -- s/t
Elvis Perkins -- In Dearland
Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down -- Know Better Learn Faster
Various -- Dark Was the Night compilation
John Zorn (Cohen/Perowsky/Burger) -- Alhambra Love Songs


The Black Hollies -- Softly Toward The Light
The Dead Weather -- Horehound
Doves -- Kingdom of Rust
Iron & Wine -- Around the Well
Grizzly Bear -- Veckatimest
Norah Jones -- The Fall
Jorma Kaukonen -- River of Time
Medeski, Martin & Wood -- Radiolarians II
Wolfmother -- Cosmic Egg
John Zorn -- Filmworks XXIII - El General


Air -- Love 2
The Avett Brothers -- I and Love and You
Andrew Bird -- Useless Creatures
The Clientele -- Bonfires on the Heath
Dirty Projectors -- Bitte Orca
Lisa Hannigan -- Sea Sew
The Phenomenal Handclap Band -- s/t
Jonah Smith -- Lights On
White Denim -- Fits
John Zorn -- O'o


Akron/Family -- Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free
The Bakerton Group -- El Rojo
Derek Trucks Band -- Already Free
The Fiery Furnaces -- I'm Going Away
Hopewell -- Good Good Desperation
Masada Quintet -- Stolas
Elvis Perkins -- Doomsday EP
Rashanim -- The Gathering
Tortoise -- Beacons of Ancestorship
The Wooden Birds -- Magnolia


Apostle of Hustle -- Eats Darkness
Califone -- All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Eels -- Hombre Loco
Feldman/Caine/Cohen/Baron -- Secrets
Bill Frisell -- Disfarmer
Patterson Hood -- Murdering Oscar
Marissa Nadler -- Little Hells
Roman Candle -- Oh Tall Tree in the Ear
St. Vincent -- Actor
Southeast Engine -- From the Forest to the Sea

21 December 2009

Songs of the Decade

Get in touch w/ your email if you're interested in links/track listings for my recently posted favorites of the 2000's mixes.

18 December 2009

Favorite Movies of 2009

updated 1/3/2010:

Kid-free this week, so got to see a couple movies. Updated list (original below):

  1. A Serious Man
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  3. Ponyo
  4. Broken Embraces
  5. The Hangover
  6. I Love You, Man
  7. Adventureland
  8. Avatar
  9. Up
  10. The Informant!
  11. Funny People
  12. Crazy Heart
  13. Where the Wild Things Are
  14. Let the Right One In
  15. The Class
  16. Up in the Air
  17. Whip It!
  18. Cold Souls
  19. Coraline
  20. (500) Days of Summer
  21. Two Lovers
  22. Monsters Vs. Aliens
  23. District 9
original post:

As usual, I didn't get out to see as many movies as I'd have liked, there are some I think would make this list in retrospect once I see them, but, until then. For my tastes this was both a very strong and very weak year for movies. Probably my three favorite filmmakers all had potentially "career best" showings and "The Hangover" might just have been the funniest movies I've seen in quite some time. There's a pretty serious drop-off after that and all told I couldn't come up with much more than these that I really "liked." For better or worse, half the movies I saw in the theaters were with a 7 and 5 year old, which may reflect in the list.
  1. A Serious Man
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  3. Ponyo
  4. The Hangover
  5. I Love You, Man
  6. Adventureland
  7. Up
  8. The Informant!
  9. Where the Wild Things Are
  10. Let the Right One In
  11. The Class
  12. Whip It!
  13. Cold Souls
  14. Coraline
  15. (500) Days of Summer
  16. Two Lovers
  17. Monsters Vs. Aliens
  18. District 9

17 December 2009

Favorite Films of the Decade

More than you need to know... of course, there are plenty I haven't seen, particularly in the last year.

  1. No Country for Old Men
  2. Amelie
  3. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  4. A Serious Man
  5. Spirited Away
  6. Fantastic Mr Fox
  7. The Incredibles
  8. Memento
  9. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  10. Ratatouille
  11. High Fidelity
  12. Ponyo
  13. Adaptation
  14. The Hangover
  15. The Royal Tennenbaums
  16. Wet Hot American Summer
  17. Oldboy
  18. Primer
  19. O Brother Where Art Thou?
  20. Superbad
  21. Gosford Park
  22. Pan's Labyrinth
  23. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
  24. Batman Begins/The Dark Knight
  25. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  26. The Prestige
  27. Capturing the Friedmans
  28. Talk To Her
  29. A History of Violence
  30. Cache
  31. Punch-Drunk Love
  32. Happy-Go-Lucky
  33. Volver
  34. Donnie Darko
  35. Sideways
  36. Dancer in the Dark
  37. Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle
  38. Best In Show
  39. The Proposition
  40. Lost in Translation
  41. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
  42. Requiem for a Dream
  43. Moulin Rouge
  44. American Splendor
  45. Wall-E
  46. Tropic Thunder
  47. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkhaban
  48. Me, You and Everyone We Know
  49. The Triplets of Belleville
  50. Junebug
  51. Persepolis
  52. Zodiac
  53. Grizzly Man
  54. Juno
  55. City of God
  56. Synecdoche, NY
  57. 8 Women
  58. Little Miss Sunshine
  59. Half Nelson
  60. Y Tu Mama Tambien
  61. Almost Famous
  62. Up
  63. Anchorman/Talladega Nights/Walk Hard/Old School
  64. Bourne Supremacy/Bourne Ultimatum
  65. Burn After Reading
  66. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
  67. Pineapple Express
  68. Vera Drake
  69. The Illusionist
  70. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  71. In the Shadow of the Moon
  72. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
  73. Shaun of the Dead
  74. Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2
  75. Touching the Void
  76. Minority Report
  77. Mulholland Drive
  78. The Informant!
  79. The Queen
  80. Where the Wild Things Are
  81. The Visitor
  82. The Fast Runner
  83. There Will Be Blood
  84. Howl's Moving Castle
  85. School of Rock
  86. The Class
  87. Encounters at the End of the World
  88. Hotel Rwanda
  89. Good Night and Good Luck
  90. Syriana
  91. The 40-Year-Old Virgin/Knocked Up
  92. The Man Who Wasn't There
  93. A Scanner Darkly
  94. The Simpsons Movie
  95. The Lives of Others
  96. The Orphanage
  97. Brick
  98. Wedding Crashers
  99. The Host
  100. In the Mood For Love
  101. United 93
  102. The Savages
  103. Adventureland
  104. Amores Perros
  105. Shrek
  106. Traffic
  107. Let the Right One In
  108. Borat
  109. The Matador
  110. The Life Aquatic
  111. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  112. Bad Education
  113. Iron Man
  114. Man Push Cart
  115. The Last King of Scotland
  116. Napoleon Dynamite
  117. Gladiator
  118. The Descent
  119. I'm Not There
  120. Swimming Pool
  121. Michael Clayton
  122. Kung Fu Hustle
  123. Small Time Crooks
  124. Monster
  125. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
  126. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
  127. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
  128. Broken Flowers
  129. Billy Elliott
  130. I Love You, Man
  131. Wendy and Lucy
  132. Monster's Ball
  133. About A Boy
  134. 8 Mile
  135. Chicken Run/Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  136. Chop Shop
  137. The Death of Mr Lazarescu
  138. Munich
  139. Murderball
  140. The Squid and the Whale
  141. Devil's Playground
  142. The Departed
  143. Black Hawk Down
  144. Eastern Promises
  145. Capote
  146. Storytelling
  147. Sunshine State
  148. Little Nemo
  149. Yi Yi
  150. Catch Me If You Can

11 December 2009


In Super Bowl numbers, X means 10; sometimes it means "prohibited," but on a pirate's map, X is where the treasure is buried and mighty fine booty is what you're gonna find at Freaks Ball X. In 10 years of Freak Ballin' it, we've always tried to balance great party with great music, big-time kick-ass national acts with local up-and-comers and old friends-of-Freaks favorites.

For the big 10th anniversary, we've pulled out the stops and got it all...

Freaks Ball X
X Marks the Spot
January 23, 2010
Sullivan Hall - NYC, USA
Doors at 8:30
Music at 9:00

Anders Osborne from NOLA (2 sets)
The Black Hollies from NYC/NJ
3rd act to-be-announced

Tickets: $27 ($30 d.o.s.)
Onsale now at Ticketweb or with no service fees at Sullivan Hall on any night they're open for a show.

Freaks Ball X on Facebook

* I don't think Anders Osborne needs any introduction to you Freaks.
Whether in NOLA or NYC, the man can flat out wail and the party can
never be far behind. His last Sullivan Hall show is quickly becoming
the stuff of legend (see some of it here, starts around 8mins in), and no doubt his next will be much of the same.
I hope you're psyched, because this will be a Freaks Ball for the

* I've been wanting to check out the Black Hollies for a while now and
earlier this year I finally got my chance and I do not exaggerate when
I say they blew me away. Old school, psychedelic garage rock music --
the kind your grandparents rolled joints to. It's a total magic
carpet ride with fuzzy guitars and possibly the best drummer you've
never seen.

* We're still ironing out a couple details on the third act, but
didn't want to wait to get this officially announced and on sale.
Never fear, it'll be plenty more of the awesome friend-of-Freak rock
you've come to expect from the Freaks Ball.

So come early, stay late... stay until late becomes early again. Get
your peg legs and eye patches at the ready and let's celebrate 10
years of being freaky.

Spread the word, see you there.

There will be reminders.

Enjoy some vids:

10 December 2009


I no longer post links for my weekly mixes here, but if you're interested in getting them in your email, please drop me a line.

More quantifying the unquantifiable to come...

09 December 2009

Favorite Albums of the Decade

OK, here's one of my more ridiculous lists yet... this is a somewhat arbitrary snapshot of what I'd consider my favorite albums from the last decade. A bit all over the place and if I sat down and listened to all of them right now, the list would probably change drastically. So take it for what it's worth.

Still a fun exercise.

Presented without further comment:

  1. My Morning Jacket -- Z (2005)
  2. Electric Masada -- At the Mountains of Madness (2005)
  3. The Flaming Lips -- Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002)
  4. Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
  5. The Bad Plus -- These Are the Vistas (2003)
  6. Benevento/Russo Duo - Best Reason to Buy the Sun (2005)
  7. Broken Social Scene -- You Forgot It In People (2002)
  8. John Zorn -- The Gift (2001)
  9. Stephen Malkmus -- Real Emotional Trash (2008)
  10. Midlake -- The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)
  11. Neko Case -- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (2006)
  12. Charles Spearin -- The Happiness Project (2009)
  13. Andrew Bird -- Armchair Apocrypha (2007)
  14. The Bad Plus -- Prog (2007)
  15. Iron & Wine -- Our Endless Numbered Days (2004)
  16. Benevento/Russo Duo -- Play Pause Stop (2006)
  17. Badly Drawn Boy -- Have You Fed The Fish (2002)
  18. Of Montreal -- Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer (2007)
  19. The Arcade Fire -- Funeral (2004)
  20. The Postal Service -- Give Up (2002)
  21. Radiohead -- Kid A (2000)
  22. The White Stripes -- Elephant (2003)
  23. My Morning Jacket -- Evil Urges (2008)
  24. John Zorn -- The Dreamers (2008)
  25. Rilo Kiley -- Under the Blacklight (2007)
  26. Wolfmother -- Wolfmother (2006)
  27. Marco Benevento -- Invisible Baby (2008)
  28. The Raconteurs -- Consolers of the Lonely (2008)
  29. The White Stripes -- Get Behind Me Satan (2005)
  30. TV On the Radio -- Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)
  31. Gnarls Barkley -- St. Elsewhere (2006)
  32. Damien Rice -- O (2003)
  33. The Flaming Lips -- Embryonic (2009)
  34. The Bad Plus -- For All I Care (2009)
  35. Ryan Adams -- Gold (2001)
  36. Gillian Welch -- Soul Journey (2003)
  37. The Decemberists -- The Crane Wife (2006)
  38. Radiohead -- Hail to the Thief (2003)
  39. Apollo Sunshine -- Shall Noise Upon (2008)
  40. Blitzen Trapper -- Furr (2008)
  41. Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois (2005)
  42. Heartless Bastards - The Mountain (2009)
  43. Elvis Perkins -- In Dearland (2009)
  44. Wilco -- A Ghost Is Born (2004)
  45. St Vincent -- Marry Me (2007)
  46. The Slip -- Eisenhower (2006)
  47. Portugal. The Man -- Satanic Satanists (2009)
  48. The Sea & Cake -- One Bedroom (2003)
  49. Fiery Furnaces -- Bitter Tea (2006)
  50. Gnarls Barkley -- The Odd Couple (2008)
  51. Elvis Perkins -- Ash Wednesday (2007)
  52. Ryan Adams -- Cold Roses (2005)
  53. Blonde Redhead -- 23 (2007)
  54. Loretta Lynn -- Van Lear Rose (2004)
  55. Iron & Wine -- The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002)
  56. Ratatat -- Classics (2006)
  57. The Word -- The Word (2001)
  58. Air -- Talkie Walkie (2004)
  59. LCD Soundsystem -- Sound of Silver (2007)
  60. Fiona Apple -- Extraordinary Machine (2005)
  61. Persephone's Bees -- Notes From the Underworld (2006)
  62. Radiohead -- In Rainbows (2007)
  63. Daniel Lanois -- Shine (2003)
  64. The Bad Plus -- Give (2004)
  65. Franz Ferdinand -- Franz Ferdinand (2004)
  66. Explosions in the Sky - Friday Night Lights Soundtrack (2004)
  67. Todd Sickafoose -- Tiny Resistors (2008)
  68. Neko Case -- Middle Cyclone (2009)
  69. Fiery Furnaces -- Blueberry Boat (2004)
  70. Jenny Lewis w/ the Watson Twins -- Rabbit Fur Coat (2005)
  71. Fleet Foxes -- Fleet Foxes (2008)
  72. Dr. Dog -- We All Belong (2007)
  73. The Sea & Cake -- Everybody (2007)
  74. Brendan Canning -- Something for All of Us (2008)
  75. O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack -- (2000)
  76. Apostle of Hustle -- Folkloric Feel (2004)
  77. The Arcade Fire -- Neon Bible (2007)
  78. The American Analog Set -- Set Free (2005)
  79. White Denim - Fits (2009)
  80. Spoon -- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)
  81. Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band (2009)
  82. Wilco (The Album) (2009)
  83. Rashanim -- Shalosh (2006)
  84. My Morning Jacket -- It Still Moves (2003)
  85. The Decemberists -- Her Majesty, The Decemberists (2003)
  86. Super Furry Animals -- Rings Around the World (2002)
  87. Old Crow Medicine Show -- OCMS (2004)
  88. Bill Frisell -- The Intercontinentals (2003)
  89. Bill Frisell -- Unspeakable (2004)
  90. North Mississippi All Stars -- Shake Hands with Shorty (2000)
  91. Tin Hat Trio -- Book of Silk (2004)
  92. Oysterhead -- The Grand Pecking Order (2001)
  93. Amy Winehouse -- Back To Black (2007)
  94. Feist -- The Reminder (2007)
  95. The Black Keys -- Attack & Release (2008)
  96. John Zorn -- Masada Guitars (2003)
  97. Outkast -- The Love Below/Speakerboxxx (2003)
  98. Mike Gordon -- Inside In (2003)
  99. Earl Greyhound -- Soft Targets (2006)
  100. Derek Trucks Band -- Songlines (2006)

08 December 2009

Favorite New (to me) Artists 2009

This year I was lucky to get turned on to a lot of new music. A lot! Both live -- I saw over 180 different bands this year and more than 40% of them were musicians I had never heard or seen before -- as well as on CD from great recs from friends and the web. And most of it was really great. So, I'm passing these on as recommendations to you.

Some of these have been around for a while and are just new to me, or stuff I was aware of and finally got to check out this year. I've marked each with "l" for a band I've seen/rec live and/or "cd" for studio stuff worth checking out. The lack of one or the other most likely means I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Links provided to any reviews, etc. written during the year, otherwise it's up to you and Google to find out more, it's worth it, I assure you.

Without further ado, my favorite "finds" of 2009 in some sort of order. Should be something for everyone in there...

  1. Portugal the Man (l/cd)
  2. El Ten Eleven (l)
  3. The Black Hollies (l/cd)
  4. White Denim (l/cd)
  5. Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band (cd)
  6. Janelle Monae (l)
  7. Black Joe Lewis (cd)
  8. Surprise Me Mr Davis (l)
  9. Hymns (l)
  10. Phenomenal Handclap Band (cd)
  11. Jonah Smith (l/cd)
  12. NOMO (l)
  13. Forro in the Dark (l)
  14. Miike Snow (cd)
  15. Brazos (l)
  16. Land of Talk (l)
  17. Ben Sollee (l)
  18. Vandaveer (l/cd)
  19. These United States (l)
  20. Jessica Lea Mayfield (l/cd)
  21. Alela Diane (l)
So, who am I missing? Pass along your favorites so I don't feel like such an old, out-of-it loser next time an opening act blows me away.

07 December 2009

My Artist of the 2009

Picking up where I left off with my artists of the decade list...

By all metrics, it would make sense that my personal band of 2009 was Phish. I mean, in case you haven't heard, Phish is back. I saw them 12 times in 5 different states with the results ranging from impressive to downright, flabbergastingly good. And yet, and yet... there was another band who blew me away with virtually every note I saw them play, released an album that is truly one of the best of the year (in my opinion) and, were you to ask me to choose between seeing them and the big PH tonight, I would probably have to choose them.

That band is Portugal. The Man.

At Bonnaroo this past June I saw a crapload of music, almost all of it amazing, but nothing touched me like PTM. And to think, maybe I wouldn't have seen them at all, amazing how fickle fate can be. I was in one of the tents checking out Hockey who had come very highly recommended. They were good, not mind-blowing, but I could see what the big fans saw in them. Fortunately, in these situations I get a bad case of festival ADD and found myself twitching to see what else was afoot. I crossed the grounds and made it to the other big tent halfway through the opening song for PTM.

It took less than a minute before I was utterly floored. Another reason to love Twitter, I can go back and pinpoint the moment:

June 11, 8:57: "Portugal The Man = some heavy, proggy shit. Awesome. Wish I was closer.
June 11,
9:17: "Holy shit! Just wow!I think Portugal The Man is my new favorite band. Like My Morning Jacket crossed with Trespass-era Genesis (but better)"

Quick judgments aren't the best, but after 4 more PTM sets in the ensuing months, including an acoustic afternoon set the next afternoon in Tennessee and a two-river jaunt to Hoboken, I still do declare that they are my new favorite band. These guys are deep in my wheelhouse: extended, rocking explorative rock and roll (think 21st century Pink Floyd/old Genesis) crossed a Motown falsetto-heavy soulfulness and songwriting that stands tall both as arena rock and quiet acoustic gem.

These guys have dumped out an album a year for the last couple and their newest, 2009 release: The Satanic Satanist is probably the best of all of 'em and evidence that the best for these guys is probably ahead of them. The track "People Say" has got to be one of the best songs of the year and will dig a hole in your brain and burrow down for a couple weeks requiring repeated listens and lots of shampoo shower serenading. A warning: don't just download the album or a few tracks, buy the CD itself, the actual thing. The physical packaging is a stunning, confounding trippy tangle of paper and artwork that only enhances the listening experience.

I have but only a couple regrets -- 1) that no one had once mentioned the existence of this band to me beforehand. I can't imagine a better fit for my musical tastes and going to shows with 250 people already deeply in tune with the material was a bit distressing to me who considers himself an early adopter. I even went back and searched 3+ years of GMail archives -- not a mention. How did this slip past my radar? What else am I missing? Don't hold back on me, people! 2) that even with getting in 5 Portugal. The Man shows this year, I still ended up missing 2 or 3 area shows due to those darned circumstances.

C'est la vie. Last year's artist was Apollo Sunshine who rubbed me the right way all up and down 2008. Sadly, they disappeared in 09 completely -- totally off the map. So, my one wish for 2010 is that the same doesn't happen with Portugal. The Man.

A few links:

Plenty more at YouTube, of course.

01 December 2009

Favorites of Decade: Arists of the Year

So, now it's December -- time to start looking back. This year's a bit different as it's also the last month of the decade. The rest of the month I'll be sprinkling a couple year-end and decade-end lists on the ole blog. As always, these only reflect my personal opinion or experience, nothing more, nothing less.

First up, I'm anointing my own personal "artist of the year" for each year in the decade. Last year was the first year I actually picked one, but fun to go back and see who was making it happen for me over the course of each year.

  1. 2000 Widespread Panic -- I saw these guys 29 fucking times in 2000 in 17 different states and one District of Columbia including possibly ill-advised trips to Richmond, VA and a frigid November midwest. That's flippin' insane!! More than I've ever seen any other band in any other year by a long shot. But I loved every minute of it and the band was at another level from the moment struck midnight on the decade to the moment it ended 12 months later. (runner up: Phil Lesh Quintet)
  2. 2001 Robert Randolph -- undoubtedly, 2001 was the year I fell in love with the Sacred Steel. Robert played on my birthday at the old Wetlands and the first Freaks Ball in January and I couldn't get enough of him the rest of the year.
  3. 2002 Benevento/Russo Duo -- Thursdays in 2002 meant just one thing: Joe and Marco in the Tap Bar... for free!! That was the old Tap Bar which was tiny and intimate and the perfect cauldron for these two to mix some magic. Best deal evah!!
  4. 2003 John Zorn/Marc Ribot @ Tonic -- it only took Zorn one month to make him the man of the year. His birthday celebration at Tonic in September 2003 was the stuff of legends. I only regret not being able to be there every single night. Of course, the star was Ribot and I saw plenty of him the rest of the year. End it all up with another stellar New Year's with Electric Masada and... and... MAN I miss Tonic!
  5. 2004 Broken Social Scene -- "You Forgot It In People" didn't come out in 2004, but it burrowed deep into my soul around this time. I will never forget being in a small auditorium with my 7+-months pregnant wife and about 100 people half my age getting absolutely blown away by BSS. A triumphant ACLFest appearance and small club show in Austin and my concept of what a sick live band could be was permanently redefined.
  6. 2005 Rana -- The Rana resideNYC(tm) at Tribeca Rock Club is the stuff of legends for those few who "got it." But there was plenty of at-their-peak Rana all year long, with the absolute peak being the Joyce&Bret wedding insanity up in Whitehall. Not coincidentally, 2005 also marked my peak drunkenly-spilling-whiskey-on-myself performance.
  7. 2006 Jimmy Herring -- almost the same week it was announced that Jimmy would be taking over the lead guitar slot in Widespread Panic, I saw him play with Rodgers and Sipe in Teaneck. The show was off-the-hook -- we are strolling through the halls of the gods level goodness. A month or so later, I saw him singlehandedly reach into the fiery wreckage of Panic and save a band I so sorely loved and missed. For the first notes of that first show at Radio City, he made my year.
  8. 2007 St. Vincent -- It's a rare thing to go see one band and then be so taken with an opening act that everything else is incidental. Annie Clark, solo on the stage, opening for Midlake was one of those moments. I bought her EP on the spot then caught her again to make sure I wasn't nuts. By the end of the year, she had a brilliant debut album under her belt and was headlining the Bowery Ballroom herself. I was smitten. (runner up: Jenny Scheinman)
  9. 2008 Apollo Sunshine -- read last year's post on Apollo Sunshine
  10. 2009 TBA soon...

17 November 2009

Catching up... reviews

Hey all. Gonna soon be getting into some year-end/decade-end recapping.

For now, I'd like to give you some links to all the reviews I've done for Bowery Presents House List in the past 8 months or so.


05 November 2009

Phish Halloween(s) Round-up

OK, so this past weekend has proven to be harder to shake off than most. I could never do it justice with a review and besides, anyone that cares has already seen, heard and read everything there is to read about it. So, I'll spare you the gory details. Let's just say that 10/31/09 was one of the best Phish shows I've seen, but really, that goes without saying. When I think of my favorite Phish shows, I need to place the Halloweens in a different category. Phish on Halloween is really one of my favorite things about Phish period. Without those shows, the magic would be a little less for me. If I had to list my top things about the band, the Halloween shows would be the first on that list.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been at all 5 Halloween "album" shows, which hopefully gives me some unique perspective on the shenanigans that seem to take place on 10/31 (haven't yet met anyone who's been at all 5 -- were you?). Time will tell (I haven't listened to any Indio yet), but my gut reaction was that it's a close call, but that the Remain in Light set maybe gets the edge in terms of my all-time fave, but it's definitely 1-2 between Talking Heads and the Stones and then the rest of them. Of course, the music is one thing, but taken together, nothing will beat the weekend I had.

You know my love for lists and favorites, so here we go:

Favorite Halloween Album Set:

  1. Remain In Light
  2. Exile on Main St.
  3. Quadrophenia
  4. Loaded
  5. The White Album
Favorite Halloween Show:
  1. 2009
  2. 1996
  3. 1995
  4. 1994
  5. 1998
Top Ten Halloween Album Set Moments:
  1. Loving Cup -- the crowd, the band, the horns, my lord! one of my all time favorite Phish moment. things clicked in a major way that will never be captured on tape, nor described by me in words.
  2. Cry, Baby, Cry -- how good this was makes me cry just to think about.
  3. Oh! Sweet Nuthin' -- this was so tailor made for Phish and they nailed it -- why isn't this a regular part of the repertoire?
  4. 5:15 -- the horns and Trey just shredding together
  5. Crosseyed and Painless -- every Halloween set has had the "it" tune that rose above all the others. This was the "it" tune for the best of the bunch.
  6. Ventilator Blues > I Just Want to See His Face > Let It Loose -- just pure musical liquid; a totally different vibe from any of the Halloweens and probably the best use of guests for any of them as well.
  7. Born Under Punches -- I did not know this album, but when they opened with this I knew it was going to be a different kind of Phish show. There are moments in Phish history and the opening tune to this set was one of them.
  8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps -- the next show after 'ween '94 was in Bangor, before it started the guy next to me wouldn't shut up about them playing this again that night. He was right for a reason.
  9. Drowned -- sometimes the albums influence the band and sometimes the band influences the albums; this one sounded like a Phish tune from note one and still does every time they play it.
  10. Revolution #9 -- the weirdest and most wild thing I've ever seen on Phish stage. Fishman naked -- let's just be thankful this was before the digital camera era was upon us.

27 October 2009

Nedstalgia: 15 Years Ago (Ph-Anticipation)

Bear with me... even more rambling stream of memory than usual...

OK, with the anticipation for Phish’s return to the Halloween stage at the proverbial fever pitch, I’m drawn back 15 years to probably the craziest show anticipation I’ve witnessed in my years of seeing Phish… well, maybe up until the moments the lights went down in Hampton this past March. Of course, perhaps nothing beats what’s been going on since that flash animation map appeared on phish.com what seems like ages ago. We may very well be watching the greatest manipulation of a massive population’s emotional state by small number of powerful individuals outside of North Korea. The slow burn release of information via official and unofficial, online and offline means has been nothing short of remarkable. I joked to someone recently that the “refresh” button was invented for Phish. It’s been crazy.

15 years ago, the information came (to me at least) via telephone. No, people, the phone was not rotary, and I do believe it was cordless, but it was the old Alex Graham Bell for me. Calls into the Phish headquarters were regularly scheduled and 99 times out of 100 it was the same repeat message from last time… until finally that 100th call (by now knowing from the immediate first note of Shelly’s voice whether it was the same old message) it’s new dates! It was some time in the middle of the summer of 1994, I remember it clearly: October 31st, Phish returns to the Halloween stage, stay tuned to the end of the message for more details. And then I listened to said details. Then I called back again to make sure I got it right. Then once again to get the ticket info. Then once more just to make sure. Once more. Once more. wait, they’re gonna do WHAT!?!?! WHERE!?!?! WHEN!?!!? What is common knowledge now, came as a shock to the system: the band announced they were donning a “musical costume,” playing 3 sets with the first one starting at 10 pm. TEN?? Ooooeeee! The information entered my system like a a drug: an immediate hit dazing my senses and then the slow seep as I realized all the ramifications. When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Glens Falls and we made many a many drive from Syracuse to there. The words “Glens Falls” had certain connotations to me: trips to “Storytown” amusement park in Lake George, homemade brisket and bowls of chocolate pudding and all that other good stuff that comes with visiting your grandparents when you’re a little kid. When I hung up the phone for the umpteenth time, those memories were now runners-up to the new memories. Not even to the memories I knew would come from the memorable evening, but just to the anticipation of making those memories. It was the middle of the summer and I was mentally flipping the calendar over in my mind. Anxiety set in. Back then, there wasn’t any “here are the dates, mail order is underway” attachment to a tour announcement. No, there was the initial phone message – the moment where you felt like you were in on a secret, no matter how long – then there was the newsletter (still just the Phish newsletter in July of 94), then there was the on-sale, a month or two later, THEN you started waiting for the show day. All this and I was already, within moments of hearing the words “general admission” leave the receiver, worrying about getting up front. How could I make it go faster? Problem was you couldn’t. It was hurry up and wait in the worst possible way.

School had started back up before tickets went on sale; I remember clearly the pacing in my apartment in Somerville, dialing, dialing again, hoping, hoping. I’m getting incredibly anxious just remembering about it right now. Getting tickets didn’t seem to be an issue; I remember the stress of wanting to have GA tix in my hands. Finally, got through – tickets confirmed, in my name, reserved, in the seats. Quick call from The Big Squeeze: she got ‘em, on the floor. Plus we now had extras in hand. Excellent. So far, so good.

Now it was just waiting. It feels like nearly every college friend I had went to that show. Of course, all of the obsessive, geeked-out die-hards that I spent my days with discussing the finer points of the 4/18/92 soundboard quality and whatnot were on board, but there was enough interest and enough of a party to draw out some of the merely “fans” and merely curious. It would be my house-mate’s first Phish show. He spent many hours lovingly crafting a pretty sweet Jimi Hendrix costume with a homemade jigsawed Fender strat taboot. I planned on a makeshift Big Black Furry Creature from Mars costume, with face paint and some old-school deedly-boppers and a t-shirt I had made at the mall that said “Why Am I Running?” on it. It was an awful costume, but it was better than nothing.

Of course, there was plenty of discussion about what they’d play. Unlike the next year when I sent in countless postcards (recalled here), I played no active part in the process, just speculated. It seemed to everyone that the choice was clearly between “Physical Graffiti” or “The White Album,” but frankly we didn’t really know and there wasn’t enough of that internet-trickle of information to me that I felt I had an inkling of what was going to go down. In fact, at that moment, the band was advertising that “at some point during the night” they would play the album set, maybe it would be scattered throughout the night, maybe it would be the last set, maybe the first, maybe they wouldn’t even play a whole album, but just pieces. Frankly, it was completely up in the air – no precedent whatsoever. Only one person seemed confident – they are definitely playing “The White Album” he said, a week or two before the show. I didn’t question his sources. I could only wait.

Finally, it was October 31, 1994. With all the memories jumbled in my head, I cannot recall how I got to the show. All I know is that I got there early. There were plenty of cars leaving from my neck of the woods, I’m almost certain I figured out which was leaving first and hopped in that one. I had a big box of Butterfinger candy bars to hand out in the parking lot cause what's Halloween without some freakin' candy, right?, a ticket in my hand (not to mention one for a friend) and a fidget that just wouldn’t quit. The weather was miserable, absolutely awful: cold and rainy, alternating between a steady pour and a fine, cold mist. Upon arrival in Glens Falls, there were already fingers in the air. It was an arena, but a small one. The energy in those milling about was unlike any I had witnessed in dozens of Phish shows up to that point. There was a feeling that this was the Phish show, this was the one. People who had tickets were giddy and gassed, just hoping their adrenaline would hold out until 10pm and beyond. Those that didn’t just had to get in. One way or another they were getting in through that door. Then it got dark… the hour grows closer.

Unfortunately, this was the pre-cellular days when you couldn’t just text a meet-up time with your chums and nobody ever got lost or left behind. I had my buddy’s ticket. My buddy was nowhere to be seen. The doors were opening soon, and I was already gonna have to do some wrangling to get myself on the rail. Finally, I had to make the choice, I ditched my remaining Butterfingers and unloaded my ticket to a guy I knew and knew had to be in there as badly as I did. I still remember his face, dripping sadness and then… the proverbial frown-upside-down moment. I saw that dude many years later at a Duo/Gordon show… I remembered giving him my extra, he did not. Oh well…

Then the doors were opened and we were inside. Not just inside but on the rail. Maybe not dead center, but a touch to the left of Trey. It was the spot nonetheless. It was me, and my brother (with more Fluffhead cotton balls stuck to his head than is recommended) and The Big Squeeze and a bunch of others. It couldn’t have been better. Now… more waiting. Waiting and waiting and waiting. I remember the look on my buddy’s face when someone criticized his awesome costume saying “Hendrix is not a Phish song” – ah, pity the poor fools. That was an awesome Jimi costume, don’t let no one tell you different. Probably about 9:45 or so something happened. Something just clicked in the crowd and all of the sudden everyone went crazy. What happened, I found out later, was that a bunch of people found a way to break in through the roof of the venue – people were pouring into the arena and the people inside started pouring onto the floor. It was like a cascade of Phish-ravenous flesh pouring down. There was at least one guy hanging from a banner in the rafters before falling into the seats. People were going nuts, absolutely NUTS! Like I said, the only thing even close to that was the moments before Fluffhead in Hampton. I learned at a show later that week that the fans had done tens of thousands of dollars of damage to the roof and that, so they said, rock shows would no longer be allowed at the Glens Falls Civic Center. I have no idea if that was upheld or not.

I don’t remember exactly when the band stared that night. It wasn’t 10, I assure you of that… probably closer to 11. Crazy. Thankfully I was young and dumb and full of energy. When the lights finally did go down, it was an explosion of noise from the crowd. Trey wearing a weirdo Fluffhead(?) mask as the band launched into Frankenstein. My lord, that was amazing! What crazy energy. Best ever?

I won’t go into the usual blow-by-blow of the whole show musically. Hopefully you’ve heard it before. Needless to say it was pretty amazing from the get-go. Folks may argue that it was the best Reba ever, and I wouldn’t argue back. The Harpua with the Vibration of Death set the tone for the rest of the night, with the wicked War Pigs vamp. While everyone’s sitting around and wondering what album they’re going to play, the band is going off playing an utterly electric set of classic Phish. Finally, set break and the anticipation builds. Either it was the longest set break I’ve ever sat through or it just felt that way. There may be no words to describe the buzz that built in that room during those minutes, those agonizing minutes. And at that point, it’s almost the worst part of the whole ordeal, isn’t it? All those months – literally months – of build up, all about to come crashing down in a single moment.: could the orgasm possibly match the foreplay? (will it this time?).

I will never forget that introduction… first some noise: what is that? Pink Floyd? I wasn’t ready for that, for whatever reason. Then the voice of Ed Sullivan introducing the Beatles and the mindfuck is almost over… the crowd in the Ed Sullivan Theater starts screaming and then the crowd in the Glens Falls Civic Center starts screaming and it’s loud. I mean really loud. And then, there they were, on stage, playing the Beatles, all two LP’s of the White Album, well pretty much all of it. In most ways it was glorious and after it started it was almost like they were predestined to play it, although the further we get from the night, the less convinced I am of that sentiment. So much of it totally kicked ass, the “Cry Baby Cry” may be one of my favorite things the band has done ever. Other times, they felt over-rehearsed, too rushed or not into it enough. It's just a lot of music there. About halfway through, the crowd seemed to split in two: one part (maybe it was half?) completely lost themselves to the music, threw all they had into it and lapped up everything the band served them; the second part lost some interest, large chunks of the audience sitting down where they stood, certainly enjoying it, but not feeling the party they had hoped for. I, for one, loved every minute of it. Knew the album front and back and was continually astounded at how well they were pulling it off. There weren’t as many “Phish” moments as you might have guessed going in, mostly a straight reading, but there were enough in there to keep it fun and interesting. I loved the Brad Sands birthday cake with Brad wearing a Fishman dress. I loved the chance Trey got during While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I loved it when Mike got to sing or Fish sang out “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road.” I loved it all.

Then as the album wound down and we had that glory of all glory readings of “Cry Baby Cry” it occurred to me – not until they actually got to the moment – my goodness, they’ve got Revolution 9 to play. WTF is that going to be like? It was a pure Phish moment, weird looping samples over the PA, vacuum, chanting, etc. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that “song” when I was a kid, playing with a friend and hearing this noise coming from the stereo and I giving my father a 7-year-old’s version of “um, dad, what the hell are you listening to?!?” look. So, having known Number 9 for 10+ years should have prepared me for Phish’s version, right? Well, not exactly. There are moments when it is awesome to be in the front row of a Phish show – these moments total every single possible moment except one. Unfortunately, I was up front for that one: when Jon Fishman lifted his dress (“we become naked”) and started prancing around the stage with nothing – absolutely nothing – on his body. On the rail took on a whole new meeting as DeWitt’s own pranced and danced in his birthday suit. Oh, how I will never forget. Afterward, people thought he wasn’t really naked, but I cleared that up for them real quick.

And then it was over. The crowd stood stunned. By the music, the absolutely amazing feat the band had just pulled off almost flawlessly and by what the drummer of said band just pulled off, literally. Brad Sands returned to the stage to assure everyone they were coming back for one more set. If I had a watch on, certainly I looked down at it then. One more set?? It was Monday morning!!

By the time the 3rd set began, it was well after 1am. But that didn’t slow these guys down. Now, the crowd was holding on for dear life -- it's one thing to make it through a tour de force set in exhaustion, quite another to make it through a set break -- but the boys didn’t have to drive after the show and not too far to go to their home base pillows at that and so they brought it hard for Set number 3. David Bowie opener, a killer Slave, Sleeping Monkey. I will never forget that moment, it was probably about 2:30 in the morning, when they started Run Like An Antelope. A good portion of the audience had left, many more were sitting down or fading fast, barely moving, their costumes disheveled, their minds swept clean of sanity, and yet the band hadn’t a care about any of that – they just started up their highest energy, fastest tempo, balls-to-the-walls song… that song that’s about running… like an antelope… out of control... at almost 3 in the morning. I mustered up as much energy as I could to get my dance on but not before screaming at the stage as loud as I could: “Are you fucking crazy!?!?!”

And yet, they still weren’t done. A funked-up costume contest and a too-long Squirming Coil (quite possibly the worst song to send you on the road at 3am??) finished the night. Absotively outta sight! Somehow I worked it out with my parents that I'd wrangle the car from my brother (how did he get home after that show?) and made my girlfriend drive back to Boston (you can see why she married me, right?). I don’t think I’ve ever been that tired after a concert before, just left it all there in Glens Falls. I convinced myself that I could do the show without missing a class and sure enough, I made it there in time. Why I insisted on going is beyond me. A couple months later I went back to study for an exam and saw some sick-ass doodles on the side of the notebook from that day -- one sticks out, a coarse stick-figure with a guitar with "TREY!" written in block letters under it. Hey, at least I was awake!

4 years later, I (re-)met a guy at a show out west and were discussing that show and discovered we were standing next to each other – “you were the guy who yelled ‘Are you fucking crazy!?’ when they started up Antelope!!” Yes, they were crazy: totally out of their minds. And we were nuts for following them like we did and for obsessing for 100+ days about a frickin’ concert. But here we are, 15 years later and still doing the same. Look for me there; I’ll be the one wearing the 15-year-old, only-worn-4-times, t-shirt that says “Why Am I Running?” on it. Just like I always do.

08 October 2009

Nedstalgia: 15 Years Ago (Phish)

So, 15 years ago this week, Phish started up their 1994 fall tour which would sandwich around the historic 10/31/1994 they're-playing-the-freakin'-White-Album! show. Truly one of the crazier concerts I've been to, from the months of build up to the actual execution. And now that the anticipation is building with frantic refreshes of the Phish Halloween roulette and wild speculation for the 15th anniversary Halloween show, circled in bright red sharpie on my proverbial calendar, I thought it might be time to start looking back on this long-dormant blog (also noting the fact that no one would read this unless I wrote about Phish, anyway).

I'll get to the goods later on in the month (or not), but for now let's dial it back to the first week of October and the lesson that even as the band was approaching its peak, there was plenty of mediocrity to be had in mediocre places gotten to by unmemorable road trips and encounters.

The first show of the tour was on the campus of Lehigh in Bethlehem, PA. Does that sound like the kind of place you want to start a massive two-legged fall tour? Well, that's where we found ourselves on a brisk fall evening. 15 years later and the music that was this middling show have pretty much washed into a memory or two. I got in early hoping to hop down onto the GA floor even though I didn't have the requisite bracelet to be down there. Things were loose enough early on when I got there so I waltzed up front (certainly ditching the not-yet-Mrs. and my ride in the process, although that part is even hazier) and started chatting it up with a fellow geekoid. Turns out minutes before I got down there, Tom Marshall was milling about, talking about this great new song they'd be debuting. The guy had written down the name of the song as best he could, "Guite" I believe is what he had scrawled -- "about a pig" he said. I thought maybe he was pulling my leg, but whatevs.

The show started up and the floor was a strange mix of drunken anarchy and gestapo security trying to clear out those that didn't belong (i.e. me and my ilk). I stayed down up front long as I could, slightly overwhelmed by the frantic crowd and the muddy sound. Oy, that sound! Has to be down there on the list of all time worst sounding Phish shows I've been to. Like I said, the music was pretty middle-of-the-road, certainly a typical 1st show of the tour, getting ready for the road kind of night.

Certainly the only thing memorable was when they did, indeed, pull out a new tune late in the first set. Daggone it, Tom Marshall was correct. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear that the band was ready to pull this one out of the oven yet. The thing was rough, the band all searching each other out with each measure. The awful sound in the room did nothing to improve matters. In all honesty, at the time I had no idea whether the song was any good or not. I do remember it totally sucked all the energy out of the room... for a good 12 minutes, the Lehigh partiers and the Phish geeks got a tranquilizer dart of brand new, untested prog rock. Listening back, it doesn't quite sound as bad as I remember it -- I think the utter newness of a song of this type threw me (and everyone) for a loop. I think my general feeling after Trey said "you're the first people to ever hear that song" (can never beat that!) was "can't wait to hear that one again."

The second first-show-of-the-tour bustout came in the encore (I really have no memories good or bad of anything else). The band came back out front in "acoustic" mode and in a move that almost exactly mirrored the first time they played "Freebird" in the summer of 1993. Instead of an a capella version of a southern rock radio classic, they instead did a down-home bluegrass version of New England classic: Boston's Foreplay/Long Time. It was one of those "what is this, I know this" moments, as bit by bit the crowd became hip to what they were doing. Absotively brilliant in concept, if not execution.

I spent the night on a ratty couch in my buddy's high school buddy's apartment and woke up to an even rattier, bizarre pug-like pooch licking my face.

The next day was a new day and instead of doing the wise thing and heading back Boston-way on a Saturday, we continued away from home base down to Virginia... Fairfax, VA to be precise. The crowd for this show was a really weird mix. Turns out the Grateful Dead had been in Philly on the 7th and were playing the 9-11th in Landover, MD. The night Phish was playing in Fairfax -- the 8th -- was the Dead's off day and a healthy number of Deadheads decided to check out what these Phish fellas were all about. I believe this is the first major crossover between the fan bases (but of course, I could be wrong).

The show was no GA, but I managed my way up front with a whole slew of other people and for a while before the show, it appeared we'd have no problem hanging out there. But then the lights went down, the band came on stage, Chalkdust started and the security guard came through checking tickets. I pushed myself into a possibly empty seat in the front row and hoped I looked like I belonged there when the guard passed. To my relief, it worked -- in fact, the guard cleared everyone out except for me -- how long would that last? As Chalkdust finished and Horn started, the guy next to me leans over and tells me that his friend couldn't make the show, that no one is sitting in that seat and that it's mine, no problem. What luck! Basically, I had the seat directly front row center, not a soul in front of me (and a place to sit @ setbreak). Back then, I was apparently flowing in Phish front row karma...

Like I said, the crowd was weird, and the energy dampened the otherwise solid show. Things already seemed much crisper than the previous night -- better sound, a more cohesive, jammy spirit from the band. But the room was bigger than it was in Lehigh and although it was filled, the setting felt a bit sterile. Still, the show was good -- average, but good. When they got to Guyute, I was feeling "do over!" in my mind and I was right... it took but one more try, but they nailed it and hooked me -- I got it. Seeing the debut of a tune is great, seeing the first two or three times can be a real treat for the fanboy.

I will never forget the conversation I had at setbreak. The guy who lent me his seat for the night started chatting about the Halloween show. Seemed like he only had half a picture of what they were doing, like a game of telephone, talking about playing one side of an album and a bunch of other nonsense. Finally he says he'll let me in on a little secret -- he knows for a fact (you see he knows a guy that knows a guy) that they're going to be playing the first side of The Grateful Dead's Europe '72 on Halloween that month. I still get a chuckle out of remembering the look in his eye when he was blathering on. Classic.

The second set was a blazer. Maybe a little more sizzling on paper than it was in reality -- everything was clean, well-played and high-energy, but nothing really launched to the next level. It had its moments, of course -- it was a Phish show in the 90's, fer crissakes. Of course, the most bizarre thing was during Mike's Song. Those were the days of thick clouds of smoke billowing from the stage and trampolines during Mike's Song which always lent the jamming a crazed, heavy metal, loud-as-fuck feeling. Then there were nights when things got even crazier and louder (for better or worse). This was one of those nights. As the smoke is still swirling around the stage and Mike's wound done, a bunch of figures start moving onto the stage, a whole slew of what started to become clear were little girls, maybe 10-12 years old, dressed in some sort of uniform. Then the band quiets to a stop and these girls start screaming these cheers, really loudly. Is there anything less musical than 15-20 10-year-old girls screaming at the top of their lungs? Maybe, but wow! There it was: perfectly pointless and bizarre, but perfectly Phish all the same. Then they were gone and the band went into Simple -- my first time hearing that one, check-mark. I heard later that the band was awoken by these girls screaming at their hotel -- in town for some soccer game/tournament -- and they were impressed by the volume and invited them to come to the show. Strange but true.

Back then I was a Harry Hood chaser in the worst way. A good show became a great show if they played Hood and even a middle-of-the-road offering would score in the win column if I got that wish. Needless to say, I was tickled when they started the song. My memory of the moment is clear as it seemed at this moment that everyone in the crowd seemed to completely deflate -- there would be no Dark Star this evening. I had been tentative about moving from my seat all the way to the front of the stage fearing the security would wrangle me out of there, but at that moment, the show almost over, I had little to lose and so I moved up a few steps and put my hands on the rail. At that moment, everyone else was behind me and for 12 minutes, it felt like just me, the band and Harry Hood. It was moments like those that made ill-construed weekend jaunts to places like Bethlehem, PA and Fairfax, VA worth every stinky dog lick in the face. The next day it was back to Boston and two weeks of waiting until we got back into the car and headed to another one of those what-the-hell-are-we-doing-in-Glens-Falls kind of places. But that'll be another too-long blog post.

Thanks for reading...