Friday, September 15, 2017

Cabinfest 2017

There's so much I wanted to say about Cabinfest. About the people and their history, how we came together, how we stay together. This special thing we managed to build. The beautiful souls drawn in by the noise and lights, those that drift away but always have a place in the cabin. So I don't write a novel I'm going to focus on this year. What happened, my experience of it, and some feelings I have about it all.

A bunch of us brought our kids this year. DSAN brought his youngest to an early CF so there is some precedent but this year there was at times 6-7 toddlers going about various toddler business. Hunter, Clark, William, Maya and Zoey all stayed together in the Farmhouse with their parents. Steph brought Ophelia and Caliope on Friday afternoon. Jess and Jason brought Jacob on Saturday afternoon. I think it went better than anyone could've imagined. We all helped each other out and worked together. It's excellent that all the kids knew at least another 1 or 2 kids in the group. There was always a familiar face. They read together, ate together, fought for toys, shared toys, splashed in puddles and rocked out to live music. It expanded exponentially for me what Cabinfest could mean. It's always been an event centered around friends and family but to add this wrinkle....all of our kids together, what we do together went from special to significant. Could we, for a weekend a year at least, give our kids a tribal childhood? Something outside the standard format. Something perhaps richer?

Everyone else was so amazing too. Yes we all like to get together and get loose for the weekend. Something morphed through the years though and it suddenly isn't the high priority. The music, the friendship (new ones and old), hell the food even, is truly the focus.  All set against the spectacular Dipikill Resort back drop. Its such a special place to have fostered our community. Each cabin has its own unique charm and flavor. To have White Pine with its warm crackling fire, gorgeous stage and Stained-glass window as our church, our gathering house is something I feel truly fortunate for. The Farmhouse was the perfect base of operations for our families and the walls rang with their voices and rapid fire stomp of their toddler trot. Our host Heidi really went the extra mile to make the families feel at home and taken care of. Since the beginning of our time at Dipi, we've always felt like welcome guests despite the all night light show, the blaring rock and dance music.

At first, the kids waded cautiously into the music. It was fascinating to see them react to Wounded Buffalo Theory's first set on Friday. It is psychologically heavy music. Emotional. It's breath-taking and lovely as well, but their sound, material, and performance encompasses the light and darkness. It paint the complete picture of humanity. Of the universe and of our part in it. So it isn't always easy or comfortable. It's always worth it though. Hunter or Clark would be drawn to the stage, to the lights. They'd feel and see then get a bit overwhelmed and go outside to play. We let them come and go, supported them when they needed and observed and felt the music with them.

We all bounced back and forth between the music and our cabin. Kids or parents needing a break or a bite. Jeanette made a tasty ziti for our cabin's dinner and we devoured a tray of the course of the night.  The Wounded Buffalo 'spin the wheel' set segued into a jam band focused set that Rich Lemire and I put together with them. It was great fun to follow through on a project I assumed would stay as one of those fun ideas you have when you're hanging out with your buddies. We sent a handful of emails. A chunk of the band got together at Up Da Hill to rehearse and the remaining got to run some of the material when Rob got on the east coast. The performance is  a true testament to the great skill and professionalism of Rich and the Wounded Buffalo folks, and the chemistry that dear friends can share playing music together. I had an absolute blast playing despite my ever-constant nerves before and at the beginning of something like this. We played Grateful Dead, Phish, Pink Floyd, the Disco Biscuits and the Band. Here's the Setlist:

Tweezer>Scarlet Begonias>I Know You Rider>Space>Drums>Helicopters>Run Like Hell>Tweezer Reprise
E: The Weight

 Kieran and Jay spun terrific sets while we danced and talked the night away. I stayed up. Way too late. Jeanette was kind enough to let me flop around in bed until 9. Lauren made some breakfast casseroles which were absolutely restorative. When I had some juice in my system and coffee brewing, I took Hunter in his pack for a hike down to the lake. It was an absolutely stunning, bright and quiet morning. I walked silently and mindfully and we took it in together. The morning slid into afternoon with the shouts of children playing and the young at heart playing just as hard.

The BBQ has typically been hosted at Collins by Mike, Crystal and associates. This year there was a special surprise: Tim brought his smoker trailer up from Long Island and we gorged on his amazing BBQ at White Pine. There was chicken, sausage, brisket, pork shoulder, ribs and bacon. Each bit more delicious than the last. Acoustic music went on as in previous years and there was still a stellar potluck on top of all the meat.

The kids were very comfortable with the situation and much more interested in the music on Saturday. They watched almost every note of Wounded Buffalo and all the acoustic acts. Hunter gave Numbers an especially hearty round of applause. It made my heart very full to see him appreciating music. Its the thing in the world that's given me the most, enriched my life the most. If I can share with him music and nature, I feel like I've at least set a solid baseline for his adventure as a human. The day spun on and the kids got a little punchy later in the evening. Talk about play! Talk about stimulation! Maya's dad John read to them all and I definitely noticed it help wind Hunter down a bit. Diddy had his signature pulled pork going all day and despite the meat-fest earlier, I succumbed. like everyone else to the irresistible smells and tastes.  Bed time was a bit harder on Saturday but they all did eventually settle down. Heidi did us an amazing favor and let all the parents have two hours together at the music, staying at the Farmhouse with a walkie talkie in case anyone woke up.

 The music was phenomenal all night with the numerous configurations of the superjam showcasing the talent and passion of many of the weekend's musicians, friends and family. Michael's yacht rock set was a fan favorite made specially poignant with the passing of Steely Dan's Walter Becker. The night was anchored by an absolutely stellar set from Wounded Buffalo. It was the set of the weekend for me without a doubt. Nanobot and Basso wrapped up the night with terrific DJ sets.

I stayed up too late. Again. I couldn't help it. The music, the conversations, it was all so inspiring. I tested my partner's good will and again slept till 9. I love you so much monkey! Endless thanks for this. John and Shannon whipped up a big breakfast and we got to packing up our home for the weekend. The realization that this was an especially lovely time unfolded slowly over the course of the weekend to everyone and became full apparent as we returned to the real world . I watched new friendships blossom, age old alliances solidified and a whole new generation of cabinfesters discover the magic. This event is a good example of what a tribe of like minded folks can create when ego is removed from the equation. Doing things to make a great experience for all rather than to glorify yourself. So many special moments occurred I struggle to list them: we had our first Harley, some overly affectionate chipmunks, A PROPOSAL (Congrats Kieran and Kelli!! Though I'm a little disappointed the tassels weren't brandished), our first kids cabin and beginning to end phenomenal music. Minus one song Big Cabinfest wants to pretend doesn't exist.

Thank you all so much. To quote one of the truest pieces of poetry of our time: 
"I had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you!"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Who was John? The Jerry Garcia Band in 1976

Jerry Garcia Band is a lot harder to get into than the Grateful Dead. First of all, the shows aren't on so you have to use to download via torrent software. Much harder to quickly sample, you have to commit! Or you can buy the handful (albeit a terrific handful) of official releases from Round Records/ The Official Garcia Site. So its much harder to devour a bunch of the music quickly to learn the ropes and figure out what you want to focus on. Secondly, there is a real lack of scholarship compared to the Grateful Dead. All of my favorite Dead blogs do get into it a bit (Hooterollin Around, Lost Live Dead and Dead Essays). Jerry Garcia's middle Finger is probably the foremost internet JGB scholar but even he'll tell you, his coverage is more listening notes for himself as opposed to educational posts for mass consumption. I read it anyway. Every word. So while you can find reviews, if not detailed analysis of countless dead shows, no such luck with Jerry Band.

Oberlin College 3/13/76 Dennis Dockton
To those that do delve into Jerry Band though, a treasure trove of beautiful, soulful and fun music awaits. For a nerd like me, I had reached a bit of a stale point in listening to the Dead. I had sampled every time period extensively and while I was still discovering shows I liked and different versions of the material, I longed for that wide open frontier I had at the beginning of my scholarship. Tapes to consume, era's to learn, repertoire's to familiarize ones self with. Something to sink my teeth into. With JGB, the line up changed fairly regularly through the years so it was like learning the whole Pigpen>Kieth and Donna>Brent>Vince and Bruce>Vince thing all over again. Only I'm still not there yet. I don't have the drummers down at all and the keyboards are only sort of there. For a thorough and meticulously researched overview of the JGB line-ups through time, check out this post from Lost Live Dead.

Oberlin College 3/13/76 Dennis Dockton
 One thing I learned fairly quickly:The 1976 Jerry Garcia Band is incredibly special. I've had two significant mentors in my dead listening journey. Rich Lemire has been giving me Dead Shows 10gb at a time (we pass back and forth a flash drive known as  the rage nug) for around 5 years and has been my constant 'BS about the Dead' partner. Pat Kinsella I met via the hippie hat pin collectors scene and preached 1976 JGB like it was a religion (because it is. Sunday's are for Jerry). He gave me a list of JGB shows to familiarize myself with that had some prime 76 on it. I'm eternally grateful for these guys. The education and great conversations have meant so much to me.

The 1976 line-up (Kieth Godchaux out of frame. Ed Perlstein, Rolling Stone
The simple, professional and perfectly suited for the material line-up is what makes the year so special in my opinion. Kieth and Donna Godchaux cross over with Jerry from The Grateful Dead and are perhaps a better fit for this line up than the 1976 Grateful Dead.  The material, drawing from soul, R and B and Gospel is ideally suited for the soulful Muscle-shoals Veteran Donna-Jean and the honky-tonk jazz piano tinkler Kieth. Kieth was born to play these parts and Donna was born to sing sweet harmony with Jerry.

 The secret power behind this line up is the masterful drumming of Ron Tutt.  One of the more interesting career paths in American Music, the Texan started playing Western Swing and Dixieland early in his career. In 1969 he successfully auditioned for the Elvis Presley TCB Band, an unprecedented amalgam of musical styles that came to Elvis in a dream. He backed Elvis for the rest of his career until the King left the building in 1977. After that, he went on to be Neil Diamond's drummer. A gig he still holds down. While Still Elvis's drummer in 1976 and early 1977, he took another gig: The Jerry Garcia Band. A gig he really didn't need considering Elvis must've payed pretty well. Something about Jerry or the music he wanted to play must've been compelling. In an interview with Ron Tutt he sites Elvis's charisma was something that drew him in to want to play music with him. Jerry Garcia was certainly very famous for his charisma (though of a COMPLETELY different flavor) so maybe it was just a matter of being drawn in by compelling and creative individuals.

Throughout the entirety of Jerry Garcia's solo career, John Kahn was there. Lost Live Dead  does a phenomenal job documenting his career both with and without Jerry Garcia if you want to delve deeper. He was a popular studio musician and could play bass in nearly any style of music. Interviews with the man are few and far between however. Here's one taken shortly before he died. There's a bit of conversation in David Gans and  Blair Jackson's beautifully compiled This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead but I can't seem to find any of his own words anywhere else. This sets up a lovely segue:

Who was John?

Who was John? was originally recorded in 1936 by the Mitchell Christian Singers an A Capella group from North Carolina. According to their Wikipedia: "They pioneered a 'primitive' idiosyncratic style of  A Capella gospel singing: curiously wailing, syncopated spirituals, with a "down home" quality, featuring with an interplay of voices that anticipated the sound of post-war gospel quartet."
It's well documented that Jerry Garcia was obsessed with American folk and traditional while John Kahn's love of Black American music is well known. While suitably obscure for both of their tastes it makes sense as a song to bring to the Jerry Garcia Band's repertoire. Especially in 1976 where the was a clear focus on gospel music.

The song was in the JGB orbit before that however. It was recorded on the Kieth and Donna Solo album in 1975. It's lovely to think of the band set up in the Godchaux's living room in Stinson Beach with little Zion napping away. Garcia and Mountain Girl were living up the coast so he could pop down any time and work on it. The Album cover is a picture of Zion with a doodle by Jerry of his thoughts. Zion followed in his parents footsteps and is in Boombox who are jamband festival staple.

According to my count using the setlists, Who Was John? was played by the Jerry Garcia Band about 25 times with its first known live performance at the Keystone Berkeley on 1/28/76 (this is debatable considering there's a YouTube version dated 1/27/76). It's last known performance 11/16/76 at Sophie's in Palo Alto. There are a number of missing setlists from this time period which would lead me to believe we're missing at least another 1 or two performances. It was overwhelmingly played in the first set or early show, almost always the fourth or fifth tune. It's best known performance can be found on Gracia Live 7: 11/8/76 also at Sophie's. It doesn't survive 1976 which is curious to me considering what a great tune it is. There doesn't appear to much else shaken up in the repertoire and Tutt doesn't leave until the end of the summer of 1977. Who knows? You can't exactly jam it so maybe that has something to do with it. Perhaps its better it didn't suriveve the year though...the tune retains that 1976 magic.

Calderone Concert Hall 3/20/76
Despite the challenges of getting deeper with Jerry Garcia Band, I consider it a worthwhile graduate seminar for any student of the Grateful Dead. In particular 1976 is particularly stunning. If you love 1976 and 1977 Grateful Dead (who doesn't?) this configuration is critical in understanding why Jerry was playing so well in those years. With a star studded line-up perfectly suited for the material, this band shimmers and shines on the lovely audience recordings. John Kahn was the constant in Jerry Garcia's musical life outside the band. In a recent /reddit AMA Linda Kahn confirmed what many Dead scholars believed: John Kahn selected much of the cover material for Jerry Garcia's side projects. The odds are pretty good that he brought the spooky 30's A Capella tune to Kieth and Donna and subsequently brought it over to 76 Jerry Band. Perhaps with even a bit of sense of humor about his quiet legacy?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Disco Biscuits 4/14/02 Plainview, NY

Right now I'm listening to every Disco Biscuits show that I've seen in order. I skipped 9/7/01 Saratoga Winners as I had given it a pretty thorough listen before my wedding on 9/7/13. I'm doing three at a time so the first batch was 4/3/02 Rochester, 4/8/02 Northampton and 4/9/02 Burlington. I really enjoyed seeing these shows and listened to the tapes (burned cd's) about a million times in the early 2000's. Listening in 2017, my first impression was honestly, man these aren't very good hahaha. Of course there are great moments from each night and the Northampton show is very good as a whole but man, its incredible how much they've improved as a band! Comparing to the two shows I saw in 2016 (Cap night two and Coney Island) the growth is obvious and quite impressive. A band I already thought were at the top of their game when I started seeing them has never stopped improving or impressing me. This tour is known as a bit of a snoozer though compared to the very impressive 2001 and the excellent late summer and fall of 2002. I had never felt that way before but I guess I somewhat under stand that read today. It was just a bit shocking... I was so enamored with the band and was so pleased to be able to relive these shows.  I wasn't a truly objective listener.

The next batch of shows I saw (and am now listening to) was 4/13/02 Asbury Park, and 4/14/02-4/15/02 at the Vanderbilt in Plainview, NY. Now is my turn to be shocked in a positive way. The Asbury Park show was excellent. I remember at the time not thinking that much of it and not really listening to the tapes too much afterwards. I very much associate Spectacle  and the Tunnel with my early Disco Biscuits experiences. They opened each set with commanding performances of these powerful songs. Hearing the Coney Island version of Spectacle  with the Hungry March Band was a treat for me. The meat of set 1 though is the Reactor>Shelby Rose(><)>Reactor. It's very strong. It was neat to hear the original version of Pilin' it High and the House Dog Party Favor is very good as well. House dog, to me, is the definitive Disco Biscuits tune and my personal favorite. This was my first time hearing it live. set 2 has some great moments too, including a Hot Air Balloon and a Very Moon with Al Schnier from Moe. sitting in.

4/13/02 Asbury Park
The next night, in Plainview, NY, my life changed forever. I loved the Disco Biscuits before this show. I went from casually listening to them along with Phish, The Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams and any other jamband who were ripping it up at the time to seeing 6 shows in the month of April and 29 total shows in 2002.

The performance started with the Buddy Guy/ SRV version of Mary Had a Little Lamb that Barber specifically but the band as a whole, pulls off very nicely. Next up, the familiar bass line of Jane's Addiction's Three Days rumbles ominously through the club. The Biscuits covering this song is one of the things that got me interested in their music so I was very excited to hear it. From there they play a really nice, directed segue into Jigsaw Earth. It built the energy up phenomenally and got me really fired up at the time. The segue holds up really well on the 2017 listen. I'd be stoked to hear it live today. It's a rock solid version of Jigsaw that builds up an even more fiery jam. With a tremendous rush of energy they blast into I-man. Listening right now is giving me deep deep chills. At this point in the show, I knew I was seeing something special. They play I-man with beautiful dynamics, utilizing all the power the non-techno version can deliver. There is beautiful interplay between Marc and Jon as they get deeper into the jam with atmospheric support from Magner. Sammy is of course driving the ship expertly as usual.

The jam shifts keys and picks up tempo just past the 11 minute mark with Magner playing a lead line. Sammy's kick sounds so effing solid. He urges the jam forward with each fill and drop. Barber and Magner begin an interplay as Sammy picks up the tempo another big notch. They are hurtling now... but where to? Back into Jigsaw of course!!!! On the 2017 listen, the hints are definitely there, but I don't know if I knew the intricacies enough at the time to hear it coming. They are extremely locked in, energetic and playing the composition flawlessly. Sandwich segues (song A>song B>song A) are common for the biscuits but not necessarily so common for other jambands. Especially in 2002. It was pretty groundbreaking and an amazing way to control and manifest energy flow. They only briefly touched down in Jigsaw Earth. This train had other destinations in mind.

They lock into another tight groove and begin accelerating again after the Jigsaw tempo drop. More dynamic interplay between Magner and Barber is held rock solid by a driving and intricate bassline from Brownstein. This time Brownstein really drives the energy and direction of the segue. His line is active while still giving a solid pattern for Barber to shred over. Barber just kills this change, with melodic yet frenzied soloing which sounds absolutely amazing tone-wise thanks to his hollow-body Gibson. The drop back into I-man once again is giving me whole-body chills. On that night, at this moment, I knew I had to see this band as many times as I could. To see and feel this again. It was so incredibly creative, flitting back and forth between the two songs like this... and the band, with their inspired playing, had me in the palm of their hands. Coming out of the peak, there is a beautiful piano-driven jam that showcases the talents of all four members. A band known for deep and dirty electronic trance and drum and bass jams absolutely slays several minutes without heavy effects. When Magner does decide to play a synth line its this gorgeous shimmering bird song of a melody.

Brownstein then plays a melodic counterpoint with a subtle line from Barber, interacting as much with the drums as with the keys and bass.They strip the jam down to a very quiet back and forth between Barber and Brownstein with subtle support from Magner and Sammy. All while staying in the theme of the I-man outro jam. There is about 15 minutes of jamming in this second segment of I-man and not once does it get stale or repetitive. This dismantle and reassemble the jam several times tending towards quiet simplicity that critics of the Disco Biscuits untzyness would find very little ground to stand on with their standard critiques. The jam picks up a significant amount of fire as they begin to approach the final peak of I-man. Barber is building tension expertly with Magner choosing a piano tone again which nicely juxtaposes the ferocity of the jam. They peak it expertly, returning to the I-man composition for its resolution.

"Over it goes I'm Breaking through!"

This isn't the end though. Not the end of this segment and certainly not the end of the show. Things are stripped down to simplicity once again with an interlocking jam with all 3 melodic players contributing a part of the whole. Sammy is interacting with all the players as well, connecting with Barber as only he could. Some funky key riffs from Magner take the jam down a new path which Brownstein soon locks into in earnest. Barber finds a unique place in the mix and Sammy feeds off of everyone and pours energy into his kit. The whole band is now barreling at warp speed towards their destination. Without a mental pause or musical hiccup, they launch back into Jigsaw Earth to sing the final verse:

"I gathered myself, and rubbed my eyes, and wondered, did she know?
That I put glass and concrete beams as tall as trees can grow.
That I tear down the oldest statues, faces who've grown long
She may have known, may not have cared, continued with her song..."

I tried to gather myself and rub my eyes but there was no coming back for me. I was a goner. And it was only set break. Set two starts with some chucklicious banter from Marc about Magner being "a funny f$%king guy" and then drops into a nicely shuffling Mulberry's Dream. The band sounds comfortable and confident, no doubt feeling pretty good after that monster first segment. It's a standard reading of the piece with some nice guitar work from Jon during the jam. Next up, a standalone Story of the World gets jammed out very nicely in the middle with a funky bass line from Brownstein driving the improvisation, while Magner and Barber both contribute to its development. Sammy's rhythm pattern starts off four on the floor before moving into a more rock oriented groove. A descending synth line from Magner signals a tempo increase for the band which finds everyone interlocking nicely and building back into the story composition.

"You guys gotta take it easy at the hotel tonight. No seriously. The Disco Biscuits are low-pro".
-Marc Brownstein 

With these words of wisdom the Biscuits launch into the second major segment of the night with Frank Zappa's Pygmy Twylyte. The band launches immediately into group improv with a driving bass-line complemented by Barber interweaving with Magner's bleeps and bloops. A shift to a four on the floor beat from Sammy and a melodic synth line from Magner changes the jams direction dramatically. The band segues into the Big Happy theme which brought a huge smile to my face. I was a huge fan of 11/16/00 which interweaves The big Happy, Widow in the Rain and Pygmy to dramatic effect. This is a very interesting piece of music for the Disco Biscuits. From its seed was spawned both Highwire and I Remember When, which are still mainstays in their setlists.  A triumphant major key jam, often weaving the Big Happy Theme back in, drops effortlessly into Helicopters. The composed Helicopters jam segment is appropriately dark and driving with ethereal synth sweeps from Magner setting the mood. Things get a bit more interesting as they leave the confines of the composed jam section about 7 minutes in. They quiet way down and Barber starts to develop a riff around Marc's bass part. Magner finds room to interject and Sammy...god Sammy is a magnificent beast.

Sammy drops the kick out and comes back in twice as hard and a little faster. His kick drum tone makes both the old gods and the new cry with joy. Brownstein begins to insert the Peter Gunn Theme bassline which eventually brings the rest of the gang on board. This tune is a spring tour 2002 exclusive for them, performed only four times. I have the honor of seeing two of the four performances. Its a brief sojourn this time. A sloppy drop right into Mindless Dribble can be forgiven for the intensity of the energy shift. The room goes absolutely buck wild. After the composition, they rapidly shift into a very laid back and quiet jam with a lot of flavor, hinting at the Dribble theme more and more. Excellent and patient jamming abounds during the first Dribble jam. The sustained tension note Barber holds just before the drop back into the composition is soul rending. The 'They missed the perfume' segment has an especially calypso feel from Magner's piano line. The second jam starts at a blistering pace with Magner hinting immediately at the return of Helicopters. Barber toys with an interesting riff and everyone else plays around a bit more, not quite ready to drop into the Helicopters yet.They manage to build up a tremendous amount of momentum and energy on the way to the final Helicopters peak. Barber is calmly leading while Magner soars. The drop back in is very clean and another set of Disco Biscuits skull-f*&kery is in the books.

The Disco Biscuits encored with the fifteenth (of 144 currently) performance of Astronaut. It was played in the encore spot more often in the 2001-2002 time period then it is today. This would be the last time it was used in this slot until 2004 and would be fairly uncommon as an encore from then on. It's a mellow and stripped down version of what the song would become. Its hard not to fast-forward 8 months and think about what a different beast the Haymaker Astronaut is compared to this version. There is some interesting Sammy-driven start/stop jamming but the 9 month old tune still hasn't found its true form yet. Every note is still a grace from god though. You know this.

That night, despite Marc's warnings, I ended up in the hotel next to the Vanderbilt. I was 20 and a goofy introvert so was in no danger of going too hard but did end up borrowing some crash space on the floor of my buddy Michael's friends room. More specifically the closet floor. I'd see and get to know my hosts Kieth, Kelli, Aimee and Bernie at shows for many more years and would be reminded of being the guy passed out in the closet lolol.

We drove back the next morning (Monday) and I even made it to class. I was a sophomore at SUNY Albany that year. after class I met up with Michael and Corey (what the deal) and gushed excitedly about how good the show was we had seen the night before. One thing led to another and we ended up driving back down from Albany to Plainview to see the next night. The first of many rash decisions relating to this band I'll never forget. Or regret.

I met Jay Cowit the summer of 2002. He had met some of my best friends from high school at NYU and they formed the band Wounded Buffalo Theory.  That summer they 'rented' an apartment over the SUNY dive bar known as the Town Tavern. Vic the owner left them a keg of Busch and the keys to the bar so they could rehearse. The apartment had a hole in the ceiling with a tub full of scuzz water collecting below it. The previous tenant was freak show star and body modification legend Erik Sprague and some of his ephemera was left behind. All in all an absolutely perfect venue to launch a band as mind-warpingly excellent as WBT. It no doubt shaped their darkly prog-infused psychedelia.
I hung out at their rehearsals and struck up what would be a life-long friendship with Jay that  revolved around music. We had both been at the Vanderbilt show and it was an early bonding moment for us, discussing its greatness. Jay and I and many of our friends went on to see lots of great live music, especially many, many, Disco Biscuits shows. I've also seen Jay's band play many times and its been an honor to witness some of the incredible music they've created. Jay had just met visual artist Justin Wood, also from the NYC scene, and went to the show with him.

Here Jay's spin on 4/14/02 with artwork by Justin Wood: 

Second Show.

I got to the Vandy and was already somewhere not on earth. the whole show starts as a fake out...a single blues cover, concise and normal. The band is made of humans, you can see that...hell, the drummer even loses a stick at one point.

At the cover's conclusion, the person to the left of me screams "I have LOST my mind." I was feeling transcendent myself, but confused...What fascinating noise could take a person's mind that quickly, off something so plain and innocent?

When 3 Days begins, the feeling starts to become mutual. Blues song to Jane's Addiction cover? It makes no sense. Except it already feels like it does....which is hard to fathom. When the cover song branches out into the ethos, things begin to occur to me. Words and concepts, twisted and muddled but always spinning.

The spiral snake that follows is cunning and vicious, real and fanged...the cyclical set never lets go. It squeezes around your body like a constrictor, occasionally allowing a breath and then holding you harder. It makes you struggle to follow it's changes, like chasing a shadow. It walks gingerly and then marches like an army...the back and forth between Jigsaw Earth and I-man is confounding, circular, and difficult...even hypothetically impossible...but staggering and monolithic. Each transition bleeds the preceding song, turning it inside out; the coterminous song floods into the space, washing away the past and phasing in the future. Both songs are so unambiguously natural to the other band could play either song to its full potential. Still, the band twists the innards from each song, back and forth, back and forth, and back...suffocating you, underneath the darkness of a giant spiral snake.

By the middle of the set, I was further fathoms away from understanding anything...I was confused how a band could play so many hours before a set break...I counted no fewer than 2 hours of music (it was an hour+) ..figured they'd be done after this set for sure.  No one could make more music after that...I was turned around and pulled in a million directions.

And I desperately wanted more, forever.

I've probably never had a more important musical epiphany, with regards to what live improvisation and composition could be. It changed the way I saw music. Entirely. It was a third eye opening a long time artist being introduced not just to some new kinds of paints...but an entirely different canvas format. It was a new way to see language, in the form of music.

Every note of music I've played since April 14th 2002 owes something to this show, and nearly every note of live music I've seen since then has been, in some ways, compared to this show.  Sometimes you see the face of all things in momentary glimpses...but sometimes those glimpses can last 15 years and beyond.

All photographs from the disco biscuits internet project. They have lots of pictures from earlier Disco Biscuits shows

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Brokedown Palace: The Capitol Theater and the Grateful Dead

The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY is the stuff of magic in the Grateful Dead creation myth. As you start getting into the band you might end up with a copy of the 2/18/71 show, first of the Betty Boards (for more on Betty Cantor Jackson's famous recordings follow this link) and hear the famed "beautiful Jam" in the Wharf Rat>Dark Star segue. As you get a little deeper you might hear about ushers Ken and Judy Leigh's legendary early audience recordings from the Balcony of the Cap. These recordings are precious documents of the cultural phenomenon of a Grateful Dead show in 1970.  If you were intrigued by these performances and continued with your research of the famed venue, you might stumble across this quote from Jerry Garcia indicating even they knew how special this place was at the time:

"See, there's only two theaters, man that are set up pretty groovy all around for music and for smooth stage changes, good lighting and all that - the Fillmore and The Capitol Theatre. And those are the only two in the whole country."

Mike Dubois's excellent tribute to the dead shows at the Cap (available for sale here)

Joe Russo's Almost Dead 12/27/13
What is it about this place? When Pete Shapiro re-opened the Capitol Theater and started putting on rock shows, I knew I had to check it out. My first show there was the 12/27/13 performance of Joe Russo's Almost Dead. One of my favorite live bands of all time is Brothers Past. I saw them as much as I could in and after college, catching around 40 shows before they disbanded. An NYC Taper article and accompanying tape began circulating of a band called Joe Russo's Almost Dead. While I had seen and adored Joe Russo in a number of different projects, the real excitement for me was Tommy Hamilton of Brothers Pasr playing Grateful Dead music. Playing Dead music exceptionally well with an unbelievable band. When they announced a second date, this time at the legendary Capitol Theater, I and a ton of friends all made the trip down. They played an incredible show and an informative one for me.

Long time co-conspirators Tom Hamilton and Joe Russo 12/27/13
My passion for the Grateful Dead really started to take off in 2011-12. I went from a casual listener to an attentive one, beginning to follow trails, study eras and sink deeper into the immensity of their legacy. For the JRAD show in 2013, I was about 100 shows deep into my  research. Imagine my surprise when they started the show with Cream Puff War, a tune I honestly wasn't too familiar with! I also heard the entire Terrapin Suite for the first time that night. I still had a lot to learn. Evidently primal and album Dead needed to be investigated! 

I’m truly grateful to have caught their second live performance. I continue to see them when I can, listen to the beautiful recordings being made and rock couch tour streams with friends.  They are among the most talented musicians in all of live music today. They pay homage to the legacy of the Grateful Dead in the most authentic of ways while reinventing improvisational music and whats possible with every single jam.

From left to right: Marco Benevento, Tom Hamilton, Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz and Scott Metzger 12/27/13
Photos from Mark Dershowitz's excellent gallery on the Waster. Check out the rest here

When the Disco Biscuits announced their debut at the Capitol Theater, levels of excitement and anticipation set high for the JRAD show were beyond exceeded. The Disco Biscuits are my favorite live act of all time and following their music has shaped my adult life significantly. I was also over 2 years and several hundred shows deeper into my Grateful Dead obsession so the true import of the Capitol Theater in their mythos was more fully revealed to me at this point. I decided as a mental and spiritual preparation for the biscuits at the Cap, I was going to listen to all of the Dead shows they played there in 1970 and 1971 in order.

March 1970
The phenomenal dead essays blog has a fascinating piece on the integration of acoustic music into the Grateful Dead's performances from 1969-1970 (read it here). In the March shows at the Cap, we see a one of the steps in that evolution. They play an early electric show followed by a late show in which they go Electric>Acoustic>Electric. It must've been shocking for the audience to see the rippin', eardrum rattling psychedelic blues rock band they knew put on such a different face. The audience was extremely rowdy and the band threw it right back at em. I've linked many blogs posts on these shows at the end of this post which go into deep detail about some of the interactions back and forth but maybe listen for yourself first? There is a lot to discover and treasure. A wise deadhead heartily recommends the jam in Dancin' in the Streets on 3/21/70 as one of the finest moments of Grateful Dead improvisation ever.

Mickey Hart 11/6/70
The Grateful Dead had just recorded Workingman's Dead in February and would record American Beauty from August to October. The band, along with lyricist Robert Hunter, had entered one of their most prolific periods and the band was taking all of this material on the road. This new music was a dosed interpretation of  Americana. The writing style and studio work stripped down the ornate work on the last two albums and focused on the voice and the song. Instrumentation was sparse and integrated acoustic instruments with the Dead's electric sound. I, like many Grateful Dead fans, was exposed to these two albums before any later or live material. My dad played me the tapes, which I eventually "borrowed" indefinitely. Hearing the primitive versions of these songs taking shape in their performances at the Capitol Theater felt like a full circle moment in my listening journey.

Bob Weir 11/6/70
Ken and Judy Leigh's Audience Recording

The Grateful Dead Return to the Capitol Theater in June. This time they bring along the New Riders of the Purple Sage and bill it as "An Evening With the Grateful Dead" which they had started touring in May. The Dead play acoustic, then the New Riders play (with Jerry Garcia on Pedal Steel guitar and Micky Hart on drums), followed by an extended electric Dead set. Workingman's Dead was released on June first. This performance finds the band straddling its late 60's sound and where Workingman's Dead and American Beauty would lead them in the early 70's. They were still playing blistering, monumental psychedelic jam music, most notably the Dark Star/ Attics sequence but are playing roots music like Candyman, Uncle John's Band and Friend of the Devil so very beautifully. This show is a delicate moment of flux and transition for the Grateful Dead and the brittle intimacy of Ken Leigh's recording is the perfect transportation device to take you there.

Jerry Garcia backstage 11/6/70
November 1970
 By the November Capitol Theater run the band has released Workingman's Dead, recorded American beauty and toured relentlessly besides. The band had retired the "evening with the Grateful Dead" show format but decided to bust it out one last time at the Capitol Theater, bringing the New Riders of the Purple Sage along for the ride again. I think that's a neat fact. As if the spring and summer acoustic/ electric shows at the Capitol Theater were so special, they wanted to capture that magic again? Capture it they did. Both the Dead listening and Dead Essay blogs do wonderful jobs writing up this run so I'll leave you to explore those links below on your own. Suffice it to say that the recordings, often a composite of the 3 taper’s yields that made the run, capture another dose of pure Capitol Theater/Grateful Dead Magic. 11/6 and 11/8 tend to get the most attention as they have the best sound quality but there is plenty of X factor throughout all four nights. There's something about listening to these nights in their entirety that's so satisfying and calming to me. First the acoustic Dead, transitioning perfectly into the New Riders set, followed by face-melting electric Dead. Of all the Capitol Theater Grateful Dead performances, this run is my favorite.

Mickey Hart in a moment of reflection 11/6/70
The recordings of the Capitol Theater performances in 1970 offer a potent historic sampling of the Grateful Dead at critical point in their career. The back to back release of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty mark the transition of the band from infamy to legitimate fame. The year of 1970 is an incredible one for them musically with countless performance highlights and the respective shows at the Cap manage to nicely sample each phase of the year.

Bob Weir in the zone 11/6/70

February 1971
While only three months pass between the November 1970 and February 1971 runs, we have ourselves a very different band. On night one, they debut five new songs, all of which find their forever home in the Grateful Dead's sets. Bertha, Loser (my personal favorite dead song), Greatest Story Ever Told (which hadn't taken its final shape yet), Johhny B. Goode (RIP Check Berry) and Wharf Rat arrive and set the tone for how this band will continue to evolve in the coming years. While I'd read about and listened to the "beautiful Jam" out of Wharf Rat and back into Dark Star several times, I wasn't prepared for my most recent listening experience in preparation to write this post. It moved me as deeply as any piece of Grateful Dead live performance I've listened to. It sent several waves of goosebumps across my body and gave me that soaring feeling in my heart that only comes from true art's brush with the divine. Its amazing how you can listen to the same performance by the Grateful Dead many times and discover something new with each reading.

Jerry Garcia connecting 11/6/70
On night two, Deal and Birdsong, which would find their way on to Jerry Garcia's first solo album in 1972 are debuted, but certainly the bigger news is the departure of drummer Mickey Hart. The details of this situation are written about quite well in the blogs I've linked below so I wont go too crazy into detail. Mickey's father had been managing the band and was caught stealing. When the jig was up, he cut himself a fat check in March of 1970 and ran off, leaving the Dead with almost nothing. Mickey grew increasingly distraught over the course of 1970 and after the first night of the February Cap run, left the band. Thankfully he did return in October 1974. While Bill Kreutzmann does an incredible job during his time as the sole drummer, you get an almost palpable sense of loss and confusion from the playing on 2/19/71. Over the course of the remaining nights of the run, the band gets back on their feet and continue to dial in the new material which would be featured on the live album known to deadheads as Skull and Roses. The simplification of the sound down to one drummer, coupled with some new, rockin' material, changed the sound of the Grateful Dead significantly from 1970-1971. The Psychedelic church music of 1970 was distilled down to a concise honky tonk blues rock sound that still managed to wiggle quite a bit around the edges.

Mickey Hart preparing the gong 11/6/70

 Personal loss figures heavily in the era when the Grateful Dead performed at the Capitol Theater. Phil Lesh's father passed during the recording of American Beauty. He wrote Box of Rain with Robert Hunter for him. One of the most touching stories from Phil’s autobiography is him rushing off to perform this piece which he was so proud of, for his father in the hospital on his death bed. Janis Joplin was a friend of the band, and especially close to Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, sharing with him love of and commitment to the blues. Birdsong, which debuted at the Cap in 1971, was written as a memorial to Janis. With the betrayal of the Grateful Dead by Lenny Hart, the band not only lost a big chunk of money, they lost a piece of their innocence. More sadly still, Mickey lost his father. Following this, the Grateful Dead temporarily lose Mickey. Their involvement in the Altamont tragedy weighed heavily on their consciences in this time period as well, spawning both Mason’s Children and New Speedway Boogie. Great art often grows out of the muck of sadness and loss. I believe that these shows, the band’s evolution, and the path they'd take in life were deeply affected by tragedy. They did not sink in to despair or quit, however. They instead, created a legacy of beauty that grows stronger with time.

The Grateful Dead's performances at the Capitol Theater between 1970-71 offer a truly potent document of some of this band's best playing in a truly tumultuous era both for them and the world as a whole. The members of the band were dealing with personal loss and betrayal, while still coming of age. All the while a social movement, which they played a significant part in, rose and fell. The Grateful Dead reacted in the way that true artists have reacted to trials, loss and strife through time: creating. They created incredible music of course, their most visible legacy. Songs that will resonate for eternity and fleeting performances we are blessed to have any traces of. They also created community though, an equally important contribution which can at times be overshadowed.  At first the community they created was close to them. Friends, lovers, the crew, the pranksers, the bikers, the alchemists and the suits. The community grew through time, fostered by their unique approach to live performance, business and life in general. It became the much larger scene which crystallized in the 1980’s, still exists today, and is currently accepting applications. Meeting daily on the internet, in venue parking lots and the muddy/ dusty fields of summer. 

Bob Weir 11/6/70
It’s easy to notice the theme of darkness vs light in the music and iconography of the Grateful Dead. It’s also easy to dismiss as hippie dreck, Jerry and company as bearers of the light, vanquishers of darkness and evil. Conduits of the holy frequency, the vibration of life. They are just humans after all. Simple meat bags shot through with sentient electricity. Whether they created this light, this beauty, or were simple conduits is fascinating but not necessarily important. What’s important is that it happened and still is happening. The beauty of the music and society built around the Grateful Dead, was and is that you can seek refuge from the darkness, battle it or join its ranks on any given night. You can participate in the endless battle of darkness and light. If only for 3 or 4 hours at a time. It’s more than most people get. 

"One way or another, this darkness got to give."  
-Robert Hunter
Photographs by Marcia Cohen and Stephen Gilbert. Courtesy of

The Disco Biscuits 3/26/16
There is no doubt in my mind that the cosmic goo, the Dead smeared all over the Capitol Theater left a significant residue. J and I were beyond excited for our first show since our son Hunter was born in November of 2015. We had a babysitter and a hotel with all our friends! Stars seemed aligned early as one of my favorite modern music artists Mark Serlo had designed a stunning psychedelic poster and matching pin for the run. Our dear friends Jay and Cate went to both nights so I pleaded with them to grab me one of each for me on night one knowing they would definitely sell out. Also, Brandon Lawwill (Bee L. Designs) who I had met through the bisco pins group had designed a great pin with the venue and signature biscuits laser light show, so I got a ten pack of those to share with my friends and sell a couple as well.

My Serlo Capitol Theater poster
Mark Serlo and Brandon Lawwill's excellent commemorative pins

It was great to catch up with old friends and rage a pre-show hotel party like the old days. Well this old guy should've known I can't throw down like I used to haha. I slugged beers like a 25 year old  and ended up in the 'too much too fast' club for the show. I had to sit for large portions. Luckily, we had invested in loge seats which are the front row of the balcony, considered by many (now including myself) as the best seats in that house. There in my seat I witnessed a truly spectacular Disco Biscuits performance I'll never forget. One that for me will likely live in my top 10 forever.

The first set was tremendous, with an extended intro jam to Bernstein and Chasnoff getting things started in a way to let you know that the Grateful Dead's legacy in this room was understood by The Disco Biscuits. Every segue was creative and the peak in the inverted Shelby Rose was one of the most furious I've ever heard. They finished the first set by completing the B and C. It was at this point I realized they hadn't stopped once. This isn't entirely out of character for the Disco Biscuits but this set was particularly unrelenting and fluid.

While we tried to get our heads together after the biscuits had scrambled our brain waves for an hour and a half, no amount of recovery could prepare us for the second set. Hope is probably my favorite Disco Biscuits song and a message I take very seriously. Starting the second set with it shook me deeply in the best way possible. The second set sequence of  Hope>(><) Above the Waves>Mr. Don>Home (LCD Soundsytem cover)>Helicopters was truly a triumphant performance for the ages. It delivered everything the potential of this band promises. The Biscuits had debuted Home by LCD Soundsystem at Camp Bisco the previous summer which I had missed. I'm a huge fan of LCD and the album 'This Is Happening', which Home is off of so I was thrilled to get the chance to hear it live.  The standing ovation the band rightfully received at the end of the night is a moment I'll never forget. I've been in far bigger crowds and far louder crowds but I've never felt the energy of elation and gratitude that I felt from that roaring applause.

Saint Gutwillig
While I'm sure the soundboard recording of the show is great, I thought it right and proper in the tradition of the Cap to listen to Jesse Hurlburt's audience recording to relive the experience. This recording is spectacular and transmits the energy exchange between the band and the fans admirably.

Addendum: Bobby's birthday party 10/16/16
I hope I'm never done seeing concerts at the Capitol Theater. When the tour was announced supporting Bob Weir's stunning Blue Mountain solo album, I was elated to see he would play at the Cap on his birthday. That excitement quickly dissolved when I struck out on the pre-sale as well as the regular sale. The secondary market prices were instantly and consistently way out of my league so I made peace with not going and life went on. The week of the show I saw a floor ticket offered up in a Grateful Dead marketplace on Facebook. I made inquiries and found out that the ticket was not only available but was being sold by a former co-worker! Smalbany, Weir everywhere etc. J was kind enough to encourage me to go and to assure me she'd be fine taking care of Hunter for the evening so a few days later I found myself cruising down the Taconic Parkway for a quick visit to the Cap.

I can't remember the last time I had gone solo to see a show but needless to say it had been a while. There was a Peruvian fair going on right across the street so I'll always associate the smells of delicious food and the echoes of  Peruvian dance music bouncing down Westchester Avenue with my experience that night. I shared a moment with another fan, taking it all in and smiling. I wandered the theater a bit before making my way down to the floor. I thought about all those spectacular Dead shows. Then I thought about the spectacular music I had witnessed there myself. Then I grabbed a beer.

Remembering the JRAD show, I knew it was going to be close quarters if I wanted to get close on the floor but I decided to commit to it anyway. The way I figured it, I may never get a chance like this again to see anyone from the Grateful Dead so up close and personal. The artwork for the Blue Mountain album was shown on a large screen behind the stage, which was packed with instruments. The stark and monochromatic western landscapes were evocative of the album's music and struck a deep chord in my soul as a lover of nature. Bobby came out alone with his acoustic and played four songs. One More Saturday Night (snickering about missing it the night before, as it was Sunday), Peggy-O (which was breathtaking), When I Paint my Masterpiece (in Honor of Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize) and Blue Mountain (the title track off the new album).

Next he brought out the Campfire Tour band and played five songs off of Blue Mountain, with Dark Hollow (featuring the very talented Leslie Mendelson singing harmonies with Bobby) thrown in for good measure. A trio of vocalists known as the Bandana Splits thickened out the sound soulfully. I had decided to wait on listening to the album until I had heard it live so it was all new to me. After the original drummer of the Disco Biscuits, Sam Altman, left the band, I sort of fell out of listening to jam music and ended up discovering a lot of great indie/ college radio music that was happening at the time. Bands like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Cloud Cult, Iron and Wine and the National really struck a chord with me. When Bobby started collaborating with members of the National I was so excited to see what the merging of two of my favorite kinds of music would yield. The end result was truly spectacular. The songs are delicate, soulful and shimmered with energy. Accessing a type of emotional response I don't commonly associate with jambands. I stood rapt, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow music lovers for all the first set, forgetting about the empty plastic beer cup clutched in my hand.

I was still reeling from the music after the lights came up for set break. I decided to hang tight since I didn't really need a beer or a bathroom break. I wasn't alone. The crowd hardly budged over the course of the 40 minute set break, if anything getting thicker as set 2 approached. It was an exercise in musical devotion to stay on my feet haha. Since Hunter was born, I just can't keep up like I used to. I get sore and tired at shows. This was a worthy cause though and all my efforts paid off as the house lights went down and the walls of the Cap started writhing with color. Leslie Mendelson came out once again to help out on Mamma Tried. West L.A. Fadeaway came sauntering up next along with the dawning realization that set 2 was likely going to be just jammed out Dead tunes. Joy! Ecstacy! Tired back be damned! Leslie M added the Donna parts beautifully to a melodic Eyes of the World which had me spacing nicely.

The Bandana Splits came back out for Uncle John's Band and with Leslie already on stage, it sounded like a massive (yet professional) campfire singalong. While I love the album version of UJB, I often find live versions (especially later ones) to be a bit of a train wreck. This performance though was truly Uncle John's Band how it was meant to sound. It reverberated melodically around the hall with most of the crowd adding their voice to the mix.  Morning Dew was monumentally, ground shakingly awesome. Bobby really hits this one out of the park here and with Dead and Company. Not Fade Away wrapped up set 2 of Bobby's 69th birthday show perfectly with the entire room taking up the signature Not Fade Away chant for several minutes after the band had left the stage.

Bobby came out for the encore in a cowboy hat and before you knew it, Pete Shapiro and company were throwing hundreds of baby blue cowboy hats into the audience while presenting him with a cake. I'm sure he gets sick of comparisons with Bill Graham but these special touches certainly evoke Uncle Bobo. We all donned our hats on for Ki Yi Bossie. The band came back out (also wearing the baby blue cowboy hats) and closed the night with a lovely and perfect Brokedown Palace which was met with a roaring ovation.

  I am deeply grateful for this (no longer) Brokedown Palace in Port Chester, New York. The Grateful Dead's groundbreaking and awe-inspiring performances there makes it, to me, one of the most important venues from their formative time.With modern acts from both inside and outside of the jam community playing there regularly, and with Bobby and Phil still playing there (a lot!), its one of the most important rooms to see live music today. Based on the quality of music the Grateful Dead played there in 1970 and 71 and my experiences these past few years, I have no doubt that there is magic in this stately old theater. Whether you want to call it the X factor, as the deadheads did or Bisco as Disco Biscuits fans call it. That special something where the walls between the audience and the band, between every soul in the room, between the plains of reality, all seem to dissolve and unify, seems to happen at the Capitol Theater. A lot.

Further Reading