Wednesday, January 17, 2018


This morning it was snowing. I walked Koda then shoveled. Hunter's daycare had a delayed opening so we let him sleep in. He woke up after J had left for work. We cuddled and watched Lion Guard, his current favorite cartoon. After I dropped Hunter off at daycare I went home and picked up Koda.

We went to the municipal golf course. You can go there in the winter with your dog off leash. I strapped on my snowshoes and we started mucking around. I haven't had snowshoes on in a year and it felt so good. I trotted, then ran. Relishing the feeling of moving so effortlessly over the snow. We took an aimless course through a patch of woods. We scared up a pileated woodpecker who scolded us thoroughly for the indignity. I saw junco's too. I don't ever see them just a mile away at our house.

I went home and slapped some paint on a funky spot in the closet of Rider's room. If the god's will it, he'll join us in early March. We're almost done getting his room together and can't wait to meet him. I showered then headed out. I ate lunch at Capital Q Smokehouse. I used to live around the corner and a few houses down and remembered those days while staring at the mural on the old plumbing building.

From there I headed downtown to stop at Cheesecake Machismo. When I came to Albany, Lark Street seemed like the most cosmopolitan and hip place I could imagine. Bomber's, Ben and Jerry's, Head shops, cool bars, Lark Tattoo and Cheesecake Machismo. The inside is decorated with vintage toys, Albany Punk and skate ephemera. The tables are plastered with comic book scenes. New flavor's every day until they're gone. Everything is beyond delicious and there's sure to be something far out and funky.  I got a few pieces for the three of us to share tonight.

From there I dipped under Empire Plaza and crossed the river to Troy. I got to really thoroughly shop the River Street Beat Shop. I found some great records and really enjoyed talking with the owner about music. He ended up giving me a great deal on the albums I found. All day I had been listening to  the Grateful Dead's performance on 1/17/68 at the Carousel Ball in San Fransisco. A great specimen of the primal dead period. As that show wrapped up I put on the Disco Biscuits performance at Revolution Hall in Troy, New York on 4/10/03 and enjoyed a deep and funky Mullberry's Dream as I drove back into Albany.

After another round of snow removal I'm digging on my music, writing this post and thinking how good life is. My family is happy, healthy and growing. Last night I had some pangs of desire for bigger adventures. On my birthday in the past I often slid down a mountain or climbed up one. Before that I partied. When I started my today it dawned on my how satisfied I am. I spent so many years dedicated to a life well lived. Having superlative experiences in the forests and cities of this amazing place we get to inhabit. Never wanting for adventure or gratification. The satisfaction I've found in service now is somehow deeper and fuller than what I had found simply having fun. Serving the mountains that have given me so much, serving my family.  Making sure these boys we brought here have the same chances I did to engage this world fully and shake out from their experiences what moves them. There's a joy in maintaining this property and committing my time and energy to the creatures that live here. I still managed to treat myself pretty well today despite my commitment to service hahaha.

Today was an incredible day. Today was my birthday. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Iroquois 1/20/14: He's fallen on the ice, it cracks Will he plunge in and join me here?

I finally feel ready to revisit a hike that didn't go well. One where I made several good decisions, a few bad decisions, and one very bad decision. I learned a lot that day and it was one of several times in my hiking career I had to come face to face with just how serious and unforgiving this kind of hiking is.

In the weeks leading up to the hike I'd been carefully tracking the weather and following trip reports on the high peaks forum for conditions updates. Soon before my planned hike there was a not uncommon early January thaw, with rain and temperatures well above freezing in the high peaks. I even made a thread in the trip planning section of the forum inquiring about the thaw and its effects on the ice of Flowed Lands. A user informed me the channel of the Opalescent River, after the Lake Colden Dam, was especially susceptible to opening up after a thaw like that. The ice goes out after a heavy flow of rain and melted snow builds tremendous force down the steep and tight gorge of the  Opalescent River. A deceptively thin layer of fresh ice makes it appear more solid than it is.  It seems like I'm doing really diligent research  right? Which is a good thing. Here's the problem... I was really geeking out about conditions because I was hellbent on crossing Flowed lands.

Crossing Flowed Lands on the way to Cliff March 2014
During my wife and I's 46, I fell completely in love with Flowed lands and the hike in from Upper Works. The history of the iron works, the associated tragedy and the unbelievable beauty of the base camp there make for a rich and dramatic experience. If Marcy Dam was the front yard of the High Peaks, Flowed Lands was the back. A bit more overgrown and wild, a little less crowded since it was harder to get to. The drive up 28N from North Creek and it's associated history also contributed to my love for this route. Also, the Warrensburg Stewart's.

Koda's first camping trip 4/27-28/14
As much as I love Flowed Lands, the trail around its northwestern corner of Flowed lands is something I don't love. It's rugged and muddy with a lot of little ups and downs. When  first learned that you could skip this tiring section and even shorten your hike a bit by crossing the frozen Flow in the winter, I knew I really wanted to do it. Despite knowing there was decent potential for bad ice, I committed to the idea of crossing. The morning broke cold and snowy, with a starting temperature of 0 F and a high of around 11. Koda and I's hike in was uneventful and soon I was passing the Calamity lean to and looking out from the frozen shore of Flowed Lands. There was a faint track crossing out onto The flow which I followed out across the section that is a pond in the summer.

The track I was following petered out. Now that I've crossed it several times I'm pretty familiar with the two tracks that form: the one heading to Herbert Brook lean to for hikers approaching Marshall and the track that crosses the channel and heads towards the east side of Lake Colden and the trail up the Opalescent River. On that day with my lack of experience I floundered around in high brush and loose snow attempting a trajectory towards the Herbert Brook Lean to. As I approached the Opalescent Channel, it was clear that at least some of the ice had gone out. The shore of the channel was piled with sidewalk section sized chunks of ice refrozen into an unruly jumble. There still a appeared to be snow covered ice across the channel though. I kept scanning up and down for where to go next. In hindsight I had ended up way too far northwest. I should've been on more of a northeast headed track. I was not too far off from the trail around Flowed Lands. This section of the trail was offset from the shore because of some short cliff bands that fell directly into the water.

I couldn't cut back to the trail or find a way northeast and back on bearing without crossing the clearly thin Opalescent Channel. Climbing onto the broken up peanut brittle ice I knew I was doing something dumb. My pulse was up and I was worried. I started breaking through air pockets in the jumble of thinly refrozen ice. I kept pushing forward despite the danger about a meter or so from the shore broke through the ice completely and found myself mid-thigh in the Opalescent River in 10 degree weather in January. I was able to calm myself and focus on not making my situation worse with flailing. Koda had not fallen in. He was still on the shore giving me a look that seemed to say "dude, what are doing in the water? That is really stupid." The rounded cliffs bordering Flowed Lands here made finding a place to  pull up and out more challenging. My snowshoes had sunken a bit into the sandy river gravel that makes up the river bed there. The current pulling through the Flow was a strong but not completely overwhelming feeling of dread caressing my ankles. My first attempts met with more ice breaking around me. I was eventually able to use a pine sapling and Koda's leash to pull up onto the shore.

Why in water Chris? Ur dumb. Koda on 1/20/14
Now a bit of panic set in. I knew I had to get the wet clothes off fast. I was much closer to Herbert Brook lean to and the Lake Colden interior outpost but knew there was no safe way from where I was so I backtracked quickly across Flowed lands to the Calamity Lean to cursing my stupidity all the while. I've been talking about and writing about Calamity Brook, Calamity Mountain and Calamity lean to for so long that it wasn't until my friend Sathi pointed it out, pretty effing funny that I retreated to Calamity lean to after my calamity.

Here's where I did a few right things in preparation. From all the researching I'd done about gear I had a pretty good amount of equipment ready to go for just such an event. In a dry sack I had my heaviest polypropylene long Johns, several pairs of heavy socks, spare gloves and a stash of super market bags. I was wearing my midweight Airblaster ninja suit  as my base layer. I stripped down completely, filling one of my plastic bags with my wet base layer, socks and polypro hoodie I had under my shell jacket. I pulled on the blessedly warm and dry heavy duty base layers and socks and immediately felt better. I know I was cold but don't remember it being too crazy feeling at the time. I took stock of the rest of my gear. My jacket was damp but not soaked and was pretty much freezing so didn't really feel wet. My shell pants (the now defunct Go-lite brand's version of the Marmot Minimalist Pant) seemed to be drying pretty rapidly. They started as rain pants and ended up as winter hiking pants as well for their ability to not only not get wet most of the time but if they did, dry out quickly.

All in all, things seemed not too bad for having been standing in a river 20 minutes earlier. Then I checked out my boots. Not surprisingly my  Asolo TPS 520 (still to this day the finest hiking boot I've ever owned which are still in rotation) hiking boots were completely waterlogged. I had read winter trip reports where folks had broken through ice and wrapped a plastic bag around fresh dry socks to be able to continue their hike. That's why I carried supermarket bags with me in my pack at all times. I also use them to pick up and carry out garbage. So I decided to try this technique and continue on with my hike. Here's where the real bad decision making starts. The two reports that I had read where this technique was used were radically different then my situation. In both of these cases the hiker had only dipped a single foot in. In my situation both feet were in and completely soaked. This ups the danger level significantly. I'd be losing a lot more heat. Also, both of those other incidents involved a person who was part of a group. The decision to continue on was made with a group of very experienced hikers and these people all had full packs with their own stashes of emergency gear. I made the decision alone and now all of my survival gear was in play. If something else went wrong, I wouldn't be able to stay warm. Or help out someone else in need. I warped the narrative to support what I wanted to do though.

Looking back there's no way I should've kept hiking. I was a strong hiker at the time and had had many hikes go well. I was a card carrying 46er and felt pretty tough. I got pretty into the thrill of the chase or summit fever. I battled with my inner meathead as I liked to describe it as far as wanting to go on and challenge myself. It's not necessarily the worst drive, to want to push your body and will, but it can become a problem when you make bad decisions that put you or your hiking companions into unpleasant or dangerous situations. This natural tendency of humans is why I believe Grace Hudowalski developed her "the mountains will wait" philosophy that I think is so critical to becoming a responsible hiker. Here's a very graceful way to deal with the disappointment of having to turn back. I couldn't hear that logic on this day though. My inner meathead won.

You should always listen to Amazing Grace
Ego contributed to poor decision making here as well. Jeanette had gotten me a Spot Device for Christmas that year. I had started hiking solo in winter in 2013 which worried her. This was a compromise. I could text her, hit the big red button that calls the cavalry if I gt in trouble, and she could watch my track as well. I'm part of a Facebook message group that most of my Albany friends are in. It started as a way to plan our weekly Survivor TV night (don't judge, you watch bad TV too) but evolved into a a place where people could just sort of chat when they were in the mood. On my way out the door that morning I had shared my Spot tracking website so folks could follow along with my hike. It certainly factored in to my decision making that my friends were watching and I didn't want them to see me turn around without reaching my goal. Grace would've let me have it on that being a factor. It's also really dumb that I let something that should've actually made my hike safer, negatively impact my decision making. 

I put on the lighter of the two pairs of socks I had, stashing the heavier ones in case my Hannaford bags wrapped around my feet solution proved to be a less than perfect waterproof barrier. Koda and I started hiking around Flowed Lands on the trail I had managed to walk into a river to avoid. Which turned out to be fine of course and boy did I feel stupid. Here's another place where I did something right after my big stupid: I had already planned on checking in with the Lake Colden Interior Outpost Caretaker. The trail up from Lake Colden to the Col between Algonquin Peak and Boundary peak is not used all that often in the winter so I wanted someone to know I had gone up that way. It was reassuring to see another human after what I had just gone through. I told him my itinerary and was soon climbing one of the steepest trails in the high peaks.

The intensity of my situation sank in as I started climbing through a few inches of loose, unbroken powder along the frozen brook. Snow had been falling gently but steadily the entire day and windswept views of Mount Colden kept reinforcing just how alone I was. Sorry Koda, you're a great hiking buddy but the thought of you sitting alertly on my frozen body halfway up a mountain waiting for my help to arrive  is cold comfort to say the least. About a mile up the two mile trail, my socks had started to soak through and I knew if I wanted a shot at Iroquois I'd have to change them. I was exerting quite a bit to climb the steep trail so stopping and taking off my socks really shocked my system.

Ascending the McIntyre Range 1/20/14
I was shivering and frustrated. The snow kept getting deeper as we got into the higher elevations. At this point in hindsight I think that I was possibly suffering from mild to moderate hypothermia. Its a very challenging trail but my heart rate and breathing were even more out of control than would be expected. I was also definitely  experiencing some muddied and confused thinking. My brain was sluggish. Will and stupidity kept one snowshoe going in front of the other. I knew I should've been heading down but I kept thinking a little farther, I could just tag the summit and hike down to safety. Meathead logic.

Once I reached the intersection at the col, I was in bad shape. Drained, cold and disoriented. Conditions were typical of the range in winter. Very windy, low visibility and deeply drifted snow. I kept pushing and stumbling through the drifts on my bearing to the summit. At times on the herd path to Iroquois and at times floundering off of it and burning even more energy. Each bump or ledge became harder to surmount. I started muttering out loud "this is f$%king stupid" over and over again. But not stopping. I reached a waist high rock ledge and just couldn't bear to push up it. I quit. I knew I was really close to the top but also felt very close to being in a truly dangerous situation. Which I truly had been in for over an hour. My last pair of dry socks were soaked through and the temperature was hovering around 11 F.

Close to the summit. Likely experiencing Hypothermia. Still taking pictures. 1/20/14
A great wave of relief swept over me. I had finally made the right decision. I had ignored common sense, background research and my gut all day for the thrill of the chase and had almost paid dearly for it. I wasn't out of the woods yet though (man, if there's ever been a better time to use this idiom, I can't imagine it). With the trail somewhat broken and momentum carrying me down, I made quick time off the summit ridge. I wanted to try and get my body temperature up and get out of the most dangerous terrain as quickly as possible but also really wanted to make sure I didn't injure myself or get wet again.

I was afraid. For the second time ever in the woods, I was truly afraid. It led me to decide I didn't want to die alone in the woods and would do whatever I had to, both on this day and in the future, to make sure that never happened. Reaching the Interior outpost was a phenomenal landmark for my piece of mind. When I checked back in with the caretaker he suggested I cut across Lake Colden to save time. I hadn't told him I'd broken through the ice (I didn't want him to dissuade me from climbing) so I'm sure he couldn't figure out why I needed to be so thoroughly reassured the crossing was solid hahaha. I crossed over but still lapped around Flowed Lands for obvious reasons. As I made my way down to the Calamity Brook trail, the sun came out for the first time that day. The woods I had found so stark and unforgiving all day softened and showed the face that made me love it so deeply.

The sun comes out over Calamity Brook. 1/20/14
I was beyond grateful to reach my car. I had some spare stuff to change into and got the heat blasting. I also tried to eat, not having the appetite for most of the day. Despite the heat at full blast I shivered the entire way to Warrenburg and didn't feel truly ok until I had a hot lunch and coffee at Stewart's. God bless Stewart's. I cursed my own stupidity and pigheadedness over the course of that drive and vowed never to take a risk like that again. A vow I've kept and committed even more deeply too as a father now. At the time I was deeply embarrassed by my mistakes. I had read enough and hiked enough to know better. I didn't want to tell J because I knew she worried so much already. I didn't want to admit on the hiking forum what I had done. I wrote a trip report that is very carefully worded to omit key details hahahaha. I did tell my hiking crew soon after. I really wanted outside perspective to help me process it and Sathi and Emily are really great at providing real insight with a sense of humor. They told me I should share my experience immediately because they thought others could learn from it but I just wasn't ready to face it all.

Within a week or so I decided I couldn't count it for my round. I knew I was really close to the true summit but the way I had hiked it was unbecoming of an aspiring winter 46er and I wanted to do it right. To honor Grace and all the other patron saints of our beloved mountains. The next winter I hiked Algonquin and Iroquois with an incredible crew. Denise McQuade who I had met from the high peaks forum let me tag along with her group of hiking friends. Denise, Helena Nevarez, Terje Kuusk, Jackie Cordell and I had an beautiful day in the woods. Despite the white out conditions, it was one of my absolute favorite hikes of my winter round. We enjoyed each others company (and of course the safety net it provides) and had an absolute blast traversing the second highest mountain in New York. On the way over to Iroquois, navigation and trail-finding was absolutely a team effort and we even merged with another group so we could all support each other. If Grace had frowned down upon my egotistical flounderings the previous year, I'd like to think she smiled on how I had made it right. A funny thing happened towards the end of the walk over to Iroquois. I reached the ledge I had previously turned around at. It had been etched in my mind for the past 386 days. It was the summit. I had stopped just a few feet short of the summit. I think there's a lesson in there somewhere though I'm still trying to process it.

Great company climbing Algonquin 2/11/15
Climbing into Heaven 2/11/15
A snow and ice encrusted cairn on Algonquin 2/11/15
The title of this trip report is a taken from the lyrics of the Phish song It's Ice. It's part of a longer concept album called Rift that deserves a post all its own but I figured a quick analysis of the lyrics would really nicely wrap up the report here. The song, to me, is about the very thin line between good and evil or our choices to do right or wrong. How easy it is to fall in large or small ways. There is a fascinating darker layer to Tom Marshall's lyrics implying that the evil version of you is right on the other side of that thin line, ready to switch places if you fall. If you break through the ice. Who's really steering the ship though? Who's in control? An unsettling thought for sure.

David Welker "Approaching a Rift" 2015

 I press on the elastic sheet, I'm breathing through a slice
'Are they worms or are the serpents?' bubbles through the ice
The source was quite invisible, the ever-present voice
While skating, both legs tracing different shapes, I made my choice

I'm mimicking the image in whose radiance I bask
I'm tied to him, or him to me, depending who you ask
None the less reluctantly reflections tumble in
I slide with all the other on the wrong side of the skin

He's fallen on the ice, it cracks
Will he plunge in and join me here?
He meets my eyes, to my surprise
He laughs in full light of my frown
My double wants to pull me down

Slipping on the friction slide, my skin peels to the bone
The flesh I leave behind, is something that is not my own
I beg my mirror image for a moment with my soul
He's leaning back, time to attack, it's me who's in control

And every move I make he's got a hand up just in time
He's throwing several punches, and he's blocking most of mine
Defeated now I sulk and squirm above the frozen heights
Waiting, calculating till he ventures onto the ice.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Crepuscular digest #1

8/5/70 Golden Hall Community Concourse, San Diego, CA 

This is one that somehow slipped through the cracks for me. 1970 has reigned for a long time as my favorite year, with the Evening with the Grateful Dead Format shows being my favorite. In these performances, the Dead would come out for an acoustic set, followed by a set from the New Riders of the Purple Sage with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. The Grateful Dead would then come out for a set or two of electric music. There was cross-pollination within the sets, with the New Rider's sitting in with the Dead and vice versa.

This is a first acoustic set only recording. Someone plays  Mandolin sweetly throughout. While Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latava notes in 1978 its Gracia, its most likely David Nelson, with an outside chance its David Grisman. The Grateful Dead play a few more obscure covers than usual including Tell it to Me, Drink up and Go Home and A Voice from On High. As much as I cherish some of the primitive audience recordings from 1970, this soundboard recording is lovely, with all instruments clearly audible. Dick calls this his favorite of the 1970 acoustic sets in his handwritten notes for this recording.

Dead Essays indicates it may be mislabeled here.

lifted from this sweet tumblr account
Dick Latvala
 I read a bunch of  good interviews with Dick on his journey into the Dead and etc. It seems like he did a good amount of press in the infancy of his Dick Pick's series. You get a pretty good sense of the guy in his interviews. A head first and an inside guy second.

Steve Silberman's 3/5/95 Inteview
Alan Paul's 1997 phone interview
David Gans's 2/26/97 Dead Hour Interview

Nicholas Merriweather's extensive post on from the Documenting the Dead section gives a nice overview of the Dick Latvala Collection in the Grateful Dead Archive at  UC Santa Cruz. Some great insight and some wonderful images, a few of which I'll share below.

For a deeper, extensively researched biography, Dead Essays has an incredible post. Essential Dead history reading in there. His most tangible legacy is the Dick's Picks live release series. The list from Dead sources is very informative with clickable links giving more details for each release.

1/11/79 Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
 Check out 1/11/79 here!

 I groggily pressed play on a recording labelled 1979 and just superimposed Brent's playing for the first 2-3 songs until I noticed Donna Jean's voice on a cowboy song. I forget how well Kieth plays on he and Donna's final tour with the Dead. The writing is on the wall as to their departure. It feels like they are given a shot at leaving a nice legacy which I think they do quite well. Kieth's playing is the most present in a year and a half and both he and Donna's hearts are clearly in it. The first set is played exceptionally well and gets hotter with every tune. Donna does 'From the Heart of Me', a  powerful performance looked at through the lens of legacy building. Ramble on Rose, Jack Straw>Deal is absolute fire. On Jack Straw Bobby sings "We used to play for acid, now we play for Clive" and I almost spit my coffee all over my windshield. I remember reading he did this a few times but didn't know it was coming. They had recently entered into a recording contract with Arista's Clive Davis.

Set two is quite the rocker with some really nice segues and improv. The Minglewood>Ship of Fools pairing is really interesting and well executed. There's some really priceless banter with everyone announcing it was someone's birthday on stage. You can tell they're having a blast. The rest of the set is a beast of a segue I'll leave up to you to enjoy interpretation free. I love 1979 audience recordings and this one is quite a peach.

Golden Road
 I've been reading the issues of Blair Jackson and Regan McMahon's Golden Road fanzine on GDAO and have found it really fun and informative. A great look at the fanbase in the 80's>early 90's and some wonderful images that haven't really circulated much online. I pulled a few here from the spring 85 issue:
Gorgeous Stanley Mouse Cover. He sold t shirts of this design

80's Donna is the truth

I also wanted to once again plug Blair and David Gans beautiful This is all a Dream we Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead. Despite thinking I knew the story of the Grateful Dead pretty well, I learned new things and found tons of quotes I'd never read before. The oral history style telling of the history in the participants own voices is a really intimate way to do it. Grab a copy here.

Holly Bowling at the Whisper Dome
3/24/17 recording
10/21/17 recording

This past year I got to watch Holly Bowling perform twice in a really special room. For those who haven't checked her out yet she plays solo piano (no vocals) versions of Phish and Grateful Dead songs. She improvises artfully and has done several meticulous transcriptions/arrangements of specific jams, like Phish's Tahoe Tweezer. The Whisper Dome is the performance moniker for the Schenectady Unitarian Univeralist Church in the GE Realty plot. This is a very unique setting for live music in a very interesting neighborhood.

In a fascinating setting  for live music, Holly cast a spell over the attendees at both performances. In March she played without amplification, letting the special acoustics of the room carry the sound to our ears and souls. She flitted effortlessly between Phish and Dead tunes while Jeff Bowling utilized the unique architecture of the room to project a mesmerizing light show. Just thinking of the Sleep opener followed by Crazy Fingers sends shivers down my spine.

For her October Performance Jeff was able to use more of the dome for his projections so the show was even more immersive. I found myself leaning waaaaay back in the padded bench, just sinking into the music. While I loved hearing her version of Divided Sky for the first time, the first set highlight for me was the Holly Bowling original Proxima B. It was captivating and I hope she continues to write original material.

The second set was one massive, fluid 75 minute segue. Prince Caspian>Terrapin Station Suite>Days Between>Terrapin Station Suite>Days Between. For you biscuits fans out there, it was a palindrome set following the format A>B>C>B>A. It was incredible to hear one person carry the entirety of improvisation for a piece of music like this. There is truly no room to fall on your face and she was consistently creative, driving, dynamic and utterly engrossing. I realized at one point that the audience was so quiet, that everyone around me had sort of synced up their breathing so that silence could exist more fully in between breaths. To take in the music being performed for us. You don't get a lot of moments like that in 2017.

I listened to the recording a morning in early November, dropping Hunter off at daycare. As we walked to his building, we watched the first snows of the winter fall. Hunter its starting to pick up words and concepts on a bigger scale all of a sudden. Talking about and experiencing the snow with him was really beautiful. Hearing him exclaim excitedly "snow!" The set got to the segue between Terrapin Station and Days Between as writhing bands of snowflakes were being shuffled around the surface of Western Ave. It reminded me of watching those same bands of dancing, blowing snow while hiking or snowboarding on many joyous winter days. I had to sit in my car until The music had completely morphed from Terrapin into days before starting my day. Its a very beautiful moment of music.The close of the set, with themes from throughout it interwoven, was even more deeply moving, triumphant and captivating.

After both performances Holly was totally accessible, signing merchandise and chatting with the audience until everyone had wandered off. Another relative rarity these days. Special Thanks to Randy Kramer Pierce for the pictures and juice box sips!   

10/03/87 Shoreline Ampitheater, Mountain View, CA
Ashley (Bertha) remastered soundboard recording

This is a hot hot hot show and the other two nights of the run are hot too! This recording is also quite excellent which helps sell the whole package as well. Every individual instrument and voice shine through very clearly on the Jay Ashley remaster. Candyman and Masterpiece are terrific in the first set. The Maggie's Farm>Cumberland Blues is super hot close on the heels of the Dylan and the Dead Summer Tour. There's also plenty of meat to sink your teeth into in the second set sandwich starting with Terrapin. The Terp itself is quite the beast. Plus there's very high quality video of the first set and more standard 80's footage of the second. Several tracks from the first set are included as the bonus footage on View From the Vault three, along with the Shoreline Ampitheater 6/16/90 show.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Disco Biscuits Haymaker Music Festival 10/5/02

   Over the course of 2002 I fell in love with the Disco Biscuits and chased their music up and down the eastern seaboard. It was often Ryan, Jen Farris, Corey what the Deal and Michael along for the ride. The excitement from each show begat the next adventure. Set against the backdrop of the DC Sniper's active period and territory, we ventured down south for a performance that has gone down in Disco Biscuits history. While 10/04/02 stands out as a phenomenal show, one of the best of the year, 10/05/02 is one of the greatest performances (if not the greatest) the Biscuits ever wrestled from the spheres. The already phenomenal audience recording by John Maddigan got a Rich Steele remaster for the 15th anniversary and is an absolute joy to listen to and is linked above. I sat down approaching the fifteenth anniversary and was just as floored as that faithful night by every note of this show.

             Set 1
The set start times for the weekend were 2:00AM for Friday night and 2:30AM for Saturday. Perfect really for the thing the Biscuits were doing. Well after Friday night, there was complaints from the community about the whole raging band and light show till sunrise thing. The Saturday sets were moved to a more community friendly midnight and shortened so the band ended up with slightly less than 3 hours. We were all bummed at the time but the time constraint is one of the main factors in why this show ended up being so special. No time to meander. All business. On the way to the wilderness stage, local law enforcement and their German Shepherds formed a gauntlet of paranoia that added another element to the energy that night. To my knowledge they were just there to let their presence be known and no one was hassled.

The sound is marvelous as the band launches into the opening composition of Hot Air Balloon. Magner’s sweeping synth part adds just the right amount of ethereal space around a warm and tight Brownstein bassline. Each musician is crystal clear in the mix. Whoever was doing the sound nailed the mix. The audience recording is perfection as well.

They play with such taste and heart right from the jump. Note the transition at 2:45 for chill-inducing perfection. Barber’s singing is earnest, restrained and completely honest.

“just give me one more try to chase down my dreams before I am done.”

Is there a more perfect line to associate with the ethos of this band? What it feels like to follow them? Magner’s piano playing is absolutely masterful throughout the verses. Sammy picks up the pace perfectly to get things moving for the ‘In a hot air balloon’ section. Barber and Brownstein interweave some melodic lines that launch us into the jam around 6:30. So tasteful.

The first jam theme of the night sets the tone: they arrive at something that seems completely developed without any effort. It just flows from them. Magner’s synth line defines this first jam and gives the structure for more contrapuntal interplay from Barber and Brownstein. Barber plays another full conceived, gorgeous guitar line at 9:55 that creates inspiration for movement the rest of the band follow along with.  The rising pattern Brownstein develops during the preceding jam is ready made support for this. Magner starts adding a piano voice (while maintaining the synth line!) that foreshadows the direction the jam will head in.

This piano part gradually breaks the rest of the band out of that second major theme of the jam and really gets the transitional ball rolling. At 13:11 Barber, out of nowhere once again pulls the most incredible melody from the heart of the universe. Here to me is proof of musicians as a conduit for the music. Somehow the stars aligned and the hearts and intentions of the band were true enough and the signal of the universe is broadcast loud and clear through these mortals.  That we have at least 3 distinct, completely improvised, perfectly developed classical compositions take shape within the first jam of a show is……the reason we're here.

Barber kicks on a dirty effect and the melodic perfection dissolves like spider webs and we head down a darker road. Still no less refined, balanced or directed though, as the rest of the gang follow his lead into Astronaut.

This is some meat right here folks. Magner’s soaring synth during the verse once again gives us a sweet moment before the darkness of the chorus. Themes of light and dark always catch my ears and this Astronaut gives the impression we’re in a super-fast space ship, chasing the line of the setting around the earth. Now we’re in the night, now it’s day time.

The instrumental bridge is perfectly executed. You can actually default to that summation on any composition from the night. They hit every part out of the park. Don’t dismiss this fact though, it’s critical part of why this night is so special. Incredible jams and flawless execution of composition is what makes this show stand head and shoulders above so many others.

“Suspended in the air, don’t you feel better?”

Can you feel that? It’s tangible as they race back into the compositional launching off point for the next jam. Sammy drops into a four on the floor beat at 5:45 that shows great promise for face melting. Bit by bit the energy coming from each instrumentalist gets dark. Dark and tight. Directed. Another critically important factor as to why 10/5/02 is so special is how every jam has absolute direction. Nothing seems aimless or accidental. I think if you played this music for an 18th century classical composer they’d assume it was all composed.

Magner triggers something off at 8:30 that sounds like some vast mechanical beast coming to life. The jam gets even darker. More menacing. Barber starts throwing out a distorted riff on the turn-around and Sammy cues some effortlessly tasteful e-drums. Brownstein’s bass tone is heavily processed. This jam is over by 10:00 but it’s a definitive moment of the song and of the night in my opinion. Sammy breaks the jam down and the monster that arises a bit before 11:00 is enough to terrify any medieval villagers that may have wandered out of the Spotsylvania County forest. Another Sammy breakdown at 13:00 functions to build the energy and tempo up another level. He’s a critical element in this jam. They all are really and truly but I don’t want his efforts to go unrecognized.

Barber and Brownstein slowly start injecting the astronaut theme back into the jam but Sammy is not ready to give up and his steady rock drumming is as powerful and potent as any drummer in the history of rock music at this moment. Absolute Barber touchdown pass on the astronaut reentry.

I have to pause here. This two-song segment is absolute perfection. Better than perfection. Transcendent.

Bernstein and Chasnoff is a welcome downshift in intensity. No dip in quality is evident though, right from the first instrumental segment. Magner laces some hot fire over a super tight band. An upbeat and funky theme is established around 3:00. I’m going to go ahead and be a cliched biscuits fan and say it: blissco. I ain’t lying though! Bouncy bass, lovely major key jamming with a tasteful electric piano tone from Magner and a clean tone from Barber. Magner’s shift over to what I’d call the ‘Story of the World’ synth tone starts steering the band in a new direction.  At 8:30 some structure remains but we reach a minimal transitional moment with Brownstein steering towards a darker space. Barber and Magner begin integrating riffs that subtly build the tension of the jam. A key change just before 11:00 while still holding onto the late phase B and C pattern. The tension is developed even further. With a minute left it’s still unclear where they’re headed next. Effortless peak>Aceetobee.

Great swagger on this drop as they confidently shuffle into AC2B.

“One day your all locked up the next day your free”

Commentary? On the challenges of the artist? Tonight they’re free. Last night too. Another welcomed dip in intensity with the jazzy composition of this tune. Uh oh. The drop into the jam just shy of 3:00 is massive, and pregnant with possibility. No rest for the tension-wracked. Barber plays the lead then charges into yet another fully developed from the drop segment of improvisation. This jam segment peaks with absolute fire at 7:00. It’s time we address Barber. When he’s on. It’s everything. On this night, ‘On’ is the understatement of the century. He can truly do no wrong. Lets face it, it’s a virtuoso performance from every single band member (and hundreds of fans as well. We can’t forget their part in all of this) but you can’t help but be floored by Mr. Jon Gutwillig. Especially on 10/5/02.

A new jam quickly rises from the ashes, forming around a tight Magner synth line. Sammy deftly trounces us with his kick just before 11:00 for a couple bars, leaving me wanting more. Your standard unimaginative biscuits critique from perhaps a fan of a different jam band is “untz untz untz”, indicating a repetitive and unimaginative dance beat. On a night like tonight, Sammy’s drumming is so varied and tasteful, you’d be hard pressed to see him settle in a four and the floor pattern for any amount of time. 

soaring synth and melodic bass around 12:40 get momentum going towards somewhere else. Sammy drops it out around 14:00 and Magner finds a lovely space for some atmospheric scene painting before they all reform and start building towards the Aceetobee peak. They hit it with fiery restraint. While they fully play through the theme, they aren’t done peaking this one at all. They stretch out in the chord progression and get even more sparks of energy spitting off the machinery. Barber plays with the line, plays all around the line then gives it to us straight but not narrow. The resolution of AC2B gives my body a tangible release as I’m listening at my desk.

A break but damn is it a quick one! The band comes back on stage to Barber’s “we didn’t cut anything out though, we just did it really fast. Like a movie on fast forward” and a member of the audience shouts “Astronaut again!” which I don’t entirely disagree with. Another shouted “Robots!” To which the band complies.

            Set 2
The opening section Save The Robots is a pretty complicated piece of music. It’s very intricate and not always easy to pull off. They execute it perfectly to start set 2. It has the potency of Mindless Dribble or 7-11 to instantly electrify the audience to start a set. It’s a clear gauntlet thrown to the audience to let them know this is going to be some serious business. They are patient and masterful throughout all of the written music and seem supremely comfortable and commanding entering the jam. At around 6:30 Barber and Magner start putting together a nice conversational riff. Brownstein starts expanded his element of the theme as Barber throws some jazzy chords that quickly take on more of a rock tone. At 8:45 the momentum and intensity start picking up which brings us back to the ‘save the robots’ segment.

“Antennae haircut
Is really nothing
It frees your hands
For the panic button.

Enslave the robots
Like us in tribes
Build your igloo
In summer time.”

That is some truly weird and biscuitsy material right there. It’s always been a very compelling lyric to me and a great example of their unique lyrical approach. Robert Hunter for the digital era. Things get noticeably darker as we enter the slingshot section of Robots. This piece of music builds up a dark dissonant tension that releases oh so satisfyingly with the Go!. I picture a slingshot at first but also picture the pinball launch mechanism.

“They all make me daydream
Trade my peace for
Day old armies save me
Take my piece and..
Go! Go! Go! Go!”

The Disco Biscuits did a series of fully improvised sets to portions of movies earlier in their career. Their improvised set to Akira on 12/31/99 was the most perfect choice in my opinion. When I hear a biscuits jam like the one that develops out of this Robots slingshot, I can’t help but imagine some sort of futuristic anime chase through the neon light streets of some sort of Tokyo-like megacity.

At the start of the final Robots peak, I summarized this version as solid but not particularly sparkly. As they really set to the work of peaking the song, I completely changed my mind. All the potential energy not immediately visible previously, manifests in this explosive peak. That Robots was sick. Only standalone tune of the night. To confirm, someone from the audience yells “That was Sick!”.

The opening of the classical style prelude of The Very Moon is played so achingly beautifully, I find myself tearing up a little, with goosebumps shooting all over, 15 years later listening on my headphones. Magner really sets the mood beautifully, first with the heavenly choir synth then gorgeous and tasteful electric piano. It’s a perfect nest for Barber to nurture one of the loveliest classical-for-electric-guitar melodies ever written. The Very Moon is one of the absolute finest pieces of music this band has written. This may well be one of the definitive readings of it. I must turn it up a bit and simply take it in.

Through with the songs structural elements, the music drifts freely into a warm, articulate expansion on the theme. The four-way interaction happening starting around 7:30 is a breathtaking example of completely open group-think. Instead of dwelling on the perfection they’d just created, they take this moment of open connection and immediately begin taking things somewhere else. Brownstein kicks on an effect and starts developing a catchy bass theme that at first draws in Sammy. As Brownstein more fully commits to it, the murmuration of birds Barber had become is drawn down to the power lines and bare branches of this theme. Sammy drops the tempo down to a slow 4 on the floor groove that creates  an excellent space for all to improvise.

Musical magic starts at 12:45. Another time when they’re locked in, rather than sticking with a perfect theme, they launch into space and find another way to go. Movement and direction define the playing here. The frailty of the improvisational space makes the key change around 14:00 so powerful. This f$%king groove (15:00) is incredible. Desk dancing so hard right now. The contrast between this musical moment and how this piece started is unbelievable. Here they lock in and stay put for a moment. Thank god. Powerful, powerful playing. This is the kind of playing (17:00) that I don’t hear anywhere else in the jam scene. Yes Magner, you folks are the punk band of the jam world.

Just when it seems like they couldn’t go any harder they start peaking the jam. That jam that felt like the most intense peak ever? Nah, that was just the baseline. At the slightest referencing of the riff from Barber, The band turns on a dime and drops Helicopters.

“Breathe free, fly high”

Understatement of the century. I had to learn Helicopters on bass recently and it gives me a newfound appreciation for this song. It’s the most complicated simple playing I’ve ever taken on. I honestly never got that close to nailing it. Enough to get by but man it's some tricky playing. Ripping through the composition at 200 mph, a dirty e-drum anchored jam quickly develops and we’re back on the animated-future-city-motorcycle-chase. The balance of moving towards developing new themes and committing fully to the existing theme developed is such a crucial element in why this performance is so incredible. They seem to do so effortlessly, with neither element suffering.

Intensity and momentum once again and we are clearly heading somewhere else. But where? No signs yet with less than a minute left on tape. Hints and whispers enter the musical conversation. Barber changes key and Brownstein follows suit. The triumphant return of The Very Moon theme has me throwing an invisible hat in the air as they calmly steer into the Very Moon funk. They don’t linger long before starting to improvise. It almost seems as if improvising is compulsive on 10/5/02. Like they can’t help but create. I am not complaining. I love the space they find around 4:30. The sustained bass from Brownie. It gives a lovely breath-catching opportunity for all before a savage drop into Shem-Rah Boo.

The actual song part again offers us a brief respite from intensity while keeping it super tight and interesting. At 4:50 we hit another one of those perfectly hatched improvisational themes that’s the hallmark of this show. This is one of my favorites. The part Magner plays to lead it is so infectious. Brownstein and Barber do a wonderful job supporting and embellishing it. Sammy always knows how to steer the bus. He’s the Neil Cassady of the organization. By 6:45 we are fully ‘in’ this theme. All 4 parts are intricate, have little pieces we can take off the shelf and examine, and drives the larger unit. There’s a little moment of shakiness at about 8:20 that is so endearing in this performance. Its maybe the only time all weekend they stutter or lose a step.  Sure enough they all double down their efforts and rage it even harder. More powerfully and with total command of their instruments. This is the true beauty of improvisational music on display. At 10:30 hid ya kids, hide ya wife, this peak is face-melting everybody. After the peak they have infinite momentum and latch on to the theme one more time but use it as a segue device to return to the completion of Helicopters.

The tension and release of that jam and the return of this piece is monumental. So much energy built and released. I wish there was some sort of gauge to measure something like that. Like study the pupil dilation patterns of the audience or something. Hoots, hollers, a request for Run like Hell, then a request for Basis.

They play Kitchen Mitts instead. I unabashedly love Kitchen Mitts. A Barber ballad, a real and honest to goodness love song from a band that doesn’t do love songs. I suspect much of the reason I love this song is its placement and performance on this night.Cementing it deep in my soul for all eternity.

“So sweet Georgia,
Why must I try?
When you like to rob and steal.
and all these people tell me to go find someone else,
when you never cut me a good deal.

So might I have to mention that we should blow them off ?
18 wheels and air ride .
Miles of paranoia, lunatics and jail,
And still we're having a good time.”

What could be more perfect after all that? After all those nights with this band leading up to this night?  They play a stunning and poignant version of this song. Even before they reach the jam, an eerie tension colors the playing during the ‘just like mine’ section. There’s a mournful yet driving quality to the instrumental build towards the ‘na na’ section. The dark haunting beauty that exemplifies the feeling of bisco. They peak nicely into the na’s and I think anyone would’ve walked away after this Kitchen Mitts glowing and telling stories of this night for the rest of their lives. This is the moment that this performance moves beyond legendary to become mythical. Barber starts a spooky arpeggio that Brownstein finds a unique counter point to. Magner has their backs with some warm synth sweeps.

Barber starts chugging a little bit but Sammy (channeling Ron Tutt now) is holding back. Playing with tasteful restraint. Subtle kick placement. A synth sweep ends at 1:40 just as Barber plays a choice lick. It’s a perfect moment. Until Sammy drops the Kick at 2:20. Then we see what perfection really is. The mood Magner sets is so special, so comforting. It flavors the jam to its core. Barber starts leading the groove in an upward gyre.

Now it suddenly becomes clear. The fog lifts and we can see all the mountains around us in morning-sun-soaked splendor. They’re going to play Run Like Hell. THEY’RE GOING TO PLAY RUN LIKE HELL!!!!! Not quickly though boys. We all know where this is going but let’s just savor it for a minute ok? Our night will soon be done but I don’t want to let go. They comply and we all get to dance and high five and bang our heads in the car for just a little bit longer. Pure triumphant touchdown Barber and Roger Waters beyond drive from Brownstein. It’s dirty, its spitting sparks like a runaway train. It’s everything. With all their power, they actually manage to do a big energy release at the end of the first chorus. Good. I need to breathe. Being able to downshift like that without losing steam is pretty incredible. Back into high gear verse 2. Another release as we enter some improv.

More subtle perfection at 10:10. Every note of this show demands your attention again and again. I don’t want to make this a Barton Hall 5/8/77 comparison but its goddamn Barton Hall 5/8/77. Or Veneta 8/27/72 or whatever is THE Dead show for you. Directed and effortless ensemble jamming around 11:50 like this is the beginning of the show and not the end. Barber and Brownie start pushing and pulling on a piece of the jam that quickly catches the full band’s attention  and starts to alter the progress in a new direction. Expert Sammy drop at 14:15 that shifts the jam into higher gear. Barber hints at a theme, Brownstein joins him, while Magner holds down a rhythmic synth line that locks in with Sammy. Peak Peak peak. One more level up, till we can’t take it, then wooooosh drop back into the composition. Spine rattling bass from Brownstein to bid us goodnight. 

My friends can sum up this masterful performance better than I can so I'll let them take the lead on analysis. Its interesting to see the themes we pick up on independently without discussing. First Jay Cowit:  

The first set of Haymaker Night 2 is a pinnacle of improvisation, performed by a band equally comfortable in their own skin, as they were willing to jump out of it.

The conglomeration of 4 unrelated songs (both in style, content, and form) into such a cohesive ladder of sound and style is utterly remarkable, as tight as any Weather Report or Zappa show, while retaining the fluid experimentation of Miles Davis and Robert Fripp. The commitment to gestalt style jamming, effectively what the Disco Biscuits entire improvisation style is based around, was never more perfectly executed than this show. There are never solos, or wasted periods of noodling or spacing out. Each segment, calm or furious, retains an assassin's poise and timing, never showing you its hand while remaining so humanely familiar, and deadly. It is utter discipline and patience, manifesting in a tapestry of divine psychedelia, twisting the otherwise opposite polar values into a helix of force. The slyness with which the band eases from upbeat and soulful but obsessively tight funk, to the darkest of nightmare-scapes is unparalleled. It is schizophrenic while disturbingly sane.

It always amazes me how little actual techno music is played during this set, yet everything sounds hauntingly machine-like...the lack of errors and ease at which flaws are turned into masterpieces is sublime and unrivaled by any set of improvisation music I've ever heard. It's a 3D printing of a perfect set, but it's played on the spot...using 4 songs that have nothing to do with each other. By the end...the 4 songs are a unified death squad of killers marching across the field, plowing over soul and soil alike. 4 Horseman riding
My loyal partner in crime for Biscuits shows Michael Ogushwitz also had this to say and I think it wraps this all up perfectly: 

I remember Hearing about haymaker during one of the other shows of spring / summer 2002 (ed's note: It was at the summer southern run shows) and we all said "Spotsylvania? HELL NO!!"
fast forward to a week later and we're on our way to Haymaker.

Specifically the part that stands out was Astronaut.   All day I remember somebody singing the chorus of astronaut (rather annoyingly, I might add)... Up until that day, Astronaut was not a song that was on my radar (no pun intended) but that changed that night... It stands out in my memory as something magical... something that I had never experienced musically...   I will probably never be able to explain it but it was like heroin... and I chased that dragon through the remainder of my time seeing tDB.   Never was the thrill of 'bisco' as potent as that night, in that field, in the middle of Virginia, where we all said we weren't going to be.