Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Oogee Wawa, Matisyahu

OK, this was kind of a weird show.

Let me start by saying that I've come to love Matisyahu. He first broke onto the scene in the early 2000's, and for awhile he was the latest hot thing, the Reggae Rabbi, making the rounds on all of the late night shows. He no longer dresses the part of the Hasidic Jew, and he's sort of dropped off music industry radar in recent years. What he hasn't stopped doing is turning in killer albums, like 2014's Akeda and 2017's Undercurrent, which is why he's been high on my bucket list of bands and musicians I've been wanting to see live.

I missed him last year at the Paramount (or maybe it was late 2017). So when I saw he was scheduled to play there this March, I asked Denise if she was interested in going. If it had been a Saturday, she might have said yes. However, since it was a Sunday night show, and she has to get up for work early, she passed. Undaunted, I bought a ticket (two actually) for myself.

As you can tell by this blog, I've had a busy week musically. I saw Gogol Bordello at The Space last Wednesday, The Basals and friends in Smithtown on Friday, The Hank Stone Band and friends in Lindenhurst on Saturday, and here I was again on Sunday with tickets to Matisyahu at The Paramount in Huntington. That's a lot of music (and a lot of writing, which is why this blog entry is a day or so late).

On Saturday night, after getting back from the Lindenhurst show, I found an email in my box stating that a touring Long Island band called Oogee Wawa would be opening for Matisyahu on Sunday. I clicked on their link, and listened to some of their stuff. It was a good fit for Matisyahu -- they play a mixture of reggae, funk and hip-hop. I was good with this -- godawful name for a band, but pretty good sound.

I took a quiet day on Sunday, and made it to Huntington Saturday night with no issues. For once, I found a spot in the parking lot right around the corner from the venue, so I didn't have to park a few blocks away. This made me very happy (but my Weight Watcher's leader, who wants me to move more, very sad.)

I entered the venue at 7:15 for an 8PM start. I grabbed myself a copy of Good Times, one of The Paramount's finest (overpriced) pretzels, and an (overpriced) water. I also stopped at the merch stand and bought one of Oogee Wawa's CDs. (I have all of Matisyahu's.)

I settled in at my seat, and watched the venue fill up. The way the Paramount is set up, there's a huge floor with bars on both sides. For some of the quieter shows, they put folding chairs on the floor. Usually, though, they leave the floor open. Then there is a balcony, that has three sections in the back facing the stage, and a narrow section with chairs above each side of the floor. I was in the back section on the right for this show (which is where I usually buy my seats).

The attendance at the show wasn't bad for a Sunday night, but it definitely wasn't a sellout. The dance floor was packed, and the middle section of the balcony was mostly full. My section, however, only had a few people in each row, and both side sections were also only about half full. Oogee Wawa seemed to have a decent contingent of friends and fans there, so I suspect that was why they were added to the show so late -- to help beef up the attendance. All in all, I'd say the size of the crowd was probably equal to the size of the crowd Gogol Bordello drew on Wednesday night. It looked a little more sparse upstairs, but that was because The Paramount has those two extra side sections upstairs that The Space doesn't.

At 8PM, Oogee Wawa took the stage. They had just returned from the Mt. Snow Reggae Festival the day before, and they seemed stoked to be there. They were exactly what I expected and hoped for. Oogee Wawa is a five-piece band, with everyone but the percussionist involved in the vocals at one point or the other. Jesse Lee, their MC, kept asking everyone if it was OK if they did some new songs. No prob. They were all new to me.

Now here was my first head scratcher of the night. They only let Oogee Wawa play for about 30 minutes. OK, fine, they're the opener, whatever. But they finished up at 8:30, and Matisyahu and his band didn't take the stage until about 9:15. It wasn't a set-up thing -- Oogee Wawa was set up in front of the Matisyahu band's equipment, which was already all in place. It took the guys from OW all of about 10 minutes to break down. So the crowd was left there for a full 45 minutes between sets just twiddling our thumbs. It wasn't like Oogee Wawa wasn't going over -- the crowd was loving them. And I have no doubt those guys would have happily done another 10 or 15 minutes of music. It was a bit of the downer -- OW got the crowd all psyched, and then we had to just sit there doing nothing for three quarters of an hour. Oh well.

I sat there between sets, trying unsuccessfully to read my Good Times, but the light wasn't really sufficient. So I mostly just watched the Paramount's coming attractions screens, which reminded me of the club's greatest strength. I hadn't fully realized it, but Denise and I have tickets for no less than five shows coming up there, including two comedy shows. I give The Paramount points for being relatively comfortable, and for their usually good sound quality. I give them minuses for the lack of parking, the fact that they're all the way in Huntington (so you have to drive forever on a mostly single-lane New York Avenue, where you get stuck at every light, to get there), and for the high prices of their food and drinks. But there is no doubt in my mind that as far as booking goes, they are the best club on Long Island. Over the course of the year, they book more shows in all kinds of genres that I want to see than any other venue. Which is why I find myself there so often.

One of the things I found unusual about this show was that it wasn't actually part of a tour. I kept looking at setlist.fm over the course of the last couple of weeks to see what Matisyahu has been playing, but his last listed shows were in August of 2018. I thought that maybe this was the first show of a new tour, but when I looked on his website, I discovered it was really more of a one-off. He's doing a show in Brooklyn again next Saturday, then heading out to California the second week of April. But he doesn't really go into full tour mode until late May. So I guess this show was kind of a warm up.

Anyway, after a number of unsuccessful attempts by the crowd to get cheers going and to jumpstart the night, Matisyahu and his band took the stage, bathed in purple light. They immediately broke into "Step Out Into the Light", the first song from Undercurrents. Matisyahu was taller than I expected, and pretty thin. He was clean shaven, and dressed casually, in a red shirt and jeans. During this first song, and throughout the night, he danced and moved to the music just a little awkwardly. (When I was in high school, there was this tall, skinny kid on the basketball team they called "Big Bird". He was a little ungainly, all knees and elbows when he moved. Matisyahu reminded me of him.)

One thing I was surprised at, and didn't like -- when I saw Gogol Bordello on Wednesday, I found them to be a high energy band who created an air of pandemonium about them. Matisyahu, on the other hand, creates music that is a little more chill. But the sound for this show, especially early in the night, seemed overly loud and a little harsh for the kind of vibe I associate with Matisyahu's music. Not that I couldn't get into it, and it didn't seem to be bothering the crowd any. But the sound was just a little too sharp for me to drift into the kind of head space I wanted to get into.

Another thing I found weird was that a lot of the songs seemed to just end out of nowhere. When you listen to as much music as I do, you kind of get an inner sense with any song of how it's "supposed" to end -- you hear what it sounds like, and there's a certain logical place that it usually moves to at the finish. But a lot of the songs M and his band did tonight just seemed to end from out of nowhere. It was a little jarring.

The set wore on, and I got into it. One thing I was really impressed by was how fast Matisyahu is when he raps, and the way he uses his voice as an instrument -- sometimes he sings, sometimes he raps, and sometimes he just lets his voice pulse and blend in with the other instruments. I should probably say, for anyone who doesn't know him, that his music blends reggae and hip-hop with jam rock -- he's a huge Phish fan -- and he and his band are capable of a great deal of improvisation.

Anyway, at some point after he'd been playing for about forty-five minutes, he started doing a cover of Marley's "No Woman, No Cry". Then, part way through the song, as the band continued quietly behind him, he stopped singing and asked someone named Jason O'Donoghue to come up on the stage. He introduced him as a "special guest", and at first, I thought it was a musician-friend of his that I just had never heard of. When the guy got up there, however, it was obvious that Matisyahu had never met him before -- he asked him several times if he was, in fact, Jason O'Donoghue. Then, with the band still playing softly behind him, he turned the mic over to Mr. O'D. Jason then proceded to explain that this was a special song for his girlfriend, and he wanted to make it something she'd always remember. He then asked his girl to marry him, to shrieks from the crowd.

A moment later, Matisyahu helped Jason's girl up onto the stage. Jason then did the traditional one-knee thing. His girl wasn't mic'd, so you couldn't hear her answer. But she obviously said yes, because she then ran into his arms and gave him a big kiss. Matisyahu then resumed singing the song, while Jason and his girl, still onstage, danced to it. Jason then swept his girl into his arms and carried her offstage into the wings, to huge applause. It was a nice feel-good moment.

The set continued, and although the sound was no longer so strident, it seemed to lose a little energy. There was a lot of slow improvisation late in the set, with Matisyahu standing off to the side and joining in only occasionally. He closed the regular set at almost 11PM with a medley that ended in a cover of Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up". (I was hoping someone would post the full setlist on setlist.fm, but apparently I was the only site member that attended this show.) He and the band then left the stage.

After a longer-than-usual break, M and the band came out again. By this time, probably due to the late hour on a Sunday, a lot of people had left, so the dance floor was only half full. The band played a quiet (and somewhat lackluster) encore. Then they finished, and abruptly left the stage, without Matisyahu saying goodnight, or anything, for that matter. The lights stayed out for quite a while, as it seemed that the sound and lighting people were as confused as the crowd as to whether the band was actually done for the night. Finally, after playing the lights over the crowd, and turning them on and off a few times, they decided that it was it, and the lights came up for good. As I said, it was weird.

I don't know what the deal was with Matisyahu tonight. He didn't seem angry, at least early on, but his demeanor got stranger and stranger toward the end of the night. Maybe he got pissed because the venue told him he could only play a one-song encore because it was after eleven. Or, I don't know if Matisyahu imbibes -- I know he's a spiritual guy, but he's also into reggae culture, so maybe he was a little high. In any event, it was a sudden and unexpected ending to a relatively odd (if mostly enjoyable) night of music.

Would I buy tickets to see Matisyahu again? I would. In spite of the strange ending, it's not like I felt cheated -- he played from 9:15 until after 11. However, in all honesty, although I've been a much bigger Matisyahu fan than a Gogol Bordello fan up until now, it's hard for me not to compare the two shows. And although they, too, couldn't maintain the manic energy level they started with over the course of the whole evening, I thought GB put on a better show. (I enjoyed Oogee Wawa more than the NuFolk Rebel Alliance, though, so I guess it all evens out.)

In any event, I've got a couple of weeks before the next show I've got tickets for, so maybe I'll take a break for a few weeks. On the other hand, I see that He-Bird, She-Bird is out and about again, and that they've got an afternoon show scheduled at the Sayville Public Library, so maybe not. I'll see how my energy level is then, and maybe I'll sneak out for some more music.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Hank Stone Band, Grand Folk Railroad, Sushi Savant

A year is a long time. And a year ago, in March of 2018, I was forced to miss a show I'd been planning to attend in Stony Brook because of the last spasms of my old job. The job had been dying for years -- every year since the end of the Bush Jr. administration, I had worked fewer hours than the year before -- until the point where last year, even during our "busy season" (from February through early May), I found myself working two to three days a week max. So I didn't think there would be any problem making it to a scheduled Friday night concert by The Hank Stone Band. There's a guy named Murphy, though, and he has a Law that I was all too familiar with. So of course, the night of Hank's show was one of the few nights on my job where we were inundated with work. And because I had so few work hours available, I had to take the ones that were.

"OK, it sucks, but no big deal," I thought. "I'll catch Hank the next time out."

Little did I know that Hank was about to take a little musical sabbatical. And like everything else in this world, I'm pretty sure it was all about me. I figure that Hank said, "Oh yeah? Well eff Rich Hughes! I'll show him. I won't play out again for a year!" (Have I mentioned that my mental health isn't what it used to be? And that it didn't even used to be all that good?)

In any event, when I saw that Hank and his band had a show coming up this year on March 23, I immediately put it on my calendar and prayed that it wouldn't snow that day. I let my friend Rich Da Drummer (from The Slant) know, and he decided that he wanted to go, too. (I pretty much knew he would.) I didn't know much about the venue -- only that it was in Lindenhurst, somewhere on Wellwood Ave. -- but that was fine for me. It was about halfway between where Rich and I lived, so that was good. I just kind of pictured it as this very chill lounge.

Now Friday night, as I wrote about previously, Denise and I went out to see The Basals and friends in Smithtown. And while I was there, I ran into Kevin McLeod, who said he was planning on going out the next night  to see Hank as well. He spoke a little about the venue -- some place called BACCA -- and said that he had played there previously, and it was a great place.

That night, after I got home, I looked up the venue, and was surprised to learn that it wasn't a lounge after all. BACCA was an acronym for the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts, which exists (obviously) in Babylon, but for some unfathomable reason has their performance space in Lindenhurst. (I try not to think too much about these kinds of things -- they make my head hurt.) I also noticed that there were advance tickets for sale by brownpapertickets.com, an agency I'd bought tickets from before. But it was late, I was in a lazy mood and my wallet was in the other room, so I just figured I'd either buy a ticket tomorrow or get one at the door.

The next day, when I got up, I went back to the website and discovered there were no more tickets for sale there. At this point, I panicked -- I remembered that folk is sometimes pretty well supported on the Island, and that sometimes, these folk concerts sell out. I couldn't not see Hank again -- next time, he might really teach me a lesson and take five years off. And while Hank seems eternally youthful (for an old folkie, heh heh), I plan on being blissfully senile in five years. I'd still be happy to hear Hank play -- I'd just sit there and drool happily on myself -- but it wouldn't be the same.

I contacted Rich, who also hadn't understood what kind of show this was, and hadn't bought an advance ticket either -- and together we pondered what to do. We decided to just head out to Lindenhurst and meet at the venue anyway. I knew that sometimes, Brown Paper Tickets doesn't sell tickets on the day of the show, so my hope was we'd be able to get tickets at the door. (And later, I reread an e-mail I'd received from Todd Evans, the He-Bird from He-Bird, She-Bird who also plays in The Hank Stone Band, which verified that we should be able to do this.) We figured that if worse came to worse and we got shut out, we'd at least grab some dinner together and drown our sorrows, and Hank would see that we'd tried our best to see him play, even if I was an idiot. (My therapist really wants me to stop that -- I'm not an idiot, I'm a wonderful human being. Maybe a little slow sometimes, though.) But I thought our chances of getting in were pretty good, and I really wanted to see the show.

I found the place without too much trouble, but I've got to tell you, it's pretty easy to miss. It's actually located in a narrow storefront -- the room is much deeper than it is wide -- just a few doors south of The Village Lanterne. I found parking in a lot around the corner, and arrived at the venue at about 7:10 for a scheduled 7:30 starting time. Once inside, I found that my fears were unfounded -- there were definitely still seats for sale. In fact, at this point, the venue was still mostly empty (although it filled out pretty nicely later on.)

I texted Rich to let him know that I was in, and learned that he was just parking himself. I said some hellos to Hank and Todd. Todd introduced me to Jim Pastor and his wife Patty (who was helping out selling snacks and drinks), and we chatted briefly.

Now there were three bands scheduled for the show -- Sushi Savant, which I knew was a project that John Tabacco of WUSB was a part of; The Hank Stone Band; and Grand Folk Railroad, I band I didn't really know anything about. I thought that that was the order of the show, but I was mistaken -- Hank and his band were setting up first.

Rich arrived in time, bought himself a couple of cookies, and sat down next to me to enjoy the show. A moment later, the lights went out, and the music started.

I've seen Hank Stone play dozens of times, back in the LIMC days and the days of the Pisces Cafe. Once or twice, I even saw him jump onto an electric guitar and play a song or two with someone else. But this was my first chance to catch him with his (no longer new) full band. The band consisted of Hank on lead vocals and guitar, Todd Evans on guitar, Mike Christian on bass and Gary Settoducato on drums.

Their set for the night seemed to follow several main themes. There were songs about trains (during which Hank put on his train hat), songs about rivers and songs about trees. (Or about a tree, anyway). I knew Rich was having a good time with this, as he's a fellow train enthusiast.

Most of the set came from Hank's two most recent albums, Painting Tomorrow's Skies Blue (2017) and Until I Saw That Train (2011), although he also played one from his debut solo album from 2005, Rough Folk, a blazing track called "Red".

The band was quite tight, but they also did a great job of keeping it simple, by which I mean this: Hank has always been an excellent songwriter. His songs are distinctive, and they stand out both musically and lyrically. And this band did an excellent job of supporting the material and letting it shine. Some bands get so involved in showing off that they overwhelm the songs themselves (and even more bands have decent musicianship but mediocre songs). These guys have songs that hold up well, and while Todd had a few nice solos, they really did a great job of supporting the songs themselves. (Rich also marveled at how well Gary could play the drums while wearing a hat.)

Some of my favorite songs of the night were (in addition to "Red, which is an old favorite of mine) "Sycamore" and "Robert Johnson Knew" from the second album, and "The River Says" from the new one. I also enjoyed "The Rippling of Rivers", which I like to think of as Hank's hip-hop song. (Not really. But it is largely spoken word.) But really, everything they played was good.

In any event, The Hank Stone Band's set was much too short for my taste. But then, I've never been someone to eat just one or two Hershey's kisses when there was a whole bag nearby. I was just glad I'd gotten there early so I didn't miss any of it.

As it turned out, there was a certain amount of intermixing between bands on this evening, because Hank's bass player Mike Christian also played in Grand Folk Railroad, and his drummer Gary Settoducato also played in Sushi Savant.

Grand Folk Railroad was up next. They are largely a project by Mike Christian and his wife Susan Schwarz-Christian, who is the lead singer/songwriter. She also plays a variety of instruments, including a banjo, an accordion and a flute. Their lineup is filled out by Frank Doris, who is a really excellent lead guitarist, and Bill Resvanis, who is no slouch himself on the drums.

Their set ranged from folk rock to Americana to lounge rock, and included a number of Susan's songs about snow and winter, some of what Susan called her "pissed off chick" songs, a song about the joys of living in Suffolk County after living on the much-more-cramped Nassau/Queens border, and a pair of Frank Doris' songs as well. My favorites included Susan's "On This Day of Snow" and "Way Out Here" (the Suffolk County song), and a particularly clever number written by Frank called "I Wrote a Folk Song, But Nobody Liked It." I liked these guys a lot, and look forward to catching them again.

The third and final set of the evening was by the interestingly named Sushi Savant. This was another 4-piece band, comprising John Tabacco and Jim Pastor on guitars, Joe Gioglio on bass, and Gary Settoducato on drums. I found these guys to be a little more blues-tinged than the previous two bands, with maybe some jazz and roots-rock influence going on as well. John, Jim and Joe traded off lead vocals, which kept the sound interesting, and at times, they pulled off some nice two- and three-man harmonies. They were quite polished, and had some interesting interplay between the instruments. Pastor at times even pulled off some nice Allman-Brothers-sounding guitar.

A couple of the songs that jumped out at me were a number called "Blame Gravity", on which Gioglio sang the lead, and a song that John Tabacco sang called "Open Your Eyes" (on which Long Island songstress Marci Geller sang harmonies). They closed with what seemed to be a particularly popular song with this crowd, "Too Much Sake".

This would have certainly made for a complete enough night of music. However, the bands had one more treat for the crowd, as the ten musicians who made up the three bands all took the stage together for an encore, an energetic cover of Elvis Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

This was a really strong show that was a nice feather in the cap of the Babylon Citizen's Council on the Arts. I was thrilled I finally got to catch Hank and his band live, and happy to heard two other bands that I enjoyed as well. Good job BACCA!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Reign of Angels, The Basals, Funhouse

About three weeks ago, Denise came to me all excited. She'd been up on Facebook, and had seen that The Basals were doing a Reunion Show at Katie's of Smithtown. The Basals were one of our best-friend bands from the late nineties/early two thousands, and in fact Mike Epstein, their leader/bass player, had recorded The Slant's first album, Try This, at his business, Dare Studios. Over the years, we had seen the band dozens of times, from tiny clubs to opening gigs for bands like Berlin and Bow Wow Wow.

I think it was Tom, The Slant's keyboard player, and myself who first discovered The Basals. We went to a semi-final round show for the Long Island Music Festival to support our friends Crystal Rose, and totally fell in love with The Basals. They had a kind of cool Blondie vibe going, and lead singer Holli had this amazing voice -- in the middle of one of their songs, "Constantly Turning", she even broke into an operatic section. The Slant shared the stage with them several times over the years, and we attended their live shows whenever we could.

To sweeten the pot for this particular show, we learned that Mike Ferrari's old band Reign of Angels (which he shared with Sean Crusher of Jones Crusher) was also playing, and a third band, Funhouse, (which also featured Sean Crusher) was closing the show. I immediately put it on my calendar.

I took a fairly light day today, and grabbed a 3-hour nap as well, so by the time Denise woke me up at 7, I was ready.

I wasn't sure exactly where Katie's was, but I figured it had to be one of the clubs right near the Smithtown Performing Arts Center. It turned out I was right. I actually thought it might have been the old Molly Bloom's directly across the street from the PAC, but it was actually a much smaller venue a couple of blocks further west on Main St.

We parked next to this nice looking Portuguese Restaurant, and if I had known it was there, we'd have left earlier and had dinner there. (Maybe next time).

We entered the club, and immediately ran into Mike Ferrari and Sean Sanders (aka, Sean Crusher), who gave us a warm greeting. There weren't many seats left in the place, so I started to scan my surroundings to see what I could find. (I knew I wasn't going to be able to stand for 3 hours). As we walked through the back of the club, we were hailed by Kevin McLeod, who had also come out to support the night.

I felt bad, because I'd been planning to go see Kevin and his band play out last Friday. But I was kind of wiped that night (it took me all week to get my energy back from that Fleetwood Mac show), so I had stayed home. I promised to catch him the next time he and his band played out, though.

We chatted briefly with Kevin, and with Mike Epstein who came over to say hello (and we somehow wound up talking about the "Death of Richard Hughes" story I posted here a few months ago.) Then, I spied an empty bar stool over near the sound board, which I set Denise up on. Then, on the other side of the room, I saw a metal folding chair folded up and leaning up against the wall. I checked it out, thinking it might be busted. Happily, it was fine. I brought it back across the room and opened it up next to Denise, and we were set for the night. I quickly grabbed us a couple of diet cokes, and by the time I had them in hand, Reign of Angels was going on.

When Denise and I first met Mike Ferrari, Reign of Angels was already a thing of the past -- Mike had basically given up on live performing, and was mostly concentrated on being Jones Crusher's record label. I did catch one other Reign of Angels reunion show at a Jones Crusher gig, though, so I'd seen them once before.

The band performed tonight as a four-piece, with Mike singing lead, and Sean flanking him to his left, playing lead guitar, then later switching to bass. I don't think they ever recorded an album, so I really wasn't familiar with their material. As it turned out, they had a cool, dark vibe that reminded me a little of Echo and the Bunnymen, especially on a song that I think was called "Empty". Mike's promotional material for the show jokingly compared his vocals to those of William Shatner, but he doesn't have a bad voice. In any event, we enjoyed their set.

Midway through, I spied a familiar face. Back when we used to frequent the Basals shows, there were two young women that we got used to seeing at every show, Kirsten and Michelle. I saw Kirsten at the bar, and called to her. Unsurprisingly, Michelle was also nearby. They joined us in our spot in the corner of the room, and hung out with us the rest of the night. (I later said hi to Mike Ferrari's wife Lori. I also saw Eddie Havok of Media Crime across the room, although I never got a chance to say hello to him.)

Reign of Angels did what seemed like a fairly short set. After a short break between sets, The Basals took the stage.

Holli joked about brushing off the cobwebs, but the band sounded great to me. (I didn't recognize the drummer or the guitarist, but they did an excellent job.) They played a solid 13-song set that included most of my favorites, including "Fine" (a reworked version of  "Constantly Turning"), "Distant in the Streets" and "Dive" off their first album Dive, and "Apology" off of their self-titled second album. They also played "Dog's Life" from the Dive album, a song Denise and Tom liked so much that The Slant occasionally covered it. And they made my night by closing with my favorite Basals song, "We Belong". It really brought me back to the nineties.

Now I had assumed that Funhouse was a new project of Sean Crusher's. But in between the second and third sets of the night, I spoke briefly with Mike Epstein, who explained that Funhouse was actually the first band that ever rehearsed at Dare Studios. Sean hadn't previously been a member of the band, but was filling in tonight for the band's old bass player, who couldn't make the gig.

We figured we'd stay for a few songs, at least. But it turned out that we enjoyed their sound enough that we stayed for their full set. This was another band with some pronounced '80s influences, including Echo and the Bunnymen (I think I have them on the brain because I've had the Crocodiles CD out in my car all week), The Psychedelic Furs and The Cure. I also heard traces of Joy Division and Modern English, and the guitar riffs on one of the songs sounded very influenced by The Edge of U2. Interestingly enough, though, their one cover song of the night wasn't of an eighties band. Instead they covered an obscure Interpol song. (Go figure). In any event, we definitely enjoyed Funhouse. They did a nice job of capping off a fun evening of music.

These days, Mike and Holli of The Basals mostly play out as part of the Fleetwood Mac tribute band Fleetwood Macked. It might be a while until the next Basals reunion, but Fleetwood Macked plays out fairly often, and I know they have an upcoming date at The Paramount.

The Basals' full setlist for this show can be found at www.thrilledtheyplayedwebelong.com.

I'll have more music to write about tomorrow night.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The NuFolk Rebel Alliance, Gogol Bordello

I'm not sure exactly what made me buy this ticket. I'd say that I'm a casual fan of Gogol Bordello. I somehow wound up with their 2013 album Pura Vida Conspiracy, and I liked it enough to pick up their next one in 2017, Seekers & Finders. Both of these made my Top 10 Local Albums lists in their respective years (they're a New York City band.) But they've been around for 20 years, and I haven't thus far gone back to hear their back catalog. I think that at the time I purchased the ticket, I was looking at a few months were I didn't have much going in the way of concerts, so when I saw they were coming to Long Island (and with reasonably priced tickets), I figured why not.

I've only been to The Space in Westbury one other time before, when Denise and I saw The B-52s there (with Mother Feather and Iridesense) a couple of years ago. It's not a bad club -- it actually used to be a family movie theater owned by some weird old couple. (Denise has some stories about going there when she was a kid. God help you if they caught you sneaking in your own candy.) But Westbury isn't really close by me, and the club doesn't have its own parking lot, so you have to find a spot on the street. I hate doing this, because I'm always thinking, "What if I can't find a spot" (I hate having to drive around looking for parking), or even worse, "What if I miss one of those sneaky 'No Parking on such-and-such a day' signs, and get a ticket, or get towed? Or if some family that doesn't like people parking in front of their house slashes my tires?" Yeah, I'm really mentally healthy. But it is what it is.

The other reason I haven't gone there much is their booking. They get national acts, but they're kind of weird national acts. When they first opened, I remember Garbage played there, and they did have The B-52s that one time. But a lot of the time, it's other niche acts (like Gogol Bordello), or older acts that have gotten pretty obscure. Recent bookings have included Dave Davies (the lesser-brother of The Kinks), Warrant (who I thought was the "Hold Your Head Up High" band, but no, that was Argent), and The Blue Oyster Cult (who gets bonus points for being a Long Island band, but let's face it, they're getting to the age where they probably ought to start rethinking that whole "Don't Fear the Reaper" policy). Their next big show is something called "Tape Face". So in any event, this is only the second time I've been to the place.

One thing I do like about them is they're right off of a main road. Take the Northern State to Post Ave., go north a few blocks and you're there. You don't have to drive for miles on a one-lane street stopping at lights every two blocks like you do when you go into Huntington for the Paramount. So I was there pretty quickly, and I found a parking space up the block without too much trouble. (I was thinking that seeing a somewhat obscure band like Gogol Bordello on a Wednesday night might mean there wouldn't be much of a crowd. Turned out I was wrong about that.)

As I entered, there was a guy putting those bands around people's wrists. I explained that I had no intention of drinking, but he explained that they wanted everyone to have one anyway. This annoyed the hell out of me, because I hate those things. The sticky part always tears out my wrist hair.

I went inside to use the restroom. The only ones I was able to find were two handicapped single-person rooms. I'm assuming there must have been larger ones somewhere -- I don't remember this being an issue the last time -- but I never did find them all night. I bought myself a bottle of water ($4 -- still robbery, but actually much cheaper than you'll get at most of these clubs). Then I went upstairs to find my seat.

I was seated in what they call the "Balcony". It's not all that high up -- not as high as The Paramount's balcony for example -- but since the last time I was there, they've also added a "Loge", which is a small section of seats at the back of the floor level that must be raised all of about three steps. They had one young fellow there trying to usher for both sides of the balcony (and possibly for the Loge as well -- there were long periods of time where he disappeared from my view). This wasn't so much an issue for me, as I was there way early and the club was still empty. But it was an issue later on, when people started showing up and couldn't find their seats. There was a lot of up-and-down in the early part of the night, as people would take seats, then have to get up when they realized they were in the wrong section.

The Balcony itself is kind of weird -- it has three sections. The middle section, where I was seated, has all rows of what I'd call traditional seats -- cushioned seats that are bolted to the floor and attached to one another, all with immovable arm rests. But in the section on the left and the section on the right, the rows of traditional seats alternate with rows of red-cushioned pull-out chairs, and rows that look like long couches -- there are individual seat outlines, but there are no armrests or anything between them. They look comfortable, but they have to be a bit nightmarish for larger people when it's crowded, as you'd be bleeding over into the person's seat next to you.

As for my chair, I thought it was a little snugger than the seats were the last time I was here. But then again, I might be a few pounds heavier than I was back then. I didn't buy an extra seat for last night, so although I was on the aisle, I was a little worried I was going to be uncomfortable when the people next to me showed up. I scoped out some possible places to move to, but as it happened, I needn't have worried -- the seat next to me stayed empty all night.

The first thing I did when I sat down was use my car key to cut that stupid wristband off.

As the club started to fill in a little, I tried unsuccessfully to get a handle on the crowd. It was a weird one. There were some white and grey heads like myself, but there were also some people with very young kids there (especially for a school night). In the seats directly in front for me for a good part of the night were a young mother and her daughter, who I'd say was only about six years old, and there was another family there with a boy who seemed the be about three. The crowd was also of very mixed ethnicity. There were some people speaking Spanish, but also a lot of people speaking languages I couldn't quite recognize. Given that half of Gogol Bordello is either Russian or Ukrainian, I assume what I was hearing was various Slavic languages.

At 8 o'clock, the lights went down, and the opening act went on. (At this point, I'd say the club was only about one-fifth full, but it started filling out as soon as the show started.) They were called the NuFolk Rebel Alliance, a duet from Brooklyn where both guys played guitar and sang, and one also DJ'd a little. I had tried to look them up beforehand, but except for a couple of videos on YouTube, they had virtually no internet presence. Eventually, I figured out this was because this is a side project for one of the members of Gogol Bordello, their percussionist Pedro Erazo.

I was enjoying them at first. They had a distinctly Latino flavor, with Erazo being from Ecuador, and the other guy (whose name I missed) being Puerto Rican. I didn't recognize the first song, but the second and third were a couple of Clash covers ("London Calling" and something else), that were totally reworked and made into something original and interesting. Unfortunately, then the guys started getting into politics, and the vibe quickly changed from a "we" to an "us and them", with me distinctly being part of the "them". I was a little surprised by this -- I've never really considered Gogol Bordello to be a particularly political band -- but I really lost interest in the set after this. This was too bad, as musically, these guys were pretty talented. But I bought my tickets to be entertained, not preached at.

They went on seemingly forever (45 minutes, actually). And although I was hoping that because they were only a duo and that Gogol Bordello's equipment was already set up, it would be a short break between sets, it didn't work out that way. NuFolk ended at 8:45, and although there were a couple of teases, the headliners didn't actually take the stage until 9:25.

Now truth be told, last night was one of those nights when I almost stayed home and ate the tickets. I do that sometimes, if a show is inexpensive and I'm feeling tired or a little depressed, especially if its a show I'm going to by myself. So I had very nearly stayed home and watched a couple of episodes of The Umbrella Academy with my daughter. And as the break between sets wore on, I wished I had. That's how much my mood had soured.

I even toyed with the idea of leaving early, and just skipping Gogol Bordello's set. I had looked up their most recent setlists, and while they seem to be one of those bands that changes their setlist every night, I saw that this was a 20-year anniversary tour, so most of the material they played (sometimes even all of it) came from albums I had no familiarity with at all. But I had driven all the way to Westbury, so in the end, I figured it didn't make any sense to just leave. (Although in my head, I reserved the possibility of doing so if GB got as political as their side project.)

In any event, I'm glad I stayed. By the time GB came on, the floor section (which is a standing-only section) was fully packed. Even though we had some room up in the balcony, it was a pretty impressive crowd for the middle of the week.

Gogol Bordello came out firing on all cylinders. I didn't recognize any of the first three numbers, but they were super high-energy, and Eugene Hutz was as charismatic a front man as you could have hoped for. They did the first few songs as a six-piece, before being joined by their female backup singer, Ashley Tobias (aka TOBI).

Now a few words about the music. Gogol Bordello is usually described as being a "gypsy punk" band. They blend slavic and gypsy sounds with fast, exciting rock and sometimes with dub. It's hard to find a parallel, but weirdly, the one that comes closest for me is Black 47. Not that the two bands sound alike, but both are large bands that include non-traditional rock instruments (in Black 47's case, a brass section and some Irish instruments; in Gogol Bordello's, a violinist, some Latin percussion, and sometimes -- although not last night -- an accordion.) And both Black 47 and Gogol Bordello feature lead singers with unusual voices that, although not beautiful in the traditional sense, are effective for what they're doing. Hutz's voice is husky, and he sings (and presumably speaks) with a Borat-like accent.

One of the things I really like about Gogol Bordello is that they're clearly doing their own thing, and not trying to fit in with everybody else. For example, some bands with a gruff-voiced lead singer like Hutz might try to smooth out his rough edges by employing a female backup singer with a traditionally pretty voice. Not these guys. For TOBI's first number, her entire contribution consisted of intermittent ear-shattering Elsa Lancaster shrieks. Her voice is used throughout as something of a spice, rather than a main ingredient, and I have to admit, it's kind of effective.

In any event, this is a supremely confident band -- there's nothing tentative about them. They come right out and grab the audience by the -- um, collar -- and they never let go. They have a certain style to them. (Hutz wore a pair of bright yellow plaid pants that would have looked appropriate on Latka from the old Taxi TV series, along with a white gypsy shirt and a flat-topped hat, and TOBI wore a leopard-spotted coat for the entire set. I'm not sure how she didn't drop from heat prostation). And it doesn't hurt a bit that they're very tight musically. (And I have to say, the sound at The Space was quite good last night.)

The crowd was totally into them, jumping up and down a lot, and occasionally doing some light moshing. Even the little girl in the row in front of me bounced in place with excitement. And the crew seemed to pick up on the general sense of pandemonium, as they repeatedly ran onto and off of the stage, changing out this piece of equipment or that, all the while dodging Hutz, TOBI and Erazo, who periodically ducked out from behind his kit and ran to the front of the stage to add his vocals. At one point, when Erazo was in need of a drumstick, one came flying out of the side of the stage, sadly missing his outstretched fingers. It was controlled chaos.

For the fourth song of the night, the band did "Saboteur Blues", my favorite song from their most recent album, and the only one they did all night that I was previously familiar with, but it was all good.

Eventually, they did slow it down a bit. (They pretty much had to -- you can't go at that kind of fever pitch all night.) But even the slower songs were pretty good, including "Start Wearing Purple", which was one of their contributions to a film in which Hutz co-starred with Elijah Woods called Everything Is Illuminated; and a song called "Alcohol", which seemed to have been near and dear to the lead singer's heart, as he played the entire show clutching and taking slugs from a wine bottle, and getting progressively more inebriated. (He kept having to ask their guitar player what was coming up next, and he seemed blissfully unaware that he was in Long Island for most of the night.)

But they picked it back up again at the end of the set (I think the closing song might have been "My Companjera"), then did a three-song encore that ended with "Undestructable", one of two songs during the night on which TOBI came out beating on a large, thin, marching-band style drum.

I have to give this band their due -- they are very entertaining, and they definitely left it all on the stage. I left the club as a much bigger Gogol Bordello fan than I had been when I arrived.

I think these guys have played The Space before, so they'll probably be back. And I'm sure you can catch them in the city once in awhile as well. They're heading down the East Coast now, and then on a short European tour. But whenever they get back, I'd recommend catching them live. Their albums are good, but their live show is even better.

Update: Someone has posted a full setlist, and if they're right, "My Companjera" was done earlier in the set. I'm not sure they are, though, because I'm familiar with "Break Into Your Higher Self", and I didn't hear them play it the other night. Anyway, here's the full setlist as posted: :  www.gypsypandemonium.com

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Live Concerts By My Favorite Bands

After seeing Fleetwood Mac live last night, I thought I'd do a breakdown for which of my Top 25 Favorite Bands I've seen live, and how many times.

Jethro Tull - Saw them live five or six times, and saw Ian Anderson and Martin Barre live one time each.

The Who - Saw them twice.

Pink Floyd - Never saw them. This is my biggest concert regret.

Yes - Saw them officially four times, and saw Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe once (which was the best of all).

The Good Rats - Saw them probably two dozen times -- the classic lineup a few times, and later the lineup featuring Peppi and his sons a whole bunch.

Procol Harum - Saw them twice.

Bruce Springsteen - Saw him once, at his height, on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour.

Joni Mitchell - Never saw her.

The Cars - Never saw them.

The Police - Saw them once on their reunion tour. Saw Sting live four or five times with Denise, since she'd dump me for him in a minute.

Blondie - Saw them four times, including twice in 2017 (and once where Debra Harry flashed me. Did I ever write about that here? I must have.)

Eurythmics - Saw them once, but it was one of my top shows ever.

The Smiths - Never saw them, and I refuse to see Morrissey because he's such a flake. Have tickets coming up to see Johnny Marr, though.

The Go-Go's - Saw them twice.

Fleetwood Mac - Saw them twice, including last night. Saw Stevie Nicks solo once.

Rush - Never saw them.

'Til Tuesday - Never saw them. I've seen Aimee Mann solo four times, though.

The Cranberries - Saw them twice.

Nirvana - Never saw them.

The Slant - Considering this was my wife's first band, I saw them dozens of times.

Future Bible Heroes - Saw them twice, and saw The Magnetic Fields once.

Paramore - Saw them three times.

Bayside - Saw them once.

Black 47 - Saw them four times, I think.

Blackmore's Night - Saw them four times, including once in a tiny coffee shop when they did a set between Crystal Rose sets.

I haven't listed any of the local bands that Denise and I love, each of whom we've seen a bunch of times. The Slant is the only non-national act I usually include in the list above, since they have special standing.

Fleetwood Mac

Ten years ago, right around the time that I first lost a bunch of weight and started to feel better physically, Denise and I went into the city to see Fleetwood Mac play live at Madison Square Garden. It was a great show, although at that time, Christine McVie hadn't yet rejoined the band.

They've toured since then, and I think their last tour included all five members of the band's most successful lineup -- Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood -- but I didn't see them then, preferring to spend my concert budget to see bands I hadn't seen before.

Lately, though, I've been getting nostalgic, especially about some of the older '70s bands who may never tour around these parts again. And I've been choosing to buy tickets for more of the acts that I know I love, instead of chasing after newer acts I might or might not enjoy as much.

Now last year, around the time when the news got out that Fleetwood Mac had fired Lindsey Buckingham, there was an immediate reaction. A lot of people felt like they needed to take sides. In particular, some of what I call the "Grumpy Old Men" on YouTube were very critical of the move, in some cases advocating against people buying tickets to see Fleetwood Mac and hinting that the absence of Buckingham somehow made the band illegitimate. I followed the story, and the reactions, at the time, without really knowing how I felt about it. The band was even mocked to a certain degree when they announced the additions of Neil Finn (of Crowded House and Split Enz) and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), with people pointing out that it took two men to replace Buckingham.

Here's the deal, though. I know that Buckingham is usually given credit for being the person who arranged all of the classic-period Fleetwood Mac material, and I have no doubt that that's true. He's also considered an underrated guitarist, which I'm not sure of, but I won't argue about. However, for my tastes, I've always considered Buckingham FM's third best songwriter, with Christine McVie coming in second and Stevie Nicks far-and-away the best. (You'll note that she's the only member of the band who has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.) So for me, the absence of Buckingham was far from being a deal breaker. 

When the new lineup started going out and playing the talk shows to promote the new tour, again, there was a lot of criticism, saying they were tentative, lackluster, etc. I saw some of those clips, and didn't see a problem, especially given that the lineup was brand new together, and it usually takes a little bit of touring before a band begins to gel.

But as the new Fleetwood Mac started to tour, I found that I was kind of intrigued by the possibilities of the new lineup. And after their first few shows, I looked up their setlist on setlist.fm, and I liked what I saw. I loved that their setlist for the tour included "Black Magic Woman", which few people realize was written by Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac, and not by Carlos Santana (although Santana's version will always be the classic one). And I liked the inclusion of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" and Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" in deference to Finn and Campbell. So, somewhat to my surprise, I decided I really wanted to see this tour.

When I first saw the ticket prices for the Madison Square Garden show, I wavered a little. Then I noticed that the band was doing a show in Atlantic City, and that the prices were lower. I knew I could always convince Denise to go for an overnight in Atlantic City, so I decided to buy tickets there. Unfortunately, by the time I came up with the money, there weren't really great seats (i.e., aisle seats) left for sale, so I had to pass. But by this time, I was emotionally in. So I wound up biting the bullet and buying a pair of seats to see them at the Garden.

Now if I knew what fate had lined up, I might have made a different choice. There's a huge project I've been working at on my job, which I've kind of been making myself sick over. It involved getting our agency recertified in a given state. And I found out a few weeks ago that, much to my horror, that state's auditors were coming to do the audit on the same day as the Fleetwood Mac concert.

Unfortunately, these days, going into the city for a concert just knocks the hell out of me. I have a certain amount of anxiety leading up to it, and it physically wears me out to the point where I'm all but useless the day after. On the day of a concert, I like to take a very light day, and nap in the afternoon if I can. But with the auditors coming in, this wasn't going to be possible. I was going to have to go into the office early (most days, I'm able to work from home), and to meet Denise somewhere afterwards. If I had known the audit was going to be that day, I probably wouldn't have bought the tickets. (Or, since Fleetwood Mac is coming back to MSG next Monday the 18th, I would have bought tickets to that show instead.) However, it was too late now to do anything but suck it up.

I didn't sleep well Sunday. It wasn't so much the audit per se -- most of my work for the recertification had been completed during the previous week, and I wasn't expecting any problems. It was more the knowledge of what a long and tiring day it was going to be.

Monday morning, I was up earlier than scheduled. (Actually, I went to bed at midnight, woke up and did some work at 4AM, went back to bed at 6, and slept fitfully for two more hours.) I headed into Melville for the audit, which went pretty much as I had expected. However, by the time the auditors were done (at about 3PM), I was already exhausted.

I made the best plan I could, which involved meeting Denise and her mother's house in Williston Park. This would give me the chance to get there early and catch a nap for two hours before we headed over to Mineola for a 6:45 train. And it was a good thing I did, or I would have been sleeping through the concert.

We caught the train into Penn Station and worked our way upstairs into the Garden with no problem. When we found our way to our seats, we found that they were located in the upper deck facing the left side of the stage. Unfortunately, the seats themselves were quite tight, much tighter than the seats my son and I had had two weeks prior for the Three Days Grace show. And because of the price of the tickets, this was one show I hadn't bought an extra ticket for. We weren't too bad when we first sat down, and I at least had my usual aisle on one side. But I could tell that as soon as someone claimed the seats to Denise's left, she was going to be squashed and miserable.

After a few minutes, I asked her if she thought I should talk to the usher about the situation. She was noncommittal, so I decided to just do it. He sent me over to a customer service stand half an arena away. I worked my way through the crowd, which was really starting to fill out, and found the booth. After explaining my problem, the gentleman said that the only thing he could do was put us in some pull-out seats in the handicapped area. I agreed to this, and went back to get Denise.

We soon found ourselves in the second row of the handicapped area, which was all the way at the back of the stadium, directly facing the stage. The location was worse than where we had been earlier in terms of seeing the stage. The seats, however, were much more comfortable. They were cushioned pullout seats pushed up to a table/counter on which we could rest our drinks. Behind us was a curtain, which the usher drew as soon as we were seated. I think this was for the benefit of the performers, who would have blackness when they looked in front of them instead of the bright lights of the concession area behind us. We now settled in for the show.

The show was listed as starting at 8PM. There was no opening act, however, so the band took their time working their way to the stage. Finally, at a little after 8:20, the lights went down, and Fleetwood Mac stepped out, to the delight of the capacity crowd. (I can't emphasize enough how packed the house was. A couple of the Grumpy Old Men had indicated last fall that Fleetwood Mac had been having trouble selling tickets without Buckingham. That definitely wasn't the case here.)

They opened with "The Chain", which saw the full band in action. There was a big screen behind the band, and a smaller screen up high next to each side of the stage. At the beginning, the screen was split six ways, one camera focusing on each of the six band members. I was eventually able to work out that they were functioning as an 11-piece band, with two female backup vocalists, an excellent second drummer, a second keyboard player, and an extra guitar player. (This took awhile to do, as different band members entered and left the stage for different songs. And John McVie, who must be a very retiring type of person, seemed to be in the witness protection program all night. It took halfway through the show for my weak eyes to locate him.)

For me, there were only two lowlights to the show. The first was that Christine McVie wasn't in her best voice. She wasn't terrible -- her voice didn't sound painful, the way Cindy Wilson's did last summer when we saw The B-52's. Rather, it sounded as though maybe she had a cold, and she wasn't able to get full power out of her voice. I don't think it's a permanent condition, because I've seen some YouTube videos from the current tour where she sounded fine. But for last night, she wasn't at the top of her game. This was disappointing, because I love Christine McVie. The second lowlight was that after the ninth song of night, "World Turning", which included an extended drum solo for Mick Fleetwood, there was a problem with the sound system. They had to take ten minutes or so between "World Turning" and "Gypsy", turning it off and back on, trying unsuccessfully to get rid of a buzzing sound that was there for the rest of the night (although you couldn't really hear the buzz when the band was playing.)

In general, though, the band was clicking on all cylinders. Nicks mentioned that this was seventeenth show of the second leg of their tour, and it showed. The tentativeness the Grumpy Old Men complained about on their Ellen Show clip before the tour had started was gone. Campbell was good for his one lead vocal on "Oh Well", and Finn, in spite of sporting a hairdo that makes him look kind of like a chicken, did great on all of the Buckingham vocals throughout (as well as the band's cover of his Crowded House song "Don't Dream Its Over".) Nicks, however, was in especially good form. I've seen her three times now -- in 2009 with Fleetwood Mac, in 2017 solo and tonight -- and this was her best performance of the three. In spite of now being 70 years old, she seems eternally youthful.

There were some times where the show lagged -- McVie's vocals threw things off a little, and the last song of the night, "All Over Again" from the band's poorly received Time album was a strange choice to close the show. But there were also definite highlights, especially "Gypsy", which has become one of my favorite FM songs, and "Landslide", which I seriously think might be the most beautiful song ever written. (Although I could have done without the drunk chick behind me bellowing "We love you, Stevie!" in my left ear during an especially quiet part of the song.) Overall, I enjoyed the concert a great deal, and don't regret having to sell a few of my children's organs to afford the tickets. (You only really need one good lung anyway, am I right?)

Later last night, when I was home and entering the setlist on setlist.fm, I noticed some interesting stats. Of the 21 songs they played last night (and they've been doing the same set for pretty much the whole tour), seven were from Rumours, and five more were from Fleetwood Mac. This wasn't shocking, since these were far and away the band's two most successful albums. What was surprising, though, is that they didn't play a single song from Tusk, in what I can only assume was one last giant f.u. to Lindsey Buckingham (since that album is often considered to be his masterpiece).

The second interesting thing I found on setlist.fm was the difference in setlist between last night's set and the one I saw them perform 10 years ago. There was a huge overlap between the two sets, and the differences, other than the total absence of songs from Tusk, were pretty much what you would have expected. Last time, I think the only Christine McVie songs they played (with her not being part of the group) were "Say You Love Me" and "Everywhere", which Stevie sang lead on. This time, they did fewer Lindsey Buckingham songs (notably skipping "Tusk" and "Big Love"), and they included the Crowded House song for Finn and the Tom Petty song (with Stevie singing lead) for Campbell.

This is probably the last time I'll ever see Fleetwood Mac live. (My children don't have any more organs they can spare.) But I'm really glad that even though I never saw the classic lineup all together, at least between the two shows I did, I saw all five members at one or the other. Seeing their show last night was a nice reminder of just how much I've loved their music over the years.

Friday, March 8, 2019


Hi Gang,

I wanted to just take a minute to talk about some changes you'll see on this blog in the months to come.

The biggest one is this -- I'm planning on taking a hiatus in writing album reviews for awhile. There are a number of reasons for this. A big one is that I went full-time on my job last December, and it's requiring a lot more time (and a lot more writing) than I originally realized. I've been trying to keep to a schedule of writing at least one album review a week, but I've been feeling a lot of pressure in trying to keep up with this.

The second reason is simply that I'm kind of pissed right now at the Sputnik Music site, which is the place that my album reviews over the last few years have really been tailored for. I'll probably get over it at some point, but it's given me a chance to reevaluate how I'm spending my time, which is becoming a precious resource right now. And since I've taken a step back to think about it, I realize that there are a lot of listening projects I've been wanting to do, and taking some time off from churning out album reviews will give me a chance to catch up on them.

Don't fret though, because I'll still be posting the next entries in the My Favorite Bands project on here. (Next up: Long Island's own legendary Good Rats.) And I've got a bunch of tickets for upcoming shows, so there will be a bunch of concert reviews on here over the next two months. I'll also be getting out a few times over the next few weeks to revisit some of my favorite local artists, and I'll be writing about those shows as well. And I've got at least one more musical theater entry coming up, too. So it's not like the blog will be empty.

Along the way, if I get an overwhelming urge to write up an album review, well, there's nothing to stop me. So far, my two favorite albums of 2019 have been the new Fool album by Joe Jackson, and a double album by an electronic band called All Hail the Silence (which some are calling a self-titled album, and others are calling Daggers, because there's nothing on the cover but a picture of some daggers. It's like Zoso/Runes/Led Zeppelin 4 in that respect.) These guys are proteges  of Erasure's Vince Clarke, as were one of my favorite discoveries of 2018, Reed & Caroline, and they feature a very tasty brand of '80s-influenced electropop.

So that's what's coming up. See you soon.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, Procol Harum

Thursday was mostly a good day. It started off way too early, but for a happy reason. I got up at 7:30AM, and headed over to the court complex in Central Islip to see the finalization of an adoption for a teen boy I had worked with about a year and a half ago. I haven't seen him in more than a year, but I've been following along the agency social worker's notes for the last year. It was a happy ending that was a long time coming.

I came home and did some light work for the rest of the day, before taking a pre-concert nap. Unfortunately, I'd had some dental work done the day before, and this was the one fly in my ointment. I had a temporary crown put on a tooth, and I don't know for sure if I broke part of the tooth during the day, or if they just had my mouth too numb to feel it for most of Wednesday, but there's something jagged going on there just stabbing the hell out of my tongue. It's a pain in the butt (or in the tongue, actually), because I'm either going to have to go back to the dentist next week (a week early), or I'm going to have to fix it as best I can with orthodontic wax and hope for the best, during a week where I just have an incredible amount of work coming up. Both options suck.

Anyway, last night was another concert night, which is a good thing. Procol Harum was coming to the NYCB Theater in Westbury (which as we all know, is the corporate bullshit name for The Westbury Music Fair.) For some odd reason, though, the opening act was scheduled to be a band with the unlikely name of Jaimoe's Jasssz Band.

Now the last time I saw Procol Harum was about twenty or twenty-five years ago, also at the Westbury Music Fair. Only that time, they were in the middle spot of a three-band lineup, sharing a bill with Steppenwolf and Jefferson Starship. This, to my way of thinking, had been an infinitely more attractive lineup than last night's. What had possessed someone to book a fantasy prog rock band like Procol Harum with an act called "Jaimoe's Jasssz Band", I couldn't understand. Yes, Procol does have a solid blues base. But for me, even blues is a better fit than jazz. When I hear the word "jazz", I think of an all-instrumental act playing a discordant brand of acid jazz that would peel the paint off of walls. Why any self-respecting Procol Harum would want to see any jazz band, let alone a band put together by someone who calls himself "Jaimoe" who can't even spell the word "jazz" (Hint: There are NO "S's" in that word!) was beyond my comprehension.

So for once, I was in no rush to get to the show. I dropped my daughter off at her night school class (her boyfriend was picking her up later), stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some orthodontic wax and a mouth guard to protect my aching tongue, and drove towards Westbury without a care in the world.

Of course, I was still about twenty minutes early. Figures. Now my habit, in recent years, has been to pick up a hero at an amazing local sub shop called TJs, and enjoy my hero in the parking lot whenever I'm going to a concert by myself at Westbury (or at Jones Beach, for that matter). Unfortunately, last night, I was pretty sure I couldn't get my sore mouth around such a hero, so I decided to eat after the show.

I parked right in front of the theater (God, I love the Westbury Music Fair!), and strolled on in, delayed ever so briefly by a very short line. As soon as I set foot in the lobby, I heard a voice calling my name. It was local folk artist Hank Stone, who was waiting to meet a friend. We chatted about music for a minute, and commiserated about there were always more good shows than our ticket budgets could afford. We also talked about how he has coming in Lindenhurst in a few weeks that I'm really hoping to make it too. (He plays out way too seldom these days.) I then left him to wait for his friend, while I first checked out the merch counter, then hit the snack stand. I bought myself a $5 bottle of water, that tasted exactly $3 more delicious than the $8 bottle of water I'd bought at the Joe Jackson show a few weeks ago, and found my way to my seat.

I was sitting in Section E, in the very last row of the building, which in this particular venue, is still a great place to watch a show from. (Did I mention that I love the Westbury Music Fair?) The section was designed in such a way that I had plenty of leg room in front of me, which was great. (For once, I'd only bought myself one ticket.) It also had a convenient open side next to me for me to put my coat and water where no one would step on them.

I checked out the surroundings. The show was set up in the half-round tonight, which meant no rotating stage. This was probably just as well, as the last time I'd been here, I saw a hobbled Alan White of Yes nearly kill himself trying to get on and off of the damned thing. The show wasn't a sellout -- the room was between two-thirds and three-quarters full. This surprised me a little. But then again, Procol had played The City Winery in Manhattan for each of the last three nights, so I guess selling out four shows in the same general area isn't the easiest thing.

As I waited, a fellow plopped himself into the seat next to me. He seemed to be radiating anger to find himself seated right next to a -- umm, big-boned -- gent such as myself. Then again, I could have been imagining it.

Before I knew it, it was 8PM, the house lights went off, and "Jaimoe" and the band went on. I had done a little bit of research, so I actually knew that "Jaimoe" was really Jai Johanny Johanson (born under the name "Johnny Lee Johnson"), the 74-year-old founding drummer of The Allman Brothers Band. Tonight, he played as part of a 6-piece band, including a trumpet player and a saxophonist.

They launched into their first song, an instrumental that I guarantee is probably a familiar jazz staple, but I had no idea with it was. It was melodic enough, and it gave the various members of the band a chance to show off their individual chops. The crowd seemed appreciative, applauding pretty enthusiastically after each solo. It didn't really do anything for me, but it wasn't painful either.

Then a funny thing happened. The guitarist pulled the mic close, where he could sing, and the band then launched into "Stormy Monday". This isn't "jazz" by my definition, but I wasn't complaining. Their next number was another Allman Brothers classic, "Blue Sky". In fact, from the band intros that the horn player did at the end of this song, it seems as though the guitarist was once in the Allman Brothers, too. So between him and Jaimoe, I figure that gave this band way more Allman Bros. cred than I'd be willing to afford to the average tribute band.

Now here's the thing. I'm no huge Allman Brothers fan. There are literally dozens of bands I like better. But there are a good six-to-ten Allman Brothers songs that I like, and these guys were reeling them off, and doing a fine job of it. (OK, when I say I "like" them, I generally mean the main body of each song. Thanks to my ADD, my eyes tend to glaze over a little during the extended instrumentals. But still.) They then closed their 4-song, 50-minute set with an extended version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed". And it was good. So while I had been kind of dreading seeing this band, I actually found them pretty enjoyable. I'm not sure how well they match up with Procol Harum, but then again, who really does?

I pondered this thought between sets. Procol is a really unique band. They're prog rock, but not the kind of extended instrumental prog rock you get from bands like Yes or King Crimson -- they're more blues based. There might be some affinity with Strawbs, but that has more to do with the fantastical lyrical themes than it does with sound -- Procol doesn't have that folky thing going for them the way Strawbs or Jethro Tull do. In the end, I guess a band with an Allman Brothers type sound was just about as good a fit as Steppenwolf or Jefferson Starship had been.

These were my reflections as I waited for the stage crew to set up Procol, along with other big thoughts. Like "What is the meaning of life?" And "Why is peanut butter so good?" And "Do I need to worry about this pissed guy I'm sitting next to sucker punching me when he comes back from the bathroom?" I also texted back and forth with Denise, who reacted to my description of Jaimoe's Jasssz Band with a single word: "Yuck!" (There's a reason I was at this show by myself.)

Finally, the lights went down again, and Gary Brooker and his guys took the stage. This particular version of Procol has been together since 2006, so although I wasn't familiar with many (any) of the musicians other than Brooker, they've got chemistry together. This tour was (more or less) celebrating Procol's 50th (52nd?) anniversary, and the release last year of an 8-Disc Box Set called Still There'll Be More: An Anthology 1967-2017. They're also still showcasing some of the material from their most recent studio album, 2017's Novum. (Which I can live with. When I reviewed the album, I only rated it "average", but some of it has grown on me a little since then.)

Gary and the boys then commenced a nearly two-hour set that mixed newer material with a lot of old classics. I enjoyed their choice of setlist for the night, especially the inclusion of the ambitious "Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)" from their Grand Hotel LP, the whimsical "Homburg" from their Best Of LP, "Strong As Samson" (which was a bit of a surprise to me) from the Exotic Birds and Fruit album, and the relatively obscure "The Devil Came From Kansas" from my favorite Procol record, A Salty Dog. Oh, and "Still There'll Be More", from the Home album. I was thrilled they played that one. (They were playing it a lot on their last tour, but not so much on this one.)

Brooker's voice is a little muskier than it used to be, and there were times he didn't have complete control over it. But overall, I thought he still sounded pretty damned good, enough so that he allowed for my somewhat forgiving brain to make the necessary corrections to any notes he didn't hit dead on. And I've always loved his piano playing as well. The rest of the band is also quite good. Geoff Whitehorn's style of guitar is very reminiscent of Robin Trower's, and bassist Matt Pegg is the son of Fairport Convention/Jethro Tull bass player David Pegg, so you know he knows his stuff. And organist Josh Phillips and drummer Geoff Dunn are no slouches either.

Near the end of the night, someone from the venue came out and whispered to Brooker that they were running too long, so he had to make some hard choices about what to cut from the end of the set. In the end, he chose to keep "A Salty Dog", and use it as the set closer, which forced him to jettison "Conquistador" (which they usually close with). The one-song encore, of course, was their best-known number, "A Whiter Shade of Pale". A sixth man joined them when they took their final bows, who I'm guessing was their new lyricist Pete Brown.

Mr. Brooker spoke last night as though he intends to continue Procol until he drops, and I hope he does. I don't know for sure if these guys will ever be this way again. But I'm really glad they made it last night, and I'm thrilled that I was there. Honestly, I just enjoyed the hell out of this show.

Procol Harum's setlist for the night can be found at keepfightingthegoodfightgary.com. The setlist (the three songs I remember) for Jaimoe's Jasssz Band is at youguysareokbutthatnamehastogo.com.