Tag Archives: Dean Ween

Summer 2018 Concert Round Up-Dead, Ween, Belly, Slayer, Yes, Mastodon, Mule, Magpies, Primus, ZZ, K-Joke, Daltrey, n (Black)more

Once again, for the third year in a row, the Carwreck party went on the road for a full schedule of summer shows. Most venues were outdoors, the best place to see a show during summer in any reality. Let’s kick off the wrap up:

Primus and Mastodon, Blue Hills Pavilion Boston May 29

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The summer kicked off early this year-May 29th actually-with the double headlining bill of Mastodon and Primus. I thought this an odd pairing, but it seemed like well over half the crowd was there for Mastodon. Mastodon is a band that has gone on a strange trajectory-from the heavier than hell Leviathan in 2004 this band has become downright peculiar. Prog tendencies in metal bands usually have mixed results. Coheed and Cambria sometimes can pull this off, and Mastodon has similar uneven results. The recent album Emperor of the Sand is a good example of this schizophrenic approach-they are capable of being dazzlingly brilliant and godawfully painful not only in the same set, but sometimes in the same song. Think REO Speedwagon trying to do Rush and you are close. Setlist here.

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Primus hit the stage to Danny Elfman’s iconic Clown Dream from Pee Wee’s Playhouse fame, setting the vibrations to weird from the get go. Once the horn helmet hat came out, things phased from normal to delightfully surreal. The middle of the set featured their newest album, The Desaturating Seven, a quick 35 minute rundown based on an Italian children’s book. With Tim Alexander back in the fold, this band is now more telepathic than rehearsed. Somehow they have become considered a ‘jam band’, despite exhibiting few of the necessary Dead-like noodling characteristics. Primus has always sounded like a spastic version of early 1990’s King Crimson-precise when they need to be, and cacophonous spontaneously. Primus were consistently on point where Mastodon were a bit scattered. A solid evening. Setlist here.

Dead and Company, The Meadows Hartford June 13

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Weir no longer monitoring Mayer every second

The thought of John Mayer in the Dead has finally transitioned from horror to a tacit acceptance. Since the legendary Fenway Park 2016 show, Mayer has managed to quiet the critics with his palpable enthusiasm and toning down of his more annoying characteristics. (no more shoulder pads in his jacket, appropriately scruffy outfits). The ninth show of the tour saw them land in Hartford. For the first time, I had actually arrived in time for the parking lot scene. Illegal vending is always interesting, and the beer cooler guys were selling the holy grail of beer, Vermont’s Heady Topper. Unfortunately, this was one of the highlights of the day. The setlist trended towards ordinary following a ferocious Hell in a Bucket opener,  but there were flashes in Viola Lee Blues and China->Rider. Two songs after drums and space and the show was over early. Still, an average Dead and Company show in 2018 is comparable to average Grateful Dead shows of the early 90’s, and light years beyond their sputterings of 2015

Roger Daltrey with the Boston Pops does Tommy, Tanglewood Lenox MA June 15th

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No fiddling about please

Two nights later, a jaunt across the whole state of Massachusetts to Tanglewood, the home of the Boston Pops/BSO on the New York border. Last year this was the site for Pete Townhend’s orchestral version of Quadrophenia. But where Quadrophenia functioned as a fully formed classically arranged symphony, Daltrey brought a full solo band to back him up, resulting in more of a rock band playing Tommy with orchestral flourishes than a realized classical piece. Daltrey was in fine voice this evening on the lawn: a sea of blankets, wine bottles and dinners covered this jewel of Massachusetts al fresco venues. The familiar themes of Tommy are some of the Who’s strongest material, and Daltrey kept the energy high, and it was a headlong rush to the end with Who Are You and Baba O’Reilly (including an insane violin solo so often neglected) to cap the evening.  Comparisons to Townshend’s performance last year are inevitable-one managed to shoehorn Quadrophenia into a genuine classical piece while Daltrey mainly used the orchestra as window dressing embellishment. However, Daltrey did get the rock vibe going much better. Who won? ‘Us’ would be the best answer.

Yes Hampton Beach Club Casino NH July 11th

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Wither Yes?

This one is an interesting conundrum. Yes is on their 50th anniversary tour. Twice actually. For those unaware, there are actually two versions of Yes currently touring-first Howe, White, Downes and replacement parts. The second version with founding vocalist and face of the band Jon Anderson along with iconic Rick Wakeman and 80’s star guitarist Trevor Rabin. Club Casino has seen the version led by Howe take the stage in the past in this relatively small venue. This evening the lineup was again the former: Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison and replacement drummer Jay Schellen. Actually there was a surprise in store for us in the third set, founding keyboardist Tony Kaye showed up.

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I’d popped tix for this on stubhub for $6.25 each. Cheaper than their 1970’s shows. Weird.

 tony kaye

A quick thirty seconds or so of traditional taped warm up Firebird Suite led to Close to the Edge as the opener. Downes has some difficulty reproducing Wakeman’s more challenging lines from time to time, and it showed here. Howe’s acoustic solo guitar piece Mood for a Day showed that he is still a master of the fretboard, and his electric guitar work on set one closer Heart of the Sunrise carried the whole band on his shoulders. Billy Sheridan on bass sometimes had a challenge in mimicking Chris Squire’s dominant bass lines. Oddly he’s never once strapped on a Rickenbacker 4001 bass, the signature sound of Yes. (Anderson’s version relies heavily on the Rick for bass).  For the second set, Alan White came out for the closer. He is now borderline infirm after several back surgeries, and only plays on the last four songs of the set. On Awaken, he was solid in his snare and cymbal work, but some of the trickier tom fills have to be omitted. Kaye came out for the final three songs of the encore. He still has the annoying habit of only playing with his right hand while the left hand waves in the air. Good Hammond work does require some mashing with both hands to create the proper effect. Very odd that he resolutely refuses to do this. At the end of the night I compared notes with friends and the consensus was that Yes is no longer able to accurately reproduce their own material. While this sounds harsh, one has to remember that Yes wrote some of the most challenging rock music in history. Downes and Sheridan, relatively capable musicians both, often give the impression that they are slurring their way through things that are too difficult to play precisely. I had the good fortune to meet the whole band after the show, and got to speak to each member one on one as they sat at the long autograph table. I had to bite my tongue several times, I had plenty to say-White appeared frail, Kaye affable, Sheridan offhanded but pleased, Schellen quietly ecstatic, Howe prickly and distracted. But in front of Jon Davison, the singer they had grabbed from a Yes cover band, I had to comment:  “Do you ever wake up in the morning and think ‘I am the luckiest motherfucker on the planet?’ I mean seriously, you are not opening for your dream band, you are IN your dream band? Unreal” He nodded and said ‘Oh yes I know, I do know’. Great ending to an uneven but overall fun evening. In the end, which version of Yes you prefer is up to the readerSetlist

Gov’t Mule, Avett Brothers, Magpie Salute Mansfield MA July 14th

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The light show,  Floyd style

Gov’t Mule brought their ‘Dark Side of the Mule’ set to Great Woods in Mansfield. Although one would think they were doing Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd in its entirety, only seven of the fifteen Floyd covers were from Dark Side. Echoes part two, The Nile Song and Pigs on the Wing were some highlights. Warren Haynes, who never seems to have an off day, was masterful on guitar. A dazzling light show complemented the set which contained only two actual Mule songs. Before this tour, Mule had only done this Floyd adventure twice-Boston for Halloween in 2008 and at their own festival Mountain Jam in 2015.  Setlist here

Openers Magpie Salute featured the remnants of the Black Crowes, and rocked out old school. Harder and faster than the parent band, Rich Robinson, Sven Pipien and Marc Ford provide the core of something that has a rawness similar to 1987 Guns n Roses with elements of dangerous Rolling Stones and a strong heavy Crowes vibe. This is a band to watch.  Needless to say, their set was far too short. The middle band, the Avett Brothers had a large contingent in the crowd. I was a bit dumbfounded-they sounded like the Jonas Brothers on a good day mixed with any generic Christian Rock band minus the Jesus lyrics. I was bored to tears. Fortunately Warren had lined up a memory cleansing set of Floyd to send the posers to wing. He did.

Blackmore’s Night  Academy of Music Northampton MA July 21st

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Renaissance Festival? Where?

Ok this one is hard to believe for those who are unaware. Ritchie Blackmore, the notoriously difficult iconic guitarist for Deep Purple decided one day to start a band with his then girlfriend Candice Night. The band name is cleverly a play on both the names of the founders and one of Purple’s more iconic songs ‘Black Night’. Though they’ve been around since the late 90’s, many still don’t know that Blackmore has created an acoustic band that bears zero resemblance to Rainbow or Deep Purple. I was warned ahead of time that fans show up in renaissance costume. I wasn’t prepared for said fans gathering at the front of the hall and engaging in spirited group dances of Elizabethan times.

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Next one to yell Smoke on the Water is getting battle axed.

I’d have to say I was solidly impressed. I mean what the hell, Ritchie Blackmore, who is on a short list of rock guitarists who stand as the founders of heavy music as we know it comes to town? Townshend, Hendrix, Gilmour, Clapton, Page, Beck? Blackmore is right in there timeline-wise and talent-wise. This is a living legend. But as long as you don’t expect any Purple, you are in for a treat. The band sounds very close (nearly identical) to the Annie Haslam led band Renaissance who ruled the floorboards in the seventies. Night has a similar vocal range as the operatic Haslam, and the band is fluid on their plethora of acoustic instruments. Oddly, barely recognizable versions of Rainbow, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep obscurities dotted the set. On other nights Renaissance and Mike Oldfield songs will make appearances. I thought this night might be a disaster, but I would go again in a heartbeat.

Ween Waterfront Park Burlington VT July 29th

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Boognish in five parts

Ween end of summer tour show. Lake Champlain for the background? Are you kidding? You could smell that this would be a special one from a long way off. From the opening notes of Did You See Me? things were loose and fun. Claude bloodied from playing drums with his hands, a half assed cover of Black Sabbath by Sabbath, China Cat by the Dead, three of the five Stallions….holy crap this was perhaps the best Ween show I’d seen since 1999. The location was perfect. We are gonna keep this one light on words and heavy on ‘watch and see what the fuck they did’. See below for video evidence of the mayhem:

Many online agreed, this one was special. The band all switched instruments for a song. Multi Stallions-always the sign of a special show. No seats, just a field. One of the best days of the summer. Sun sets over the lake literally just behind us. For me, this was the best show of the summer by a longshot. Long live Boognish. Setlist here.

 

Slayer Albany Times Union Center Albany NY August 1st

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More propane used tonight than most houses use in a month

Slayer…Slayer…Slayer….Slayer…..

You actually have to say their name three or four times in a row, or it doesn’t count. Somewhat like Bloody Mary. So Slayer announced that they are on their farewell tour and packing it in. To go out in style, they packed the bill with legends of thrash and death metal.

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I was on the way into the arena very early in the bill when I saw a kid leaving the event in a Venom shirt. Kind of early. Clearly he’d only come for Napalm Death who’d replaced Behemoth a few days before the show. Once inside, I realized it had been a while since I had been at a show where I could be in genuine danger. (Venom last year in Boston but in reality Butthole Surfers in 1990 would take the cake for uncontrolled mayhem). I’d missed some of the opening acts, coming in towards the end of Anthrax. Wandering around looking at various concert T shirts was highly entertaining-beer bellies stretching vintage shirts of 80’s bands long forgotten: Exodus, Overkill, Carcass, Megadeth, Obituary, Kreator…I’d forgotten about some of these bands. This show was another one I’d popped on stubhub for dirt cheap, $7.00 for loge seats. Lamb of God had a large following there, yet I couldn’t really find anything in their set to grab on to. First, bands that spend much of their time onstage with members having an arm in the air at all times? Play yer damn guitar. Plus the singer standing on the monitors often, posing, posturing and yelling WWF style? The aluminum bleachers backdrop also lended to what could easily be confused with a choreographed wrestling match theme. I was bored.

And then came Slayer. (Slayer…Slayer…Slayer…). Very quickly these guys established why they are the kings of thrash and death metal. Precision riffs created large incisions in the sweaty air of the former Pepsi Center, drums spitting artillery shells at machine gun rates, flames bursting front and back and sideways. It was mayhem on the stage, and the mosh pit circled menacingly, taking up a large fraction of the floor. Violence was tangible in every turn. But somehow these songs showed a spirit and swing that Lamb of God couldn’t achieve. Hell Awaits, South of Heaven, Raining Blood, Chemical Warfare led to the finale of Angel of Death-all at impossibly loud volumes and impossibly fast tempos. Brutality and catchiness intersected in a tribute to all that is metal. Glorious. Hell awaits indeed.

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No Caption Needed. Slayer

Belly,  The Royale Boston MA August 23rd

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Don’t Get Too Close To My Fantasy-Still Coquettish After All These Years

I’d wanted to see Belly since their second album came out in 1995, never have. My time with them went back to the Throwing Muses era, when I’d seen that band a half a dozen times in Cambridge before they were signed and they only had a cassette out (to this day, still their best release by a long shot). Belly’s second album, King, was a masterpiece of perfection, musically and in the timing. It was sublimely different from much of the ‘chick rock’ that flooded the market in the 90’s. But Belly were different. The riot grrl movement, Liz Phair, L7, PJ Harvey, Hole, The Breeders, Kim Gordon? These girls were dangerous, could mess you up. Or even worse, ignore you completely. These were their themes-boys and love not needed here. Belly and Tanya Donelly were something very different. They sang about the things that concerned many hipster 90’s twenty somethings the most. Dating as a full time activity,  and love….found and lost. Wistful and romantic in a good way, there is heartache and longing described in vivid terms–in poignant but easily understood terms-the spectrum is covered from highs to lows in impressionist wordplay.  Emotionally closer to Emily Dickinson than Bikini Kill, Belly is able to cut to the heart of relationship gamesmanship. Twenty years later, this album still stands as a masterpiece. Yet somehow the band only existed for three years and two albums-packing it in by 1996. Here is them doing their signature song, Red, back in ’95:

At the Royale, the band looked like they hadn’t lost a step since 1996. Tanya, who has to be pushing 55, still looks every bit the indie rock goddess-Dorian Gray’ed by the Gods and Goddesses of rock n roll. But make no mistake, she has an ability to use her voice in ways few singers could. Whispers to shrieks to country trills to breathy entreaties to guarded dive bombs from soprano to zero-Donelly has a unique and powerful vocal presence that Kristin Hersh never let her show in the Muses. The band still prowls the stage like there is a threat in their missives. Who could forget this pose:

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Gail Greenwood, the Lemmy of Indie Rock

The band had their kids there. Their progeny hosted an onstage drawing for a raffle and hogged the stage in a fashion that would make the cynical cringe, but was slightly endearing and a dose of perhaps needed reality:  ‘Hey we got kids and are not 22 anymore folks’. But the air of family that the Muses once nascently carried back in a long burned down club in Cambridge was now fully formed, a maturity has descended upon an era once innocent and adolescently hopeful on the love front. In some ways, their weighty and heady successes are frozen in time, along with any fans memories. It was a special time. ‘Don’t get too close to my fantasy’ a wise philosopher once said. Fair dinkum. Setlist here.

ZZ Top, Indian Ranch Webster MA August 26th

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My first concert year (underage), I had seen Rick Derringer in Salisbury Frolics. I was way too close to a PA that would easily deafen Madison Square Garden in a room the size of a small lecture hall. They tuned the monstrous PA up with some radio tunes. ‘Heard it on the X’ was the first song. I was intrigued. ZZ Top they said. I waited decades without seeing them, grabbing a few of their early albums. Why? I knew they had had a Texas history that went back to the days of the 13th Floor Elevators. But somehow they never had they crossed my path, and too many lunkheads were into them. I filed them away.

I’d had tickets two years ago to see ZZ Top when the bass player Dusty Hill wiped out drunk on the tour bus and broke his hip, pooching the tour. I had then given up all hope in ever seeing them live. Scanning the concert calendar, I discovered a day ahead of time ZZ Top playing within 50 miles of home. I had no idea that the Indian Ranch is located on a rather famous lake, one made famous in the Guinness Book of Records as longest name for a lake ever: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. Or: ‘you fish on your side of the lake I’ll fish on my side of the lake and nobody fishes in the middle’. I’d memorized this in elementary school but never knew the damn lake was in Massachusetts. (a plaza with a convenience store has the name over it. It covers all of the stores from end to end.)

Top came out and delivered a perfunctory set-no surprises-some obvious omissions-that lasted perhaps 75 minutes to the predominantly biker crowd. Little time for jamming and mostly getting things done quickly  was the order of the day. Some songs just fell apart at the end as if they were unwilling to let the song go another bar. Cheap Trick also operates this way lately, pre-programmed set that will not be deviated from under any circumstances, and an 80 minute target endtime. Bands on auto pilot that play the same set every night aren’t the best thing to see, but I was happy to finally witness these guys decades after I’d written them off with Eliminator. Setlist here Some footage:

 

Killing Joke and Pig, Paradise Theater Boston September 11th

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The summer ended on the ominous day of September 11th. I’d seen Killing Joke 5 years ago at this exact venue. Unlike many long lived bands, Killing Joke is currently constituted by their original 1978 lineup: Jaz Coleman, Youth, Geordie Walker and Paul Ferguson. This alone should reap them accolades-seriously a punk band that still has the same lineup for this long? Unheard of. And this was their 40th reunion.

Most Americans have no idea who Killing Joke are. They made zero impression in America during their heyday. With a sound that could be categorized as ‘standard 1980 brit punk’ with a heady Hawkwind edge-well you can see why nobody in the States would get it. But Youth? Few know he is the god of bass in KJ, but even fewer know he is a producer of rather impressive stature. Paul McCartney? The Verve? Alien Sex Fiend?  U2 and Depeche Mode? Yep, Youth.

Jaz Coleman is even more enigmatic. Often missing off planet, or perhaps in the Sahara, Coleman can be hard to pin down. He is famous for being an idealist, conspiracy theorist, truth teller and yet another famous producer. He rose to fame in 1995 with Symphonic Pink Floyd, a classical re-arrangement of Floyd classics.

With that in mind, seeing them in Boston was once again an amazing experience. They are so on top of their game that they could, like ZZ Top and Cheap Trick, phone one in. But they are made of sterner stuff. They briefly noted that it was September 11th and left the rest hanging, and quick comments on Trump were followed by ‘you guys watch out for us, so we are in it together’. For better or worse was politely left out. The set contained four songs from their debut lp from 1980. Setlist here

Pig, the opening band were entirely confusing. Seven musicians were coming out of the PA but only a guitarist, drummer, and engaging vocalist were onstage.

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Raymond Watts, an integral member of KMFDM, is the central figure of <PIG>. One can be forgiven for thinking this is an offshoot of Pigface (the industrial rock scene is the most incestuous of any rock scene ever-everyone has been in each others band at some point). As a front man, he is hypnotic. Dazzling stage gestures can be hypnotic to engage a crowd at first. After a while though? Repetition grows stale when computers are actually playing most of the instruments and your band members aren’t. Notsogood. Would go down a storm in a NYC bondage bar though.

So, that brings us to the end of the summer run. Distance traveled to shows: 1,890 miles traveled. 11 shows: $373.00 total ticket cost.

Cats Down Under the Stars for sure.

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2017 Concert Roundup here

2016 Concert Roundup here

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Summer 2016 Concert Round Up-Janes Dead Guns Bad Beatles Sabbath Ween n’ More…Around the World in Eighty Daze.

“My magnificent octopus” – S. Baldrick

As the Zombies almost once said, summers are the time of the season for concerts. From sheds to stadiums, folks pile into their vehicles to head out road trippin’ and space truckin’ for some full on outdoor Dionysian rituals. Some choose to make the parking lot their tailgating blow out (occasionally failing to even enter the show), others wait patiently in line to get into the venue early to drop $40 bucks on a shirt and absorb multiple beers at $11 a whack. But the gamut of summer concert behavior makes up one of the best seasons to see rock n roll in person– outside and under the stars. This summer was no exception. Below is a chronicle of the Carwreck adventures on the road from June to August this year.

   June 9-Joe Walsh and Bad Company

Joe Walsh and Bad Company, opening night for the summer season. I’d almost given this one a miss, even though I had tix in hand already. It was a weeknight, I was beyond tired. At the last second though I jumped in the car and flew to Great Woods (sorry, corporate logos change so quickly at these joints that we need to stick with the real names: The Meadows in Hartford, Worcester Centrum, Providence Civic Center, Boston Garden, Great Woods etc, who can keep track of which joint is the Xfinity Center anymore? And by next year it’ll be something different, you can TD bank on that). Aptly named the One Hell of a Night tour, this was one of the best shows of the summer. Going in, my expectations were low, but was I in for an eye opener. Joe Walsh is a pretty funny guy. If you’ve never heard him talk, you’d swear he was blasted out of his mind (which he was from the sixties until 1994)  Here is a pretty good example of him, courtesy of David Letterman in the late 1980’s:

Joe was in fine form at this show, introducing Life’s Been Good with the slurred quote “If I’da known I’d be playin’ this song for the rest of my life, I’da written a better song. But this is what we got, we’re stuck with it,  so let’s make the best of it…”. Long term band mate Joe Vitale gave the outfit a 70’s era Barnstorm feel. Walsh’s unit opened the show but easily could have headlined-Walsh’s distinct guitar lines warping reality like the James Gang used to.

Next up was Bad Company. Often thought of as the poor man’s Led Zeppelin, they were crisp on a pared down stage, serious and powerful. With Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from the original band (bassist Boz Burrell passed away in 2006 and guitarist Mick Ralphs declined to do this US tour due to health reasons) they were fleshed out by long term second guitar Howard Leese of Heart fame and a temporary stint from Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes. Lean and mean, Paul Rodgers stalked the stage as the band delivered some of their tightest playing of their career. Notes I took at the show included the question “How the fuck can Paul Rodgers still be this good?” How the fuck indeed-Rodgers had started to really tear up venues with Free in 1969, and 47 years later hadn’t lost a step. I’d seen Robert Plant a few times over the last few years, and Roger Daltrey a dozen or so times in the last decade. Both are still vocal legends, but neither could hold a candle to what Paul Rodgers can still pull off in 2016. Hard to believe, but Paul Rodgers is the last man standing, the most powerful 70’s era vocalist in rock n roll today. Had there been a roof, Bad Co.would have blown it off.

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Yep, still got it

July 15 Fenway Park-Dead and Company

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Is that really made from a tablecloth?

Next up was Dead and Company. I had seen them in 2015 early in their tour and was decidedly underwhelmed, as noted here.

I’d been wary of this band since the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary last show ever ‘we swear we are done’ in Chicago was quickly followed by a fall tour announcement with Oteil replacing Phil Lesh, and John Mayer as ‘Jerry’. I wasn’t the only long term Deadhead to be a bit skeptical of a cash grab, as brilliantly portrayed here.

I was dragged nearly kicking and screaming to the show and protested heavily that I didn’t really want to go. But an outdoor show at Fenway seemed like it could overcome John Mayer being the focus of attention in the Dead, but still had very low hopes of them being close to good. . But like Fonzie once famously said, I was wrrrrowrrr..

I thought Dead and Company were a pale imitation of the real thing, and that there was no way they could even come close to the Grateful Dead’s power.(I was wrong). The band started out the night with a jam that took a while to lead into Jack Straw. Jams to start a show? This was new. Donna Godchaux, a polarizing vocalist from the Grateful Dead from 1972-1978 showed up for a rare appearance, and brought a decent mid 70’s vibe to the setlist that drew heavily on her era of studio work. The first set finished with Help On the Way->Slipknot->Franklin’s Tower, something usually held out as a second set centerpiece. I wondered if this was going to be a long single set show and we had strayed into the second half. Nope. Second set started with St. Stephen->Dark Star. This was a mind bending way to begin a set. Combine that with the follow up of TerrapinStation/Drums/Space/Terrapin/Morning Dew–this  would have sizzled synapses and popped craniums had it been played in the 80’s or 90’s, leaving many Deadheads quite different people than they are today. But make no mistake-this sounded VERY much like classic Grateful Dead of the late 80’s early 90’s. Mayer popped a couple of song choices over Bob Weir’s strummed introductions to something different. Mayer overruled Weir? Twice? What was going on? With a Casey Jones that sped up each successive pass through the chorus, the Dead finished with a lighting fast version that sounded like they’d been injected with some of Heisenberg’s finest blue.(read up on Phil Lesh allegedly inventing cocaine suppositories for the band in the 80’s so they didn’t have to stop to blow lines in between songs when you get a chance).  Weir in particular threw Mayer slightly worried glances as they sped up to a tempo never heard before in any era of the Dead canon. As they approached light speed, Weir and the drummers eyes bulged at the exertion and looked as if all three might pass away right in front of us while Mayer hopped up and down gleefully strumming full speed.

A rare double encore to finish what has been said to be the best show this unit has ever played? Sublime. Though never a Donna fan, her addition combined with some pretty inspired playing from Mayer made this so close to the Dead that I have fooled several knowledgeable people playing them the soundboard from this show. (highly recommended for purchase while you can). Oteil deserves a mention for finally figuring out how to get genuine dinosaur-like Phil Lesh bass  runs pounding underneath. Great show, and I’d go again in a heartbeat. These guys are becoming musically dangerous on stage, and though it pains me to say this,  John Mayer might consider dropping his career to do this full time.

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July 17 Fenway Park-Paul McCartney

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Uh oh,  I see a drunk guy headed for the stage

Found some cheap tickets to McCartney on StubHub and jumped in the car once again. I’d seen the giants of the 60’s bands: Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, the Animals, Traffic…but never seen an actual Beatle.  Once again the rockers on their 50th or more anniversary tour fill up the stadiums. McCartney looked ageless (he’s actually 75), and has overcome some vocal problems that have plagued his recent tours to deliver a 38 song set that covered his whole career. The show started with a surprise for Sir Paul. Everyone had a card under their seat with instructions. Which resulted in this:

Crowd members held up cards welcoming Paul McCartney to Fenway Park Sunday.

From the opener Hard Day’s Night the band was off and running. Pretty much every Beatles song you’d ever want to hear combined with some excellent Wings era material made for a show that seemed short even though it pushed nearly three hours. Tributes to George Martin and George Harrison and stories about meeting a Russian defense minister who told him that his first album was an illegal  Beatles album, and that the Beatles had nicked For the Benefit of Mr. Kite off a Victorian era circus poster nearly word for word made McCartney seem very reachable and real. Another highlight was Bob Weir-still in town from his two day stint with the Dead at Fenway the previous night- coming onstage to join McCartney for Hi Hi Hi (of course).

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We’re gonna get high high high…

Then during Helter Skelter, with Weir still on guitar, the stage was charged by a drunken Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots. As he mugged for the audience, Weir gave him a look like he wished Gronk would spontaneously burst into flames and burn to a crisp onstage. It would be nice if someone could emulate the Seinfeld episode where he goes to a heckler’s job to screw with them. A rocker should show up at a Pats game and start yelling signals at Gronk behind him to see if he’d get the point. Doubtful. Even hard core Pats fans were pretty dismayed at his embarrassing drunken roofie worthy stunt (He is likely immune to roofies though):

Other highlights were the fireworks laden Live and Let Die (the first of two I’d see this week) and a peek at the earliest work of McCartney and (mostly)Lennon-In Spite of All the Danger from the 1957 era pre-Beatles, the Quarrymen. A real cool night that ended with a blast.

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Live and Let Live? Live and Let Die!
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Green Monster with the real score

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July 21-Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr, Living Colour

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In a tent on the waterfront of Boston Harbor two days later, this triple threat of 90’s heavyweights lit up the night. I’d been a fan of Living Colour since day one-my Vernon Reid fan-dom even tracing back to his stint in jazzer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s highly demanding Decoding Society in 1984. Always hard to pin down, what exactly is their sound? Funk, jazz, metal and pop synthesize seamlessly into a literally unique sound. Hitting the stage early, the seats were only about 20% filled. But no matter, vocalist Corey Glover (sans Bodyglove wetsuit) played it like it was a full stadium. The band has become even tighter in the last twenty years-Vernon Reid crackling on guitar like a rampant electrical storm, Doug Wimbish moving air with devilishy complex bass runs, and the spectacular Will Calhoun pounding out poly-rhythms that made Dinosaur’s drummer Murph comment backstage: “he’s a monster!”. Not bad praise coming from a drum legend himself. During their major hit, Cult of Personality, Corey ventured deep into the crowd-running down empty rows back and forth until he settled directly behind me to sing the final notes “per-sunnnn-al-it-teeee!” all about a foot from me. Holy living fuck! I’d been lucky enough to have backstage passes for this one, and quickly shuttled to the backstage area. Jane’s Addiction were holed up with tattooed, pierced and needle scarred mini skirted hangers on, but both Living Colour and Dinosaur Jr were hanging in an outdoors area backstage entertaining the handful of hangers on. (this was a home game for Massachusetts based Dinosaur Jr). Living Colour stayed in the main open area backstage to chat with fans and take photos. I had a long conversation with Vernon Reid, reminding him that I’d seen him play at Newport Jazz Festival opening for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck in 1984. Took a bit for him to remember until a mention of the minuscule statured pianist Michael Petrucciani jogged his memory. He stayed and chatted for about a half hour, very affable and generous with his time. This set was one of the highest energy sets of the summer, with Vernon Reid spitting molten notes out on top of the most ferocious rhythm section I’ve seen all year. Breathtaking shit, really. I said to Vernon that they should be headlining this bill. “you gonna have to talk to somebody else ’bout that I’m afraid…” was his wry observation.

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Dinosaur Jr came out pumping with Lung from their 1987 second album, and didn’t let off the gas pedal until the final notes of Just Like Heaven, a Cure cover also from their second album. Start Choppin’ from 1993’s  Where You Been got people up out of their seats and jumping around until the end of the set. I’d seen them several times over the years, and in 2016 the band is a well oiled machine. Murph’s drumming syncs with Lou Barlow’s bass to give a perfect platform for J Mascis’s unique wall of sound country inflected punk rock assault. Dinosaur Jr can be volume monsters in a smaller venue, but open air can tend to absorb much of this power. (As an aside, I’d seen J play in a Stooges tribute band recently, and his raw Les Paul through a Marshall was the best sound and soloing I’d ever heard from him in the twenty odd years I’ve seen them. ps-he was deafeningly loud. )

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Headliners Jane’s Addiction were what the crowd came for though. I’d seen them on the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991, but hadn’t seen any of the reunion shows until 2011. A sober-ish Perry Farrel (peripheral ya know) held down the madness, and guitarist Dave Navarro was a whirlwind of motion, spitting out blistering solos that simultaneously ripped large holes into songs and melodically stitched them back together again by the end of a run. Maybe the five years of touring has taken a little lustre off the silver spoon, but this show wasn’t quite as energized as the 2011 and 2013 tours. (in 2013 I witnessed Navarro nearly punch out his guitar tech right on stage when his acoustic guitar kept failing during Jane Says). Still, a so so Janes Addiction show is much better than 95% of the bands out there. 2013’s vintage stag films were replaced this year by something definitely more chilling. Girls hung and swung from the lighting rig like they had in the past. But when you looked closer, you could see they were fetish style hung from meathooks through their skin. You heard that right. I saw them backstage before the show, and they exuded a….ummmm….different vibe. A video below captures the painful action from the front row. (not for the squeamish)

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Overall it was an amazing triple bill. Living Colour, although on the undercard billing, took the night hands down. The nineties, updated and backdated-and fully syncopated. All three of the bands are headliners in their own right.

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July 22-Guns n Roses/Lenny Kravitz- Foxboro

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The next night it was in the car once again and off to Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots. Labeled the Not in This Lifetime Tour ( a reference to an interview Axl had done recently when asked about the chances of a reunion of the original lineup), this was an unexpected event. I definitely didn’t expect any sort of reunion of the original line up, especially Slash. (Technically, without main songwriter Izzy Stradlin or founding drummer Steven Adler, this isn’t the original line up). Knowing their proclivities for legendary train wrecks on tour, I waited to buy a ticket until the last minute, not convinced that this uneasy detente between Axl and Slash would actually hold. A reunion of Slash and Axl was certain to bring people out of  the woodwork, yet would they make it far enough through the tour to get here? Witness Axl breaking his foot on opening night and doing several full shows sitting in a huge throne. (Dave Grohl’s super throne actually). I had my doubts.

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Axl unexpectedly finds himself on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms

Fans scooped up the overpriced tickets quickly, perhaps too quickly. But the promoters made a large miscalculation in booking two nights in Boston and tickets on Stubhub plummeted in price. 75 dollar tickets slipped to 17 bucks a pop. When coming through the turnstile, I was directed towards another ticketing area for a “free mandatory upgrade”. Choices were simple: “Do you want floor seats or lower bowl 100 level loge seats?” My 24 dollar Stubhub ticket for a 64 dollar face value ‘cheap seat’ in the nosebleeds was now a 104 dollar loge seat. The upper bowl 300 level was roped off and empty. Half of the stadiums’ 200 level was likewise roped off, and the 100 level loge was only about 80% full. Someone took a large financial bath on this particular show. Although Billboard reported a 92% of capacity ticket sale for Foxboro, the numbers they reported don’t add up, as they used a 35,000 capacity figure for a stadium with a listed 69,000 seat concert capacity. This show didn’t have more than 25,000 people scattered thoughout the bowl and floor. (More GnR lies?)

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It’s about the music and the fans, not the money, right?

Opener Lenny Kravitz kicked off the evening in style. I’d thought it an odd pairing until I found out that Slash and Kravitz had gone to high school together, and he had jammed together with GnR in 1992. A seven song set seemed short, but nobody was here for Lenny.

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One question many people had was ‘Will they go on before midnight?’ as Axl was notorious for coming onstage literally hours after showtime. There must have been a strongly worded clause in their contract involving forfeiting pay, because the band came onstage before 8:30 pm. Axl looked good, no longer the beanpole, sinuously serpentine, but also not the beer inflated parody he had begun to turn in to. (in comparison, Slash is starting to increasingly resemble Howard Stern circa 1995). He kept a leather cowboy hat on over his omnipresent bandana (to cover the bald spots). Strong in voice, he had definitely worked to get his end of things solid. It’s So Easy kicked off the night, and three of the first four songs included Mr. Brownstone and Welcome to the Jungle. Wedged in there early was Chinese Democracy from their latest incarnation, and Slash must have wondered why the fuck he was doing playing on something he not only hadn’t written, but actively  disapproved of. He wandered a bit aimlessly during this song. Further Chinese Democracy material combined with some questionable tracks from the Use Your Illusion albums to bog the proceedings down.But though this unit may not be a ‘real’ band, they are nothing but professional. Slash, resplendent in a ‘Mickey Mouse boning Minnie Mouse doggie style’ shirt kept mostly to himself. In fact, the stage was so huge, Slash and Axl could have actually not violated a restraining order and still played the show on the same stage they stayed so far away from each other all night.

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Mickey and Minnie
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Axl and Slash in separate zip codes yet performing together

There were some unexpected highlights. An instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and a cover of the Who’s the Seeker were a couple of ‘out of left field’ moments. Live and Let Die (my second in four days) has never lived up to McCartney’s version, but was still a highlight. My largest shock was a surprisingly fleshed out version of November Rain. Axl tapped timidly on the piano (Elton John is in no danger here) while the band rose up in a powerful crescendo. I was amazed that this fairly weak song was transformed into perhaps the highlight of the evening.

The grand finale, Paradise City brought everyone back to life as the whole end of the stadium literally exploded.(Axl either intentionally or accidentally sang over Slash’s iconic guitar solo introduction here. Puzzling)  We were ushered out into the wild before 11:15, a time usually reserved for their coming ON to the stage. In retrospect, though this was a nearly three hour show, it did illustrate the fact that this band doesn’t really have the material to sustain a show of this length. Sometimes less is actually more. But the band did defy predictions of imminent implosion and make it through the tour successfully without any fights onstage, prolonged hissy fits, three hour delays or crowd members being attacked by Axl  (hello St. Louis). I wasn’t blown away, but was very glad I went.

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Long stick goes boom

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August 21st  Ween Philadelphia

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Well, this one wasn’t a home game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was for Ween. But a Ween reunion isn’t something one needs to split hairs about. If they are playing and you can physically drive there in a reasonable less than six hours time? Go.

Ween had been off the road for a while. Gener’s meltdown in Vancouver in January 2011 signaled that-if not the end of the band, a long hiatus was needed.

The power of the Boognish is strong though, and when Ween announced three shows in Colorado for February, the tribe gathered once more. (Personally I’d wished they’d opened that run with Bumblebee part 2, but What Deaner Was Talking About Made a similar point)

A 90+ song setlist for the three days there showed zero repeats of a single tune, a difficult feat. But they had announced very few shows. Were these it? Soon we knew there would be a three night run in New York City at Terminal 5 in April 2016. They were impressive there, delivering another 100 songs over three nights. Spot dates were announced here and there for the summer, and the whole tour seemed very tentative, likely depending on how Gener’s new found sobriety held up. The idea of seeing them on the waterfront under the stars in Philadelphia was definitely appealing. So once more out on the road. What was less appealing was a forecast for torrential rains, 100% guaranteed. Somehow upon arrival, the sky cleared, and though the venue was a bit of a mudfest in spots, the rains abated for the whole evening.

Under a bridge downtown…

A setlist that delved heavily into Chocolate and Cheese (they had to play Freedom of 76 in Philadelphia, right?) combined with deeper cuts (the Thin Lizzy-ish Gabrielle) to make an incomparable 31 song set. Buenos Tardes Amigos closed out the evening in a large group sing a long. Seeing Ween in their home state? Pretty amazing experience.

Foolishly I decided to give their Boston show two nights later a miss. Deaner ended up posting online (something he doesn’t usually do) that the Boston show was the best one of the 2016 reunion and was one of the top 25 Ween shows ever. Fuck. A listen to readily available bootlegs of the show confirm they were pretty off the hook that night. I’d heard more recently that Lockn Festival crowds were questioning why Ween was on the bill, which makes one wonder about the state of jam band audiences these days, and a quick read of the comments on the Lockn forum shows some pretty calcified brains flickering towards flat lining. Sorry folks, there’s life beyond Phish (who actually love Ween). Or, as someone posted “I’m sorry, Umphrey’s fans opinions just don’t really count”. These people haven’t been even exposed to Frank Zappa or the Mothers of Invention, never mind the Tubes or 10cc or Sparks (all precursors of Ween’s ability to jump genres and parody social culture), so there’s a learning curve of musical literacy out there that many  have missed. I could go on a soapbox rant on the increasingly limited musical awareness populating the twenty somethings in the festival scene, but lets move onward to something far heavier…

August 25 Black Sabbath-Great Woods

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Four days after Ween, the concert-mobile trekked out once again. Back to the venue where this whole summer started, 80 days and a weighty daze later we’ve come full circle back to Great Woods.

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Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends?

Black Sabbath has declared this to be the final time on the road. With Tony Iommi battling lymphoma at age 66, the end of the ride has been more forced upon the band than any internal band decisions. I’d seen Sabbath twice on the “13” tour in 2013, and although the word uneven comes to mind, many of the strengths that made this band a legend already forty five years ago were still on display. That album hearkened (with obvious intention) back to the glory days of Master of Reality and Volume 4, and the new material in concert wasn’t half bad (even prompting Ozzy to say ‘hey I’m starting to LIKE that one”). Constant ice water baths over his head kept him conscious. He reminded me of grandpa at Thanksgiving  finding out there’s only one beer left in the fridge  as he scurried shuffling across the stage. This year the baths were minimal, and Ozzy seemed far more energetic and in better voice. (On the 2013 tour he was frequently out of key by the final two songs Dirty Women and Children of the Grave) With this the final tour, there was no time for newer material-it was full on retrospective time. Black Sabbath, Fairies Wear Boots, After Forever and Into the Void opened the show. I had received a coupon for $16 lawn seats for this show and grabbed em up. Deciding to keep on the  move and remain directly behind the arena seats, I had a great view of the whole show (and from every angle to boot). Here’s the start (cribbed from Omaha):

Iommi seemed to have lost a step or two in his trademark brittle cascading solos, but what the hell, he almost expired last year. Ozzy’s inexplicable improvement compensated for this small trifle nicely. Geezer Butler remains the thundering ball of rumbling bass energy that he has been for 47 years in the band. Former Ted Nugent and Rob Zombie drummer Tommy Clufetos held down the rhythm seat. His overly histrionic drum solos tend to detract from the overall feel, but I do understand that this band needs a dependable workhorse to let Butler and Iommi lay their magic on top of. I personally would love Bill Ward’s free flowing improvs underneath, but as Ozzy said: “I’m not going to be responsible for killing one of my best friends by making him tour!”

This is Your Captain Speaking, Your Captain Is Dead

There were a couple of shows I intentionally missed this summer. The first was Yes. They were continuing their album showcase. This time it was Drama and half of Tales From Topographic Oceans. Here’s where I had a problem: Drama was a vehicle for Chris Squire primarily in the wake of vocalist Jon Anderson’s departure in 1980. But with Chris Squire’s untimely death, Billy Sherwood stepped in and donned the long coat to give the impression that Squire’s ghost might still be flickering around. It isn’t. Another large part of that album is Alan White, who has dropped off the tour with a bad back. So let’s take attendance: Jon Anderson? No. Chris Squire? No. Rick Wakeman? No. Alan White? No. Steve Howe? Yes, the last one standing. With Tales From Topographic Oceans being such a creation of Jon Anderson collaborating with Steve Howe, and Ritual in particular being a vehicle for Squire’s legendary bass solo, I’d have to agree with the  many reviewers who have said that the band should have postponed the tour until Alan White healed up. Although people said it was a fun night, it is getting perilously close to being a tribute band. (In a current Steve Hoffman website poll, 88% of respondents pick Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman as the authentic Yes compared to 12% for the current Howe-led Yes). I didn’t want to tamper with the decades of awe inspiring Yes shows programmed in my brain with a severely diluted version. Squire is just too integral to not only the band, but these two albums in particular.

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Find the real Yes member in this photo

While on the topic of tribute bands, I also declined tickets to go see Kiss. Now this is a band that has crossed the line from rock n roll, to an actual stage play being put on with actors playing the part of Kiss. Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer don Peter Criss and Ace Frehley’s make up each night and pretend to be them. Sure, the Dead have John Mayer in as ‘Jerry’, but they don’t strap a pillow around his gut and slap a fake beard on him, do they? Sure it’s entertainment, but let’s be real-it’s a choreographed show with rehearsed dialogue, not a rock band anymore

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Don’t tell me this isn’t the real Ace and Peter

In conclusion, this was quite a parade of talent on view, and a highly recommended summer diversion. Get out there, highway star….

Cats on the bandstand, give ’em each a big hand
Anyone who sweats like that must be all right
No one wants sometimes, no black eye
Just another cat beneath the stars tonight

Cats down under the stars
Cats down under the stars

Final tally-Eleven bands, seven shows, five venues, 225 dollars total in tickets, 1585 miles traveled.