Top 5 Bob Dylan Songs By Decade

One of my favorite bloggers – professor, media critic and television star Dan Kennedy – has thrown down the gauntlet with his list of the Top 5 Bob Dylan songs. Naturally, this is an impossible task. My initial short list – where I tried to cull Dylan’s immense catalog down to the best of the best from each official (quality) release – hovered at 32 songs. Like Dan says, a Dylan fan can make a new top 5 list every day, but just for fun I’ll organize mine by decade.

But first, a quick story: About 5 years ago my parents were visiting. My dad was perusing the CD library. Spotting the shelf o’ Dylan he innocently asked: “Who this Bob Die-lon?” My Mom, who hasn’t followed music since American Bandstand in the 50s, snapped back: “You idiot! That’s Bob Dylan. Even I know that!” It was a priceless family moment. Obviously my parents weren’t frequenting coffeehouses in the Village back in the day.

Top 5 Dylan Songs by Decade

1960s

The 1960s represent Dylan’s most prolific and successful era. He released 9 albums – all of them good to great – spanning acoustic folk, electric rock and country and became the unwilling spokesman for his generation along the way.

“Bob Dylan’s Dream” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Representing folkie Bob, I love this early acoustic number. The melody is nothing special but the vocal delivery is skilled and highly emotional. It paints a very human picture and listening to it I can picture a young Dylan leaving Minnesota to take his chances in NYC. Wistful of the past, while reluctantly embracing the impermanence of life, there’s nothing here to protest.

1970s

The 70s started and ended rough for Bob with several bad albums released as a result of record company politics and his dreaded (dreadful?) born-again phase. But in the middle of the decade he put together a legendary three album run: Blood on the Tracks-The Basement Tapes-Desire.

“You’re a Big Girl Now” from Blood on the Tracks

I never get tired of hearing this one. The melody is great. The guitar work is subtle. His vocals are full of pain and the phrasing is excellent. Even his harp is crying at the end. It’s a great song from an exceptional album. This time Dylan is angry, defeated and mourning the end of a relationship.

1980s

Dylan is unfairly maligned for his 80s output. Yes, the decade kicked off with more gospel crap. And his “return to rock” albums are marred by the cheesy productions that ruin all great 80s rock. But from a songwriting perspective, there are some gems: Infidels, Empire Burlesque and Oh Mercy are all solid albums.

“Shooting Star” from Oh Mercy

It’s hard to listen to Oh Mercy these days without thinking about Bob’s book Chronicles, Vol. 1 (aka “How I Got My Mojo Back”). Oh Mercy is certainly not one of Dylan’s best albums, but he must view it as the project that gave him his voice back. Shooting Star is a delicate tune (again mourning a failed relationship) that foreshadows the craftsmanship evident in the later-period Dylan albums. Or maybe that’s just the Lanois-effect?

1990s

There’s not much to choose from in the 90s. Bob only released 4 albums. One was junk and two were folk-cover albums. Thank God for “Time Out of Mind” which, hype aside, is truly an excellent piece of work.

“Standing in the Doorway” from Time out of Mind

The tone and atmosphere of this album is perfect. This is an entirely new Dylan. His voice is ragged and yet he inhabits it better than perhaps any other singing voice employed in his career. It’s sparse and dense at the same time. The song (I’m sensing a theme here) is about Dylan thinking back to one of those failed relationships, his heart never fully recovered.

2000s

We’ve gotten two albums out of Bob this decade and we probably won’t be seeing any more. That’s okay, because they’re both quite good – even if Bob seems to have pinched much of the music and lyrics for Modern Times.

“Po’ Boy” from “Love & Theft”

“Po’ Boy” is a slight tune off of “Love & Theft” that I absolutely adore. It’s either the story of a hobo or the story of a man who’s rootless in love – an emotional hobo. Either way, it’s got a heaping serving of that whimsical troubadour Dylan that was so evident on his early albums.

Okay, I can’t possibly be saying (but I guess I am) that the Top 5 Dylan Songs by decade are:

“Bob Dylan’s Dream” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
“You’re a Big Girl Now” from Blood on the Tracks
“Shooting Star” from Oh Mercy
“Standing in the Doorway” from Time out of Mind
“Po’ Boy” from “Love & Theft”

Here’s the rest of the short list, in case you were wondering:

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963): “Girl from the North Country”, “Bob Dylan’s Dream”, “Corrina, Corrina”

Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964): “Ballad in Plain D”

Bringing It All Back Home (1965): “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

Highway 61 Revisited (1965): “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”, “Ballad of a Thin Man”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

Blonde on Blonde (1966): “Visions of Johanna”, “4th Time Around”

John Wesley Harding (1967): “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”

Nashville Skyline (1969): “I Threw it All Away”, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying With You”

Planet Waves (1974): “Forever Young”

Blood on the Tracks (1975): “Simple Twist of Fate”, “You’re a Big Girl Now”

Desire (1976): “Oh, Sister”, “Sara”

Street Legal (1978): “Senor”

Empire Burlesque (1985): “I’ll Remember You”, “Dark Eyes”

Down in the Groove (1988): “Silvio”

Oh Mercy (1989): “Disease of Conceit”, “Shooting Star”

Time Out of Mind (1997): “Standing in the Doorway”, “Not Dark Yet”, “Make You Feel My Love”

Love & Theft (2001): “Mississippi”, “Po’ Boy”

Modern Times (2006): “Spirit on the Water”, “Workingman’s Blues #2”, “Nettie Moore”

###

Concert/Album Review: The Black Crowes Warpaint in Somerville, MA 3/5/08

Double Fun Bonus Review:
The Black Crowes
Live: 3/5/08 at the Somerville (MA) Theatre
Studio: Warpaint, released 3/4/08

Music has been a defining aspect of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s a short-cut to my soul. Few things get to me faster or deeper than music. As long as I can remember I’ve been chasing after “the song” – the song that was playing before I was born and will keep playing long after I’m gone. And like a true addict I keep chasing that high, the high that can only be delivered through rhythms and melodies.

I first fell in love with The Black Crowes back in 1990. We’ve been through so much together: college, falling in love, career, marriage, children, creating a home, everything. Sure, there have been many other bands that I’ve loved, but none like the Crowes. For half my life the Black Crowes have provided my personal soundtrack. They gave me the albums that I played into the ground and the concerts that I’ll never forget – the first one in 1990 at Saratoga Winners, then opening for ZZ Top (before they got kicked off the tour), on to headlining, the festivals – HORDE & Further, doing Zeppelin with Jimmy Page in Worcester and so many shows at the Ol’ Orpheum.

And now you’re probably thinking: “Is he really talking about The Black Crowes? Do people still listen to them? They’re the “Hard to Handle” guys, right?”

Yup. Those Black Crowes – the “Hard to Handle” guys. And while they haven’t been popular in a long, long time, those of us that like them love them. And I mean love to an insanely obsessive level. Amorica or bust!

From the get-go the Crowes have been labeled as throwbacks; competent yet unoriginal classic rockers in the mold of the Stones and the Faces. While respected for their musical abilities, they’re also criticized for a perceived lack of originality.

Originality must be an overrated quality, because to my ears, the Crowes have used their talents for nothing less than the preservation and reinvigoration of a grand and dying musical tradition. They honor their influences. They proudly wear their influences on their sleeves. They transmit the beauty and grandeur found in blues, soul, country, folk, funk, boogie-woogie, rock and psychedelia. They’re modern-day troubadours that have traded commercial success for authenticity and integrity.

But the years haven’t been kind to our favorite band. Their first album (Shake Your Money Maker) gave them fame and notoriety. Their next three albums (The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion, Amorica, Three Snakes & One Charm) represent the greatest album trilogy in modern rock and roll – three gems, each of which would represent the career-defining achievement of any band. Then the hard times came – personnel changes, bad vibes, two lesser albums (By Your Side & Lions) and finally, fittingly, 2001 came and it was over. The end of an era. The end of the Crowes. The end of the song.

Hey, times changes, nothing lasts forever. They had a great run and they left us with an incredible catalog of music and a lifetime of concert memories. And the timing was pretty good anyway – we were growing up, having children and working. And the solo albums provided minor pleasures, to ease the pain.

But then the rumors started – rebirth! – and by 2005 they were back. Traveling to that first show down at the Hammerstein, Easter weekend in 2005 was amazing. It all came back. They were back.

2005 was great but by 2006 signs of trouble were evident. The bad vibes started creeping in again. Marc and Eddie were gone. There was no new music. And what should have been the year of rebirth was starting to look like the last gasp of a dying man. Well, at least we got that one last taste, that one last chance to live in the past.

It was with great trepidation that we learned that 2008 would bring a new album – Warpaint – and a new band. Staying around would be Chris Robinson (vocals, harp, 3rd guitar), Rich Robinson (guitars), Steve Gorman (drums) and Sven Pipien (bass). New additions would be Luther Dickinson (slide guitar, of NMAS fame) and Adam MacDougall (keys).

The unspoken question: will this, the 7th official album from the 7th iteration of this band, represent a new beginning or a final ending to the song?

The Crowes had one small surprise in store for us. They would unveil the entire new album, live, in a handful of cities, at small theatres, during the release week. We were barely able to scrape up a few single tickets to see them play an old movie house in Somerville. It was the perfect venue – old and worn-down, yet classic and brimming with history.

And the question hanging over us all: would the Crowes deliver?

I had made the conscious decision not to buy or listen to the album before the show. I had listened to the first single “GDOTR” but nothing more. I was going in blind, anxious and with no expectations. Plenty of hopes and fears, but no expectations.

Empty Mind. Lights down. No thinking. Stage lights up.

Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution: the opener, the first single, is a generic Crowes rocker. It’s enjoyable and sing-a-longable, but in all honesty it worried me a bit. It’s the kind of song that the Crowes could churn out in their sleep. So, while it’s a very good tune with a strong introduction to Luther’s sound, I was hoping that the whole album wouldn’t sound like it.

Walk Believer Walk: a dark rocker, straight out of the Tall sessions, it has an epic vibe and a heavy bottom end. I was forewarned that Sven was dropping big bass bombs on the album and this song definitely hits hard. Sven and Steve have clearly taken their game to a new level. They’re approaching sacred territory. I’m almost afraid to say this, but there’s a little JPJ/Bonham thing going on here. And right about this point I had a feeling everything was going to be alright.

O, Josephine: And now I knew that everything would be much better than alright. I almost wanted to cry, hearing the Crowes drop another classic power ballad on us. It’s gorgeous. It’s the first accessible song that could be a huge hit. It’s right out of the She Talks To Angels-Girl From a Pawnshop playbook…sweet and beautiful but also rich and textured. Oh my god. They’re really back.

Evergreen: a guitar-driven rocker that proves one of my favorite maxims: average songs from great bands are still better than great songs from average bands. In lesser hands this would be unremarkable. But the Crowes masterful use of atmosphere, space and time changes makes it interesting and enjoyable.

We Who See the Deep: This mid-tempo rocker is kind of a mix between British rock and psychedelic rock. It’s the first song where Adam shines with a little roadhouse piano. It’s a fun, slight tune.

Locust Street: And here’s hit number 2. It’s an inspired decision by Luther to go for the mandolin here, but it’s really Chris’s vocal treatment and the backing harmonies that set it apart. Somewhere Gram Parsons is smiling, hearing his vision of California country rock live on for another generation.

Movin’ On Down The Line: As soon as the organ intro started I laughed, with the obvious, and perfect, copping of the Zeppelin opening. The vocal intro evolves into a guitar intro and then it just blows up into some crazy late-period Beatles pop. It’s a tremendous, ambitious, infectious mixture that really captures the Crowes sound.

Wounded Bird: A southern blues rocker that has a surprisingly optimistic feel to it as a result of Luther’s slide mimicking Chris’s vocals. Textured and well-crafted, this one will age well.

God’s Got It: Steve comes out in full marching band regalia with a big bass drum and the band proceeds to tear the roof off with some old school tent revival gospel. Their rendition of this cover tune (Rev. Charlie Jackson) is so enjoyable and compelling that it (almost) tempts one to hit a Sunday morning service.

There’s Gold in Them Hills: Another laid-back beauty, this one gives an indication of how New Earth Mud songs would sound if they were recorded by the Crowes. I adore cheesy Chris back-porch lullabies and this one is no exception – especially with the compelling bridge.

Whoa Mule: As if they decided to squeeze everything about the band’s sound into one song, this gem reminds me of the best description of the Grateful Dead’s genre of music – it ain’t blues or folk or country or jazz or ragtime or rock, nope, it’s American music, nothing more and nothing less. It’s a great song and a perfect closer for the album.

(Note: this is the end of the album, the rest of the concert review will continue below.)

They did it. They really did it! After all of the years, after all of the miles, after all of the hopes and disappointments, they came back with an album full of new Crowes classics. It’s a majestic work of beauty, made with abundant love and devotion by master craftsmen. And while it captures their influences and their history, it also clearly points to the road ahead.

You know, I probably would have been okay with a decent album of new material. And deep down inside I feared that they didn’t really have it in them anymore. Let’s be honest – it’s been 10 years since their last great album. I was afraid that there was too much history for them to have a future. But the Crowes are back, playing our song, the eternal song that transcends time and place and burrows down deep into your soul.

Yes, it’s just music. It’s just a rock band playing rock and roll music. But it’s my band, playing my music.

They’re back, baby!

After “Whoa Mule” the Crowes played 5 more songs. Now, you would assume that after dropping 11 new tunes on the audience that they’d come back with a few greatest hits, but not so fast. They played one old song and 4 covers:

Mean Town Blues: (Johnny Winter) was a strong blues number most recently played by Luther & Rich’s side band Circle Sound and it’s a great showcase for the Crowes. Very enjoyable.

Thorn in My Pride: is a classic Crowes gem and a live show staple. The new guys put in a good effort and of course, we got the Spinal Tap-esque drum solo from Steve. Usually the drum solo annoys me, but I was happy to indulge the band after such a great night.

Girl from the North Country: (Bob Dylan) is a perfect song for the Crowes and it’s great to hear Chris and Rich trade verses. This one was a real treat.

Don’t Know Why: showcased the Crowes amazing ability to update and jam out classic soul and Motown songs like “Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Woman.” Yet another influence from the musical stew lovingly represented.

Hey Grandma (Moby Grape) finished the evening off with more strong country rock. They were playing so well, so energetically, that it didn’t matter whether you knew the songs or not.

And all too soon it was over. But it didn’t feel like an ending; rather it felt like a new beginning. Sure, the show could have been a little longer. And I could have used a little more Rich and a little less Luther in the mix. And I’ll never stop missing Weird Ol’ Ed. But perhaps it was a good thing that the Marc-Ed version of the Crowes never recorded any new material. That line-up represented the past, and they may have struggled with trying to remake their iconic material. Luther and Adam bring a new edge to the band and it shows. And make no mistake, this is a band. They were listening to each other and playing as a unit. The whole was much greater than the sum of the parts.

Since the show ended I’ve listened to nothing but Warpaint. I’ve gone through it at least a dozen times and I’m not sure when I’ll stop. Perhaps I’ll look back in a few years and think less of the album. But right now, after a magical night in Somerville and a few days with this album, I’m devastated. Blown away. The cosmos is smiling. The tradition lives on.

I guess what others call retro is what I call timeless.

###

Concert Review: Phil Lesh & Friends in Boston, MA 10/10/07

Concert Review:
Phil Lesh & Friends
Orpheum Theatre
Boston, MA
10/10/07

Listen to show here (thanks tapers!)

The jury has reached their verdict. We have found Mr. Phil Lesh, formerly of the Grateful Dead, to be the new Godfather of rock and roll. Sorry, JB, but there’s a new Godfather in town and you’ll recognize him by his big brown bass.

Since the beginning of his solo career Phil has carefully chosen different musicians to join him on stage to be formally initiated into the “family”: Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, Ryan Adams, Joan Osbourne, Trey Anastasio, Chris Robinson, Rob Barraco and more; The list goes on and on. They’re musicians young and old, famous and obscure; they may sing or play the guitar or the piano. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that being chosen by Phil to play as one of his “friends” is baptism by fire. It’s an honor bestowed by the Godfather that says: “the time has come for you to take the torch and carry on our musical tradition.”

When the Fall ‘07 tour was first announced the line-up was not that surprising: the heart of the band, the rhythm section, remained the same, of course: Phil on bass and the incomparable John Molo (from Bruce Hornsby & the Range) on drums. Steve Molitz (from Particle) came back on keys and Larry Campbell (from Dylan’s tour band) was featured on lead guitar and string instruments. But there was one new addition: a kid named Jackie Greene – a complete unknown. Sure, we would’ve loved to get C-Rob back or Joan or Ryan. But as the saying goes (for good reason): In Phil We Trust.

Per tradition, pre-show festivities were held at Fajitas & Ritas. Over the years the quality of the food has really gone downhill but they still get the nod due to low prices and pitchers of Sierra Nevada and Coors Light on tap. All too soon, it was time for a quick trip through the West Street fadeaway to the historic Orpheum theatre.

Security at the Orpheum has reached epic police-state levels, with full searches and shakedowns. Not really much of an issue for me, but it’s amazing to think how much things have changed in just the last 10 years and how accepting of poor treatment we all are these days. At least you can’t beat the location or the acoustics.

Thankfully, the mail-order seats were brilliant – 5th row center right in front of Larry. Big thanks to Kenny B. (sorry you missed the show) and Ruby (now we’re even!)

On to the show:

Set 1: Cosmic Charlie, So Hard to Find My Way, Deal, Tell Me Mama Tell Me Right, Cold Rain and Snow, The Night They Drove ol’ Dixie Down, Alabama Getaway

Cosmic Charlie” was a great opener. It’s a fun, weird song and they totally nailed the harmonies during the a capella finish. They moved into the first Jackie tune, “So Hard to Find My Way,” a straight blues number, and the kid showed his stuff. Next up was a nice “Deal” with Jackie displaying some solid harp work. Another blues tune “Tell Me Mama Tell Me Right” led into a “Cold, Rain & Snow”, which Larry completely owned. Now, I’ve never been completely sold on Larry as the lead guitarist for this band but this was the night that he totally won me over. Larry was nothing short of amazing and this show was his coming out party. At this point I heard (or imagined) a “Wheel” tease but no one else seemed to have heard it. An unexpected “The Night They Drove ol’ Dixie Down” followed and the first set closed with a decent-version-of-a-lame-tune “Alabama Getaway”.

Let’s just say that by the end of the first set there were no concerns about Jackie’s ability to sing, play guitar, piano or the harp. Jackie put on a very impressive performance, to say the least.

Set 2: Shakedown Street, Mississippi Half-Step, New Speedway Boogie, Loan Me a Dime, Other One, Down on the Valley Woe, St. Stephen, The Wheel, Sugar Magnolia/SSDD

After the break, the second set started out the way God intended it to – with Phil laying down a heavy bottom for “Shakedown Street”. Both Molitz and Jackie shined during Shakedown and you could just feel the positive energy on the stage, in the crowd, and all around. And it just got better and better – a fun “Half-Step” a great “Speedway Boogie” – what a beautiful run to get things started.

Next up was a little personal redemption. I’ve taken a lot of crap over the years for my undying love for Boz Scaggs, so imagine my reaction when Jackie busted into a solid version of “Loan Me a Dime” – Boz’s signature blues jam. Next up was an “Other One” where once again Jackie and Larry were all over the place. Another Jackie tune, “Down on the Valley Woe,”  followed, and it was amazing how much energy the band put into playing the Jackie tunes. Then we got a stand-alone “St. Stephen”, a real “Wheel” materialized and the energy finally peaked with a “Sugar Mags/SSDD”. Phew! That was an incredible set.

E: “Brokedown Palace”

A great night was capped off with a perfect “Brokedown”. This band has it all: great vocals, amazing guitars and a surprising level of “group-think” for a band that’s only played together for a month or so. Jackie was a great fit for the 1968-ish vibe that Phil gets going.

Yup, Phil did it again. He managed to make something that sounded very old and very new at the same time. He discovered yet another diamond in the rough. He rewarded our faith and trust. He was, in every way, the Godfather. Thanks, Phil. Until next time…

###

Concert Review: Bob Weir & Ratdog in Boston, MA 7/10/07

Concert Review:
Bob Weir & RatDog
Bank of America Pavilion
Boston, MA
7/10/07

Once again, dear friends, let’s take a journey through time and space and celebrate the return to Boston of our beloved bard Bob Weir and his band RatDog, for our regular get-togethers. It’s been almost 3 whole months since our last gathering.

Before I commence with the traditional concert review, I must send out my thoughts, energy, love and vibes to Mark Karan. MK is the lead guitar player for RatDog and he recently revealed that he has been thrown a curveball – cancer – and is sadly off the road for treatment and recovery. Mark is a supremely talented musician, both as the leader of his delightful blues-pop band Jemimah Puddleduck, as well as in his higher-profile role as the man filling the biggest shoes in the music business (Mark has the impossible task of replacing Jerry Garcia. And you thought your day job was tough!) We’re pulling for you, Mark.

I’m a big believer that the venue can largely determine the make-up of the crowd at a show. And the crowd energy obviously affects the band and the band’s performance largely defines your overall experience. So, in essence, you need all three – a good venue with a positive crowd and a fired-up performance – to ensure a great show. This is most evident when you compare the vibe during a winter show at a shitty death metal club in Worcester (like the Palladium in Worcerster) versus a beautiful summer night on the Harbor in Boston.

The Bank of America Pavilion, formerly Harbor Lights, is a tremendous venue. It has great acoustics and holds 4,000 or so people. There’s a nice breeze from the ocean and all of the $9 beers you can handle (or afford.) It’s definitely my preferred summertime venue, as I am way too old and grouchy to down drive to the big outdoor shed in Mansfield. Unless John and George come back from the dead for a Beatles reunion, I’m never bothering with Great Woods again. (Joke courtesy of Kenny B.)

We all met up at the oh-so-trendy LTK, which is the Legal Test Kitchen, a modern version of Legal’s Sea Food. It was amusing how they quarantined all of the deadheads into the bar area. Yup, touring with the Daed hasn’t changed too much over the years, eating $30 lobster rolls before the show!

Being the positive thinker that I am (well, at least when it comes to Weir) shows typically fall into three categories: good, great and fantastic. This one was definitely closest to fantastic. Seriously!

Before RatDog’s set, Bobby came out to jam with Keller Williams on “The Race is On” and “Friend of the Devil”. Both songs were good and were more than enough Keller for me for one night.

Now, on to the main course:

Jam > Feel Like a Stranger: It was pretty obvious that the opening jam was going into Stranger and it was a good, albeit sloppy, Stranger. Even a mediocre Stranger sets the tone for a fun night, though.

Minglewood Blues: I’m a sucker for Minglewood and the obligatory “Boston fillies” references (and who isn’t?) It was at this point that I realized that fill-in guitarist Steve Kimock was going to work out just fine. And he did. Steve demonstrated an unexpected restraint from early on – knowing when to play and when to leave just enough space.

She Belongs to Me: The first of several Dylan tunes, I miss-called this one for QJA, as I frequently will. It was a good version with a particularly nice Sax solo from Kenny Brookes.

Money for Gasoline: One of the newer RatDog originals, and a good one, but we used it for a piss break. K. asked me, “so is this a new piss break song?” My thoughtful response was: “not by definition, but by default if nothing worse pops up when it’s time to break.” Best overheard bathroom conversation of the night: Loser #1: Is that the ocean out there? Loser #2: I think it might be Boston Harbor, but I’m not sure.

Loser: Very nice version, always a treat to hear.

Loose Lucy: This one is like shooting fish in a barrel. A guaranteed sing-a-long, this got the crowd revved up nicely.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall: Dylan song #2. They play this as a very powerful acoustic tune. Always nice to hear this one and Bobby really hams it up.

Quinn the Eskimo: Dylan song #3 and what a great surprise! Keller came out for this one and it was a lot of fun. Never expected to hear Quinn!

Silvio > Tequila > Silvio > Tequila > Silvio: Dylan song #4. Now some people don’t like the bar band quality of this, but I love it. Basically they intersperse the Dylan tune Silvio with the “Tequila” song that Pee Wee Herman made famous.

Iko Iko: Another upbeat song, Iko usually follows the Silvio/Tequila bit and keeps the energy up. Iko’s always a good time, if not the greatest tune in the world.

Stuff: a.k.a. piss break #2. I have nothing against the guys doing their jazz fusion experiments, but it’s always a well-timed piss break, by definition. I can listen to it later on disc.

Black Peter: I absolutely love RatDog’s rendition of Black Peter. It’s very powerful and is such a nice jam. Robin was dropping crazy bombs at this point. Well done.

Two Djinn: Another RatDog original, Two Djinn is a sweet jam and always a nice song to get.

Not Fade Away: One of those songs that I don’t have to hear ever again, to their credit they did a really nice job with it. To the crowd’s credit, we kept the handclapping going straight through to the encore…

E: Brokedown Palace: Ahh. Now that’s more like it. Brokedown is one of the best encores and a sweet way to end another great night.

And just like that, it was over – another show in the books – one last trip through the lot and a then quick cab ride home. It’s fun to mark time from show to show, tour to tour. To observe the familiar pattern of fall-spring-summer tour and note how much, and how little, we’ve changed.  The best part is that we know that this can’t last forever, so we enjoy it while we can and enjoy that fun duality of enjoying the moment as it is and for what it is.

###

Concert Review: Bob Weir & Ratdog in Boston, MA 3/13/07

Concert Review:
Bob Weir & RatDog
Orpheum Theatre
Boston, MA
3/13/07

One of the recurring pleasures in my life is the (at least) twice annual appearance of our old friend Bob Weir and his band RatDog. Yes, it’s been over a decade since Jerry G. left his body and took the Grateful Dead with him, but his little brother Bobby keeps God’s work alive, riding that bus from town to town and spreading the gospel, as it were.

So, my apologies in advance for yet another entry where I yammer on endlessly about hippie music and spend a few hours reliving the past, both recent and distant.

The funny thing about these shows is that you never quite know when or where they’re going to hit. You can typically expect a fall tour and a spring tour. One season he’ll play in Boston (usually at ye olde Orpheum Theatre) and the other he’ll play “out west” in Worcester (boo!) or Lowell (a surprising yay!) Tour dates magically appear on the internet and you have to quickly get the cash up for mail order, a quaint system where you send a hand-postmarked envelope with a money order to Ruby at GDTSTOO and anxiously wait for the tickets to show up. Mail order is more work and stress than Ticketmaster, but you can also score very good seats that way (I’ve even gotten front row center before) and you help to keep part of the old GD world alive. Unfortunately, our good tickets got lost and we had to scramble for mediocre seats from Ticketmaster at the last minute.

All this means that you end up committing to a show without really knowing if it’s going to work with your life. Usually we get Saturday night shows as Boston is a good draw for Dead family bands. For some odd reason this show was on Tuesday, 3/13 at the Orpheum, which turned out to be an awful day as I had to catch an early train to Stamford the next morning. Ouch!

One of the best parts of the shows is reconnecting with tour buddies, ranging from the best of friends to people you only see at the show. We always meet up pre-show, as early as possible, and warm up with Mexican food and beer. In Boston we have the perfect dive in Fajitas & Ritas – right around the corner from the Orpheum, with good, cheap eats and pitchers (!) of Sierra Nevada and Coors Light. We reminisce about seeing the GD back in college and argue over who was the best keyboardist (Keith, obviously), which tours were the best (’72 and ’77), what songs we hope to hear (Help>Slip>Franklin’s) and which ones we’d prefer not to hear (Odessa). All too soon the party ends as we need to get inside on time for a quick beer and trip to the bathroom before the opening jam.

Like the Grateful Dead, RatDog plays a different show every night and we play “name that tune,” with points going to the person that accurately guesses the song first. We are frighteningly good at it, usually trying to hone in on the chord progression or timing during the jam that connects or commences each song.

First Set:

Jam > Shakedown Street: Giddy up! I love me a nice Shakedown opener and this one had the right energy level. What a fun way start to the night.

Maggie’s Farm: Well, I love Zimmy, but Maggie’s can be a snoozer. It was a decent version, but still…

Mission in the Rain: Now we’re talking! It’s been a tough month and this one hit me right in the heart. It’s a beautiful Jerry song and we’ve all been there before.

Walkin’ Blues: Yup, it was a blues night alright. I do like Walkin’, it’s a good, traditional blues tune that they play very well.

Easy to Slip: I love, love, love cheesy solo Bobby. Awesome.

Book of Rules: This should have been a Supplication jam, dammit, but it worked just as well as a bathroom/beer break.

Little Red Rooster: Another blues classic that brings out the howling hounds.

Bertha: Great song, great version, thought that would end the set, but…

Around and Around: Yes! Not only was this an incredible way to end the first set – a throwback Rockstar Bobby song – but as a Chuck Berry cover I was feeling pretty confident that we’d avoid the dreaded Johnny Be Goode encore. Sweet!

Second Set:

K.C. Moan: Such a great acoustic opener. I always dig KC.

Me and My Uncle: Acoustic Cowboy Bobby! Yee-hah! It’s a fun song with a real lesson for all of us to remember (not really).

Victim or the Crime: I hated this song when the Dead did it electric back in the day, but I love it acoustic with RatDog. It’s very powerful. Am I the Victim or the Crime?

Easy Answers: Cheesy Answers is one of those songs that I hated for years but have grown to adore with RatDog. The jam during the bridge is just mind-blowing. Many people hate this song but I was in heaven.

Eyes of the World: The absolute pinnacle of the night. Kenny’s sax teacher came out to jam and it was fan-fugu-tastic. The Dead really took this song to another level when Branford Marsalis jammed with them and added the Sax parts. RatDog, having the full-time sax player, has always played this song really well. Tonight’s rendition was the best I’ve ever heard. It was perfect. Well done, boys.

Stuff: (Stuff is an improv jam. It was definitely stuff. ‘Nuff said.)

Black Peter: Another great tune.  We’ve already gotten our money’s worth, for sure.

Touch of Grey: I guess it’s an anthem of sorts for us Touchheads. It’s weird to think that we’re the last generation of Deadheads. We were the new kids back in the late ‘80s and we’re not so young anymore. Yeah, there are still old timers and some young kids that hit the shows these days, but it’s mostly us Gen X’ers that are still around today. Has it really been 20 years already? It’s a great sing-a-long to end the night.

Encore:

Johnny B. Goode: NOOOOOOOOOO! You already played a Chuck Berry song. That’s not fair!

And then it was over. A few hugs on the way to Shakedown Street and then on to the train and back to reality. Once again, thank you Bobby for bringing us together and bringing us back, ever so briefly, to another time, when ignorance was bliss. A lot of the ignorance is gone, but there’s still plenty of bliss. Good music, good friend, and a finer appreciation for what we’ve lost, what we’ve found, and the many miles in between.

###

Concert Review: Bob Weir & Ratdog in Lowell, MA, 11/10/06

Concert Review:
Bob Weir & RatDog
Lowell Memorial Auditorium
Lowell, MA
11/10/06

Although it’s an unpopular position, I’ve always been upfront that I’m first and foremost a Bobby Weir fan. Of course, everyone loves Garcia, and it’s hip to like Phil or Pigpen, but it has never been, and will never be, cool to love Bobby.

Perhaps I’m a victim of my times. I only saw the GD 3 times between 1988 and 1992, having been too young before ’88 and too disappointed by the time 1993 rolled around. And I will admit that (compared to tapes from the 70s) they just weren’t that good anymore near the end. It was particularly disappointing to see Garcia – his back to the crowd, smoking cigarettes, a hulking shadow of his former self. Not at all like the image that I held from countless hours listening to “The Grateful Dead Hour” or watching the movie. Bob was the highlight in that era, stepping into his rockstar persona and providing all of the energy.

But more than that it was his music. Before I even knew who wrote what, I fell in love with “Weather Report Suite”, “Looks like Rain”, “Black-Throated Wind” and the rest of the incredible “Ace” album. Cheesy ballads, rockers and cowboy songs…I loved them all.

Bob’s reputation as a lightweight is unfair. Any musician would kill to have his catalog of songs. Where would the GD have been without the Bobby tunes? Not to knock Garcia and Hunter, but there is no GD without Bobby – his songs, his voice, and his playing.

Lowell was my seventh RatDog show and it was easily the best one I’ve ever seen. Something has changed with this band – perhaps they’re just jelling as a unit – but they’re playing at a higher level than ever before.

I’ll give the initial credit to the rhythm section of Robin Sylvester and Jay Lane. I’ve always felt that RatDog’s sound was a little thin – whereas Phil’s bands tend to kick you in the ass – you literally feel the music – RatDog was always lighter and jazzier, as if the music floated around you. Not this time. There was a weight and depth to the performance that I wasn’t sure that RatDog was capable of. They rocked hard!

Mark Karan is absolutely the workingman’s Garcia – the notes are right, the tone is right, and he sounds good. He’s just absolutely solid and dependable – nothing too flashy or risky, but no disasters either. Mark was very good all night long. He’s a great fit for this band.

Both Jeff Chimenti and Kenny Brooks add so much texture to the music. They are both excellent soloists. Jeff smoothly moves from piano to organ, roadhouse to boogie-woogie, giving an added dimension to each tune. Kenny is like a little bird, flying by for a sweet line or accent, then disappearing again. It’s such a treat to hear his contributions.

And what can be said of the Bobstar? He looks great, his voice is better than ever, his phrasing and delivery is perfect and his lyrical flubs are endearing rather than distracting. No big slide work on Friday, though!

I’m of the opinion that a show is driven by the setlist and your mindset. If you’ve got a bad mindset going in, you’re going to have a bad show. Same thing with the setlist – you’re always going to get a few songs that you’d prefer not to. But if you can go in with no expectations, you’ll have a great time. (But, please no more Odessas!) Friday delivered, both from a setlist and atmosphere standpoint.

I really hope that Bobby keeps Lowell as a replacement for the shithole in Worcester they call the Palladium. The Lowell Memorial Auditorium was a beautiful hall, the sound was good (the PA was too hot though and it sounded like it was peaking at points), and the security was mellow. They let us take beers back to our seats and there was a nice vibe throughout the evening.

But how could there not be a nice vibe for Sing-a-long night? Cause Bobby busted out the sing-a-longs all night long.

The opening jam turned into a nice Help-Slip, which I’ll never complain about, because it’s an excellent opener and Franklin’s is a great encore. Money for Gasoline was great. It’s a decent tune, nothing spectacular, but it’s nice to hear new music from the boys and it’s a fun, upbeat song. Next up was another fun one – Loose Lucy – and by this point we knew that we were going to have a great night.

Now some people weren’t digging the cheesefest that came next, but I was thrilled to get a So Many Roads into Easy to Slip, then a killer Supplication jam back into Easy to Slip. That right there is classic Bobby.

I love Lazy River Road, especially for the solos. It was a nice one. All Along the Watchtower is a little played out, but they added in that nice Reggae bit. The Reggae treatment helped, but it was probably still too long. But the first set had one last surprise for us – a great Might as Well.

Second set started with an acoustic Peggy-O, which was nice, and a Fever, which was okay. Victim or the Crime was next. I was never a Victim fan in the old days, but I love the acoustic version and the end was jammed out perfectly. Another sing-a-long with He’s Gone, but the main course was next – The Other One.

We all know that Lowell is the spiritual birthplace of the beatnicks (and the literal birthplace of Jack Kerouac) so we were expecting some kind of reference in the show, probably Cassidy, but I forget about the “Cowboy Neal” line in TOO. It was an epic TOO and the energy truly peaked when Bobby shouted for Cowboy Neal. After that was Stuff, complete with a Godfather theme! To close out the second set was a solid Dear Prudence and a well-jammed Two Djinn. While not as awesome as set one, it was very good and it just flew by…no snoozers.

Mere moments after they left the stage they were back reprising Two Djinn, before picking up Slipkot! and the final Franklin’s Tower. It was a high-energy was to end a high-energy night.

Bobby, you reminded me once again why I’ve always loved you.

###

Concert Review: Boz Scaggs in Boston, MA 8/17/06

Concert Review:
Boz Scaggs
Bank of America Pavilion
Boston, MA
8/17/06

I’ve come to realize that everything in life, good and bad, fun and tedious, meaningful and slight, is projected through the prism of our expectations.

At times, it’s beneficial. When you’re dreading a meeting or an obligatory situation it’s helpful to expect and anticipate the worst. Then it’s quite pleasant when things don’t turn out so bad.

I was thinking about expectations because of the Boz Scagg’s show that we caught last week. Our expectations were sky high. It was literally a lifelong dream of ours to experience Boz live. And right before the show we both realized that it was going to be hard for Boz to live up to our expectations.

But he did. And then some. But first, let me set the scene.

The show was at Harbor Lights (which is now called the Bank of American Pavilion or something). It’s located out on the docks in Boston – far from civilization in the Seaport district. After work, we found some street parking and tried to find a nice place to eat. Of course, our meandering ways caught up with us and we didn’t have enough time to get a good meal. So, we settled on some dive, where the dreadful food was compensated by the cold beers and awesome harbor view.

After completing our pre-show festivities, we were roaring to go. We picked up our tickets, hooting and hollering for Boz and entered…well, I’d call it a corporate environment, but most of the attendees were well past retirement age. The prevailing look was: creased khakis shorts, boat shoes, golf shirts, and maybe even a canvas anchor belt.  It was a tough crowd.

Anyway, Boz comes out and we go wild. He opens with a sweet “Lowdown” and we’re dancing and singing – it’s a show, dig? And halfway through the song we realize that WE’RE THE ONLY PEOPLE STANDING IN THE WHOLE PLACE! Okay, time to switch to plan B. We groove in our chairs for the songs, but give a hearty standing O in between (all well deserved – no phony standing O’s here.) We’re not out to freak anybody out or to ruin anyone’s time. Second is “Jojo,” and Boz sounds so great. Next is a slow version of “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” Then the heavy stuff comes – a beautiful “Slow Dancer” into a funky “Hercules.” We use the next song “Desire” as our bathroom/beer break and come back for a swinging “Miss Sun” and a spot-on cover of the Crusader’s “Street Life.” The blues come out for a little “I’ve Got Your Love,” then a tender “Look What You’ve Done to Me.” Next is a good “Vanishing Point.” I will say that our energy has started to affect our entire section, and by the time “Lido Shuffle” begins, the whole place was rocking, led by our section. The night finished out with three encores, “Loan Me a Dime,” “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” and “Thanks to You.”

The band was tight, the backup singers were awesome and Boz was perfect. His voice has aged so well. I think I love that man. The only downside is when I knocked that dude’s can of Ensure over and he tried to hit me with his walker (just kidding!)

So, we entered with the highest expectations in the world and they were exceeded in every way.  Viva Boz!

###

Concert Review: The Black Crowes in Uncasville, CT, 7/18/06

Concert Review:
The Black Crowes
Mohegan Sun Arena
Uncasville, CT
7/18/06

My most recent concert was the freak’n’roll extravaganza that is The Black Crowes. Now, I should disclaim this review by saying that The Black Crowes are my all-time favorite band. I’ve been seeing them with regularity since 1990 and I’ve been to some historic shows – from the first tour in a bar in upstate NY, to opening for ZZ Top before they got kicked off the bill, with Jimmy Page playing Led Zeppelin, at all of the festivals – HORDE, Further, etc. I even caught them in NYC for their reunion run last year. I’ve traveled to see them and I’ve never been disappointed. So this will not be an unbiased review. I’m a die-hard Amorican and no other band perfectly melds rocks, blues, soul, boogie-woogie and funk like the Crowes.

We were fortunate to score some freebies through the fan contest for the Mohegan Sun show. The seats were perfect – 5th row center between Rich and Eddie. While not the Tallest venue in the land, Mohegan’s Arena is nice, clean and had decent acoustics. We were smart enough to bring our earplugs, for while the Crowes are the best rock and roll band in the land, they are also the loudest.

It was our first “couple” trip to Mohegan (I’ve been several times on business before.) We’re not big gamblers (I’m truly an awful gambler always making foolish bets and cracking jokes) but the Crowes provided us with a good excuse to go down. They upgraded us to a suite, which was heavenly, and we arrived with enough time to have a few drinks, blow off the opening bands, and have a few more drinks.

The band is at a peak right now, with the core of Chris (vocals) and Rich (guitar) Robinson and Steve Gorman on drums. Our prayers have been answered, and Marc Ford is back on guitar, Weird Ol’ Eddie Harsch on keys and Sven Pipien on bass. It’s the perfect line-up.

Greasy Grass River was a nice opener – it’s great how the song build intensity to explode, like the show’s really starting, and I love the harmonizing. The Black Moon jam was nice, with Chris hitting the harp. Black Moon itself wasn’t as energetic as it can be. Cypress Tree was short and sweet. Got to Get Better in a Little While featured some really nice playing, the changes are really nice in that song and they nailed them. It was probably my favorite “unexpected song” of the night. Ballad in Urgency > Wiser Time was perfect as always, and the jam actually picked up some nice momentum before Wiser.

I must confess to a bathroom/beer break for Song of Love. The Thorn jam was definitely different and Thorn was great. The drum solo is such a throwback – Steve plays so hard and heavy. The band really isn’t the same without him. She Gave Good Sunflower was awesome. Pearly Queen was okay. The crowd was definitely up for the excellent Bring On, Bring On. A Conspiracy was hard and driving, and Jealous Again was fun as always. I was hoping for a Tumblin’ Dice encore, but Willin’ was a beautiful way to end the night.

All in all it was a very solid show – good set list, nice playing. The crowd was a little weak, but that’s what we can expect in larger venues. I will say, as much as I loved Johnny Colt, Sven is the perfect bassist for the band at this time. The Steve-Sven combo is very powerful and you definitely feel, as well as hear, the music.

As expected, the Crowes delivered. Mohegan was as expected – the curious mix of luxury, glamour and disgust that only a casino can provide. If you like rock shows, don’t miss the Crowes. I guarantee you a good time.

###

Concert Review: Phil Lesh & Friends in Mansfield, MA 7/6/06

Concert Review:
Phil Lesh & Friends
Tweeter Center
Mansfield, MA
7/06/06

I’m sad to say that I’ve hit the point in my life where the outdoor shed concert is a real negative – the long drive, the packed parking lots, the bad acoustics, etc. I much prefer seeing shows in theaters. My buddy said that it was a very Phish crowd. I’ll buy that explanation.

That said Phil delivered as he always does and as only he can. It’s hard to compare Bob Weir & RatDog with Phil & Friends – the remnants of the Grateful Dead. Bobby is all first set – the rockers, the cheesy ballads, the cowboy songs. The band is tight, Bobby is singing great and it’s just a fun dance party. Phil is all second set, the soupy jams, the risk taking, the high-wire act. Sure, there are disasters (i.e. not a great Slipknot! > Franklins) but there are moments of real magic, too.

Thursday’s show was interesting. Phil’s bass was really driving the energy all night, and Molo was great. I’ll take Molo over any of the other drummers on the scene, including Billy K. First set was the Rob Barraco show. Doin’ That Rag was a perfect opener. Mike Gordon joined on banjo for Deep Elem and Brown-Eyed Women and both songs were energetic and fun. Joan Osbourne’s Next Time You See Me was nice, but I couldn’t help but compare it to Chris Robinson’s version from last year, and the song really takes off with his harp. A great version of Golden Road closed out the first set. It was a great set, but way too short (about an hour!)

Second set was the Trey Anastasio show. Now, I’m not a Phish guy, I’ve never seen Phish live, and I barely listen to them. I do love those NY Phil shows from ’99 with Trey, so I had an open mind. Trey plays fast and loud and he just dominated the set. I really like Watchtower, which is saying something, because I’m long since bored by Watchtower. St. Stephen was great. One of the best versions I’ve ever gotten. Hoping for a William Tell > The Eleven, but heard the familiar start to Help > Slip. Help was good, Slip was just a tease. They then worked into a very nice version of Ryan Adams’s Nobody Girl, interrupted by China Doll, and then back into Nobody Girl. I absolutely adore Joan’s take on China Doll. Her vocal rivals Jerry’s it’s so good. But it was played at the wrong time – it just brought the momentum to a halt. After that came a solid I Know You Rider, another short Slipknot and a disappointing Franklin’s Tower. I felt like Trey was clashing with Greg Osby’s sax at that point. For encores we got a GDTRFB, which was fine but nothing special, and a Box of Rain complete with fireworks from the parking lot.

All in all it was a very solid show. I’m lukewarm on Larry Campell on guitar – he’s good but he didn’t blow me away at any point. Barry Sless only played pedal steel during the first set and he didn’t play at all during the second set. I would like to see Barry on lead – or Scofield. Barraco is terrific – great on the keys, great voice. I love him in the band. Joan Osbourne is incredible – astounding voice and a very sexy stage presence, which is an odd factor for a Dead show. She should take more leads, though. I think she danced more than she sang! And Molo and Phil. What more can be said about those two? Heaven’s own rhythm section.

###