Gener vs. Deaner vs. The Boognish

the_great_boognish_in_the_sky_by_jaowskiIt’s an odd feeling when all the members of an amazing band are alive and well, but retired from playing with each other. I mean hell; we’ve all spent nearly 25 years pretending that we really like David Byrne’s solo output. But with these past four years being the first any of us have spent on a Ween-less Earth since the Reagan administration, it’s felt like the elephant in the room has been ass-fucking the monkey on all of our backs. Ween is an entity – a pulsating mode of existence that helps to clarify the cosmic joke. Seriously though, there have been very few bands in history where in the natural evolution of their sound, a greater, more tangible essence emerged. You got your Beatles, your Stones, your Dead, your Phish, your Zeppelin, your Zappa, your Velvet Underground, your Wu-Tang, your Ween – all bands that instill a part of their DNA within your sub-conscious from which you draw your internal connection with the band. These are all bands that if somebody asked you what comes to mind when you hear their name, you don’t think of a song or an album or a picture or an emotion – you just think of the inherent spirit which can only be classified by the band name itself. Do you remember that first interview with Deaner after Gener left the band? The one where he said “I can only speak for myself, but as far as I’m concerned, as long as Aaron and I are both alive on this planet, Ween is still together. We’ve never broken up. The idea of quitting is just laughable. This isn’t something you can quit. This is a life sentence.” I think real Ween fans have always felt that in their hearts, and The Boognish can only lay dormant for so long. His recent ascension was an inevitability, but it’s still a relief.

I saw both Gener and Deaner play with their respective solo groups this year, and both performances were amazing. But not to state the obvious, they were both missing that which made the others’ performances shine. I mean, it’s not like you go to Vegas just to see Siegfried. I saw Gener in Chicago the night before the Fare Thee Well shows and his voice was phenomenal. I saw Deaner in Portland in October, and the vocals were seriously lacking. But Gener’s band was too polished – too worried about making mistakes – and that raw danger was just oozing at Deaner’s gig. Both shows had a “Spinal Meningitis” and a “Golden Eel,” and both gigs closed with “HIV” and “The Mollusk” being played in the final three songs. Now obviously DWG benefited greatly by having Claude on drums, and Dave on bass, but was also slightly dampened by Deaner’s fanboy choice of having Roger Waters’ son, Harry on keys. The dude was a super wook, seemingly nothing more than a competent player, very unfamiliar with the songs, and definitely got the gig because of his Floyd DNA. Gener on the other hand picked some no-namers who could nail shit. Both had their bust-outs: Gener playing the Country Greats b-side, never-before-played on the Ween stage, and totally apropos for the setting “So Long Jerry,” and Deaner crushing the rare instrumental cover of The Carpenters’ “Superstar.” The only glaring difference in setlist choices were the ones that you could presume Gener would be afraid of – classics like “Booze Me Up” and “Put the Coke on My Dick.” And the one way that these Ween reunion shows could be marred is if he’s still afraid of some songs, and puts the kybosh on some setlist choices. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a hard stage for him to return to sober. We all expect Deaner to be respectful, but it’s not like he won’t be catching a buzz. What Gener needs to be prepared for is to embrace the buzz of the stage. The power of the reborn Boognish will potentially hit harder than any drug or liquor could, but hopefully the small swells of debauchery at his solo shows will have been a great first step.

This is a time for celebration folks. A time to see two brothers become one again. A time to praise the demon-God and his unleashing from the orbital buffer. And with Gener saying that we’ll see some never-before played songs busted out, I’m calling for the debut of “The Rift.” See you guys in Denver.

Ween reunites for their first shows in Denver, CO on February 12,13, and 14 of 2016

Gene Ween Band – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL 07/02/15

(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man
Beacon Light
Black Bush
Delicate Green
Doctor Rock
El Shaddai
Freedom of ‘76
Golden Monkey
I Can’t Put My Finger On It
I’ll Be Your Jonny On The Spot
Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World
She Wanted to Leave
So Long Jerry
Spinal Meningitis
The Golden Eel
The Grobe
The Mollusk
Voodoo Lady


Dean Ween Group – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR 10/14/15

Dickey Betts
Piss Up a Rope
Spinal Meningitis
Ice Castles
The Golden Eel
Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain
Buckingham Green
With My Own Bare Hands
Roses Are Free
I Play It Off Legit
Booze Me Up and Get Me High
It’s Gonna Be a Long Night
Big Jilm
Put the Coke on My Dick
Did You See Me?
Mister Would You Please Help My Pony?
Pandy Fackler
The Blarney Stone
Encore: The HIV Song, She Fucks Me, The Mollusk

Photo by Jaowski

Is Pharrell a Genius, Full of Shit, Or Both?

zzzzphAnother year, another Grammy nomination for ubiquitous producer, Pharrell Williams. So let’s take a moment to look into the production process of Mr. Williams. Last year, Pharrell and Robin Thicke were ordered to pay $7.4 million dollars to the estate of Marvin Gaye because it was ruled that their “Blurred Lines” infringed upon the the copyrights of Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” When the ruling first came down, I didn’t know how to feel. Sure the songs sound extremely similar, and it’s obvious Pharrell was trying to cop the vibe, but did he really steal anything? When it comes to simplistic melodies and cadences, tons of songs sound rather similar to tons of other songs. But then a month ago, The Hollywood Reportereleased videos of Pharrell’s testimonies in the trial, and my immediate reaction was “fuck yeah, make that man cough up some dough.” Three sections of the deposition are posted below, and fair warning: even the most avid Pharrell fan will have trouble not screaming “what a douche” at the screen.

The man is completely full of himself the whole time; but when you’re a self-made multi-millionaire, you’re kind of allowed to be a pompous ass. But to sum up the videos, he claims that “Blurred Lines” uses bluegrass chord structures (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean), and despite stating he does know how, he is unable to describe a 12-bar blues, 6/8 time signature, pentatonic harmonies, or even read a single note. In other words, dude is really good at talking out of his ass. Part of me is expecting him to eventually say, “fuck it I was just kidding,” kick over his chair and bust out the entirety of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor,” but that never happens. So what’s really happening here?

Well maybe this is something to really be impressed by. Sure his ditties are simplistic to most of us, but simplicity has been successful in the ‘pop’ ear for nearly a century. Hell, people went literally insane when they first heard Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” just because of it’s novel complexities. So maybe we should be admiring Pharrell for his inherent feel for music. Seriously, he goes bleep, blop, snare pop and suddenly lots of babies are born. He’s got a natural touch that thrives off his musical ignorance. And I’ve enjoyed his songs before – do I really want the guy to know what even the most rudimentary basics of constructing music are supposed to be? That might fuck up his talent. It’s the whole Gattaca argument. The more we try to strive for universal perfection of humanity, the more we deter the rising of those people that help define the entire human race for us. But if that’s the case with Pharrell, then he needs to come out and admit it. Don’t claim you’re this phenomenal musician when you can’t even read two notes. C’mon. And your lawyers didn’t know those questions might be asked of you? I mean if you have a sliver of constructive brain activity in your head, you should be able to learn that in at least 20 seconds. And at one point he acknowledges it – “Yeah, I know Every-Good-Boy-Does-Fine and F-A-C-E.” Well OK, then are you just really bad at anagrams or something?

Plain and simple, the dude got called out, and acted like such an asshole in front of the jury that they easily ruled against them. This brings us to three lessons to learn from this.

1) Maybe we know too much about artists these days. You never list credentials on an album and nobody ever looks for something – that’s not something you brag about. In the end, all that matters is whether it sounds good.

2) Pharrell is full of shit. The whole bluegrass chord thing is a pile of horse crap and he obviously has no clue what he’s talking about. The term “pentatonic harmonies” doesn’t really make that much sense either, and is basically just him using big words to make layman falsely believe he’s learned in the subject. He obviously tried to steal from the original, and he’s got the ability to do that, but doesn’t have the capability of realizing exactly what’s he doing. The man has got a phenomenal ear, and he should take pride in that rather than trying to claim he’s got talent in other areas.

3) If this ignoramus can become one of the most renowned  producers in modern music, then take no worry if your “Fur Elise” isn’t quite up to snuff these days. Proudly say to yourself, “I could play Pharrell Williams under the table all day.”

Somebody Needs To Get John Mayer Spun

zzzzzzzdeadAll right friends – with my four months of radio silence over, it’s time I weighed in on the subject of John Mayer and his role as the lead guitarist in the latest incarnation of the Grateful Dead: Dead and Company. God, I hate that fucking name by the way. It sounds like Bob Weir started an insurance agency or something, and in a way he did. The corporate nature of the band has never been more prevalent, and bringing Mr. Katy Perry into the mix is a way of insuring that his children keep getting some residual checks long after he’s gone. But let’s talk about my initial reaction to the Mayer news.

I’ve seen Mayer play before. I once played a wedding at SPAC on a night when he was playing. It sounded good. He covered Hendrix. Not like the legions of teenage girls had any clue what he was playing, but regardless – the fella has chops. But here’s the thing: being the lead guitarist for the Dead is 40% chops and 60% vibe. I mean sure, things have changed a lot in the past 20 years, and there’s been a lot of folks trying on the fat man’s shoes, but that is still a sacred stage. And respect for that sanctity goes far beyond wearing a drug-rug and a puka shell necklace. So when Mayer announced that he had never even heard the Grateful Dead until they popped up on Pandora two years ago, the weary skeptic in me began to froth with what-the-fuckness.

Now admittedly, the noob role has paid off before. The greatest thing about Furthur was the fact that Joe Russo was completely green with all the music and thus prone to take it in non-traditional directions. But the problem with Mayer is that he’s so new to it, and so concerned with being accepted in the role, that his playing stays far too close to the surface. Friends have repeatedly sent me clips from this first run saying “check out this solo!” And yep, they’re great solos. But great solos do not make great bands. And playing blues/pop your whole life doesn’t give you the intrinsic credentials to go deep into the mind-meld of improvisational band jamming. That’s when it occurred to me – Mayer’s not just new to the music, he’s new to the whole experience. This whole experience, this whole band, this whole mindset, this whole community, and this whole way of life is based on experimentation. Taking that leap of faith is about going down the rabbit hole, not just turning off google maps. That’s why somebody needs to get this cat spun. I mean fuck, just lick one of Billy’s drumsticks – that should do the trick. Seriously though, stand face to face with the cosmic fear, or get off the pot.

I want my Grateful Dead to surprise me. To scare me. To catch me off guard. And right now, regardless of how tight the music may sound, Dead and Co. are doing none of that. Sure, there’s other factors: 95 songs over the course of 18 shows is far too much repetition, and somebody needs to slap Weir in the face and tell him that he can’t play every song at the same tempo as his resting heart beat. I’m not trying to hate, I’m just trying to instigate. Your Bobby is a wonderland.

Photo by Brianga


20th Anniversary of Phish’s Greatest Jam Ever: The New Haven Tweezer

zzztweThere are no better words to stoke the flames of debate in the Phish world than calling anything a “best ever.” But as responsive ire is the fuel that feeds me, I take no qualms in staking such a claim. And as mind-boggling as it is for me to process, today marks the 20th anniversary of my first Phish show: December 2, 1995 at the New Haven Coliseum in New Haven, Connecticut. And after 190 shows spread across the years, I do understand that it seems a tad cornball for me to say that the best I ever saw was the first I ever saw, but so it goes. December ’95 is a legendary month for the band – 17 shows that are all worth a legitimate listen. But this New Haven Tweezer is an apex moment. For all the young fans out there that think that 2013’s “Tahoe Tweezer” is the pinnacle for the song and perhaps the band, then it’s about time you listened to what sonic domination really sounds like. And for non-fans, this is 15 minutes worth of music that will make you understand the obsession.

I wrote about this Tweezer a few months ago as part of My Favorite Jam Ever: A Compendium of Unforgettable Phish Moments

 – a compilation produced by Surrender to the Flow and Christy Articola. You can purchase the book at that link, and read 57 other folks’ take on their favorite jam ever. There’s some good ones in there, and some horrible one too… seriously, a 3.0 “Sleeping Monkey”? But read my take below. You can stream the song and whole show over at PHISHTRACKS or watch it on Youtube below – the youtube audio has some shitty fading moments on it though, so I recommend the remastered stream on the tracks page. Enjoy!

It was my first show. I was 15, high on unmentionables for the first time, and still trying to accept that Jerry had passed before I had a chance to see him live. In short, I was ready for anything Phish was willing to throw at me. Years later, I contemplated the notion that my reverence for this gig was strongly based on the buzz of that first hit. Was all of my subsequent, and exponential infatuation with the band grounded in my chasing of the proverbial dragon? Or was it possible that I had caught the greatest “Tweezer” ever played at my first Phish concert?

December of 1995 is inarguably one of the greatest months in the history of the band, and in comparable hindsight it’s easy for quick setlist gazers to skip over New Haven. It’s for this reason that many have never heard the legendary and disgracefully overlooked “Reba” from the first set. And also the reason that more folks seem to have heard of the second set “Tweezer” than have actually listened to it. So to set the scene, the second set kicks off with a good ole’ mid-90’s “2001” opener, followed by a vengeful “Maze” and an above par, yet rudimentary “Simple.” That dissolves into the final “Faht” ever played, and after that moment of obscure tranquility, Trey kicks off one of those “I’m not fucking around” “Tweezer” intros. You know the kind – where you get that swirling feeling in your gut and you take a really deep breath because it seems obvious that there’s not going to be a chance to come up for air anytime in the near future.

I’ve heard people fault this jam for lack of dynamics, but that’s like faulting a slam-dunk competition for lack of lay-ups. This is vicious, all-consuming Phish, and it’s not trying to be anything else. All who enter be warned. Things are pretty charging from the get-go, and after we step out of Uncle Ebenezer’s icebox, we get about three minutes of pocket construction. The whole squad is in lock, but Fish and Trey are in that magical mind-meld realm where they seem to be acting as one sentient being. The directional waters are tested, some cool ideas are touched upon, but then around 7:15 Fishman kicks into double-time and it’s straight out bonkersville from then on out.

For the next five minutes, we get nothing but blob-devouring ascension. Far more akin to something you’d usually here in a “Bowie” or “Antelope,” this is the sonic equivalent of one of those Ed Roth “Ratfink” pictures where a demonic creature is speeding at mach-9 in a hot-rod on fire. At 9:33 we reach the first moment that would normally act as the tension release, but instead things somehow upshift once more and you can hear the collective spooge of the crowd. At 10:12 it happens yet again. At 10:32, somehow once more. At 11:11, rising higher still. At 11:28 we enter quadruple time. And then at 11:48 it comes – my favorite drop in the history of music. Fish cuts to half-time, and Trey releases the definitive hose of all hose moments. A churning, frothing wall of sound envelops the room as a demonic, beast growl emits from the Mar-Mar – an eruption that I have never heard any other guitarist come even slightly close to emulating. Gordo’s firing cannons, Page is hammering like the Russian in Rocky IV, and there are no prisoners left alive in the wake. And then at 12:08, in a moment of complete unfathomableness, the hose mutates into yet one more explosive peak and you hear every single human inside of the New Haven Coliseum lose their shit. I’ll pay five bucks to anybody who can listen to it without the hair standing on the back of their neck.

In my mind, this is quintessential Phish. It’s this force – this psychedelic, empowering, engulfing, cohesive force of life, that at its peak makes you ponder the entire evolution of man that has led up to this singular, triumphant moment in time. It’s fucking beautiful, and it’s my favorite.

Concert Review: Fare Thee Well – Grateful Dead In Chicago 7/3, 7/4, and 7/5/15

I had just turned 15 when Jerry passed. Thanks to an enlightened older brother, that meant I was already old enough to be both fully obsessed with the band, and utterly devastated to know I would never see the fat man rock out live. But to say I’ve been chasing the dragon for the past twenty years would be a misnomer; for even then, in the prime of my naivety, I knew that I had missed it. Even when The Other Ones played a “Bird Song” in 1998 that brought me to tears, I knew I had missed it. Even when my friends and I started selling out thousand-person venues playing GD covers, I knew I had missed it. Furthur festivals? Countless Phil and Friends shows? Ratdog? Any and every possible offshoot bands? All just faint echoes of a destiny that so narrowly passed me by. But then came Chicago…

Growing up as a New England hippie in the mid-90’s, Trey was always my guy. And admittedly, part of my initial infatuation with Phish had a lot to do with the fact that I sure as hell wasn’t going to let another magical band come and go without me riding the bus. Sure, there was always a clear distinction between the inherent emotions drawn out of me by both bands, but in my heart and soul the two have co-existed in a psychedelic ballet that has helped me find myself as a human being. Thus, since 1995, Mr. Anastasio has always been the only man in my mind that could channel the depths of the universe deeply enough to deserve standing on stage with the core four. Essentially, I’ve been waiting my whole life for these gigs.

So I know there’s a fair amount of disagreement here, but that first night of Santa Clara had me worried. Trey seemed more uncertain than I had ever seen him before, the tunes sounded dangerously unrehearsed, Bobby looked angry, and the mojo just wasn’t clicking. The massive “Mississippi Half-Step > Wharf Rat” the next night squandered my fears greatly, yet still did little to prepare me for what was to come in the Windy City. It was almost like the Deadheads of the world united in the week between shows to collectively will the magic of yesteryear out from its cave. To say the vibe in Chicago was palpable is the understatement of the century. Hell, I felt it as soon as I boarded my plane in Portland Thursday night. Quite simply, the city was percolating. The whole weekend felt like stepping into a parallel dimension of joy and splendor, and the truth in Phil’s opening line of “it was all a dream we dreamed one afternoon” resonated minute by minute. When I wasn’t in shock contemplating the fabric of my reality, here’s the moments that hit hardest with me.

Friday Night:

  • “Box of Rain” opens and immediately creates a unified circle to the past as it was the last song the Dead played in this very spot 20 years prior.
  • “The Wheel” into “Crazy Fingers” in the first set? We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore folks. Having two of the loftiest songs in the catalog back to back was the first moment of the weekend where I thought to myself that I’d be fully satisfied if the band stopped right then and there. The revelation that they were finally going to let Trey sing some of the heavy-hitters was massively emotional for me, and his lead on the outro-jam was heart-wrenching.
  • “The Music Never Stopped” was friggin’ huge, and as it ended the first set I had three thoughts. 1) Trey if fucking killing it. 2) The band sounds so good. 3) Oh, so this is what the Grateful Dead ­actually feels like.
  • “Scarlet Begonias” – maybe my favorite moment of the whole weekend. Not only enormous, but experimental and evolving within itself on every turn.
  • “Drums/Space” – A whole other beast than anybody expected. If Mickey Hart played solo gigs where it was just him on “The Beam,” I’d probably do his whole tour.
  • “New Potato Caboose” – They could have gone down such more traditional paths, but to have this band surprising me with these kinds of calls, was utterly glorious.
  • “Playin’ In The Band” launches us right back into triumphant weirdness, and nobody does weird better than Trey.
  • As psyched as I was to hear “Let It Grow,” its onset was one of the only times all weekend I let out a little moan – only because I was really hoping to get a full “Weather Report Suite.”
  • Now comes the “Help>Slip>Frank’s”?!? The place erupted and I again had to reassure myself that I was awake and in reality. The timing on “Franklin’s” was off, but it somehow managed to bring a new driving life to the song, and I remember being floored by the notion that somehow this band could be reinventing themselves at the close.
  • Greatest “Ripple” of all time? Quite possibly. I never sing along at shows, but this was irresistible – one of those moments where you feel so proud to be a deadhead.

Saturday Night:

  • I was so stoked that Trey wasn’t afraid to use the envelope filter on “Shakedown Street,” and the slow-funk groove they locked in on was perfect in my book. Just like in Furthur, I could do without Bobby quoting “Brick House” at the end, but at the same time I got off on him being his normal ridiculous self.
  • This was more of a straight-song night with less >s on the setlist, but it felt great to hear the tunes that stand alone strong. Case in point, “Liberty” crushed.
  • I was pretty sure we were gonna get Hornsby singing lead on “Standing On The Moon” as he did in Berkeley years back, but Trey handled it majestically. Seeing him look into the back row as he sang it only added to the other-worldy nature.
  • “Deal” – My wife and I missed the first set closer as we needed a breather from the throngs, but being in the hall with the woman I love while the most amazing band in the universe if playing for 70,000 people behind us was a moment of divine peace that I will never forget. The kind of feeling you can only get at a Grateful Dead concert, even when you’re not watching the band.
  • “Lost Sailor>Saint of Circumstance” was as precise as it ever was. Trey really showed off his devotion to practice on this one, and once again Weir’s classic mantra line took on a whole new meaning in a new age.
  • “West L.A. Fadeaway” had the biggest ohhhhh shiiitt reaction from the crowd, and feeling the masses sway in the pocket was the kind of thing that made everybody think we need at least another four or five of these shows. It also had one of Hornsby’s greatest solos of the whole weekend.
  • “Foolish Heart” – Love the song, loved Trey’s lead vocals, loved the solo. This was actually one of my most hopeful calls for the weekend, and it didn’t disappoint.
  • “Drums/Space” – again, completely out of this world. At one point during Drums, Mickey whispered something in Billy’s ear that made the two both laugh and smile like there had never been a 20 year hiatus in-between these giant moments on stage.
  • “Stella Blue” – I really wanted Trey to sing this one, and having Bobby add the extra couple bars to the end of each line while he tried to read the words was a tad frustrating. However, the eruptive intro to the solo that Trey birthed from the realms of all that is sacred was single-handedly the peak moment of the whole experience for me. You could literally see the wave pass over the crowd as everyone’s heads leaned back during it.

Sunday Night:

  • I think everybody was waiting on the “China>Rider” opener and it was even bigger than I was prepared for. The transition jam was able to form itself yet once again in a seemingly brand new fashion. I dug the all-for-one vocals on the Jerry-headlight verse of Rider too. It was these little nods to Jerry throughout the weekend that dug their way deepest into my emotional core.
  • “Estimated Prophet” – Another one I was waiting for all weekend, and again I loved Trey’s use of the Q-Tron to emulate that Jerry tone.
  • “Built To Last” – After Saturday’s “Foolish Heart,” I was pretty sure we had a good chance of hearing this one on Sunday, and I loved hearing Bruce sing it.
  • “Mountains of The Moon” was another one that caught me off guard, but the swinging spacey jam that came out of it was a highlight of the weekend.
  • “Throwing Stones” – This was the big Bobby moment a lot of us were waiting for, and he nailed it in the way only Weir could. Another triumphant Trey solo out of this one.
  • I thought the “Truckin’” repeat call was a good one, as the Santa Clara version was less than exemplary. They nailed the big hit in this one and the bass shook my innards.
  • “Cassidy” was just downright beautiful – from the poignant lyrical outro, to a brilliant full-band jam. By this point, my head was a blank sheet of bliss.
  • “Althea” – maybe the most perfect version of any tune the whole run. It was one of several tunes that Phil gave Trey a hug afterwards – I’d give anything to hear what he was whispering to him.
  • “Terrapin” was a little rough, but who gives a fuck?
  • “Drums/Space” – Sweet mercy one more time. The first two nights, a fair amount of people used this segment as a second set break, but on Sunday nobody stopped dancing.
  • You know the “Unbroken Chain” was due, and I actually enjoyed hearing Phil stumble on some lyrics here – if only because, just like during his Friday donor rap, you could hear the emotion completely overwhelming him.
  • “Days Between” is a heavy song, and it was definitely not designed with Bob Weir in mind. He brought a Wiazrd of Oz type over-the-topness to it that had me wonderfully laughing both with and at him.
  • One last big-ass “Not Fade Away” for the road did not disappoint.
  • Loved the call on the “Touch of Grey” encore, and Bobby wearing the Let Trey Sing t-shirt was yet another spiraling moment of infinite connectedness that had me smiling like a pig at a mud store.
  • “Attics of My Life” – I knew we were getting a second encore, but I wasn’t ready for this. The vocals were perfect – simply beautiful. I did a pretty good job of not crying too much during this run, but the Attics destroyed me. From the harmonies, to the fact that it was the end, to the deep-cutting nature of the lyrics – it was ultimately perfect. They showed pictures of every band member living and dead during the tune, and when Trey’s pic came up the crowd erupted like no other. It was a collective thank you, mixed with wonder, mixed with agreement that he was the only man for the job, and for a lot of us, mixed with profound pride for our guy.

It’s been said time and time again – there’s nothing like a Grateful Dead show. And despite my lifetime of history with the band and the music, I never really understood that til Chicago. Sure, Phish holds a special kind of magic for me, but it still pales in comparison to the power that is the Dead. It was a degree of collective bliss that I most likely will never experience again. From the endless cavalcade of celebrities surrounding us on the floor every night, the look on Phil’s face after every song, the pictures of Jerry surrounding the venue, the roses handed out on Friday night – it was all too much, and just enough at the same time. The Grateful Dead left in 1995 without saying goodbye, and it was the honor of a lifetime to be able to express my love for them in this manner. I never, ever thought something like this would occur, and because of that there was a collective sense of celebration rather than loss and sadness. It was beyond beautiful – a once in a lifetime experience where we once again proved that humans are capable of some unfathomably incredible things, and that the manifestation of our collective reality is something we all must experience and form together. “When there was no dream of mine, you dreamed of me” – can the will of love be worded any better? Fare thee well everyone – it has been and will continue to be an honor and a pleasure to share this world and this music with you all.

All photos by The Jeff Kravitz

Five Things The Band Needs To Change Before The Grateful Dead Play Chicago

50th_logo2OK, so “need” is a bold statement. And while we’re at it, so is “The Grateful Dead.” But scratch all that for a second – in general, this past weekend’s Grateful Dead reunion shows in Santa Clara were a triumphant success. Things got off to a rough start on Saturday, and depending on who you asked, they stayed a little rough throughout the night. I don’t think anybody was expecting the drifting “Dark Star” night to come at the first show of the run, and that move in and of itself set the stage for some alterations of what we should be expecting. But regardless of what show you thought was more of the “it” night, everybody seems to be in agreement that there was some definite magic in the air. And of course, nobody is expecting perfection from this band; just as nobody expected perfection from the original GD. But that being said, there’s a few slight tweaks that I feel could make this upcoming Chicago run fully launch into the great beyond.

1) Let Trey and Bruce Sing – Remember how all the talk from the “core four” prior to the shows was about how part of the reason they chose Trey was the fact he can sing? Well then why the fuck are they not letting that happen? Bobby’s got his own tunes – does he really need to be singing so many Jerry leads? Sure, his Bobbyisms aren’t as bad as they’ve been in previous years, but we all would have loved to hear Hornsby do “He’s Gone.” And how much more phenomenal would that “Eyes of The World” have been with Anastasio on lead vocals? We’re trying to remember and honor the Grateful Dead here folks, not feel nostalgia for the past two decades of accepting Phil’s horrendous voice. I have a feeling that Trey was too modest to ask to sing more, but he is clearly hankering for it, and three minutes of “Alabama Getaway” ain’t gonna soothe his fix.

2) Bobby Can’t Lead The Band – Yes, he’s the greatest #2 man of all time. But just because #1 ain’t with us no more don’t mean that he steps up to the role. And it’s not that I have a problem with Bobby running the show, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t know how. Thank the heavens that Trey paid no heed to his call to end “Hell In A Bucket” early, but it was still frustrating to hear him try to force it close while the rest of the band was clearly still willing to keep going. You can’t have seven guys on stage who have barely played together, and just expect them to all be on the same telepathic page. Somebody needs to be making the calls, and Weir is dropping the ball bigtime – which leads to problems like…

3) Nobody Is Calling The Ending Of Songs – I don’t mean to keep harping on Weir here, but I’d say that over the weekend only 15% of the songs played ended correctly. And the reason for that is that everyone is waiting for Bobby to turn around and call the last chord, but he’s totally flaking on it. Again, let Trey make the call here fellas. Someone needs to stick the neck of their guitar into the air and cue the band to hit the last chord. The deflating fizzle is no way to end a great jam. However, if Trey is going to be the guy to call the endings, then…

4) Trey Needs To Have His Head Up – I get it. Shit ton of pressure, you’re in the zone, and maybe you’re trying to intentionally ignore Bobby’s irrational signals. But there were several times, on Sunday especially, that Phil was trying to catch Trey’s eye to give him a signal and Anastasio was completely oblivious to it. It was actually somewhat surprising to me, because usually he’s really good at listening at staying on point with whatever non-Phish players he’s on stage with. I’ll chalk it up to him just getting too deep into the groove, but there were more than a few times when I was thinking “eyes on the prize T-money!”

5) Turn Up The Fucking Keys – So I streamed both of these shows from the comfort of Portland backyards, and it seems like there’s less of a consensus that this was as much of an issue in the stadium, but I think I heard Jeff Chimenti’s organ twice the entire weekend. And the thing is, that cat can play. Hornsby was equally as quiet in the mix on Saturday, but was notably louder the following night. But whoever turned him up, forgot to turn up his fellow board-member. It also seemed like he wasn’t very high in the on-stage mix as well, since more than once Bruce had to wave at the rest of the band to remind them an organ solo was way overdue.

Now the fact that most of these changes fall into the measly gripe category is a testament to how great this band is actually sounding. In fact, if none of these changes happen, I will still be beyond satisfied with what I’m expecting to see in Chicago this weekend. Reports are that the whole band is already in the windy city, so hopefully they squeeze in a few rehearsals and get those nobs dialed just a smidge bit tighter for the final three shows. And as for whether it’s apt to actually call this band The Grateful Dead…? Sure it’s not the same, but it sure feels good to see that name on a ticket one last time.

Top 10 Game Of Thrones Theme Covers

zzzzzgotWell after two completely insane episodes of Game Of Thrones episodes and the approaching season finale this Sunday, I thought it was finally time to do my obligatory music blog best theme covers list. If you don’t watch the show, then this won’t mean jack-squat to you, but at least recognize that there’s a reason for the copious amounts of fan tributes. Seriously, there’s not only hundreds of covers of the song out there, but also dozens of lists of the best covers. But yet, the majority of those lists strive for accuracy over intrigue, and if I wanted to hear an accurate version of the song I’d just watch the show. If you want a killer accurate version, then watch these cello folks nail it. If you want interesting shit that you’d share and laugh with your friends about, then dig into these. I’m starting with number one – enjoy.

1) The 1980’s HBO on VHS Version – This is why the internet exists folks. Utterly perfect.

2) Western Cover – This works so goddamn well, it almost makes you yearn for a San Antonio spin-off of Westeros.

3) The All Dinklage Version – It’s like somebody taped me in the shower. If you’re new to the blog, you’ll realize now that I’m occasionally really hyped on some idiotic crap.

4) Game Of Goats – Don’t be fooled by the auto-tuned cat or dog versions; as in all internet animal battles, the goat always wins.

5) 8-bit Nintendo Version – I’m a sucker for these old-school sound-chip songs – real heart-string tuggers in my book.

6) Floppy Disc Hard-Drive Versions – There’s nerds, and then there’s nerds. So kudos to the geniuses that could be saving our planet but instead are wasting their time on this.

7) The Queen’s Guard Cover  Not the craziest version, but you got to give props to the actual kingdom for knowing apropos situations for going slightly left of center.

8) The Blue Man Group Version – Whoa, did you see how blue these dudes are? Crazy.

9) The TV On The Radio Version – Real knows real, as they say. Just last night in Australia the TVOTR guys decided to encore with a dubbed out version of the theme.

10) The Phil Lesh Version – After author George R.R. Martin acknowledged slipping Grateful Dead references into the book, it’s only fair to include this version of the GD bassist giving the tune a swing with his sons.

Concert Review: Sufjan Stevens @ The Schnitzer Concert Hall – 06.08.15

IMG_0369Does beauty truly lie within the eyes (or ears) of the beholder, or is it possible for something’s inherent beauty to be an objective fact? It’s a timeless philosophical debate, and one that can be ended immediately by attending a Sufjan Stevens performance. I’ve seen some open weeping at concerts before – Sigur Rós, Grateful Dead spin-offs – but never to this extent. Last night’s gig at The Schnitz here in Portland, was the most collective, public catharsis I’ve ever been a part of; far more than any structured church service I’ve attended at any time. It was even more powerful when recognizing that the elaborate costumes and stage designs that Sufjan has become renowned for are absent on this tour. Sure, there was some beautiful lighting, but at times it was just Suf, his guitar, and old family videos playing in the background. And in a true testament to both the power of his songs and his inherent strength as a performer, that was all that was needed to bring wide swaths of the crowd to tears.

You know how Michelangelo once said that every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it? There was an equally sculpted form to last night’s show. I kept having this feeling that there was this giant flowing channel of the divine, and that Sufjan had somehow managed to just chip away at the boarders of it to reveal his creation within. So the songs and the performance itself were molded on the core of the Great Other, and we were experiencing one man’s vision of how his own being sees and interacts with the eternal flowing channel.

The man has never shied from being deeply personal and revealing in his lyrics, but on this year’s Carrie and Lowell, things went that extra step into shameless brutality as we heard him deal with the passing of his mother. We would get every song of that new record at some point during this set, and it was both breathtaking and heartbreaking to see him work his way through songs that obviously resonate of a truth he’s still grappling with. After the emotional centerpiece, “Eugene,” he tried to discreetly wipe his tears away, but that earnestness was what brought the crowd further into his truth. After being quiet between songs for the first half of the set, Sufjan started to become quite vocal in the second half; telling stories about being a young boy in Eugene, and commenting frequently on the dichotomous nature that is Oregon itself – a land equally balanced within the sacred and the profane. Thriving on the dichotomy, his stories would flip from tales of the holiness of the coast to joking narratives about his admiration for famous Oregonian Tonya Harding. When he admittedly realized how bipolar his rants were, he commented “It’s the only way I can get through this set right now.”

I’ve seen a lot of performers over the year build an image of themselves on false sincerity, but this was the opposite end of the spectrum. This was a man being overwhelmed by life itself, and doing the only thing he knows to get through that – opening his heart and singing the truth he knows. When, on several occasions, he thanked the crowd for being here in this moment with him and being open to his process of growth and mourning, you could sense the entire building’s collective empathy and gratitude.

I could isolate highlights of the show, but that would take away from the experience as a whole entity unto itself. I will say this though – the live groove he added to his other Oregon song, “Should Have Known Better” fully consumed me in a way that I beg of most artists to attempt. But again, this was an experience unlike any other. It was beautiful, and honest, and overwhelming. When the house lights finally came back on, the woman behind me let out an enormous sigh and said “I don’t think I could have taken much more of that.” I looked down and realized I had been holding the same full, warm beer for over two hours. Thank you Sufjan Stevens.

Drug-Dealers and CEOs Rejoice As Grateful Dead Announce $700 Box Set

30tripsjbWith all the hype about the GD50 shows this year, there’s been a lot of accusations going around about the Dead Camp being far more money-hungry than they have ever been before. First off, I wholeheartedly disagree with all the folks who are calling the addition of shows in Santa Clara and live streaming packages as promoter Pete Shapiro’s quest for every last cent he can get. Fact of the matter is that there are still a shitload of Deadheads out there, and you have to do everything in your ability to let as many people get access to the shows as possible. But on the other hand, as I pointed out two years ago, we have entered a new era in which the boys aren’t afraid to take all the money that’s floating out in the world which people would like to put into their pockets. So today’s announcement of a new career-spanning box-set comes as little surprise.

The new 80-disc set, entitled Thirty Trips Around The Sun, will feature a full live concert from every year of the band’s career. There will only be 6,500 sets sold, each of which will include a bonus Vinyl 45 and a 288-page companion book, all for the low price of $699.95. But seriously, when you do the math, that comes out to $8.75 a disc, plus the bonus crap, so it’s not the most unreasonable thing ever. Of course, there is the consideration that nearly every show included is already available for free somewhere online in an audience-taped format, plus the fact that there’s nothing stopping anyone from sharing these soundboards with friends. So the fact of the matter is that if you can’t afford the $700, you’re not necessarily missing out on something that will make you a sub-par Deadhead. Which leads us to the question of who actually will shell out this money…

Drug-dealers and CEOs. Simple as that. The Dead-folks are well aware that there are plenty of well-to-do Deadheads in the world, so why not make a product that is exclusively for them. The rich business-folk will buy it because they’ve got money to burn, and the rich drug-dealers will buy it because they love to flaunt their hippy-wealth in front of their peers. Think of it as a shout-out to all the one-percenters in the extended Grateful Dead family. Now should this be thought of as a money-grab? Not per se. This isn’t the same thing as making concert tickets so expensive that only the social elite could witness the performances. Rather, this is acknowledging that there is a luxury Grateful Dead market out there, and noting that there is no reason to not take the lumps of money they’re willing to shell out. If all box sets get sold, (which they will,) then that’s 4.5 million dollars in sales, and that’s not even including the USB drives and condensed sets also up for sale. If you knew that you could make a product that could not only be priced so high, but will also be assured to sell out, it’d be a hard thing to not consider. So congratulations to the core-four for the new additions to their individual net worths of 30ish million dollars. Hopefully next time you visit your local recreational drug dealer, he’ll let you touch his individually numbered Grateful Dead box set.

You Should Know This Album: The Slip – Eisenhower

EisenhowerDepending on how closely you followed Boston’s The Slip, 2006’s Eisenhower was either a surprise or a relief, or potentially both. Having never been a major fan prior, my vision of the band was as jam-friendly jazz-cats who usually played afternoon sets at New England festivals in the ’90s. So when the album first dropped and the waves of insisting calls to listen started rolling in, I was expecting some neo-progressive instrumentals. Little did I know that The Slip I once knew was no more. The mere inclusion of vocals initially took me off guard. But far more shocking was the new realm of compositional structure. Any hip Berklee kid can add some lyrics on top of their mod-jazz game and think they’ve made a breathtaking cross-genre step in the evolution of song, but The Slip had done something different. They had taken their infallible chops, and incorporated them into the foundations of quality indie-rock. It’s like they had turned the dial away from Scofield, and high into the Built To Spill realm. And of course, the craziest turn of all was the fact that this was essentially a farewell record for the band. No others would follow, and the band began to play more and more sporadically directly after its release. They essentially fizzled away in 2011, directing more of their focus on side projects like The Barr Brothers and Surprise Me Mr. Davis. They’re finally playing High Sierra Music Festival again this year – their first gig in four years. But regardless of what more may or may not come, they have crafted an eternal legacy with Eisenhower. In many ways, it’s one of the greatest axis albums of all time: the one record that can both turn your indie-rock friends onto jazz/jam, and your jamband friends onto indie-rock. Let’s go track by track.

1) “Children Of December”

The bass tone of Marc Friedman is bone-liquefying from the get-go. In some ways, this is the most direct pop track on the album – as long as your definition of direct pop involves obscure altered chords, six or seven distinct cadences, and an explosive closing breakdown. But like the rest of the record, the magic lies in their ability to make complexities sound so simple and approachable.

2) “Even Rats”

Give it up to Guitar Hero for turning eager young button pushers onto some music that they probably never would have heard elsewhere with this track. The technical chops from all three of the fellas allow for unique hooks that most other bands would struggle creating with digital effects, let alone playing straight-forwardly. I always thought this one sounded like a Benevento/Russo Duo tune with vocals added.

3) “If One Of Us Should Fall”

Quite possibly one of the most powerful sappy songs ever composed. Again, the illusion of simplicity is massive here. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who tried to pick up their acoustics to play along with this one, only to stumble miserably. The verses keep bending in on themselves til they finally release into the chorus at the three minute mark. Any pop/rock producer will tell you that three minutes is way too long to wait for a chorus, but it’s done so tastefully here that it feels like having an orgasm in a grassy field when it finally lets go.

4) “Airplane/Primitive”

The song. The intro is idyllic pre-takeoff music – both intentional and perfect for the airplane allusion. Brad Barr’s chordal phrasing has the potential for this song to go in a number of different directions, but when his brother Andrew kicks in with the driving pseudo-breakbeat, there’s nowhere to go but up. In frank relative terms, there just isn’t that much music that is comparable to this sound – inspiring, impressive, big but not over-the-top, catchy but not annoying – masterpiece level stuff in my opinion.

5) “Suffocation Keep”

The necessary breather after “Airplane/Primitive.” Maybe one of the weaker cuts in terms of stand-alone quality, but entirely necessary for the dynamic flow of the album. And while at times, Brad’s lyrics can be a little eye-rolling, you have to give it up to him for constructing new phrases that sound completely natural after a few listens. I’m still not sure what or where the Suffocation Keep is, but I’m glad I don’t have one in my house.

6) “First Panda In Space”

Essentially the instrumental into to “The Soft Machine,” this one may serve as the greatest testament to the band’s untouchable, intermingling of chops. Starting as nothing but an open avant-garde experiment, it seamlessly evolves into the groove and progression of its successor.

7) “The Soft Machine”

Andrew Barr’s ability to turn a 4/4 beat into a staggered, break-heavy pocket is a cream-dream. This is one of those tracks that would have sounded mundane and repetitive in weaker players’ hands, but with this trio sounds triumphant.

8) “Life In Disguise”

The most tender track on the album, and thus the most likely to play over the credits of a WB comedy/drama. But at the same time, there’s a degree of sincerity here that is wholeheartedly lacking from any comparable indie/pop songs of existential wonder and despair.

9) “Mothwing Bite”

And yet another track whose bare bones would have led to failure in others’ hands. Tasteful synthed-out overdubs only make the pocket stronger, despite their highlighted nature. While Brad uses relatively clean tones on the majority of the album, his distorted solo here meshes in perfectly with everything around it.

10) “The Original Blue Air”

A taste of the old Slip. Powerful, churning, fast, multi-faceted, and using Zappa-esque turns of phrase to compose an instrumental that somehow maintains a touch of pop sensibility. This one always reminded me of what a Roald Dahl book would sound like in a compressed, two-minute, instrumental song form.

11) “Paper Birds”‘

There’s codas and then there’s true closers, and “Paper Birds” is the perfect farewell to a record you want to call your best friend. Starting with five minutes of sparse, delicate verses lamenting the one that got away, the tune eventually starts a pulsing crescendo based upon yet another killer bass line from Friedman. And sweet mercy, he has one of the greatest tonal touches in the game. But then the track releases into one final rock passage, lyrically touching on all the themes presented in the album leading up to it. This too releases into a soundscape-esque capping sequence reminiscent of someone tying their rowboat to a mooring while the sunsets on a mirror lake – a perfect inducer of joyful sighs.