Tag Archives: live music

Holly Bowling Interview [Full Transcript]

Standard

In June 2016, I interviewed Holly Bowling for a summer issue of Surrender to the Flow.  Only about a quarter of the information below made the final article due to length limits, but what Holly shared with me was fascinating and inspiring, and in honor of her recent successes, I thought you’d be interested in how this talented and creative musician came to be. Congrats to Holly on the successful crowd funding and forthcoming release of her newest album Better Left Unsung, which she teases at the very end of this full transcription, and her recent sit ins with Phil Lesh, American Babies, and so many others.  You can see Holly during the New Years Run in NYC pre-Phish and on her 2017 winter tour.

CS: When/what was your first Phish show?  Was there a single song/show that got you hooked on the music? How many shows have you seen since?
HB: My first Phish show was New Year’s 2002. I got into them during the hiatus and never thought I’d get to see them play, so when they announced New Year’s and the three Hampton shows, there was no question whether or not I was going. I was already really into the music, and predictably, seeing them live only furthered the obsession. I ended up seeing all but 4 shows in 2.0, I was really determined not to miss out since I had missed so much already. I put off going to school and traveled around the country seeing Phish and learned more that way than I think I would have in school at that point in my life. Made a lot of friendships too that are still a huge part of my life. I slowed down a little in 3.0 and stopped catching quite as many shows, but I still see a lot. I’ve seen around 300 to date.

What’s been your favorite time or tour in the band history musically?
Everything from 1997. Fall 2013. Summer 2015. Summer 2016 (I hope!)  I really love the thematic, focused style of improvisation that’s developed in the last few years. 

Have you gotten any reaction from the band/members to your music?
Mike Gordon showed up at one of my shows in Philadelphia. I gave him a copy of my album. He stayed and listened to the whole Tahoe Tweezer and I think he gave me a thumbs up on his way out the door.  Other than that though, I have no idea what they think of it. 

When did you start playing piano?
Age five.

What did you do before this project?
For a living? I was teaching music. I ran my own studio. I actually miss the kids I worked with a lot. Seeing kids begin to understand music and watching the concepts click for them as they discover all these experiences is really the coolest thing. 

Did you always want to be a professional musician?
Yes! Since I was a little kid. But I had kind of given up on that working out as a realistic career. Then a few years ago I dove back in and haven’t looked back.

When/how did you get the idea to reinterpret Phish songs?
It wasn’t something I sat down and decided to do one day after thinking it over and searching for an idea for a project. It just developed naturally out of my experience with the piano and my love of Phish. I play what’s in my head, and what was stuck in my head a lot of the time was Phish.  I’ve been doing that for a long time, but approached it with more focus and discipline recently and actually worked through some of the harder parts that I’d been stuck on for years when I was just casually exploring the music.

Was the Tahoe Tweezer your very first piano arrangement?
The Tahoe Tweezer was the first Phish song I worked on in depth, and the first complex piece of music I ever transcribed and arranged. Not exactly a logical choice for a “starter project”, haha! But definitely a good one to learn from. The music is so varied and covers so much ground that it taught me a lot. And I mean that both in terms of texture, what to leave out, what to keep, and varying that over time, and also in terms of how to express different sounds and timbres on the piano. Sounds that either are pretty far from the piano to begin with or sounds that don’t translate well. Like really heavy distorted crunchy stuff, or really quiet delicate drawn out ethereal passages. Or interesting percussive sounds and patterns. Long sustained sounds, either from Trey’s guitar or from Page’s organ (which can hold a note indefinitely, and the piano can’t). Sweeps on the synth that move continuously rather than having discreet pitches. All kinds of stuff. So yeah… not a great starter piece to work on, but also in another sense, the best one to work on, because it covers so much ground. I learned a ton. I know if I did it again today my process would be very different. I think the end result would sound different too since I’ve definitely changed and grown as a musician since then. It’s funny. The original is a snapshot of Phish at that moment and in that period of their improvisation. And then my arrangement is a snapshot of me in that moment, of my style as a musician. So it’s like a musical snapshot of a musical snapshot.

What has been your favorite arrangement thus far?
As far as the jam transcriptions, I think maybe the GD’s ’74 Eyes of the World. But that might just be because its the most recent complete one I did and I’m always learning from each one and trying to make the next one even better. As far as arrangements of compositions and songs, rather than jam transcriptions? I really loved the challenge of It’s Ice. It takes a lot of focus to play and I spent a ton of time figuring it out, it was a really rewarding project to tackle. But that’s a really tight technical arrangement and consequently there’s less room in it for my own musical voice (aside from the middle section, which I’ve been taking liberties with for sure) because the composition is so complex to begin with. I really like how the arrangement for Scents and Subtle Sounds came out. I did a lot of playing around with the different registers of the piano and moving the melody line around from to another, and trying to make use of all of the areas of sonic space.  Another favorite is Pebbles and Marbles. I feel like the arrangement is still settling a little. But in the right setting on a really good piano, I think a lot of emotion comes through on that one, which is what I wanted. I think it’s a really powerful song to begin with and I love the lyrics, and the build. The feeling I wanted to come through in the arrangement is there, and there’s a lot of subtle delicate stuff before it gets heavy.  Across the board, really any of the arrangements where you get to hand off a part or a melody from one hand to the other, sort of like passing a baton, or I guess ideally maybe something more graceful like a trapeze artist moving from one flying trapeze to another… any of these are physically fun to play, just the physical motions you go through as you try to keep that melody line intact as it shifts.   

What’s one of the hardest songs and/or jams to reinterpret? Easiest?
Simple songs with four chords are easy to learn. Sometimes they’re harder to make something special out of them, especially in a purely instrumental context. If there’s a lot of repetition, which is fine if there’s great lyrics over top, it can be hard to make that translate to an instrumental setting without it getting boring. So in that sense, the stuff that’s easiest to arrange can also be the hardest to do well. Then there’s stuff that’s hard just because its technical and complex. I really want to learn All Things Reconsidered but its just insane and I’m not sure how I would cover all the parts and do it justice. But really the thing I find hardest in general is arranging parts of jams where the meter becomes ambiguous and time falls apart for a while. When there’s a structure and a framework to fit the pieces into, it all makes sense, even if its really hard to figure it out. There’s an order and a right answer. When the meter disappears, its really hard to pin things down to paper. And there’s not really notation for things that are that loose, or if there is, I don’t know it. So my scores in that part end up being descriptions to jog my memory of what that section sounds like as much as exact directions of what to play. And in the case of these jam transcriptions, I’m not looking to be too free with it and just do my own thing – I do that in my improvisation, but in this case, I’m trying to recreate and re-orchestrate something, almost like making a piano reduction of a symphonic work. So I want to be as true to it as possible. It’s funny how difficult it becomes when the underlying structure becomes a question mark.

How do you select songs or jams to arrange?
Lots of times, I pick because a section of a jam is stuck in my head. So I’ll pick favorites, or stuff I’m listening to a lot. Sometimes, with songs especially, I’m more picky about the criteria. Like if its really focused on a drum groove, 2001 for example, I’m not gonna do it. I don’t think it would be in service of the music really. And some stuff is just physically basically impossible on the piano, due to the constraints of the instrument. You can’t repeat notes as quickly on a piano as you can on a guitar, because the actual mechanism in the piano doesn’t work that fast. You can’t sustain notes indefinitely, or bend notes, which pretty much rules out doing one of my favorite jams ever, the Camden Chalkdust from ‘99. I’m still trying to figure out a way to do that one though. It’s so good.

How does it feel when you first perform them?
It’s always harder performing things in the very beginning. There’s something cool about stuff that’s really fresh, but I’m also often learning things at the very last minute so the music isn’t as comfortable under my fingers as it will be a few performances later. It takes more concentration and there’s less room to take chances with it or let it open up a little. That usually comes later.

What’s your relationship with The Grateful Dead?
I never got to see Jerry, I was 11 when he died. I grew up listening to the Dead because my parents did, so I’ve known a lot of the songs as long as I can remember. I fell in love with the music on my own terms later, sometime in high school. I mean I liked the music already, but there’s a difference between knowing and liking music you hear growing up versus seeking it out yourself and really diving in to it.

What was the first Dead song you reinterpreted? Hardest/Easiest?
The ’74 Eyes of the World jam transcription was the first one I transcribed and arranged. Another interesting choice as a first project, haha! Go big or go home I guess. I mean I’d played around with tons of their songs but just casually, figuring out the chord progressions and playing that way. I’d never sat down and rearranged all the puzzle pieces and tried to weave the threads together in a really deliberate way, and rearranged, and rearranged again until it seemed right. I would just play.  I actually arranged that one because JamBase wanted me to do a song for the “Songs of Their Own” series they did leading up to the Fare Thee Well shows, and no one had picked Eyes yet, and I had coincidentally been messing around with that song a few days before, playing around with the timing moving from 3 to 4 and back again. They asked me to do a jam transcription or at least include a tease of a notable jam, and I wasn’t going to, I didn’t think I had time to get it finished before the deadline. But then I listened to the Louisville Eyes and just decided I had to do it. I worked on it pretty much nonstop for several weeks. It was kind of nuts.

What has been your favorite place/venue/show to play so far?
Jam Cruise has to be one of my favorites ever. I think it has to be probably the only music festival ever where you show up to play your set and they happen to have a beautiful grand piano just sitting there waiting for you all ready to go. I mean obviously if you’re Dr. John or someone like that, you get that at every festival you play. But as an emerging artist, it’s hard to find that, much less in a festival setting. So that was pretty rad.

I also really love the Massry Center in Albany. People show up there really prepared to listen and get into the music and let it take them away, no distractions. That’s a really cool thing. There’s also an amazing piano and the acoustics of the room allow you to play completely unamplified. Another place like that is a new favorite of mine that I just played for the first time a few months ago called The Old Church. It’s in Portland OR and as you would expect, it’s an old church… but its no longer religiously-affiliated and is purely a performance space for arts and music now. The space is beautiful and the acoustics are too, and the whole vibe in there is just really special. I love spaces like that. I really like when I have the opportunity to play in spaces that are different from the usual places we’re used to going to see music.

Who have you played with that you were particularly wowed by (either because you didn’t know them at all, or because you knew (of) them very well)?
I’m grateful to have played with so many musicians who have wowed and inspired me. Obviously getting to play with both Aron [Magner] and Joel [Cummins] during my Jam Cruise set was really special. If you had asked me a few years ago if I thought I’d share the piano with both those guys, in the same set no less, I don’t think I would have believed you.

What other bands/interpretations do you incorporate into your sets?
I’ve done a few songs and teases of songs by the Disco Biscuits. There’s some long-form compositions in their catalog I’d like to explore more. The one I’ve worked on most so far is Magellan, which has always been one of my favorites of their songs.  And then I’ve thrown in some Greensky Bluegrass teases and references. That started on Jam Cruise ‘cause Paul and Anders were there and I wanted to give a little musical shoutout to them. And then after I got to sit in with them in Eugene, which was such an honor, I snuck some GSBG references into my sets the rest of that tour. Phish and the Dead are the bread and butter of my sets right now but it’s always evolving.

How do you see yourself expanding your repertoire or performance as you grow from here?
I love the piano, and I always will, but I’m excited to expand out into other keyboard instruments as well. I’ve been having a ton of fun playing around with all the less expected sounds you can coax out of a piano and expanding the palette of sounds I have to work with, and I’d like to keep moving in that direction. I’m also working on some original music. That’s something I want to let grow in something other than a solo setting though. Maybe a trio.

What do you hope to see this project accomplish/become?
My goal is to make music that connects with people. If that nonverbal conveyance of emotion is happening, then I’m doing it right. Obviously there’s plenty of things on the creative and logistical end of things I’d love to see develop, but really, goal number one for me is connection. If I’m connecting with the music I’m playing emotionally, and someone out there listening is too, I think that’s what it all comes down to.

Anything else you want to share?
Yes! I’m making another album. It’s the music of the Grateful Dead reimagined for solo piano, and I’m unbelievably excited about how the sessions have gone so far. I can’t say any more about it just yet, but keep an eye out for it! It’s gonna be good!

 

The Death of the Encore?

Standard

This article was originally published on Hidden Track on 1/18/2012.

Somewhere in the back of my mind are memories of clapping fanatically, screaming toward an empty stage, waiting many long minutes for Phish’s triumphant return to the spotlight. After many a vigorous two-set show, not only by Phish but other bands as well, the audience anxiously awaits the coming encore. The lights stay dimmed while people cheer and clap until their hands turn red and their voices go horse, and then they do it some more, merely to the point of coaxing the music back on stage.

Nowadays, the second set ends and we pay hardly any mind, worrying only about the encore that is sure to come. We cheer for a few moments, then start to gather our things, prepare for the dash out or the wait in line. The noise level drops noticeably when really, it should be louder than it has been all show. That’s what got Phish back out for years, and it worked flawlessly throughout music history as an honor for musicians. Recently, however, I think that the encore has died.

For most of music’s sordid past, an encore was not to be expected after the official end of a performance. Bob Marley and the Wailers very rarely did encores. Elvis never did, as a policy of his managers, whereas Jimmy Buffet plays a mini acoustic set at the end of each show in lieu of an encore. In the classical music world, encores were strictly reserved for audiences that demanded it; when the performer did so well that the crowd wouldn’t leave the theater without one more tune, and the artist came back out, humbled, to satisfy their fans with an encore. A French word that means “again” or “some more,” the concept of the encore originated spontaneously and organically from a particularly roused up audience. Performers did and still do use it to show off their skills or mellow the crowd out to get ready to leave, and now it’s pretty much a staple at music performances.

While Phish shows without an encore have been rare throughout history, they weren’t always a guarantee, and from old audience recordings that didn’t cut out the between time, you can hear just how long they used to make us wait. Maybe it’s purely because the band members have less they want to do between those moments, or maybe they’re just anxious, but in the last two years I would say standard wait time between the end of second set and start of the encore has dropped dramatically. And like I said, this does not apply just to Phish. Everyone is waiting in the wings for their encores.

This is bad news for a few reasons: it means they aren’t putting too much thought into the encore or spending much time discussing song selection; it means they’re not resting their limbs to give a good final push and solid last showing; and, most likely, it means they’re not trying to stick around for much longer. Sure, there are venue rules and probably contractual obligations regarding encores, but since when did they start caring so much? This is not to say that Phish, or anyone else, hasn’t thrown down some fantastic encores (i.e. UIC 8/17/11), but on the whole, encores are quick, simple, average at best, and for Phish, never reaching that signature level they used to be known for.

Most bands expect and are expected to do an encore after every show. In this way, the artists walk off stage with anticipation for the last showing of the night and the audience is left with nothing to wonder about, merely to wait. This may sound very much like a complaint, but believe me, I enjoy those final moments at a show when you’re holding onto the last notes and grasping for a last glance. I would, however, like to know what happened to begging for it? Why don’t we plead like we used to? It’s never been about instant gratification before, so why now?

Maybe it’s not so much that the encore has died, but it’s certainly shriveled up and less lively than it used to be. Not only are they instantaneous, but they not gratifying and not meant to be. Let’s hope our favorite bands are using this a tactic to keep us wanting more, but if they’re not, I’d love to see some encores that come completely out of left-field, and higher energy than the entire show, and took the audience 10 minutes of clapping and screaming to earn.

And look, they gave me a little bio! “Carly Shields is a columnist at Oh Kee Pah Blog and BreakThru Radio, and an aspiring music manager. She also writes for Surrender to the Flow, Grateful Web, Live Music Blog and her own blog, Tela’s Travels. When not writing furiously, she goes to as much live music as possible from Boston to Philly and beyond, passionately supporting her up-and-coming favorites.” Woo!

Yonder Mountain String Band in Ridgefield, CT 10-23-2011

Standard

I always try my hardest to be objective about Yonder Mountain String Band shows, but the music they make never fails to make my heart flutter and in that way, it becomes difficult. And as long as that disclosure is out of the way, I hope that you can trust me when I say this was a great show. Set at the quaint and beautiful Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, the band hardly filled the theater and walked out to polite clapping and seated rows.

Adam Aijala

They started with “Blue Collar Blues,” “At the End of the Day,” and “This Lonesome Heart,” a calm trio of songs that complimented their instrumental skill and voices, and introduced the idea of getting up and dancing a bit. By “If Loving You is Killing Me,” there were finally more people standing than sitting, and it seemed that YMSB was settled enough to make this a comfortable and intimate show. The set stayed fairly mellow, with the guys walking all over the stage to play with one another and coming right up to the front to interact with the mass gathering in the isles. “Natchez Whistles” into “What the Night Brings” brought the it to a close, echoing the roller coster of style from the whole set. Jeff Austin seemed to truly be feeling the “Natchez Whistles” and the band follow suit with beautiful harmonies and decadent chords. The set closer amped the crowd up for what was to come, as the name might imply, topping the first half of the evening with a perfectly bluegrass, energetic tune.

Jeff Austin

Yonder Mountain really got worked up for second set, opening with a banjo-driven, dirt-kickin’ “Jesus on the Mainline > Shenandoah Breakdown > Jesus on the Mainline” sandwich. They kept the energy high and were flowing seamlessly from super fast jaunts to slower melodies, like “Mother’s Only Son.” They took the opportunity here to get into a few nice jams and interplay back and forth between exciting solos, but it was “Bloody Mary Morning” that seemed to decide the remainer of the set. Loud cheers and hoe-down clapping could be heard in the usually tame theater, and the crowd seemed to call for more dance tunes. They boys sure delivered, starting the beginning of the end with a strong “Whipping Post” that the audience loved. Almost unrecognizable first, when the tempo picked up, people started wailing and jumping about, and YMSB were all smiles and laughs. Austin’s passion just seeps through his vocal chords and when they cover songs he loves, you can all but tell. It was especially moving when they went back into it after “Only a Northern Sun” to end the set.

Yonder Mountain String Band

The enthused crowd was not going to let that be the end of this special, personal show, so the band came back on for an encore even though their sound guy began unplugging everything. After an attempt at the microphone, Jeff said a word to the audience and, speaking of covers he loves, started strumming the chords of “They Love Each Other.” Whether it was for the people begging for it during the show, or because then genuinely felt like playing it, or maybe both, but they wobbled their way to the front of the stage and took real advantage of the theaters acoustics, no pun intended. He wailed out the first verse and when the chorus came around, the crowd couldn’t help but sing along. It turned into a big family carol and was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had with Yonder Mountain String Band.

Another review coming after the NYC show on Saturday!! Oh how I love fall tours in the northeast!

Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Best Buy Theater 10-22-2011

Standard

Originally published on BandsThatJam.com 10/28/2011 <— click the link for photos by Nick Irving!

This past Saturday night, STS9 made a stop on their extensive fall tour to spend some time in New York City. They played at Times Square’s Best Buy Theater (formally the Nokia Theater) and the scene outside was just as busy as the rest of the Square. Fingers were up for the sold out show and even though police were present, the “lot” kids designated a corner for smoking and selling wraps adjacent to the venue.

Getting in was no problem, security was loose and the spacious theater is quite welcoming. DJ opener Polish Ambassador had over an hour before STS9’s set but unfortunately, he didn’t captivate many of the people who were already there and even the chaos by the Theater bars was more exciting. Some people retired to the seats in the upper section of Best Buy and were bobbing their heads to the standard, mixed dance beats, and a few were kindly supporting the DJ, probably more as placeholders for the main act.

When the lights went down and fog machines when on, “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails drifted through the PA and coaxed the band on stage. They started off a heavy set with some newer selections; appropriately, “Scheme” was the opener, which doubles as the first track on the new album, When the Dust Settles. They made their way somewhat statically to the peak of the set, “Inspire Strikes Back,” allowing the groove and excitement of that song to carry them back in time to fan favorites like “Arigato,” “Squares and Cubes,” and “Shock Doctrine.” The set ended on a high energy, free flowing vibe with the thumping closer, “What is Love.”

Set break was a wild rush to the cushioned seats or to line-up for the smoking section (yes, there was a line and it was huge). For the most part, people were impressed with the show thus far, though there were a handful of apparently long-time fans that thought it was poorly executed and did not appreciate the overzealous lights as attempt to make up for it, or for their lack of live painters and other on-stage side entertainment. Truthfully, the light show was a little more than usual, but the Best Buy Theater’s versatile space and extensive rig might have allowed for lighting director Saxton Waller to have a little more fun.

Second set’s opener, “Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist” was similar to first set’s in its slow, murky build to the steady drop beats that support a barely interesting melody. It’s what people didn’t love about Peaceblaster that the long-time fans at set break don’t like about Dust, and to follow “Hidden Hand…” with the new albums’ title track did not make either of them look good. “20-12” seemed to give a new spirit to the faded dance party, which the band did a good job of continually re-igniting until the explosive “Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature” closer. As one of the few STS9 songs that never fails to impress, “Nature” got anyone who had lost hope up and grooving and was easily the set’s savior.

Maybe to compensate, or maybe because they were on a roll, the “Circus” encore was similarly vibrant and moving, just what the crowd needed as a night-cap to a pretty decent show. Not their best, but certainly not their worst, STS9 impressed a large majority of the crowd, and did their best to please the fans who have stuck with them since the beginning, all the while showing off some fresher tunes and giving them room to grow as well.

EOTO at The Blockley Pourhouse, 10/15/2011

Standard

You might think that Jason Hann and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident are used to packed venues and scalped tickets, but with their small side project EOTO, they’re right back to humble beginnings at the local venue. Even after the performance at Electric Forest you would think that their show would be beyond sold out, but bands don’t typically blow up like that, and though they may have experienced fame with SCI, EOTO is no exception.

EOTO, forgive the quality, taken with a droid.

On Saturday night, after Philly favorites DAMN RIGHT! opened the show, the Blockley Pourhouse was slowly filling up with ravers and Dead heads alike, plus your average college party seekers, who definitely came to the right place. It’s these kind of bands that give local acts hope, and DAMN RIGHT!’s 3 part jamtronica dance music was the perfect compliment to EOTO’s style.  The young musicians seemed honored when Travis and Hann came on stage to start setting up their gear, and the house was more than ready for them.

Jason Hann

They started off on a fast note, immediately diving into their untz-ier material and setting an almost rave-like vibe for the night. Throughout the set, Jason’s beats stayed at a quick tempo and he treated the crowd to a lot of high hat action. Michael broke out his bass and dug into a few heavy lines, but it seemed like they were figuring out their sound and balance over the course of the set. Not so much between each other- they were smiling and their parts were flowing seamlessly- but in setting the sound levels and figuring out the space apparently took more time than usual.

Michael Travis, barefoot 🙂

True to form, the late crowd finally made their way to the Blockley by set break and had the building filled. Pleasantly, glows ticks and flashy toys did not overwhelm me, but their presence was noticed and I supposed may have been missed at an event like this. And, as soon as second set started, the sound was crisp and clear, unlike in the first set. EOTO went mellow to start back up, and everyone in the house seemed to love the smooth grooves they were getting into. Airy and spacey, the set reminded me of their original name, End Of Time Observatory- E.O.T.O..

EOTO

The set ended fairly abruptly- no encore, no lingering on stage, it was just over. The gorgeous visuals that danced behind Hann and Travis, the swooping lights, and the throbbing crowd simply ceased and that was that. Besides getting a coat stolen and one obvious incident of too many drugs, the scene was very positive and safe. The Blockley will see me again, and I will definitely be seeing EOTO again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Hot Day at the Zoo, 10/14 Donegal Saloon, Kearny NJ

Standard

Hot Day at the Zoo is a progressive bluegrass band, but Kearny, NJ and the Donegal Saloon are neither progressive nor bluegrass, yet somehow, the two make quite a match.

Just a stones throw outside New York City, Kearny is a fairly shady town that does a decent job covering up its sketchy scene with a cute main street. The Donegal Saloon is a hole in the wall bar, poorly marked and not particularly welcoming to newcomers- on the outside. Behind the dark, heavy door is an open room with an oval bar, and down-home faces filling the stools.  It was mostly an older crowd, and the crew I expected to see at a Hot Day show hadn’t made their appearance yet.

Then my eyes landed on a leather cowboy hat, a few flannel button ups, a pair of boots- clearly, the act I had come to see. If I didn’t already know HDatZ, it would have been painfully obvious then, even though the local folks matched their suburban style fairly well.  As the four men loaded their gear into the small back area and set up their “stage.”

The opening musician seemed like he was just messing around at first, but turned out to be thoroughly impressive and drew a large crowd. Just an acoustic guitar and a book of songs, the meager singer wailed out covers ranging from “They Love Each Other” (Grateful Dead) to “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding). He was energetic and soulful, a perfect way to introduce the electrified bluegrass.

Blurry as hell, but still Hot Day

Hot Day kicked off their set with a few high tempo selections, including a Carole King cover and their original “Sweet Baby (Boom Boom Boom).” They switched the line-up a little when mandolin player JT Lawrence stepped- or should I say, sat down- on a dobro-like lap guitar, which added a twangy, deep-southern vibe to their New England roots music. A few songs after all four Zoo-grassers got back on strings, the line-up switched again and guitarist Michael Dion switched to drums, a rhythmic part they don’t usually have. It was a great addition to their overall sound, but somewhat unnecessary in the over all performance; I found that the songs with drums we’re less exciting and I was missing Dion’s vocals and harmonica playing.

A short set break rejuvenated the thinning crowd and Hot Day riled people back up with a stellar cover of The Beatles’ “Get Back.” Second set was much more a dirt-kicker-upper in the way of song selection, and the boys kept it interesting with banjo-player Jon Cumming on dobro, but it was dramatically shorter than first set, even with the encore. Luckily, perhaps at the beckon of stand-up bass player Jed Rosen, they came back on about 15 minutes later and introduced their final song as a cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” They actually played Old Crow Medicine Show’s song “Wagon Wheel,” which I personally requested to Dion and which they haven’t played in over 5 years. A great show, well worth the trek out to dingy Kearny.

Excuse my terrible pictures, I took them with my phone and am no photographer.

Jason Hann Interview IN FULL!

Standard

SOOO As Promised- the whole interview! Edited for your listening player and set to a live EOTO show from July 10, 2010 in Louisville, KY. Please excuse me clickclickclicking away in the background, I compulsively type responses to questions as they happen, though I hear now that I should just wait to transcribe until after the interview. Live and learn, folks! I’m trying. SO HERE IT IS!

All Sorts of Tour Announcements!

Standard

PHISH PHINALLY ANNOUNCED THEIR NEW YEARS EVE RUN. Now I can move on in planning my winter. I am a dedicated Phishead at heart, but it’s only natural that I should want to see as much live music as possible and if I was going to have to pick another band to see on NYE, I might have been disappointed. Luckily, I’m not.

As was heavily speculated, Phish will return to Madison Square Garden for their 2011 holiday run, which concludes on New Years Eve. Including the first ever New Years Day show that closed the 2010 run, the band had played at MSG 19 times, and this year, will have played there on the very first and very last days of 2011. The first show at this incredible venue that took place on December 30, 1994, has gone down as legend in the Phishtory books.

I seriously recommend going here: http://phish.portals.musictoday.com/ and entering the Phish ticket lottery by Monday, October 24th at noon. When tickets go on sale to the general public on the 29th at noon, they will be much harder to get, but not impossible. Like the summer that has just flown by (definitely not ‘just’ any more), tickets for this run will be easier to get than last year but still a fight and still expensive. If you’re on a budget, consider buying the early nights’ ticket from a seller on the street to save money. As in the past few months, each ticket comes with a free download of that night’s show.

PHISH NEW YEAR’S RUN 2011-2012

12/28 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
12/29 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
12/30 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
12/31 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

The ever-touring Zach Deputy is back on the road to support the release of Another Day (check out my review here). Though the album is much more mellow and represents the laid back side of Zach, you will definitely find yourself a dance party if you hit any of these million shows coming up:

Oct. 11- Woodlands Tavern- Columbus, OH
Oct. 12- The Castle Theatre- Bloomington, IL
Oct. 13- Red Sky Lounge- Mankato, MN
Oct. 14- Cabooze- Minneapolis, MN
Oct. 15- The Aquarium- Fargo, ND
Oct. 18- The Zebra Cocktail Lounge- Bozeman, MT
Oct. 19- Top Hat Lounge- Missoula, MT
Oct. 20-Tractor Tavern- Seattle, WA
Oct. 21- Berbati’s Pan- Portland, OR
Oct. 22- Humboldt Brews- Arcata, CA
Oct. 25- Lost on Main- Chico, CA
Oct. 26- The Mint- Lost Angeles, CA
Oct. 27- Winstons- San Diego, CA
Oct. 28- Marilyn’s on K- Sacramento, CA
Oct. 29- The Independent- San Francisco, CA
Oct. 30- The Underground- Reno, NV
Oct. 30- Hangtown Halloween Ball- Placerville, CA
Nov. 2- Hodi’s Half Note- Fort Collins, CO
Nov. 3- Cervantes’ Other Side- Denver, CO
Nov. 5- Three20South- Breckenridge, CO
Nov. 7- College Bar- Stillwater, OK
Nov. 8- 2826 Arnetic- Dallas, TX
Nov. 9- The Den at Howlin’ Wolf- New Orleans, LA
Nov. 11- Nov 12- Bear Creek Music Festival- Live Oak, FL
Nov.  15- 5 Points Pub- Columbia, SC
Nov. 16- Ziggy’s- Winston Salem, NC
Nov. 17- The Orange Peel- Asheville, NC
Nov. 18- Work Play Theatre- Birmingham, AL
Nov. 19- Exit/In- Nashville, TN
Nov 21- Brooklyn Bowl- Brooklyn, NY
Nov 22- Toad’s Place- New Haven, CT
Nov 23- Mills Street Brews- Southbridge, MA
Nov 25-Nov 26- Rock and Roll Resort, Kerhonkson, NY
Nov 27- Appalachian Brewing Company, Harrisburg, PA
Nov 29- The Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, MI
Nov 30- Zanzabar, Louisville, KY
Dec 1- 123 Pleasant St, Morgantown, WV
Dec 2- Musica, Akron, OH
Dec 3- V Club, Huntington, WV
Dec 4- The Blind Tiger, Greensboro, NC
Dec 7- The Pour House Music Hall, Wilmington, NC
Dec 8- The Pour House- Charleston, SC
Dec 9- Sky City, Augusta, GA
Dec 10- Eddie’s Attic, Decatur, GA
Dec 29- Jack Rabbit’s, Jacksonville, FL
Dec 30- The Bond-Fire Art and Music Festival
Dec 31- The Coligny Theatre- Hilton Head Island, SC
Jan 9-14 2012- Jam Cruise 10- Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Feb 17- 19 2012- Jungle Jam Festival, Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

In one-man band news, Keller Williams is doing a No Kidding! show specifically for kids at The Brooklyn Bowl! Along with the release of his first album for children, appropriately titled Kids and the publishing of his children’s book, Because I Said So, Keller will be stopping in select cities to host this interactive kids performance. Featuring an opening drum circle and Meet and Greet with Keller after the show, it’s not just for kids in a Yo Gabba Gabba! kind of way… plus, he will be performing a night set for us folk at each of these venues the same night.

Saturday, October 22 – 9:30 Club, Washington, DC at 10:30 am
Saturday, November 19 – Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY at 10:30 am

Rubblebucket is doing a serious tour, as well, to promote Omega La La, which they were giving out for free download before it was released. For a taste, check out my DJ’d playlist, The Weekend Trip, or hit any of these intimate, affordable shows.

0/12 – Columbus, OH – The Basement w/ Brenda & Cuddle Magic
10/13 – Urbana, IL – The Canopy Club
10/14 – Chicago, IL – Double Door w/ Brenda & Cuddle Magic
10/15 – Grand Rapids, MI – Founders 
10/16 – Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall  Ballroom w/ Brenda & Cuddle Magic
10/17 – Iowa City, IA – Gabe’s Oasis 
10/18 – St. Louis, MO – The Old Rock House w/ Trombone Shorty
10/19 – The Bottleneck – Lawrence Kansas
10/21 – Denver, CO – Cervantes’ Other Side 
10/22 – Ft. Collins, CO – Hodi’s Half Note
10/23 – Aspen, CO – Belly Up
10/25 – Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court 
10/27 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile 
10/28 – Olympia, WA – The Eastside Club Tavern
10/29 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios 
10/31 – Bend, OR – Century Center
11/01 – Arcata, CA – Humbolt Brews 
11/02 – Crystal Bay, NV – Crystal Bay Club Casino
11/03 – San Francisco, CA – Boom Boom Room 
11/04 – Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Theater w/ Superhumanoids
11/05 – San Diego, CA – Soda Bar w/ Superhumanoids
11/06 – Flagstaff, AZ – Green Room w/ Superhumanoids
11/08 – Austin, TX – Beauty Bar 
11/09 – New Orleans, LA – House of Blues: The Parish 
11/10 – Mobile, AL – Alabama Music Box 
11/11 – Live Oak, FL – Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival
11/12 – Atlanta, GA – Drunken Unicorn
12/31 – Northampton, MA – Pearl Street Ballroom 

SUPER PHEST! From the Archives, 7/9/2011

Standard

“I’ve got big balls,” sung Phish drummer Jon Fishman, “Some balls are held for charity, and some for fancy dresses, but when they’re held for pleasure, they’re the balls that I like best!” While I suppose there’s a slight chance he was referencing an engorged scrotum, what he was really talking about (in singing the AC/DC cover, “Big Balls”) was the Biggest Ball Ever, the jam band’s 9th festival since 1996.

SuperBall IX, Photo by Kirsten Sheahan

Not only was it their biggest festival ever, but it was the best planned and executed Phish festival to date right from the start. Clearly, the organizers had done this before and had learned from their mistakes. The first Phish festival, The Clifford Ball, set the bar for the modern-day super concerts we know and love. This goes not only for Phish’s festivals, but events like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza (though the alt-rock festival was conceived 5 years before the inaugural Phish festival, it was a touring event, like Warped Tour), Austin City Limits, and many others, take a hint from the Phish organization in ways to please the crowd: art installations, cooling tents, using local resources, even car-side camping all came from the one-band festival that preceded these giant concerts. The Clifford Ball (1996), The Great Went (1997), Lemonwheel (1998), Camp Oswego (unofficial festival, 1999), Big Cypress (1999), IT (2003)–these were events that defined what a music festival had become.

The Phish organization may have followed the footsteps of the Grateful Dead in their musical approach and marketing scheme, but planning and organizing these giant events was somewhat uncharted territory, especially in 1996 when all they had as an example was Woodstock (largely a failure) and day-long touring festivals. They wanted to create a completely unique fan experience, something you couldn’t get at any old concert or any regular camping trip. From the beginning, The band was fully immersed in the planning process. They helped the creative director and the engineers in figuring out what should go where and how, and in their earlier days, even helped build some of the structures. Without the efforts of the Phish organization, and without the compassion for phans that Phish truly had and acted on, we may not have today’s festival as know it.

Photo by Kirsten Sheahan

Super Ball IX was held at the historic Watkins Glen International Racecourse, site of 1973’s Summer Jam that featured The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, and The Band. Unlike anything a Phish crowd is used to, the venue was fully prepared for the influx of jam band fanatics that started rolling in on Thursday morning. Even Wednesday night saw a line forming at the gates, and when the crowd thickened, they abided for safety purposes and started letting people in. Many had arrived early in hopes that Phish would pull a Grateful Dead-move and let the audience in for a full blown 2-hour set during sound check. (Alas, while the Thursday sound check would have been nice to hear, listeners had to stay outside the gates.)

Thursday night was a northeastern reunion, with phans finally coming together to make up for the disaster that was 2004’s Coventry. Billed as the last Phish show ever, the event was poorly planned, poorly managed, and even more poorly played. We may have been able to deal with the flood, the mud and the 15-mile hike to get in if anything else had worked out, but it didn’t and no phan was about to let that be their last east coast memory of Phish. So we all found ourselves back in northern New York, just an hour past Ithaca (just?!), and you could feel the excitement and joy as soon as you stepped onto the festival grounds. Well coordinated, mostly car-side camping areas were named after states Phish has never played in (North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Hawaii, and a phan-designated area called Puerto Rico) and overflow parking lots surrounded the racetrack, enabling festival city to be in the center of the huge arena.

As phans came trickling in on Friday, others took time to explore the ever-developing Americana theme on the festival grounds. Not only was there a ferris wheel, bocce ball and wiffle ball courts, an air-conditioned charging tent, and a plethora of vendors giving out information and ice cream (thank you, Ben and Jerry’s); there were also giant structures (a storage unit, a water mill, a factory-esq production line) to walk through and on. Each of these buildings was constantly changing, starting on Friday in a wooden, colonial style decoration. On Saturday, they were transformed to more industrial designs. Sunday’s incarnations represented the future, brought in by a secret, late-night, futuristic set Phish played from the storage unit in an area called “Ball Square.”

Phans were treated to balloon structures to play with, original art to look at, and the House of Live Phish, where you could download each set right after it happened, listen to and download past sets selected by archivist Kevin Shapiro. You could even single out each band member in the mix to create a totally unique listening experience.

Friday night saw the first two of seven (announced) sets, and yes, they were all Phish. Thirteen hours, 17 minutes, and 22 seconds (thanks for calculating, NY Times), all by one glorious band and gladly soaked up their loyal phans. The first sets put us at ease when we could tell that they had been practicing, were playing very well, and were feeling the vibe of this festival already. Set one saw bust-outs like Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” and a very rarely played “Mike’s Song> Simple> Bug.” Saturday was the big day for all of us, featuring a fully day-time set starting at 3 pm.

A phan-organized beach ball fight was the perfect supplement to the opening “Tube,” and while the next two sets of the day were both phenomenal and surprising, the real gem was the secret, unannounced set that started at 2 am Sunday morning. Spacey, wandering and barely following the melody of the “Sleeping Monkey” we know and love, the boys’ 4th set of the day met very mixed reviews. While some kids were ready to keep the party going and just wanted to dance to another regular set, some of us realized that Phish finally remembered how to jam and were blown away by the improvisational rock music blaring out of that storage unit. Sunday, too, was a day filled with amazing music, happy and safe concert-goers and finally a break in the heat with a little rain in the morning. Another thing most phans are not accustomed to is the weather holding out so nicely as it did this past Independence Day weekend. Besides the blaring heat for Saturday’s 3 pm set, it was easy to stay cool during the day and even got a little chilly at night. Perfect festival-ing weather, if you asked anyone there.

Overall, maybe not in numbers, but in everything else this was the biggest festival, the biggest ball of them all; it was a most super ball. Even if you’re not privy to the ways of Phish culture, even if you hate it and everything we stand for, it’s hard to ignore the roots of the music events standing in their legacy that are becoming ever wider spread, ever more popular and accessible. How can you ignore it anyway? A gathering of 30,000-plus people (that being the smallest festival in Phish’s history), dancing to genuine rock ‘n’ roll and celebrating the freedom to enjoy whatever we want, however we want? Even though in the Articles of Orientation packet they handed out at the entrance, it reminds attendees that “Independence is a theme, not a day.” Phish allows us to be as free and independent as we could possibly be. In the beginning of the festival, in fact after the second song, before he could even guess that the weekend would be such a success, Trey said “Thanks for coming to our party, everyone!”

No, boys, thank you.

Originally published on BreakThru Radio, 7/9/11

PRIMUS at Tower Theater, 10/1/11

Standard

Primus, Saturday 10/1/11 Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA

If you can say that you don’t know anything about Primus, at least you probably know that they are a strange band, these three wildly talented and creative individuals. You may not know Les Claypool and his unique take on bass driven music, his ability to transcend genres from funk to metal to jam, and his ear for the oddly fascinating. Leading the band since the mid-80’s, Claypool has gone through a number of changes in line-up for his primary project but with guitarist Larry ‘Ler’ LaLonde and drumming god Jay Lane, he seems to have gotten the sound just right.

Upper Darby, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, is not the friendliest neighborhood in PA, but on October 1, Primus fans, who are mostly white males about 18 to 35, came out in droves to see the long-anticipated return of one of the ‘90’s greatest hard rock bands. They were packed inside the historic looking venue, pressed against the golden-papered walls with their $8 micro-brews, and scurrying between the rows of seats to find their friends, a good viewing spot, or escape the usher.

The stage was set just the way Les has liked it since their triumphant return in 2009, with two massive, blow-up astronauts standing on either side of the stage, an old man floating in the helmet, looking around in a questioning way. They frame a large screen, which will show interesting, sometimes slightly disturbing scenes that change with each song.

When the lights go down and the blue fog starts to creep across the stage, Les, Ler, and Jay walk slowly to their spots and “To Defy the Laws of Tradition” begins to ring out. For a crowd that would normally jump all over each other to this song, the cushioned seats made them remarkably calm, even during a killer opening selections like this one. By the third song, their renowned “Frizzle Fry,” you could tell that the calmness of the audience was not impacting the band. They were playing as rowdy as we wanted to be, and “Fry” got people into the aisles where there was room to rock.

The imagery Claypool had chosen to accompany his songs during the first set seemed somewhat tame and didn’t distract too much from the music. For songs like “American Life,” he had repetitive subway shots, blips of a television, and more, but the film acted as more of a backdrop than a complimentary addition. “My Name is Mud” and the set closer, “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” were both so explosive and intense that I noticed the video more when it was turned off than when it was playing.

Set break brought a surge of smokers to the streets of Upper Darby and a chattery buzz about the next set. Rumor had gotten around that they would be playing the new album, Green Naugahyde, straight through and after about 20 minutes of anxious waiting, it appeared this was the case. “Prelude to a Crawl” welcomed the band back on stage, Les finally breaking out his classic pig mask. The astronauts were lit up green and the film on screen had become more relevant and creepy, for example during “Eyes of the Squirrel,” when they showed a mutated, two headed squirrel eerily floating in a marsh, very much watching us.

Though they played some of these tracks during summer performances, seeing them in order and filling one set was seeing them for the first time in a new light. I thought it was interesting that Claypool chose to take this route, and that no one in the crowd was displeased with the idea. You can often find an audience like this one at a jam band show, where playing even the same song two shows in a row is damn near blasphemous, never mind the same set all tour. With this band, however, and this tour, it was very welcome and quite awesome. (For my exact feeling on each of these songs, check out the album review.)

The most Primus-y videos came at the end, in my easily freaked-out opinion. We got an in depth look at the albums cover art, an old timey bicycling boy, fallen and decrepit, missing an eye. There was footage of a squirming baby, which was cute at first, but got weird and intimidatingly quirky. And the album was concluded before you could blink; even in listening to it now, it seems short and sweet, the way they wanted it.

In Claypoolian brilliance, he never let the music die between the “Salmon Men” closer and the encore. Kicking the last hurrah off with “Here Come the Bastards” and keeping the energy all the way through “Puddin’ Time” got the crowd response that he, LaLonde, and Lane truly deserve for their music. PRIMUS SUCKS!

Picture to come!