Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Bob Dylan Show In San Antonio

We got caught in a butt load of traffic before we even got out of the inner loop of Houston. Not a good sign. But as luck would have it, this was the least pleasant part of our journey. Once we got outside the loop the freeway opened up and we were on our way. Our driver is obsessed with Hispanic radio for some reason, so we blasted tejano tunes until we got out of radio range and then switched over to the iPod. We listened to Prince's new release 3121, which is fantastic. It's like he finally come to grips with himself and recorded an album of catchy pop tunes without making them too saccharine sweet or obtuse for the casual/devoted listener. It's about time. He also has embraced his inner Jimi Hendrix. weedlie-weedlie-weedlie-wee!
One of the cooler moments along the way was during the middle of a Dylan bootleg(Genuine Bootleg Series Vol.3) when the four of us in the car had a collective "moment" during Tangled Up In Blue from his '84 tour. It's notable because he switches the word around to the story even more than he usually does. At times, going from first to third person in the same sentence. He released an album called Real Live from this tour and a number of soundboard recordings from it were leaked to the public. Lucky for us.
Arriving in San Antonio, we got lost for a few minutes but quickly found our way back on the right track thanks to our drivers knowledge of the city. We found our(very intoxicated) friends at the Manhattan Mexican Restaurant on the River Walk. They had been on a steady diet of margaritas for lord knows how many hours and were certainly feeling no pain as a result. The waitstaff ignored us for the first twenty minutes, but made up for it by giving us great service for our final twenty minutes there. Weird how that works out. Oh, and on our way to the restaurant, we saw Kinky Friedman driving in a car going the opposite way.
The Municipal Auditorium is a fantastic old venue with a proscenium stage which is VERY deep. Ornate moldings cover the walls and ceiling as well as the balcony. What puzzled me, though, was that the seats on the floor were not permanent. Not that they were too terribly uncomfortable, it just seemed a bit odd. Dylan had played this same venue back during the Rolling Thunder Review of '76 and again in '78. I was hoping that this history would have a positive effect on the show. I can't say that it did.
We walked in to the main theater just as Merle Haggard was taking the stage. To our amusement, our friends at the Mexican restaurant had been under the false impression that Waylon Jennings was to be the opener. Jason took much pleasure in informing them that he had been dead for several years. We all got a good laugh at that one. Merle was in fantastic voice. His band, The Strangers, looked as if most of them had at least one foot in the grave(several looked waist deep, though). Regardless, they played like old pro's and did not disappoint. We got classics like "Okie From Muskogee", "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down", and "Mama Tried" just to name a few. A real class act, if I do say so myself. I think the rest of the crew was more impressed by him than they were Dylan. To each his own.
Dylan came out and put on a solid, if somewhat reserved, performance. The highlights of the evening were easily the slower numbers sprinkled throughout the set. "She Belongs To Me", Queen Jane Approximately", and "Girl From The North Country" were all given more than respectable readings by Dylan. He seems to handle the vocals of the slower numbers in higher regard than the up tempo numbers these days. This would become a point of contention between my seating partner and I at the conclusion of the show. I also thought "Highway 61" and "Cold Irons Bound"(with a radical new arrangement) were highlights. The show ending "All Along The Watchtower" even had a dynamic to it that I found remarkably playful. But, without a doubt, the "money song"(as my seat mate remarked) was "Every Grain Of Sand". It being Good Friday, we were hoping for a set full of "Jesus" songs(but never really expected) and this was what we got. Dylan and band gave this song all the respect(and more) that we could have hoped for. It was almost as if he didn't want it to end. With complete instrumental verses between each sung verse, it was like floating on some beautiful crest that reached skyward and beyond. There was a brief moment during the first and second verse where Dylan was vamping on the chords and expected the band to follow along. When they didn't(going directly in to the second verse) he shot them a looked that could have killed a weaker-willed man. It was as if he was saying, "Don't you DARE fuck this one up for me, fellows." But quicker than a hippie on a ball of hash, they straightened up and steered their way through a flawless version.
In my humble opinion, the band was pretty darn solid for the entire evening. This too was a point of disagreement with my friends following the show. On lead guitar, Denny was all profile the entire evening. I seriously don't think he took his eyes off of Dylan for more than five seconds during the entire show. The rhythm section(George Recile & Tony Garnier) were as solid as they come. These two guys never disappoint. But the star of the band was multi instrumentalist Donnie Herron from the band BR549. The only member not wearing a hat, he rocked the pedal and lap steel like I've never seen. He sat directly next to Dylan who heavily leaned on him during the entire night. Did I mention he had great hair?
We ran in to our friends from Austin, Matt & Mo, during the break between Haggard and Dylan and again following the show. We walked the streets of San Antonio looking for a bar that would let us in. Along the way, Jeff named himself Mayor of the city and finally Emperor. The rest of the crew then appointed him "Rey Feo". He accepted his title with all the grace you would expect from someone who had been drinking heavily for more than eight hours. All hail Rey Feo!!!!
Closing the bar, we parted ways with our friends and started back to Houston in the dark hours of the evening. A more enjoyable car ride I've not experienced. Our driver needed music she could sing to in order to maintain conciseness during the three hour drive and opted for a somewhat perplexing choice in The Clancy Brothers. Another member of the car insisted on consuming mass quantities of psychedelic materials in order to neutralize the robust songs of the Brothers Clancy. It was somewhere during Hall & Oates Greatest Hits that he began to dance/squirm in his limited back seat space to my amusement(and no one else's). Tourette's Syndrome set in somewhere during the Clancy Brothers and manifested itself in well timed outbursts of "TIMMY!" during the remainder of the car ride. He tried to buy beer during a 3am potty break at a truck stop(and failed) and I found much hilarity in his fifteen minute struggle with a gas pump.
So, all in all, a great road trip.
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iPod Song Of The Day: "Tonight It Shows" from Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Orchestral Elvis

Tonight I was witness to one of the most unique musical experiences in my concert going career. Elvis Costello(and Steve Nieve) used the Houston Symphony Orchestra as their pick up band in a evening of music comprised of a commissioned orchestral piece(Il Songo, The Dream) based on Shakespeare's "A Mid Summer Night's Dream", and concluded the evening with a collection of tunes from his vast and varied musical catalog.
Dressed in a penguin suit, Elvis introduced the symphonic piece, gave its background, and stepped off to let the orchestra do their thing for the first half hour. A very pleasant piece of swirling ear candy, but when you know Elvis is waiting in the wings to perform, you're bound to get a bit antsy for him to reappear no matter how thrilling the piece is.
At its conclusion, Elvis stepped back out with long time friend and bandmate Steve Nieve(also dressed in black, except for his blood red socks) and immediately went to work. He first performed a new number that all of us agreed at intermission was one of his most overtly political statements ever. Don't recall the name, as I was a bit distracted trying to get my digital recorder to start. I'll have to give it another listen once it's burned to disc. I did finally get it up and rolling for his second number, All This Useless Beauty, which was just a duet between he and Steve(WHEW!). He played one more number before taking a short break.
The second half was all Elvis, Steve, his bass player(on stand up, of course) and the orchestra backing him up on most of the songs. He created a thick musical stew with ingredients from his collaborations with Burt Bacharach, Charles Mingus, The Brodsky Quartet, Bill Frisell, as well as songs from his period with the Attractions and prolific solo career.
The back to back selection of She and God Give Me Strength was a sublime pairing to wrap up the pre encore slot. In between, he played a barn burning Veronica, a heavily orchestrated Watching The Detectives(with noir film flava added to wonderful effect), a heapin' helpin' from his "blue period" with Almost Blue & Flame Burns Blue, and a heartbreaking Allison.
More than once during the evening he would step back from the mic to let his powerful vocal chords do the work of carrying his sonic vibrations to the back of the house. But with his closing number, Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4, he stepped to the lip of the stage and projected the entire song sans amplification. The entire crowd(except for the hens directly behind us) were glued to every movement and vocal nuance during the course of the song. A breathtaking experience.
During the performance, Elvis was charming, funny, intense(prowling the lip of the stage like a caged cat), and downright brilliant. His voice was a thing of wonder, truly. Nary a shaky note or missed cue. He was spot on the entire night and his only moment of disappointment(a shrug of the shoulders) was during the closing number when the shy Houston audience refused to join him as he hummed the final notes to No.4, while the orchestra built an ever climbing crescendo behind him.
The most exciting thing of the evening, though, was knowing that my friend and I walked out of the venue with 2(count 'em TWO) digital recordings from the floor and boxes, that are going to be mixed to make a DVD-A in 5.1.
I take that back. The best part was sharing the evening with my soul sista, AJ.

Tomorrow I'm off to see Dylan in San Antonio!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lips On Letterman

A early birthday present came last week dressed up as the Flaming Lips on David Letterman. They performed the upbeat single "The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Song" from their latest release At War With The Mystics. And if I do say so myself, it's one catchy radio friendly unit. Propelled by a hard driving beat(with a curious country swing during the bridge), it asks all the hard questions any person with a conscience is confronted with nearly every day. If you could make everybody poor just so you could be rich, would you do it? If you could take all the love without giving any back, would you do it? What would you do with all your power? And the answer to all these questions are right there amongst the lyrics. The truth is, you'd never know how you would react to any given situation until you are actually faced with it. Eh?
And to be truthful, I had very high expectations for their newest release and was a bit disappointed upon first listen. But since then(I got it last month when it was leaked through advance copies), I've had it on the iPod in rotation and it's grown on me tremendously. The album tells the story of a band who has reached, and conquered, a tremendous Everest of unexplored artistic boundaries and are(yet)again allowing themselves the freedom to reach further in to the great unknown to fearlessly explore where no band has gone before. Armed only with an arsenal of experience and noise, these guys are truly, as the title says, fearless freaks. Not content to rest on their laurels, they keep reaching for the brass ring with more sincerity in their facial hair than most pop stars have in their whole body.
Anyway, back to the Letterman performance. Steven in a flight suit, Michael in a skeleton costume(in March?), Kliph without his signature pink drum kit, and Wayne in a gray Armani suit, the band tears through an abridged version while managing to retain all its power and fun. Steven's opening "Aaaaaaaaahhhhh's" are spot on and hysterical. He plays and sings portions through a Talkbox(think Peter Frampton) on a double neck guitar. Kliph's drumming is heavy and pounding while Michael's bass is omnipresent without sounding like it's even there. And, of course, Wayne's occasional grin is enough to light the sun in some long dead universe a billion miles away.
After a short commercial break, all Letterman had to add was, "There's a lot going on there."

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iPod Song Of The Day: (Drawing) Rings Around The World by the Super Furry Animals