Sunday, May 27, 2007

Medeski, Martin, & Wood - Live 5.24.07 - Richmond, VA

Medeski Martin & Wood
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, VA
May 24, 2007, 6:00PM
Ticket Price $25
Opening Act: Homemade Bread

The evening was beautiful – my first time seeing Medeski Martin & Wood and my first visit to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Being there, I remembered how I love plants (not just the ones you smoke ;). I felt an instant sense of peace when I walked through the gates. The flowers and the greenery were in full bloom, little hippie children were running around, and the weather was ideal. I made a spur of the moment decision to go to the show, so I figured it would be a solo venture. Luckily, Amanda had the day off and accompanied me.

We got there about midway through the opening band’s set. Homemade Bread they were called, and they sounded pretty good. Their style was funky and jazzy, and the vocals were solid. The saxophone player, David Gay I believe, really impressed me. Definitely want to check out more from these guys, but I’m having difficulties locating them on the web, can’t even find ‘em on Myspace. I think they need my marketing assistance ;o)

EDIT: I came across this snippet about Homemade Bread on the Haymaker Festival website.

I used the break before MMW to wander around and snap some more pictures of the gardens. Gorgeous! I can’t believe I go to Richmond so frequently and don’t take advantage of that place.

The stroll through the plant labyrinth (along with the beers) had me nicely relaxed and primed for the MMW set. The crowd cheered as John Medeski made his way over to the piano, with Chris Wood and Billy Martin following shortly there after. They each took their time warming up – Medeski getting used to the feel of the piano, Wood tuning his upright bass, Martin organizing his giant arsenal of percussion equipment. Unlike a rock ensemble, where the first song is like a blast to the face; Medeski, Martin, and Wood slowly built up to their introductory number. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t able to identify the tunes by name since I am not very well versed in the MMW catalog). They started off with a straight-up jazz piece. As the intensity built, Martin and Wood brought the rhythm, laying the foundation for Medeski to show his stuff. It wasn’t long before he was standing and strumming the strings of the grand piano as if it were a stringed instrument (well, it is technically, but you know what I mean). For the second song, Medeski pulled out his melodica and Wood switched to the electric bass, and the sound shifted from jazz to world music. They got into some deep grooves throughout their 90 minute set, but the highlight was definitely the encore cover of “What’d I Say?”. People who had been seated all night got up and joined the rest of us in the hippie shuffle. MMW was exactly what the doctor ordered for me, but I heard some folks commenting that it was too jazzy for their tastes. My guess is that most of these people miss the guitar. I thought it was a refreshing change to have the focus be on the piano; I miss that instrument in music. Definitely seeing this trio whenever they come around Virginia again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit - Live 5.9.07 - Richmond, VA

Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit
Innsbrook Pavilion in Glen Allen, VA
May 9, 2007, 6:30 PM

Even though I’ve been to the Innsbrook Pavilion many times before, it still trips me up that the place is nestled inside a giant office park. Not your typical location for a concert venue, but somehow the folks over there have made it work. There are some drawbacks to the area, though. For one, the crowd is normally littered with white-collar professionals who are much more interested in social hour than music (an ongoing beef of mine). Secondly, the security is tighter than the proverbial duck’s arse. While the police presence didn’t confront me none, the constant chitter-chatter certainly cheesed me off. I meandered through the crowd searching for a quiet haven to enjoy the show, which I did, right in front of the speaker. It’s sad when that’s the only place you can go and actually hear over the talking, but hey, you do what you have to do.

By the time I got settled, the sun was setting and the Aquarium Rescue Unit was already about 30 minutes in to their set. The group, considered the forerunner of the modern day jam band scene, has had an ever-changing lineup since its inception in the late 80s. Wednesday night, the ARU consisted of some familiar faces to me – founding member and “Godfather of Jam” Col. Bruce Hampton, current Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring, and the Allman Brothers Band’s current bassist Oteil Burbridge as well as Jeff Sipe aka Apt Q-258 (percussion) and Bobby Lee Rodgers (banjo/vocals) both of whom were new to me. Since this was my first ARU gig, I didn’t recognize much of what I was hearing. You didn’t have to know the songs to know it was some straight-up goodness, though. These guys rarely play together nowadays, so it was beyond a treat to have this opportunity. The band laid down some of the sickest grooves I have ever witnessed – impeccably fusing rock, bluegrass, jazz, you name it. I have heard before that Oteil is limited by the Allman Brothers Band; judging by his performance Wednesday night, that assessment is correct. He really took command over a good portion of the show, singing and scatting while dropping some scorching hot bass lines. Someone awesome captured footage and posted it on YouTube –

When Oteil wasn’t directing traffic, Col. Bruce graced us with his rough and rootsy vocals. Even though he is considered the band leader, he deserves to lay low if that’s what he’s feeling – the man is an unacknowledged legend. He just has that quality about him – you know you’re in the presence of greatness. And then there’s Jimmy Herring, who is a master of his craft. Most people know Warren Haynes is one of my favorite living guitarists, but Jimmy is now closing that gap. He shreds it and totally floors me with his solos. If he sang, too, Warren might have a real fight on his hands. See what I mean –

Towards the middle of the set, Derek Trucks came out for a few songs and we got a short glimpse of the amazing chemistry between him and Jimmy (more to come during the DTB set). Then, a very young man appeared on the drums who was later identified as Derek’s little brother, Duane. With their uncle Butch playing drums for the Allman Brothers, the Trucks family is building quite the musical pedigree. The ARU closed out their set with a splendid rendition of “Turn On Your Lovelight,” and the roadies got to work on setting up DTB ’s equipment.

If you EVER have the opportunity to see the Aquarium Rescue Unit, you absolutely should. They made a hell of a first impression on me. I have run out of ways to say amazing, so I’ll just leave it at that.

PS: A special thanks to the wonderful man who made this evening possible :P

Derek Trucks Band - Live 5.9.07 - Richmond, VA

The Derek Trucks Band special co-bill with Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit

Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit
The Derek Trucks Band
Innsbrook Pavilion in Glen Allen, VA
May 9, 2007, 6:30 PM

The sun had set, the crowd had thickened and at about 8:30 pm, Derek’s entourage emerged. No words, no introductions – they just launched straight in.

Volunteered Slavery >
I’ll Find My Way
Crow Jane
Sahib Teri Bandi
Soul Serenade (with Duane Trucks on drums)
Meet Me In The Bottom (1st Time Played)
Goin’ Home (1st Time Played)
Joyful Noise (with Jimmy Herring on guitar, Oteil Burbridge on bass, and Jeff Sipe on drums)

Mahjoun > Greensleeves (with Jimmy Herring & Jeff Sipe)
Key To The Highway (with Duane Trucks & Jimmy Herring)


This was my fifth time seeing the Derek Trucks Band on stage, and as always, I have nothing but compliments. These guys have incredible unity, with a sound that is so direct and pure. You can tell by their masterful fusion of different genres that they are drawing on a huge musical vocabulary. You won’t get much stage antics from these guys, either – aside from drummer Yonrico Scott’s facial expressions and band introductions. “On lead vocals and beautiful afro, Mr. Mike Mattison; on keyboard and flute, Mr. Kofi Burbridge; on bass guitar, Mr. Todd-don’t call him small…but he is small Smallie; on percussion, Count M’Butu; and on the guitar…….MR. DEREK TRUCKS !” Aside from those introductions and a “thank you for coming out” at the end of the night, the band lets their music do the talking.

“Crow Jane,” a grinding delta blues tune, is one of my favorites to hear. Close your eyes and listen to Mike Mattison’s falsetto singing, and you might think it’s a woman up there on stage. I use this description in the most flattering way; the man has an incredibly diverse, soulful voice and is comfortable letting it fly however it sounds best. “Sahib Teri Bandi” is another one of my top picks, mainly because of Kofi Burbridge’s flute playing (takes me back to when I was a flutist in my high school marching band heh). “Meet Me In The Bottom” and “Goin’ Home” were both performed for the first time – I was keeping track of the setlist and they threw me a curveball with those two. I wrote this review a few days back, but my dedication to detail prevented me from posting until I found out those song titles (thanks DTB setlists!).

The highlight of the night was unequivocally the “Joyful Noise” featuring 3 percussionists, 2 bassists, and 2 guitarists. Each musician had his time in the spotlight, with Oteil reconfirming that the Allman Brothers fence him in. And then you have the interplay between Derek and Jimmy. Is there anything more awesome than the guitar call and answer? My soul just feels lighter when I’m watching two musicians at the top of their game “talking” to each other musically. Jimmy and Derek are both men of limited expression while they’re playing, but I caught Jimmy smiling in amazement as Derek did his thing, and Derek had more grins than I’ve ever seen him have on stage. All of the guys looked like they were having an insane amount of fun, and it definitely rubbed off on the audience. People around me were clutching their chests and looking up to the sky as if to thank God for this beautiful music. When the song was finished, the crowd applauded and cheered and begged the boys to return to the stage. I was thrilled to see Jimmy return with the rest of the band. The “Greensleeves” arrangement that Derek does is incredible, although by that point it made me want to lay down for a nap. Luckily, it was an abbreviated version, and they went out with a bang – “Key To The Highway.” Mike unleashed everything he had left, and Derek channeled Duane with some of the most heart-wrenching slide guitar work I’ve ever heard. I’ve seen them perform this song several times now, but I think the addition of Jimmy Herring made Derek up the ante. He gets better every time I see him.

Derek Trucks Band is on the do-not-miss list for me. The guys are playing in DC Wednesday night, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s gonna be tough for me to keep the Kia parked in the driveway!

PS: Again, a very special thank you to the great friend who made this evening possible

Friday, May 4, 2007

Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival - 4.27 - 4.29.07

My first trip to California was as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be, and the Coachella craziness was well worth every penny spent. My only complaint – I’m still struggling to process it all! Try as I might, there’s no way I can relay all of the fabulous sights & sounds. There were so many, and I missed plenty. The sleep deprivation and scorching heat apparently wiped my brain of its ability to remember things. I saw 20+ acts, and there were very few that I didn’t enjoy. Still, I had my favorites:

Satellite Party
Rufus Wainwright
The Nightwatchman
Kings of Leon
Ghostface Killah
Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Black Keys
The Roots

And of course, this goes without saying, Rage Against The Machine were as intense and phenomenal as I dreamed they would be. Unlike my cohorts, I didn’t survive the pit through Manu Chao. I thought I could hang, but I got smashed into some guy’s armpit and I didn’t want to die with BO as my last memory. I figured it was better to get out while I could still walk, so I shoved my way through the crowd. I got lucky, though (there are still kind people in this world) and ended up getting a spot in front of the crowd, on the left-side of the stage. I couldn’t see Brad, but I had a practically unobstructed view of Tom, Zack, and Tim. The crowd energy was insane, and somehow my tired, achy body was healed for that hour or so. I have never jumped up and down more at a concert. It gave me goosebumps to hear the people chanting each word along with Zack. And I have seen plenty of guitarists, but none do exactly what Tom Morello does. Say what you want about his technical abilities, he is one of the most unexampled musicians out there today (in my humble opinion).

Anyhow, I wish I could tell more compelling tales of the experience, but I’m still so overwhelmed. I will say this, though, the horror stories I read were not all true. I thought the event was well organized, there were plenty of places to cool off if you were getting overheated, bottles of water were $2 (but there were fountains where you could refill for free and a recycle program), food was consistently good, and the acoustic bleeding from stage to stage wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d heard it would be. If I ever have the time and money, I will definitely consider going again.