Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Last Days as a "Teenager"

So there I was, sitting out in New York, the supposed land of opportunity, which was quickly proving to be anything but. I needed out, but I sure as hell didn't want to go back and sit around in my piss ant little town. I was stuck in a no win situation……that is, until I saw that Doyle Bramhall, one of my all time favorite artists was playing a few shows in Arizona! Now, I don't want to say that I dropped out because of these shows haha, but lets just say my bags were packed soon afterwards. 

Just as in New Orleans earlier this year, I was forced to get in contact w/ the club and try and work something out in order to gain entry (I can be shipped to a foreign land to kill and die against my will, but I cant listen to the music of my choice w/o setting of a chain of emails from here to Uzbekistan). Unlike New Orleans, however, this place was far less willing to work w/ me. The date was fast approaching, and, w/ nowhere else to turn, I called in the favor of all favors; and it was settled! I would arrive early and help load in, therefore appearing to the venue as a member of the crew. Words really cant express how grateful I was (and still am haha). There really wasn't too much to do, the two actual crew guys seemed to have a pretty good handle on things, but I did whatever I could, and was got the chance to talk to some cool folks. I was hoping on the off chance that Denny would be playing, since Dylan isn't on tour right now. He wasn't, but another guy from the 3-D Blues Band was; the bassist Jim Milan! Actually, aside from guitarist Nick Curran, the band was completely different then the one I'd seen him w/ in NOLA, I'd heard of the other guitarists (Casper Rawls and Kirk Fletcher) but wasn't familiar w/ their playing, and I was pretty excited to finally be seeing Jim in person, so when we left at 7 for doors to open, I had high hopes.

Just an aside, but I think when hell freezes over, the devil will live in Phoenix……. and he will complain about how hot it is! The high that day was supposed to be 100 (I believe it), but when we left the club, it had been dark for at least a half an hour, and it was still hot as shit! When I got back to my hotel, or whatever informed me it was still 97. Who willingly takes up residence here?!?!?!?!

When we all went back, we found a fairly packed house, which is never a bad thing. I stepped back from moving a folding table, and felt a tap on the shoulder. A younger looking guy, looking a bit uncomfortable, attempts to look tough while wringing his hands.
- Uh, are you, actually, like, 21?
- What? (I'd forgotten that I wasn't technically supposed to be there)
- Have you turned 21 yet?
- I have to be here…
- What was that?
- I have to be here. I work for these guys. (He stares at me.) I'm the Merch Guy (my predetermined "title" in case something like this came up), I have to be here. This is my job. Ask those guys.
- Oh, I see. I'm sorry.
Yeah, you better just keep walkin there haha. Nah, he was just doing his job too, and after that incident, no one bothered me for the rest of the night.

The show started on a very high note. They opened w/ Lost In The Congo and the people flooded onto the dance floor. They all seemed to really dig the first few tunes, which include Shape I'm In, Sugar, and Dyin W/ The Flu, but they really seemed to calm down after that, content to sit at their tables and sip their beers, which is really their loss, why anyone would sit through The Hunter, or I'm A Bad Boy or, for fuck's sake, Thunderbird (!) is beyond me. The band absolutely tore though. Casper is really an exceptional guitarist. He's the guy a lot of Dylan fans like to pretend Freddie Koella was, except this guy can actuallyplay! (also a very nice guy, which I'd find out later). Kirk too, played a mean guitar all night. For a few songs, Freddie Cisneros sat in, and regret that I cannot comment more on him, but a wild cat was loose that night, and I was trying not to be a complete asshole about it haha. House Rockin and Change It (predictably) got the crowd moving a bit more, as Stevie co-writes usually do, but overall everyone was a lot mellower then I'd originally pegged them for. Again, their loss, because it really was an excellent show all around.

I'd originally planned to make the 4 hour drive to Bisbee that night, but instead opted to just stay an extra night in Phoenix when, at 2 am, I still wasn't out of there yet.

Bisbee has got to be one of the most interesting little towns in America. A copper mining boom town build literally into the side of the hills, it reminded me of pictures of an Italian villa, and the guys who I was w/ who'd actually been to Europe concurred. It was really nice the next day when everyone was gone, but when roughly 3000 people converge upon it for a one day festival, things can get a bit, erm, cramped. Luckily my car isn't much bigger then a Shriner's parade car, so I can put it almost anywhere, but I felt sorry for the poor saps eternally circling the full lots. If I may make one suggestion to the festival organizers, its that they put a sign up when a lot is full.

Supposedly, Bisbee is one of the most haunted cities in AZ, but it seemed the only thing to have died around there are cell phone calls; literally one end of a bench will have service while the other side (less then 4 feet away) will get nothing. You'll be walking around a corner and suddenly your pocket will come alive w/ all the voice mails and missed calls you've accrued, but when you need to make a call, you'll never have service in the same place twice. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have cared, but when you're in a larger group and cant get a hold of anyone else, it becomes a bit of an issue.

None the less, tonight's show was great as well. Not too many changes to the previous nights set, but the crowd was FAR more into it, dancing and cheering and carrying on. At the last minute, a video camera was sprung on me, so I tried to get some interesting shots, but I hadn't had any time to think about it, and I had a bitch of a time just figuring out the zoom, so apologies in advance should you ever find yourself watching my footage haha The band was still in top form though, and was easily the best act of the day. If you're any sort of fan of good music, you really owe it to yourself to seek Doyle out, trust me on this one.

I spent the next day just hanging out w/ a couple of friends, wandering through Tombstone and whatever, just generally being tourists. We'd gotten there too late to actually see one of the gunfights they put on, but still got to look around and see where various folks got shot, died, partied, etc, etc, etc as well as places to buy refrigerator magnets! haha It was a blast.

My only regret is that I did not see any ghosts. The first night I didn't know, but the second night, my friend told me that the hotel I was in was one of the original in Bisbee. I was in one of the original rooms where all the Wild West shit took place, and as such, it was supposed to be haunted. I didn't hear anything, see anything, imagine anything, no specters, no spirits, no apparitions…….the damn floor didn't even creak all night! What a drag! haha

Even though staying in town the extra day meant having to drive from the edge of the country across the barren wasteland known as AZ on my actual b'day date, I could not have asked for a cooler or more fun way to spend my birthday weekend then the way I did, easily the best birthday I've ever had. Nothing I could have been doing in New York could even have hoped to compare to this. Words cant express how much I appreciate all that was done for me. And it occurred to me, somewhere between the vast expanses of baked dust and the cactus covered hills, that this almost didnt happen. I almost never talked to Doyle down there in New Orleans that afternoon in April. I actually turned around and walked away before I went back in. I didn't think someone of his caliber'd care what I'd have to say……..

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Final Blowout (Park City, 8/31)

First appeared here-

Upon learning that this gig was to be played at Deer Valley a few weeks ago, I actually briefly considered not going. Deer Valley is one of around 4 ski resorts that still does not allow snowboarders on its slopes. The last thing I want to do is support something like that. However, it was Dylan (and the band! :P haha), it was close, it was GA, and, well, c’mon, its Dylan!

I arrived early enough to be able to wander around on the stage. It was tiny! The stage itself was only maybe a foot and a half tall, and very small. It was deep, but the audience was on the ski run, meaning a hill, so there would not be a bad spot to be had. It was cold, grey, drizzly, and the sprinklers were having their way w/ the only spot w/o grass; right in front of the rails. Still, you could tell we were going to be in for a major treat. 

Soon after, the road crew arrived and made us go back to the line. And oh, what a line it was. Aside from the group I was traveling w/, there weren’t but one or two “regulars”, yet the 7 lines grew fast and furious, stretching all the way back to the parking lot many, many hours before doors, I’d never seen such a large and (relatively) gung ho bunch of locals. Most were pretty mellow, and the guy next to me actually saw Tony a lot back when he was w/ Asleep At The Wheel.

The first problem to hit (aside from the sprinklers watering the stage) was a massive power failure. At first it wasn’t too bad, they still had time, but as the day waned on and the power still had not returned, both the crew and the audience began to get edgy. Would they cancel the show? Would they play a replacement date? I cant come back for that! Will they play acoustic?!?!?!?!?! Why cant you use the generators? Why are the bathrooms so dark? haha A quick walk up the hill proved the prefect vantage point for the janky way they went about setting up the rails. There were cables jutting up out of the ground holding the canvas roof on that clearly had to be walled off, but because the stage itself was so small, there were only 2 barricade pieces that were parallel to the stage, the rest angled away to form a U. You would have to run down a ramp off the ski patio, up the hill, around this U, and back down into the pocket of the thing, which wasn’t very big to begin w/. Sounds like a worthy challenge haha. The best part about it was that the bathrooms were up there, so the crew couldn’t stop you from going and looking, further stressing out the guy in charge :D

As for myself, it wasn’t a bad wait. I was able to sit in the shade and type up my KC review, and have a relatively normal conversation w/ one of the merch guys. We’d sort of become forced friends after seeing each other day after day after day during the week haha. Security was really cool too, they were all relatively young and would give me the heads up when I needed to duck the stressing stage manager (apparently shade is reserved for those on the payroll as well :roll: ). Thankfully the power came back on and they were able to start soundcheck (and open the downhill bathrooms, no doubt making his life a little easier).

By the time they got around to opening doors, the rainstorm that was being meticulously followed by those in line finally reached us. It had just started to get wet when the head ticket taker slowly and calmly walked by, instructing in a quiet voice “start taking tickets”. I ripped my own ticket again and tore off. There was only one person in front of me; some arrogant local who’d been drinking all day and was really starting to become an assh*le, claiming how his ringers were going to grab the whole rail for his 30 friends that showed up right before doors, etc, etc. You know the type, so it made what happened next even better. The venue guys, as is their job, begin yelling “Slow down, walk, don’t run, you’re the first ones , you have plenty of time”……so this mookactually starts walking!!!!!!! I fly around him and yell “no, you’re not!” (If he wouldn’t have been an assh*le all day, I wouldn’t have, but this was too sweet.) Stunned, he begins chasing me, lets out a war cry (?) of “AYE YEI YEI YEI !!!!” and aims for my left, where there appears to be a space between me and the walls around the cable… only to be blocked by the trashcans!!!! My lead grows. I get around the handicap pen, take a sharp left, and, by some miraculous stroke of luck, actually SEE the tiny white twine stretching 2 and a half feet off the ground. Not to brag, but w/ the agility and grace of, I don’t know, a gracefully agile person (?) haha, I slide underneath it and hit the rails first, with quite some time to spare! The most fun run in I’ve ever had! I turn around and get to watch the chaos that is the rest of the crowd as they sputter up and around the corner. If I was a tech I’d be standing center stage each and every night to watch that, as it sure is a sight. Luckily the grass hadnt beome slick yet, but to someone who’s lungs aren’t accustomed to such altitudes, I’m sure it was a pretty massive hill.

The rains begin, hitting hard as they often do up that high. Just about every single tech and crew guy came out on stage to watch; I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many together at one time like that haha. We are on the cusp of the canvas roof, so we don’t get the worst of it, but we are still anything but dry. We begin listing all the songs he can/should/(but in reality probably) wont play, and come to the realization that “what Dylan songs don’t have to do w/ rain?” haha

When the instruments are finally unwrapped and the boys strut out, what else could they have opened w/ but RDW? (From what I was told ;) ), Dylan seemed happy, and Donnie, George and he seemed to sharing the greatest of jokes among themselves, grinning the entire time.

I couldn’t believe my ears when they started into Masterpiece, I had to be wrong, there’s no way, it cant be! It was! Its plain to see that the energy from last night is still alive w/i them, and the sound isn’t anything to shake a stick at either. We were standing just right of the PA tower, and the intro music was squealing pretty terribly, but Papa seemed to get things under control, from where I was the bass was pounding into my chest all night. Tony was playing the hell out of the thing too, throwing in interesting little fills all night, but as always, just smooth as hell. Chalk another night up to Tony. I’m glad to see him moving better. While not necessarily bouncing off the walls, he wasn’t standing in weird positions or moving about in slow, uncomfortable ways. (I don’t know that I’d be able to see a Dylan show w/o T :shock: ) Denny again only has the gold Gibson on stage, but its really grown on me this past week, so no complaints from me. Donnie played pedal for this one, and at the end, beaming from ear to ear, he yells to Dylan “I got that one!” Uh, go Donnie? ;) :P

Was taken completely off guard by Not Dark Yet, which was incredible. Sounded a lot like the album version, but more haunting, more real almost. Million Miles was equally powerful. And then it happened. Desolation Row. That was the one song I was happy to have never seen. Every single tape I’d ever heard of it just completely ruined it. That was a song for a young man’s voice; I don’t even particularly care for 70s versions of it. However, tonight’s didn’t bother me (and I was listening for anything to be wrong w/ it). The vocals weren’t particularly clear, but they weren’t horribly garbled either. But what really got to me was the music. The music has never been what attracted me to that song, but it was really moving tonight. I don’t remember one particular person standing out more then the others, but everyone just seemed beautifully on point, really the whole night, but for that song in particular.

Levee, which should have been predicted but wasn’t, was its usual rockin self, putting Stu was back on his Tele, which had been conspicuously absent for the past couple of nights. After that, another one out of left field; She Belongs To Me. Again, not one that I look forward to seeing, but above and beyond a solid performance from everyone. Honest absolutely BLAZED, Stu on lead, even twisting and writhing during his (impressive) solos, after which he went back to acoustic for Simple Twist.

Since the stage was so low and so close, I began to get a little uncomfortable just staring at my normal two (that, and I’d been staring at them for the past three nights now), so I got the chance to observe a little bit of the dynamic between the whole band, and I cant maybe help but wonder if Stu on rhythm for so many years is actually putting him into position for something more. This guy knows the songs, inside and out, and it is he, not Tony, who Denny watches for cues. He is the only one that Dylan is not in the position to keep an eye on, and last night it seemed Tony would play/show a few of maybe the more tricky parts straight to Stu. I’m not saying anything one way or the other, maybe its always been that way but I’m too busy watching stage right, but that guy really is a rock back there, and perhaps his stage position is not one of subordination, but rather of trust and reliance.

Our final surprise of the night came w/ Queen Jane, and there’s nothing I can say about it that I havent said about the rest of the show, absolutely incredibly playing from every facet. The performance level matched the setlist on this one, incredible song selection; but even more incredible playing on each and every one of them! It was such an honor to have been there (sorry to rub it in :P).

The rain clouds came back sometime around H61, but they were really bearing down after Thunder (which, by the way, was the BEST version of Thunder I’ve ever heard!) and turning especially where we were into a muddy quagmire. When the lights went down, Denny and Tony turned their backs and messed w/ their equipment, but otherwise readied themselves for the next song; everyone else was putting their instruments up. Could it really be the end already?!?! I couldn’t believe it! More! We need more! They’ve only just gotten into it!

The came striding back out a very short while later, launching into one hell of a LARS, Denny on Strat and seeming to be doing a more bluesy job w/ that song then he usually does. The lights went down, and we expected to be greeted w/ “hello, friends…..”. Instead, the lights came up on Bob and the boys in that familiar line-up. What?!?!?! They cant end it now!!! Those bastards! Get back here and play some more!!!!

But, of course, they didn’t. It was raining harder then it had all day, and the wind was shifting in such a way that a very nice Tungsten amp would have been soaked in a matter of minutes. I’m sure the temperature had something to do w/ it as well. Even w/ the 4 heat lamps on stage, you could see their breath all night. My ears were hurting and fingers were cold just being in the audience, so I can imagine how cold they were up there.

Whatever mud had accumulated on me during the show instantly washed off on the trek to the parking lot. It was coming down hard and heavy, and you’d probably have been a little drier had you just jumped into a swimming pool w/ all your clothes on. 

It had been completely worth it though. The last week had been one of the funnest I’d ever had. I had just done 4 shows in 4 states in 5 days. I’d experienced the complete pantheon of weather, I’d had the easiest GA run-in, and one of the more difficult ones. I’d sat in row Z, and I’d clung to the rails, I’d been everywhere but the electric chair, seen everything but the wind ( ;) ). And as much as I really wanted to continue on to Las Vegas, I was just as happy to be leaving the tour. They have it easy, they have beds, they have people to drive them, they’re guaranteed the best spots in the house.

4 states in 5 days on your own is exhausting!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Back On Top (Aspen, 8/30)

First appeared here-

Given the off-kilter feel of the KC show, I was uncertain about what to expect as I started out for Aspen. A lightening bolt lit up the clouds as I rounded the corner into Kansas, illuminating the busses puttering along. I fly by, wondering if that cinematic image was a good sign, or meant instead that we were heading for a stormy performance.

The day of the show did little to ease my apprehensions. The short of it was; even thought I’d arrived early, I had to leave for a few minutes, and when I came back, they would not let me back into the lot, would not sell me a parking pass, etc, etc. I ended up having to park at the next lot……..roughly a mile up a very large hill. No one could agree on a time when I would be able to buy one, etc, etc. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind, but this was a festival and the doors were opening at 2. I didn’t want to walk up and down the damn mtn in the hot sun all day, as it was a pretty long run up to the rails and I’d need energy, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be at the top of the road should they open doors early. I tried to stay positive, but it was unnerving nonetheless. 

The other thing bothering me was the stage setup. While I commend Jazz Aspen Snowmass for setting up the VIP area length wise rather then width-wise in front of the stage, they really set it up on the wrong side! I enjoy standing in front of Denny and Tony, but that was all taken up by the VIP area and the center was cordoned off as a security path back to the soundboard. This could very easily have turned into a bad deal for me, and was starting to give me a bad feeling.

That feeling was not helped when my line’s scanner wasn’t working. Surprisingly, there were only 2 people ahead of me once we got inside the festival grounds, both from my group and both doing nothing more then jogging. While the thundering masses did eventually catch up to us, I did get my spot; squeezed into the far left corner of the commoners’ pen haha. 

The opening acts were awful. The first chick seemed to want to be a mid-80s Angela Strehli, but it wasn’t happening. Her right handed guitarist contributed NOTHING. I don’t know, she might be a real entertaining act in a smaller room, w/ a bunch of drunks who just want to dance and have a good time, but no one was really having any of it there.

Ziggy Marley was, above and beyond, the absolute WORST act I have EVER seen! I don’t get reggee music, but I went at it w/ an open mind, and G-d, was it bad. It was as if he opened a book of clich├ęs, flipped through it, took 2 or 3 lines out if it and said “there, that will be my song!” I’ll spare you my long rant, but there were 9 musicians on that stage, and none of them was doing anything even remotely interesting. The most interesting thing during that whole set was when Tony wandered into the wings and talked to one of the Dylan crew guys hanging out there. Literally. I tired to keep myself entertained by watching the rich yuppies dance around, which, don’t get me wrong, was great fun, but I kept getting sucked back by an INCREDIBLY terrible line. G-d, I have never lived through a longer hour and 15 set. Grrrooooooooooooooooan! At least during the Strehli wannabe set I could sit.

By this time, I am really not feeling better about the show. I’m in a bit of a bad mood after enduring that auditory torture, and just praying that whatever was plaguing them in KC, that they were able to work it out.

They predictably opened w/ RDW (for some reason he always opens CO w/ it). I am not in a bad spot, maybe 3 or 4 people to the left of being completely in line w/ Dylan, but I think a whole lot of people got screwed into watching his back all night.

Denny’s strat appears to be working fine this night, and holy shit, does he put it to work during the second song, Baby Blue. Blew the water off the KC version, and his solo, man, I could not stop smiling the entire time. It was one of those like the Senor in Dallas, that just completely grabs you and wont let go, absolutely slayed it. If you haven’t figured it out by now, that is how a guitar should be played! Its clear as they charge into Most Likely that they’re a completely different band then the were in KC. Everyone is on top of their game and its clear my worries were unfounded.

The next song sees Donnie strapping on his banjo. My guess is High Water, or possibly Ma. I am wrong though, as he begins to play those oh-so familiar chords. ‘Nope,” I think to myself, as I being to bop to the music, ‘Cry Awhile”.

Cry Awhile!!! Oh shit!!!!!!!! The world comes to a screeching halt, and I can do nothing but stare mouth agape as Tony not only plays the album version (on electric), but above and beyond it. He goes up, down, left, right, backwards, forwards, all over that fucing neck! That is his song and he knows it. He is once again proving he is the master of that instrument. I can hear Denny playing a really scorching solo over there, but I cant tear my eyes away from those 4 strings. The sound is incredible. I never want the song to end, I cant describe the feeling. I am not delusional, don’t get me wrong, I do not think I influence, sway whatever, the setlists in any way, but that was the song I asked Tony about in the parking lot back in May. That was my whole reason for walking over and talking to them. That was the arrangement he forgot. In our shooting the breeze, it came up that I was from Colorado, and there he was, in my home state, playing it!!!!! Again, I have no delusions that it was “played for me” or anything like that; it was simply a coincidence, but man, was it the best coincidence I’ve ever experienced!!!!! I’m still amazed I saw it. That was really one for the ages in my book. After that song ended, I could have been struck by lightning and I’d have still be on cloud 9.

Cry Awhile seemed to kick off something w/i the guys, and pushed Mobile to a completely different level then it usually resides in. Same for Love Sick, every song had that extra something behind it.

Tweedle saw Stu’s first lead of the night, and from the incredible sound, I could tell he was really tearing it up. Unfortunately, all I could see sticking out from behind the Leslie cabinet that let me know he was there at all was his head and the curve of his guitar’s head stock, nothing else. :?

I could continue commenting every song, but they’d all say the same; this song f’n rocked!!! These guys were on fire the entire night, from standards like H61, to the ones the set watcher drool over, like UTRS and Visions. At the encore, someone pointed out that we had not had one MT song. Impressed, we were sure that would change w/ Thunder, but no! I didn’t miss them during the show, but I do hope that they aren’t slowly abandoned.

Even the yuppies, who I was sure wouldn’t be the least bit concerned had a blast, standing and dancing like the rest of us. The sound was perfect, and for such a tall and deep stage, they were very visible. Not only were they back on top, but they had something to prove. This show is easily one of the top 3 shows I’ve seen, and more then made up for the parking and Ziggy Marley bullshit. I couldnt have asked for a better last show in Colorado.

No bolts of electricity this time as I pass the band, just the glow of something green on the TV outlining a head leaning against the window, but you don’t need to be a genius to know that the next show is going to be incredible!