Thursday, August 5, 2010

Just When I Thought I Was Out... (Austin 8/4)

Or, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Backyard...

Having last seen this band in October, w/ less then exciting results, I assumed I’d exercised my demons and was released from the grip of the beast. So, when I was bombarded by emails and texts when this show was announced, I didn’t really feel any strong pull to go. In fact, I was actually a little happy NOT to be going. Having only listened to the Tony Garnier Hall tape, I knew that that first tour last fall was obviously not the height this band could reach, but the thought of paying money, to wait all day in late summer TX heat, to see (what I considered to be) the shell of some of the funnest times in my life was not exactly something that made me squeal w/ glee. Plus, I am living in Austin, where seeing good music isnt a problem

But after running into and chatting w/ the guys around town all week, I realized just how much I have really missed seeing the band (especially Tony!). I never stopped liking any of them (this goes for Dylan as well), so when a ticket dropped from the sky w/ my name on it, I figured I may as well use it, since it could be another long while before I see Tony or Stu again. It was 3.46 am Wed morning.

My mind, long out of touring shape, tries to pull together a crude list of GA essentials, none of which I seem to have anymore. I got far less sleep then I would have liked to, but still timed it so I would make it to the venue later then I’d ever gotten to a GA line before. I didn’t want to be first, and I certainly wanted to minimize time spent in a forecasted 105 (mercury reading) day. I did show up later then ever before….and I was first (ugh!)……. by at least an hour and a half Great.

For those of you unfamiliar w/ the venue, it moved from its original location (where BD played in the past) to up the road a few miles. Its hosted 2 or 3 shows at its new location, the most famous being Willie’s 4th of July Picnic this year, where they managed to run out of food, water and bathrooms early on, and it was a 2 hour wait to get to your car. To say the place is still working out the kinks is an understatement. But this ended up working to our advantage in many ways, the coolest of which being we got to watch soundcheck. Obviously we weren’t in the park for it, but there were more then a few holes in the fence/gate, and the stage was RIGHT in front of us. The first recognizable song was Cry A While, which only reminded me they very rarely play the songs they check Next was Absolutely Sweet Marie, followed by a VERY cool Cant Wait. Not a full start/stop arrangement, but one that broke for George to fill. It was incredible! Having not listened to any tapes, I cant say w/ any authority that is was a new arrangement, but I asked someone who’d done the Euro tour, and he said this was definitely funkier then it had been in Europe. I can say that it was incredibly tight, and I was a bit sad that, since they checked it, we probably weren’t going to get it. They ended w/ Don’t Think Twice. The entire check was solid, from start to finish, powerful and full, assuredly not what it was in the fall. Sound was excellent too, though, obviously, sound outside and sound inside are two different things. All band members and Dylan were easily identified through the holes, but no one could figure out who the stocky shorter figure in the dark shirt was.

It was also one of the best entrances, second only to KCMO in 08. A short brisk walk got us our pick of rail real estate, and time to fine tune that, as no one was rushing right behind you. The rail filled up slowly, as more people eventually moseyed on over. I, of course, chose to stand between Tony and Stu. Again, having not seen/ heard ANYTHING for almost a year, the word “new” will be a bit subjective throughout, but there were all sorts of new amps littering the stage; in addition to Stu and Charlie’s signature Fender and Vox (respectively), each had a 65 Royal Albert amp set up as well. Never seen those anywhere before, so unfortunately, I cant elaborate further. I’m even hesitant to say they were actually used ......

W/ a west facing stage, it didn’t matter what time the ticket said, they weren’t about to set foot up there until the sun went down, but finally that old familiar intro music snaps the crowd to attention. They strap in, and w/ a snap, they explode into Leopard-Skin. This is definitely not the Fall 09 band anymore. The sound, for the rails, is unbelievable. Perhaps a bit too unbelievable, for I must admit, when Dylan started singing, it took me a good minute to get used to it again. No no, I haven’t turned into a detractor, as much as I kid, but having not heard it for 10 months, coupled w/ the fact that this was, by far, the cleanest and loudest vocal I’ve ever gotten at the rail…… it was a bit shocking.
Once I got past that, however, I was able to concentrate more on the music. Everything was incredibly solid. No longer a collection of 5 musicians, they were once again a band. The sound stayed strong as they moved into Lay Lady Lay. And, for perhaps the first time in my life, I think I heard Donnie at a Dylan show! haha Of course, that may be stretching it a bit far, but each entity was contributing to the sound in a meaningful way. I have never really liked this song, but there was absolutely nothing to complain about here. It was just a solid rendition. There’s no critique to be had.

Tom’s Thumb brought about another interesting occurrence; a decent Dylan solo. Was it the best? No. Should he be playing guitar in this town, a town full of guitar players? Probably not. However, it was very good, completely passable, and never once sounded like he was hitting notes for the sole purpose of making noise. Again, it’s not something to marvel over, but the last time I was around these parts, a Dylan solo was something that made you cringe, and this definitely didn’t.

Stuck Inside saw Dylan remain on guitar. A less ‘inspired’ solo came, but more noteworthy, for me at least, was the sharp and RAPID decline in sound quality. Granted, no one in their right mind goes to the rail thinking that’s going to be a great sounding place, but it was almost like someone sat something on the mixing board that just slid all the way down and messed up half the levels. Stu’s amp was pointed right at me, so at the very least I should have been able to hear him pretty well, but even that was touch and go at certain points. At this point, my critiques, while I will still make them, I’m sure have more to do w/ the fact that I couldn’t hear certain parts, and wont be as applicable when I listen to the tape.

The one thing that bugged me, and believe it was during this song, though I can say for sure, is that Tony, Charlie, and Dylan all standing in a row w/ Trussarts looked like the three damn stooges! While Trussarts aren’t my favorite sounding guitar, I could understand their use here or there, but three of them, employed on the same song….. gimme a break. Like I said, the sound mix dipped sharply after the 4th song, so I cant judge one way or the other too harshly (perhaps 3 Trussarts sound really great, I cant say for sure) but visually, they looked like a damn novelty act, a Trussart advertisement or something. All I do remember about the song, whichever it was, was that Stu was on acoustic…..thankfully Trussart doesn’t make acoustics!

Beyond Here saw the stocky unidentified figure from soundcheck bounce out, revealing himself to be Ivan Neville! He stood impishly behind the keys, as if he didn’t know if he’d actually be allowed to play them, or if it was just a joke. It wasn’t, and as the band kicked in, I came to the horrible realization that I couldn’t hear the keyboard!!!!!!! &*%^^&@%$&%^@%*&%^!!!!!!!!! Just my luck, we FINALLY get someone who knows what he’s doing behind the keys, and I cant fukin hear him! Aside from that, the song was just entirely too short. Neville didn’t stick around after the song was over (and yes, to kill those rumors, it WAS Donnie on trumpet, because I specifically watched him play some. on that song)

Tangled had weird phrasing, vocally, which I didn’t much care for, and but at least I could hear Stu’s acoustic real well. This might have been the three Trussart song, since I don’t think Stu plays acoustic for Stuck, but I had not brought near enough water and the middle songs began to run together until I borrowed some water from Lily. (You know something is wrong when you stop sweating when its that hot out!) This was NOT the show to be unprepared for.

Despite the joking and the kidding, I really am ‘over’ the lineup change, and do not compare one to the other (you cant, as far as I am concerned). The only time I ever felt ‘slighted’ the whole night was during Rollin and Tumblin. Even before the first note is struck, the tech outfits Charlie w/ the old Gibson hollowbody Denny played back in 05 (looks like a 175 but I don’t think it is, check the Amazon concert if you want to see it). Oh, man Then I notice he has a slide on his finger. Really?!
Yup, the band kicks into Rollin……oh man….. Denny plays a slide that will rip your skin off, Charlie….well, if he can, he sure as hell didn’t. I’m all for putting a personal touch on a song, and he did, near the end, and that was when it was actually really nice to listen to, but his slide before that was a couple steps down from ANY version I’ve ever heard of the song, Dylan, Muddy, anyone. The last part though, where it was ‘Charlie’, rather then just ‘someone covering a song’, was great. More of that next time they play it, and it could easily become a highlight.

Tryin was where the show really picked up for me. The sound issues were not (and would not be) resolved, but by now I’d learned how and what to listen, and just simply could not get over how tight this band was! Absolutely solid. Last fall, the thing that really turned me off the most, and its bound to happen any time you have a lineup change, was the big gaping hole in the sound. Even if you didn’t know what it was, something was definitely missing. No more! Tryin has and will always be a favorite of mine, and I was glad to see it standing strong.

Cold Irons though could not have been better if it tried, in my mind. Was there one particular player/moment/etc that made it stand out? No, it just cranked, from start to finish; a polished, well rehearsed song given a powerful performance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not because of one, but because of all.

Hot on its tail, Workingman’s was another standout. The last time I’d seen this, Stu, the backbone of the song, looked bored out of his mind, and it came through in his playing; a textbook case of going through the motions. Not tonight. Highly polished, GREAT emotion, cant find one wrong thing to say about it, at all. Dylan grabbed his harp on this one, and after a terrified second that he might be about to ruin the song, that worry was quickly put to rest. The last couple of times, his harp playing struck me as touch and go, which was disheartening; I’ve always loved his harp playing, but tonight, and during this song, it was back to being exactly what the song needed. Just speaking personally, I felt strangely peaceful listening to this song. I know you can always come back, but you cant come back all the way…… but, maybe you don’t need to come back all the way, ya know?

Pagel’s sources list that Ivan Neville came back out on that song, but the more I think about it, the more I am sure that that is NOT true. Someone suggested that he came back out for Cant Wait, and I think that is far more accurate. I wish I could have HEARD him, but alas, I must admit that the second time was just the same story as the first, and just as disappointing. (I also think there is something ify w/ the ordering thus far, but I was dehydrated, so what do I know? haha The tape will clear it all up) However, being that the 2nd Neville song was (most likely) Cant Wait, that disappointment evaporated pretty fast! My only compliant was that the sound was not as good as it was outside the gates, but that is to be expected. Again, I don’t know if the arrangement was new or not, but it was new to me, and I was digging every minute of it. This is a song that definitely required everyone to be on the same page, and they hit every mark RIGHT on time. Very cool, very funky, very powerful. I was very happy to have gotten it, especially since it was checked.

H61 seemed to have no high end, only rhythm (which, believe you me, I’m NOT complaining, I could see and, more importantly, hear Tony very clearly, always a huge thrill), but that is a direct problem of the sound mix, and obviously, I cant comment on the quality of something I cant hear. The only thing I can say is that there seemed to be slightly less energy on stage, which was probably the case; these guys were drenched.

Thunder was, for some inexplicable reason, the only time I could hear the keyboards. He and Charlie “dueled” back and forth, which was kind of entertaining, but I think it would get on my nerves if I were doing more shows this tour. It didn’t necessarily hurt the song, but it didn’t help it either. I remember really liking Thunder back in Oct, it was one of the highlights, but this time, I wouldn’t call it such. I think this is just because of the higher quality of songs I have to compare it to this time.

Ballad was another, like Workingman’s, which I had been disappointed by in the fall, especially in regards to Stu’s role. His tele still delivers the bite, but the song overall has matured, for lack of a better word. Before, it was full of youthful anger and confrontational spirit, an almost punk, in your face attitude, like they’d come up and punch you in the face and scream at you, just to piss you off. That anger is still there, but more veiled, more sinister. You really do have no idea whats going on, and they will hurt you in ways you cant even dream of, so just walk away. This is one of those that everyone groans about seeing on a setlist, but when done right, it can be one of the best of the night. This was one of those times.

I don’t like LARS, ever, and Watchtower was just as rockin and solid as anything that night, definitely a high note to end it on.

Due to the strange mix where I was, I was given the opportunity to really pay attention to George. He was easily the highest in ‘my’ mix all night, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the guy. Having surrounded myself for the last year w/ a whole lot of drummers who don’t venture out of a TX shuffle (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing) it was surprising just how refreshing it was to hear that New Orleans flavor back behind the kit. When I play myself, drums become subconscious, only heard if they’re NOT working, and that’s what happened all the other times I’d seen George; he fits so well he became invisible. Tonight though, he drew my attention more then a few times, and in a good way. I’d really forgotten how much I enjoy hearing him play (even if I’m not always aware of it.)
Tony was Tony, and there’s just no one better then him. Smooth as silk, it’s always a trip to see that guy. When I quit touring, not seeing him was what made the decision hard. Thinking back now, I think WMB was the only time he pulled out the upright, which, while I would have liked to hear more from it, beggars cant be choosy.

Unfortunately, Donnie was completely inaudible again, but I’m thinking that has more to do w/ the early remix. Perhaps he was heard by those in the middle/back. My one true complaint of the night is the fact that Stu is now a COMPLETE rhythm player. “Wait a minute!” you say. “You always said you liked his rhythm playing!” And I do, I really do. I think his strength lies first and foremost in his acoustic fingerpicking, and many times that makes the song for me. I also believe that if Denny is on your stage, he should be taking all leads. Now that that is no longer a factor, I sincerely believe that Stu and Charlie need to be sharing guitar duties more evenly. This is not to say I tired of Charlie, but each guy has his own lead to bring to the table, and I think certain songs may sound better w/ Stu on lead. Obviously, Forgetful Heart and WMB need Stu on rhythm. But in other situations, Charlie on rhythm would work just as well.

Based the show in Oct, I really didn’t want to see another show again. I certainly didn’t want to pay for it. But tonight’s show was truly fun, and the band was rock solid, truly leaps and bounds above the last time I saw them. I really enjoyed the show and would gladly go see them again.

But perhaps the thing that made me happiest was that, after the show, I wasn’t driving up to OK.

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