Monday, July 2, 2018

2188 Stoll Road ... How A Big Pink House Changed Our Musical Roadmap

Sounding less like a polished choir than a wandering militia, they appear displaced, out of time. The voices have no discernible connection to the moment the record arrived in 1968. They might as well be selling elixirs from the back of a horse-drawn rig, moving at the slow, deliberate pace of backroads rural America in the days before [farm-to-table] artisan shallots. ~ NPR - Fifty Years On, The Band's Music From Big Pink

When Rick Danko agreed to a $125 a month rent for a house with a big basement on Stoll Road in Saugerties, he thought he was just renting a place to relax after some time on the road with Bob Dylan. Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson were enjoying some normal time after being on the road for so long as The Hawks. Woodstock's mystique and intriguing vibe along with a changing time in music helped to hone a sound that would become The Basement Tapes sessions with Dylan. The band without a name was already well known in the music world, and being called Dylan's Backing Band would only get you so far on your own. The Basement Tapes churned out songs such as This Wheel’s On Fire, Tears of Rage, I Shall Be Released, The Weight, and Chest Fever. The songs were an amalgam of soul, rock, jazz, rock, and a new simple sound to counter the psychedelic sound coming out of the UK in the form of Led Zeppelin. Americana was conceived at 2188 Stoll Road in the big pink house. The Band was born there.

In 1969, Rolling Stone referred to them as the band from Big Pink. And then name that Robbie Robertson suggested finally stuck and The Band was officially born. The aura of that summer and that time is captured in Music From Big Pink. Levon Helm's return to the band solidified the powerhouse. 

While Tears of Rage, This Wheel's on Fire, and I Shall Be Released were written by Dylan, The Band was able to showcase their own song writing ability. Also showcased was their range in vocal talent as each member took a turn at the lead vocals. No, it wasn't perfect. Their voices were straining, but their intentions were pure.

One cannot deny the historic impact this album would have on rock and music history. If you don't believe me, believe Eric Clapton and George Harrison. It is told that Clapton disbanded Cream when he heard Music from Big Pink to create something more authentic. And in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of The Band, he admitted going to Woodstock to ask to join them - but he never did. Harrison and the other Beatles also appreciated the simple and pure sound enough so that...well just listen to The White Album.

Fifty years ago,  our music became more simple but more complex. The lyrics were true and well thought. The sound, a composite of the roots for Americana. The Band was catapulted to their proper place outside of Dylan's backing band and into their own realm. Music from Big Pink is a fundamental rock album.

Tears of Rage
To Kingdom Come
In a Station
Caledonia Mission
The Weight
We Can Talk
Long Black Veil
Chest Fever
Lonesome Suzie
This Wheel's on Fire
I Shall Be Released

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I See The Lights Of Home - U2 Innocence and Experience: Madison Square Garden Night 2

(c) P Squared

Not really sure what to expect from the latest U2 tour, I went in half jaded about the same set list for every show. No lack of stunning technology, the flashy screens and Madison Square Garden length stage, those four high school mates from Dublin gave an opening set of what was to me, Spark Notes of the Innocence Tour. A unique opening set got the entire Garden going through the catalog of cd’s in their mind. The surprise of Gloria won me over, of course. 
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  Then something strange and ephemeral happened. I got the experience bit. Bono’s Mad Hatter-Rattle and Hum-esque persona started to sound familiar. Sound a bit and look a bit Macphisto. The gold lamé and red shirt replaced with some eyeliner and face powdered...the message of Experience became clear when the disco ball and Pop lights appeared. When the first chords of Desire opened, the whole cliché was an epiphany in front of me. However, Macphisto was timely and I was
(c) P Squared
waiting for a Face Time with a foreign leader or exiled writer. (Reference Zoo TV and Bono’s infamous satellite calls to presidents and celebrities mid-show). With the perfectly apt Staring at the Sun into Pride (In the Name of Love) - Bono demonstrated his 1987 experience of telling America about America (missed opportunity to play Bullet the Blue Sky, in my opinion). For an Irishman, Bono has always loved what the idea and ideal of America is. He cares.
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Preachy for some, many should listen.
The amalgam of Innocence and Experience was felt tonight - but it was more than the last two years. It’s been 25 years of going to the church of U2 for me. I have been to the water,
the castles, the stadiums, and the areas. The message always remains the same: 

Dream while wide awake and eyes wide open.

(c) P Squared

SETLIST: U2  Madison Square Garden 6/26/2018
Set 1: Love Is All We Have Left
The Blackout
Lights of Home
I Will Follow
Gloria (Replaced All Because of You)
Beautiful Day
The Ocean
Iris (Hold Me Close)
Cedarwood Road
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Until the End of the World

Set 2: Elevation
You’re the Best Thing About Me
Staring at the Sun
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Get Out of Your Own Way
American Soul
City of Blinding Lights

Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way
13 (There Is a Light)

Monday, June 4, 2018

I Think We Broke Time - Ten Years Since My First Bonnaroo

Bonnaroo -- Are You Alive? Tell me How Does It Feel To Be Alive?
~Metallica, Fade to Black 2008

I had heard of Bonnaroo - I didn't know if I could handle "that much" jam music. I admit - as I have been called a music snob (by my husband - because he is the only one who could get away with that) I admit that I was a little leery of a four day jam festival. I had a great time in 2003 in Music Midtown Atlanta. It was a good mix of all different types and decades of music: Def Leppard, B-52's, Dylan, Buddy Guy, Les Claypool, Govt Mule - you get my point. I can't listen to too much of one thing for too long - my brain just can't hack it. After a concert - I can't listen to that band for days. After Faith No More this summer, I went home and listened to Amy Correia. Maybe something ain't wired right up there, but that is just how I am.

In the winter of 2007 I agreed to blindly buy Bonnaroo 08 tickets, knowing that I would at least know our friends from Dark Star Orchestra playing there. To the disappointment of Bonnaroo purists - 2008 was not going to be filled with jam only bands. The metal gods, the grunge gods and the rock and roll gods shined their light down upon the fields of Manchester TN and gave me the following main stage line up: 

Metallica, Pearl Jam, My Morning Jacket, The Avett Brothers, Sharon Jones, Jackie Greene, Dark Star Orchestra, and Robert Plant -- to name a few.
I could not get to Tennessee fast enough.

In 2008 Bonnaroo had  found the perfect mix of jam, rock, blues and crazy. Read on.

Thursday night, after these Brooklyn kids finally put their studio sized tent up, we ventured off to see some new bands before Dark Star Orchestra went on. I have to admit - there is a communal-ness to Bonnaroo. The town lets us make them the third largest city in Tennessee for four days and there are only a few common sense rules: don't kill anyone, try to keep all your clothes on, share your things and say sorry if you step on someone. I had to say sorry a lot the first night as I was not prepared for so many people just lying on the ground.

Two great acts went on before DSO: Nicole Atkins and the Felice Brothers. Amazing performers!! Nicole is a Jerseyite with a killer voice and the Felice Brothers made their way from singing in NYC Subway Stations to a good gig at Bonnaroo (if you like the Band and are fond of whiskey - I highly recommend these guys).

Now, I had seen our friends perform a gazillion times before. That night would be special since they sang Tennessee Jed and it automatically became the anthem for the weekend. It was also super sweet to see our friends play the festival. We would hang with Dino, one of their drummers, for the rest of the festival. First night in and I knew I would like the festival. It was time to get some sleep - for tomorrow, Metallica would play.

Umphrey's McGee

Saturday I was able to finally figure my way around the farm without a map. So many great bands played! Umphrey's McGee, Drive By Truckers, the Raconteurs, Les Claypool, Willie Nelson, to name a few. The hours tick tocked by until finally, the time had come. I don't really think Billy knew me 100 percent until the moment Chris Rock said these words: Are you ready for Metallica!!

I transformed into the adolescent skate board punk teenager and screamed every word to every song. Dino couldn't believe I knew all the words. I am sure that when Billy heard me shout Die, Die, Die at the top of my lungs during the opener Creeping Death, he had seen it all. Every song but one or two were from the Black album and back. The Bonnaroo crowd loved it! I loved it.

I hadn't seen Metallica in a while and they had the energy they did in the early 90's. Billy enjoyed it for two reasons, I am assuming. First, because he saw what the music did to me. Second, they played Nothing Else Matters, a song that was played at the funeral of his firehouse brother, John Florio, after 9/11. John was a huge Metallica fan and everyone around the firehouse knew it. Even James Hetfield, lead singer of Metallica knew it. He penned a letter to John's widow after reading his bio in the NY Times.

Saturday was a day of new bands and performers I had never seen play live. I was able to see Little Feat and Levon Helm in The Other Tent. In the band lounge with Dino, I kept on asking who was playing outside on the Which Stage. I didn't know who Gogol Bordello was but I was determined to find out. I was not prepared for insane time that would follow. Gogol Bordello are a gypsy punk band with members from everywhere. They play, what my friend has deemed, hard rock polka. Their jams are contagious. Fiddles, girls in red spandex banging drums and cymbals, a lead singer straight from the Ukraine via the Lower East Side, accordions (this was like the year of accordions, I swear). I began to dance with a kid from Manchester Michigan. It felt like we were flying as we attempted to keep up with the music. At one point, he looked at his watch and proclaimed: I think we broke time. My watch isn't working.

I went back stage as soon as they were done to share with Billy and Dino my new favorite band. Dino (the drummer) was in an all out Guitar Hero dual and Billy was talking to a writer for High Times Magazine. I wanted to move to Bonnaroo!

Pearl Jam hadn't played a festival since the 90's when eight kids were crushed to death at a festival in Europe. That, mixed with the political climate of the presidential election, I knew this would be a great set full of emotion. 

This set would contain one of my top five favorite live moments in my 40 years on this planet. 
Pearl Jam was tight that night. Eddie again and again commented how great it was that so many people could get along. We were 100,000 strong - a small town as he called us, before he went into that song. Billy went off to take a nap as Dino and I watched into the third hour of Pearl Jam, Release, Porch and Hail Hail were given to us like gifts from Andrew Wood, who I am sure was looking down at his former band mates from Mother Love Bone and smiled fabulously (as only Andrew could).

From Pearl Jam we were on to see Phil Lesh and Jackie Greene (who we had seen on the Sonic stage earlier in the day). First we had to find Billy and make sure no one stepped on him while he napped (how do you nap during Pearl Jam?). I wanted to stay up all night because tomorrow was the last day of Bonnaroo!! We left as soon as Phil and Jackie ended and went back to our tent.

Sunday was like Christmas, the Fourth of July and my birthday all rolled into one. That day, June 15, 2008, I would finally see Robert Plant. I left Billy and Dino to go and see Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi while I staked out the perfect seat for Robert. I should also note that Alison Kraus was playing with Robert. Not that I don't like her, she is an amazingly talented artist but I was biased. I had to see my Golden God of Rock and Roll. 

Then it happened. At 6:15 (Bonnaroo is always on time and that is awesome). Robert and Alison strolled onto the stage singing Rich Woman. I knew that the audience was split 50/50 for who they were there to see. We were so close to Nashville so a lot of folks came out just to see her. My kneed buckled. I was in the presence of Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zeppelin. Singer of all of those songs you made out to in high school. Wearer of too tight pants and apparently buttonless shirts. I was awed for almost two hours. He sang Black Dog and In The Mood. They sang the Battle of Evermore together. It was quite a unique experience to sing Down to the River with 50,000 fans.

I didn't want to it end. Sadly, after watching Widespread Panic at the What Stage, it was time to move on. It was a perfect festival. I was with my husband, friend and 100,000 people who love music as much as we do. We sang, we laughed, we met new friends, we ate, we drank, we saw bands that made us remember memories of the past. For four days in 2008, I was a citizen of the third largest city in Tennessee. I go back each year to the farm, as we call it. It will never be the same as that year, but going back always evokes those memories of that first time I went to Bonnaroo. True to its Creole name, Bonnaroo is a really good time.