I'm somewhat of a chameleon.
I always have been. It's kept me out of a lot of trouble and allowed me to see parts of peoples worlds without actually signing the papers and moving the wife and kids, so to speak.
It's quite important in the world of performing arts; the ability to achieve an understanding of as many musical styles as possible; to retain as much as you can when you're standing in front of someone who's doing something very much different from yours. Because there's a good chance you'll run into them again and it's best to have a grasp of the dialect they speak so you can communicate when they're not on stage.
In other words, it's best to pay attention the first time so you can just enjoy the ride when it comes around again.
I went to two uniquely different shows last night.
The first one was a spur of the moment collaboration of three musicians who are legends in their respective fields. It featured The Grateful Dead's Bill Kreutzmann (pronounced: Kroytz-man) on drums, The Allman Brothers' O'Teil Burbridge on bass, and Max Creek's Scott Murawski on guitar.
All monsters. All musical gods. All worshiped by many in the world of the Jam band.
I spent many years going to see Max Creek at the Living Room in Providence. They used to play there on Wednesday nights and it was always a good time. I'd drive the 20 minutes or so to Providence, park in the lot, score whatever I wanted and go to the show. This was when the Dead were still around and the balance of hippie power was still right and just.
I kind of saw the Allman Brothers when they played with Tom Petty a while back at Riverside in Agawam. I don't remember much except stumbling out of the park and accidentally finding the car I came in. I waited there with my head spinning until my group came back. I wasn't on my best behavior that night but at least they didn't have to go searching for me.
The closest I got to seeing the Grateful Dead was in Boston in '91. I was with my then girlfriend and we tried to scale the 15 foot wrought iron fence in the backstage area not once, but twice. Both times we got caught by security. They were nice enough to not call the cops because my girlfriend was so cute. Lucky guy.
The aforementioned trio played a surprise show downtown at Pearl Street last night. My good friend Paul encouraged me to go as it was a night I would be happy to say I had been a part of for years to come. The place was packed. It had been announced only two days prior and it was quite obvious in the faces of the hippie masses.
It was as if they had been thrown a surprise party and were kicking themselves that they left their stash at home. You know, they were super excited to be there but they wish they had had a bit more warning so they could do it up right.
I'm sure a lot of the dealers there felt like they'd just won the lottery.
It was almost like a reverse intervention.
It was a great show.
They came out to little to no fanfare and took the stage. The vibe in the room was a mix of curiosity, excitement, nervous expectation and awe.
Nobody knew what would play out because this had never happened before.
They played for two hours straight before they took a break. There was a ton of intense soloing, some communal interplay, some recognizable songs (mostly Dead but not exclusively) and some rocky endings. You could tell they had worked on the intros, the verses, some unison riffing during the solos, and the segues that were sure to elicit madness from the crowd.
But, like a drunk gymnast, some of the dismounts fell short. It was okay. They were stellar and no one is going to slight them for not being perfect. Not even me.
Clueless people always amaze me. I wonder if it is uniquely American and is indicative of our lust for everything all the time; an unfortunate byproduct of our tendency to grab blindly and then look at what we have in our grubby little hands; to take first and then assess if it was worthy of the time, energy, and money it took to attain it.
Clueless people like to come up and ask me questions. Same thing with the insane and homeless. I must have an honest face.
A kid approached me in the middle of an intense jam. He was in his mid twenties; not clean cut but not exactly a dreadlocked miscreant either. The jam I am referring to was currently being held together by one of the most famous drummers in the genre; a man who had played with the Grateful Dead for forty plus years; the man whose name was in the biggest letters on the playbill.
So this hippie kid comes up to me and he says,"Hey man...um...do you know who the guy playing drums is? He's sick."
I look at him. I check his eyes for traces of sarcasm and I find none. So I tenuously tell him Bill Kreutzmann's name as if he were standing right in front of me and I'm introducing him to this guy. I didn't want to screw up the pronunciation because that would have made me almost as clueless as the kid who had asked the question to begin with.
He's still looking at me with a big, blank stare.
I say, "From...from the Grateful Dead."
And he says, "Wow...he's really amazing."
"Yeah", I say, "He's pretty good."
And he wanders away.
I still have a funny feeling he was fucking with me, but at this point I don't care. I could barely wait to share it.
Two hours later, and I'm about done. Thankfully they stopped to take a break. I said goodbye to Paul and Charms and headed out the door past the patchouli patch kids.
I used to have dreadlocks. I really liked them and enjoyed the freakout factor it had on the uptight people, but I grew up and realized that a brush feels good on your scalp, and wearing a hat is more fun when the clasp snaps in the back. So, after about 5 years or so with a natty mess on my head, they had to go. Steve Sanderson painstakingly removed them for me. He had colored them orangey blonde a couple years before. Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty rockin'. It was, and I was sad to see them go. Steve did a great job and I'll always remember that day; a return to normalcy. Sort of.
Like I said, I'm somewhat of a chameleon.
So anyway, I took off, walked about 50 feet and headed into the Sierra Grille to see Spouse.
Spouse is very much the antithesis of the trio I had watched for the previous two hours. Passionate, angular, visceral rock with an amazing frontman named Jose and a crack band of local heroes flanking him on either side.
Mark Schwaber on guitar and bass, JJ O'Connell on drums, Ken Maiuri on keys and guitar, and Jose as mentioned earlier on guitar, bass, and vocals. The old guard; the boys I came up with in this music scene over the last 15 odd years. My friends.
They were playing music I knew in front of people I knew at a place I used to go to 4 out of 7 nights a week. It made me feel immediately at home and I got big smiles all around upon making an entrance.
The songs are intricate organisms born from an unpretentious and very talented man. You can easily tell Jose loves his craft more than most. Jose writes memorable, boisterous, sometimes playful, sometimes sad, and sometimes angry pieces which may or may not be sung in English. He speaks fluent Spanish, and incorporates it in some of his writing.
The solos, when there were solos, were short, furious affairs with a rapacious, acid attack of the pick and squalling feedback; eyes rolling back to reveal a loss of intent due to a momentary rush of energy from the vibrations flooding the perimeter.
Upon Jose's prompting I volunteered to hold a stopwatch and time one of their songs. They were attempting to break their personal best of one minute forty seconds.
By five seconds.
I was told that the Kreutzmann trio show went on until almost two in the morning. If I want, I'm sure I could hear the second set from one of the many people taping with high priced digital recorders and microphones. It's probably already online for the masses who missed it.
And I'm sure I could catch the part of the Spouse show that I didn't get to see from the people I knew there who were recording the show for their own edification. All I have to do is ask.
So when I say that the two shows I saw last night couldn't be more far removed from each other this is what I mean:
At the first show there were three guys from different bands and different parts of the world. They were on an unfamiliar stage playing other people's music to fans of the genre in general.
I probably wouldn't have gone to the show if either of them had been playing solo. It just wouldn't matter to me.
At the second show there were five guys, all from a small town. They were on a carpeted floor in a club as inviting and comfortable as your living room playing the frontman's original music to people who were fans of them in particular.
Nobody came up to me asking who the singer was. His name wasn't on the posters but we all knew him. Although his band was the draw, I would have gone to see him if he were up there all by himself. We knew his name because he's been slugging it out on his own terms for a very long time.
And instead of checking my watch to see if the show was almost over, I was holding a stopwatch to oversee a test of brevity.
Get in and get out and get on with it.
I'm glad I made it out to the big hippie show. It was a special event and I feel privileged to live in a town where this kind of thing would be possible; a town which can sustain two very different kinds of shows for two very different kinds of music fans.
But as I walked home through town at 1:45 in the morning, there was only one band's music that I was humming to myself.
The band I'm definitely going to go see again.
The band who was as happy to see me as I was them.
The band that made this chameleon definitely feel like he fit in.
Thanks for reading,