Tue, 05/23/2006 - 6:27 pm

On a balmy Friday evening in South Florida, with relatively low (and I say lightly) humidity, I set out on the hour long drive down to North Miami Beach to see one of my absolute favorite bands, Medeski Martin and Wood. What can you say about Medeski Martin and Wood. They are by far the most talented improvisational, funk, jazz, modern, eclectic, ground paving, limit pushing trios out there. And have been for over a decade. I picked up my friend Sarah and we hit the road.

As we pull up to this bandshell right off the beach in Miami... I was questioning whether we were in the right place. It was SO small! We parked in a metered beach access parking lot and as we were looking for a space we were seeing people tailgating,this was a sure sign... we are in the right place! My people were everywhere!

Up to Will Call, no line... and once inside it was clear this was going to be a special event. It was SO tiny! Not an obstructed seat in this adorable outdoor venue. There were bench seats in the middle and around the perimeter... but a dance floor in front of the stage. I wormed my way up front and got my camera ready for some sweet shots.

The band came out just after 8pm, the sun was just setting...and they started with a wild progressive jam! It was wonderful to see them in this setting... so intimate! I love being up close to the bands I see... makes it so much more real when you can hear their playing directly from them and their instruments, and not through amplifiers or monitors or blown out speakers. They played an amazing first set... getting in their groove. John Medeski being from Ft Lauderdale, Florida since the age of five,  I am sure he felt that "home" vibe. Tan and smiling, and doing his usual alien babbling all to himself, eyes closed and all mad scientist-like, centered amidst his box of instruments, arms flying and head bopping... looking at Billy and Chris for queues... the music heightened and mellowed.

They broke for about 20 minutes and then resumed the assault. The second set, as always, was even better. Throwing out some old favorites from Bubblehouse and Shackman... they threw in some latin grooves that got the distinctly thick latino crowd moving and salsa dancing the night away. The stars were shining, the balmy sea breeze blowing... and the music was just phenomenal. Billy Martin at one point doing his trademark leaping from behind the drum kit to the floor of the stage and banging on everything from cowbells to wood boxes to metal scraps and various things he's collected from his many travels. Chris Wood started the show in the first set with his electric bass and the in the second set moved to his wonderfully deep resounding 1920 German Acoustic which resonates like no other.

These three definitely have an awe inspiring presence and energy that permeates the air around them and the stage. Almost another language as they communicate with each other by sound and visual queues... in a spiritual almost other-worldy vibe. I guess if you have been together as long as they have through the ups and downs of one of the hardest professions on the planet, since 1991 and still going strong... you would create a language all your own as well.

I feel fortunate to have seen them in this small venue together. I have seen them at festivals a bunch and individually in smaller places. I actually just saw Medeski with Skerik, Johnny Vidacovich and Mike Dillon at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans this last Jazz Fest... but seeing the trio in it's rightful state and as intimately as this, on the beach... is pure treasure... as it should be.

Wed, 05/31/2006 - 5:58 pm

Not a person sitting down! Ok let me back up….

Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove is a band out of New Orleans. Kirk is an original founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and an amazing Sousaphone (aka Tuba) player. A big hulk of a man with a light bulb of a smile and the sweetest demeanor ever… that wonderful southern gentlemanly gentle giant charm that just warms your heart. I met him last year when I helped organize a Katrina Hurricane Relief Benefit concert over two days in October at the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth . All the NOLA musicians that attended that benefit had looks of concern and worry in their eyes.. yet the music was phenomenal.

Well this time when Kirk visited the Bamboo Room (which by the way is by FAR hands down the BEST venue in all of South Florida) that look of worry was gone… replaced by a glint of happiness to be playing HIS music and on a lil vacation from the devastation of the Crescent City. When Kirk is not playing music he is helping out the Arabi Wrecking Krewe in NOLA who are single handedly restoring musicians and neighbors houses… trying to rebuild their city. Wonderful and admirable! Anyway I digress… Kirk with his band of merry men took the stage about 10pm… and opened with a resounding roar of funk that moved the room! I mean usually it takes a few tunes before people jump up and start dancing in the isles. But in this classy low lit seated listening room full of bamboo and vintage instruments hanging on the walls… a beer menu of so many varieties it takes ten minutes to decide what to try first… everyone was suddenly on their feet at the very start of the first set! And they never sat down! One tune after another… they just banged it out!

They played stuff from their latest album "Sousafunk Ave"which has all the correct combined elements to make a yummy gumbo of sound... amazing brass band funk with some serious guitar wailing and fun vocals and special guests. Just pure entertainment for your ears and your soul! And then they threw in a Miles Davis tribute (it being what would have been Mile's 80th Birthday the day prior) doing All Blues, then The Beatles' Tax Man… back into some serious funk The place was absolutely hoppin' all night long! Guitarist Hiro Mano SHREDDED all night taking amazing solos and stunning the crowd with his prowess, backed by trombone player Mark McGrain, guitarist Jake Eckert (of New Soul Underground) with amazing chops and a distinctive classic sound, and drummer Josh Day (also of New Soul Underground) who insanely enough- this was his very first time playing with this band and he hit it out of the park!  Fronted by Kirk who in traditional brass bands is usually in the back, and trumpet player Jamelle Williams who had an amazing stage presence singing traditional New Orleans tunes and getting the crowd amped… the whole show was a ball of energy!

There is a wonderful intimate music scene here in South Florida, and those of us who appreciate the jambands, the jazz and especially the music of New Orleans are always the first in line to see these types of artists when they come here. The crowd knows how to second line, they know how to party, they smile and dance all night and the energy is boundless and extremely contagious. You'd never think there would be such a devoted scene here… but don't be fooled by the outsider's view of Florida being a tourist transient state only. The locals are devoted and ready to dance… and we certainly know what we like. If there are any tickets left over then sure, tourists are welcome to join the fun! But lookout, cause we will be taking up all the room on the dance floor… it's every man for themselves!

And man… we liked Kirk Joesph's Backyard Groove! Yeah you right, Cher!

Sat, 06/24/2006 - 5:22 pm

On a beautiful balmy Thursday evening on the second official day of summer, the solstice just a day prior… the longest day of the year brought to Boca Raton, Florida a scene you don't see every day. Amidst immaculate architecture in pinks and yellow pastels as only Boca can pull off… there is an amphitheater at the end of an upscale commercially zoned block… just a mile or so from the beach.

A smaller outdoor venue unobtrusive and easily accessible, mostly general admission with grass and some balcony seats lining the perimeter. There is a stretch of grassy median with cement pavilions and fountains to lounge on running down the center of the avenue between all the many upscale stores and bistros leading to the front gate. Many nights during the year when other artists play, like Aretha Franklin, the Allmans, Widespread Panic, Jack Johnson among a huge list of folks I have seen there… people actually just sit on this patch of grass and listen to the show with coolers and lawn chairs. On one side of the street you have establishments like Tommy Bahama, Femme (a salon for the elite), Gigi's Italian Bistro where ladies may sit and lunch with their lap dogs hanging out of their purses. On the other side of the street are clothing shops average middle class folk can only imagine affording on a regular income.. And there congregating in the middle of the street on this grassy median, on this beautiful windy clear June evening … Heads galore! Tie dyes and patchouli, jeans and t-shirts, dreads and long hairs… hippies as far as the eye can see! What a polar scene! The hippies invade Bocahhhh!

And what an invasion it was! The "lot" scene outside was pretty mellow. People meandered around waiting for doors… talking about the Florida run. Boca tonight, Tampa tomorrow and Orlando Saturday night. "Are you hitting the rest of the tour?" A good friend of mine met Phil and his wife Jill at a blood drive in town that very day and was grinning ear to ear telling everyone what a sweet guy Mr. Lesh is and how cool it was to be so accessible to him. With beers in hand we all chatted about how great it was to have this come to us instead of the usual 10 hour road trip all the way up and out of the long state of Florida to Atlanta or wherever the shows take us.

Doors opened at 7pm with the sun still looming overhead and people filed in. The place was buzzing with electricity… the vibe like that of so many Dead shows I remember from so long ago. Everyone grinning and ready to boogie… bopping around to their own soundtrack through the crowd and yet everyone on the same beat. The band walked out onto the stage and I got situated in the photo pit ready to snap away. With good ol Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, Joan Osborne on vocals looking adorable in her Wizard of Oz Dorothy -esque braids and skirt, John Scofield on stellar guitar, Larry Campbell on guitar, pedal steel, fiddle and mando, Rob Barraco on keyboards and vocals, and John Molo on drums, they came out with a roar right into a rockin' Passenger. Only permitted to take pictures for the first ten minutes I was soon off the "clock" and ready to head into the crowd and boogie the rest of the night away. The first set was smokin' hot with Passenger, The Weight, Mr. Charlie, Bertha > Broken Arrow , Cosmic Charlie, and ended in a walloping bang with a seriously jammin' Good Lovin'.

With a brief interlude to cool down a bit and refresh with a cold drink… the sun just starting to set at about 9:30ish they cam back on stage right into a Jam > St. Stephen> Slipknot, Shakedown Street,  Dark Star, Eyes of the World > Dark Star, Morning Dew, and ended with Not Fade Away.  The crowd was going wild the entire set… seemed everywhere you looked everyone was dancing! As it should be! Not a dry shirt in the crowd in ths tropical humidity but the best Deadersize I know I have had in a long while for sure! Not Fade Away was a perfect end to a perfect second set.

After a brief vacating of the stage Phil came out to address the crowd about organ donorship and giving blood, recounting brief glimpses into his own bought with Hepatitis C and a liver transplant, and all the blood transfusions he was given throughout his long ordeal.  Then the band came back onstage and let loose with the encore, a screamin' U.S. Blues sung by Rob Barraco.

It felt so rejuvenating to be amidst this scene in such an odd place such as Boca Raton … the irony is not lost on anyone who knows Boca… it being quite superficial, a technicolor daydream of perpetual vacationland. To have the most earthly vibe come to town… to have it infiltrate especially one of the most affluent areas of this town to boot….  it was quite a evening to say the least. I did entertain for a brief few moments during a killer Shakedown, going on the rest of the Florida run. Sometimes being a grownup facing reality is just no fun… but for the evening of June 22 nd… I was that young free hippie kid with idealism oozing through my soul all over again!

"I want to THANK YOU! For a real good time!"

Sat, 08/12/2006 - 2:58 am
- for the Grateful Web

On an absolutely gorgeous Tuesday evening in West Palm Beach Florida after a wonderful rain to cool things off to a manageable 83 degrees… at the outdoor Sound Advice Amphitheatre, Crosby Stills Nash and Young were here in town. I wasn't gonna go… I had kind of talked myself out of it. I had seen CSN and CSNY and Neil so many times in my lifetime… in so many venues all over the US … I figured I could miss this one. Just got back from Atlanta … there is music here ALL weekend and I am still playing catch-up on sleep… I have some freelance work to get done.  But as soon as I got home and walked the dog the guilt set in...

"How often do they come to Florida ?"

"How many times do they play TOGETHER?"

"They are playing Neil's new political album on this "Freedom of Speech" tour and making a statement… you should see this… no matter the cost"

So I talked my roommate into making the trek with me… we got some extra cash just in case we could get good seats rather than be stuck on the lawn and went.


As we approached the venue with no tickets after sitting in horrendous traffic… I could hear them playing 'Carry On.' And on plastered my trademark perma-grin that I get when I am in the midst of amazing music. I had to get in there FAST! That comforting harmonizing that I grew up with was pulling me… that vibration of sound and music reaching into me and pulling at my heart strings! And Neil's guitar!  I was already SO glad I decided to go!!! I walked up to the line and we realized we had to go around to yet another gate to buy tickets… when this guy walks in front of me with two tickets in his hand holding hem up. "Are you selling those?" I said. Sure was! Decent seats! Face value! No ticketblaster service charges! WHOOPPPEEE!

csnyThis was meant to be! With the full moon rising overhead… The night was one to be remembered… This Freedom of Speech 06 is more than a concert tour. It's a three and a half hour anti-Bush political rally. As long time outspoken liberals….in two long sets they played a variety of old favorites and new statements of war and death and politics.  Videos of fallen US military soldiers were complimented by moving lyrics and phenomenal music. The foundation for the setlist is Neil Young's new album 'Living With War', a seriously venomous collection of political and anti-war statements, effective commentary on the state of the union, symbolized by a stage backdrop of a tattered and torn peace sign. The new songs spat venom at both the current White House and an unthinking consumer driven society swallowing down whatever it is spoon fed. "Don't need no more lies!" Neil sang on "The Restless Consumer," and cheers rang out… here in Bush country!

Neil's 'Let's Impeach The President' was complimented with video of nicely edited Bush's bumblings and was a benchmark part of the show. Then that statement was carried even further when 'Rockin' In The Free World' annihilated in the second half of the set. The song didn't end until every string on Young's guitar was broken!!! IT WAS INSANE!!!! Frequent guitar duels between Stephen Stills and Neil Young sent bolts of electricity through the amphitheater. And again balanced with sentimental favorites with trite messages like Stills' anthem "For What It's Worth," written in 1967 for Buffalo Springfield about issues between cops and hippies.

The songs even though more than three decades old, are still painfully potent, relevant and scream the sentiment of today with some updated lyrics. "Don't ask George Bush to help you/he's going to turn the other ear" Nash sang in 'Chicago'.

And yet to balance all the angst ridden anti-war drama tunes, they still could captivate the audience with their wonderful harmonizing with their classics. David Crosby and Graham Nash performed 'Guinivere' with just one guitar and two voices. The audience watched in silence, hypnotized by the tranquility of the song. CSN performed 'Helplessly Hoping' followed by Nash with 'Our House' and "Teach Your Children"… and Stills did my two favorites… "Treetop Flyer" and "Southern Cross"!

csnyHowever, the anti-war mes sage was still the star of this show. CSNY showed the images that the government does not want you to see, the dead soldiers in coffins draped in the flag being carried from the aircraft back home. The death counter at the bottom of the screen continuously went up through 'Find The Cost of Freedom'. "2576 Dead US In Iraq" claimed the ticker by the end. CSNY then performed the wild Hendrix version of 'The Star Spangled Banner' while a giant microphone with a yellow ribbon was erected on stage by the family of a dead serviceman and promptly saluted the mic.

Earlier, Young dedicated his new song 'Families' to all of the families with soldiers in Iraq . Later he introduced 'Ohio' with "Thank god there's no draft, folks," before ripping out the song written decades ago about the Kent State mas sacre.… and later Nash played yet another relevant tune for today 'Immigration Man'.

In the face of all that is going on in the world… it takes a band who has a historically political liberal outspoken presence to scream about the injustice of a modern world still stuck on the issues and yet the values and sentiments of the 60's. We might seem like we have progressed… but have we really? Very little has changed and the issues our parents were dealing with are still the issues of today… and CSNY are STILL helping to spread the word. Phenomenal. Just absolutely phenomenal. The energy… the mes sage… the voices… the experience! And again… not to beat a dead horse here… but as I left the venue I couldn't help ponder how songs written about another war in another era could be so painfully relevant today.