So a belated dropping of the other shoe on the Fox shows, a week out, re: night 2…
First off I would be remiss if I failed to mention how grand it was to see the ABB on the left coast, in the house with the BAABBA, an extended family who put out a web of welcome throughout the place. You know who you are.
I had found the first show to be one mofo of a rewarding experience, almost too generous with lush offerings of “Jessica,” “Rocking Horse,” Dreams, and “Mountain Jam.” How to follow up this heavenly show?
And as it turned out, the answer was with an earthy show. Night one was all air and water; night two was earth and fire. Which of course means the blues…
Done Somebody Wrong >
You Don’t Love Me
New Instrumental >
The Sky is Crying
Come and Go Blues >
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
The Same Thing
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Leave My Blues at Home
Imperceptibly, the tuning and tinkering has fallen into a shuffle, and you realize the show has begun… and that soon the shuffle will resolve into “Done Somebody Wrong.” Warren plays nice, round jaunty runs. Then a jumping, economical (that means short) “You Don’t Love Me,” followed by the just-so story of “Midnight Rider.” Then the band rolls out their new instrumental. The theme has a kind of Zawinul vibe, making me wonder if maybe Oteil is the writer. Warren looms large, playing some burly, muscular lead like he’s clearing a forest. Both nights I had a sense– very likely imagined– that Warren was enjoying this respite from the Dead, with whom he tends to play in an ambling, less immediate and more exploratory style, reveling in the straightforward ass whup of the Brothers and the blues (to be clear, I’m a fan of both). Derek takes a while to fall into place on his section, but of course finally he does, drifting closer and closer to Oteil until some musical magnetism has joined them like Siamese twins sharing a heart. I think I’ve seen every public performance of this piece thus far; tonight is the best I’ve liked it.
Then the drippy-slow, classic archetype Chicago Blues intro to “The Sky is Crying” (by Warren I think, but don’t hold me to it.) Warren grinds out some earthy soul, then rocks you like your back aint got no bone. Derek lays some slide over Gregg keyboard testimony, he goes all slippery, staying barely on the blues tracks but pulling you out of your seat. Finally Warren goes back into the vocals, defiant… the crowd loves it. Oaksterdam knows its blues.
A breezy “Come and Go Blues,” then Warren is up again for “Schoolgirl.” More manly blues. It’s one of those nights where the band makes the blues something big, larger than life, like a freight train of redemption that rolls over you and lays you flat. I don’t think anyone else makes the straight blues this powerful… Derek stretches out on the outro, ringing into toffee. Warren changes axes, then pushes him with chording and body language, until you can’t stop the train, have to let it roll on… then it crashes, and back into the riff, spot-on, the crowd releases a collective ovation, then vocals and out.
The set closes with “Whipping Post,” all the way down to the deep dark bluesy bottom. They did this the first night of the Clapton sit-in at the Beacon, and like then it makes the first set feel like a whole show compressed down. Derek and Warren spray some whupass, then Oteil leads them off on a light, nimble excursion, Marc accenting over the top. Derek meets him with lines that question at the “Post” melody, then he stings and floats. Oteil goes way down low to grab the bassline and give it a good yank to call it all home. A perfect end to a set that sears through the jet black night of the soul, lights the sky with fire…
The density of the first set and the fact of the Dead being in town between gigs makes us all think that something is up for set two; “I smell trouble” says Becca, twitching that adorable nose. But no…
“Revival” opens the second set. A nice sprightly version; after it’s done it gets interesting. Warren is a cool breeze; then he pulls the whole band through a keyhole, and on the other side it is “Revival” but inside out. The music makes some “Jessica”-style white light, then of course it barrels back to a right-side-out “Revival” from this side.
The first chord of “The Same Thing” is tossed off, hangs there a moment alone as an invocation, then the song chugs on. Oteil does his thing in the middle, taking the reins, and now he’s turned it from Chicago blues into funk, an adjustment that turns out to require only the most subtle of tweaks. Derek and Oteil merge their beams, then Derek wanders over to Warren, brings him the mojo. Derek and Warren do a fiery dance to close; bam! A highlight.
The crowd adores “Dixie;” Derek is like a noble eagle. On “Leave My Blues at Home” Derek and Warren meet up in the middle of the stage and just wield the hell out of this *****. Then another bam! “Dreams.”
At the Fox run in September 2004 “Dreams” was the only song repeated across three nights– they played it at all three shows, but each night a different guitarist took the lead, told the musical story of the song. I commented on the diversity of repertoire to Warren after the last show: “You only repeated ‘Dreams’ across the three shows, but…” and he finished my sentence for me with a mischievous cackle: “but they were all different.” And of course I understood what he meant.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying that this is the one song repeated from the night before, but on air night Derek played it, so of course tonight, on earth night, Warren plays it, and it is different.
Warren, the band put out the music like it’s nourishment, bracing, and it pushes you back even as you soak it up. The band shimmers and shudders on return, which amazes and delights the assembled congregation… and the born-again waltz back down the mountain. The song is big, hard-hitting… and totally different from last night’s read, which floated me off downstream. This one pins my feet to the floor.
The music spills out after the song ends, and I remember Johnny Flash’s imagining of Butch’s direction to Clapton on March 20 as the band prepared to segue from “Dreams” to “Elizabeth Reed”: “We don’t stop here!” And they don’t, so you know where this story is going. Finally they roll over into the song. It is the dreamiest number of the evening and I get lost in the music, a sea of dark blue… Warren plays some blue flame. The music falls away into the four-man drum solo, Butch up front, Oteil on Butch’s kit. Then back into Lizzy and out. “Southbound” is the inevitable and somewhat anti-climactic encore.
After the show there was a dichotomy of opinion amongst the cognoscenti on which of the two nights was best; the split was interesting, with almost everyone having a distinct preference. Me, I think I liked the first night best. But we’re splitting hairs here. The two shows taken together were a yin/yang presentation, both great, and which one you liked best was a function of which mode speaks to you best– air or earth. Two outstanding shows, one the perfect compliment to the other, two sides of a precious coin. When these suckas are available for download (I’m making that assumption because they were selling the CDs for takeaway at the gigs) I’ll be able to luxuriate in them at my leisure and decide for sure which I prefer. Although I’m pretty sure the answer will be, “both.”