The first night of February seemed doomed for a mediocre turnout. For reasons unbeknownst to me, this incredible musical collaboration that included Eric McFadden, Norwood Fisher, Willie Waldman, Paulo Baldi, & the legendary Mr. Herman Green was moved across town to Donkey OTs. You may remember in 2012 when Banyan opened up Sunday at Summer Camp with Green and Waldman. That live collaboration including Stephen Perkins, Rob Derhak, and Clint Wagner as well.
This lineup performed an early set the previous night opening for Stir Fried with Michael Kang and Allie Kral. The move for Saturday seemed silly for a number of reasons. Let’s take a step back. Firstly when a bar is known as Quixote’s why on Earth would anyone name another venue Donkey OTs? (Say it phonetically, I know it took me a second too. DON-key-0-Ts). Well apparently that complaint has not fallen on deaf ears, as it will be transitioning to the name of Darkstar Lounge at some point in the not to distant future. Secondly, as usual this show was so under promoted that the turnout beyond friends and family could be counted on two pairs of hands. This is nothing new of course, but when they had a perfectly good model from Friday night why change it up? I can only believe that someone actually cares about the venue and wants to provide good talent. It isn’t exactly clear to me what situation caused this show to be moved.
So for the record lets take a second and evaluate who was in the room to play music. Eric Byron McFadden is a guitar virtuoso from the psychedelic school of San Francisco. His background in traditional jazz, Gypsy, Flamenco, Punk, Rock, and more has given him the ability to play with absolutely anyone. McFadden’s history with drummer Paulo Baldi, of Cake and Les Claypool’s Fancy Band, fame goes back to 1994 when they were in the group Liar. Baldi and McFadden currently play together in the Eric McFadden Experience when they get the chance. Willie Waldman is a founding member of Banyan and an amazing musical collaborator who has performed live with everyone from Jane’s Addiction to Snoop Dog. One of the founding members of the seminal west coast cult band Fishbone, John Norwood Fisher was there to lend his flawless bass skills. Last but most certainly not least Herman Green, this guy has played with everyone from Dave Brubeck to Miles Davis to John Coltrane. He is the founder of the influential Memphis group Freeworld, which was a band from Waldman’s formative years. I said all that to ask why would you move this group to club on Federal with no advertisement? That’s too much talent to waste on a show that literally no one knows about.
That being said, the room itself was a spectacular place to see a live performance. The bar was being refurbished so bottles of beer or mixed drinks were the only option. That was of little concern. The venue is also home to the New Speedway Burger, which isn’t half bad. The back wall of the room is one long row of windows giving an unmatched view of Sports Authority Field and the Denver skyline. The nondescript wood paneling façade in the front did very little to indicate the picturesque scenery. In fact they have had their most profitable days when the Broncos were playing across the tracks. The room has plenty of space and if they finish the bar and get a few local micros on tap this could be an extraordinary place to see live music.
This impressive collaboration began around 10:30 PM and it was a primarily instrumental journey into the musical madness of these five players. The rapport between Baldi and McFadden was palpable and indicative of their two decades of experience playing together. Waldman has been sort of chaperoning Green around the country on a tour that began in early January. The pair had a performance with Wilco’s Nels Cline in New York and have been continuing out west. This tour has been an unusually lengthy run for the aging duo. Waldman appeared a bit more subdued on this particular Saturday than his normally boisterous self. That may or may not have been a result of the turnout.
The show began with a huge bass solo from Fisher, which served as a launching pad for Baldi. McFadden gave us searing guitar solos throughout the night. His incredible technical ability and versatility with his instrument are simply something to witness. He has been called a ‘modern day Hendrix’ and I don’t feel that’s too far off. Baldi was given the opportunity to jam on the dirty funk jazz for two sets while Fisher continued to systematically slap out the rhythm. Green and Waldman took turns lending their horns to the fill. Even at his ripe old age of 82 Green can still nail the solos that he has been playing live for sixty years. Waldman bounced in and out occasionally riffing with his old mentor.
The two sets of music were inspired and went well past 1 AM. At one point a local guitarist joined the group for a few jams. Waldman once told me, “I don’t mind playing to the dirt.” Meaning he’s down to play whenever and for whoever shows up. However I can’t help but feel this band would have been better utilized playing a co-bill with Stir Fried and Genetics supporting. All that being said and despite the lack of a crowd this show was awe-inspiring. These five talented performers fell into a freeform rage and the venue was an experience in itself. I look forward to a time when this room will be properly promoted and the day when music of this caliber will get the attention it deserves
After an incredible start to their Colorado run in Fort Collins, Floodwood spent a few nights taking in the beauty of the mountains. They rendezvoused with east coast buddies Assembly Of Dust for a two-night stand at Cervantes. This is like a dream show for me. AOD is a rare visitor to this state on top of the fact that this was Floodwood’s first trip here as well.
This show was billed as brought to you by Jambase, ListenUp Denver, Marquee Magazine not to mention the 11th anniversary of Cervantes. Sisters Of Soul, Ultraviolet Hippo, Atomga, and Tori Pater’s Big Bad Band filled out the lineup over on the Other Side. The Great Guys featuring members of The Congress, Yamn and The Whales took the opening slot on the main stage. All that being said it was also the same weekend that Railroad Earth booked two nights at the Fillmore just up Colfax. The RRE fan base directly intersects with the Floodwood and AOD audiences, in fact many of my friends opted to do a night of each.
Night One: Assembly of Dust and Floodwood with The Great Guys 1.17.14
We arrived, as The Great Guys were finishing up their set. Scott Lane stood tall shredding the guitar as fellow member of The Congress Chris Speasmaker matched him at the keys. They wrapped and Floodwood quickly took the stage. They opened up with their instrumental “Whiskey After Breakfast” into their homage to the natural beauty of Upstate New York, “North Country Winds.”
Set 1: Whiskey After Breakfast> North Country Winds, Anyone But Me, Holy Sacred, Chillicothe Clouds, Revolving Door, Long Way To Virginia, Stoney Creek, 9 lb Hammer*, Instrumental Jam*, Roll On, Stomp It, I Know You Rider, Follow You Into The Dark, In The Graveyard, Jazzy Jam, Cumberland Blues
*w/ Chris Pandolfi
This was a co-bill show with Floodwood drawing the opening spot for the first night. The boys from New York State treated us to ninety minutes of unadulterated acoustic bliss. The combination of their hard hitting originals “Holy Sacred” and Nick’s Summer Camp inspired “Chillicothe Clouds” was a big high point from a great set of music. Their moe.-esque “Revolving Door” gave way to their more traditional sounding “Long Way To Virginia.” Floodwood invited Infamous Stringduster Chris Pandolfi up to add his picking skills to the mix. This was the first of many unexpected treats from this band over the weekend. He sat in on the classic “9 lb Hammer” as well as an extended instrumental jam. Floodwood kicked it into high gear with “Roll On” and “Stomp It” before giving fans a bluegrass rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider.” “Follow You Into The Dark” was a deep, Al sung romp about conquering fear with love. The band gave us “In The Gravelyard” before going into a jazz-infused instrumental tune. They closed their set with another Dead tune, “Cumberland Blues.” This was just a really fun set of music with bassist Zach holding it down along with Vinnie absolutely sticking it in the pocket. Al is always a focal point but the back and forth between Nick and Jason is not to be overlooked. This set was a great, but it only did a little to foreshadow the epic-ness that would be their headlining set on night two.
Assembly Of Dust is such a rare treat in Denver. They just don’t tour too far beyond their home base in the Northeast. However, the last two years we’ve been lucky to get the band out for a night or two so maybe we are seeing a new trend. Formed by ex-Strangefolk front man Reid Genauer AOD is an Americana band that plays with an emphasis on rock and roll. You could call them Heavy Folk… ehem. After a Kickstarter funded release of their latest album Sun Shot last year they seem to be open to playing around more. Since their initial formation they have had some turnover on percussion and keys but the core three of Reid Genauer, Adam Terrell on lead guitar and John Leccese on bass has always been same since their inception. Their show at Cervantes was everything that fans have come to expect from this underrated group. They opened with a sublime “Samuel Aging.”
Set 1: Samuel Aging, Bootlegger’s Advice, Weehawkin Ferry, Zero To The Skin, Man With A Plan, Tavern Walker*, Deal*, Sun Shot, Lost and Amazed, Truck Farm, All That I Am Now, Whistle Clock, Bus Driver, Roads
Encore: 40 Reasons, Harrower
*w/ Al Schnier
Reid has an innate understanding of song craft as well as striking the right balance for ebb and flow. Peaks and Valleys are his specialty and the set got off to a rocking start a forceful “Bootlegger’s Advice.” By this point the room was full with the upstairs being closed off. I’ve seen this done at other venues but not at Cervantes. It kept the kids on the floor and made sense given attendance. The dual ticket for the night also allowed people to float back and forth between shows at The Other Side. So at any given time half of the audience could be next door. That being said the majority of fans were there for Floodwood and AOD. Finally the herd seemed fully assembled by “Weehawkin Ferry.” The band brought it down a little with the bouncy “Zero To The Skin.” AOD pulled out a classic with, “Man With A Plan” before they invited Al to sit in. The funk gospel sound of “Tavern Walker” exploded into a huge psychedelic jam with Terrell, Crosby, and Schnier all trading licks. They transitioned into a crowd-pleasing version of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” Apparently it was that kind of a Friday night. Next we were given the delicately bluesy title track to Sun Shot before they went into the equally arresting “Lost and Amazed.”
After a rowdy “Truck Farm” AOD performed what has become their anthem, “All That I Am Now.” I had been chatting with an older gentleman who told me this was the first Assembly of Dust song he ever heard and he fell in love. I could see that. Another long jam came with “Whistle Clock” which eventually gave way to sentimental “Bus Driver ” that featured Crosby’s violin. They closed their almost two hour set of music with a punchy “Roads.” They came back with a two-song encore “40 Reasons” into an incredible “Harrower.” It was a great night of music in 5 Points. My hope is that the lighter turnout caused by the other show doesn’t’ sour the bands on performing in Colorado. It’s bound to happen in a place so saturated with live music opportunities. Not to mention that this is the time of year that winter and spring tours are in full swing. That being said it was a pair of top-notch performances from two bands who are a rarity in this state. Both Floodwood and Assembly Of Dust brought the heat. On night two they would trade places and things would get a little strange.
Night 1 Gallery
Floodwood and Assembly Of Dust with The Great Guys 1.19.14
Night two was a literal flip of the coin with Floodwood taking the headlining spot and Assembly Of Dust supporting at Cervantes. Again we arrived as The Great Guys were wrapping up this time sans Chris Speasmaker. They were a rocking, rowdy group that seemed an odd amalgamation of all the bands that they were comprised of. I ducked next door to catch a bit of Ultraviolet Hippo and met up with J-Man and Carly from MM. We chatted briefly as the Michigan progressive rockers melted a little face with their fiery brand of jam. During set break back over at Cervantes we got chance to do a little video with Floodwood for all the Summer Campers. I’d like to give a big thanks to Zach, the crew the band that made it a quick and easy shoot. After a drink AOD was taking the stage. The room was about equally as packed as the night before. They opened with an incredible “Valhalla.”
Set 1: Valhalla, Edges, Harrower, Vaulted Sky, Rachel, Elixir, Cluttered, Growin’, Love Junky, Arkansas Down, Honey Creeper, Second Song, Sinner, Speculator*
*w/ Al Schnier
Reid’s powerful vocals floated over the crowd as the night was flicked into second gear. The brooding “Edges” came next with its deliberate and straightforward progression. “Harrower” was nice but “Vaulted Sky” went big. Crosby pulled out his violin for the hoedown that was “Rachel.” “Cluttered” was a simple rock tune off Sun Shot, but “Love Junkie” was a funky highlight. Adam Terrell has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in all of jamdom. His intricate picking along with his intense attention to detail combine to give him a leg up on most players. The bubbly track “Arkansas Down” is just another example of how strong Reid is as a songwriter. “Honey Creeper” was dark and raucous, but “Second Song” was all tenderness. They gave us a tight “Sinner” before they invited Al Schnier out for the set closing “Speculator.” Al and the boys joined in an embrace and took a bow before they all wandered backstage. Assembly Of Dust continues to be a high water mark in the world of Americana, Folk, and Rock. Their knack for crafting infectious tunes, with intricate and substantial lyrics keeps me coming back. If given the chance, go see this band you’ll thank me later.
Finally, it was time for the main event. Floodwood took the stage for what would be an epic three-hour throw down with several unexpected twists and turns. Jason led the charge on “Spend Some Time.”
Set 1: Spend Some Time, Red Hill Road, Somewhere In Kansas, Spoon Kicks, Promised Land, Friend Of The Devil, Magnolia Row, You And Me, 315, Blue Eyed Son, I’d Fall For You, St. Regis, Hello Woman, Everything Here, Jambalaya On The Bayou*, Waiting In Vain*, Molly & Tenbrooks*^, Rocky Top*^, Working On A Building*^, Me And My Old Banjo*^
Encore: The Hobo Song
*w/ Briget Law
^w/ Tim Carbone and Andy Goessling
This set was an absolute barnburner for all those lucky enough to be in attendance. Railroad Earth had a sold out show at the Fillmore on Saturday, so it obviously hurt ticket sales a bit. Nonetheless Floodwood delivered one of the best shows I’ve seen in quite some time. “Red Hill Road” demonstrated the bands bluegrass skills. The Al penned “Somewhere in Kansas” about a road trip to Colorado after a TransAmericans show at the Iowa State Fair invigorated the crowd. (Ironically I was as that show.) They proceeded to bust out the old TransAmericans track, “Promised Land.” We were all treated to another Grateful Dead tune, this time “Friend Of The Devil.” I like a band that’s not afraid to toss in a little Dead. The beautiful “Magnolia Row” is a bluegrass variation of the intro to moe.’s “Tambourine.” They performed the playful sounding “You And Me” before their homage to their hometown area code “315.” Floodwood pulled Al’s “Blue Eyed Son” which has been in the rotation more on the road with moe. We got the Nick sung “I’d Fall For You which was a nice treat.
This is about the time where things began to get crazy. Suddenly Al is welcoming the lovely and talented Bridget Law from Elephant Revival to the stage. Law and Schnier got the chance to play together last summer at the Everyone Orchestra show that preceded Phish Dick’s. They went into Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Jambalaya On The Bayou.” Law and Piccininni battled back and forth on the fiddle before they went into Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain.” Suddenly Al hands his guitar to Nick and races off the stage. The band continues with their bluegrass reggae stylings as a sound guy appears. It’s obvious some shit is going down. Al reemerges from the darkness as they finish the tune. Keep in mind is was already around 2 AM at this point. Al proceeds to welcome Tim Carbone and Andy Goessling from Railroad Earth to the stage. That’s right we had a full-blown clusterpluck on our hands. And this was not the type of cluster pluck where 15 pickers stand around waiting for a solo. No, this was a pluck with laser beam focus and amazing stringed prowess.
After some tuning and hand shaking they went into the traditional “Molly & Tenbrooks.” They blasted off into “Rocky Top” as the dwindled audience boogied. I looked to my tired wife and said, “You know I’d go, but… “ And she simply nodded in agreement. “Working On A Building” featured a three-fiddle standoff as Carbone, Law, and Piccininni fired up their bows. Law retreated and let Carbone and Goessling finish up with “Old Banjo.” A solo Floodwood encored with “The Hobo Song.” Honestly I may be missing a song or two in there, as the setlist kind of went out the window when you have so many welcomed guests. Needless to say the late night sit-ins were a lot fun and proof again of why Floodwood needs to keep coming to Colorado. They obviously have a lot of friends out here, Al is volunteer Ski Patrol in his home state, and Colorado loves bluegrass… I could go on. This was a spectacular night of music and a really unbelievable combination of bands to play in this great state. Happy 11th Anniversary Cervantes, let’s hope we have at least 11 more.
Night 2 Gallery
Night two of my clandestine run started with a rendezvous in Denver and a quick cab ride over to the Fillmore. It was during their gig at Red Rocks that Umphrey’s McGee announced that they would be doing three nights on Colfax for New Year’s. They too subsequently announced a private VIP show for the 30th at the newly renovated 1 Up. The fact that the 30th was initially left open by YMSB, SCI, and UM lead many including myself to speculate that there would be a benefit on par with the 4 Mile Canyon show. However this did not come to pass, but I can’t help but feel that we missed a real opportunity for some incredible fundraising and some unforgettable collaboration. So it goes. I arrived just moments before Dumpstaphunk hit the stage and opened with their own funk explosion “Everybody Want Sum.”
Set 1: Everybody Want Sum, Blueswave, They Don’t Care, If I’m In Luck, Put It In The Dumpsta, Dancin’ To The Truth, Immigrant Song
Dumpstaphunk is a band directly descended from the New Orleans funk tradition. Led by multi-instrumentalist virtuoso Ivan Neville, the lineup is literally a super group of funk masters. Nikki Glaspie on drums with the three-pronged attack of Ian Neville, Tony Hall, and Nick Daniels III on guitar. This unique array of musicians allows for some amazing give and take. Their anthem to positive thinking, “Put It In The Dumpsta” was one highlight in a full and funky hour-long opening set. They closed with a smoking version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” that seemed to properly welcome everyone for the night’s festivities.
Dumpstaphunk is a great addition to any bill, but they were especially fun at The Fillmore. After a quick instrument change the lights dimmed and Umphrey’s McGee emerged from the darkness. This show was being streamed live and the room was just short of capacity. They opened with the Kris Meyer’s tune, “Flamethrower.”
Set 1: Flamethrower> Mulche’s Oddessy, Miami Virtue> Plunger > Day Nurse, No Comment> Plunger, Nemo> Dear Lord> Nemo, Dump City*
Set 2: Der Bluten Kat> Amble On> Der Bluten Kat**, Wife Soup, Ringo, River People^
*w/ Ivan Neville on keys
Joshua Redman sat in for the entire 2nd Set and Encore
**w/ Jaden Carlson on guitar
^First Time Played (Weather Report Cover)
The band bounced along almost innocently before ripping into a face-melting “Mulche’s Odyssey.” The prog-tastic “Miami Virtue” always makes me feel like I’ve just been plopped smack dab in the middle of a dance off scene in a John Hughes film. Plunger went dark and flashy before they dipped into a sneaky “Day Nurse,” which featured some sick synthesizer work from Joel Cummins. The song broke out into a tight but frenetic jam, which dissolved into funky “No Comment.” In classic Umph fashion they went succinctly back into “Plunger.” The somewhat rare “Dear Lord” jam during “Nemo” was a very nice touch. Umphrey’s invited Ivan Neville out for their set closing “Dump City.”
Umphrey’s diverged into a world of deep and intricate jams for set two. I’ve talked before about the magic of six song sets. It all began inconspicuously enough with a textbook “Der Bluten Kat” opener. However the segue into “Amble On” and back into “Der Bluten Kat” contained some of the most poignant and extended jamming of my entire New Year’s run. The inclusion of Joshua Redman on sax for the entire second set obviously added a level of class, but more than that it elevated the entire band. Umphrey’s has performed with a number of different horn players over the years, but Redman is simply a powerhouse of sophistication.
During the return to “Der Bluten Kat” the boys also invited local guitar phenom Jaden Carlson up to shred with Jake and Bayliss. For those that don’t know this kid is akin to a young female Derek Trucks. Just barely a teenager she is playing gigs many three times her age would kill for. She is definitely one to look out for and it’s awesome that Umphrey’s McGee took the opportunity to invite her up to play. “Wife Soup” was massive and contained perhaps the best back and forth with Redman and UM of the show. The “Ringo” was sublime and again went to the deep end. They closed with a debut of a “Weather Report” cover “River People.” It seemed to fit the mood of the evening very well. The encore again featured Redman for a fully realized “1348.” For many the 29th night may have lacked the pizzazz of the two following nights. However, Umphrey’s McGee is one of the most technical and musically elaborate bands touring today. Their show on Sunday was like bowing down at the altar of funk, jazz, and progressive rock. The genre bending and the amazing collaboration was definitely worth the price of admission.
Denver was a busy city on New Year’s Eve. The String Cheese Incident was playing their 20th anniversary show just outside the city while Pretty Lights was headlining EDM extravaganza, Decadence in the heart of downtown. Umphrey’s McGee, on the other hand, was wrapping up a four night New Year’s run at Fillmore Auditorium. I hadn’t caught an Umphrey’s NYE show in over two years and there was truly no place I’d rather be.
I arrived at the venue just before the show started. My road beverage turned to liquid gold as I waited in a line that wrapped around the Fillmore and into a quaint Denver neighborhood. Luckily it wasn’t too cold outside, or maybe it was the alcohol, but everyone was feeling pretty good, until we heard the crowd roar from within the venue.
Frustration and panic washed over my face. With each note that followed, the pain burrowed deeper into the pit of my stomach. I realized that this was probably my version of hell; being stuck in a line outside a venue only to hear the empty echoes of my favorite songs being played inside while energetic lights escape from a securely guarded door.
The line moved slower than expected and I ended up missing the first forty minutes of the show, which included “Le Blitz > Phil’s Farm > Ocean Billy”. Therefore, the first official song on my New Year’s Eve setlist was a sassy “Mail Package” that Jake Cinninger soulfully delivered. It was followed by a thrashing “Wizard Burial Ground” that Brendan Bayliss comically dedicated “to all the lovers out there.”
Umphrey’s ended the first set of NYE with a debut of a never before played original, “Bad Friday”. This song was probably the highlight of the show. With the help of Mad Dog’s Filthy Secret on horns, Jake’s familiar soul riff finally took flight. A catchy backbeat turned this new Umph tune into straight-up pop music. From the first notes, a disco dance party formed under glimmering crystal chandeliers, which seemed to float above the crowd.
I love being present when an original song is played for the first time because it puts everyone on the same level. From the most avid fan to the kid experiencing their first show, no one knows what will happen next. It made me recollect the first time Umphrey’s played “Puppet Strings” at Summer Camp and my visceral reaction to hear it over and over again. I predict “Bad Friday” will be Umphrey’s bust out song of the 2014; much like “Puppet Strings” was in 2011.
Second set was much stranger than the first. A horn section, appropriately labled Mad Dog’s Filthy Secret, added a deeper level of weird to Umphrey’s musical landscapes. The sounds engulfed me since I was wearing a pair of headphones that streamed live soundboard audio. My previous experiences with Headphones and Snowcones convinced me that this was the best way completely submerge myself in the live music experience. So why not rock them at Umphrey’s biggest show of the year? The headphones demanded my focus be on the music throughout the first set so I chose to venture through the crowd alone during the second to get a better view of the stage.
I felt like an island surrounded by people, something that further enhanced my response to Umphrey’s debut cover of “Twilight Zone”, which also included teases of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. I zoned into the way Jake commanded his guitar while Brendan attempted to catch the rhythm. It all felt like it wasn’t adding up so I started making friends with the strangers around me and eventually found myself covered in Umphlove stickers.
Songs like “40′s Theme” and “Booth Love” were done justice by the addition of horns, while ”No Diablo” finally got a chance to dig deeper into its Motown roots. Umphrey’s ended the set on a high note with the most unforgettable cover of the night, Phil Collins’ “Sussudio”. Once again, the strangeness crept in as I recalled American Psycho’s analysis of Phil’s work. At this point I began to realize that maybe this weird feeling was strictly subjective.
Third set began just before midnight with an insane version of “Hurt Bird Bath”. In keeping with tradition, Umphrey’s had never played this song into the New Year. Jeff Coffin, along with the rest of Mad Dog’s Secrets, amped up the energy of “Hurt Bird Bath” like I had never seen it before. The insane build up of the song made me appreciate the true meaning of “rage” in how it relates to the actions of a raving maniac.
By now I had found most of my friends standing right in front of the sound board in the center of the ballroom. This spot provided the best view I experienced all night. Light designer Jefferson Waful was perched on a tall platform just behind us and his devotion to symmetry made the room’s visual landscape just as stimulating as the audio coming from the headphones.
But when the countdown started, I removed my headphones. This was not a time when I wished to block out the rest of the room. Umphrey’s provided all the elements necessary to engrave this moment in my head for the rest of my life. Balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling. My focus switched from the stage to the people around me. Smiling from ear to ear, I hugged my friends and wished them the best in 2014.
Whimsical swirls of energy surrounded us as the band ventured into the New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne”. After spending a handful of past New Year’s Eves with Umphrey’s, I knew this was coming. I even looked up a few verses of the song before the show in preparation, so when I heard those first few notes I belted out the lyrics as loud as I could, greeting 2014 with a song.
It was all so intoxicating; the music, energy of the room, glow of the lights, and smell of weed becoming legal. At midnight Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana, something I never thought I’d experience in my lifetime. It made me feel like I was part of something BIG just by being there. New Year’s always offers a fresh start with limitless possibilities, and this was no exception.
The rest of the third set was pure perfection. “Hit It and Quit It”, a debut Funkadelic cover, provided just enough raunchiness to everyone’s juices flowing. I turned my headphones over to some friends so I could share the experience. The look on their faces was of pure ecstasy.
The night ended with an appropriate “Resolution” encore that jammed out the New Year’s classic, “Auld Lang Syne” and eventually segued into Kool & the Gang’s “Funky Stuff”. Umphrey’s was once again joined by Mad Dog’s Filthy Secrets to conclude the long night of music on a high note.
While strange, the night felt perfect in every way.
Moe. has reliably made Colorado a part of their annual winter tour schedule since the late 90’s. This year was no exception. We were treated to two nights of the boys from New York at what has become their winter home in Denver, the Ogden Theater. Moe. at times has had trouble gaining a real foothold in Colorful Colorado. The dedicated .rons will always make it out. Despite being full for both shows, neither night was completely sold out. This particular run happened to fall smack dab in one of coldest streaks we’ve had in Denver this year. As we drove down from Fort Collins, the mercury was dipping well below zero.
moe. with Magic Beans 12.6.13
The Magic Beans are a Boulder band that has made great strides in developing a devoted fan base on the Front Range. Their bouncy jam infused sound is wholly approachable and quite enjoyable. They opened with their original, “Luck” that featured Casey Russell trading licks on the keys with Hunter Welles on guitar.
Set 1: Luck, Dying Day, Who’s Crazy*> Zumbai
*w/ Con Te Patiro tease
Their four-song set stretched to just under an hour as the crowd quickly filled in to just under capacity. Their set was a great demonstration of what The Magic Beans do well. A very clean show that culminated with a huge “Who’s Crazy.” The version was a great musical juxtaposition of their tight but relaxed sound and the frenetic rage jam that they are also known for. It also had a striking Con Te Patiro tease. They finished just before 10 PM. Keep an eye on these guys, as they continue to develop and reinvent themselves with each live performance. They are a lot of fun.
Fans that went outside were slapped in the face with a frostbite inducing -8 degrees. Many opted to hunker down and wait for moe. They opened with a healthy “Tubing The River Styx”
Set 1: Tubing The River Styx> The Pit> Kyle’s Song> Bear Song, Lost Along the Way, Tailspin> Timmy Tucker
Set 2: Big World> Ricky Marten> Time>Hi and Lo, Oh, Hanukkah, McBain> Down Boy> Billy Goat
Encore: Spine Of A Dog
Audio by Chuck Miller
Moe. brought the power early. “The Pit” went to the dark side and allowed the boys to flex their musical muscles. The band simply exploded into an amazing “Kyle’s Song.” The jam stretched on filling up an entire twenty minutes with multiple teases including a sly riff on Birdsong. And without missing a note the band launched into a sinister and intense “Bear Song.” They gave a nod to Lou Reed with a “Walk On The Wild Side” tease. It just seemed like the band was really having fun, which will always transmit to the crowd. Fans were finally able to catch their breath during the slower, Al sung “Lost Along The Way.” They went back into high gear with a tight “Tailspin” before the very suitable closer “Timmy Tucker.” This first set of music was at a very high caliber and a great indication of what was to come.
During the break kids debated weather a smoke was worth the bone-chilling cold. Others simply mingled with their neighbors. After a short wait they came back to the stage with the brooding classic “Big World.” Moe. wasted no time by segueing beautifully into a ridiculously funky “Rickey Marten.” The unexpected highlight came in the form of Pink Floyd’s “Time,” which has been played sporadically since 2000. After a brief “Hi and Lo” they busted out “Oh Hanukah” that featured some sick surf drum riffs from Vinnie Amico. This instrumental had not been played in 643 shows. “McBain” was another journey into the deep going a full 19 minutes with all the boys settling in nicely. It also featured some of the best back and forth guitar work of the night with both Chuck and Al taking it to the extreme on their instruments. “Down Boy” into the “Billy Goat” closer was another high point in a great show.
After Alnouncements, Moe. encored with a straight forward “Spine Of A Dog” before saying their goodbyes. The first set was the obvious winner, but the entire show was just solid. Musically there are very few bands that are as tight as moe. They’ve been together for so long and play with each other so consistently that there is an apparent effortlessness to every performance. Their first night in Denver was totally worth braving the cold. Fans bundled up and flailed for cabs on the corner. Others sprinted to hotel rooms. As I happily walked out into the crisp night air I kept thinking one down, one to go.
moe. with Technicolor Tone Factory 12.7.13
Saturday felt downright balmy with the mercury hovering right around 0 degrees. Most fans spend the daylight hours either hunkered down beneath layers of blankets or they opted to go the Jay Blakesberg Jam book signing. Rumor had it that moe. would show up and they most definitely did. After a short performance and a bit of revelry for Jay it was all over and time to focus on round two. Doors again opened at 8 PM with Technicolor Tone Factory starting up right around 9 PM. I’ve seen the TTF name floating around the Front Rage scene for a short while now. This was my first opportunity to see them perform live, and I have to say I was impressed. Tight riff-heavy jams were the hallmark of a band that defies categorization. It’s as if elements of Daft Punk and Jimi Hendrix went to a secluded cabin in the woods and came back with a love child. That love child is Technicolor Tone Factory. This five-piece is one to keep an eye on. Their original “Heist” into a spot on version of Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” was a real highlight of the entire evening. Their performance at The Ogden on Saturday was both musically skillful and totally proper given the audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if Technicolor Tone Factory makes their way to a festival near you this summer.
Moe. stuck to the game plan and again made their way onto the stage a little after 10PM. They opened up the night with a crunchy “St. Augustine” that contained some serious shredding from Mr. Chuck Garvey.
Set 1: St. Augustine> Wind It Up, Bluejeans Pizza*> Waiting For The Punchline, We’re a Couple of Misfits, Jazz Wank> Buster
Set 2: Queen Of Everything> George, Captain America> Seat Of My Pants>Yodelittle> Lazarus> Yodelittle, Dr. Graffenberg
*w/ Taylor Frederick of Technicolor Tone Factory
Audio by Brad Ziegler
Night two was a literal parade of crowd pleasers, several done with a great attention to detail and with much panache. “Wind It Up” was straight forward, but they invited TTF guitarist Taylor Frederick out for a little extended collaboration on “Bluejeans Pizza.” This particular version went well over fifteen minutes and included lockstep transition into a perfect “Waiting For The Punchline.” Moe. just knows how to build a proper set. Peaks and Valleys, ebbs and flows, they get it. “Punchline” just exploded into an all out dance party before the band gave a two minute tease with their punkish rendition of a rare tune off of their 2002 Season’s Greetings album, “We’re a Couple of Misfits.” “Jazz Wank” went sort of bouncy as they built the intricate layers of that song. They segued beautifully into the set-ending “Buster.” A great closer, this tune became a giant sing-along before moe. called it a set.
The Ogden overall seemed relatively relaxed. Perhaps the jitters of running a live music venue in the one of the first states to legalize it have finally subsided. The crowd too, seemed to be fairly docile and in tune with the band. There was a distinct lack of utter spunions dotting the perimeter. All in all, the atmosphere on Saturday night was damn near textbook. Moe. opened the second set with a tight and invigorating “Queen Of Everything.” Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico went back and forth on percussion, pushing the song to its absolute limit. The subtle segue into “George” did little to foreshadow the massiveness of this version. Al blasted off on vocals as the rest of the band fell into a stone groove. The band finally paused momentarily before again launching off into a much appreciated “Captain America.” Chuck and Al shared the microphone duet style for “Seat Of My Pants,” which went intensely metal towards the end. The “Yodelittle” sandwich with “Lazarus” as the baloney was the highlight of the second set. They closed with an incredible “Dr. Graffenberg” and continued the recent tradition of pushing this song into the psychedelic stratosphere through deliberate and distorted jamming.
Again Al, paid his respects before they wrapped it up with a one song encore. This time fans were treated to a high-energy burn in the form of “Akimbo.” Having seen moe. now 55 times I can honestly say that this is a band that comes to play. Night after night they throw down. Although their tour schedule has retracted a bit due to family and what not, they are still one of the hardest working bands in the live music scene today. Both shows at The Ogden were solid and despite the weather fans enthusiastically engaged in the experience. As we wandered out into the late night on Colfax I was struck by a thought. Summer Camp is just around the corner, until then moe.
Leftover Salmon has reestablished themselves at the top of the jamgrass heap. This last minute show demonstrates they are paying attention and willing to play a show strictly for the fans. The show was scheduled to start around 1 AM well after Phish’s last note. It was billed as Leftover Salmon & Friends, and rumors swirled around as who would be sitting in. Because of the Snowy Range Festival where Salmon was playing on Sunday names like Sam Bush and Keller Williams were dropped frequently. This would not be the case in Denver, however Bush did sit in at Snowy Range for what it’s worth.
The drive down was smooth and we arrived just before show time. Although the concert sold out immediately, it honestly wasn’t super packed. The room was definitely full, but manageable. Next-door The Pimps Of Joytime also played for those willing to venture out after Dick’s. Salmon took the stage around 1:30 AM and straight away set the pace with a ripping “Mama Boulet.”
Set 1: Mama Boulet, Little Maggie, Ask The Fish*, Two Highways, Head Over Heels Over You**, Bird Call*, Home Cookin’, Morning Sun, High Country, Doing My Time, Dance On Your Head*, Aquatic Hitchhiker#, Midnight Rider**,#
Encore: Pasta On The Mountain#, Wake and Bake**,#
Andy Hall from The Infamous Stringduster’s on Dobro for the entire show
*w/ DJ Logic on Turntables
**Andy Hall on Vocals
#Zeb Bowles on Fiddle
They chose to perform one long set rather that push it to daylight with a setbreak. Andy Hall sat in on dobro for the entire show, and he was a solid addition to the lineup. Musically Salmon is a new band open to new dynamics in their performances. Hence the pair of “& Friends” shows. DJ Logic joined the boys on a spacey and deep “Ask The Fish.” “Two Highways” featured some incredible picking by Drew Emmitt, before Andy Hall took the vocals on “Head Over Heels.” Logic came back on “Bird Call” with more of what I call subtle scratching. I call it that because despite the fact that Logic can rip it up he always seems very low over the PA and at times is inaudible in the mix. Vince gave us a driving rock tune accentuated by Hall’s dobro on “Home Cookin’.” Thorn’s banjo was the focal point on “Morning Sun” before the band went traditional on “High Country.” Logic rejoined the band for Leftover’s now classic “Dance On Your Head.” Zeb Bowles from Coral Creek appeared onstage for the insane instrumental “Aquatic Hitchhiker.” This really felt like a family affair with lots of sit ins and great musical interplay with everyone involved. They all filled a niche in the sound and created a fantastic show for all of the late night fans. Zebulon stayed on for the Hall sung version of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” This is a fun cover that I’ve seen executed poorly in the past. This take was spot on and a great close to the almost two hour set.
Leftover Salmon returned with Zeb for a chunky rendition of “Pasta On The Mountain” that went for nearly fifteen minutes. Hall sang on the show closing “Wake and Bake,” which seemed appropriate given the late or early hour depending on your perspective. Leftover Salmon has reemerged from uncertainty to a pinnacle concert experience. Thorn has truly reinvigorated this band, and musical additions like Andy Hall and Zeb Bowles deepen their sound and push their compositions further. As I left the venue and headed back to the campsite at Dick’s I was only left with two questions. Who was that drummer and where is Jose Martinez?
Photo by Brad Hodge
For the third consecutive year Phish has opted to close out their summer with a run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Arena in Commerce City, Colorado. Also for the third consecutive year they choose to add a secret message to their Friday setlist. After a great night with Everyone Orchestra we headed to the campground around 1 PM. The manicured soccer fields in the south lawn of Dick’s were reminiscent of the polo fields that surround Coachella. We set up camp and relaxed in the afternoon sun as we anticipated what might be in store.
The week leading up to the shows were filled with excitement and an eagerness to rage. Friends flew in from all around the country. As soon as we were parked and set up we began meeting our neighbors. It became obvious that the Dick’s run has become a destination event. We met people from New Jersey, California, and all throughout the Midwest. We were in the stands on Friday so we set up shop straight back where the sound is the best.
They came to the stage after 8 PM with a funky Ghost opener. My first reaction was that this was definitely an unusual song to lead out with. I later found that this was their first time opening with “Ghost” since 1998.
Set 1: Ghost, NICU, Icculus, Heavy Things, Theme From The Bottom> Esther, The Moma Dance> Ocelot, Stash, Lawn Boy, Limb By Limb, Easy To Slip*
Set 2: Punch You In The Eye> Sand, Say Something> Walls of the Cave> The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony> Harry Hood**-> Silent In The Morning**> Twist> Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Oh! Sweet Nuthin’> Meatstick***
Phish went into a bouncy NICU and immediately our heads start to work out the puzzle, G-N. There had been an online Kickstarter campaign to get a plane to write “Read The Book,” in the sky during their soundcheck on Friday. Apparently the sky writer was cost prohibitive so they settled on a plane pulling a banner with the same message. Apparently they got that message because they launched into a transcendental “Icculus,” which featured a reference to the aviator from Trey. Amy looks over to me and says, “I-N-G… THING it’s SOMETHING backwards.” A very nice and straightforward “Theme From The Bottom” verified this, but it was the “Esther” that pushed fans over the top. Another somewhat rare track that had not been performed in 81 shows, Phish nailed it. Every show seems to reinforce the fact that band is playing as tight as ever before. Their ability to riff off of each other and genuinely have fun on stage is apparent with each song. “Moma” featured a standard funked jam. I told my neighbor they were going to play “Ocelot” next and he seemed mildly impressed when they did. Unlike the last two years, this message was a little subtler and it would be easy to miss if not paying attention. The comparison being that it’ fairly difficult to overlook when your favorite band spells out fuck with their first four songs. “Stash” caught me off guard, but it was happily welcomed. This version was spicy and full of pop. I’ve seen this song played flatly from time to time, so it was nice to see the band stepping it up on this tune. The double hockey sticks combo of “Lawn Boy” and “Limb By Limb” gave fans a chance to breath and ponder where the band was going next. They ended the set with a premiere cover of Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip.” ELL SOMETHING…. Backwards.
We relaxed in the stands and wondered where the boys were headed for set two. After a short setbreak Phish came back with a pungent PYITE. This has to be one of my favorite set openers of all time. It’s like a shot of espresso for any audience. The “Sand” was a full on assault of the senses and included a “2001” tease. This was only the second time Phish performed “Say Something,” which is a new song Gordon wrote with Max Creek ‘s Scott Murawski and debuted at The Gorge this year. A beautiful segue later and I was witnessing the biggest “Walls Of The Cave” I’ve ever seen. It was simply huge. Next they transitioned into a nice “Oh Kee Pa” The jam continued with an unfinished “Harry Hood.” The “Silent In The Morning,” which has not seen it’s trusty steed all year long, was concise and clean. At this point we were left with SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING, and fans wondered what the last bit of the message could be. The “Twist” acted as transitional pivot point before the boys went into a stellar “Slave To The Traffic Light. “ This was a huge period on an incredible set of music. Lots of rare and fun songs mixed with tracks from throughout their entire catalog all highlighted Friday night at Dick’s. The encore included a very rare version of The Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” not seen since the historic 2010 Alpine Valley run and a “Meatstick” that included Japanese lyrics. They wrapped up last year’s “Fuck Your Face” show with “Meatstick” as well. As I said while this show was definitely subtler than the last two opening nights at Dick’s, it was a blast. The message ended up spelling “Most Shows Spell Something,” backwards. It’s a fun little memorandum that is almost poking fun at the gimmicks from the years prior. It again proves that the individual members of Phish are having fun. As I’ve said before, Dick’s is special not because it’s a massive soccer field, but because the 26,000 person capacity allows every fan to get inside and share in the moment. While Friday did not sell out the next two nights did, which proves that the Phish fandom in Colorado is expanding and that Dick’s is becoming something of a yearly festival type run for people from everywhere. One down two to go.
Summer Camp favorites, The Everyone Orchestra is the musical monstrosity that pairs incredible talent with the razor-sharp mind of Matt Butler. While the lineup itself takes on many forms Butler and his white board are the one constant. Prior to Phish’s three-night run at Dick’s The Bianchi Brothers arranged for a little shindig under the stars. They have produced a couple of these ‘music in the park’ type events with positive feedback. This was the first to take place in Sculpture Park in front of the Denver Performing Arts Center. Giant, androgynous statues dance in the field, and they immediately became everyone’s go-to meeting place. The Dead Phish Orchestra opened up, but we arrived just as they finished up their set. Several vendors lined the ample-sized field, with the beer garden being the biggest draw.
The lineup on this particular night was absolutely stellar, consisting of Kyle Hollingsworth (SCI, KHB) on keys, Michael Kang (SCI, Panjea) on electric mandolin, Dave Watts (Motet) on kit, Jans Ingber (Motet) on percussion and vocals, Jennifer Hartswick (TAB, JHB) on trumpet and vocals, Al Schnier (moe., Floodwood) on guitar, Kai Eckardt (Garage Mahal) on bass, and Bridget Law (Elephant Revival) on fiddle, with Butler orchestrating. Jason Hann (SCI) and Ted Tilton (DPO) both sat in during the second set as well. The sheer aptitude for music in this configuration of Everyone Orchestra is utterly mind-blowing. I’ve seen many different EO shows, but this has to be at the top of heap simply from musicianship. The show began with a vocal jam between Butler and the crowd. Watts’ lockstep beat was in full effect as Kyle tickled the keys elegantly.
This two set show featured some extensive jamming from EO. Strong vocal interplay between Jans and Hartswick were yet another highlight of this musical journey. With the majority of their “songs” hitting almost twenty minutes, they had plenty of time to pass the potato around. Al was a focal point for many all night as he simply shredded. Kai too was impressive to watch as he held it all down with his funky bass riffs. The first set was a little tame, as they got into their groove during the second set. Watching improvisation happen live can be a lot like watching a flower bloom. Sure everyone on stage is an absolute talent, but they have to be truly in synch with other musicians, several of whom they may never have met before, to actually perform together. That takes a special kind of genius. Everyone Orchestra played well into the evening as the sun set behind Sculpture Park. EO would claim that they are there to have fun, but with each show they continue to foster the spirit of improvisation. The show in Sculpture Park featured a lot of crowd interaction, more than a few vocal based songs, and epic jamming. At one point during the second set I was fairly sure they were jamming on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” This was a great way to start my weekend with Phish. EO always gets the musical juices flowing. They are a jam institution as far as I’m concerned. Butler travels all over the country paring up players, and spreading the power of improvisation. In what other venue is it even possible to see members of The Motet, SCI and moe. all jamming together onstage? It’s special every time they perform and their show in Sculpture Park was definitely a unique experience.
Few people have so mastered an instrument as Bela Fleck has the banjo. In fact the man is so synonymous with this instrument that words like master and genius almost fall short in their simplicity. From the time he was first inspired listening to the Earl Scruggs’ recording of The Beverly Hillbillies Theme Song to his time with The New Grass Revival to forming The Flecktones it’s difficult to think of anyone who has been more innovative with their instrument. Fleck has been nominated for a Grammy in more musical categories than anyone and all with the banjo. Having just toured through town with the Flecktones he made a return visit this time for an ‘Inside The Score’ session with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Having seen Trey Anastasio perform with the CSO last year I thought it would be a relatively similar experience. I was wrong. Firstly, despite the fact that this concert played host to a living legend the room was only about half sold out. Secondly, the crowd was more along the lines of season ticket holders rather than rabid live music fans. The result being that other than some boisterous coughing from a few souls trying to get over their spring colds, the 2600 person room was utterly quiet. This was a benefit and a curse. It was nice to be able to focus on the music and really listen, the bad was that a single click of my DSLR seemed to echo to the point of absurdity. The result was that I took all of one picture before putting my camera away amongst a few sideway glances and glaring stares.
The night began sans Fleck with an orchestrated version of Pat Methany’s “Minuano” which featured a dual time signature we were told to listen for by conductor Scott O’Neil. Fleck wowed audiences with his take on Bach and Debussy. One of the real highlights of the first set was a banjo led rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” The delicacy and attention to detail that Fleck demonstrates at times made the humble banjo seem otherworldly. The peak of the set came in the form of a piece written by Bela Fleck and dubbed “Crooked Run” which was simply an all out jam between himself and Claude Sim on violin. They finished prior to intermission with what would be the only Flecktones original “The Landing” with the full orchestration. After a short break Bela Fleck returned with a much longer composed piece entitled “The Imposter.” All in all it was a beautiful night at the symphony. Bela Fleck continues to demonstrate why he is at the height of his instrument and why he is not to be missed in any capacity when he is performing. Bela is simply mind blowing and it’s always incredible to me that he continually stuns audiences with an instrument that was long thought of as Appalachian jabberwocky. Fleck has risen the level of the banjo on par with the violin and the French horn as far as I’m concerned. He ended the night with a meet and greet in the lobby, but we opted to head home with visions of banjer in our head.
Check out the video here: http://youtu.be/0XuoazFvcJs