Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weighing In: Taxi Driver

"Partly truth, partly fiction --
a walking contradiction."

The first time I saw Taxi Driver, I was merely a passenger in the backseat of a cab. I was vaguely familiar with [the genius of] Martin Scorsese and hardly old enough to grasp the cold realities he so solemnly depicts. But after over a decade of inexcusable procrastination, I owed it to myself (and to the film gods) to it watch again; this time around, the difference was glaring. A lot older and a bit more cynical (living in New York City can have that effect), the film was much more than what I remembered (an array of pop images hanging on the walls of the freshman dorms). Rather perversely, Scorsese wills us to empathize with the protagonist's downfall: his alienation, his vulnerability, and his immorality. It is both a profound and painful portrayal of one average man's complete mental decay. But despite it's complex themes, the storyline is not all that complicated: Man is alone. Man moves to the city. Man gets a job. Man likes woman. Woman doesn't like man. Man is disillusioned. Man goes crazy. Man goes on killing spree. Man is once again, alone.

The film, penned by screenwriter Paul Schrader (Raging Bull), centers around anti-hero Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a purported ex-Marine Vietnam vet who works the graveyard shift as a cabbie in order to combat his chronic insomnia. Our first impression of Travis is rather benign -- he is respectful and possesses that boy-scout sort of duty for his job (he's even willing to work on Jewish holidays). He is almost the kind of guy you want driving you home at 3 a.m. But as we soon come to see, appearances are only skin deep. Travis is a loner of the worst kind: he has a pathologic contempt for a society over which he ultimately has no control.

Truthful to the film's title, Travis endlessly traverses across the city's underbelly -- a gritty landscape that only fuels his already fragile psyche. Critic Roger Ebert describes it as a "Stygian passage;" I liken it to Dante's descent through the circles of hell. Night after night, Travis is surrounded by steaming manholes, neon lights, peep shows, pimps, prostitutes and drug pushers (or as a friend of mine so evocatively calls it "old New York"). Worse yet, Travis hasn't the faintest clue about how to interact with his fellow citizens -- male or female. He is pitifully lost and alone. Even Travis acknowledges his Sisyphean curse: "Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man."

As the film progresses (accompanied by the wonderful scoring by Bernard Hermann of Hitchcock fame), Travis covets the attractive and ambitious Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a campaign volunteer for fictional presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). After persistent prodding, Betsy begrudgingly agrees to meet Travis for coffee. Even during this first encounter, it is obvious that Travis is incapable of carrying on any semblance of a normal relationship. Despite fumbling through conversation, a confounded Betsy is willing to overlook Travis's feeble persona (after all, De Niro was a pretty handsome guy back in the day) and agrees to see him again. Quoting Kris Kristofferson (who two years earlier starred in Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), Betsy tells Travis that he is "partly truth, partly fiction -- a walking contradiction." Little does she know, her observation is spot-on: Travis is a walking contradiction. He is infatuated with the scummy parts of town, but despises its inhabitants; he is a loyal patron of the porno theaters, but is sickened by the sexual sin that surrounds him; he denounces the dope dealers, but is himself a habitual pill-popper.

Barely into their second date, Travis's courtship with Betsy takes a nosedive after he daftly takes her to see the 1969 Swedish "sex education" film, Language of Love -- the obvious wrong way to impress a woman. Not surprisingly, Betsy storms out of the theater leaving Travis frustrated and alone. But despite Betsy's overt disinterest in seeing him again, Travis continues his forlorn pursuit which only bolsters his inability to woo her. During an awkward telephone conversation, Travis desperately begs for a second chance, but we already know that he's acting in vain. In a now famous shot, the camera tracks away from the downtrodden Travis and towards an empty hallway, sparing us his all-too-painful rejection. I think it is this event that ignites the powder keg that is Travis Bickle.

Travis's Descent Into Madness

Apparent that his mental state is rapidly deteriorating, Travis finds himself, intentionally or by chance, involved in a series of violent encounters. In one scene, he intervenes during the course of a convenience store holdup, fatally wounding the black crook. This sort of vigilante justice is common in Scorsese's films (recall in The Departed, Leonardo DiCaprio's character similarly defends a store clerk from extorting mobsters or Ray Liotta's line in Goodfellas, "[w]hat the organization [mafia] does is offer protection for people who can't go to the cops. They're like the police department for wiseguys."). Perhaps Travis, an outspoken bigot, saw this as a "justifiable" excuse to lash out against those he scorns. He then concocts a botched assassination attempt against Palantine, who just weeks earlier, Travis praised during a chance encounter with the candidate in his cab. Famously, it is during rehearsal for this maniacal act that Travis engages in schizophrenic dialogue with his mirrored reflection: "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking to me? Well, I'm the only one here." That he is.

The last part of the film documents Travis's quest to "rescue" Iris (Jodi Foster), a young prostitute who, much to Travis's consternation, is rather complacent about her lifestyle. After realizing that Iris won't voluntarily abandon her world of corruption, Travis again resorts to vigilantism -- this time against the pimps and players who prey on his angelic Iris. At the forefront of this group is Sport (Harvey Keitel), a second-rate pimp whom Iris claims is her spiritual counterpart. Iris's naivety becomes apparent when after Travis remarks that Sport "looks like a killer," she replies, "he never killed nobody. He's a Libra."

There is much commentary on the comparison between Taxi Driver and The Searchers -- another film which depicts one man's [John Wayne] attempt to rescue the "innocent" from the "immoral." Both Scorsese and Schrader were undoubtedly influenced by John Ford, and on a wider scale, the formulaic themes within the Western genre as a whole. Indeed, Schrader himself remarked, "I make sure to see The Searchers at least once a year; [T]he Searchers plays the fullest artistic hand -- the best American film." Expounding on this topic, critic Matthew Iannucci points out, "Travis's lack of distinct identity compels him to cut and paste together what he believes is a heroic identity from an external menu of personages such as the 'gunslinger' and the Indian." These parallels are confirmed when we watch Travis twirling his guns in the mirror a la Dodge City.

In a now notorious sequence, a mohawk-clad Travis gruesomely massacres Sport and the other lowlifes who he perceives (albeit correctly) as threats to Iris's well-being. However, in an ironic twist of fate, the blood-bath ends in a failed attempt to take his own life; Travis cannot escape his curse of loneliness, literally or figuratively. But the film's epilogue offers one final wrinkle: Travis is coined a hero by Iris's parents, the Steensmas, for having saved their daughter and more notably, by the media, who report that his rampage took out a variety of underworld characters, including local gangsters.

We are then back where we began, this time, riding shotgun with Travis. He picks up a passenger who happens to be Betsy, only now, she admires his "heroism." Travis cooly downplays his injuries and drops her off outside her upscale apartment on 56th Street. In the blink of an eye, Scorsese quickly cuts to the rear-view mirror which displays an empty seat. Was Betsy ever in the cab? Was this a fantasy played out in Travis's head? Did Travis ultimately succumb to his wounds and are these his deathbed hallucinations? Scorsese leaves us pondering...partly truth or partly fiction?

Some 32 years later, the film remains just as relevant as it did upon its initial release. Many critics view the film as an indictment against the fallout from Vietnam, the plight of the veterans, or governmental impotency. In his own review, Iannucci quotes writer Richard Martin who observed, "Taxi Driver...reinvents noir in a context more suited to the sociopolitical realities of mid-seventies is informed by an understanding of political paranoia, economic deprivation, inner-city decay, and the violence of the seventies." I think there is much truth to this -- even more so in light of the current State of the Union. But beyond these implications, at its core, this is a film about human loneliness -- a condition to which no one is immune. Indeed, Ebert confessed, "we have all felt as alone as Travis. Most of us are better at dealing with it."

Verdict: Heavyweight

--D.S., Weightstaff

Monday, November 24, 2008

AMAs = WOT (Waste of Time)

Let's get one thing straight: I did NOT watch the American Music Awards. I never have (at least I have no specific recollection of ever watching it) and never will. But, while in the midst of stuffing my face with an extra-tasty chicken and guacamole wrap during the 6-minute part of my day I call lunch, I did stumble upon a very amusing blog post (on Y! Music) by someone who, albeit unfortunately, did watch the "award {cough} show."

So, this is what I learned:

-The Pussycat Dolls are lucky-as-hell, vomit-inducing fakes who can't even lip-sync properly;
-Rhianna wore an eye-patch yet does not suffer from any apparent ophthalmologic disorder...oh, and she can't sing;
-The Jonas Brothers collectively know 3 guitar chords;
-Miley Cyrus embarrassed herself...again;
-Beyonce has been doing the same two-bit dance routine for the past decade;
-Watching Mariah Carey and taking an Ambien have the same effect;
-David Cook has freakishly tweezed eyebrows;
-The collaboration between Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah and Kathleen Battle was an "all-over-the-place-trainwreck" (quoting the author);
-The New Kids On The Block performed?!? Can someone please explain this?!? I think I missed the memo...;
-Kanye sucks;
-Coldplay came off as forced and their outfits screamed, "trying to hard;" and
-Annie Lennox stole the show -- big surprise considering she was probably the only person within 4 miles of the venue with any talent.

Now time to hit the bathroom...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Phish Philms -- 11/16/96

Apparently there is a serious amount of Phish concert footage swimming around YouTube these days. I was cruising through a few of the clips and really enjoyed listening to this one which features Suzy Greenberg (with La Grange and Axilla teases) and an acapella Amazing Grace from 11/16/96 in Omaha, NE. The jams inside of Suzy (play it Leo!) remind me of the why this band commanded my attention back in those days (my second show was one day earlier in St. Louis). I sure hope the guys sound this good in March.

11-16-96 Civic Auditorium, Omaha, NE

1: Poor Heart, Down With Disease, Guyute, Gumbo, Rift, Free, The Old Home Place, David Bowie, Lawn Boy, Sparkle, Frankenstein

2: La Grange, Runaway Jim, Kung*, Catapult, Axilla#, Harry Hood#, Suzie Greenberg**, Amazing Grace

E: We're an American Band^

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deadhead Sticker on a Pickup Truck

The Grateful Dead have a strange way of popping up in random places throughout pop culture. They get mentions in movies, television shows, and other artists' songs. ("Deadhead stick on a cadillac" i'm looking in your direction.)

Enter Cross Canadian Ragweed, a country rock / southern rock / Americana / alt-country band that gained popularity in Stillwater, Oklahoma in the late 90s through the Red Dirt music scene, a scene that receives virtually no coverage here on the east cost. I have become a fan of many of the bands that exist in this genre, based out of both Oklahoma and Texas, including Chris Knight, Stoney LaRue, Jimmy LaFave, and the aforementioned Cross Canadian Ragweed. Their founding fathers and main influences include Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, and even Woodie Guthrie. Anyone who respects this group is OK by me.

Given the Oklahoma background of Cross Canadian Ragweed, I was very surprised, pleasantly so, to hear a song of theirs called Brooklyn Kid. The track not only name checks the Grateful Dead, but also Friend of the Devil, Uncle John's Band, and Jerry Garcia. This is hardly a passing reference to the Dead. I'd been meaning to post this song here for quite some time, and tonight it popped into my head again.

The last two verses of Brooklyn Kid read:
Reflecting on the Viet-Cong,
Uncle John's Band and a Dylan song,
Smellin' like it's supper time.
You know, it brought a tear to his eye,
The day that Jerry Garcia died.
He said he was the genius of his time.
Yeah, A Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine.

Don't try to find it, make the time,
A couple of joints and a bottle of wine.
You'll be glad that you did.
With the Grateful Dead spinnin' round,
Kick your feet back and be astounded,
By the life of the Brooklyn kid.

Enjoy this track and I hope to introduce you to some more Red Dirt music soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ticketbastard Waives "Convenience Fees" for Eagles Tour

Ticketmaster, having recently acquired Front Line Management and it's head and long-time Eagles manager Irving Azoff, has made a bold move in attempting to appear less bastard-like by eliminating the controversial/hated convenience charges on all tickets to the upcoming winter Eagles tour. I appreciate the sentiment of the move, but I doubt the tickets will really be any cheaper.

And not that I am going to be buying tickets for said Eagles concerts, but those that do buy them, I suspect, will feel some satisfaction in not paying for the added convenience charges (who's convenience are those fees going towards anyway?) even if the fee is just buried into the overall ticket price. So this is certainly a step in the right direction for TM. Practices like charging $10 in convenience fees on top of a $10 ticket was getting ridiculous. I would rather just pay $20 for a show advertised as $20 and not feel violated by the additional charges.

I imagine that this no-fees trial with the Eagles will be pervasive soon enough, and it will perceptively be a nice change from the ever increasing convenience charges. . . . they're still bastards though.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sirius Changes

As a current XM subscriber, I have mixed feelings about the new merged channel lineup that debuted today. I am excited about now having access to Sirius' Jam_On, The Grateful Dead Channel, BBC Radio 1, and NBA basketball. I am concerned about the quality of playlists now going downhill, consistent with the poor reviews I've read about the tunes that are played on Sirius' music channels. XM has been great for obscure tracks and bands that I would not otherwise hear via other means. Let's hope that the new Sirius/XM can find a way too maintain the best of each service and do away with overly repetitive playlists.

View the story and the new Sirius/XM channel lineup here

Greatest Story Ever Told

According to Billboard:
Veteran producers Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa and Eric Eisner are going truckin'. The trio have signed on to produce a biopic about Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia that will aim to offer a revealing look at the roots of the counterculture icon.

The untitled project will focus primarily on Garcia's early life in the Bay Area before he joined the band that would become the Grateful Dead -- a period that includes a stint in the military, a life-changing car accident and his first creative encounters with members of the Northern California music scene such as future Dead bassist Phil Lesh.
Read the full story here.

RIP Mitch Mitchell

7/9/1947 - 11/12/2008
Mitch Mitchell was Hendrix's most important musical collaborator, playing in Hendrix's Experience trio from October 1966 to mid-1969, his Woodstock band in August 1969, and also with the later incarnation of the "Jimi Hendrix Experience" in 1970, with Billy Cox on bass, known as the "Cry of Love" band. Hendrix would often record tracks in the studio with only Mitchell, and in concert the two fed off of each other to exciting effect. Buddy Miles only replaced Mitchell for the three months it took to rehearse, record, produce and deliver the finished Band of Gypsys LP to Ed Chalpin.
His last days were spent celebrating the music and legacy of Jimi Hendrix with old and new friends on the 2008 Experience Hendrix tour. For nearly 4 weeks, the tour traveled coast-to-coast bringing the music of Jimi Hendrix to nearly 50,000 fans across the country. In addition to Mitchell, the tour featured Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Cesar Rojas and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, Hubert Sumlin (Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters), Chris Layton (Double Trouble) as well as Eric Gales and Mato Nanji (Indigenous). The tour ended 5 days before Mitchell's death.

Mitchell was found dead at appoximately 3 a.m. on November 12, 2008 in his room at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland. Mitchell, 61, apparently died of natural causes, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner said.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weighing In: The Trip

1967 was a good year for the movies. Films like Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn), The Graduate (Mike Nichols), Who's That Knocking At My Door (Martin Scorsese) and Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg) brought about a new era of Hollywood, and names like Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman went from relative obscurity to industry A- listers. But between these gems – and I mean, very between – lies an unpolished stone; a film that put another group of young, unknown actors on the radar. The Trip (1967), was arguably Hollywood's first mainstream acknowledgment of the burgeoning 60's counterculture/psychedelic scene. While it is generally accepted that Bonnie and Clyde ushered in the "New Hollywood" movement, The Trip was in its own right, a pretty groundbreaking film itself -- at least as far as B movies go. And while it didn't contain the innovative camera work, spewing blood and gratuitous violence -- all which have become industry standards -- like its contemporary Bonnie and Clyde, it did however supply a generous helping of pot smoking, topless dancers, Owsley-like visual effects, and maybe even -- and I'm reaching here -- a subtle nod to the French New Wave. But more seriously, The Trip unquestionably helped pave the way for films like Easy Rider, which itself played a critical role in developing the "New Hollywood" era.

The Trip was produced and directed by B movie extraordinaire, Roger Corman (The Terror, The Edgar Allan Poe canon) and the screenplay was written by a then relatively unknown frequent guest star of The Andy Griffith Show named Jack Nicholson. The film begins with Paul Groves (Peter Fonda) in the midst of an existential crisis after a recent (or soon to be) break-up with his unfaithful lover, Sally (Susan Strasberg). In search of "answers," Paul hooks up with pal John (Bruce Dern) whose role is part drug advocate, part spiritual mentor. John, nice guy that he is, introduces Paul to a world of promiscuous women, wacked-out hippies and as the title suggests, every psychedelic drug known to man (at least at the time). After all, that's what friends are for, right?

In one cheeky early scene, Paul has a random, brief encounter with a blond nymphomaniac who excitedly strokes a very phallic strelitzia -- a not-so-subtle foreshadowing of what's in store for Paul should he decide to just say "yes." This is Corman exploitation at its finest. We then meet Max (Dennis Hopper), the resident dope dealer and ringleader of the local hippie clan. Between his outlandish getup and his effortless ability to roll the perfect joint, it's hard to imagine that Hopper wasn't stoned during the entirety of the film's production.* After Paul sits in on a group toke session, he finally musters up enough courage to drop his first tab of acid under John's supervision. A blatant reference to the then recent Beatles song "Tomorrow Never Knows" (which itself quotes LSD guru Timothy Leary), John re-assures Paul to "turn off your mind, and relax, and then float down-stream." (Makes you wonder if Nicholson purposely named his two leading men "John" and "Paul" for a reason...)

It is at this point, however, that the film loses any semblance of conceivable plot structure and slowly melts into one continual orgasm of psychedelic goop. The main problem is that most of the scenes depicting Paul's trip come off as just plain corny by today's standards. Take for example a few of Paul's reactions while on LSD: a childish fascination with an orange or an obsession with a laundromat dryer. There is also a bizarre scene where a fully nude Paul freaks out in a swimming pool and is subdued by John in a melodramatic homoerotic exchange. Was this really supposed to entice people to experiment with psychedelics? We are then reunited with Max (who at this point is starting to resemble a Hammer Films Count Dracula) and Paul is subjected to a (fantasy?) pseudo-inquisition where a kaleidoscopic collage of pop schlock, including images of Timothy Leary, Sophia Loren, L.B.J., Jesus, an oven (yes, an oven), and a one-dollar bill, bombard the screen. Maybe this was considered "deep" stuff in 1967, but I have hunch it had more to do with being stoned out your mind while watching the film than it did with any hidden messages. Finally, after an evening of aimless wandering and enough bad hallucinations to scare someone sober for life, we reach the climax of Paul's trip: a montage of flashbacks, satanic imagery, carnival folk, death-mounted horses, and of course, Dennis Hopper smoking an endless stash weed. The trip is over.

At long last, Paul ends up in the sack with a random one-night-stand named Glenn (Salli Sachse) and we are subjected to a rather disappointing lovemaking scene -- especially for a B movie. Paul then awakens and walks out to the balcony where he meditatively faces the sea. Then, in a brief moment of philosophical curiosity (again, I'm reaching), Glenn asks Paul whether he's learned anything from his experience (or something to that effect) to which he simply responds: "Tomorrow." But what I found most interesting in the entire film was the last shot: Corman zooms in on Paul's face, freezes the image, and then cracks it to pieces. I couldn't help but recall the poignant final scene of Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) where a young Antoine Doinel similarly looks to sea and ponders his own uncertain future. In the now famous shot, Truffaut zooms in and freezes on Antoine's face in almost identical fashion. Coincidence? Maybe. But, Corman was no dummy. I'd like to think this was his tip-of-the-hat to a contemporary for whom there was a mutual respect.**

So where does The Trip leave us? Is it smarter than it appears with its glaring references to good music, pop icons and maybe even film history? Probably not. But what I can promise is 85 minutes chock full of tripped-out strobe lights, body-paint, loads of recreational drug use and some damn good shots of Peter Fonda's bare ass. And besides, you get to watch Dennis Hopper roll one hell of a doobie!

*Internet lore suggests that Nicholson, Fonda, Hopper and Corman all took LSD prior to making the film as part of their "preparation." Why am I not surprised by this.

**At the time, Corman, along with American B movies in general, were highly praised by the writers of the renowned French film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema -- writers who included Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol.

--D.S., Weightstaff

Monday, November 3, 2008

American Music: The Felice Brothers, New York City, 11/2/08

A few weeks ago, I defiantly inquired whether there were any artists who would "step up to the plate" and lead us towards a new renaissance in the arts. Well, I'm relieved to say that there is at least one taker: The Felice Brothers. Last evening (and early morning), I witnessed about 90 minutes of floor-stomping, washboard-scrubbing, beard-wielding and accordion -- eh, churning musical bliss. The show was at "Spiegelworld," an indoor tent situated on the docks of the river of lower Manhattan -- creepy frigates and all. It's the sort of place you'd picture in La Strada, not the big apple. Nonetheless, it was both cozy and eerily charming, and with no more than 350 people inside, it had more of the upstate-backyard barbeque vibe than the normal uptight and pretentious New York City concert experience.

I'm not going to write about the band's background, because thanks to a fellow Weightstaffer, that was done a while back (November, 2007 to be exact). The Hudson Valley natives, all with names right out of a Washington Irving novel (Ian, Simone, and James Felice, Christmas, and Farley), are a rare gem in a music scene inundated with hipster wannabes and fly-by-night, immodest "singer-songwriter" types. Of course, it would be cliche to say that The Felice Brothers are The Band incarnate or Dylan disciples, because anyone who hears or sees these fellas for less than 30 seconds, can easily gather that much. But what sets them apart from the other "new" acts I've seen in recent years is that these guys are real -- you truly believe in them, or at least I do. The Band, was more or less a group of Canadians (minus Levon) who transplanted in upstate New York, as part homage to the visionary American folk-life experience. In contrast, The Felice Brothers are from that region; namely, a town called Palenville, nestled in the serene glory of the Catskill Mountains. They sing about their history, their wanderings, loves lost, firearms, and well, whiskey...and I believe every word of it. Sure, they're a bit rough around the edges, the instruments look like they came from grandpa's attic, and the sound was far from properly engineered (maybe the venue was to blame), but this is the appeal of The Felice Brothers. The hell with the fancy equipment and the hipster hairdos; unlike their competition (if there is any) these guys live, breathe, and probably bleed the lifestyle they so aptly write about.

They played their usual standards including "Frankie's Gun!", "Ruby Mae," "Saint Stephens End" (perhaps a nod to the Dead), and a rabble-rousing rendition of "Whiskey In My Whiskey," which I thought would leave our tent hopelessly floating down the East River. Sure, there were times when I was waiting for them to tear up a version of "Rag Mama Rag" or "Ain't No More Cane," but the boys weren't there to recreate The Band -- they were there to tell their own story.

But I can't resist mentioning that there were moments when I felt as if I was watching a young group of Rick Dankos stampeding around the stage; particularly Ian Felice, whose spontaneous and almost spastic jigging was reminiscent of a forty-niner who struck gold at Sutter's Mill. James Felice, with his floppy farmer's hat and Rip Van Winkle beard, must be the love child of Garth Hudson. He not only makes the accordion "cool," but handles the organ with great ease as well. And then there is Farley. Seemingly the odd man of the group (sans facial hair), he is perhaps their unsung hero. Between his possessed discipline on the washboard and his abuse of the fiddle, he is the yeast that makes up the moonshine that is The Felice Brothers. All the while Christmas solemnly thumps away and Simone, the most outspoken member of the group, theatrically prods the audience to sing along in falsetto.

There is an old adage that says, "imitation is the highest form of flattery;" well, if The Felice Brothers chose to follow in the vein of Dylan and The Band, that is just damn fine by me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Smokin' New Grass

It wasn't until this year that I discovered the immensely talented four-piece band of bluegrass virtuosos, who played the part of rock stars, called New Grass Revival. Formed in 1971, following a number of lineup changes over the better part of a decade, they settled on a core group of musicians including founder Sam Bush (mandolin), John Cowan (bass), Bela Fleck (banjo), and Pat Flynn (guitar). That lineup would continue on until the band's breakup in 1989. Fleck and Flynn joined Bush and Cowan in 1981 after the previous incarnation of the group was on tour as Leon Russell's backup band and opening act for the prior two years. Their last official concert as New Grass Revival was played on 12/31/89 opening for the Grateful Dead at Oakland Coliseum.

Back in 1981, a Leon Russell/New Grass Revival live album was released featuring the lineup of: Leon Russell (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Curtis Burch (guitar, dobro, background vocals); Courtney Johnson (banjo, background vocals); Sam Bush (mandolin, fiddle, background vocals); John Cowan (bass instrument, background vocals). This concert was also released on DVD in 2002 and features additional tracks not featured on the album including a take on the Bill Monroe classic Uncle Pen.

New Grass Revival were known as much for existing outside the traditional bluegrass scene as they were for being incredible musicians. Their dress and appearance was nothing like their peers and they referred to themselves as 'newgrass'. Their songs were more akin to rock n' roll, soul, and reggae music than they were to traditional country. They were most certainly pioneers of what would become the jam band scene in the early 90s.

The band has reunited on two occasions since their breakup in 1989:

In 1997, when Garth Brooks was invited to perform on The Late Show with Conan O'Brien to perform "Do What You Gotta Do", a song written by Pat Flynn, he asked Flynn, Bush, Cowan, and Fleck to join him in performing it.

In April 2007, Bush, Fleck, Cowan, and Flynn stepped forward together into the spotlight during the Merlefest 20th Anniversary Jam and played the Townes Van Zandt song "White Freight Liner." The single song reunion was the first time the four of them had played together in a decade.

Source: Wikipedia

I have been a casual fan of Sam, Bela, and John via their more recent projects and I have been thrilled with discovering their collective work in New Grass Revival. I was introduced to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones upon their release of the double-live CD Live Art and I saw them open for Dave Matthews Band at the now demolished US Air Arena in Landover, MD around 1996. I first saw Sam Bush in concert at the Tsunami Relief Benefit at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC featuring moe., Trey Anastasio, and John Medeski on 2/10/2005 where Sam joined moe. on the excellent "Same 'Ol River", a song I'd had on my ipod for a couple years at the time. Just last week, I purchased New Grass Revival's Greatest Hits from iTunes and its been in rotation in my car on a daily basis.

Check out the following videos of New Grass Revival:


Can't Stop Now:

In The Middle Of The Night

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Bridge: Back In Time, 10/31/08

The Bridge celebrated Halloween last night in Richmond, VA with a show of originals mixed with a number of covers from 80's movie soundtracks. Looks like a fun night.

The Bridge
The Canal Club
Richmond, VA
October 31, 2008

Set One:

Superfunk >
Back In Time (Huey Lewis - Back To The Future) >
Brother Don't
In Dreams
Jump In The Line (Harry Belafonte - Beetlejuice)
Jomotion >
Theme From Rocky (Rocky) >
Eye of The Tiger (Survivor - Rocky III)
Honey Bee
Drop The Beat

Set Two:

Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jr. - Ghostbusters) >
Good Rhythm >
Drums >
Bad Locomotive >
Ghostbusters 2 (Bobby Brown) >
Bad Locomotive
The Candyman (Sammy Davis Jr. - Charlie and The Chocolate Factory) >
Whipping Post
Danger Zone (Kenny Loggins - Top Gun)
Heavy Water
Hey Pocky Way
Dirtball Blues


Mule Shines On Halloween

It turns out the rumors were true and Gov't Mule, with new bassist Jorgen Carlsson, played an entire set of Pink Floyd tunes to celebrate Halloween in Boston last night.

10/31/2008 - The Orpheum Theatre Boston, MA

Set 1

Brighter Days
Bad Little Doggie
Brand New Angel
Eternity's Breath Jam->
St. Stephen's Jam->
Monkey Hill
Child Of The Earth
Kinder Bird Jam*->
Kind Of Bird

Set 2
One Of These Days*->
Pigs On The Wing Part 2*->
Shine On You Crazy Diamond*$&->
Have A Cigar*&->
Speak To Me*->
On The Run*->
Great Gig In The Sky*$->
Comfortably Numb*$->
Shine On You Crazy Diamond Reprise*$&->
Wish You Were Here

A Million Miles From Yesterday$
Blind Man In The Dark&

*1st Time Played
$ with Machan Taylor, Sophia Ramos & Durga McBroom Hudson
& with Ron Holloway