Talk From The Rock Room

Monday, September 26, 2022

Rock Room on the Road - Little Feat - Waiting for Columbus 45th Anniversary Tour - Point of Bluff Vineyards 9/25/22

Famed rock and roll grooves-men, Little Feat brought their  45th anniversary celebration of the renowned live album Waiting for Columbus to the picturesque Point of Bluff Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY. A heavy overcast day did not dampen the spirits of the band who played an incendiary set comprised of the entire 1978 Columbus LP.

Longevity is the hallmark of this highly influential band that has weathered several lineup changes and losses since the 1979 death of founding member Lowell George. Underrepresented by the mainstream, yet respected by their peers, Little Feat remains a celebrated group of musicians who continue to thrill on the live concert stage.

The current lineup of Little Feat features core members, keyboardist Bill Payne, Sam Clayton on percussion and Kenny Gradney on bass. They are supplemented by drummer Tony Leone who joined in 2019, guitarist Scott Sherrard in 2020 as well as longtime Feat guitarist Fred Tackett. The band wasted no time in cracking open familiar melodies and arrangements with exciting musical approaches. This current collaboration of Little Feat is not a nostalgic jukebox but an eager disseminator of fresh takes.

The band took the stage to a prerecorded reading of “Join the Band” and immediately jumped both feat into “Fat Man in the Bathtub.” The three-pronged rhythm section trident immediately propelling the pulse of the band with a churning groove.  The group sailed through the song’s off kilter changes with lead guitarist Scott Sherrard slicing and dicing with his amped Stratocaster slide guitar.

Following a pleading “All That You Dream” that revealed a ravenous jam itching to get out from it’s original skin, the group floored it down I-75 for a Bill Payne performance “Oh Atlanta”. Payne filled the tank with boogie-woogie fueling a high octane performance.

After a groovy Tony Leone sung “Old Folks Boogie,” Bill Payne dedicated “Time Loves a Hero” to past Little Feat legends, Lowell George, Richie Hayward, and Paul Barrare. He meant it, because “Time Loves a Hero” became a multifaceted exploration with each player listening intently to the others culminating in a inspirational peak. Once again the rhythm section of Gradney, Leone and Clayton percolated beneath the soloists providing a perfect shifting bed of percussive interplay.

“Day or Night” followed and unexpectedly became the biggest jam vehicle of the evening thus far with each respective member getting a chance to spotlight their chops and assert themselves melodically. The jamming was a series of relentless grooves and high musical acumen. This hearty version of "Day or Night" was only a lead in to the major crux of the show.

“Mercenary Territory” was played deliciously funky, yet suspicious with Payne’s organ undertow providing a sinister layer to the groove. Sherrard stepped comfortably into the substantial loafers of Lowell George with stellar vocals as well as piercing peaks on slide guitar.

A devastating double banger of “Spanish Moon” segued into “Skin It Back” kept the propellant rhythms moving while allowing Fred Tackett to take a dirty solo spot in “Spanish Moon.” Payne broke down the mid song arrangement with a piano, keyboard and synth wash disorienting the changes before Sherrard took the second solo spot down like a shot and with big riffs. His soloing initiated a seamless transition into “Skin It Back.” Kenny Gradney, thumped out a rotund and frisky lead bass line which would remain standard for the rest of the evening. A highlight performance.

A fifteen-minute medley of “Dixie Chicken” into “Tripe Face Boogie” hit every beat, change, start, stop and lick one could hope for and was relentless in it’s delicious and vicious instrumental improv. Fred Tackett even played some trumpet. Bill Payne illustrated why he is one of the finest pianists in the history of rock and roll history with a well spring of melodic fragments, accomplished playing and band direction. By the time the band hit “Tripe Face Boogie” the seated were forced to stand and the band was smiling in satisfaction. Sherrard and Tackett took the "Boogie" over the edge with frothing string bending and guitar weaving.

Following the exhaustive jamming, the band brought it down low for some slow stony swaying for the first time in the performance. “Willin” received great applause assisting in a poignant version with an extended opening instrumental. Bill Payne then introduced “Don’t Bogart That Joint” as a, “song from my old band” while eagle eyed Scott Sharrard spotted someone partaking in the crowd.

While the assembled cooled out, the band played the penultimate song of the set with a straight and neutral “Apolitical Blues” sandwiching Sam Clayton singing a welcome take on Muddy Waters “Long Distance Call.” The band again got to show out their skills, this time inside the twelve-bar framework. Little Feat then offered their own unique take on the blues, and closed the set with the appropriate sendoff of “Sailin' Shoes.”

After a hearty encouragement to return to the stage, Little Feat initiated their farewell with “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” Members of the opening act Miko Marks joined the group on backing vocals as a big sing a long ensued. Played even faster than classic line up versions, the Feat rolled through the night and onto their next gig with a big truck version. Jamming until the last drop, “Let It Roll,”, the only deviation from the Waiting for Columbus LP closed the show with the proper message to take home.

Far from nostalgia and still jamming strong, Little Feat’s celebration of one of the greatest live albums in rock history is a worthy endeavor. Having experienced loss, the group has found something new and worthy of their legacy. Collectively they retain a strong sense of their history, and still a fearlessness to take new musical detours from long familiar roads.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Rock Room on the Road - Gov't Mule - Live at Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards - August 6, 2022

 

Fresh off of the European leg of their 2022 tour in support of their current album Heavy Load Blues, the ‘Gov’t Mule’ touring machine pulled into ‘Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards’, Lafayette, NY. Nestled on a green hillside just south of Syracuse in orchard country, the venue offered the perfect remedy for a steamy 90 degree central New York summer day. ‘Gov’t Mule’, the twenty plus year road tested quartet comprised of legendary guitarist, Grammy winner and founding member Warren Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, multi-instrumentalist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson; served up a boiling musical gruel comprised of a multitude of diverse musical spices and hearty chunks of electric blues to the hungry crowd.

At 7:15 Mule took the stage to Warren Haynes solo vocal introduction of Son House’s ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ that acted as a blue prelude to Matt Abts drum introduction to the catalog standard ‘Mule’. A classic double opener that long time fans understood meant the group had come to play. Haynes donned a slide for this opening salvo which was immediately cracked open and sizzled like an egg on black asphalt. Danny Louis's additions of spongy keyboards were a stellar contrast to Haynes' laser focused slide excursions.

‘Wake Up Dead’ from the aforementioned Heavy Load Blues, kept the tempo high and the jamming ripe as the bluesy stomp spotlighted Danny Louis’ slippery Hammond organ excursions. His Leslie speaker rotated at high revolutions behind his impressive keyboard array. With nary a pause, the group, with Louis now lending rhythm guitar pickpocketed the opening to Junior Parker’s ‘Snatch it Back and Hold It’. The crowd surged in to a funky head bobbing groove as Haynes peeled off a series of brassy licks. Carlsson, who was fully amped strapped the bottom end down as the group illustrated their mastery of the classic Chicago blues. Sandwiched between two halves of ‘Snatch It’ was a unique Mule flavored jam called ‘Hold It Back’, essentially a heavy improv in E that pulled away from the song proper before returning to the reprise for a groovy release.

Continuing what would be a deft blend of covers and originals in the set, ‘Beautifully Broken’ from Mule’s 2001 LP The Deep End Volume 1, slowed things down for the sun-drenched crowd but contained the most intense jamming thus far. Under violet light Haynes peeled off a plethora of virtuosic solos, each more intense than the previous culminating in the expeditious scrubbing of his strings that brought the band to a full climax and the crowd to collaborative applause.

For those who have followed ‘Gov’t Mule’ from the beginning the reading of ‘Rockin Horse’ from the band’s 1995 debut, when they were still a power trio was a welcome addition to the set. Haynes donned a Gibson SG for the performance while Abts pounded musical nails to wood through the verses. Crashing waves of sustained improv splayed waves of undulating sound over the crowd. Endless crescendos of guitar and keyboard were stretched to their respective limits. Matt Abts bass drum triplets replicated heart palpitations deep inside the cavern of my chest as the group took the songs internal makeup to its absolute limits.

It's moments like the aforementioned that separate Gov’t Mule from other bands of their ilk. This isn’t a run of the mill ‘jam band’. There is nothing cute about Gov't Mule’s playing. Mule finds the pulse of a song and explores every nook and cranny organically and with patience. Their musical summits are discovered through naturally occurring group exploration not contrived peaks. There is no ‘show’ just musicians disseminating their craft with no illusions or card tricks.

Leaving the smoldering heap of rubble that was the ‘Rockin Horse’ behinf, the band slipped into the fitting commentary of ‘Revolution Come, Revolution Go’. Toward the song’s conclusion Haynes’s let go with a blue drone of feedback that levitated above the churning rhythm section then traveled over the green hills, inched over the surrounding lakes and back to the crowd’s ears. Stunning.

The opening set concluded with the two-fer of ‘Aint No Love In the Heart of the City’ another deep blues from the current album offering and the closing reggae tinged  ‘Time to Confess’. ‘Confess’ surpassed ten minutes and balanced on Matt Abts and Carlsson’s unique bricklayers take on the ‘one drop’ groove. As dusk fell on the stage the jamming intensified before detonating in a wash of Danny Louis coloring and Haynes continuing discovery of melodic ideas.

Following a set break ‘Mule’ returned to the stage as the grounds cooled and a light rain spritzed the crowd. In contrast to the intensity of the first portion of the show, ‘Mule’, masters of moods opened the concluding set with music to match the vibe. A trio of classic ‘Gov’t Mule’ songs from their early catalog sated the longtime fans. ‘No Need to Suffer’ from 2000’s Life Before Insanity started things off and gave Jorgen Carlsson an opportunity to shine as he provided a melodic lead bass part originally played by dearly departed founding member Allen Woody.

Haynes and Carlsson initiated a razor dance of intertwining lines that increased in intensity each round through the chord changes. Louis shifted the arrangement over Abts solid rock rhythm adding a unique disorientation to the already psychedelically tinged attack. ‘Painted Silver Light’, one of Haynes most enduring melodies from 1995’s band debt followed in a crisp perfection and segued into ‘Thelonious Beck’ an instrumental jam vehicle from the group’s Dose record. Haynes started things off with a slide guitar introduction wrenching up the anticipation before unleashing the songs syncopated opening. Carlsson pulsed prolifically on bass as the band slammed through the song’s angular blues changes with Haynes once again offering a discography of rock and roll licks ranging from Chuck Berry to Jerry Garcia. Light touch, sustained feedback and a color wheel of tonal expressions only touch upon Haynes magic mastery of his instrument.

The concert had reached a misty summit and began the high speed down hill to musical satisfaction with an expansive cover reading of ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’s’, ‘Effigy’. Haynes husky vocals stirred up in a pot of whisky and sawdust, were smoothed for the culturally and time appropriate cover. As the group began to leave the framework of the song a choogling country boogie began to coagulate. Notes of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Cumberland Blues’ passed by the window of the speeding musical train. The crowd danced out their approval as Haynes began to quote Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. A smile was discernable on Warren’s face as the crowd caught on to the melody and the band ignited. A highlight of the second set, band and crowd alike joined in celebratory glory.

The crowd was now pliable to the ‘Mule’s’ every want and they took it to the bank with a dubby sweet version of Al Green’s ‘I’m A Ram’ and a huge and thumping of Tom Wait’s ‘Goin Out West’ to close things out. ‘Goin Out West’ featured Warren playing with a multitude of quivering tones and edgy riffing before leaving the work to the crowd to chant the lyric, ‘Goin out West where they appreciate me’. Louis picked up his trombone and accompanied the crowd as he led the procession off of the stage to the rhythmic crowd accompaniment.

The only way to conclude such a special evening of music was with the obvious choice of ‘Soulshine’. Originally released on the ‘Allman Brothers Band’ 1994 album,  Back Where It All Begins, the song has become ‘Gov’t Mule’s’ and Warren Haynes emotional tincture and defining song. Like the best tunes, it stirs up a multitude of emotions and acts as a musical moment to remember, reflect and elicit hopefulness.

‘Gov’t Mule’ is still one of the best kept secrets in rock and roll even after almost three decades. The group encompasses all of the most unique elements of their influences and when on stage becomes something more substantial than their four pieces. Haynes is a masterful songwriter, interpreter and guitar player of the purest standard. One time a band in flux, ‘Gov’t Mule’ has melded themselves into a group of superior musicians that have acquired their second sight through hard work, constant touring and a continuous reach for the note.


Photos: Amiee Van Lew/Craig Wolfert

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Rock Room on the Road - Graham Nash - July 31, 2022 Point of the Bluff Vineyards

                                            
Graham Nash’s 2022 tour made a stop at the pastoral ‘Point of Bluff Vineyards’ in Hammondsport, NY on July 31st. While overlooking picturesque Keuka Lake and its lush green hills; Nash and his touring band of Shayne Fontane (guitars) and Todd Caldwell (Hammond Organ) played a two-set concert comprised of Nash’s impressive fifty plus career in popular music. One not so subtle takeaway from the show is just how many stellar songs and memorable melodies Nash has composed in his rock and roll hall of fame career. Songs from the ‘Hollies’, Crosby Stills Nash, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and his solo records made up the bulk of the set, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. His catalog a venerable embarrassment of melodic riches. The lack of a drummer in the on-stage band allowed the arrangements to breathe and move on their own volition. Every nuance of song captured in photographic detail like Nash’s own photo editions.

When Nash and his group took to the stage the idyllic surroundings encouraged Nash to remark, ‘For the first time in my life I’ve got a better view than you’ to the assembled crowd. The concert began with ‘Wasted on the Way’, from CSN’s 1982 LP Daylight Again. Nash’s vocal as vibrant as when he recorded the song in the studio. His tone and clarity stunning, his investment in the music tangible.

The set took on a ‘storytellers’ vibe, which is apt as Nash is one of the finest songwriters in rock and roll history. Nash’s presong tales assisted in distilling the magic from his songs. His earnest reflections framing his compositions in a new understanding. Even the songs we have heard for year took on a new shine when placed in this alternate light.

Nash paid tribute to his long-time friend and bandmate in the ‘Hollies’, Allan Clarke with a flashback version of ‘Bus Stop’. He struck a match with ‘Marrakesh Express’ and then satisfied the hardcore with a spectacular reading of ‘Right Between the Eyes’. A song the bridges the gap between Nash’s Hollies’ career and his joining of ‘Crosby, Stills, and Nash.’

Graham Nash’s lead vocals for the weathered throat an 80-year-old rocker are stunning. There was no doubt at all over the course of the show of whether or not he could it the note. He hit it constantly. For the aforementioned ‘Right Between the Eyes’ and following ‘Lady of the Island’ Nash sang the songs naked and without any backing vocal support.

A highlight of the first set of music came when a visibly moved Nash dedicated the next piece of music to the military and civilian casualties that had taken place in Ukraine. Nash and his previous bandmates never shied from sharing their political feelings, and easing into his eighth decade would be no different for Graham. A poignant ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ acted as a prelude to a welcome version of ‘Military Madness’ which gained a standing ovation. Nash would get many over the rest of the evening. It was not lost on any of the crowd that the music was still just as relevant as the day of its creation.

A reflective story about Nash, Crosby and Croz’s boat preceded a cathartic version of ‘Wind on the Water’ a song from the 1975 Crosby/Nash record of the same name. Nash posted up at piano for the aforementioned before grabbing his acoustic for the two song set closers. First, a daring three-piece attempt at ‘The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’ which was pulled off splendidly. Both Todd Caldwell’s Hammond organ flourishes and Fontaine’s deft slide work made the Nash band able to play a stirring reading of a difficult cover. Following the big conclusion of ‘A Day In the Life’, one final ‘cover’ song closed the set with a crowd singalong version of  Stephen Stills 1970 classic, ‘Love the One You’re With’.

Kudos to both Shayne Fontaine and Todd Caldwell whose obvious familiarity with Nash’s catalog as well as their full investment in its creative dissemination helped to make the show. Fontaine and Caldwell allowed Nash to drive the songs with his acoustic playing and focus on his soaring still resonant vocals. An absolute master in harmony, Nash was fluid and moved his voice within the songs like he always has. In addition, to their own respective voices, with Fontaine on bottom and Caldwell on top they met the difficult task of replicating many legendary harmonies.  All of the original licks were hit and played with a unique twist. When required Caldwell’s organ also added a deep bass to the proceedings.

                                  

Following a short intermission, Nash returned to the piano with harp rack for a yearning ‘Simple Man’, from 1971’s Song for Beginners. Following the emotional gravity of the opening number, Nash then played a major highlight of the evening with Joni Mitchell’s, ‘A Case of You’. Played in a medium tempo, Nash took three harmonica breaks and sang eyes closed through what concluded as a rare and special performance by Nash and his group.

‘Sleep Song’ and its intimate changes following ‘A Case of You’ was a perfect matched pair. One could even think that Nash staged the songs this way due to their close relationship and shared feelings. Nash remained on acoustic for the only current original number, the beautiful Nash/Fontaine look back, ‘Golden Days’ from Nash’s 2016 album This Path Tonight.

Following the emotional pondering of the opening numbers, Nash and friends finish the performance with a hearty serving of Nash’s penned favorites and musical tributes to the past. A duo from 1970’s ‘Crosby, Stills Nash and Young’s Déjà vu brought the house down. First a tender rendition of the second Stephen Stills track of the night, ‘4 and 20’, then a stunning multifarious and vocally vibrant version of Neil Young’s ‘Country Girl’. Nash is fearless in the songs he plays and how he pays tribute to his musical past, present and still relevant future. The crowd roared their approval and offered another standing ovation.

Two ‘big’ CSN, CSNY songs finished the show proper. The first, ‘Just a Song Before I Ago’ was preceded by the Nash story about the genesis of the song coming after being challenged by his ‘dealer’ (for $500.00) to write a song before he had to catch a plane. Obviously, Nash won the bet and added the humorous aside, ‘Fuck him’. The expected but welcome ‘Our House’ concluded the show and offered a swaying, smiling and peaceful close to the evening. The crowd responded in kind and Nash was all smiles as he thanked the crowd endearingly and honestly. The biggest ovation of the night followed and Nash and his band returned to the stage for a double encore.

An optimistic three-part harmony performance of Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’ was the perfect closer. Nash explained that keyboardist Caldwell was from Holly’s hometown of Lubbock and then the obvious connection between Buddy Holly's nomenclature and Graham’s first band. CSNY's ‘Teach Your Children’ followed closely and brought the night to a positive conclusion expressing an eternal message of hope.

Hope is what Nash’s music has always given to his fans and admirers. Graham Nash's songs are his testament and he continues to curate them. He is a renaissance man and one that will never be filled creatively. He continues to write, paint, picture and sing; and we will continue to lucky recipients of the results.


Photos: Amiee Van Lew