Sunday, January 17, 2010

Zappa Plays Zappa - January 15 - Ram's Head Live

This was my fifth time seeing Dweezil Zappa and his band perform his father's music. Each time has been a superb evening of live Zappa music. In past tours, ZPZ has included guest performers who are alumni from Frank Zappa bands (Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, Ray White, Napoleon Murphy Brock, et. al.), however on this short tour it was pure ZPZ with no guests. But that was fine since Dweezil has assembled a band of very talented musicians who can play the heck out of a wide range of Zappa tunes. They had a new singer, Ben Thomas, who I had not seen before. He did a very good job with the challenging vocals and the improvisations that always made Zappa music fun to watch live.

The band started out on time and seemed almost in a hurry as they whipped through "Broken Hearts are for Assholes", "Bamboozled by Love", and "Dirty Love".  Then a very nice version of "RDNZL". Dweezil introduced "You Didn't Try to Call Me" saying that it was a rare arrangement that was only used briefly in the mid seventies when Frank had a female vocalist in the band (I missed her name). Scheila Gonzales handled the lead vocals this time and it was really nice. That was followed by "Road Ladies", a gem from the Chunga's Revenge album and version of "T'mershi Duween".

The band seemed to loosen up some and relax as they went back to the Joe's Garage album and played "Catholic Girls" and "Crew Slut" (with a superb guitar solo by Jamie Kime and some nice harmonica work by Ben). By now Dweezil was joking with the crowd, asking where to get good crab cakes.

It was recently announced that the City of Baltimore had selected a place to put a statue of Frank Zappa that was being given to the city by some dedicated fans in Lithuania. You can read about it here. Dweezil improvised the lyrics to "Pigmy Twylyte" to say that he'd be glad to attend the dedication ceremony if someone would tell him when it would be.

They closed with an encore including "Stinkfoot" and "Muffin Man" (which is a great song for an encore).  We grabbed a bite to eat before the show at a Mexican restaurant/night club next door to the Ram's Head where Vanilla Ice was scheduled to perform. I don't know why I'm mentioning that, it just seemed weird. My complaint on the Ram's Head is still that unless you're packed in the front, your choices are places where you can see well or hear well, but not both. Otherwise it was a good crowd with a high percentage of females for a Zappa show, the Bird suspects that Dweezil is gaining a following of his own with the ladies. In fact when Dweezil asked the audience in "What should I eat for dinner tonight?", one girl in front answered "Me!". Dweezil said his wife wasn't fond of that recipe.

A couple of other notes. Someone named Fred Midgett posted a very nice review of the show earlier in the week on the Zappa Plays Zappa web site. Fred is a huge Zappa fan and he wrote a loving note of thanks to Dweezil. You can read it in its entirety here. Scroll down to find Fred's posting.
Dweezil also mentioned a new web site called that has a bunch of cool stuff on it, especially details on DZ's guitar rig and a great video of Dweezil playing with Tenacious D!

Finally as I look at my first three concerts of 2010 I notice an interesting common thread. They're all shows with bands playing music from the sixties and seventies, dare I say "re-creating". My next concert is Yes, with some original members, but the keyboard player is the son of the original keyboardist (Rick Wakeman) and the lead singer is a replacement (who sounds exactly like Jon Anderson). That will be followed by Furthur, which is Bob Weir and Phil Lesh and several other talented musicians playing Grateful Dead songs. And of course I just saw Dweezil, faithfully performing his father's music. I'm not sure what it all means, I'll share my perspective over the next few weeks. Perhaps a few years from now all the shows that I go to will be cover bands consisting of sons and daughters of the original artists. But at this point I'm happy to see Dweezil any time he wants to bring his band to town and play some tasty Zappa tunes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

City Farm - January 9 - Tiffany Tavern

Last Saturday the Tiffany Tavern and City Farm teamed up again and provided a warm refuge from the frigid winter with great music, drink and friendship. Brother Ed was absent due to another commitment, but the remaining five members stepped up to the challenge and provided a evening of fine musical entertainment. Without Ed on guitar, Paul had to keep the mandolin mainly in the case and take out the six string. But Paul is a really fine guitar player so while Ed was sorely missed, it was nice to hear Paul's tasty finger picking style.
The atmosphere is always that of a neighborhood bar, though the neighborhood is thirty years ago and two hundred and fifty miles away. The bar was full (as normal) with a healthy representation of Danville expats and I was especially pleased to find a couple of pals from my college days in attendance. When City Farm plays at the Tavern there is a definite synergy between the band and the patrons, with everyone enjoying the music and making requests, and the band (I believe) getting inspired and motivated by the warmth and positive feedback from the crowd. The cramped, er.. well let's call it "intimate" space at the Tavern encourages you to strike up a conversation with those sitting or standing next to you. Saturday night a guy said to me: "These guys are great! What's the name of this band?"
"Why, they're the City Farm," I said. And while I didn't get his name, I expect I'll see him back there again real soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Year End Summary

Now that 2009 has come to an end I thought that I would look back and review my live music experiences, which after all was the primary reason for starting this blog at the beginning of 2009. Live music is one of my favorite “hobbies” or “recreational activities” and this tool has turned out to be a good way for me to document and somewhat preserve my memories. I look forward to continuing this blog in 2010 and I hope that I create some great new memories to save here. I’m toying with adding new features, perhaps live “tweets” from shows, certainly adding more photographs, and I would like to figure out how to add relevant music downloads.

Looking back at 2009 the first major highlight is definitely our seven show Dead experience in April and May. We caught the first show of the tour in Greensboro, NC only hours after returning from our Jamaica vacation and we finished five weeks later in Mountain View, California. This was wonderful for me on so many levels. The band reinvented itself for this tour with new energy and provided some of its best performances (I believe) in over 20 years. As I noted in the blog, I finally realized how the tour is really one long show and that is why so many people make the effort to see as many concerts as they can. I also saw my first show at the historic Madison Square Garden and one of the last shows at the venerable Philadelphia Spectrum (“we’re going to tear this old building down!”). It was a great experience to share with my wife (“The Bird”) who loves the Dead so much and I think it was an excellent new chapter in the continuing rock music education for my son (“The Boy”) who went to the first and last of our seven episodes.

Music festivals have always been great fun for us and an excellent way to experience many different bands in a beautiful outdoor setting. As is tradition for us, we went to the All Good and the FloydFest Festivals again in 2009. These two festivals are very different in their character and environment, but both deliver a nice mix of new bands and old favorites. We went to DelFest this year for the second time, and although a near tornado ripped through the festival site on Saturday afternoon the spirit and the music prevailed. In October of 2009 I went to the Crozet Music Festival (just outside Charlottesville) and had a wonderful time at this small local event. The weather and setting were perfect and there is plenty of local music talent to keep this festival on the “repeat” list.

The concert with the most “star power” for me in 2009 was probably Steve Winwood/Eric Clapton in June at the Verizon Center. For some strange reason I had never seen Eric Clapton before, but his performance with his old partner from Blind Faith was top notch professionism and a 2009 highlight for me.

Other musical artists that truly impressed me in 2009: Old Crow Medicine Show at the DelFest. After the storm, everyone was sort of wet, down, and wondering if the festival was going to go on (the main stage took major damage). The OCMS moved to the indoor rec center and created a positive storm of musical energy that got everyone dancing and back in the zone of good vibrations. Jackie Greene at the All Good Festival. I would love to see him again soon, he’s got just the right combination of original songwriting and musical skills that leave you wanting more. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at the FloydFest. This performance made a big impression on me and I made the effort to see them again (a short set at the Rt. 29 Revue at Merriweather Post and a rocking show at the Ram’s Head Live). She is a very talented performer and continues to win fans nationwide. Mark my word, she’ll have a hit single someday and Grace Potter will be a household name.

Another super highlight for me was the City Farm Benefit show in August, seeing so many Danville friends, young and old (well I guess old and older!) in such a positive setting was a ton of fun. My parody of the event in my blog got a lot of favorable comments, except from the band members who thought it was a factual report of the event.

There were many other highlights, seeing Dave Matthews in California with the Boy after touring the college where he’ll be for the next four years, a killer Allman Brothers performance at the Merriweather, watching Donna the Buffalo from the shelter of the VIP seats at FloydFest while it poured down rain (thank you John!), the list goes on and on. In fact, by my count I saw 29 shows (counting each Festival as one “show”) and over 90 bands this year. I’m afraid to run the total on my Quicken account to see how much $$ I spent on concert tickets, that’s a number that’s probably best left unknown.

As I look over the 2009 list a few things are missing. No shows at the Birchmere or the Strathmore! This is a sin to live so close to such treasures and not take advantage of it. I still have yet to see Bruce Springsteen live and I missed his tour again this year. My calendar didn’t line up this year with Bob Dylan’s never ending world tour. These things will be addressed in 2010. And speaking of Bruce and Bob, check out Jon Stewart's tribute to Bruce Springsteen at the Kennedy Center Honors. It's brilliant.

We finished 2009 in Austin, Texas (“the live music capital of the world”) and I was able to catch a few sets (the Evans Johnson band played some rockin’ rock-a-billy at Antone’s and I saw a fun bar band on Sixth Street but I forgot their name). Austin is a town where you can hear great live music every night if you want so we’ll have to get back down there again soon.

It looks like 2010 will start off with some good music, I have tickets already for Zappa Plays Zappa in January, in February it’s going to be Yes and Furthur. And I have tickets for DelFest and FloydFest, and I’ll pick up my All Good tickets as soon as they go on sale. Thanks for reading this, I appreciate your comments and I hope to see you at the next show.