Monday, December 5, 2011

Jam Week - String Cheese Incident/Dark Star Orchestra/Donna the Buffalo

I had the good fortune last week to see three different musical performances, all by bands that would be loosely categorized as "jam bands". The first was String Cheese Incident at the Baltimore Lyric Opera House, then Dark Star Orchestra at the 9:30 club in DC, and finally Donna the Buffalo at the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis, MD.

The first show, or "Incident" as String Cheese likes to call their shows, was my first visit to the Baltimore Lyric Opera House. There have been previous performers there that interested me, but I felt that the ticket prices were too steep. But the Incident pricing was reasonable and it is rare for this band to tour on the East Coast so I bought a ticket.  It was not quite a sellout, but a house full of devoted Cheeseheads who were totally into the music. I've listened to this band plenty of times, I think they're very talented musicians, but none of their songs have ever really stuck with me. Guitarist Bill Nershi often tours the festival circuit with Drew Emmitt (of Leftover Salmon). Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth is originally from Baltimore and he commented during the show that he performed as a child at the Lyric in a holiday concert. (Someone next to me believed that his parents were watching from offstage). The Lyric Opera House is over 100 years old, but was recently renovated. It seems to seat about 2500 people (compared to the Warner Theater's 1800). The sight lines and acoustics are excellent and there is a reasonably priced parking garage immediately next to the theater. The only thing that I didn't like (along with other folks that I talked to) is you can't take your drink from the lobby into the theater. So you can drink or listen to music, just not both at the same time.

A couple of nights later we decided to catch Dark Star Orchestra at the 9:30 club, I've commented on this band before in this space, unlike most cover bands who play songs by other artists, Dark Star performs entire Grateful Dead concerts. The date of the concert being recreated is never announced until the end of the show so during the show audience members discuss and guess which one of the 25,000+ Dead shows they are listening to. This one turned out to be from October 8, 1989 at the Hampton Roads Coliseum. I thought the Dark Star lost a step when John Kadlecik was promoted to play with Furthur and was replaced with Jeff Mattson. But this was the best performance that I had heard from them since John's departure, it was really quite enjoyable. In line for tickets we found ourselves standing next to Senator Al Franken (D - Minnesota) who seemed to be having a good time hanging out with real people and not having to deal with the clowns in his workplace a few blocks down the street. He got on stage to introduce the band for the second set, it's kind of funny, you can watch it by clicking here.

The final show of this jam band trifecta was Donna the Buffalo at the intimate Ram's Head Tavern.  This was a very enjoyable show, we've seen them plenty of times before but they are always entertaining, especially in a nice venue like the Ram's Head. They played a wide variety of songs, old and new, many of them audience requests. That was the especially nice part of the show, because of the intimate setting, the band members frequently interacted with the audience, chatting them up, Tara even told a dirty joke while Jeb was tuning. She seemed to regret that, so she asked an audience member to tell one, and someone quickly complied. It was great seeing and hearing DTB in this intimate and casual setting. I should also mention that Amy LaVere and her band opened the show. I never had heard of her before, but she was very impressive. She plays stand up bass and sings in a style that reminded me a little of Amy Winehouse. All original material, although she did perform "Candle Mambo" by Captain Beefheart!

So at the risk of sounding like Goldilocks, the first show was a great new venue for me, the band was good but the content (i.e. the songs) were not very strong. The second show was a favorite band in a favorite venue, but nothing really new or exciting. And the last show was "just right", great setting and great music.