The play of children and the play of ensemble improvisers like the Grateful Dead share numerous co-identifying qualities. Definitions of play and improvisation precede a comparison of the Dead and the Beatles. These two bands have been exhaustively described, but herein is a focus on the quality of play and the play ethos they both inspired. This spirit of play as it emerged in other forms of 1960s rock and its implications for communitas bespeaks the potential for playfulness and music to advance society, not unlike the message of dada-Surrealism. Get the scoop here…Dead Beatles
My 2002 Bumbershoot
ATG=albums to get
IDK=I don’t know
Something about Bumbershoot just gets my gizzards a goin’, and I fall in love with music all over again. Clutching my $28 two-day pass, tightly sweatly, I tanked up on a big breakfast at the Mecca, established retreats in the homes of my two close friends in Lower Queen Anne, and girded myself for the celebration.
First of all, the people. There were lots of them. So many I just don’t know what to say.
Next, the music. I got to listen to musicians I consider old friends, though they have asked me to stop showing up at their homes. First was Dan Hicks, whose sonofabitch insults have mellowed slightly, but were there in good form. We need rascals over the age of sixty. A friend commented, “Funny how he gets older but the (female) backup singers stay so young”…though they did contribute. The set had ups and downs, it was overall an exceptional review of his amazing repertoire—the only vocal swing music written since 1960 to add anything to the genre. He IS the real thing as a vocalist, songwriter, rhythm guitarist, bandleader. All hail Dan Hicks [ATG: Strikin’ It Rich; Where’s the Money? Beatin’ the Heat]. But wait, it gets better.
With mild trepidation I headed out to see Ani deFranco. I’d checked her out once before on a bill with Maceo Parker (yes, I know, they’re friends, but the shared billing makes no sense). She’d been spirited, fun, not great. But lo, this time the girl rocked steady. She has got a rhythm thing goin’ with her guitar that has hotter licks than Richie Havens, but evokes his approach. She’s actually, on quite a few numbers, a funky bass player goin’ nuts on a guitar, with a political poet’s mission. If she’s not in sync with the audience, it could get tiresome. But thanks to the good vibes me and few thousand other (there they are again!) PEOPLE were sending her way, she rocked. Still, I left before it was over, silly me. In doing so, I missed out on the even MORE overtly political stuff she was puttin’ out. A friend gave me the summary: 1) George W. Bush was NOT elected president; 2) We no longer live in a democracy; and 3) (repeated three times) We will not be fooled by the media. She was the first of three artists to git their politics out. Well, we’ve got to get them somewhere. My friend who stayed said that fully two thirds of the audience cheered this. Do the math, friend—stop, children, watch that sign! ATG: IDK
Break. Retreat. Smoke a cigar. Back at night for . . .
Lou Reed. Lou Reed. Lou Reed. Lou Reed and Neil Young are the two artists from the Sixties who just keep getting stronger with age. His set behind New York, when I saw him last, like 1989-90, was more nuanced, but this show rocked loud and hard, and his insistence on doing whatever the f he wants is what keeps him so interesting. The band relied on a couple of rock ‘n’ roll tricks built around crescendos, and this is fine, standard stuff. But reciting the title cut off his new album The Raven (yes, based on Poe’s poem; another song was called Edgar Allen Poe) with a screaming and disturbing self-accompaniment, and the filthy potent lyrics of “The Rock Minuet” were what really did it for me. Lou was a nightcap that just kept me excited and ready for the next day (ATG: Rock ‘n Roll Animal; Transformer; Berlin; New York; Coney Island Baby; and I’m thinkin’ The Raven, and with The Velvet Underground: White Light, White Heat; Loaded; Banana Peel).
Day Two started with a favorite that held my Number One spot for a couple of hours. Mr. Dave Edmunds. Special connections: I saw him in Nick Lowe’s band in 1977 the night two buddies and I decided to start a band. A few years later we opened for him at Bill Graham’s club in San Francisco, Wolfgang’s. Our singer got lost in the underground parking lot with him. And I ate shrimp and cocktail sauce off the table Graham had set for him in his dressing room when we invaded it during his set (that still brings a guilty tear to my eye). But enough about me.
Edmunds, to my surprise (pleasant) played acoustic solo guitar the entire time, as in no band, baby (Okay, the encore was on an electric guitar, Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, with a drum machine). He played many of my favorites (although Bob Seger’s Get Out of Denver was not included): Queen of Hearts, I’m Ready, Crawlin’ From The Wreckage, I Hear You Knockin’, I Knew the Bride, and on and on. But mate, he has not stopped developing or improving his craft on the guitar. I never woulda thought, but Edmunds is becoming the Chet Atkins of our generation. And he can sing. His technique is not as clean as Atkins’ (whose is?), but he approaches that level of virtuosity, and is overall more creative and rooted in rock. But what I’m getting at here, is that almost a third of the material was instrumental. Dave said it was because one in the PM was too early for him. But amongst the instrumental DELIGHTS were a killer instrumental version of Lady Madonna, Mason Williams Classical Gas (that’s right, Classical Gas!), and after watching Milos Forman’s Amadeus, Dave got inspired, locked himself in the woodshed, and produced a solo guitar arrangement of the Allegro from Mozart’s 40th Symphony. I’m lovin’ this. Another Beatles cover (he’s never recorded one as far as I know), Here Comes the Sun, dedicated to George Harrison. Another Beatles connection for me is that I saw Rockpile, his band with Nick Lowe, at San Francisco’s Warfield on December 12, 1980, just a few days after Lennon was shot (They’d played Seattle on December 10]. The honoring was all in the playing then, just a brief mention from the stage.
But Edmunds was more than a sentimental favorite. He showed us just how entertaining an unaccompanied guitar strummer and picker with a half-decent rock and roll voice can be. And yes, he did Mystery Train and Blue Moon of Kentucky a la Elvis as well. No one honors Elvis’s rockabilly style with more class. I coulda died a happy man right then and there. [ATG: Get It. Twangin’. Rockpile. More Subtle Than A Flying Mallet. Or the 3-cd anthology looked pretty good.]
But nooooooooo. I had to stay for poor old Dave (not Ray) Davies. And he’s put some of the seminal Sixties guitar licks onto Kinks albums, one of my very most favorite bands of the Sixties (they rocked harder than the Beatles, popped better than the Stones, had the most intelligent lyrics and the worst of luck), the Kinks. But without the real thing, the opener Where Have All the Good Times Gone was probably the peak of the set and I headed for the door before the third song was done. The problem was following Dave Edmunds, no matter how loud Ray cranked it. Okay, he sucked. [ATG: Solo albums by Dave IDK, but by the Kinks: Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of the British Empire}; The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society; Something Else By The Kinks; Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround; and any of the myriad early greatest hits collection with their early singles on them
And I’m glad he did, cause I got to go check out Linton Kwesi Johnson, who paired every song with a political struggle that he quietly and courageously explained to the audience. He sang standing straight and proud, solemn, while a classic reggae outfit supported him, straight up the reggae alley, but distinguished by a superb electric violinist, who wove effects and solos. My reggae ration runneth over, and I have a new favorite reggae artist, though I believe he hails from England [ATG: IDK but get one].
And now. Presenting. The best music I heard at Bumbershoot 2002 (no, I doubt their drummer could produce much of a drum roll), but Sonic Youth, who I don’t follow much—I traced their earliest album to 1986—and I have Daydream Nation on a cassette somewhere, and I have Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star but haven’t listened to it much. Okay, fuck me, discredit me, do what you will. None of these Youth of Sonic even play their instruments that well, but as a unit they cook as fine as any. That is, they don’t just manage to get a sound out, but they are capable of incredible musical explorations as a collective mind. In this ensemble sense, they are absolutely superb musicians, and my spidey-sense says that they are a band maturing and hitting their creative peak. Bye bye cult status, hello mainstream stardom. They might even save one of those hopeless record companies along the way. They have three different lead singers. They have at least six different kinds of songs (SUCH a rarity these days]. They trade instrumental roles. Okay, their guitarist (the one on the left] is actually pretty good, then there is the outrageous woman [no I don’t know her name, and the album packaging isn’t helping me either] with her highly magnetic and violent thrashings, the center of the band. Except she sings only occasionally. There’s this other guy, I think his name is Dave Markey, and he has a great voice and unique approach to playing noise and notes on his guitar. He’s the lyrically, songish creative one. No compromises here, folks, and if you’ve got the energy, go with these folks. Tops I’m out [ATG: IDK but I will be giving both of mine (see above) much more listening in the immediate future].
But what better way to sign off on Sunday night than with the Ramsey Lewis Trio? Forget whatever he had to do to sell records and have a career (Wade in the Water; The In Crowd], Ramsey Lewis is a jazz pianist, plain and simple, or rather melodious, sophisticated and soaring. You’d usually have to pay big bucks to see him, so this was a treat. He didn’t understand the 15% of the audience who walked out early. “Maybe I should stop now” he asked the crowd. “No no no” protested the 85% who came to dig him and his great bassist and drummer. Folks, I’m gonna be a bad reviewer and just tell you: sweet. [ATG: IDK, but I like Les Fleurs, and I have a couple of his early albums on vinyl. Verve just put out Ramsey Lewis’ Finest Hour which is probably a good start. If you are not ready for the dissonant testifying of the jazz geniuses Davis, Coltrane, Parker, Monk, Mingus, Coleman, etc., but like the feel of jazz and want to hear someone who has really mastered his instrument and the idiom, get with Ramsey.