The Week That Was
Well, I went 2-for-4 on shows this week, as the Hudson Falcons show was also cancelled because of the bad weather on Friday. And while I'm still a little bummed about missing the Pogues, I feel quite all right after the Levon Helm show at the Beacon Saturday night.
But first things first: Hippiefest. After toying with the idea of bailing on Hippiefest once the Pogues announced that Wednesday's show was definitely on, I decided to stay true to my original plan and head out to Newark. On the surface, trading a Pogues show for a Hippiefest show sounds like a horrible exchange, And, in fact, if you go beneath the surface, the same holds true. But I don't like to change plans. And I like NJPAC much more than I like Roseland. Go there someday. Remember the unofficial City of Newark motto: "Newark...It's Not So Bad."
Anyway, the most interesting acts of the show (aside from the drunk couple who occasionally sat next to me throughout the night) were Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Iron Butterfly, and Mountain. After taking the stage to an introduction stating that Grand Funk sold 25 million records (which drew the line of the night from the female half of the drunken couple: "Well then what the f&*k are they doing here?"), Farner kicked things off with the noted hippie anthem "The Loco-Motion" and then ran around the stage like a slightly less flamboyant Billy Squier for a few more songs, including "Some Kind of Wonderful." But the cherry on the top of the four-song set was "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)," which Farner, who has that too-old-to-be-that-muscular Joe Piscopo thing going for him, dedicated to the troops. But it was an odd dedication. Went like this: "I want to send this song out to all the troops who are fighting overseas and protecting other countries' borders..."
I would like to interrupt this dedication to point out that this is where I started clapping. This is noted because of the rest of the dedication.
"...when they should be home protecting ours."
Now, maybe it was just oddly worded, but I got the feeling that I may have been clapping for an anti-immigration dedication. I was confused, but the people across the aisle were ecstatic and jumped to their feet. And I was even more confused when he left the stage and said, "And God bless what's left of America." Hmmmm...baffled.
Iron Butterfly was interesting only because there was a scheduled 20-minute intermission before their performance. So I was in the lobby for about five minutes when the lights dimmed, indicating it was time to return to your seats. I assumed that was a mistake, but they dimmed again about five minutes later. So I walked back into the hall and found the guy from Iron Butterfly at the organ and just starting the intro to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I almost missed it. Close call. So, about 15 minutes later, the song ends and it's "Thanks! Good night!" Wow. That's got to be the best gig in the world. One and out. Thanks for the check. To their credit, they nailed it.
Mountain ended the show with a wildly entertaining set, highlighted, naturally, by "Mississippi Queen" and "Nantucket Sleigh Ride." Even if you didn't dig the music, watching Corky Laing on the drums was enough entertainment for you. He likes to bounce drumsticks off the drums and cymbals and into the crowd. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes he just hit guitarist Leslie West (who can still play damn good) in the back of the head. But it never stops being fun to watch.
So, all in all, hats off to Hippiefest. Probably could've lived without Mitch Ryder and Denny Laine (though the latter did do "Band on the Run," smash hit on the 1980s-era jukebox of either Eva's Farm or Donnie's Green Lantern in Purling, NY) and I doubt the show was better than the Pogues, but Mountain kicked ass and I can now tell my grandkids that I saw Iron Butterfly do "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I suspect they will be amazed.
Viva la Hippiefest! And turn it up, man:
The Levon Helm show at the Beacon is the frontrunner for 2007 Show of the Year, and will be real hard to beat. It would have been a good show if Levon, who is beating throat cancer at the moment, sang a few Band songs. But not only did he dip liberally into the Band catalog, but he was backed by a killer band that featured Larry Campbell (formerly of Bob Dylan's band) and Jimmy Vivino (from the Max Weinberg 7) on guitar and Howard Johnson (the tuba player, not the ex-Met or the hotelier) anchoring a four- (sometimes five-) piece horn section. And then there were the special guests: Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Warren Haynes from the Allman Brothers Band, and, for the finale of "Take Me to the River," The Band's own Garth Hudson.
I would pick out the highlights, but the whole damn thing was pretty much a highlight. I'll try to narrow it down to the three highest of highlights. The first was Dr. John singing "Such A Night," which almost made me feel like I was at the Last Waltz for a few minutes. Then there was hearing Levon sing "Up on Cripple Creek," which was so damn good to hear coming out of his mouth that I felt spiritually moved (man, when did I start sounding like a Deadhead...too much Hippiefest). And, finally, there was the sight of a roadie frantically following Garth Hudson all around the stage, desperately trying to put a microphone near his accordion so, you know, people could hear it over the dozen or so musicians. The mad race to amplify the accordion finally ended with Garth behind the Hammond B-3, playing the organ with the accordion strapped across his chest. There is only one Garth Hudson. And only one Levon Helm. And for one night, they were back together on stage at the Beacon.
But wait, there was also Levon on the mandolin singing "Atlantic City," Allen Toussaint singing "Yes We Can Can," a damn fine opening set from Ollabelle, Larry Campbell sawing on a fiddle and playing it hot, Levon thanking his doctor from Sloan-Kettering (they're good people they are), "Chest Fever"... I could go on forever. You shoulda been there.
The Week That Will Be
MON 3/19--More Dr. John at the Housing Works Used Book Cafe, where he will be part of a discussion about the new Doc Pomus biography, Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, written by Alex Halberstadt. Pomus had a hand in writing a dazzling number of classic songs, including "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Viva Las Vegas,"This Magic Moment," "Youngblood," "Teenager in Love," and "Sweets for My Sweet." And he was, by all accounts, a pretty interesting guy. Find out more at the reading, which will also feature the author, Pomus's brother Raoul Felder, and Ben E. King. FREE, 7 p.m., 126 Crosby St.
WED 3/21--Fresh from Saturday night's show at the Beacon, Amy Helm will open a show for Ruthie Foster at the Knitting Factory Tap Bar. I've heard good things about Ruthie Foster, but don't really know much about her. I've never seen Amy Helm outside of Ollabelle either, but these are no reasons to stop me from attending the show. And they won't. $12 in advance/$15 day of show, 8 p.m., 74 Leonard Street
THU 3/22--There is no show that has ever sent me in such a ticket-buying frenzy that I felt compelled to join a fan club just to get the first crack at tickets. But a show with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price had just such an effect on me. As soon as I saw word about the Last of the Breed Tour hitting Radio City Music Hall, I scoured through the Web until I found Willie's fan club, plunked down my $29.95, and got seats in the third row. Hot damn. I could not be more excited about this show. If it sucks, I'll be devastated. But I don't see how it could. With Asleep at the Wheel, $46.50-$81.50, 8 p.m., Radio City Music Hall, 1260 6th Ave.
SAT 3/24--It's time for the annual trip to the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, PA, for a Country Legends show. The trip became slightly less exciting when Porter Wagoner bailed last month. But then he added a show at Joe's Pub at the end of this month, and now all is well. This year's lineup, while nowhere near last year's all-time all-star show, is still passable, with Jack Greene heading the list for me, followed in order by Stonewall Jackson, Jan Howard, Freddie Hart, Jim Ed Brown, and Helen Cornelius. I'm bringing so many albums to get signed, it's stupid. Stay tuned for the photo recap. Seriously, you're not coming. Why should I list the particulars here?