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2014: A Few Favorite Records

In this year-closing time frame of lists, reviews, recaps, and rehashes, I’ve gone back and forth on the notion of providing a favorite albums post for a variety of reasons. These range from vanity to the desire to operate in any mode that counters my hungry ego. I have done year-end lists before, and upon reading them, realized that I’m not qualified to tell anyone what’s the “best” anything. Foremost among the arguments against is the simple fact of scope. I’m not a professional music critic. By that, I intend not to imply that the pros have greater authority due to their receipt of compensation, but rather that they have the time and inclination to listen to a far broader selection of releases in the course of a year.

That said, I do listen to a lot of new music. I certainly miss out on plenty of it, but the years don’t pass me by the way they did in the 90’s. Then, I skimmed past the pop or rock hits of the day (remember when rock music WAS pop?) on my way to the classic rock station in between Grateful Dead or Phish tapes. Now, I buy albums in wife-aggravating quantities. It’s still hard to keep up but the rewards are rich.

Woods - With Light And With Love

Woods – With Light And With Love (Woodsist (072) 2014)

If you peruse my previous lists, you’ll find one artist prominantly mentioned time and time again: Woods. Their 2014 offering, “With Light And With Love”, constantly finds its way to my turntable. Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere continue to craft brilliant songs with melodies that seem to already inhabit my heart before the first needle drop. They tidily blend broiling tension into blissful Harrison-esque slide riffs while Earl’s upper register vocals deliver lyrics that kick the heart up into the brain. At this point, they’re on a run of albums few artists have matched since the 70s.

But they’re not alone in commanding my pre-ordering loyalties. White Fence moved to the big time (in indie label terms) with the release of “For The Recently Found Innocent” on Drag City Records. It’s likely no coincidence that Tim Presley’s sometimes collaborator (and recordist for this record), Ty Segall has put out a number of great albums via Drag City. Here, we get more of what Presley does best: bent melodies, sharp lyrics, fuzz boxes, and a disconcerting sense of time. This time, he’s moved on from his bedroom four-track to Segall’s home-studio eight track but little is lost in the upgrade. If you’ve ever taken my recommendation on White Fence before, you know what to do now. If you haven’t, this is the right time to jump in.

Speaking of Ty Segall, his album for Drag City this year, “Manipulator” is a garage rawk classic. Since its release, I’ve constantly gone back when I want to turn up the room and throw down with some high energy awesome.

But it’s not always time to rock out. Continue reading

My First Phish Show 1994-10-08

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

I backed into my first Phish show well after becoming a fan. I’m fairly certain that I was turned on to the group in High School though it was my first year of college where I began to absorb much of their music. Junta played constantly in our dorms and, as I grew my Grateful Dead tape collection, I began adding a few Phish tapes. But that was the early 90’s and I was still very much focused on seeing as much Grateful Dead as possible. This attitude and my slim wallet kept me away from Phish shows until 1994.

In March of ’94, I had purchased a ticket to my first Phish show the next month at the local college (George Mason University) basketball arena, the Patriot Center. But I soon learned that The Band (at least those who remained in the line-up) would be playing Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Theater that same week. Concerned about having another shot at seeing Levon and co., I sold my Phish ticket to a buddy and bought a ticket to see The Band. No regrets.

Truer Words...

Truer Words…

Flash forward to Autumn. Freshly enrolled in the local community college, making new friends, many of who were Grateful Dead and Phish fans, and Phish was slated to return to the Patriot Center. One of my new friends, Chris, offered me one of his extra tickets and plans were set. I was finally going to see this group.

George Mason is a sprawling suburban university that matches the character of Northern Virginia quite well. Attractive, yet deliberate, green spaces are surrounded by too much pavement and cars are everywhere. We arrived early and, counter to my experiences at Dead shows, there wasn’t much of a scene. A few people were making grilled cheese for themselves, and maybe one guy was selling shirts but, for the most part, folks kept to themselves. I can only assume that the campus housing was a different scene altogether. We picked out a spot with some grass and relaxed in the lovely Autumn afternoon before heading in to the show.

Patriot Center is a round-ish basketball venue. It has no upper deck but reserved seating all the way around and, for this show, on the floor. As we entered, a fan handed me a purple flyer that read, “Phish Is A Really Cool Band.” Indeed.Our seats were on Page’s side, ahead of the board, a few rows above the floor. pretty much perfect. Unless you compare to those of my friend Modi whom we saw bouncing to the PA music all the way up to the front of the floor.

We were pumped.

We were ready.

The lights went down. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Jerry

Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia

It’s the first of August once again and today we celebrate Jerry Garcia’s birthday.

This year, I’d like to share with you a video of one of the many great moments I had the fortune to experience live. This version of Shining Star by The Manhattans was performed by the Jerry Garcia Band at Hampton Coliseum on November 19, 1993. It’s a slow song but was deeply moving to be present as the audience sang to Jerry and he sang back to us. Put this on and enjoy.

Grandma Sparrow

Megafaun with Grandma Sparrow @ DC9

Grandma Sparrow is a new project from Megafaun’s drummer, Joe Westerlund.

It’s a wild, trippy, work that runs more akin to 200 Motels Zappa than what you might expect from Megafaun. Sporting costumes to represent various characters in the lysergic nursery school narrative, Westerlund leads the band and the audience on a wacky journey that must be witnessed.

Grandma Sparrow Flies

The band that Joe has backing him is killer (Canine Heart Sounds from Durham, NC) and their efforts reveal that this is no lark of a comedy show. The music is serious and swings quickly from what could be a psychedelic spin on Alice Cooper, “This Is My Wheelhouse”, to a “Twelve Tone Lullaby”.  Watch for these guys to come around.

Check out a track here.

Megafaun with Justin Vernon

Megafaun with Justin Vernon

Next up was Megafaun. They’ve basically been on hiatus while each guy does their own thing and, aside from these dates this week, that hiatus isn’t over any time soon. So this was special. Their old friend Justin Vernon (Bon Iver (in case you live under rocks)) had pulled them together for a thing this weekend and they turned it a week of rehearsals, hanging out, and three public shows. (Tonight they play Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, NY. If you can go, GO.)
The four piece band took the stage with Brad and Justin switching off bass & guitar throughout the night. I’m not going to pretend to be an objective rock journalist here. I love this band and I’ve gotten to know these guys a little bit and I could not be more biased. They played great songs and they fun they had on stage radiated out into the crowd who was also having a great time and watched rather attentively. Continue reading