Monday, January 30, 2006
Caroline and I both transferred into Rye Country Day School in the seventh grade, which is about the time girls stopped giving me the koodies and started giving me something else. If memory serves me correct, we both had Mr. Hart for Social Studies, in retrospect a fitting backdrop for one’s first encounter with the opposite sex. After quietly observing Caroline for a few days, I worked up the courage to tell my best friend Andy about her and we decided that I should ask her to the Mock Prom in June. The Mock Prom was kind of like my school’s answer to the Lord of the Flies, only set in a middle school gymnasium against the backdrop of the electric slide. Being the over analytical idiot that I still am, I spent about 2 months pondering how to ask Caroline to the Mock Prom, which is kind of ironic since at the end of the day my friend’s mom drove our entire seventh grade clique in her mini-van anyway.
During my eight weeks of deliberation, I observed the situation from every angle, consulting a handful of my closest friends along the way. Each friend then consulted a few of their closest friends, including Andy who decided to poll Caroline on the subject matter herself. I’m not sure how it all went down but I distinctly remember being rejected before I actually popped a question, which I guess kind of disqualifies Caroline as my first face-to-face denial, but I digress.
Eleven years later we are still friends and Andy has since applied his negotiating skills to the White House as a Bush Administration political appointee. So the moral of this story is two fold: when it comes to girls the motto is “less talk, more tongue” and when it comes to politics, never trust a Republican.
Friday, January 27, 2006
At the end of the day, it’s his tone which defines him. It’s what drew fans into his world in the first place and, among other things, what keeps them coming back fifteen months post-Phish, six days since Shine. In an often-tangled web of Gamehendge narration, parking lot politics and general post-Phish confusion, it’s easy to lose sight of Trey Anastasio, the guitarist. Perhaps that’s why he pulled the plug on Phish in the first place, as a way to scale the scene back to a man, his guitar and their combined tone. And, from a certain vantage point, Anastasio has returned: he’s prolific, vibrant and once again making that awkwardly endearing “O Face” that eluded him during Phish’s final days. But, even after the soul searching mission that brought him coast-to-coast and back to his newly-adopted New York home, the one thing Anastasio hasn’t found is his voice. At least not yet.
It was obvious before he offered his first note, and, in certain ways, even before opening- act The Wood Brothers offered their short, sweet, but equally confusing, set. Returning to a venue which holds as important a place as any in Pharmer’s Almanac mythology, Anastasio found himself surrounded by familiar faces. With the exception of a few confused, but well meaning, industry folks (a choice quip: “Wow, I didn’t know Trey was such a good guitarist”), Phish-alumni accounted for Roseland’s entire audience: not the Adult Alternative Radio crowd that heard Shine in September or the boomers that stumbled upon his video on VH1. And, within that general grouping, Anastasio found himself playing to a specific sub-set of Phish followers, fans who have stuck with him and, presumably, followed his work with 70 Volt Parade and/or heard his hot-off-the press new album. They came for all reasons but, most of all, they came to hear Trey who, despite his new pop polish, still sounds like Trey, at least in terms of his tone.
But, besides that, everything else has changed. Long gone are the days of statisticians, Veggie-burrito vendors (they’re on STS9 tour in case your hungry) and, while it’s not his fault, the carefree 1990s when riding around in a giant hotdog could be considered some sort of generational symbol. Instead, Anastasio has built himself a Dave Matthews-style jamband, custom designed to expand on a well-crafted song’s calculated structure. As a Band, 70 Volt Parade has grown remarkably since its last official visit in May. The simple addition of Tony Hall, combined with a few months of rigorous rehearsal and roadwork, has turned Anastasio’s backing unit from a group of studio musicians into a well-oiled band, albeit one designed to emphasize its paid employer. From “Air Said to Me’s” bright opening, Anastasio wailed and “O-Faced” like he was 27 again, on the eve of his first upgrade from the now-defunct Academy to Roseland. Only a bizzarro 27, which found Anastasio following his peers (Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors, Joan Osborne and Matthews) into the mainstream and embracing rock-radio’s Damm Yankees- like allure.
In 1992, Anastasio aspired to be Frank Zappa, a freaked-out composer in the body of a caffeinated suburbanite. Now, Anastasio aspires to be Eric Clapton, a guitarist’s guitarist who can be dropped into almost any setting, be it pop or blues, and sound like Clapton. Like any classic-rocker, Anastasio’s setlist covers a breadth of material from throughout his career: new 70 Volt Parade numbers, Trey Anastasio Band originals, on certain nights stray Oysterhead cuts, appropriately chosen covers and Phish songs like “46 Days.” He still jams, but differently, focusing less on space and more on his easily assessable asset, the guitar-solo. In fact, one could make a concrete argument that “Shine’s” extended outro is not a jam as it’s defined in the sequel to the book which begot this magazine, but, instead, “pop-rock and fine one at that.” (Budnick pg. 39)
Not that that’s a bad thing. As the evening unfolded, moments of brilliance began to emerge. During an extended, somewhat metal-like “Money, Love and Change,” Anastasio approached the gritty, rock-heavy sound he alluded to in an interview attached to Shine’s DVD component. A few songs later, on the newly arranged Trey Anastasio Band anthem “Push on ‘Til the Day,” 70 Volt Parade shifted into jazz-funk, with Medeski-style keyboardist Ray Paczkowski swimming in the free space that defines his true love, Vorcza. Speaking of Paczkowski, the onetime Milkman has blossomed into 70 Volt Parade’s secret weapon, helping Anastasio lift off during an extended workout based around legitimate powerhouse “Night Speaks to a Women” and smoothing over some of the evening’s more awkward transitions. In fact, from a visual standpoint, 70 Volt Parade seems organized by level of success. Sitting all the way stage-left is Paczkowski, who has rightly earned his place as Anastasio’s chief sideman, enhancing each of his projects, from Dave and Friends to last winter’s moe. Tsunami Benefit. A few feet away is T. Hall, a New Orleans-schooled musician whose onstage interaction with Anastasio feels natural, if not somewhat adulterous. Like Mike Gordon, Hall understands both the complex, lead bass melodies of funk and the subtle, understated beauty of bluegrass (he has, after all, clocked in time for Emmylou Harris). His time in Dave and Friends places him on a more equal footing with his employer, to the point where Anastasio looks to him for the occasional lead or fraternal fist pump. Next up is Skeeto Valdez, whose Detroit-rawk was all but lost during the abovementioned “Night Speaks to a Woman”---and who will most likely be replaced sooner rather than later with a dress wearing drummer anyway.
Which leads to the major problem with 70 Volt Parade, stage-right. While the addition of backing vocalists does help flesh out Anastasio’s jams, and provides a beautiful JGB-quality to his increasingly prevalent ballads, the guitarist hasn’t quite figured out how best to utilize them. At timer, like on “Air Said to Me,” they dance in place like the Black Crowes’ oft-forgotten female chorus, while, as jam-time approaches, they slip offstage as if to prepare for a costume change. Ironically, Anastasio actually already figured out the answer to his dilemma in 70 Volt Parade’s precursor---when Jen Hartswick served as both a vocalist and trumpeter---but that’s besides the point. Likewise, Anastasio’s lyrics are still embarrassing childlike---but not in that fun “Fee” like way---and his vocal layerings only makes the chorus of “Wherever You Find It” that much creepier (“You’re Never Alone/I’ll Follow You Home”).
Then there is Les Hall, a musical prodigy of sorts, whose haircut seems to define the laws or physics and whose improvisational style simply doesn’t fit with even Anastasio’s more restrained compositions. As guitar-looper Howie Day’s foil, Hall’s busy technique provided a comfortable. ambient cushion of sound. Yet, with Anastasio, he is neither an accompanist nor a lead instrumentalist. While at times his guitar complemented Anastasio, such as on “Come as Melody,” in general, Hall didn’t challenge his bandmate, instead providing yet another plane for Anastasio to solo over. His cigarette-smoking persona also seemed somewhat off putting, as if Keith Richards had schooled him at the art of rock-attitude, not style.
But, like it or not, all of these notes for future growth slipped away for 30-minutes as Anastasio picked up his bar stool and revisited his past---a set break from reality if you will. Like so many nights on his current tour, the most memorable moments arrived during this stripped down, Phish-heavy solo set. As an acoustic guitarist, Anastasio is tame, at best, yet his songs are still strong enough---or at least evoke strong enough memories---to echo throughout Roseland’s box shaped room as if it held an arena capacity. In Phish’s heyday, Anastasio seemed to model himself after Jerry Garcia, at least in terms of his stage banter, preferring to speak through his songs and a complex mythology of fictional, somewhat biblical characters. Since cracking open Phish’s carefully guarded persona at Coventry, Anastasio has instead spoken like Dave Mathews, often inaudible, but humble and direct. Alone, naked and powerful enough to make an entire room answer his echo, Anastasio found a new smile, not a photogenic “O Face” but a general sense of accomplishment and personal success. During “Loving Cup,”--- a number Anastasio has aligned so closely with his own voice it’s hard to convince newcomers it’s not a Phish original---he smiled with a giddy, three-dimensional glee that personified the song’s famous chorus. His playing was effortless: Anastasio is a great rock star because he is able to bridle his audience’s energy to enhance his playing, a skill which is much harder than it seems. Placed between old chestnuts, the seldom played Phish number “Never” and the new “Invisible” seemed frail, further proof that the acoustic Phish section is based on memory, not melody. “Sample in a Jar” contained the evening’s thesis: “You tricked me like the others/And now I don't belong/The simple smiles and good times seem all wrong.”
Anastasio shifted back to the present briefly during his second set with 70 Volt Parade which featured an energetic “Simple Twist Up Dave” and a musically supreme segue between “Mr. Completely” and “Spin.” Fueled by the crowd’s energy, the jam was tight and sonically forceful. It even contained a moment of brilliance from L. Hall who shifted to acoustic piano to touch up the song’s groovy outro. But, even with the volume cranked up to eleven, 70 Volt Parade didn’t create as much noise as his audience did just a few moments later when a newly portly Page McConnell moved behind Paczkowski’s keyboard, singing Anastasio’s words as if they were his own. With the exception of the latter day jam-vehicle “Waves,” Anastasio and McConnell chose numbers which, in another time and place, should have been legitimate pop hits, and which still succeeded in leaving their mark on countless High School yearbook pages over the years: “Strange Design” and “Waste.” Even pop songwriting requires both heart and skill.
The duo’s interaction seemed natural, if not somewhat Dave and Tim-esque. McConnell returned alongside John Medeski and TAB-alumni Peter Apfelbaum for another solo-Anastasio number since embedded into the Phish catalogue, “First Tube,” rearranged for an arsenal of keyboardists and Hall’s Dumpsterfunk bass bombs. For a moment, Anastasio flirted with a happy balance between his past and future.
Not that any of this really mattered at the time, because, like Garcia and Santana before him, Anastasio’s tone has the uncanny ability to put listeners in a certain mood, to create a certain party. As audience members sipped overpriced drinks, flirted with increasingly well-dressed girls and reminisced all the way back to SPAC (’04), it was easy to remember a time when Anastasio’s tone sounded pure. It’s those Summer of Love-style riffs that charted Phish’s rise from Roseland to IT, and which, if applied right, will allow him to rebuild his career, almost anyway he wants.
Trey Anastasio will no doubt do great things. But, unfortunately, he’s just not sure what to do just yet.
If you look closely you can already see them digging the grave. It’s roughly one block long by one avenue wide, just large enough to fit a one-story club between its thick wooden walls. As of now its placard reads A&D Construction but, by the time this column goes to print, it might very well also read CBGB: 1973-2005. Another victim of urban renewal, another byproduct of progress.
I never felt any sort of sentimental attachment to CBGB, and I can count the number of times I passed under its red-and-white awning on a single hand (and that's even after hippies and hipsters began to mingle on Brooklyn’s gray colored L train). But it’s still comforting to know that it’s there, propelling another generation of punks into larger pogo halls across the country. Honestly, I feel guilty mourning something that isn't mine---that I don't emotionally 'own.' But then again CBGB has always been one of New York's most populist clubs.
September marks the two-year anniversary of my return to Manhattan after four years in the wilderness of upstate New York academia and a summer of suburban soul searching on the road with Phish. Like many, New York City has always held a certain voodoo in my life, this huge impersonal place made tangible mostly by the West Side highway bottleneck and the dirty downtown clubs that have become mini-Meccas for those of us who grew up in the City's suburban shadow. Four years ago, I spent a summer squatting in an NYU dorm and tried my hardest to touch, see and mostly hear as much of New York as I could. Like a dog staking claim to his territory, I visited every club worthy of a Village Voice plug including the graffiti covered venue located at 315 Bowery. I vividly remember my first trip to CBGB. I had no idea who I was going to see and, really, it didn't matter because most likely I wasn’t going to like the music anyway. But by simply passing under CBGB’s awning, I felt a part of the club's history, music's history, New York's history. I'm not sure, but I think I got excited about pissing in the club's sticker covered bathroom. It seemed pretty hardcore at the time and pretty young and stupid now---kind of like the punk scene in general.
I often revisit that summer, not so much because of my trip to CBGB, but because of my time at another club, The Wetlands. If I had known what September 2001 would bring, I try to tell myself, I would have viewed the club’s closure in a different light but, in reality, it’s impossible to separate that month’s tangled emotions. Even now the Wetlands’ untimely demise remains a tangible sign of change, both in my life and in New York in general. At the time, in the Skidmore News precursor to this column, I remember likening the World Trade Center to a skyscraper-size nightlight, providing a watchful eye as I struggled with insomnia in a deeply impersonal city. In the months following September 11, it was hard to look at that empty space in the skyline, yet, I felt drawn to it. It was easier to wade through the aftermath of the Wetlands' impending closure, which, at the time, seemed like the end of the world and certainly the end of the jamband scene. Like CBGB, it didn't matter who was playing the Wetlands on any given night, it just mattered that you were going. Some have criticized such scenester motives as the sign of a bad music fan. But I’ve always seen it as a characteristic of a great New Yorker, trying to absorb a bit of his city before it is inevitability swept away by gentrification.
It’s easy to get lost within the maze-like web of clubs and concerts which adjoin New York’s divergent downtown districts, like a giant game of connect the dots. Indeed, musical trends seem to bounce around the Bowery at pinball speed, sparking cultural revolutions before gently gliding into newer, emptier alleyways. It’s an age-old story which has unfolded simultaneously in cities around the world: music, art and activism join forces to form something loosely defined as a scene, before falling prey to money, rent, boredom and newer trends. It’s happened to just about every niche---to such an extent that the terms post-punk, post-grunge and even post-rock are now easily digestible parts or even in an amateur music critic's vocabulary. Sometimes I fear that jam is the next term to secure a plot in the genre graveyard. But then I remember that there’s a reason clubs like CBGB are more often than not called wombs. At some point every style is forced to find its own way. Richard Gehr once said that “the history of rock/roll is among other things, a half-century litany on death.” For a medium driven by individual destruction, it’s odd that styles don’t really die so much as they adapt and morph to meet modern trends. This summer, Green Day became the first punk act to headline a stadium show without the help of a radio station or festival-size bill. Perhaps the punk movement has finally grown too large to fit within CBGB’s walls.
At the beginning of August, I took what could very well have been my final trip to 315 Bowery to see RANA --- the love child of the Wetlands and CBGB. I once heard that CBGB’s only rule was that no covers were allowed. I wonder what Joey Ramone would say if he knew that a band formed by four former Phish heads opened their final CBGB show with a Neil Young cover. More than anything, he’d probably be confused having missed out on all the gradual changes that turned CBGB into what it is today. But I think he’d also be pleasantly surprised that his favorite club’s vision has evolved along with the music he helped create.
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of change, mostly because I’ve also always feared it. Sometimes it happens suddenly, other times it happens more gradually. It seems fitting that I first heard the term gentrification used in a editorial discussing the demise of the New York City rock club, a trend which, in the past few years, has absorbed Brownies, the Cooler, Fez, Tramps, the Bottom Line, Tobacco Road, the Wetlands and now, most likely, CBGB. Like a scene out of Lost in Translation, it all happens so quickly that it’s hard to pinpoint individual events, but, in the end, it’s easy to realize something is different. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this time to mention the tragedy of hurricane Katrina. Like that day in September, it rightfully overshadows one single club’s struggle. It’s also easy to understand its gravity by looking at the Big Easy’s entertainers, musicians and, yes, clubs whose futures lie in a state of permanent flux. Set against such weighty matters, gentrification seems strangely beautiful. But it’s a sad beauty---a sign of a healthy city evolving, if not always in the right direction.
As I walk to work everyday, I try hard to notice the subtle changes that define my neighborhood --- new storefront here, an out-of-business sign there. Change is a scary thing but, more often than not, it’s also out of our control and its effects will eventually become a natural part of life. Sometimes during lunch, I take a lap around the block which surrounds Relix and look towards the edge of Manhattan. It’s hard to grasp that thousands of individual stories are simultaneously unfolding within a single, evolving skyline. It’s easier to look at the jackhammers digging holes to bury the past as I continue to wander, lost in gentrification.
The Third Annual Mikey Awards
Another year, another step closer to my inevitable hearing aid. One again I am proud to present my own award-style look back at Mikey-tour 2005.
Best Inverted Adolescence: Brothers Past-This Feeling's Called Goodbye
Finally free from the Disco Biscuit's shadow, Brothers Past has matured into the jamband of tomorrow: a well-layered indie/hippie hybrid, whose evolution sounds both synthesized and natural. Other nominees: Hallucinogen at Camp Bisco, NY, 8/27; the Disco Biscuits at Starland Ballroom, NJ, 3/24-26; and Lake Trout-Not Them, You
Best Becky: The Duo-Best Reason to Buy the Sun
Its impossible to describe 2005 in a single word. But its easy to boil its essence down to a duo: Benevento and Russo. Between gigs with Mike Gordon, underwear sets as Come on Falcon and Metzger-approved Zeppelin covers, The Duo might very well be remembered be the world's most portable supergroup. But its this disc, and its drinking game worthy signature-track "Becky," which solidified the Duo as an entity unto itself. Other nominees: G.R.A.B at TwiRoPa, LA, 4/30; Come on Falcon at Scenic, NY, 9/8; and Joe Russo and Friends at Tribeca Rock Club, NY, 12/7
Best Phish Supplement: Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon-Sixty Six Steps
Mike Gordon's other duo contains everything an aging Phish head can ask for in life: sweet harmonies, non-social lyrics disguised as verbal math equations and a kick-ass version of "Ya Mar." Other nominees: Phish: The Island Tour; G.R.A.B at Bonnaroo, 6/10; and Dumpstaphunk at BB King Blues Club, NY-8/5
Best Hickster Hoedown: My Morning Jacket-Z
Before it wins the Overplayed Masterpiece award at next year's Mikey's, Z is, simply put, a great rock-album packed with a kick-ass Hawaii 5-O sample.
Other nominees: Iron and Wine/Calexico/ Sufjan Stevens at Webster Hall, NY, 12/5; Wilco/MMJ at Agganis Arena, MA, 6/24; and Interpol at Radio City Music Hall, NY, 3/2
Best Jamband Retaliation: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals-Cold Roses
If the indie-elite who ruled my college radio station knew that Ryan Adams made 2005's best jamband album, they'd likely brand the former Whiskeytown frontman a 21st century Benedict Arnold. But the joke's on them: Cold Roses is the true heir to American Beauty, pedal steel and all. Indie-rock may have pinched Lake Trout, the Slip and about all of Brooklyn but at least we can call this Heartbreaker our own. Other nominees: Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin and Debbie Harry at Irving Plaza, NY, 9/20, Wilco-Kicking Television and The Slip at Southpaw, NY, 10/8
Best Use of the Jamband Blueprint: ALO-Fly Between Falls
If Fly Between Falls doesn't rightfully turn ALO into the biggest band in the world it will help a generation of college-kids get laid along the way.
Other nominees: Hot Buttered Rum at Half Moon, NY, 8/9, Umphrey's McGee at Jam Cruise, 1/9 and Ominous Seapods at Gathering of the Vibes, NY, 8/13
Best Phantasy Flashback: Phish-New Year's Eve 1995
Its as good as the Pharmer's Almanac remembers it.
Best Natural Disaster Relief Benefit Concert: moe. w/Trey Anastasio, John Medeski, Sam Bush and friends at Roseland, NY, 2/10
I'm not sure what it says about our time when this category could just as easily find a home at next year's Grammy. But nights like this prove that music is still about more than beer and veggie burritos. Plus, I finally heard Trey play "Peaches." Other Nominees: From the Big Apple to the Big Easy at Radio City, 9/20, Disco Biscuits at Spirit, 9/13 and Russell Baptiste at Lion's Den, 12/14
Best Wayne's World Moment: Flaming Lips at The All Good Festival, 7/16
At the ripe old age of 24, life doesn't get much better than dancing on stage with the Flaming Lips, on your birthday, to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," while dressed as a cartoon character who personifies your own disheveled dance step (Tigger).
Other nominees: Dark Star Orchestra on Cold Turkey at Gathering of the Vibes, 8/13, BIG Summer Classic, 7/21 & 7/24 and New Deal at BB King Blues Club, NY,
Best Organ Donor Rap: Phil Lesh and Friends at Vegoose, 10/29-30
If Phil played this well any night of the week, I'd gladly give him whatever organ he wanted. Other nominees: The Shins at Vegoose, 10/29 ("I don't know what the meaning of life is, but I am pretty sure the Shins scored its soundtrack"), Bob Weir/Bruce Hornsby at Central Park Summerstage, NY, 9/1 and Phil Lesh/Ryan Adams at the Jammys, 4/26.
This entry originally appeared on Jambands.com
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
For those of you who stumbled upon this webpage by mistake, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mike Greenhaus. I’m 24 and originally hail from Armonk, NY, a small, gentrified slice of suburbia nestled in the northwest corner of Westchester County (The W.C. for those of us in the know). After picking up my English degree in Saratoga Springs at Skidmore College (the exact point where hippies and hicks meet), I migrated south and currently reside on the eastern edge of New York’s west village. In general, I really like my life and have managed to avoid many of the trappings which traditionally swallow post-Adolescent America. I like to believe I know myself pretty well---maybe too well---and since “finding myself” at a UVM summer program in the summer of ’97 I’ve firmly stood by the motto “don’t get to deep or you might lose touch with the surface.” But, as this blog surely proves, I rarely follow its message.
I’m good at many things: planning social gatherings with military precision, remembering usless jamband trivia with professional ease and bouncing to music like the bastard child of Tigger and the Counting Crowes’ Adam Durtiz. But, the one thing Mikey Greenhaus has never been great at is getting girls---and by “getting” I usually mean working up the courage to get a definitive yes/no statement out of my intended partner.
In the process of falling victim to my neurotic Jewish trappings, I’ve stumbled into some pretty psychotic situations whose cinematic equivalents sadly parallel the 40 Year Old Virgin more often than Rochelle Rochelle. But, hay, if you can't make fun of yourself, someone else will
As a tribute to the emotional hurricanes which have wreaked havoc on my parent’s phone bill, I’ve set up a blog-style look at some of my favorite life learning disasters. I'm kind of viewing it as a textual warm-up before work---kind of like stretching before a big game---and using my new domain as an opportunity to document some of the random ideas which cross my necrotic Jewish mind on a daily basis. Since my best punch lines have been in e-mail syndication for some time I’m sure most of you know what to expect. But, if you’re clamoring for a Page 6 account of my days bouncing around the Bowery, chasing the daughters of jam-nation and chugging chocolate milk, then you’ve come to the right place. Plus, figuring out how to upload a webpage is allot more fun than mopping my floor and, hopefully, just as productive.
So enjoy and feel free to point out my typos at firstname.lastname@example.org