The Donuts

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I told you it was a big week. Joan and Mavis, the Dead and Company and on Saturday, The Donuts.

On a very socially busy Saturday, Susan and I were able to tuck in upstairs at Fergies to catch a set of the Donuts show. There was a lot going on that night, but not enough for me to miss one of Jon Houlon’s “No 2 Unalike” shows with John Train and The Donuts. Let me explain as much as I can about this group of musicians. I think I first saw some of the musicians in John Train. The over the years, I have been to see some members in the following bands, Slo-Mo, Slo-Mo featuring Mic Wrecka, the Philadelphia Ukulele Orchestra, The Donuts, The Low Road and “Clone Justice,” where for one night only, they covered the entire Lone Justice album. And those are just the shows I saw. Not everyone is in all of the bands, but there is great overlap among them all. And every single band is quite unique. Additionally, the majority of these guys, and gals, have day jobs. So, if you know anything about me, you know I love when musicians play for the “love of the game.” And that is why when I learned that John was ending the year with a stand of 5 nights no two alike, I had to get there for at least one show.

We got there for exactly 2 songs before the break happened. These five dapper gentleman, you need to see them just for their matching velvet smoking jackets, were playing their hearts out on the stage as we entered.  They say their style is influenced by Mickey Newbury, and to a lesser degree, Jimmy Webb. I am not sure if I agree or not, mainly because I know neither of those musician’s music. What I do know is that they played an awesome version of Randy Newman’s, or possibly Aaron Neville, version of Louisiana 1927. I also know that I will go see any new band they put together or cover one album for one night. As much as I love Joan Osborne, the Dead and so many others, these are the guys I want to be when I grow up. See you at Fergie’s after the new year, gentlemen.

19 shows to go, 207 days left


The Dead and Company

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The first week in November was a big one, two shows and both on school nights. And not small ones like at The Fire, but big ones. Joan and Mavis on Wednesday in New York and then The Dead and Company on Thursday at Wells Fargo in Philly. Where do I start with my love, connection and history of The Dead?   First, I have seen a lot of Dead shows in my time. A lot. A lot when I was in college and I will leave it at that since my folks are some of my biggest blog fans (you know 2 of the 12 followers I have). No need for them to realize what I was doing during the Spring of 87 when they were scraping together my tuition bill. Enough said.

I will say that in a convoluted way, The Dead led me to my public interest calling. I went to a very small and conservative liberal arts college in the 80s. I never felt I fit in politically those days. While my classmates were looking to make a lot of money, this was during the Reagan years after all; I was yearning to figure out my place in the world and searching for my community. Dead shows were my first real community I chose as an adult. And while the whole hippie thing was not going to be sustainable for me, I did realize that there was something out there larger for me. I even moved to California right after graduation so I could see more shows. Ironically, I got so busy that the first Dead show I saw after I started my “real” job was at the Spectrum when I came home to visit my folks one vacation. Additionally the Dead, without knowing it at the time, instilled my future love of bluegrass. Bottom line, the Grateful Dead are a part of me.

During the summer, there was some flirtation of going to Chicago to see their reunion tour, but just could not justify the expense. So I was excited to see they were coming to Philly in this new alliteration of the band. For those haters out there, this was not the Dead, yup, you are right; this was not a Dead show. I get it. It was a show with folks who used to be in the Grateful Dead. I am OK with that. Over the years, they were always about collaboration and trying new things, this should not be a surprise. There is no Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia, folks yell. Also true, so that is why they were calling themselves Dead and Company, or as I was referring to them as “Dead Lite. “All of this fine, I was off to the Spectrum, I mean Wells Fargo.

My good friend AT accompanied me on a rainy Thursday. First, the parking lot. I always loved the parking lot during a show. A cast of characters selling weirder stuff you cannot find. This was no different. My initial excitement of the parking lot scene was quickly replaced with a low level depression. Also, very typical. I think some people are still touring with the Dead selling veggie burritos. Not sure what they did for those 25 years when there was no band to follow, but the cast of characters was exactly the same.

As we were waiting to go inside I saw a friend from high school who I have not seen, well, since high school. She, of course looks exactly the same. I yelled her name and her response was perfect “Sheila, we probably went to some shows together back in high school.” True and a great start. It was going to be stroll down memory lane and I was fine with that. We went in, grabbed a beer and headed to our seats.

You never actually sit on your seats at a Dead show, or I don’t. This show was no exception. We hung out in different hallways and eventually made our way from the tippy top of the arena to the floor for the last couple of songs. That is a successful seat surfing show.

IMG_5210Onto the music. So, here’s the thing about Dead shows. I am not really a great deadhead. There are people who could tell what song they were going to play and when from a flick of Jerry Garcia’s ear. I am not that type of Deadhead. Possibly by the chorus, I could recognize the tune, but their songs were always so different, so I would just enjoy the music and let it wash over me until I figured it out or, in some cases, not. This show was no exception.   John Mayer was pretty good and I am a little uncomfortable saying that. I just never really liked him that much, but he definitely has some mad guitar skills. Most importantly, he did not to pretend he was anything but someone sitting in and did not try to pretend he was a member of the band. The only time I really missed Jerry, which I know sounds incredibly pretentious, was during Sugar Magnolia. That was Jerry’s song and one of my favorites. I almost rather they did not play it, but no one asked me. Additionally, when you used to go to Dead Shows, you would see 2-3 in a row, so if you didn’t hear your favorite the first night there was a chance you would hear it the next night or the night after. However, one and done is tricky. I did not hear any of my favorites though I found myself humming “Candyman” for the next week. I just had never considered that one of my songs. And therein lies what I love about the Dead, the ever changing nature of their songs and the shows. Though the show and experience was a trip down memory lane, I came out with something new and fresh. This show was very different for many reasons, but ultimately it still came down to the music. And that is really cool.

20 shows to go, 209 days left…

Joan Osborne and Mavis Staples

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If you recall, Joan Osborne is one of my all time favorites (June 21 “Phonics” post). My brother and his husband have been insistent that they wanted to get in on this whole 50 shows thing this year and we needed to choose a good one. When I saw that the Solid Soul Tour featuring Mavis Staples & Joan Osborne was going through New York City, but not Philly, I knew I found the perfect one. That is how I found myself on the train going north on a recent November evening. After an outstanding dinner together, including my sister, who was weirdly in New York and a drive-by by our friend Chad, we made our way over to the 92nd Street Y for the show. IMG_5179

I thought maybe the venue was an old YMCA that now was a theater, but no, it was a working YMCA that also had a beautiful and intimate concert hall.  We went inside among the yoga carrying upper east siders. They get some seriously good shows and I can only dream that one day my local Y on N. Broad Street does the same.

Again, as you may recall, I see a lot of Joan Osborne. She just really speaks to me. Whether she is rocking out with her own band or singing names out of the phone book, I would go see her. From all the shows I have seen her, this was unique. First, she did not sing with her band, but was backed up by Mavis’ band, she was the opener and she was very demure. She usually dresses modern hippie, but this evening she was definitely conservatively dressed. She did not do any rocking out and there were all new interpretations of songs I had heard previously. It was absolutely beautiful. She also told more stories about the songs she chose to sing that evening, which was unusual. And, of course, her version of the Dead’s Brokedown Palace was absolutely haunting.

Mavis Staples then came out to do her set. There is a reason she is in the hall of fame, an icon and from blues royalty. While I was so glad to be there to witness her in person, I was a little worried about her health. She seemed to be out of breath more than not and had to rest during songs. As the show progressed, though her voice go stronger. And don’t get me wrong; Mavis Staples singing David Byrne’s “Stop Making Sense” was a real treat in addition to her staples (see what I did there?) of “The Weight” and “I’ll Take You There” is a real treat. And when you have Joan Osborne singing background, well, it does not get much better than that. But, this was not a show about seeing a woman in her hey day. This was a show about paying respect to the women who paved the way for the Joan Osbornes. I will happily do my part of paying respect and giving tribute to the great ones. And on that November night, I did.

21 shows to go, 210 days left…