Bob Dylan B’Day Bash

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On a steamy Tuesday night in a venue too small for the crowd that gathered, I attended my 50th (show) as Mr. Zimmerman marked his 75th (birthday) at the Ken Kweder and Jon Houlon 10th Annual Bob Dylan B’day Bash at Rembrandt. Unequivocally, it was absolutely the best way to end my year.

First, Bob Dylan. What can you say about Bob Dylan that has not been said a million times before? There are stories about his elusiveness, his mystique and his songwriting prowess. XPN played Dylan all day on his birthday and the 14 hours I listened was only a good start. On XPN, I heard great Bob Dylan stories from musicians and versions of his songs I have never heard before. One of my favorite Dylan covers is “Goin’ to Acapulco” by Calexico and Jim James from the “I’m Not There” soundtrack and favorite Dylan impersonator is Tilda Swinton, also from that movie.

I am not even sure how many times I have seen him live. My first Dylan show was at Live Aid in 1985 and last was in 2011 at the Bill Graham auditorium in San Francisco. The San Francisco show was memorable for a couple of reasons. One- I went with my Mom; two, we scalped tickets; and three, we enjoyed Mark Knopfler way more than we did Dylan. And in between those two shows, I saw him a ton of times alone and with the Dead. So, I am by no means a Dylan rookie (I even owned one of his Christian albums back in the day- Saved), though I would never say he is in my top 10 artists. He, though, has literally influenced every single one of my top 10 artists. Hmmm. Maybe I should rethink that.

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Every year, the best and brightest of Philly local musicians get together and honor him on his birthday. It is always at Rembrandt’s and always on his birthday. I have wanted to go for years, but never quite got around to it. In fact, I would get discouraged, because it always seemed to be on a school night, it was always over crowded and blazing hot in the smallish upstairs room and would go on for hours. This year, all of those reasons were exactly why I knew I had to be there.

Curated by Philly’s Ken Kweder (go see his documentary!) and John Train’s Jon Houlon, they put together 40 different acts for the evening. Before we went upstairs, Susan and I were delighted to run into friends who were there grabbing a bite before the show and we had an absolutely lovely and laughter-filled pre show with Amy, Jodi, Christa and Happi before heading upstairs. Being with these ladies is like being with royalty and practically every performer had to pass by our outside table before heading upstairs for a meet and greet. In fact, at one point, we all just sat on one side of the table, very last supper like, so we did not have to keep turning around at every new comer.

Once upstairs, it was as crowded, hot and chaotic as I had imagined. Yup, I was in heaven. Just as we were angling for somewhere to sit, Jon mentioned that there were seats on the stage and people should feel free to grab them. Not having to be offered twice, we settled in for the evening. Our seats will also explain why all of my shots are from behind the performers.

The night was perfect. Some of my highlights from the folks I knew were Sydney from the Philadelphia Ukulele Orchestra singing on “Quinn the Eskimo;” Lauren Hart’s “Make you Feel My Love;” Jim Boggia’s “Girl from North Country;” Slo-Mo’s “Forever Young” on steel guitar; and Hannah Taylor’s “Bucket of Rain.” But this was not a night to travel down memory lane and I got to discover new bands. These lovely young twins, Nalani and Sarina, are absolutely worth seeing. Jay Ansil is an incredible musician and played mandolin on one song and harp (harp!) on another. Additionally, there was one father son act. They did not play together, but after the father’s performance, the son, Major Van Winkle, played a song. And if there was a metaphor for passing the Dylan torch, this performance was it. He came up with a computer (the 2016 version of Dylan plugging in at Newport Folk Festival) and did a rap song sampling tons of Dylan songs. Throughout the night, we heard songs featuring the banjo, mandolin, ukulele, harp, computer, hurdy gurdy, cello and harmonica. We heard blue grass versions and instrumental versions. We heard songs that channeled Dylan’s voice perfectly and tunes that sounded nothing like him. And I sang along to almost every song. That’s Bob, man. He may not be one of my most favorite artists, but I pretty much know every word to every song out there. Hmmm.

The night was long, something you want as a capper to a year of 50 shows. There was a defined set list and where we should be. Occasionally, we were kept up to date at the progress of the show, i.e. Jon would announce that we were entering the 10 pm hour. At 11:35 pm. From our seats on stage we got to be roadies, Happi was entrusted to hold the Hurdy Gurdy and Christa took photos of Hannah Taylor like it was her job. There was lots of laughter, sing alongs, beers and fellowship. And music, lots of music by some of Philly’s finest. As previously stated, there was no better way to end my year of 50 shows…

0 shows left, 9 days left…

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Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

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My friend Pat insisted (love those demands!) on us seeing a show together this year and bought tickets for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. That show happened to fall on the blizzard weekend and was rescheduled for a potentially beautiful May evening. This past Saturday, during the monsoon rainstorm, we ventured out to the Keswick Theater to enjoy the rescheduled show.

The opening act was Ginger Coyle, a local singer songwriter. For those keeping track at home this was now my third singer songwriter in two days and she could not have been more different than the previous two. She had a big voice; I mean a really big voice. Definitely too big for the Carole King cover she sung. But I liked her spunk and enthusiasm and even though I felt like I was being sung at instead of sung to; it was a good way to get ready for Southside Johnny.

Southside Johnny and his eight Asbury Jukes took the stage and wasted no time by launching into a rollicking Steve Van Zandt cover. I knew it was going to be a good show immediately. For those who are not familiar with Southside Johnny, he is considered the grandfather of the “Jersey Shore sound” and came out of the shore around the same time as another little known Jersey shore performer named Bruce Springsteen. His first three albums were arranged and produced by the co-founder of the band Steven Van Zandt, who is most known for his role on The Sopranos and, uh, playing with Bruce Springsteen! Growing up, it seemed he was always playing somewhere and every show he played at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, Springsteen would show up. Or, at least according to friends who would drive all those hours based on a rumor that was happening. Pat, who grew up in the Northeast, had the exact same recollection as I did, but he actually jumped in the car way more than I did. Ironically, I am not sure if I ever saw him live in concert or saw him 25 times. On some level I feel like I saw him every weekend because he was always playing. In fact, a friend said he played her prom in 1980s in Abington, PA. That can’t be true, can it? If any of my vast number of followers (or one of the 23) can confirm that or tell me we saw him together, that would be very helpful.

Back to the music. He has not lost it and is aging, if not well, certainly well enough to put on a great show for a couple of hours. I was thinking during the show of how to articulate in words the Jersey Shore sound, when he launched into Walk Away Rene. Boom- that is what it all about. Listen to that song and you will understand it too. He evokes those long days at the shore, getting sandy and brunt, hanging out on the boardwalk, chasing sunsets and love, dreaming about the future and escaping it all.

He is the most unassuming of the bunch, performing in jeans and a polo short. Meanwhile, the Asbury Jukes are an impressive bunch. Gotta love a full horn section and the saxophone player alternated tenor, bass and baritone saxophones throughout the night. There were tight guitar rifts and at one point the keyboardist and drummer were both banging away on the drum set. Southside’s scraggly, smoky, cigarette and bourbon voice brings it all together. There was lots of harmonica and just all around tight, tight blues sound. I heard so many influences throughout his show. At any one point, you could definitely hear, to name a few, J. Geils, George Thorogood, Tom Petty, Tom Waits and, if Eric Clapton’s “You Look Beautiful Tonight “is not a rip-off of Southside’s “Words Fail Me,” well, then, words fail me. And I mean that he influenced them, not that they influenced him. In fact, one of the folks we went to the show with said a couple of years ago, Southside did a full Tom Waits cover album set to big band sound. Get your head around that! I am psyched to check it out- Southside is crazy, and talented, enough to make it work. I love rock and roll and I love the blues and I love them together. I guess that is how I would articulate the Jersey Shore sound. This music reaches down into your soul and spits you back out, all accompanied by a tight and loud horn section. I like how I am closing this year by going back to my original musical roots. And I love that Southside Johnny was here with me.

I just wish the show was in a venue where I could dance the whole time instead of a seated theater. You want to hear him in a beach bar that you rode to in your one speed fat tired bike in flip flops, with the sounds of waves just beyond your reach, a hint of Coppertone in the air and the tightness of skin as a result of too much sun that day. That is the real Jersey Shore sound experience.

1 show to go, 13 days left…

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes Setlist, May 21, 2016

 

Mary Chapin Carpenter and Corinne Bailey Rae

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WXPN’s NONCOMMvention was happening last week, which is, basically, a convention for Triple A (Adult Alternative Album) radio stations. While I did not have tickets to the main convention or the bigger musical acts, I was able to take advantage of the special free at noons that were happening and caught a double shot of Corinne Bailey Rae and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I always thought that Corinne Bailey Rae was a jazz singer, but she was introduced as a singer songwriter. Hey, I am not going to complain about that. When she came on stage, I could not believe how adorable she was. She seriously looked 10 years younger than she did 10 years ago and later learned she was 37 (I would have lost serious money betting on her being only 14 years old). Anyway, she has a great voice and is so damn joyful while performing. Really, joy just completely emanated from her being. Her 4 piece backup band was top notch, but I just kept getting drawn to her peace and joy. And though her backup band was top notch, I really enjoyed her quieter songs where it was just her and her guitar. She looked most at peace during those songs, just a gal and her acoustic guitar. And I agree, she is way more of a singer songwriter than a jazz musician and vocalist. It was great to be reintroduced to her and I am looking forward to listening more in depth to her new album. She was a great primer for Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I listened to a lot of Mary Chapin Carpenter years ago, when I was going through my woman singer songwriter stage. I always found her to be understated and more focused on her music than being a huge super star. And this was underscored immediately. She was the headliner, but played her whole set with just a guitar and accompanied by a keyboardist and a mandolin/ guitarist player.

There was an immediate calmness that came over the room when she took the stage. She is just so calm and soothing. And so freaking cool. She is a 58-year-old woman, originally from Princeton New Jersey who was categorized by her record label as a country singer. You know, all the makings to becoming the next big thing (not!). She put out a string of albums in the late 80s and 90s and I remember listening to each and every one. And then one day, I didn’t anymore. I am not sure why, maybe I moved on to the next big thing.

Her songs all evoke a certain weariness. Not sure if it is weariness for the world in the general, weariness for being a 58-year-old singer songwriter, or weariness for other reasons; probably a combo of many things. However, there is also hope, love and optimism sprinkled throughout that weariness. To me, that is kind of the quintessential characteristic of a singer songwriter and why I am so drawn to that genre. You want realism, but you also want to know it gets better.   Sometimes the acoustic guitar between verses spoke more than the lyrics she would sing. You know the type, the type of music and lyrics that conveys deep, deep emotion. And when you listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter, the calmness I felt was “it is going to be all right.” I am not even sure I knew what was going wrong, but I knew it was going to be all right.

Besides still having that smoky calming voice, she is a great guitarist. She played it each and every song. And here is what I really liked about her. She seems so very grateful to be performing. Perhaps it is because she had a health scare in 2007 or has battled depression her whole life. But I observed that she thanked her roadie every single time he handed her a different guitar for her next song. Every single time. And, in her ½ hour set, she switched guitars every song. I can get behind that type of gratitude.

I spent this year discovering new music and trying different genres, I can’t help but think that I may have become a little out of touch with the music and musicians that made me such a music head in the first place. I am not really sure why I stopped listening to Marcy Chapin Carpenter, but I do know she will be right back in the mix as I start my next 50 years of music listening.

2 shows to go, 13 days left…

The Avett Brothers

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It really started to hit me that my year of 50 shows was coming to an end as I trudged up the hill from the parking lot at the Mann Saturday night to see The Avett Brothers. It seems like yesterday that I was scalping a ticket in the parking lot to see Robert Plant last year as my 4th show and here I was seeing my 4th from last show. Anyway…

I love the Mann Music Center, even with their new $2 credit card fee at the box office policy (fee at the box office!?? Do I agree with that? No, I do not. See any other post where I talk about service fees.). But the Mann means summer to me and there is nothing better than that first walk up the hill to see your first show of the season. Though it was warmer at Christmas than it was this past Saturday in May, I was ready for the season to start.

We got there for a couple of songs from the openers- Chatham County Line. I would have liked to hear more of them, as they were more traditional bluegrass than The Avett Brothers.   Hopefully, at some point they will come back around headlining their own tour

I had a little trouble getting a handle on how to describe The Avett Brothers’ sound. With the line up of instruments, I was expecting mainly new bluegrass. However, there was also some gospel influences as well as indie rock, ragtime and even a little punk at times all wrapped up as kind of poppy. Basically, not really classifiable. In a 2009 article, Rolling Stone Magazine described their sound as “spike banjo and acoustic guitar-powered tunes with early Beatles-esque harmonies and scuzzed-out guitar riffs on tales about paranoia and sexy girls from Chile.” I think that nails it, if I could figure out exactly what those words mean and how those words translate into sound. See, confusing.

Their 7-piece band was really fabulous, just great, and I got completely caught up in all the fun they were having. Their energy and rapport with each other and the audience was totally infectious. There were my usual suspects of favorite string instruments- an upright bass, banjo, cello and an awesome fiddler (and, ahem, only woman in the band). I have to admit that the cello guy really captured my attention, because he was jumping around most of the time while playing. I mean I can barely dance and clap at the same time (seriously, ask Susan), but this guy was jumping up and down and dancing while playing the cello. As I was deciding that the cellist was my favorite, the fiddler and banjo player leave the main stage and are on this built out walkway seven rows into the audience and completely jam out for about five minutes. Hair and sweat flying and my sweet, sweet bluegrass music at full throttle. Awesome!

While I am digesting this all, The Avett Brothers (yes, two are really brothers), bring out their father to sing “In the Garden,” a gospel tune, around one microphone and accompanied by stand up bass and guitar. Crap, now, I am confused. I could not stop smiling or dancing to their high energy jamming versions, however, the next day all I thought about was that song along with their cover of Doc Watson’s Country Blues.   My only complaint of the evening is that I wished I had seen them about 7 years ago before they became this polished larger venue band. I can easily imagine them coming on late at night at a bluegrass festival as I sit low in my beach chair with a dark and stormy cocktail in hand.   That is a pretty good complaint of a band in my book and my first Mann show of 2016 was a total success.

3 shows to go, 25 days left…

The Avett Brothers Mann Music Center 5/14/2016 Setlist

 

 

Martha Graham Cracker

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I miss Prince. I grieved David Bowie hard, but Prince was a much bigger hit for me. I read that we grieve strangers/ icons/ musicians not because we knew them but because we get to know ourselves better because of them. As with “I Will Not Go Gently,” I was not only grieving Prince when he died, but also grieving for who I was when I first discovered him. I knew that one way to help was to attend a Prince tribute and not just any one would do. Nope, only a 6 foot 2 drag queen with an abundance of body hair could do justice to the petite Prince. And, so off we went to see Martha Graham Cracker at L’Etage.

When Martha Graham Cracker first announced she was doing a Prince tribute at L’Etage, it sold out in like 20 minutes. She then scheduled another one for the next night at the TLA (which also eventually sold out), but Susan was smart enough to grab tickets immediately for what Martha was calling “the secret Prince Tribute.”

First, a little bit about Martha for those who are unfamiliar. Martha is a 6”2’ gorgeous drag queen who defiantly refuses to shave and insists on wearing 6 inch high heels. She is, in a word, fabulous. We have seen her a bunch of times and have never been disappointed. I mean never. She has a crack band backing her and she puts on each and every cabaret show as if it is her last. She equally plays small and large venues, from L’Etage to the Art Museum to Johnny Brenda’s. Each show is unique, unforgettable and thoroughly enjoyable. We knew she could sing Prince, because a couple years ago she held a show at Johnny Brenda’s and leading up to it she posted on Facebook that it would be an album from start to finish. She teased us with what albums it could be and Purple Rain was in the running. When those opening notes of “Let’s Go Crazy,” you know the ones, started, I almost cried with joy knowing that we would be enjoying Purple Rain in its entirety. Safe to say, we were excited for Thursday’s show.

Johnny Showtime opened the show. Another cabaret act, though he only does original songs, which he was very vocal about pointing out, and Martha’s, sometimes fiancée, opened the evening. He is also a showman and I was pleasantly surprised at his very stripped down and acoustic versions of a couple of Prince songs. Respectful and appropriate. But we were there for the one and only, Martha.

She comes strutting and sashaying out in full gown and purple top hat with veil. Remember, she is a 6 foot 2 hairy drag queen wearing 6-inch heels. This is all happening in L’Etage, whose ceiling is only about 8 feet at its highest point to begin with. When she was on the bar (yup, she jumps and performs on the bar a lot), there were times when I was ducking my head for her.

If anyone thought they were coming to a somber affair, they were wrong. This was a celebration! She started the evening singing Galileo by the Indigo Girls that totally worked. She sang, and ran like, Tina Turner through the evening. She shimmied, strutted, smoldered with sexuality, laid on the bar, cleaned glasses behind it and massaged a young man’s head. All of this as she told stories about Prince, sang his music, and explained what it all meant to her as a non-conventional youth. And that was the thing about Prince, he redefined sexuality, allowed us to embrace our own and allowed people to be who they were. He gave the freaks a home all while being one of the most bad ass musicians out there. And, Martha encompassed that all.

Of course no show would be complete without an encore, so when she came back out and asked the crowd, “You want an encore? One more? Ok, it’s the one.” And with that launched into a sing along Purple Rain. And, one more time, I cried tears of joy for my little Prince.

4 shows to go, 26 days left…

 

I Will Not Go Gently

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In addition to the concert I saw on Friday night, I also saw a play, with music, on Saturday night. As it turned out, it was the perfect complement to the Brian Jonestown Massacre concert. “I Will Not Go Gently” is an 1812 production and one woman show from Jennifer Childs. She plays a multitude of characters throughout the show (effortlessly and wonderfully), but the main stories revolve around two main characters, an aging rock star and a woman’s relationship with music as she enters the second chapter of her life.

The play opens with Sierra Mist, an aging rock star about to embark on her comeback tour. Apparently, she disappeared from the scene 15 years prior as a result of her disastrous Y2K concept album. Think about that for a sec- Y2K concept album. I am not even sure what that means, but every time it was mentioned I just started giggling. There was also a companion documentary filmed during the making of the Y2K concept album, which at one point had Sierra Mist wondering aloud, “Will we all turn into a computer chip?”

Throughout the show, Sierra Mist would ruminate about the definition of art, taking chances and risks, selling out to the man, younger, and less talented, rock stars becoming more popular without paying respect to the oldheads who came before them, etc. All the themes that were ranted about the night before in the real life, Brian Jonestown Massacre, concert. It was so interesting how the fictionalized vs. non fictionalized rock stars experiences were basically indistinguishable.

The character that I most identified with during the play was Abby, the 47 year old, former punker, club goer and band member and current mother to a teenage daughter, contemplating what 47 years old means. She has insomnia, so she spends her 3 am time awake podcasting and thinking back to her life when music was so central to who she was. She spoke of how listening to an album was a legitimate activity, where you listened to the album while reading the linear notes spending the time time fully focused on the music. This was, brilliantly, followed by a scene of her daughter texting, skyping, talking, tweeting, snapchatting and Facebooking all while doing homework.

But, back to Abby, the mom. She was caught up in, and thought about, what 47 years old means when she heard about Sierra Mist’s comeback tour. Out loud, she says, “I used to love her.” As she unpacks that statement, she finds herself asking if we use that in the past tense does that mean that who one was during the time one loved a certain musician still exists? I grapple with that a lot. I loved the Grateful Dead during my 20s. And part of the reason I loved them so much was the person who I was during that time. The type who heard about a show and jumped in the car and drove hours to see if I could get into see the show. The impulsive, let’s-see-what-happens-next-kind-of-person I was in my 20s. I miss that person. I can’t even go to the supermarket without making a list these days. There is no way I am jumping in a car and driving hours last minute to see if I can get in to see a show.

I cannot recommend this show enough. There was a definite “This is Spinal Tap” vibe to it all. When describing how one young pop star stole her thing, Sierra Mist gave the example of her big hit “Jack in My Box” vs. the other’s hit “Pop Goes My Weasel.” Jack in my Box’s video and song are a must view and listen. I needed to listen to it a couple of times to hear the words over my belly busting laughter. They actually wrote an album to accompany the show and each song is more hysterical than the next.

This year of 50 shows is clearly my “I Will Not Go Gently” as I try to prove (to myself) that I am still a rocker after all of these years.

5 shows to go, 30 days left…

 

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

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As I close in on the year anniversary of my declaration that I was going to see 50 shows during my 51st year on this planet, I really need to keep the pace up of one show a week.   Unfortunately, Susan and I did not have a chance to see any music while in Puerto Rico. Fortunately, my friend Michael had an extra ticket to The Brian Jonestown Massacre on Friday night at Union Transfer, which kept me on track.

We got to Union Transfer around 9:15 and missed the opener. One of the things I love about Union Transfer is that they start, and end, their shows on time. I was a little sad that our late arrival meant that we would only get to enjoy 1 ½ hours of music. That was a wrong assumption; since they ended up playing for almost three hours from the time we got there.

It was a packed house and we started upstairs but could not catch a sight line, so we headed to our usual spot. I cannot divulge where it is, because they everyone will know where to stand during a sold out Union Transfer show, but, once again, there was plenty of room really close to the stage.

Full disclosure, I had never heard any songs by these guys. In fact, I thought it was Brian Jones’ band and a bunch of other guys. There is no one named Brian Jones. So I went in not quite knowing what to expect. It turns out they were another shoegaze group (see Ride, 9/19/2016 post) from the 90s and then morphed into a psychedelic rock band incorporating both folk rock and electronica. The band is composed of seven older white guys, fronted by Anton Newcombe, who is a younger Neil Young complete with mutton chops. In fact, there were a couple of guys with mutton chops in the band (but no man buns), which describes the demographic of the crowd as well. And though Anton was the lead of the group, he was off to the left side of the stage and front and center was the tambourine player. Yup, seven guys in a band and the one front and center played the tambourine the whole time. Wait, not true, he also played the maracas at one point, but mainly tambourine. And he never said a word. I started referring to him as Marcel Marceau. Though, as I reflected on the concert, I realized only Anton spoke, so, in retrospect, that was not weird. Though I will stand by having the tambourine player stationed front and center is weird.

I liked the few songs I heard. It was psychedelic but never morphed into long jam sessions, which I have less patience for now than I did when younger. It was not angst ridden, but I would describe it as mellow angry music, or as Michael described it, controlled psychedelic music. I would have liked to hear more of it, which is an odd thing to say for a 3½ hour show. And here is the real takeaway from the show- rants. And, lots of them.

Anton is an angry man, a very, very angry man. He did not hesitate throughout the evening to tell us what was pissing him off. What were some things you may ask? Well, in no particular order of importance, “the man,” Spotify, Hilary Clinton stealing America’s bees and cornering the honey market, Dandy Warhols, vinyl is not real music only live concerts, employing unemployed musicians in Berlin, Radiohead was done after their first album and should just stop playing music, etc. I am not even sure if these were things that had long pissed him off or stuff that just occurred to him during the show. It was those sporadic, ridiculous and, at times, totally pretentious rants that dominated the show. When they actually played, they were great. They had a bright good vibe and I had not trouble finding my music center when listening to them. Sadly, they only played about 60 % of the time (though Michael thought I was being generous with my 40% rant/ 60% music ratio description and they probably played less). It took about 2 ½ hours when Philly became Philly and there was a lot of crowd interaction with the band, mainly through calls of “just play music.” Here’s the thing, though, you can’t play an angry show and not expect the crowd to get angry.   We feed off of the band, so we were just following Anton’s lead. And I say Anton, because he was the only ranting and when he got started, his band members would either just sit down or head off stage.

Michael said this concert was very typical and he has seen them four times, but the ranting part is rarely mentioned in the music review. He also suggested I watch Dig, a documentary about them and their rivalry with the Dandy Warhols. The next day, Michael came over and played me one of their albums. I think my show experience would have been really different if I had listened to their music beforehand, because it is totally in my music wheelhouse. Ironically, after one album side, Michael noted “Wow, they sure put a lot of songs on one album side.” I replied, “Actually, they put more songs on an album side than they play during a 3½ hour show.”

6 shows to go, 31 days left…

The Brian Jonestown Massacre setlist from May 6, 2016.