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

 

 

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Alabama Shakes

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Back in March when I made my annual pilgrimage to the Mann box office to buy my season’s tickets (to avoid the dreaded service fees), I thought the last show of the season would be a tempered time in fall weather and a mellow way to end a great Mann season. Boy, was I wrong on all levels. Alabama Shakes was the most crowded, most raucous show of the season in 80-degree weather.

Let me get this out of the way- Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes front woman, is a badass. Bad. Ass. Badass.

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Drive By Truckers. We had a great seats.

We got there in time to catch the opener, Drive By Truckers (DBT). Interesting fact about these guys, a couple of years ago Alabama Shakes was opening for them. DBT discovered this group and took them under their wing. Now they are opening for them. I love the humility of it all. Obviously, I do not have any real information, but I like to believe that it means artists are completely supportive of each other, they are all about the music and as along as everyone gets to keep playing, who really cares who headlines the show. Again, that is what I choose to believe.

DBT had a longer than usual set and they were pretty good. I am not sure I would go see them alone, but I enjoyed them. They have that Americana sound, sometimes like Johnny Cash, sometimes like Willie Nelson from the “Across the Borderline” album. They have been playing together for a while, so they had that great playing together for a long time vibe. I was sad I didn’t like them more than I did; after all they backed up Bettye LaVette on her comeback album and wrote a fictional opera about a Lynyrd Skynyrd type rock band. I guess the best thing I like about them is that they discovered Alabama Shakes.

Brittany Howard came out on stage to thunderous applause. The Mann was the most crowded than my previous other shows and the wooden roof was vibrating with energy when she launched, almost assaulted, her first song. From there, it was game on.

This 26-year-old African American, not model thin, woman is fronting a 5 member rock and roll white male band with 3 back up singers. They are described as a roots rock band, but they are so much more. I guess they are described that way, because there is no neat description for their music. There was huge gospel influence, lots of blues and rock and roll, and hard-core rock and roll. I read somewhere that one of their first shows they covered the likes of Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Otis Redding, and AC/DC. That gives you an idea.

Here is IMG_0004what I do know. It was an incredibly emotional show. Just when you thought you could not dance, hoot, clap harder, Brittany took you on to another level. She screamed, wailed, whispered, shook her glasses and gave so much of herself during the show that I actually started to worry for her. I am unclear how she will keep this pace up for a long career. Good lord, she is only 26. What was also interesting is that while she had a huge stage presence, there was absolutely no chit chat or crowd interaction. Maybe she said hello in the beginning and thank you at the end, but that was basically it.   While I continue to worry about her pace and her voice for longevity, my main takeaway is “Badass, Bad, Ass, Badass.”

29 shows to go, 257 days left…IMG_0006

Lenny Kravitz

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Lenny Kravitz is one of those artists who I think I should really like, but was not sure if I even knew his music. So, while I was ambiguous if I should buy tickets to his concert, I certainly was not going to turn down free tickets. I happened to be on twitter for work-related reasons and saw a tweet at the top of my feed saying if you wanted to see Lenny Kravitz reach out to someone at Philadelphia Weekly. Knowing I never win anything, I emailed and imagine my surprise when I got a call saying I had won (thank you, Sheena!). The way I gushed you would have thought it was Lenny himself inviting me to be his special guest. Anyway, the decision was made for me-  I was going to see Lenny.

My good friend Chris is moving away soon, so she was the perfect companion for this musical journey. We met at the box office and were there in plenty of time to catch the opening act, Andra Day. There are two types of mindsets in relation to opening acts, either you get there in time or show up just for the main act. Me, I like an opening act. It is usually someone I never heard of and always a crapshoot. Sometimes you win and sometimes your ears bleed. But, hey, it’s music. Let’s just say, we totally scored with Andra Day. This beautiful, young, articulate woman dressed in a 1902s pin-up girls style compete with mink (hoping, faux) stole struts on stage and blows us away from the get go.  We thought we were listening to the reincarnation of Amy Winehouse but with better vocals, more stage presence and confidence. We were mesmerized and we did not know one of her songs. So, imagine our complete delight when she not only did a cover of a Bob Marley song, but reinterpreted Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Are you kidding me? Two very different styles and she completely killed both. The set ended way too soon and I was off to buy her album at the merch table. Andra. Day. Go. See. Her. IMG_4491

During intermission, we grabbed a beer and started plotting how to move closer. While we were not the least bit ungrateful about the free tickets (thank you again, Sheena!), we did want to get a bit closer. Without boring anyone of the details, though it did include dropping a staff person’s name only to retract it because we thought she would actually be called to the front and she scared us a bit, we were seated in the first orchestra section. Lenny comes on and the crowd goes wild, literally wild.

Lenny Kravitz is a rocker. He is soulful, sexual and can completely shred his way through any song on any instrument. He started and did not stop for 2+ hours. He teased, coaxed and demanded his songs through his instruments. He made one of the tightest bands I have seen in awhile get better as the show progressed. He let his bandmates shine and listened in awe to their solos. His lady drummer was killer, just killer. I was exhausted within 20 minutes. Giddy up, man, giddy up! At one point during his song “Sister,” he saw a woman in the audience become overwhelmed with emotion. What’s a rock star to do when that happens? Well, leave the stage of course and comfort her. Wait, what?  As Chris pointed out, his style was relational and somehow he can connect with people one on one in a crowd of thousands. It was inspiring.

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Man, that was a great way to start a week. As I drove Chris to her car, we reflected on our long and beautiful musical friendship. While this may be the end of this musical chapter, we both know there is music to be heard and better seats to upgrade to in the future. Giddy up, my BFFMB, giddy up.

32 shows to go, 275 days left…

 

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Diana Krall

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An embarrassment of riches, I thought, when trying to figure out what show to see Friday night. I could, literally, have my pick of what show to attend. There was the opening day of XPN festival at Wiggins Park, there was a hard core punk (you know to test my new found love of punk) thing going on at Johnny Brenda’s, something at MOCA, Wanda Jackson at Sellersville Theater, etc. Almost overwhelming, but choose I did.

Friday night was only the most perfect weather one could hope for in July. Summer evening, no humidity, bit of a breeze and not a rain cloud in sight. We all know how much I enjoy the Mann Music Center, so the weather in combination with Diana Krall, the Philadelphia Orchestra and bring your own picnic policy won over all the other options. And, boy did I chose well.

The Mann has a policy that when the orchestra plays, you can bring your own picnic. Pretty arbitrary, but a policy nonetheless. I love seeing the orchestra a couple times a year there, but for the past couple of years the season has been getting shorter and shorter. In 1995, I worked for a city councilwoman and we were given free tickets for the orchestra series, which played weekly for 9 weeks. That was awesome. I saw the orchestra a lot during the 90s. I guess since the Mann has increased their other concert offerings, they have decreased their orchestra offerings and you really have to plan an evening specifically for the orchestra.   I knew that Diana Krall was going to be there, but since Susan and I had seen her awhile back I was not compelled to see her again. However, I then read that her back-up band was the Philadelphia Orchestra. Let me repeat that so it resonates. The Philadelphia Orchestra was her back-up band. Back-up. Band. Philadelphia. Orchestra. I think you get the picture. Off we went.

Tons of tickets left so no trouble getting in, though I was looking for my friend Roddy who told me at the Robert Plant show that he would be “working” the parking lot all summer long. Guess it was his night off. We invited folks to join us and our friend Kristin, the rock star that she is, was driving back from upstate New York and said she would be there just in time. Serious effort, I mean I was coming from the city and was anxious about the drive. We settled in for the evening on that plush lawn with homemade coleslaw, babagounash, and salsa courtesy of Susan’s magic green garden thumb and culinary skills and Federal Donuts Fried Chicken, because it is exactly halfway between my office and our house.

Diana Krall has a new album, Wallflower, which includes covers of songs that she loves from her childhood. Basically, stuff I grew up on, like the Eagles, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Mamas and Papas, etc. And she did them justice. But I was surprised by her speaking voice. She has this low sultry, smoky voice that sounds like whiskey slowly being poured into a glass. Her songs were sung in that style, but her speaking voice was almost the opposite, higher and a little screechy. I do not remember that at all and Susan thought she may have been sick and then someone else mentioned that she may have had surgery for something recently. I guess she was saving her real voice for her songs and was not into straining it for chatting in between. It was just odd, especially after a recent discussion about vocal fry and uptalking (you can hear a great Fresh Air story on that very topic here). Additionally, I love her voice (the singing one), but I love her piano playing as well, which is sometimes hard to completely appreciate when you are listening to an album. Last time, she was rocking her piano, putting Jerry Lewis to shame. This time, it was way mellower and there were no piano rock and rolling I was expecting. I understand it was a different kind of show, but I missed that raucous playing. What I did love, and was absolutely moved by, was her most excellent version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” because 1) It may be the greatest love sad song of all time; 2) Joni Mitchell is the bomb and 3) Diana Krall was born to sing it.

Though there were no Elvis Costello duets, at the end of the night, I was extremely pleased with my evening pick. I had a wonderful time in a great setting eating and drinking great food and wine and spending time with my love and friends. It does not get much better than that. A great evening to kick off the rest of the music weekend ahead.

By the way, we were asked not to take any photos. So, we only have this forbidden one taken by Susan of me in full Mann mode.

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37 shows to go, 312 days left…

Rodriquez and Brian Wilson

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Here comes the first dilemma, do I count a double bill show as one or two shows? The performers are very distinct and different and never play together, but, hey, they are on the same bill. Let’s put this question off until next May when I am short a couple of shows and need to start counting bands, not shows.

Back to the Mann Music Center for Brian Wilson and Rodriquez. If you have not seen “Searching for Sugarman,” you should absolutely watch it. It is this excellent movie about an artist who had a couple of albums in the 70s, achieved mild success, then packed it in and became a working stiff (like the rest of us). Unbeknownst to him, his music became the soundtrack for the anti- apartheid movement thousands of miles away in South Africa. He becomes this mystical creature and someone sets off to “find” him. It turns out not to be that hard, because he lives in Detroit. Anyway, he has found some newfound fame as a result of the movie and is now touring with Brian Wilson on some dates. I was excited to see him.

It was interesting. I was really intrigued by the movie and I was looking forward to seeing him. And his music was exactly the same and sounded just like his earlier albums, folksy with a touch of Bob Dylan interspersed with lefty politics. All good, except it was like time stood still and he was still in the 70s. There has been a lot of political music made in the last 40 years, but his is not some of it. In the late 80s early 90s, I went through a stage where I did not buy any music made after 1978, this would have been a good show to see back then, but not in 2015.

thumb_IMG_3955_1024Though a bit disappointed but still glad we made the effort to get there early, I settled in for Brian Wilson. I had seen the movie “Love and Mercy” a couple days before and was starting to form a mild obsession with him, his story and his music. I had already been listening to his new album incessantly since I bought it months ago in preparation for the show. Additionally, just like Paul McCartney, I believe that “G-d Only Knows” is the greatest song ever written. (FYI- this will not be the last Paul McCartney similarity you will learn about). So I was pumped. Sadly, I was not impressed. His band was awesome. They were tight, fun and had great vocals, but Brian, well Brian is not the young Brian Wilson. And I knew that going in, but I guess the years of drug, recreational and medical, use really took a toll, but I just could not get past his slurring of words. It was just really uncomfortable and I felt somewhat exploitative watching him.

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Sometimes that happens, you get really excited about a show and it just falls way below your expectations. Then, you have those shows, where you expect very little and are blown away. This is not the first time this has happened and won’t be the last. Ultimately it is worth it only for the shows you never see coming.

40 (or 39) shows to go, 336 days left…

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Robert Plant

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I always know it is summer when I see my first show at the Mann Music Center. I have seen shows there for the past 30 years and there is something so comforting when you reenter those gates at the end of a long and cold winter. Last night was no exception.

First, the set-up. The Mann Music Center has been around forever, and while it has been upgraded throughout the years, there is still an old time, bordering on stubborn, feel to it. First, they just refuse to put any identifying signs in the parking “lot” so you have absolutely no reference point of where you are parked when you leave at the end of the evening,. There are always a few folks wandering around, usually bickering, at the end of a show trying to locate their car. Second, the parking “lot” is grass, so there are always some folks who are either stuck in their spot, after a particularly drenching rain, or park oddly, since there are no real guidelines of how to park in a field. Third, there are no real lights outside of the venue, so at the end of the evening, you are wandering around in the dark and muddy field trying to find your car. I happily experienced all that last night. Not trying to locate my car, mind you, I am “that guy” who parked outside of the lot along the Ave of the Republic to save the $20.

Onto the music. I saw Robert Plant last night. It was a last minute thing. I was planning on trying to see Courtney Barnett at Union Transfer on Monday night. Though it was sold out, I thought I could stroll down and score a ticket. However, I just could not motivate to do so.   So, come 2 days later and I am panicked that I have not seen any shows to move towards my 50 shows in the year goal. Left the softball field after the last play, changed in the car, drove over the Strawberry Mansion Bridge and 8 minutes later I was at the Mann. Bought a $20 lawn ticket from Roddy, who told me he will be “working” the Mann all summer long, and was inside. I sadly missed the Pixies but was there in plenty of time for the headliner. Happily, I ran into friends Joanne, Jonathan and Amy. We even had time to enjoy a beer, chat and people watch together. Delicious!

I always like to stop at the top of lawn for the view, and obligatory photo of, the Philadelphia skyline. Last night’s show was not sold out so there was plenty of room for lounging and dancing on the lawn. The other thing about the Mann is their grass. It is spectacular. First thing, take off those shoes and tickle your feet in the grass. There is nothing quite like being at a concert dancing barefoot in grass. Amy, giving up her ticketed seat to enjoy the lawn, joined me. After a bit, we decide to venture down and try and get a little closer. I am a bit of a wanderer during concerts. I like to experience the concert from different sections of a venue, around different fans and hear music from a variety of places. I have no problem trying to get as close as possible. I also have no problem being asked for my ticket and then leaving when unable to produce one for a certain seat. Last night was no exception, as we made our way pretty far down for a couple of songs only to be asked by a very nice usher if he could see our tickets,. Fulfilling our end of the social contract of seat jumping at a show, we simply said “we don’t belong here” and left.

Onto Robert Plant. I like led Zeppelin, don’t get me wrong. I actually like Led Zeppelin more the older I get. However, I really started to dig Robert Plant when he made the album a couple years ago with Allison Krause. Then I learned he dated Patty Griffin and he was all about showcasing blues music, Americana, different talented but lesser known musicians and being an all-around great guy. This was actually my third start at trying to see him.   First time, I wanted to see the tour behind the Raising Sand album, but was discouraged by some old time bluegrass fans who convinced me for a second to join them on the “we don’t like Allison Krause anymore” side. Second, I had tickets (with Amy) for his Tower show a couple years ago with the Band of Joy. It was a total blizzard that night and we chose safety over music. We learned last night, from Jonathan and Joanne, bad call. They said it was spectacular. I was glad to finally get to see him after these false starts.

I was not sure exactly what I was expecting. Maybe some bluegrass, some southern blues, whatever. I actually thought it would be kind of mellow. It was anything but. He is a total rock and roll star. I did not sit the whole time, dance, boogied, swayed and generally bounced about. I would say there was about 60-70% Led Zeppelin songs, which was more than I expected and less than I want. In a word, it was, Awesome!

46 shows to go, 350 days left…

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