Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Concert Post

For no good reason in particular, I thought I'd blog on some of the concerts I have seen.

Top 5 best concerts:

1. Hank Williams III, Albuquerque, NM, 2002
Until you see Hank III, you have no idea what live country music can be like and simply how much ass it kicks. This show was so incredibly high-energy and had such a fuck you attitude that it just totally rocked. It really blew my mind. Two interesting things about this though. First, he plays heavy metal in the second part of the show, which for its shock value, I understand kind of sucks from people I know who have much more knowledge than I do about this stuff. To me it was just really loud. The second interesting thing was that I saw him in 2004 and was greatly disappointed. Most of the songs were the same, he still hadn't advanced as a songwriter any farther than talking about how much he likes to drink and smoke weed. Which is fine but limited. But if you haven't seen him before, see him. If only once.

2. William Parker & In Order To Survive, New York City, 1997
I liked free jazz and experimental jazz before I saw this show. But if you haven't seen this music played live, you just can't grasp its meaning. This was absolutely amazing. I believe that I've blogged about this show before for some reason, so I'll keep it short. But the sheer energy that flowed over me was almost religious in nature and the unbelievable talent of the musicians was overwhelming. Basically, this show changed my life.

3. Bill Frisell Quartet, Knoxville, TN, 1998
I had seen Frisell before. But to see him in the tiny Laurel Theatre in Knoxville with what might be his best band--Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Ron Miles on trumpet, and Eyvind Kang on violin, was just great. To my mind, Frisell is the greatest living guitarist. He can play almost any style, yet you know it's him by the third or even the first note that you hear. And isn't that really the challenge for a great guitarist--for someone to know your work in the first few notes. How hard is that given the ubiquity of the guitar in modern music? They seemed to have a great time playing, the setting was perfect, and the music phenomenal. I don't think he plays with this quartet anymore, but if you get the chance to ever see Frisell, go.

4. The Freighthoppers, Knoxville, TN, 2000.
I saw this show just before the Freighthoppers broke up when their fiddle player had to have a heart transplant. They took old-time music and made it kick ass. Great energy, great musicianship. Maybe the most fun I've ever had listening to music.

5. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Knoxville, TN, 1997.
I was just getting into country music at this time. I had heard of Jimmie Dale and had actually seen him do "Just A Wave" with Bill Frisell on Sessions on West 54th on PBS. I saw this show and was totally hooked into country. Is he the best singer since Roy Orbison? All signs point to yes. The man can sing any song ever written as far as I'm concerned. Only downside to Jimmie Dale is that he's basically stopped writing new material. I saw him open for Guy Clark in 2003 and he just wasn't that good, in part because the material he played all predated even 1997. It was weird to see a show 6 years later and feel that the 97 show would have been fresher in 03.

5 Runner-ups.

1. Doc Watson, Maryville, TN, 2000.
Doc is not only a wonderful guitarist and singer but also a walking history lesson. When he sings songs his mother taught him, that means they have to be at least 100 years old. Plus he has a great sense of humor. He has so much talent, he even did a cover of "Nights In White Satin" that turned that song into something that didn't suck. Certainly the greatest living old-time musician.

2. Alejandro Escovedo, Seattle, WA, 2005.
Saw him at the Tractor Tavern this April. Holy shit. Doesn't play too much anymore because of his health. If he plays near you, go see this great musician, songwriter, and band.

3. Dave Alvin, Albuquerque, NM, 2004.
The greatest entrance ever. The band, led by Chris Gaffney who is a hell of a singer in his own right, comes on and plays a couple of songs. Then Gaffney asks if Dave Alvin is out there anywhere. Dave comes from the back of the bar dressed in leather with the guitar slung over his shoulder and walks through the crowd and onto the stage. Fucking cool. The man is the embodiment of rock and roll. Plus I like him because he is one of the paler rock and roll musicians around. Saw him just a few months later in Santa Fe and it was equally as good, something which I think only confirms the greatness of the first show.

4. Bonnie Prince Billy, Albuquerque, NM 2003
The notoriously inconsistent Will Oldham certainly was on his A game that night. Played with a full band, sang well, played the songs differently than the albums but not so abstractly as to make them unlistenable, something I've heard he does not infrequently. Just a really fun show.

5. Terry Allen, Austin, Texas, 2004
Best show at the Austin City Limits Music Festival last year if you ask me. More known for his sculpture, Terry Allen also has made some weird and great country albums. I didn't know what to expect with this show and what I got was a rockin' ass-kickin' show. Having Lloyd Maines on electric guitar never hurts.

There's probably more shows that I'm forgetting that deserve to be here, including the time I saw Tom Russell in a pizza joint in Los Alamos, but whatever.

2 Really Bad Shows

1. Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Albuquerque, NM, 2002
When you do a shot per song, you're not going to last long. I think there was about 5 songs. Between shots and songs, she bitched about the sound and by the last song was putting her sweater on and about to cry as she ran off stage. The opening band, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth actually kicked a good bit of ass and didn't complain about the sound at all. Though after the show they did ask my wife to go party with them for the night.

2. Dr. John, Charlie Musselwhite, and Keb Mo, Knoxville, TN, 1999
Music was OK though I'm not a huge fan of any of them. What sucked was some good ol' fashioned racism. When Keb Mo sang "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," some redneck in the audience started throwing stuff at him and screaming that "no n..... should play Hank Williams." I understand that when the police were searching his pockets after they arrested him, one of the cops got pricked by a syringe. Nice. Anyway, even though the rest of the crowd was very supportive of Keb Mo, it kind of took the energy out of the evening.

A Few Concerts I Wish I Had Gone To

I could have seen Johnny Cash in his next to last concert in Knoxville. It was the next show that he collapsed, announced his medical condition, and stopped touring. Unfortunately, it was $40 and I was poor. I should have just found the money. Of course the same cheapness made me miss out on Waylon twice before he died and I've also not seen Ray Price twice and Hank Thompson once. I'll probably regret these too.

I also was in Nashville when the original "O Brother Where Art Thou" took place. I wish I would have gone to this, not so much because the music was all that great--if you're familiar with that kind of music, it's cool but not necessarily seminal--but because it turned out to be my one chance to see the great John Hartford before cancer got him. I will always be bummed about that.

Five People I'd Like To See Before I Or They Die

1. Hazel Dickens
2. Dolly Parton
3. Buddy Tabor
4. Tom Waits
5. Masada

Feel free to share your own thoughts on live music you've seen in the comments.