Review & Photos | High Sierra 2013 | Quincy, CA

Eric’s Saturday Highlights

1. The Greyboy Allstars – 6:45-8:45 p.m. – Grandstand Stage

Maybe it was just my hankering for a set of funk, but this may have been the best set of the weekend. There's something about seeing this band of pros amplified on a big stage that brings out the best in them - the grooves were so telepathically locked-in and powerful, it was easy to hear their 20 years of group chemistry in every tune. It also helped that their fresh new material is killer, and they played plenty of it. Bassist Chris Stillwell is one of the least flashy, most sympathetic, rock-solid players I've ever seen, giving the music a backbone as straight and solid as sax player Karl Denson's posture. With Denson, keyboardist Robert Walter and guitarist Elgin Park weaving in and out of each other with playful precision and passion, the Grandstand field was shakin' as the sun set behind the stage. Sit-ins by Skerik and trumpet player Jen Hartswick brought things over the top, and judging by Hartswick's face after exchanging solos with Denson, the musicians were just as awestruck by this ensemble's tightness as we were. This was some dirty boogaloo funk you could set your watch to, if you bothered to wear a watch at High Sierra (I didn't).

2. The John Scofield Überjam Band – 4:30-6:00 p.m. – Grandstand Stage

After melting some faces at Vaudeville Tent the night before, Scofield brought his own version of a jam band to the Grandstand stage for some daytime grooves in the sun. These tunes seemed to work better with the room to breathe out in the open space among the pines, and watching Scofield wring notes out of his guitar out in the open hills was quite a pleasure. With his guitar foil Avi Bortnick laying down programmed electronic backing tracks and tight rhythm guitar, Scofield was free to get seriously bluesy on new songs like “Boogie Stupid,” “Curtis Knew,” and “Al Green Song.” Even when playing over a one-or-two-chord vamp, Scofield's unpredictable phrasing and unmistakable tone are staggeringly engaging, surprising, and always soulful. It's always a privilege to watch a master at work, and it was quite the treat to watch Scofield squeeze out solo after brilliant solo.

3. The David Mayfield Parade – 1:45-3:00 p.m. – Vaudeville Tent

Equipped with an arsenal of fantastic country tunes, a quick wit, and a tight backing band that acted as his comic foil throughout the set, David Mayfield put the “Vaudeville” back in the Vaudeville Tent with one hell of an entertaining set. Rounding out his original set of heartfelt love songs with a good bit of humor and stage antics, Mayfield's set satisfied in more ways than one. The bearded bard sang, jumped on things, danced, and worked the crowd like a pro, but most importantly, the warm, inviting music was great throughout. His animated female fiddle player kept things interesting as well, both with her harmonizing and fiddling and her dialogue with Mayfield. This was one set that left everyone with a warm afternoon smile on their face.

Dennis’ Saturday Highlights

1. The Barr Brothers – 7:55-9:25 p.m. – Big Meadow Stage

The High Sierra debut of Brad and Andrew Barr’s latest project was a moving, exhilarating affair, prompting tears from many in the first tender stretch and then livening up to a playful, musically potent conclusion (which included some guitar-bass face-to-face moments that brought vintage Zeppelin to mind). As ever with these dizzyingly gifted siblings, there’s a ton going on at all times but they’ve harnessed their talents (and talent for stirring interesting, worthwhile stuff from their collaborators) to the most focused, effective songwriting and arrangements of their career. Yes, the tempting madness and spontaneity of The Slip and Surprise Me Mr. Davis is largely absent but, shooting straight, this works better at presenting the full spectrum of the brothers’ charms in ways those not already in their cult can appreciate. Some of this is the company they’re keeping, namely bandmates Sarah Page (harp, vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial (bass, vibraphone, percussion, harmonium), two Montreal gems that alter the palette of the Barrs’ music in wholly terrific ways, their trained seriousness offering fine counterpoint to the brothers’ moment-seizing invention. The horn section from Rubblebucket joined them for most of the set, accentuating the classy-cool vibe of this new music. Delicacy and restraint are very effectively employed tools here, and the group dynamics between Andrew, Brad, Page and Vial reveal how well they listen to one another and respond in real time – they play to the songs but in a most conversational way. The combined elements are tenderizing, humanizing, and catch-your-breath lovely AND it seems like this band is just beginning to crest into its full potential.

2. Lee Fields & The Expressions – 12:15 a.m. – 1:30 a.m. – Vaudeville Stage

Classic hoof stomping, heartbreaking soul delivered by a compact powerhouse whose body and every utterance spoke of a life hard lived but survived with indomitable grace. Active since the late 60s, Fields is all the heft and heart that modern soul music is missing, keeping the torch lit for the pioneering music of James Brown, Otis Redding and Ray Charles. That he’s backed by a much younger band that looks like they could just as easily be the opener for Grizzly Bear as the seamlessly together bedrock for this soul legend is an added treat. There was little doubt this music is a mission for everyone onstage, and their undisguised passion and indisputable skill at executing a style that’s all but disappeared hit the audience like lightning, the entire tent shouting and swaying head-on-shoulder with strangers by the final bow. The premiere High Sierra debut of 2013 and he crushed it again the next day on the main stage.

3. Jamming On The Brill Building – 1:30-2:45 p.m. – High Sierra Music Hall

During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s a skilled stable of songwriters cranked out some of the most finely sculpted pop songs of all time. Located on Broadway in Manhattan, the Brill Building gave rise to Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Leiber and Stoller and many more. However, it’s a prime piece of musical history that’s now known more for its invisible omnipresence on oldies stations and TV & film cues. So, hats off to Lebo for coordinating this choice selection of Brill classics in ways that highlighted the succinct charms of the originals and then expanded them in organic ways. Case in point, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” was intertwined with the Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song,” a pairing utterly unexpected but ridiculously enjoyable. Often the past is lost in any real detail in our rush for newness, and this playshop helped shine a light on some bedrock songwriting and how it’s still vibrant and relevant today. With guest turns from Elephant Revival’s Bonnie Paine, members of California Honeydrops, Fruition and New Monsoon, right on time drumming from Ezra Lipp, and more, this set mingled classic numbers with present day emerging greats for a very cool experience.

Setlist: Teenager in Love, Love Potion #9, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Bird Song, I Feel The Earth Move, Unchained Melody, Piece of My Heart (with tear the house down lead vocal from Jennifer Hartswick)

4. Mike Dillon Band – 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. – Vaudeville Stage

No festival day is anything but good when one is screaming, “Motherfucker!” by noon along with Mike D and his kicking, hopping, utterly into it young band, who look for all the world like Dillon drove his van up to a community college classroom and said, “You, you and you get in the van. It’s time to split some heads open on the road!” This is what punk rock sounds like filtered through jazzbo skills and hip hop thinking. It’s a heady buzz and mayhap a bit too agro for some daisies at the fest, but if one had an appetite for strong, pummeling, wickedly well played music that busts not stretches genres then the Mike Dillon Band served up a feast. And the next morning they dished up a rugged brunch on the Big Meadow that included a ballsy, suits-them-to-a-tee cover of the Stooges’ “1969,” identified as Dillon’s favorite punk song of all time. For a band only a little over a year old, this is shaping up real nice.


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