Since the new year, I've read some great reviews on Jambase.com about terrific music all over the country. It sounds like the Big Apple had their hands full with Page McConnell, Oteil Burbridge and the rest of Phish, minus Mr. Fishman. Soulive and Robert Randolph must have ripped up Irving Plaza all night long (this being a show I was quite jealous of, since I'm a transplanted Jersey kid living in San Francisco who can’t get enough of either Soulive or Robert Randolph).
I know Spreadheads had a blast in Atlanta, several of my good friends gave me first hand reviews of the wonderful night they had. Widespread Panic is normally a fun show, but it must have been great with all of the guest percussionists.
It sounds like even our European brothers and sisters got their fill with Medeski Martin and Wood, John Scofield and Marc Ribot in Italy. I'd imagine that was a blast, though I feel bad for the reviewer who wasn't allowed to get up and dance! Sitting only, ouch!
I don't want to leave anyone else out, but I must say to everyone that if you weren't in the Bay Area, you missed an epic week-long bash all over the city.
As the new year approached, my crew was faced with several choices of music, all of it outstanding. The Steve Kimock Band was playing 4 nights at The Great American Music Hall (my favorite indoor venue ever); String Cheese Incident held their odyssey at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium; Phil Lesh & all of his friends (Bobby, Billy and Mickey all included at some point) were taking over their usual haunt across the bay in Oakland, the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium; Les Claypool kept his New Years' streak going at the Fillmore Auditorium; even Robert Walter's 20th Congress was kicking it down at the Elbo Room; and finally, but definitely not least, Karl Denson and Galactic were teeing off at the beautiful Warfield Theater. Such amazing choices!
Friday, December 28th | String Cheese Incident
After our entire group (overall about 20 people) arrived in San Francisco on the 27th, we were off and running. Our first stop was String Cheese Incident on the 28th. G. Love & Special Sauce opened the show, and we were all treated to a fun, funky/electronic appetizer. I had never seen them before, but I would surely go again.
String Cheese came on a bit later and played a very, very solid show. They played a terrific version of “How Mountain Girls Can Love” in the first set as well as had G. Love sit in on harmonica during “Jellyfish.” The second set opened with a surprising, yet very appreciated cover of The Police's song “Next To You.” Many of the younger (under 27 - lol) Cheeseheads had no idea what tune it was. Me being a child of the '80s had no problem picking it off, it just bothered me that I wasn't sure if it was from Zenyatta Mendatta or Regatta de Blanc. Or maybe another Police album altogether!
“Joyful Sound” flowed as the second song of the set and the band had us hooked for sure at that point, as if they hadn't from the first song of their show! Later on during the set, they paid tribute to Keller Williams by playing a beautiful version of his song “Best Feeling.” In addition, they poured it on from the middle of the set on, with Bay Area MC Radioactive grabbing our attention with some very powerful vocals right after the Williams’ cover. The set ended with a powerful version of “Shine” and their encore of "Tom Thumb Blues" was all but perfect... the East Coast kid in me was only slightly bummed that they changed the last line to "I'm Going Back To San Francisco [instead of New York City], I do believe I've Had Enoughhhhhhh."
String Cheese Incident
12.28.01 | Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
Set 1: Search, Got What He Wanted > How Mountain Girls Can Love, County Road, Cedar > Jellyfish¹ > Jam > Searching for Answers
Set 2: Next to You, Joyful Sound > Indian Creek³, Barstool, Best Feeling > Radioactive Rap², Shantytown > Jam > Shine
Encore: Tom Thumb's Blues
Guests:¹ with G. Love on harmonica and vocals² with Radioactive
Notes:³ with Slipknot! tease
First Time Played: Next to You (Police cover)
Opening Acts: G. Love and Special Sauce, Mercada
Sunday, December 30th | Phil Lesh and Friends
We took the 29th off to show the city to our friends who were from out of town, but the 30th had us dancing again. We headed to Oakland for a taste of “The Boys." I'd always dreamed of seeing the Dead on New Years Eve, and I was very close to selecting Phil Lesh and Friends as my New Years' show this year. I'm glad I chose the 30th!
First off, I should mention that the Kaiser Auditorium is a pretty crappy venue. The parking is non-existent and since the show would end so late, taking BART or other public transit was out of the question. Once we actually did find a parking space in some sketchy part of Oakland, our cold rain-filled walk made me think they would definitely open with “Cold Rain and Snow.” Well, it's not the first time I was wrong, or surprised by these guys.
After we miraculously found our friends inside (the venue was at least 20% oversold), we had missed most of Ratdog's set. However, we caught the giant “Help/Slip/Franklin's” that closed his set. DJ Logic was spinning away throughout these songs. It worked pretty well, but was sort of odd for an old school deadhead to some extent. Nevertheless, it was just enough Bobby for me and I was ready to see Phil, Warren et al travel to those fun places I wanted them to reach.
As I still anticipated the “Cold Rain and Snow” opener, Phil led us through a typical opening warm-up jam, throwing teases of this and that everywhere... finally winding up with... "SHAKEDOWN!" That song always gets my ass in gear, and it was a very funky version to boot!
”Loose Lucy” followed, a song dear to me as I was one of the lucky ones back at the spring 1990 shows in Landover, MD [when the Dead broke out “Loose Lucy” on 3/14/90 for the first time in 16 years then “Revolution” the next night and “Black Throated Wind” the final night, but who's counting ;-)]. After a Real Good Time with Loose Lucy, the band flexed its might while jumping right into a frantic, yet extremely tight version of “King Solomon's Marbles/Stronger Than Dirt.” Old school, now you're talking!
I figured at this point they would play something a bit more recognizable or some classic sing-a-long song like "Tennessee Jed," but they continued to dig deeper into their bag of tricks with a very welcome version of “Mason’s Children.” The theme continued through this set as they concluded with the crowd favorite “St. Stephen” and “Golden Road,” leaving us all wanting more and more!
The second set included many more surprises, opening with “Cryptical Envelopment” into a crowd-pleasing “Strawberry Fields!” Phil led the band out of this Beatles tune, back into a frantic version of “The Other One” from which the band again flexed its might with “The Eleven.” Phil got up to sing “Scarlet Begonias” next and followed in with a perfect version of “Unbroken Chain.”
Warren ended the set with a very nice version of “Night of a Thousand Stars,” a song that has definitely grown on me in the past year and is now a welcome surprise. I finally got my “Casey Jones” as the encore... silly since I can find it on so many bootlegs, but a nice treat for a Deadhead who'd never seen it played by anyone besides a few mediocre bar bands.
Phil Lesh and Friends
(Warren Haynes, John Molo, Jimmy Herring and Rob Barraco)
12.30.01 | Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium, Oakland, CA
Set 1: Jam > Shakedown Street > Loose Lucy, King Solomon’s Marbles > Stronger Than Dirt, Mason’s Children > Jam > St. Stephen > Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)
Set 2: Cryptical > Jam > Strawberry Fields > Other One >The Eleven > Space > Scarlet Begonias >Unbroken Chain > Night of a Thousand Stars
Encore: Casey Jones
Monday, December 31st ~ New Year's Eve
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe & Galactic
So, that led us up to the big night. 2002 was around the corner and our destination was the Warfield Theater. Our excitement level had been building for days and so far, the music had been amazing all around.
My excitement, in particular, was beginning to reach a fevered pitch. This is because one of my favorite musicians in the past couple years, Stanton Moore (drummer for Galactic), was about to take center stage on the big night. His talents far exceed my ability to describe them, hopefully you can understand how much appreciation I have for him. He was the deciding factor for me as to which show to hit for New Years Eve, and he wasn't about to disappoint me!
Given that String Cheese was playing around the corner, the entire area of Market Street in downtown San Francisco was filled with Heads in costumes and looking like they were ready for a parade. The Warfield had that New Years' vibe flowing, you know what I mean? It was sort of electric, and the venue was well prepared for the night. We made the right choice, and we had kickass seats, lower balcony in the center.
Karl and his not-so-Tiny Universe came on stage around 9pm. The last time I'd seen them was at the same venue at the 420 show (4/20/01) opening for Medeski Martin and Wood. They were the PERFECT opening band that night, and again they did not disappoint. Karl ripped through two hours of get-off-your-ass-and-shake-like-a -@#$@% to the delight of the 75% filled theater. I don’t believe I sat down for more than 2 minutes during his entire set, and that was to tie my shoe because the laces were sticking to the ground. Mr. Denson is an outstanding musician and front man, and will be a force to reckon with in the jazz/funk/jamband scene for quite awile.
But, this night belonged to Galactic, and after Karl's set ended around 11pm and the seats began to fill and fill, the anticipation was building rapidly. During the break between bands, a DJ from Triple Threat (who will open for Galactic during their winter tour) spun music for us to carry us closer to the bewitching hour. His selections were great, each one getting us a bit more excited and anxious.
At around 11:50pm, with people blowing hornblowers and having trouble standing still at all, the curtain went up and the stage was revealed. Now, this is quite hard to explain, but I'll give it a shot. Above the normal stage, a second stage was built about 25 feet up. It ran on a slope up to the back wall behind the stage, and there was a 5 foot wide platform up there. The platform jetted out from the back wall, along both side walls to the front of the stage (like a big U).
If you can't picture it, that’s fine... but understand that the band was set up in front of this second-tiered stage, and on the platforms were drums built into the sides of makeshift walls, and two big screens in the back. All of a sudden these dancers and drummers came out of nowhere and red lights were turned on. There was also this illusion of fire that was being displayed in the back, which looked like real flames and made everyone kind of warm.
As the drummers started a tribal rhythm, and the dancers began to sway, this gigantic crown of fire came from the ceiling to the ground. It was about 20 feet across or so, and as it hit the stage, I believe Stanton Moore (though I could be mistaken) jumped into its center and was lifted up into the air as the countdown to midnight was going on. This was a great visual spectacle and was only surpassed in my mind by Phish riding to the stage on their hot dog mobile down at Big Cypress in 1999.
Drums were pounding as the new year rang and cheers exploded among the fans who were still in a trance at the stage. I could see Stanton, who was now back at his drum kit, smiling all the way up in the balcony. The band kept in tune with their stage theme by covering a tune called "Fire." Now, I warned you about me and song titles, but this song was called “Fire,” I just don't know who wrote it! It was very funky and could have been a Meters tune, or Headhunters... please forgive me for not knowing the band. After this tune, they went right into Jimi Hendrix' “Fire.” Even I can't mess that one up!
After the Hendrix classic, the band jumped immediately into "Fire On The Mountain!" NO WAY!! Well, they played about four stanzas of this Grateful Dead tune, then showed us they know how to tease their audience too. They rapidly changed gears into “Fiyo on the Bayou!” It was a very nice switch for me and quite welcome to the rest of the audience as well. [*Note: Stanton, or any other member of Galactic... if you are reading this, you need to understand that teasing “Fire on the Mountain” was very cool, but you played it so friggin’ funky for about a solid minute or so, then left us hanging... you've got to play that at some point.] Sorry, I continue to digress.
The first set for Galactic was filled with heart-pounding, foot-stomping, ass-shaking, grooves that made me feel I was in the best place I could have possibly been. They ended their set around 1:15am or so I knew I'd have a real late night in San Francisco, with music until the wee hours of the morning! Their break of 30 minutes was filled with more from the Triple Threat DJ and we all practiced sitting down at that point since it's something we couldn't do for several hours at that point.
Galactic showed up for their late set close to 1:45am. Unlike the first set, which revolved around the theme of fire, this set's theme was water and the once-red lights and flames, were now blue. The temperature in the theater cooled off too... either they were purposely doing this or the change in themes did this to every one because many people who were once burning up in the first set, were much more comfortable in the second set.
This set was one big funky-ass jam again, mixing old tunes and new as well as highlighting guests such as Skerik on saxophone, Karl Denson also on sax and Leo Nocentelli on guitar. The Houseman belted out "Sweet Leaf," always causing me to chuckle a bit as his R&B style singing on this Sabbath tune usually does. I wonder what it would sound like if he sung “War Pigs!” Well, whatever he sings, the band always tears the stage up behind him because they’ve evolved into an amazingly tight group after touring relatively non-stop for several years now.
Ben Ellman was amazing on harp and sax, Rob Mercurio dropped some funky bass licks all night, and Richard Vogel was a traveling man on keyboards, all over the place. Jeff Raines on guitar was right on time all night, pushing the jam deeper and deeper, but nothing treated me better than seeing Stanton Moore be the driving force for this funk monster, especially when his buddy Skerik would get in his face and musically try to kick his ass. There isn't much better music out there people then when you see these two get on stage together and let them play by their own rules. It's truly magic.
Sometime during this set, the Houseman appeared on the platform above the stage. He meandered towards the two large screens on the back wall, and through some technologically enhanced blue lighting, the visual/light crew for the band was able to change his appearance. Again hard to explain, but if you've ever seen how a Hollywood movie uses a blue background when making movies, where they can then change the background of the person they take pictures of (i.e. instead of making an actor look like he's in a studio, they can transpose a scene or landscape behind him…hopefully you understand).
Anyway, they used some technology like this while the Houseman was in front of the screen, and transposed his head onto the body of a funky dancing robot that morphed into several different things throughout his songs. It was the first time I was truly happy to see the Houseman on stage with this band, because he was visually entertaining as his form was transposed to one creature after another! Hopefully they will release this on video or DVD because it was visually amazing, and equally hard to describe.
The late set ended around 3:30am and I wondered if we'd be lucky enough to get an encore. It was already over 2 hours later than almost any big show I'd seen in San Francisco since I moved here, most ending by 1am or so.
We WERE lucky, and they came out and played an absolutely perfect song to send us home. From the first notes of “Quiet Please” my hands were pumping in the air as if I'd just won the lottery! My friends knew this was one of my favorites, and they also knew that if was this excited for the song, it was going to be amazing. It was!
We traveled through the soft haunting beginning of the song, slowly picking up tempo and volume over the span of 15 minutes, building to the point when Stanton Moore was literally pounding the drums so hard I thought he'd break his hands. Finally, an all out pandemonium-reaching crescendo at the song’s peak, falling slowly back to earth with soft rhythms once again. Yet, it was New Years Eve so Stanton continued to lead the band, up and down and up and down until the song reached its conclusion, and the audience let out a collective sigh of fulfillment.
I've now seen four separate New Years Eve shows in my life. My first was 1992 when I saw Phish at Matthews Arena in Boston, an outstanding time. I took many years off, but returned in 1999 for Phish at Big Cypress (almost incomparable to anything ever). In 2000, I saw moe. in Atlantic City, NJ which included over four hours of terrific music, but was the worst venue ever (no alcohol OR water). And now this incredible New Year’s party by Galactic and Karl Denson in 2001 at The Warfield. I just can't imagine what's in store for me next year, or for that matter, the next time I see Galactic. This New Years' run in the Bay Area was truly magical, and was one I will surely never forget.
JamBase Correspondent | San Francisco