Strangefolk | April 8, 2002
Theater of Living Art's
Last Dance w/Mary Jane
Leave a Message
Rather go Fishin'
Get's You Moving>
Cumberland Blues *
* w/ All members of the Big Wu
** w/ Al the guitarist of Big Wu
It's going to be hard to begin this. My head is still recovering from
the amazing show I witnessed the other night. I'm not sure what to say.
A Strangefolk show that begins and ends with a Grateful Dead cover is
kind of unique and makes a great sandwich for stuffing all the
Strangefolk goodies inside.
However, while I danced and grooved to the nostalgia laced GD cover
tunes, it was the in between originals that further solidified
Strangefolk as a major force in my two universes. The night was one of huge energy bursts, apexes, valleys, three
part harmonies and a funk jam that came, out of nowhere stunk up the
and left without saying goodbye.
So here's how it went down. Strangefolk had teamed up with Minnesota's
The Big Wu for co-headlining duties this time out and they are calling it
the Far and Wide tour. This past Monday the circus on wheels stopped in
Philadelphia to deliver up some more of that incredible SF sound to a
packed house at the Theater of the Living Arts.
I'm not going to get into how horrible the TLA is for a venue, I think we
all know that by now. Hopefully, next time the boys can go back to the
Trocodero or maybe move up to the Electric Factory and get away from this
filthy excuse for a music hall.
This was to be an interesting night for Sean and I, as his father Greg
was also going with us. Greg is into all types of music but his main
love is for the Beatles and their era music. After hearing a bunch of
tracks off Strangefolk's latest release, Open Road, and hearing that they would be playing in
Philly, his interest was sparked and a ticket was purchased just for him!
The day of the show came and we headed into the city of brotherly love full of excitement for the tunes to
come. In the four years since discovering Strangefolk, they have quickly
become part of my daily soundtrack. First, it was the overall sound and
vibe that permeated from the band and Reid's golden voice that drew me in
(and I didn't have a choice :). Then a few months after the lineup
it dawned on me that this was not my Mama's Strangefolk anymore. It was
a new and better beast! Then, after the pure bliss of last Eden, I can't
easily remember a time when Patchen was not in the band. It's that damn
After chowing down on a juicy Pat's Cheese steak, Sean, Greg and I
meandered about South Street for a bit. The one big saving grace of the
TLA is the fact that it is located right on South Street which offers a
very diverse crowd of humans to mingle with, plenty of watering holes to
imbibe in, great food for the tummy and lots and lots of things to gawk
Once more, I took my place as the secret ingredient in a funky ass batch
of South Street Pedestrian Soup!
Something kind of funny I should mention. If you had no idea where the
TLA was located, you might have missed it. The band's tour buses were
parked right on the street in front and completely blocked the entire
venue from sight!
As we walked up to the entrance, I noticed Patchen standing out by the
bus chatting on the phone. Not wanting to bother him yet, also wanting
to let him know he kicks ass, I walked toward him with a huge grin, gave
him the thumbs up, smiled at him like a goofball and walked away. He
just laughed and went back to talking on the phone.
The place was nearly empty and we breezed right in. Maybe it was Sean's
father being with us, but I usually get stripped searched at shows so
this was nice for a change. One of the benefits of getting older I
We headed upstairs to the balcony and sipped on a beer or two while
waiting for the Big Wu to start. I had never seen them live before but I
own a studio album and I have a couple live shows to listen to, so I was
familiar with their material and sound. Not to dismiss the Big Wu at all
(They were excellent) but I was here to see Strangefolk, so I'm only
going to say a few things about their set.
The Wu played a solid set filled with some familiar songs and some new
ones. Highlights for me were "Red Sky" and this Gordon Lightfoot cover
"Sundown!" This song gives me the chills. Not sure why, but it does. It
stirs up many memories from my youth. It's one of those songs that I
heard on the radio as a child that seemed to speak to me differently
than the rest. The whole band was in good spirits and they seemed to be
really enjoying themselves. I was surprised to see that the drummer
sings most of the song I was familiar with. The music was wonderfully
uplifting and I hope they come back around on their own so I can loose
myself in two of their sets, instead of one. The bass player is very
energetic and plays like a monster, so he was fun to watch.
In between bands, I took my spot up by the stage and ran into a few
friends from the "Fan2Fan" list where I inquired about recent set lists and
current events. It was good to see so many of my Familiar Strangers.
At last the Folk finally took the stage and the lights went down to an
ecstatic crowd. Jon thanked us for packing it in on a Monday night, and
it was easily read that the band was psyched to be playing here tonight
for all of us.
Amidst the various shouts for songs ("So Well!" "Valhalla?" "Hello Mcfly!!!")
I shouted out "Play Anything" which brought a smile to Jon's face. He
then told us that it was the one request he would honor. To play
After a bit of tuning and fiddling around, Patchen asked us how we liked
the Wu. After showing our appreciation, he said "Good, cause were
bringing them all out!" When they finished filing out from the back,
there were 10 people on stage by my count.
Five from Strangefolk and five from the Big Wu, including their bass
player, their keyboardist, both guitarists and I think the drummer as
After exchanging a few words, the whole ensemble launched into "Shakedown
Street." The intro was nailed, the crowd loved it. It was a great
rendition of a great song and started things off with a bang. All of the
guitarists on stage took turns soloing, and smiling as the rest of the
musicians carefully stepped around all the sounds being created. It
wasn't cluttered or forced as the song worked its way through itself, and
came to a close.
After a bunch of cheers and all around hugs, the Wu left the stage and
the boys took off on the next song.
"Open Road" is a track from their latest album and has all the usual
prerequisites. A great hook, rich harmonies and poignant lyrics. Jon
sings this one and his voice has that tender innocent quality that just
makes you feel good. This rendition was well played and brought any
dancer who wasn't moving from "Shakedown" to their feet.
Up next was "About 80," an Erik song I have heard on disc, but never live!
It's a catchy little tune that also has interesting lyrics to go with it.
Good song to dance a jig to and I especially like the line about Area 51
and Al Pacino!
After warming us up with the first two songs, "Pawn" busted out of the gate
with major intensity. Another Erik song as well, this seems to be the
one my friends who have never heard of SF gravitate towards first. While
Jon had a good lead in "Pawn," it's interesting to note that Patchen took
most of the lead solos in the first four songs except "Shakedown." His
energetic playing and quirky facial expressions are entertaining enough,
but when you throw some tasty lead playing to accent his voice and rhythm
playing, he is the complete package. I look forward to the day when he
plays a solo acoustic set or two, similar to what he did at Eden.
After "Pawn" left the building, the crowd was really awake and hooting.
Not sure what they were going to originally play but I am almost positive
that someone from the crowd shouted out "Last Dance w/Mary Jane" and damn
if they didn't play it. They had covered this before at other shows, so
it's not unexpected, but I swear they played this one by request. A
solid rendition that
would have made Tom proud.
I can usually guess a song within the first few notes, but after the
first change of this next one, I had no idea what it was. This is my
favorite time at a show. When everything you know can't help you and
your assaulted with new sounds. It's even better when it's a band you
are really familiar with. The canvas was empty and I just took it all
in. After the first chorus, I picked out the words "Lucy Down" and
remembered the name from recent set lists. Hands down this is a great
song. The words didn't all come to me so I still want to digest it some
more, but this could easily become my favorite. "Lucy Down" has a nice
tight hook that runs through the spine and out the ears. The band was
flexing its muscle and took this song by the throat and choked it. It was one of those songs that just grabs at ya!
And even here now, with it being five days old in my head and slowly
fading from memory, I can still say with certainty that it was a huge
moment in the show. And that's just the song. You see, there was this
jam tacked on the end of it that I'm not sure is truly part of the song.
Having never heard "Lucy Down" before, I can't say if it's always been
there or not. In any case, this jam was alive. It had a head, a body
and a tail. It was funky! It brought to mind cases of thick viscous
motor oil. You know 10-W-30, 10-W-40, etc.
So I called it "10-W-Funk Jam." In all the Strangefolk show I have
witnessed, I have never heard them conjure up a groove like this. It was
rife with a slime coast of organic material. The jam was pretty linear
but contained many layers of sound that pulsated in and out of each
other. Luke was locked in on Erik and they laid out a path for Patchen
and John to build up this tremendous amount of tension, which peaked
several times only to be scooped up and thrown back on the pile of FUNK!
I'm telling you guys! This jam had visions of dark Miles Davis, Live
Evil all over it!
It oozed from the stage and like fog rolling in it completely enveloped
me, and the crowd. I saw looks in young kids eyes like they were
frightened and had no idea what was going to happen next. This jam was
one of the best passages of other worldly energetic groove music I have
ever heard in my life. It smelled like a four day old gym sock it was so
funky! When this momentary temporal rift was closed, I wondered how they
could top what I just heard. Then I remembered that it was Strangefolk,
band at the top of their game and growing. They can do anything!
So it was with no surprise when they kicked into my favorite Patchen
song, "Leave a Message." What can you say about this song? It has a
wonderful melody, thought provoking and heart wrenching lyrics, excellent
vocal harmonies and the boys often jam it out at the end like madmen. A
technologically advanced love song, I mean how would Paul McCartney have
sounded in 1965 singing about pouring your heart out to an electronic
answering machine over the phone. Giving her the benefit of the doubt
that she must be in the middle of something, leaves you hoping this hurt
young man will finally get through and get the girl of this dreams.
Wonder how close to home this song is to Patchen as he sings it with such
intensity and passion. "Will she pick up the phone?" "Where did she go?"
Now remember, all of these lyrics are wrapped up in a searing ascending
and descending trail of notes. Payoff in this song for me comes at two
places. The first is Luke's little cymbal ride he throws in at the end
of each verse and the second is all of the lyrical changes that take
place during the end chorus. I love intertwined vocals that are sung at
the same time. This song brought the house down as usual.
I took this time to run back up to the balcony and see what Sean's dad
thought of the whole thing. Basically, he was speechless and finally
conceded that he understood why we take off on road trips to far away
cities to see bands he has never heard of.
Not to let the energy stop there, the boys pulled another smoker out of
their regular rotation, "Rather go Fishin'." This is what's good about the
extended one set shows, when the band gets to the zone they will usually
throw the kitchen sink at you, as they don't have the luxury of time to
mellow things out a couple times. This was a great version not changed
what they have been doing with it lately. Very intricate jams from Jon
and Patchen throughout, including this middle section that took on a
razor sharp laser beam quality while Patchen and Jon traded notes back
and forth. The crowd loved it and danced all the harder.
The band chose "Chasing Away" to end the set with and it was a good choice.
Another solid song that kept the energy levels high. The vocals soared
and the instruments worked overtime to keep up with the fingers that
were wielding them. The middle section held true to its trippy bugged
out feel, and there was also the obligatory "Third Stone From The Sun" jam
tucked in there. Or was it in "Fishin'"? Anyway, "Third Stone" jam is
something that I have heard just about every band I like play sooner or
later. From moe. To Widespread Panic and all points in between. As I
looked out from the balcony, I could only smile as the whole venue was
dancing and bouncing off of one another. Life was good!!! After a
couple buildups and releases, the last notes of "Chasing Away" bounced off
the TLA walls and the set was done.
The band came back out to a packed and roaring crowd for a Monday night
and Patchen thanked us for being so enthusiastic. Smiles were abundant
as the crowd readied itself for the encore. Every face I looked at was
smiling or twitching in happiness and fulfillment.
"Get's You Moving" was the selection to start the encore and I thought it
was a funny choice. Usually finding a place in the early part of the
set, I take this song as the band trying to jump start us to dance. For
it to come as the encore was ironic. We had been moving all night and
only now do play this? Great timing, and a great song. It really is
nice to have a little piece of music for your feet. After the first two
verses, they took off into a nice tight pickin' jam that worked its way
into becoming "Cumberland Blues." And what a "Cumberland Blues" it became.
The crowd went ballistic as Strangefolk worked this song like it was
theirs. Before it was over, the guitarist, Al from the Big Wu, appeared
on stage and took a lead that was simply beautiful. With the down home
county feel of this tune, the TLA was in trouble of becoming a Hootenanny
before my eyes. This was some good stuff here, and like all good things,
it had to end. "Cumberland" wrapped up and the crowd went bonkers.
The show was over and once again, I could only smile and proclaim,
Strangefolk the Greatest Band in the Two Universes! A few final
thoughts. This was my first chance at seeing the band with the new
keyboardist, Don Scott, and he completely impressed me with his playing
and his demeanor on stage. Don joined the group in November and is a
superb addition to this band. I hope to hear some material of his
surface in the group soon. Greg was truly impressed with the band and
even more so by the fact that the tapers who taped it wanted nothing in
return except maybe blanks. This was his first exposure to our scene and
he came away with many positive feelings towards the band and music in
general. He will be back. And of course, so will I.............. :)
Ron "Big Woolly Mammoth" Crowell
JamBase | East Coast
Go See Live Music!