Strangefolk | April 8, 2002
Theater of Living Art's
Philadelphia, PA

Shakedown Street*
Open Road
About 80
Last Dance w/Mary Jane
Lucy Down>
10-W-Funk Jam>
Leave a Message
Rather go Fishin'
Chasing Away

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 place 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 change, 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 good!

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 at!

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 guess.

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 anything!!!

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 well.

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, a 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 much from 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
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[Published on: 4/16/02]

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