Jam Cruise 9 | Review | Pics

Saturday, January 8

Pool Deck by Dave Vann
Pimps of Joytime :: 11:30 AM-12:45 PM :: Pool Deck
A wake-up call in several respects, PJT burned hot as the opener to the final day before we arrived back in Florida. Thankfully, they didn’t pull any punches despite being on at a time when many were nursing hangovers and simply trying to muster the energy for a final day of revels. PJT’s voices blended especially well under open skies and their playing threw off serious sparks over lock-tight rhythms. The PJT sound is one with the power to reintroduce musician-made funk to hip-hop kids, a sound both classic and contemporary. Leo N was incendiary on “Janxta Funk!” and other guests included Ivan Neville, Nigel Hall and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, all of whom seemed to bestow a much deserved ancestral blessing on PJT. “We’re a very lucky band today,” said Brian J. “ You can tell everyone else when they wake up that they missed all this.”

Nathan Moore & Bryan Elijah Smith :: 12:45-1:30 PM :: Solar Stage
Appearing as a duo, the pair gave off a strong Everly Brothers vibe, their voices joined in empathetic harmony in service of plain ol’ good songwriting. Standouts included the title track from Smith’s latest album Pour On Me and a brand new tune the boys had written early in the cruise that began, “Look, ma, no hands/ I’m on a ship far from land.” And underneath it all was Moore’s unforced grace, a gentle hand that reaches into the depths of us and loosens feelings, haunting us with lines like, “I know it isn’t true but it doesn’t go away.” His understanding of the human condition is profound and his songs vibrate with his found wisdom. And Smith has a decent measure of the same mojo, too. After the Pimps, it was just the cooling tonic one needed.

ALO :: 1:30-2:45 PM :: Pool Deck
If there’s a better band to enjoy in bright sunlight on a cruise ship deck I can’t come up them. ALO turned on the charm and rejuvenated the flagging energies of the afternoon risers. They have a gift for producing positivity, a charge that eases tensions and lifts spirits, and that gift was on full display this set, which included a saucy extended “Hot Tub” with a Zach friendly shaman rap, some cheeky Gilligan’s Island theme song quotes from Lebo, and a sit-in from Living Colour’s Corey Glover on “Glamour Boys.” There was also a kundalini loosening “Shapeshifter” and a sweet cameo from Tim and Nicki Bluhm, who sang the new Nicki tune “Stick With Me.” A late in set cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” made me wonder why I’d never thought of the Dan as an ALO ancestor before. As with the rest of the set, it was pitch perfect and a pleasure.

David Gans by Dave Vann
David Gans :: 2:45-3:30 PM :: Solar Stage
One of the more intense, intimate sets despite a setting where people were bouncing beach balls and chattering away. If you focused in, Gans offered up rich tunes in a timeless voice full of soil and sky and underpinned by some really lovely picking. His POV is that of a vet of the scene who’s witnessed the good and the bad and tells it like it is with clarity and great skill. His Garcia ode “Who Killed Uncle John?” targeted all the right things and moved with the circular logic of 60s Dylan. At times his playing recalled the late Michael Hedges, full of space and ringing rightness, mixed with a touch of Jerry. His darker eye came as a nice contrast on the boat, with one original about festival life built around the refrain of “Go down to the river and drown” as a metaphor for the sometimes outrageous and dangerous behavior one encounters at fests. Gans concluded with one of the prettiest versions of “Brokedown Palace” since Garcia passed, cementing his place as a premiere interpreter of the Dead catalog. But the takeaway from this set is how well formed and unique his original work is and how much more attention it deserves than it has received up to this point.

Anders Osborne :: 3:30-5:00 PM :: Pool Deck
Describing this set from the stage as “a Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf,” Osborne sunk deep into his New Orleans roots, this time backed by the uber-amazing rhythm section of George Porter, Jr. and Johnny Vidacovich. Leo Nocentelli murdered his old classic “People Say” with them, and the whole set Osborne’s guitar was just ferocious, moving from whisper soft single string strikes to a raw growl that might just unleash the hounds at Hell’s gate. At one point, Bill Kreutzmann leaned in to play a cymbal and floor tom over Johnny V’s shoulder, drawn in by the music and unable to restrain himself. This feeling seems to infect even the most jaded musicians once they settle into Jam Cruise, and it was on display a lot at this set, which secured Anders place as one of this year’s standouts.

Wyllys & Joel Cummins by Chad Smith
Brock Butler & Wyllys :: 5:00-5:45 PM :: Solar Stage
Butler showed off his rangy electric guitar chops alongside slamming DJ Wyllys in a set that raised energy levels and woke up the dancers on deck. At every turn, these two gave the ear something interesting to grab onto. They were aided by Joel Cummins with some wicked Moog action on a few numbers, and even made time to bring up some friends for a little salute to Phish and the search for sanity that clearly moved a lot the crowd.

Maceo Parker Super Jam :: 5:45-7:15 PM :: Pool Deck
Maceo was one of the classiest, coolest dudes on the boat, and this set showed how well his fellow musicians love him, too. One of THE godfathers of funk took an all-star cast including Karl Denson, Skerik, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Robert Walter and countless others through their paces, offering a brief history lesson in how jazz turned into soul and soul into funk. The climax of “Pass The Peas” had the entire space humming, leaping and pretty much willing to do Maceo’s bidding. Jam Cruise gives a grandmaster like Maceo the spotlight and mass appreciation he deserves and in turn he turned the mother out hard.

Maceo Parker by Chris Monaghan
The Rhythm Devils :: 9:15-11:15 PM :: Teatro Carlo Felice
Like the previous night, the Devils dived right in, skipping the usual aimless Dead jam, everyone riding the utterly unique rhythm that Mickey and Billy produce, which, as Tim Bluhm pointed out in our recent feature, may be the most distinctive musical trait in the Dead’s sound. Even a staple – predictable in its way – like “Fire On The Mountain” sounded fresh in their hands and neatly tucked into “Scarlet Begonias” in the tail end, Kreutzmann casting a wicked grin as they band hit on all cylinders and really started to swing. Billy honestly seems to experiencing a real resurgence with thes Devils and 7 Walkers, and it’s glorious to see one of the greatest drummers of all-time dancing in his stool again. The line “strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand” got a massive roar and had people turning to those around them to exchange a shake or hug like it was the Passing of the Peace at a church service. Kimock was more fun at this set, throwing in Garcia-y accents but also sparking off the differences in this lineup. “Friend of the Devil” had a nice country twang in Bluhm’s handling, and new one “Voodoo Zombies” turned things back to rock territory with a thick groove and some the best lyrics Hart’s ever penned. The “Drums” spotlight led into a biting “The Eleven,” a tune this band does better than any I’ve heard since Jerry passed. Davy Knowles sang lead on an exquisite “So Many Roads” that got a lot of us choked up. They countered that feeling with a “New Speedway Boogie” that emphasized the boogie and had Bluhm complete soaring on the vocals over a chunky new rhythm structure and Knowles’ blues guitar accents. In their hands, this music is exciting, particularly the songs they’ve developed together, which is a striking difference to the many séances going on that seem focused on bringing back something that left this world with Garcia. The Rhythm Devils are focused on the far horizon, even when playing old favorites, and that’s nothing but a good thing.

Epilogue

Jamcruisers by Chad Smith
A gathering of angels appeared above my head,
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said,
They said come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads.

The remainder of my last night aboard was spent wandering, letting my subconscious soak up all the wonderful random beauty and strangeness happening all over the ship, fuel for my dreaming in the days before the next Jam Cruise. And there was so much to draw from, even at the end: Hemp kids high-steppin’ to Cornmeal as the last zebra people ran wild in the halls; people doing The Robot to “Axel F” at the The New Mastersounds’ dance-off; a porno clown with gigantic, glittering cock giggling as he menaced the laughing staff with his member; sweet, tired drifters shambling aimless and already mourning the end; folks spinning and throwing the last glow sticks as Lotus carved happiness in sound waves before a meditative, lovely denouement; the true partiers sucking all the marrow out of life in the disco and Jam Room; the crew that seemed a little sad to see us go; all the clever, funny door and hallway decorations (a fave: a sign that read “Don’t worry and pet the fuzzy rug” on top of a plush brown rug hung in a hallway) and more and more and more. Everywhere one turned, life seemed to explode. To call it evocative would be to sell it far short.

Porno Clowns by Chad Smith
The “jam” in the Cruise’s name is not some genre or record label tag. It’s an upfront pronouncement that folks can mix it up here and that the usual rules don’t apply. Jam Cruise is a open environment that brings out the child within, the one eager to play, the one open to new experiences and anxious to make new friends. Out of necessity we cannot live like this on shore. The world is too sharp and dangerous to walk around like that, but for a brief time we can can live this way in what is an undeniable Mecca for music lovers. It’s tough to imagine someone not being turned on by the music on this boat, regardless of their tastes. Sure, a little light on metal and heavier stuff, but I think there’s ways they could incorporate that into the mix if they wanted to - they already bump shoulders with it allowing Mike D and Skerik to hold court. Add to this 24-hour food, cabins with your own bed and shower, satellite TV if you want to see what’s happening on the planet elsewhere (or watch the daily dose of photos and set excerpts from the previous days on Jam Cruise TV), a spa, hot tubs, endless bars and many more amenities and Jam Cruise comes out as something worth saving for, even forgoing other pleasures, other fests, if music holds a central place in your life. It’s a journey one should take at least once but don’t be surprised if you find yourself powerless to resist when the next one starts booking. Simply put, it’s a bit of a paradise with an absolutely monster soundtrack.

Jamcruisers by Dave Vann
Oh, the dreams started the first night I returned and always leave me smiling when I awake.

Here are our thoughts, voyagers' thoughts,
Here not the land, firm land, alone appears, may then by them be said,
The sky o'erarches here, we feel the undulating deck beneath our feet,
We feel the long pulsation, ebb and flow of endless motion,
The tones of unseen mystery, the vague and vast suggestions of the briny world, the liquid-flowing syllables,
The perfume, the faint creaking of the cordage, the melancholy rhythm,
The boundless vista and the horizon far and dim are all here,
And this is ocean's poem.

-Walt Whitman – In Cabin’d Ships at Sea

Continue reading for a few more tidbits on Jam Cruise 9...


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