Words by Aaron Stein
It's good to stay "regular" with your music consumption. Every so often, even in NYC, there are stretches of weeks or months where there isn't much going on or you can't make it out as much as you'd like. The gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a predictable lull where you'd like a little more live music fiber in your diet to keep the natural tendencies of your body in tune. The fact that it's quickly followed by a spasm of can't-miss shows leading up to that fabricated live night-of-the-year, December 31st, can do some nasty things to your musical digestion. Like all holiday parties, though, it's all about stuffing your face with as much as you can before remorse sets in on January 1st. The week between Christmas and New Years was nothing short of the "runs" for me as I gobbled down my share of JamBran and, thankfully, regretted nothing.
Benevento/Russo Duo with Mike Gordon :: 12.26 :: The Music Box at the Borgata Hotel Atlantic City, NJ
It was just a few hours after Santa was done for the year and headed back northward that I was southbound to Atlantic City. One of the 1001 great things about New York is that places way down the Jersey Shore are liberally a part of the NYC region. Sure, it takes something somewhat special to drag my ass that far, especially when bringing my ATM card into a casino is like a lit match around a pile of kerosene-soaked wood, but for my boys Joe & Marco joining forces with Mike Gordon at The Music Box at the Borgata Hotel, it was worth the trip.
Godfather Theme -> Hatikvah, Best Reason to Buy the Sun, Cars Trucks Buses, Welcome Red, Lost Highway, Becky, Memphis, Clean Up Woman -> Scratchitti, You Don't Miss Your Water -> ?, Foam, E: You Enjoy Myself
"Hatikvah," the Israeli national anthem, seemed a strange Hanukah selection, but no matter. Duo tunes and Phish tunes and a whole lot of whacked out three-way was the order of this long, winding set. Benevento seemed to be feeling especially festive, bringing the music way, way out there on many occasions with Russo right on his heels. For his part, Gordon was there with them, although he didn't seem as eager to let all mayhem break loose on this first night of their holiday tour. This was probably a good thing. The highlight of the first portion of the show was certainly "Scratchitti," which found the band clicking like lifelong friends.
The second portion of the show consisted entirely of the closing "Foam" and the encore of "You Enjoy Myself." There is a strange thing that happens when this band plays Phish songs. It's like a combination of cover band and alternate universe overlapping and is nothing short of awe-inspiring for a hybrid Phish/Duo fan like myself. "YEM" took me by surprise, and when a trampoline was brought out for Gordon in the usual mid-section of the epic, I knew it was on. The closing jam was a healthy goulash as it twisted and turned on themes and teases and finally segued back into the building section of the "Foam" from 15 minutes earlier. The band moved cohesively into this section before landing back in the closing of "YEM" as if it had been written out that way in its original form. A quick tease at a vocal jam and big smiles all around led to drunken poker and a painful morning drive back home with my stomach churning, knowing it was only Monday.
Gov't Mule :: 12.29 :: Beacon Theatre :: New York, NY
A couple of unproductive days later, it was Thursday and time for the annual winter pilgrimage to the Beacon Theatre for some Holiday Gov't Mule. Warren Haynes in the Beacon Theatre – history tells us not to expect your fast-food variety Mule show. This here is the feast.
I: Mr. Man > Perfect Shelter > Lola Leave Your Light On > Livin Lovin Maid, She Said > Tomorrow Never Knows, Tastes Like Wine, Banks of the Deep End, Suffer, 32-20 Blues*
II: Game Face > Mountain Jam > Game Face, Johnny Bratton Jam, Hunger Strike > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Hunger Strike, Wandering Child > Drums > Devil Likes It Slow*, Oh Well, Little Toy Brain, Lively Up Yourself, Mule
E: John The Revelator
* w/ Ron Holloway
Without going into a song-by-song "it was sick" rundown, let me just say it was one helluva powerful Mule show. The entire band seemed to be aflame, with Andy Hess performing particularly smoothly through the hearty middle of that 1st set. There is a certain way that bassists move when they're comfortable with the knowledge that all the music is happening through them. This is the way Hess was moving Thursday. The Zeppelin > Beatles stretch was, as you might expect, quite marvelous with the "Tomorrow Never Knows" flipping into an extended Beatles medley and with Warren transitioning from one tease to another as if flipping the steaks on the grill to perfect doneness.
W. Haynes - Gov't Mule :: 12.31.05
By Robert Chapman
"Suffer" is one of my all-time favorite Mule songs, and here it was played well enough that I hope Allen Woody was listening. It starts slow and quiet: emotions relayed through Warren's words and his voice until finally there is nothing more that words can say and the bass takes over. Slowly at first, deep and low, the thunder from far off that precedes something violent and shaking. And then it builds faster and louder until it reaches a point where no bass player can contain the feeling, and Warren takes the lead with Hess and the band clanging underneath. Bass and guitar going back and forth, thunder and lightning, and you feel like it may just start raining inside the Beacon Theatre. It's happy and sad at the same time and is worth the price of admission alone.
The second set was a mess of ins and outs, of looks that say, "Did they just go back into that other song?" It was the kind of set that, if you could pack it into a pipe and pass it around the room, everyone would be pleasantly confused, smiles agape with ringing ears. "Mmmmmmountain jam."
The Slip with Apollo Sunshine :: 12.30 :: Southpaw :: Brooklyn, NY
By Friday night, I was afraid I was coming down with some gastromusical bug, but there were still platters of good eats there for the taking so I popped a proverbial Pepto and headed to Brooklyn to keep the belly a-bursting. Southpaw was playing host to The Slip that night, but first things first, the opening slot, that double-edged sword of the live music booking. Apollo Sunshine was one I actually made sure to get to – I hadn't heard too much, a track or two over the net, but it was enough.
If the rating system is thumbs-up/thumbs-down, the answer here is "two thumbs up." They had me rocking and moving and doing a lot of patented air guitar moves (well, patent-pending). The first thing that struck me was the wonderful presence of beards on stage - can't go wrong there, for an all-male act, that is. Second thing was the energy of the band, not preening and hopping around on stage, but a palpable connection between the band members and the audience, a signal telling your ears to "listen up" lest you miss something. The place I heard this was deep in the bass lines, the place where subliminal musical messages are often heard. The thing was, every time I looked up, it seemed like someone different was playing the bass or the guitar or the appearance of keyboards and cowbells. Whatever the combination, it was working.
The lament, then, was that they had to end. I'm no Slip fanatic, but a casual fan, and I've been impressed every time. On top of that, I've seen each member on their own in other settings playing music that is almost always category 5. I knew these guys could bring it, make me move, keep the rumbly in my tumbly. Fact of the matter is they didn't. Instead of landing a pod on my brain, staking out a small patch, and planting a flag in it, claiming it as their own, they forced me to try and discern lyrics and follow their new pop stylings. Hey, I've got no qualms with The Slip going pop, I'm all for it, but Apollo Sunshine just poured rock and roll Ipecac down my throat and had me puking the goods onto the floor in front of me. Don't let me down.
Lucky for me, RANA was playing at The Knitting Factory. I like RANA. Everyone should have a band the way I have RANA, and booze, lots and lots of booze.
It was 7:30 and the sun was coming up on the last day of 2005 as my head settled deeply into a pillow. My GI tract was bubbling with the 'Bran I'd been force-feeding it, and my brain was squealing with delight to the tune of Scott Metzger's 6-strings-of-bliss, and then... sleep.
Electric Masada :: 12.31.05 :: Tonic :: New York, NY
12.31.05. The choices are there like a dessert cart after you've already stuffed your face on the three previous courses. Exhaustion and a paucity of brain cells that were up to the challenge aside, it wasn't like I was staying home on New Year's. But, forsaking the big names at the Garden or another night of can't-miss-Mule, it was a personal favorite: Electric Masada at Tonic. It was the big hunka chocolate cake that I couldn't say "no" to.
What more can I say than "transcendent" – rich, flavorful, a hint of something exotic. My digestive juices jumped and spit with each zap of Marc Ribot's guitar. My colon wept at the crushing, dream rhythm section of Wolleson, Baron, Baptiste, and Dunn. The set alternated between klezmer-tinged electro-jazz romps and loud, punked out freeform wailing with special guest Mike Patton bringing an uncommon shrieking to the "music" like only he could.
Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the night was a near anti-climax. The band had settled into a quiet, moody section lead by Baron's signature melodic drumming when the sound-girl announced over the PA that there were only a few seconds until midnight. The end of the year was nigh! John Zorn in one quick yelp summed up his status as Jewish avant-garde rebel shouted "Who gives a shit!?! It's not my New Year!" and then summoned Patton back to the stage. Here the band, as always acting as a single blob of clay, instantaneously forming the music in Zorn's head, somersaulted the music from subtle whisper to anxious howl as Patton shouted a countdown that had nothing to do with the clock or even the passage of seconds in our known universe. Still, somehow, when the Patton clock struck zero, it was 2006. The music was at an insane climax, a giant bowl of JamBran cleansing my system for the New Year.
Check out Stein's "Best of 2005" picks at www.ropeadope.com.
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