Chuck Prophet & All-Star Band Deliver Impressive Basement Tapes Live Tribute In Santa Cruz
Longtime JamBase contributor Dennis Cook recaps a recent concert at Moe’s Alley honoring the music of The Basement Tapes.
Tribute bands are a dime a dozen. Anyone with a certain amount of skill can play someone else’s songs satisfactorily but to elevate the experience above the norm requires musicians who can move around inside another’s skin and fully inhabit the music. Only then does a seance become shindig where joyful celebration of the original is married to fresh hands and fresh ideas.
The Basement Tapes Live devotes themselves to the over 100 songs recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band in the summer of 1967. Captured at Dylan’s home studio “The Red Room” and the ramshackle basement studio at the now-legendary Big Pink house near Woodstock, this songbook represents one of modern music’s greatest creative explosions, guys clicking on every gear, vibing hard with each other, and blessed with an over-abundant muse — lightning just hung out in a bottle watching them work.
As befits this music, The Basement Tapes Live exudes similar crackling creativity and infectious camaraderie. Comprised of Terrapin Crossroads bar ensemble regulars and special guest and national rock treasure Chuck Prophet, the band were live wires from the jump in Santa Cruz and never dropped the voltage over the course of two very rich sets filled with familiar faves given fresh paint, deep cuts fleshed out fabulously, and above all else, an infectious pleasure in conjuring those mighty ‘67 energies together and letting them spark a new century.
Bassist Brian Rashap (The Mother Hips), guitarists Craig MacArthur and David Simon-Baker (Casual Coalition, Casual Country), keyboardist Alex Jordan and drummer Sean Nelson represent some of the finest working musicians in the greater Bay Area scene. Anyone familiar with their long tenures jamming for hours at Terrapin will echo this assessment. Mix in one of the greatest, most under-appreciated singer-songwriter-guitarist of the past 40 years, Mr. Chuck Prophet, and you’re cooking with high-octane gas.
Vocals are handled round-robin style, and based on the gusto each man delivered their selections the choice of lead singer seemed determined by who vibrated most deeply with the material. This in turn served as a catalyst to the others to lean in on the choruses and select verses within another’s number. All of them have warm, inviting voices, and the beautifully jagged mix of tones & timbres nicely recalled Robertson, Hudson, Danko, Helm, Manuel and Zimmerman, where unexpected things — all pleasing — occurred as their singing flew and jostled against one another.
Right from opener “Silent Weekend,” the group tapped into the lusty, chugging energies of this songbook and the young men that crafted it. It’s easy to forget what a rock ‘n’ roll daddy Dylan was in 1967, and surrounded by equally young yet road hardened kindred spirits the core of the Basement Tapes sessions is a feeling of letting loose, music made for the sake of it, for fun, and for the simple pleasure of sparring with likeminded, smiling minstrels.
The Basement Tapes Live embrace and embody these core principles, and I haven’t attended a more purely enjoyable evening of live music all year than what transpired at Moe’s Alley, a rare modern day juke joint ideal for these rogues to rev it up.
How much they freakin’ LOVE playing these songs together was abundantly clear, Prophet in particular throwing praise around in between songs and calling forth unexpected solos from his comrades with a sly glance. Prophet was extra simpatico with his fellow electric guitarist, David Simon-Baker, who’s quietly gotten really good at the ol’ six-string over the past decade, picking up tasty tips as an engineer & producer for ALO and Mother Hips. A twinkle passed between Simon-Baker’s eye and Prophet’s each time either man stepped up to shred or even in the quieter, rhythmic exchanges where both accentuated the positive in what the other was laying down.
Their renditions of this material rarely hued close to the original versions except in general vibe, and again & again their refreshing takes on slighter ditties positively reinvented certain pieces for this 40-year Dylan obsessive. The Fairport Convention-esque, jammy exploration of “Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread” was staggering in a most delightful way. Even more familiar numbers received a nifty polish. Ballad assassin Chuck Prophet carving the sad soul from “One Too Many Mornings” and hushed the boisterous Saturday night crowd into really listening for a few frozen minutes.
The songs of The Basement Tapes were some of the earliest professionally bootlegged recordings and up until the 2014 release of The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete this music was heard in random, contentious drips, a thing of mystery heard on scratchy bootlegs, a landmark musical moment shrouded in fog.
So, the focused study of this body of work resonates in the same way say a literature professor might devote themself to a lifelong examination of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” or Joyce’s Ulysses. Except, there ain’t nothing academic about this electrified illumination. If one has affection for Dylan, The Band or The Basement Tapes recordings, it would be highly improbable one wouldn’t flip their wig for what this embodying ensemble is doing.
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Set One: Silent Weekend, Million Dollar Bash, Mighty Quinn, Tiny Montgomery, Yazoo Street Scandal, One Too Many Mornings, All You Have To Do Is Dream, Too Much of Nothing, lo & Behold, Orange Juice Blues, Ain’t No More Cane
Set Two: Odds & Ends, Clothes Line Saga, Open The Door, Homer, Crash On The Levee, Nothing Was Delivered, Ruben Remus, Yea! Heavy And A Bottle of Bread, Rock Salt & Nails, Long Distance Operator, This Wheel’s On Fire > Goin’ To Acapulco, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Encore: Apple Sucklin’ Tree, Tears of Rage, Silent Weekend -Reprise