Words and Images by: Alan Sheckter
New Riders of the Purple Sage & Moonalice :: 11.29.14 :: Auburn Event Center :: Auburn,CA
Read Alan’s review of the evening after the gallery
The New Riders of the Purple Sage and Moonalice, two free-spirited and free-jamming bohemian bands with a ton of tie-dyed musical wisdom and street cred between them, returned to the Auburn Event Center, roughly midway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, on November 29.
This unassuming, quirky little venue-that-could features a few restaurant-style booths in the back, a nice big bar along one wall, a whole lot of dance floor space and a wide stage that spotlights all sorts of cool music and sports memorabilia provided an apropos setting. From the audience to the staff to the stage, the whole vibe in this music room, that some have dubbed the “Foothill Fillmore,” was casual and festive.
Big Steve Parish, Moonalice’s “Road Scholar/Medicine Man/Storyteller,” who gained fame through his decades of service as a Grateful Dead roadie and confidante, grabbed the mic first, as he typically does, warming up the crowd a bit as a sage who shared a little of his green (both political and pro-weed) worldview.
Moonalice, the lively four-piece jamming road warriors, star players all, opened the proceedings with a varied, spirited set that contained several stretched out, but always purposeful, jams. The group features Roger McNamee, venture capitalist by day and Moonalice vocalist/guitarist/front man by night, as well as a triple punch of primo players that are also core members of the David Nelson Band: keyboard/bass player and vocalist Pete Sears; lead guitar, pedal steel wizard Barry Sless and drummer John Molo. The hour-long set began with “Fair to Even Odds,” a collaborative effort that features words by Robert Hunter (written around 1970), and music by Sears (added about 2000). The set also included McNamee’s “American Dream Rag” and Sears’ “Unsung Heroes,” before the band took it to a higher level with McNamee’s epic love song, “You,” and the tropical-feeling ultra-instrumental “Coconut Wireless.” A closing sequence of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and “TMIOK (Tell Me I’m OK)” featured talented keyboardist Mookie Siegel, who also is a David Nelson Band member. He added an extra layer of vitality to the ensemble as his familiarity with the other players made for a particularly harmonious guest spot.
The only member of the David Nelson Band who was NOT with Moonalice was David Nelson himself, who then came out to lead the New Riders as its lone founding member and patriarch. The New Riders, longtime purveyors of a psychedelic-cowboy music fusion, have had plenty of lineup changes over the years. Co-founder and singer-songwriter David Nelson along with longtime pedal steel player Buddy Cage actually left the band in the early ‘80s, with late co-founder John Dawson leading the band without them until 1997. Back in the saddle again with a steady lineup since 2005, the New Riders – with Nelson and Cage – have again hit their stride featuring a chemistry that well suits the material and the strengths of its players, which include Michael Falzarano (guitar and vocals), Ronnie Penque (bass and a Dawson-reminiscent voice) and Johnny Markowski (drums and vocals).
The 71-year-old Nelson is still a powerful player with plenty of on-stage stamina, leading extended jams on all of the rockers, while mixing in heartfelt ballads, which on this night included the traditional “Ballad of Casey Jones” and “Peggy-O.” The New Riders, which also featured Siegel, who sparkled on keyboards throughout, blazed a powerful two-set trail, with a sound that was undeniably harder-rock-edged than their early years, but with plenty of classic New Riders twang along the way. Offerings ran the timeline from the old days – “Panama Red,” “Sutter’s Mill,” “Instant Armadillo Blues” and “Henry,” the latter of which included an extended jig/reel-like intro -all the way to several pieces of music from their most recent (2012) project, 17 Pine Avenue, including the title track as well as “Prisoner of Freedom” (penned by Hunter and Nelson) and “Shake That Thing.”
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