Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer in the City

Yeah, we know: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." That's why we try to set low expectations!

REMEMBER, if you will, that last year I stated that once concert season begins in DC, there are literally great acts to see every night, from Memorial Day until Labor Day, at any of a dozen or more venues?

Well, this year is no exception, and there may in fact be an even greater challenge than ever in trying to see all of the world-class artists who will visit here over the next few months. Fasten your seatbelt, here's just a few of the highlights!

For example, last month started out gangbusters. Even as we were getting covered in mud for your viewing pleasure at Celebrate Fairfax, Lowen & Navarro played a farewell show at the Birchmere (and our best wishes to Eric and his family with hopes he's the guy who will beat ALS), while John Prine and guest Steve Earle treated the crowd at Wolf Trap to a fine evening in the rain, even as Atlanta sax demon Will Scruggs and his band played 2 solid sets at Twins Lounge in DC. The following night, the Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship lit up Twins again, Manchester's Doves gave a terrific 2 hour performance at the 9:30 Club, and David Byrne performed a wide- ranging set featuring much of his eclectic repertoire at Wolf Trap.
See what I mean?

On the horizon, more live events worthy of note (and perhaps some not so worthy) will be happening soon at venues throughout the DC metro area.

Thursday July 23rd, at the National Harbor, Oxon Hill, MD: a Jon Anderson-less YES, with special guests Asia -here's hoping Carl Palmer jabs Wetton in the eye with a drumstick, but "Only Time Will Tell" (retch)

And this Friday, July 24th at the Ram's Head On Stage in Annapolis MD: and on Saturday, July 25th, at the Birchmere, Alexandria, VA: DAVE ALVIN & THE GUILTY WOMEN!

Thursday July 30th, at the National Harbor, Oxon Hill, MD; Gov't Mule; and the very same night at the George Mason Univ. Patriot Center in scenic Fairfax, VA: TOOL!

Also, at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC: renowned indie artist M. WARD, also appearing there for a second show on Fri. July 31st!

Thursday, August 6th, at the National Harbor, Oxon Hill, MD: THE DEREK TRUCKS BAND!

(thanks and a tip of the 1600 hat to our new friends at (or for their permission to borrow this great photo- see many more classic and current rock and blues icons on their sites!)

Sunday August 9th, at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA: New Orleans' first family THE NEVILLE BROS.!

Monday, August 17th at Jammin' Java, Vienna, VA: Eddie Jobson "The Ultimate Zero Project"- The band's FIRST US date, featuring (among others) Michael Bernier (from Tony Levin's Stickmen) on stick, and Simon Philips on drums!

Just up the road an hour or so, on Tuesday Aug. 18th at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, MD: Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith bring you the greasy boogie of CHICKENFOOT!

Weds. August 25th at Jammin' Java, Vienna VA: the ADRIAN BELEW POWER TRIO, featuring the indomitable rhythm section of Philly whiz kids Julie and Eric Slick, and of course, friend of 1600, the mighty Adrian Belew!

They also appear Mon. August 30th at the fabulous Ram's Head Tavern, in beautiful downtown Annapolis MD. DON'T MISS IT!!!

Fri., August 28th: Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD welcomes FLAMING LIPS!

And when the leaves start falling and the Autumnal Equinox is upon us...

Tuesday, September 1, at the Birchmere in ALexandria, VA: Vernon Reid, Will Calhoun, Corey Glover and Muzz Skillings, the original LIVING COLOUR!

Weds. September 9th, coming to Mariner Arena, Baltimore, MD: JOURNEY, with special guests NIGHT RANGER (Steve may get to hear a live Sister Christian this year!) - So, are you motorin' yet? OK, okay- you can stop believing now.....

September 15th: PHISH at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia MD!

Friday September 25th, at The Ram's Head Tavern, Baltimore MD: PORCUPINE TREE!

Monday and Tuesday, October 5th and 6th, at the Birchmere: LOS LONELY BOYS, with the legendary ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO!

Saturday October 17th, at the State Theater, Falls Church, VA: get ready to boogie with southern rock legends, The MARSHALL TUCKER BAND!

And finally, on Monday, November 2nd, at the Verizon Center, Washington DC: The return of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND!! Tickets on sale SOON!

Thanks to again to Steve Galli and the folks at Backstage Gallery for their permission to use the photo above- visit them at to purchase some excellent photos from a wide selection of great artists!

Still more to follow, as new shows are announced. Stay tuned, and drink one for us, OK?


There are few more delightful phrases in the English language than: "ROAD TRIP!" It immediately summons to mind madcap adventure, drinking to excess, coming of age, loud music, and a wild ride from the frat house to a roadhouse where much mischief ensues...and perhaps driven by such nostalgia, your stalwart 1600 team converged upon Pittsburgh, PA for the latest leg of the Phish reunion world tour!

Jerry voluntarily took the wheel, probably because he had the most comfortable car (or was it so he could control the stereo? hmmmmmmm) The weather was mostly on our side except for a couple of mercifully short-term rain squalls that were over almost as soon as the wipers were turned on. Still, he made good time and didn't get lost, and we arrived well before the appointed hour to check in at our initial destination, the only smoking room at a nearby hotel (Day's Inn? Comfort Inn? I wasn't paying attention). Of course, as the third wheel, I was stuck with the cot, but by the time I needed it, I probably could have slept on a bed of nails! And we were just a stone's throw from the venue, where we absorbed a couple of drinks and headed back down the highway to the Post- Gazette Pavilion in nearby Burgettstown, PA.

It's a nice park, with a good-sized lawn and good acoustics, probably about the size of Merriweather Post with easier parking. And the parking lot nearest to the gate had various attractions, from t shirts and hats to toasted cheese sandwiches, toys, jewelry, facepainting, and of course, gourmet gooballs, just like Steve described on the show! It was deja vu all over again! There were also bountiful food and beverage options once inside the park, and lots of picnic tables to accommodate visitors in comfort. The weather was perfect: mid-70's and a nice breeze, low humidity, and no bugs. The only impediment I could foresee was seating: while Steve and Jerry's tickets put them stage left-center about 6 rows back, I was about 20 rows back and not looking forward to the prospects of hanging out solo. If I was going to get sweated and barfed on, I preferred to know the source!

Fortunately, I managed to "float" down to their seats with Jerry's stub after he was in. Security was already preoccupied with stopping people from lighting up- mostly people smoking cigarettes! (ultimately giving up once the lights went down, from the sheer volume of the task of enforcing any rules with 30,000 people steadfastly ignoring them!)-even though the sun hadn't yet set. When it did, all hell really broke loose. And the security folk stayed behind their fences and we left them alone.

And the show? Excellent! Having seen these guys only once, back during their 90's heyday, I wasn't entirely sure of what to expect. Surprisingly, I was actually familiar enough with much of their set to know the words to a few songs, and soon joined in the revelry. The band opened with "Golgi Apparatus," from Junta. "Chalkdust Torture" followed, and then two favorites I'd seen at my only prior Phish show- "Bouncing Around the Room," and "Wolfman's Brother." The crowd went wild, and we all bounced and howled along with them. Of the rest of the first set, "The Divided Sky" was solid, Steve went on a beer run during "Heavy Things"(from Farmhouse), an excellent cover of the James Gang's classic "Walk Away," followed in short order by "Wilson," "Tube," "Alaska" (hysterical tune, the first time I'd ever heard it!), and finally ended the first set on another high note with "David Bowie."

Somewhere through the first set, a family (the parents perhaps a couple of years younger than ourselves) made it to their seats in the row just in front of us. Between Mom and Dad were 4 girls, I'd guess from about 6 to 12 or 13, watching closely and sometimes singing along, the smaller ones waving glow in the dark toys being sold at the park. I think a lot of people kind of reined it in out of respect for the kids, and many of us directed the beach balls and balloons that were getting passed around the audience toward the kids so they could bat them into the air. They left predictably early, but looking very happy to have been there, a good time had by all.

The second set kicked off with "Down With Disease", another good tune tune off Hoist, followed by an hour- plus long, practically non-stop medley that included "Free," "Guyute" (from The Story of the Ghost), "Piper," "When The Circus Comes To Town," and Harry Hood," finishing up with "The Squirming Coil" from Lawn Boy, and "You Enjoy Myself."

After a short break for the boys to catch their breath, they delivered a mostly a capella encore: "Grind," then into "Hello My Baby," the theme song for Michigan J. Frog, the hero of Looney Tunes' hilarious "One Froggy Evening." Next came "Hold Your Head Up," Pink Floyd's "Bike" (Jon Fishman singing it after apparently losing a bet), and finally "Loving Cup," with everybody back on their instruments, at which point the lights inevitably began to come back up....

Trey, Mike, Page and Jon appeared to be in good humor, signaling each other for chord and direction changes during songs, laughing audibly, and just generally looking like they were happy to be back out together and in front of an appreciative crowd. Taking bows at the end, Jon asked "how do you like my band?" earning another roar of approval from the many thousands who stayed 'til the very end. Sure, I would have liked to have heard "Sample In A Jar," or "Poor Heart," or maybe even a Talking Heads cover (they have been doing a few off the Remain In Light album on this tour), but I think everyone there was more than satisfied. In any case, this was one of the biggest tours of the summer, and they're sure to get out on the road again.

But after that three hours and change marathon, we were nearly as exhausted as the band, and yearned for the peace of the hotel. Somehow, we summoned our remaining energy and bolted for the car, getting out before the crush of fans all trying to leave the parking lot at once, and were back at the hotel and drinking again in under half an hour.

Big thanks to Steve Z for access to the great pics, and our recommendation to check out his site,, for more pictures, vids, and info on many of your favorite artists!

Cabaret of Souls

Not the State Theater in Falls Church, but a clever forgery!

Imagine, if you will: "American Idol," set in Hell. (Wait, am I being redundant?) And the Keeper of the Underworld, and his two Assistants, were there to judge and then mock each unwilling "contestant" after hearing their tales of woe. Like a dour, snarky Greek chorus, teasing them with their own pitiful words. You'd almost feel sorry for them, if it wasn't so funny!

Sound familiar?

No, there's no "yo, dawg" here awaiting successful performers, no slurred words from prescription medications, and that harsh review you hear wasn't from Simon, but his Master. And these performers were not prone to bad haircuts and off key notes, so I guess that's where the similarity ends.

This was the the basic premise- a talent show among the many lost souls consigned to eternal torture, that made for a darkly humorous and entertaining midsummer's evening. Leave it to Richard Thompson, and his hyper-creative mind to write a piece to honor the mastery of his old friend and colleague Danny Thompson on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The event was held at the State Theater in scenic State College, PA, for the International Society of Bassists 2009 convention.

The ISB's Madeleine Crouch, with guest of honor Danny Thompson, and conductor Peter Askim

The rest of the stellar cast included veteran RT collaborators Judith Owen, who, along with Richard, sang the songs of the damned, reluctantly trying to appease or amuse their captors, but to no avail. Percussionist extraordinaire Debra Dobkin, and multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn capably assisted the Keeper, Harry Shearer, in further abasing and toying with the forlorn souls. Big Danny, of course, gently massaged and stroked his sturdy acoustic bass, while conductor Peter Askim led an 11 piece string orchestra, creating an eerily palpable musical tapestry on which each scenario unfolded: tales of heartbroken lovers, cosmetic surgery addicts, murderers, religious hypocrites, war profiteers, and other denizens of the dark realm, each protesting their fate and hoping in vain for redemption that never comes...

This much-anticipated event went off virtually without a hitch, in spite of a truncated rehearsal schedule (Pete Zorn hadn't even seen the score until three days before the show!) and a last minute change of venue. As per usual, Simon (Tassano, not the permanently perturbed Cowell!) provided outstanding sound quality so that every word, aside, and note carried to every seat in the auditorium. And as the show progressed, we laughed harder and harder as each tale was told.

I never knew that Richard Thompson's fan base overlapped with Slayer! Can a folk/metal tour be far behind?

It was a very unique and intimate performance, and the performers were kind enough to oblige us some friendly words and greetings after the show. At about this point, Lisa wryly observed "there's a thin line between fan and stalker," easily ranking among the best lines of the evening! But everyone seemed to be pleased with the show, and welcomed the fans after. Harry Shearer, in particular, appeared as much the awestruck fan as the rest of us; when I asked him whether he'd picked up any bass techniques from Danny, he grinned, replying "DUH! Why else do you think I'd be doing this?"

As the audience congratulated and chatted up the talented cast, another member of the Virginia contingent presented Richard, Danny and Judith with some beautiful pictures, signed by many of the fans who gathered outside the theater before the doors opened.
All seemed genuinely relieved that it was over, the strain of putting on such an ambitious project mixing theatrics, song, spoken word, and no less than 16 musicians clearly having taken their most heroic efforts.

And having very successfully performed this most unusual show, my thoughts immediately went to staging and recording the Cabaret of Souls with full dress, props, and backgrounds, a sentiment echoed by Richard's longtime friend and manager, Tim Bernett. He stated that it was certainly worth pursuing, if they can get sufficient backing. For my money, if record companies can pay millions to lobby over recording rights, or hyping hack "flavor of the day" cookie cutter pop stars, the least they can do is to support some worthy artists at the top of their game performing a clever, funny and engaging piece that will endure and entertain for years to come.

My thanks to Madeleine Crouch for her kind assistance in securing tickets, t shirts, and programs. And as always a tip of the hat and my compliments to master shutterbug Gus for providing these shots from the show, as our unofficial roving photographer!