One of these things just doesn’t belong.
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
Three of these things belong together.
Three of these things are kind of the same.
Can you guess which one of these doesn’t belong here?
Now it’s time to play our game!
[A] The Motet at the State Theatre 01.05.15
[B] Snarky Puppy at the State Theatre 01.05.15
[C] Lettuce at the State Theatre 01.13.15
[D] Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Sunshine Music & Blues Festival 01.17.15
Did you guess correctly, boys and girls? (And God bless you, Sesame Street!)
You’re RIGHT! It WAS [D].
And you know why, don’t you? That’s right! Four of the best bands in the business playing in St. Pete, and four superb performances, three of them marred by miserable sound at the State Theatre. The sound at the Sunshine Music and Blues Festival (St. Pete style), however, was perfect. Mejorar. Perfezionare. Vollenedt. Perfectionner. I don’t care what language you say it in, that was – by far – the best outdoor sound I have ever heard.
I made two very fortunate decisions Saturday. I had just moved Wednesday, and the task of unpacking boxes was haunting me. I considered passing on Sunshine, but I finally rolled out way late after taking care of my Corgi.
So, in order, I missed Sean Chambers and Matt Schofield, two excellent blues slingers I enjoy very much. Then I missed Los Lobos and The Both, neither of whom I had seen before. After that, it was the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (just not a fan). I was gathering my stuff from the car as the Rebirth Brass Band leader was saying thank you and good bye. Five and a half hours missed; that’s life.
Grace Potter was up next, accompanied only by her drummer husband. She told the crowd that she and the Nocturnals had just completed their new CD the previous day, to hearty applause. Throughout the performance, Grace moved back and forth from her guitar to the Hammond B3 organ. It was somewhere around the second song that I tried to identify what was… different. Simultaneously, I realized that [A] I could actually understand what she was singing, and [B] it was not ear-splittingly loud. Not even too loud. Not even a little bit. Perfect, in fact.
And the song was cool, with a refrain the crowd picked up easily: “It’s the medicine everybody wants.” The she switched to B3, playing an original and then Bill Withers’ tune “Grandma’s Hands.” Back to the guitar, she played the soft intro part to “Nothing But the Water,” and just when you (well, I, anyway) expected her to burst out with the heavy second part, she launched into “Stuck in the Middle with You” (Stealer’s Wheel).
There was great crowd response when she announces she had to borrow Derek Trucks’s slide guitar. Potter got great sing-along help on the closer, “Paris (Ooh La La).”
The original bill for this show and the Sunday edition in Boca Raton featured Dickie Betts in the penultimate slot. A week ago or so, however, Dickie had to cancel due to a family situation. I was looking forward to seeing him, because over the years I had never seen Great Southern (although I had seen Dickie in 1971 with that other band).
The announcement of his replacement was met with a widespread set of responses. Some were disappointed, Dickie fans not thrilled to see what they viewed at a “dinosaur act.” Others, who had heard this man play some years ago with Panic or more recently his New Year’s shows with Gov’t Mule, were pretty pumped.
No matter what anybody said or thought, it all washed away approximately ten seconds into “Break on Through.” Robby Krieger of the Doors – THE Doors – was standing on stage before us, and he was killing it. You’re forgiven if you don’t know every note of every song the Doors played in the vanguard of the new psychedelic rock in the late 60s, but from a survey of the crowd, I’d say many of them did/do.
I had heard that Krieger toured for a time with Tommy Mars, a former Zappa sideman and keyboard wizard, and that Zappa tunes were in the repertoire. Mars was not there, and, much as I love him, he was not missed. Not for a second. This was a superb performance by one of rock’s legends. My brother from another mother, Kelly, noted how lucky we were to have seen Ray Manzarek at Wanee 2012 and now Krieger.
If you are going to “do” the Doors, you’d better have a more-than-passable frontman. In the Jim Morrison slot was Krieger’s son. Perhaps he didn’t have the chops of, say, Ian Astbury of the Cult, who did a tour in the Morrison role some time back. But Krieger Jr. certainly had the right look and swagger. He was absolutely believable with his sunglasses and leather jacket.
The setlist was brilliant: a selection of hits and great tunes and unexpected gems, culminating in the afternoon’s top treat, “When the Music’s Over.” Krieger Jr. nailed his part perfectly, and Robbie showed us why he belongs in the rock pantheon. The band was excellent, anchored by an excellent drummer and long-time Krieger and Manzarek bass player Phil Chenn, whose resume also includes tenure with Jeff Beck.
From “Break on Through,” Krieger tapped “Back Door Man > Five to One,” an excellent song pairing. We were also treated to “Wild Child,” “Riders on the Storm,” “Not to Touch the Earth” and “Love Me Two Times.” That is simply an awesome run through the Doors catalog. “Not to Touch the Earth?” Heavenly indeed.
The obligatory closer, “Light My Fire,” featured a nice organ solo before a long improvisation solo from Krieger including passages from “Eleanor Rigby” and “My Favorite Things.” (Did I mention that the sound was absolutely perfect?)
It was just deluxe. But the best was yet to come.
After last year’s Sunshine Blues and Music Festival (and more recently in a long-overdue Snarky Puppy review from last February, I opined that the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Snarky Puppy are the two leading proponents of the new definition of the big band. Despite the hideous sound two weeks earlier, SP demonstrated their prowess, and now it was time for TTB.
From the very opening notes, two things were apparent to me. The band was on fire, and the sound system was spectacular. That is an almost lethal combination. For the next hour and 45 minutes, Susan and Derek and their marvelous travelling orchestra had us all wrapped around their proverbial little finger.
And I was truly excited to hear TTB open up with “Are You Ready?” There are about a bazillion songs named that, and I am not sure who wrote this one, but Monophonics play this song regularly (and they will be in Florida with Galactic next week – don’t miss ‘em!).
Every song sounded great, even songs that weren’t my favorites before. This was a finely-tuned engine firing on all eleven cylinders. They rocked hard, they played ballads, they made the soul revue come alive. “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” sounded wonderful, with solos from Kofi Burbridge (organ), Tedeschi, then Trucks with his ppatented slide.
Suddenly, the sounded was stripped bare, as Tedeschi’s voice washed over the muted sounds for “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright),” with a fine trumpet solo from Maurice Brown and then Burbridge on flute. The band stepped right back up for the soul-shouter “Break in the Road.” After that, Tedeschi reminded the audience (as she did last year) about how they used to play at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa back in the day (great crowd response) and at the Ringside nearby in St. Pete.
TTB hit Bobby “Blue” Balnd next with a rollicking cover of his “I Pity the Fool” with full Ray Charles-type orchestration. This is where Tedeschi reigns supreme vocally; she just kicks ass. And then, on a dime the band delivered a great David Bowie cover from the Hunky Dory album [reviewer failure on name – Kelly recognized the song, not I]. It too was stripped down, riding on Burbridge’s piano.
“Bound for Glory” is always a crowd-pleaser, and Burbridge again blew this out of the water with his B3 and then clavinet. Trucks had a remarkable night. His fire and passion show through on every song. And do not dare forget Ms. Tedeschi, who had numerous great solos herself.
Visually, my favorite part of the show (other than Susan) was watching Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson on drums. They were on a riser that allowed us to see them in tandem playing with incredible enthusiasm, and of course they sounded spectacular. You couldn’t help but watch them.
“Keep On Going” sounded great, and for the encore it was Mattison time as Mike sang with Tedeschi on “Get What You Deserve.” [I really need a Scrapomatic show in my future.] “Eyes of Gold” sent the crowd off into the night with huge smiles.
[I have been reminded to call out the festival organizers. How do the vendors run out of water? And what will you do for the 2016 edition — assuming there is one — to avoid the outrageous lines for bathrooms, beer and vendors? This was either incredibly poor planning or brazen indifference. Neither one merits a gold star.]
I made sure to work my way over to the soundboard to give them a shout-out for their superb efforts.
Then I made a second very fortunate decision. I was considering driving home, but there was more music in the air. Bobby Lee Rodgers was holding forth at the Ringside Café not far away, and heaven knows I love BLR, but New Earth Army was invading the Dunedin Brewery from the Panhandle. I had caught part of their set recently at the Downtown River Jam and wanted more (this would be my fourth show).
The drive from St. Pete to Dunedin went quickly, and I slid into the brewery just after the start of the second set. New Earth Army loves to play at Dunedin, and it is a labor of love. It isn’t much more than a break-even proposition, but their sets there are always inspired, and the continued exposure has started paying off (you can catch NEA at Gov-Fest Valentine’s weekend and Orange Blossom Jamboree in May).
When I reviewed NEA last April at Dunedin, the band was at full strength as a sextet. In September, alto sax player Josh Zook went off to the Berklee School of Music (hey, if you have to have an excuse, that’s a pretty good one). The DRJ set in December and their other fall sets left tenor saxophonist Ben Johnson without a wrangling mate.
Imagine my delight to see Zook on the bandstand! He was supposed to return to school Friday, but he loves playing at Dunedin as much as the rest of the band, so he decided to make the trip. The plan was for the band to throw him out at the airport Sunday morning to fly back to school. Works for me!
The band seemed truly lit up, on fire (yep, it was an on-fire sort of a day). Zook and Ben Johnson (alto and tenor sax, respectively) were doing that unison horn thing that knocks me out. Then Carly Foster announced “Delirium,” a tune from the latest CD, Musikizinew. This song might be the best showcase of all for Foster’s voice. Johnson took a great tenor solo, and Chavis Hobbs ripped it up with a great guitar solo.
The dance floor was full, so Foster instructed: “Keep those dancin’ shoes on!” With that, they hit the opening notes to the Stones’ “Miss You,” with a nice guitar intro from Hobbs. You would not normally think of that tune being sung by a woman, but in the hands of Foster and NEA it worked just fine. That was followed by a fun romp through Kool and the Gang’s “Get Down On It,” with an instrumental “Hot in Herre” sandwiched in the middle.
Another tune from the CD, “Lens of Love,” gave Foster another chance to show off her great voice. That led to a great arrangement of “Vehicle,” the Ides of March 60s hit. Then we got debuts of two new songs the band has been working on but had not played publicly. In between them, the best jam of the night unfolded in “Water Groove,” the longest track from Musikizinew.
The evening’s amusement was also provided by Foster, who was apparently convinced that it was Friday, not Saturday. It wasn’t worth correcting! The second set closed with “To Be Alive.”
At set break, I asked the boys if they’d had their Wheaties for breakfast, because WOW. They allowed for two factors (I’ll add one of my own). Drummer Jacoby Jackson said they were supposed to have a gig Friday night, but it was cancelled on short notice. Thus, they were letting it all out this night. Bass player and band leader Michael Flatau pointed out that they just loved playing for the people at Dunedin (and I’ve made similar comments every time I’ve reviewed DB shows: it is simply a great atmosphere, great room, great patrons, great wait staff, and, oh, yeah, great beer). I think that NEA, like so many of the other great Florida bands, are improving and stepping up their game every time out. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.
And what of Foster, NEA’s remarkable vocalist? Her vocal range reminds me of Grace Slick. Carly doesn’t sound like Grace, but the same sort of classical training is evident. There is very little you can hear on “regular” radio that is remotely comparable.
The third set kicked off with a Kool and the Gang vamp that rolled into an instrumental take on Bell, Biv, Devoe’s “Posion.” And that signature drum break was used by drummer Jacoby Jackson throughout the rest of the set, to great amusement for all. “Superstition” was next, followed by a song that segued into Floyd’s “Money,” with Hobbs blowing it UP on guitar while the horns rode on top of that, and somehow it worked its way into “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
The set also included great versions of “The Thrill is Gone” and “Statesboro Blues.” Jackson and Flatau were so solid that it powered the music all night long. After closing with “Love is an Action” from the band’s first CD, New Earth Army encored with Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” It was splendid. And we have come to expect excellent sound at Dunedin Brewery thanks to Chris Fama.
Two very fortunate decisions indeed! Don’t miss New Earth Army at Gov-Fest, OBJ and numerous other festivals and shows.
I might post pictures of NEA, but my other photos are so inferior to the work of Brian Hensley and Jeff Moellering. Please check out their superb work on FaceCrack.
Great to see Kelly and Gina, Jeff and Theresa, Jay and AndieBee, Brian, Cody, Rev. Hugh and Jenifer, and George and friends. Thanks for the kind words, George!