Austin City Limits is amazing week in and week out as it is, but when one of my favorites hits the stage for the 30 minute showcase, it always seems to capture something special that gives me a brand new appreciation for the music and the artists I admire (one previous example: John Prine’s 2006 appearance when he introduced me to Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.”
This weekend’s premier episode with Delta Spirit and Bob Mould brought that same type of moment for me when Matt Vasquez (of Delta Spirit) introduced and sang the song “Vivian.” Matt wrote the song about his grandparents Vivian and Jerry. It’s written from Jerry’s perspective after he’s passed away. He’s up in Heaven and plaintively lamenting the loneliness of it without Vivian. With each chorus, he’s moving closer and closer to her. He moves from “above the clouds” to “below the clouds” to “above your house” and finally, to “beside your bed.” It’s such a moving and heartfelt declaration of love – “not separate even in death.”
I’ve heard and enjoyed the song many times on DS’s History From Below, but seeing it introduced and performed this way, with Matt’s parents in the ACL audience, in the town that he grew up.. well, it hits me in that sensitive sweet spot (where music so often does).
Some moments propel me to this chair & keyboard to share with like-minded music-loving folks. This is one of those moments.
ACL is streaming the full episode right now. The intro of “Vivian” starts at 39:00 (and it goes without saying you should watch the entire episode). Here’s the studio version, followed by the ACL episode.
I’ve been as quiet here on Ickmusic as I ever have during its eight year run. Worry not, nothing (outside of my family) has taken a back seat to music in my life. It still fuels everything I do. But there has been a definite lull in my desire to sit down and type out regular blog posts. I know it tears you up inside (whoever “you” may be).
But it’s okay, Ickmusic.com is still here when I need it. Like today, for instance, when I feel like sharing my music highlights from the year Twenty-Twelve.
Here are some of the albums, songs and live shows that enriched my world in 2012…
Fans and critics who were praying for another Everything All The Time or Cease to Begin cried foul when Mirage Rock was released this year. Me? I ate it right up. The album, produced by legendary classic rock engineer/producer Glyn Johns (The Who, The Stones, to name a couple) definitely steers heavily into 70’s classic rock and even soft rock category. I am just fine with that. In fact, the wistfully sweet “Long Vows” and “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” are two of my favorites. But the boys sure crank it up with tunes like “Dumpster World”, “Knock Knock”, and the early 70’s Stones-ish “Electric Music.” Yep, I’m all in on this record. Oh, and if you’re looking for beauty, track down “Relly’s Dream” from the Sonic Ranch Sessions bonus disc on their deluxe edition. I spun this album start to finish more than any other release this year.
2. Show: World Party – Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix – 12-02-2012
Thanks to Zia Records, the top independent record store here in Phoenix, I won a pair of tickets to see Karl Wallinger and his band World Party. As a big fan especially of the Goodbye Jumbo album, it was a rare honor to see Karl play an intimate venue like the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix (my #1 room in town). After a serious health scare in the early 2000’s (a brain aneurysm), Karl’s voice is as pure and dynamic as you’d hope for. Along with his sharp young Nashville bandmates, he tore through WP classics like “Is It Like Today”, “Ship of Fools”, “Way Down Now” and (my favorite) “Put The Message In The Box”; and also sat down at the keys for “She’s The One” and “God On My Side.” This gig far exceeded my expectations (I didn’t know what to expect, really), and I sincerely hope Karl continues on with making music and touring. I can’t wait to see him again.
Here’s a video I shot of Karl and violin/mandolin/harmony vocalist extraordinaire David Duffy singing “Mystery Girl” (bump up the quality to 720p or 1080p):
3. Show: Band of Horses, Marquee Theater, Tempe 10-26-2012
I’d seen Band of Horses a couple of times before, but only in a festival setting (Austin City Limits). This first true headlining show came out of the cancelled Railroad Revival Tour with Willie Nelson. Ben Bridwell and the boys set up at Tempe’s Marquee Theater in late October and tore the roof off the dump. Drawing from all four of their studio albums with a couple covers thrown in (Them Two and Hour Glass, nice & obscure!), the songs were rambunctious, mellow, inspiring, wistful, beautiful, rocking… all the adjectives that reminded me (and the full house) why we love them so much. Not to mention getting to chat for a while with Ben after the show. The dude abides.
Give me the cool, gravelly roots/folk/country rockin’ twang of Ryan Bingham any day of week. Tomorrowland is a return to the more straight-ahead rockers that seemed to be missing on his last album, the T-Bone Burnett produced ‘Junky Star.’ He wastes no time on Tomorrowland’s opener, launching into “Beg for Broken Legs” with urgency and force. “Guess Who’s Knockin” is another strong one, featuring a satisfying F-bomb chorus. “Never Ending Show”, “Flower Bomb”, “The Road I’m On” – all standout tracks. If you haven’t checked out Tomorrowland (or Ryan Bingham) yet, you’re missing out. Just do it.
5. Show: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Jobing.com Arena, Glendale 12-06-2012
I took a couple of Bruce first timers a few hours early to go through the wristband lottery to try and get up near the front of the stage (“in the pit”, as they say). Sadly, our numbers were not of the lucky variety, and we were shut out. So we ended up behind the pit right next to the sound booth. The disappointment was very quickly washed away with Bruce’s first strum of the acoustic for the opener “Surprise, Surprise.” The first 30 minutes was a showcase of career nuggets: “No Surrender”, “I’m a Rocker”, “Hungry Heart”, “Prove It All Night”, “Trapped”, and “Lost in the Flood” – and all those before launching into the new Wrecking Ball material! Three plus hours from a tireless 63 year old and his very large troupe of supporting members – the E Street Band and then some. My eighteenth live Bruce experience, and yet another reminder why The Boss sits on the top of the pile in my world.
Who would’ve thought I was seeing Girls the band in one of their final performances? For not long after, frontman, songwriter, and singer Christopher Owens announced on Twitter that the band was done. He’s moving on in another musical direction (his debut solo album, Lysandre, comes out in just a couple weeks). So I am fortunate to have seen Christopher and the band play songs I’ve come to absolutely love since discovering them a couple of years ago: “Laura”, “Alex”, “Honey Bunny”, “Love Like a River”, “Die”…
Something about Christopher’s music draws me in – the beauty and innocence, the light in the darkness – and I’ll basically be following him around for however long he decides to make music. A great show – short, but sweet.
A 27 minute album opener with the lyrics “I wanna get a hip-hop haircut”? Check. Something about this record, particularly the longer running tunes (“Driftin’ Back”, “Ramada Inn”, “Walk Like a Giant”), really grabbed hold of me. It’s the loud, distorted (and long) guitar solos, it’s the way Neil sneers his way through the lyrics… It’s the unconventional and F-you attitude of it all. Everything Mr. Neil Young represents.
And of course Neil has a 27 minute long official video for “Driftin’ Back”…
Rock Star. Completely and indisputably. It’s fun to sit back and watch a performer just turn on all the glamor, glitz, and poses of a Rock Star. Lenny has perfected this persona over his 20+ years of performing. He’s got a quite the catalog to choose from, and watching him perform the hits (“Are You Gonna Go My Way” being my favorite) as well as tunes from his surprisingly strong latest album, ‘Black and White America‘, had us out of our seats the entire gig. Lenny has always been and remains a total badass. Such an entertaining show.
9. Song: Bruce Springsteen – “Jack of All Trades”
This is my favorite Bruce tune in years. I thought about including the whole ‘Wrecking Ball‘ on the “list”, but that wouldn’t be an honest assessment. While I enjoy Bruce’s Great Recession album from earlier this year, I just haven’t connected too much with the songs (of course, hearing them live is a whole ‘nother ball of wax – see above for my December 6th Bruce show). “Jack of All Trades” though, wow. A slow, dirge-like bass drum and piano start off the song. It builds and builds with each verse and ends with a forceful guitar solo from Tom Morello. The theme of strength, perseverance and optimism in the face of adversity is a common one in Bruce’s music, but he really connects with this tune in a goosebumps and tears kind of way.
“I’m the jack of all trades / honey we’ll be alright”
Matt Vasquez and company continue to evolve, refusing to stay pigeonholed the way some fans prefer (see Mirage Rock comments). “California” was the lead single and the most obvious stray from their former indie/folk sound – a more electronic modern pop sound. But they still rock out – “Money Saves” is one of my favorites, as are “Tear It Up” and “Tellin’ the Mind.” Nothing matches my three standout tracks from their last album, ‘History From Below‘ – “911”, “Bushwick Blues” and “Salt in the Wound” – but that’s not a knock on this record. I love a band that explores new territory and challenges themselves to try something new – Delta Spirit is a band I’ll be following for years to come.
It wasn’t until about midway though the year that I reconnected with Canadian singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith. I listened to him in the late 90’s and early 00’s, but for some reason, I seemed to veer away. ‘6 Volts’ was released in January, and quickly reminded me what drew me to Fred: clever songwriting and storytelling, and great folk/root-rock sounds and rhythms. ‘”Betty” is a standout track from 6 Volts, with Fred conjuring up dark imagery on as cheerful a melody and cadence as possible: “Betty what’d you do with the gun? There’s strangers at my door / and there’s more where they come from / …was it the money, was it the drugs / was it somebody that you used to know / …Betty Betty why won’t you tell me”.
Straight out of Duluth, Minnesota, I became aware of Trampled by Turtles when I saw them at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival. I’ve seen categorizations bandied about in the past for this band, like “newgrass” and “speedgrass”… but with this year’s release, people will have to search for new adjectives. They jump into more rootsy, Americana-inspired territory here, bringing the tempo down with some great tunes like “Midnight on the Interstate”, “Alone”, “Widower’s Heart” and “Beautiful.” Of course, they haven’t abandoned their bluegrass roots, their banjo and fiddle players remain. So if you want your speed fix, listen to “Don’t Look Down” or “Walt Whitman.”
The new (self-titled) Delta Spirit album came out earlier this month, and it’s a good ‘un. It’s the southern California band’s third full length release, and is a departure of sorts from the more folk-based rock influences of their first two (excellent) albums.
Plenty of hard driving rock n roll (“Money Saves”, “Empty House”, “Tear It Up”, “Tellin’ the Mind”); slow burners (“Home”, “Yamaha”) but also more electronic touches like “California,” a tune the band previewed before the release date that seemed to polarize a certain fan-base who wanted more of the same.
Delta Spirit continues to evolve, and I’m excited to be along for the ride. Each of the eleven songs offers something unique and special, and with each listen, I find something new to like about each one.
Here’s the just-released video for “California”, which captures alternative teen angst and confusion. In a way, I think of it as sort of a 21st century update to Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” video.
2011 was another year of musical discovery for me. Clocking in highest on the discovery meter were San Francisco’s Girls; but right up there with Girls were two bands that can’t technically qualify for my best of 2011 album list: Delta Spirit and Titus Andronicus. Their latest albums – History from Below and The Monitor (respectively) – were both released in 2010, but I didn’t hear them until this year. Overall, when I think of 2011, these three groups reigned supreme in my corner of the world.
But on to the albums. Looking back at my iTunes and Last.fm listening history, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to muster up a Top Ten list. Sure, I could B.S. and include something like the Beasties’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two – which I enjoyed on some level, but never listened to straight through more than twice. Thinking about albums, ’tis all about honesty, and what’s truly important to me as a full body of work. So in that spirit, here are my Top 8 albums of 2011…
I had heard – and loved – “Laura,” a single off Girls first album a couple years back. But it wasn’t until this year that I fell completely head over heels for the San Francisco band led by Christopher Owens. The quirky “Honey Bunny” video drew me in – and when I tracked down the new album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it was over – I was hooked. It’s rich with emotion, it rocks, it’s delicate… I can’t wait to follow Christopher around from here on out and hear what he has to say. Both Girls full lengths and the EP are excellent – discovering them has been the music highlight of my year.
Here’s one that surprised me. Though I loved “The Poet Game” single many years back, no full album of Greg Brown’s had really come along that knocked my socks off. Freak Flag did just that. Full of beauty, wisdom and Greg’s wry sense of humor, it’s the folk masterpiece of 2011.
I love Delta Spirit. I love Deer Tick. I love Dawes. So it’s no surprise that Middle Brother was up among the tops this year, since the group is made up of the front men of all 3 groups. I had the pleasure of seeing Middle Brother live this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, which may very well have been their last performance… but something tells me Taylor Goldsmith, John McCauley and Matt Vasquez will be making more music together somewhere down the road.
Highlight: “Million Dollar Bill” – This is a Goldsmith-penned song that also shows up on Dawes’ new record, Nothing Is Wrong. On the MidBro version, the three guys each get a verse, and the result is profound, in my ever so humble opinion. I prefer it to the Nothing is Wrong version.
It’s hard not to be endeared to this L.A. band that channels the SoCal / Lauren Canyon 70’s vibe. Taylor Goldsmith is a brilliant lyricist, and they’re just getting started. That’s scary (in a very good way). And their live show? Forget about it. Passionate and fiery stuff…
Highlight: “Fire Away” – This tune features Jackson Browne on background vocals, Taylor’s brother Griffin taking lead vocals on the bridge, and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench on the organ. Great sing along chorus – a tune that really takes off into the stratosphere by song’s end – especially live.
Jim James (er – Yim Yames) and the boys of MMJ always put me in a good place. Another solid studio album featuring tunes that ignite in a live setting. I must have watched MMJ on at least 3-4 festival webcasts this summer. Another mind-blowing live band that can also deliver in the studio. Confession though: I just don’t like “Holdin On To Black Metal.”
Highlight: “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” – I’m a sucker for some mellow MMJ. A great moment when the drums come in at “I-I-I-I’m going where there ain’t no fear…”
Snarly wild man John McCauley is back with another Deer Tick record. This time he shares the spotlight with drummer Dennis Ryan and guitarist Ian O’Neill, who write and sing on a few tunes. Divine Providence has a little bit of everything – honky-tonk rock, punk, pop. Oh, do I need to mention they’re also a killer live band? I saw them three times this year – twice in their home state of Rhode Island as they took over the Newport Blues Cafe during Folk Festival time.
Highlight: “The Bump” – The Deer Tick theme song. “We’re full grown men! But we act like kids!” The drunken devil strikes again.
I was frankly surprised by Lenny’s latest. Rock, funk, soul, pop – yep, pretty much the Lenny Kravitz blueprint throughout his career. But the hooks and melodies caught on quick with me, and had me coming back for more helpings. The last time I enjoyed a Lenny album this much, I was 21 (1991’s Mama Said)!
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it.
Highlight: “Liquid Jesus” – A sexy 70’s soul vibe as Lenny channels his inner Curtis Mayfield.
I was looking forward to a full length album from the UK’s Frank Turner since stumbling across his set at the ACL Festival a couple years back. It was worth the wait. Frank’s working class, populist folk/punk is alive and well in England Keep My Bones.
Highlight: “If Ever I Stray” – Certain songs give me goosebumps and make my eyes well up with their sheer power. This is one of those songs.
To make sure I leave no stone unturned in my music geekitude, I’m now a premium subscriber to both Spotify and Rdio. You’d think I’d have all the bases covered for any song or album I’d like to hear, and for the most part, that’s true. There are still some holes though. Spotify, surprisingly, has no Delta Spirit and none of the three Deer Tick full lenghts. So I turned to Rdio to craft a special “Triple D Attack” playlist.
This playlist features Dawes, Delta Spirit, Deer Tick, with a healthy smattering of Middle Brother songs. Let’s just say I’m knee deep in a Triple D phase.
Song numero uno on the playlist below is “Dirty Dishes”, a song that is so beautiful and tortured and perfect that I just can’t stop listening – and it’s been months.
In Dawes news, many of you have probably heard about the recently announced tour with Blitzen Trapper. If you’re here with me in Arizona, they’ll be stopping in at the newest music venue in town, the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix. It’s a much needed mid-size venue that hopefully will attract a lot of talent. Dawes & Blitzen Trapper will be there Monday, October 10th. My ticket is secured, and I can’t wait.
Delta Spirit just helped kick off the opening day of Lollapalooza on Friday. The good folks at the Audio Perv already have the webcast up (all tunes I saw live last week in Newport).
So here’s the Rdio playlist. Always worth the 7 day free trial to check it out…
The last couple of weeks has been a whirlwind of activity for me and my family. It was our first vacation out East as a family – stops in Boston and NYC, and our first visit not only to the great state of Rhode Island, but to the storied Newport Folk Festival.
Staying in town at the Newport Harbor Hotel, right on the water, made for an ideal location. Especially since it’s located right across the street from the Newport Blues Cafe, where Deer Tick & Friends entertained all weekend.
On Saturday, we took the water taxi across the harbor to Fort Adams State Park, where the festival is held. On Sunday, we unwisely chose to drive our rental car. Yeah, not recommended if you don’t like sitting in a parking lot for an hour.
At any rate, the festival itself was a blast for all of us. The only down side was that I missed a lot of acts I would have loved to see, but there were conflicts with other artists. So sadly, I I completely missed Elvis Costello (who brought along the Imposters), Emmylou Harris, the Cave Singers, Mavis Staples, Trampled by Turtles (speedgrass!), among a few others.
But what I did catch made up for it. Here are some of my top moments from my first, and not to be my last, Newport Folk Festival:
M. Ward | A lot of people would question my sanity for attending the Newport Folk Festival, and missing Emmylou Harris’s closing set. But it had to be done, because M. Ward was stacked up against her, playing inside the Fort Adams Quad. Matt Ward roped me in a few years ago when I heard Post-War, and when he came out on stage alone with his guitar, and – after an instrumental warm up – launched into Post-War’s “Eyes on the Prize”, I knew I’d made the right decision. The first 30 minutes or so of M.’s set was very intimate, and about as downtempo as it can go. “Poison Cup”, a slowed down version of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, “Sad, Sad Song”… and one of the highlights of his set, a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Story of an Artist” – a song I was not familiar with, but was absolutely moved by, especially with M.’s flourishes on piano. Dawes joined in for the last few songs of the set, including spirited versions of “Never Had Nobody Like You” and “Roll Over Beethoven”. There’s something very zen and calming about M. Ward. It was a great set.
Delta Spirit [Full set on NPR] | Having discovered Delta Spirit’s music early this year, and going cuckoo for their latest release, History From Below, their set at Newport was my #1 must see of the weekend. Matt Vasquez and the band did not disappoint. Only 4 of the 13 songs in the set actually came from their latest album. Half a dozen came from their first release, Ode To Sunshine, and the rest were new tunes. The band has been recording their third full length this summer in a Woodstock, NY church. The live tunes from ‘Ode’ were great for me – I haven’t spent near enough time with the album, and the songs were great live. In particular, “Trashcan” and the set finale, “People Turn Around”, the anthemic chorus having the whole crowd singing along. What a great band.
Pete Seeger in the Lego ® Duplo KidZone tent | With my wife and two young daughters in tow, we quickly discovered the shaded comfort and entertainment of the Lego Duplo KidZone tent (ideally placed next to the Magic Hat Beer Pier!). Among the arts & crafts & Legos was a small stage for short performances for the kids while the main stage was between acts. The primary act “in residence”, if you will, over the weekend was Elizabeth Mitchell & You Are My Flower. They welcomed such guests as The Low Anthem, Freelance Whales, and the PS22 Chorus from Staten Island. But we were also treated both days to the legendary Pete Seeger – 92 years old and still going… It was a privilege to sit front & center with my kids and listen to stories and songs from a folk icon like Pete. Among other tunes, we were treated to “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”. I captured some of it…
Middle Brother [Full set on NPR] & Dawes | As the clock ticked on Sunday afternoon, it was time to uproot the family from the KidZone tent and make our way within the walls of the Quad to catch Middle Brother’s set. For the uninitiated, Middle Brother is made up Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), John McCauley (Deer Tick), and Matt Vasquez (Delta Spirit). Their debut record, Middle Brother, was released earlier this year. I’ve gotta say, I hadn’t spun the album too many times up to this weekend, but after hearing the songs live (with Dawes as the backing band – these boys are busy), I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for the album. The set was loose, wild and fun – no surprise with this cast of characters. My favorites: “Portland”, sung by McCauley (a Replacements cover), “Blood & Guts” sung by Goldsmith, and “Middle Brother” with special guest Jonny Corndawg. The emotional peak came between Middle Brother and M. Ward’s sets, when Dawes performed a couple of their own tunes (since they were backing both acts, there was no equipment change needed). The song was “When My Time Comes”, from their first record North Hills. With McCauley and Vasquez joining into sing, and the knowledgable crowd eating it all up, singing along at full tilt, it was truly a moving moment – a highlight of the weekend.
The Felice Brothers [Full set on NPR] | This band from the Catskills definitely has their own unique thing going. And with their latest album, Celebration, Florida, they’ve really taken off into another realm, with a really creative bend of folk and electronic sounds. So it was cool to see them live on the main stage. The opener, “Murder by Mistletoe”, set a perfect tone. Mellow, mysterious, and featuring the vocals of singer Ian Felice – a voice that probably gets compared most to Bob Dylan, but has another edge to it as well.
Carolina Chocolate Drops [Full set on NPR] | I got up nice and close for this set on the main stage. The CCD’s are an old time string band keeping traditional African American music alive – we’re talking 19th and early 20th century African-American music. Bringing that 21st century flair is a new member, beatboxer Adam Matta. He teamed up with singer Rhiannon Giddens for a scatting / beatboxing exhibition they called “diddlybox”. It was cool to hear that interspersed among the old time jug n’ banjo tunes like “Baby Ain’t Sweet” and “No Man’s Mama”. Rhiannon has a beautiful, powerful voice, and the other main Chocolate Drop Dom Flemons is a character, interjecting lots of humor into his performance. Cool stuff.
PS22 Chorus | I have to mention my kids’ favorite. PS22 Chorus is made up of 20-30 5th graders from a Staten Island school. They sing contemporary hits, with a few of the boys and girls taking lead and really belting out some impressive vocals. Our family favorite was their version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. Not only did PS22 play the Harbor Stage, but they also made it over to the KidZone tent where my kids sat front and center and watched them perform, including “Rolling in the Deep” – a song that firmly implanted itself in our brains all weekend.
David Wax Museum [Full set on NPR] | This was one of the pleasant surprises of the festival for me. DWM combine American and Mexican folk music, with guitars, a horn section, violin, and even a young dancer in a traditional Mexican dress performing a zapateado – basically on top of a mic’ed box, tapping the percussion with her feet. Lots of latin rhythms, and a very fun, high energy performance to take in.
It was the first sellout in the history of the festival, 10,000 people strong. Walking around, I sensed not only a very easygoing, friendly vibe, but also the sense that I was surrounded by avid music lovers like myself. I sure do love being among the like-minded – those who live & breathe every note of the music they listen to.
Newport was an A+ experience, one I hope to repeat some year soon.
NPR Music, God bless it, has most of the weekend’s performances available for streaming right here.
I’m just back from an epic family vacation that took us from the Valley of the Sun to Boston, then to New York City, and then on to Newport, Rhode Island for my (and my family’s) first Newport Folk Festival.
First off, it was great to have the opportunity to meet some of the people I’ve gotten to know through this web site, and through the internet music community I’ve been immersed in for the last several years. In Boston, I met Mike Heyliger, denizen of Popblerd. In NYC, I met my Ickmusic collaborator Michael Parr (who, unbeknownst to many, I had never met), his lovely wife Christine, and Dennis Corrigan aka @IrishJava. And finally, in Rhode Island, I met up with Ken Shane, senior music editor of Popdose, who was also behind the Newport Folk Festival’s social media presence, handling NFF’s Twitter & Facebook postings throughout the festival weekend.
As I expected, meeting these folks was nothing like meeting a person for the first time. Say what you will about the internet, but you really do come to know people through mediums like music blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Rdio, Spotify, and whatever social platform Google is trying lately (Buzz, +, etc.). It’s a connection of the like-minded: the shared passion for music, and its marriage with technology in the 21st century. These are exciting times to be a music fan – of course, all of this access to music and those who perform and follow it can be overwhelming, to say the least. But it sure is fun to navigate through it all with people like these folks. So Mike, Michael, Christine, Dennis, Ken – great to meet you all in person. Now you all know what a sexy beast I am in real life.
So in Newport, the music portion of the vacation took hold. My family, they’re good sports. They know that I’ll do my best to work in a music angle to every outing, near or far. This summer, it was the Newport Folk Festival. Highest on my list of must-see’s were Delta Spirit, Middle Brother, and M. Ward, backed by Dawes. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone rather bonkers for the “D” trifecta: Deer Tick, Delta Spirit, and Dawes.
Although Deer Tick wasn’t on the festival bill, by no means did that suggest they’d stay quiet for the weekend. The band is from Providence after all. Much to my delight, John McCauley and the band announced three late night gigs at the Newport Blues Cafe – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Best of all, the club was right across the street from our hotel in Newport. So, for me, the Folk Festival weekend ended up being bookended by two raucous late night gigs featuring Deer Tick and friends…
I missed the early acts on Friday, but when I rolled in at 10:30, Deer Tick was just taking the stage, and they didn’t stop until 1am. They played originals and some cool covers – a few Nirvana tunes (DT has an alter ego called Deervana, and have played entire Nirvana sets billed as them); John Prine’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, and some – uh- others that I didn’t have the foresight to tap into my iPhone (damn Blue Moons).
Sunday’s gig was extra cool, featuring an opening set by Dawes, and appearances by Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, M. Ward (for a brief guitar solo on the last tune of the night, “La Bamba”), Joe Fletcher, and my new favorite, Jonny Corndawg – a wild, young countryfied singer from Virginia – and a close bud of the Deer Tick clan. His debut is due later this year, but he does have a Daytrotter session under his belt, and is featured here on Songs: Illinois (I didn’t get him either, Craig, till I saw him perform).
The closing sets of my Sunday Newport Folk Festival were Middle Brother, Dawes, and M. Ward. I’ll have more about the festival itself soon in another post, but the good vibe that was evident in MidBro and Dawes’ sets continued on to the Newport Blues Cafe on Sunday evening. It’s so interesting to note the contrasts between the three “D” bands themselves, and the front men from each who make up Middle Brother. You have Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes – the introspective, sensitive one. You have Deer Tick’s McCauley – unrefined, raw, gritty, laid back, taking it all as it comes. And then there’s Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez – wild, carefree, and caretaker of a primal scream that can shake the rafters. Matt was clearly the MidBro member feeling the least amount of pain on Sunday night. Everyone was having a great time, but Matt was having a GREAT time. His lead vocals on two Nirvana covers backed by Deer Tick (“Negative Creep” and “Senseless Apprentice”) were a highlight – whipping the small club into a crowd surfing frenzy.
Although the festival itself had its great moments- and I’ll cover them soon – it was the two late nights with Deer Tick & Friends that really made my weekend extra special. I was seeing Deer Tick for the first time, and on their home turf. The opening song of their debut album, War Elephant, is “Ashamed”. I liked the tune as is, but seeing it performed in Newport on Friday and Sunday, with the crowd wailing out in unison, “Ohhh–oooh-Ohhhhhhhh”, was one of those thrilling moments that make the live music experience so great – and make the songs you hear on the album so much better.
Sweet! It’s on YouTube. This captured it perfectly, because, well, this was it:
After Friday’s gig, I went up to John and thanked him for a great set, and since he’s a huge John Prine fan (like myself), I thanked him for keeping Prine’s music out there as well.
Telling him I came all the way from Arizona, John replied, “Welcome to my home state.” It sure was a great welcome, and ushered in a hell of a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island.
Hi, it’s me, man of few words of late. Seems I’ve been soaking in the music and not spitting it back out in written form. You know, it feels like the right thing about now.
But I do need to steer you toward a great record, and that is Delta Spirit‘s History From Below. I listened to it for the first time today, and it instantly grabbed hold. Song numero uno, “9/11”, hit me from the start.