Friday, April 29, 2016

Larry Keel 4.23.16 (Photos)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Widespread Panic 4.22.16 (Photos)

North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center
North Charleston, SC

Photos By Ellison White Photography

View Ellison's Full Photo Gallery Here!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Zach Deputy & Scott Pemberton 4.20.16 (Photos)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dopapod 3.31 - 4.2.16

Bluebird Theater
Denver, CO

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Amanda Siedner (Amanda Sandwicch Photography)
Videos By John Mehren (Vicarious Visions)

Thursday March 31, 2016:

Ever since I first saw their late night set at Summer Camp Music Festival in 2013, Dopapod is a band that has continuously inspired me through their music. As they grow in both talent and notoriety, circumstances are allowing them to perform more even comfortably and naturally. For example, they are able to schedule multi-night runs in the same city now, which gives fans a chance to see the band after a day of rehearsing at the venue rather than a day of sitting in a van together. This is helping the group to take their playing to the next level. Although I wasn’t there, last year’s first-ever three-night run at the Sinclair in Boston, MA provided some of my favorite soundboard recordings I had heard from the band. Upon hearing them, I made the decision almost immediately that I could not miss their next three night run of club shows. I finally got the chance to make good on this promise to myself for the three-night, tour-opening run at Denver’s Bluebird Theater.

The venue was absolutely gorgeous on the inside, with a diverse array of killer spots available to watch from. The way the room is laid out, you have a pretty decent view from just about any spot. The balcony is wonderful, but the terraced floor takes the cake. This design helped to ease crowding in the middle of the venue by basically installing rails midway through the room. After a thorough review of the room, I posted up on the first rail directly in front of the soundboard for an optimal mix. Dopapod’s Lighting Designer/Sound Engineer Luke Stratton made sure that all three shows both sounded and looked absolutely stellar at all times. The band is extremely lucky to have such a talent closely involved in their production.

I do have one major complaint about the venue, that being that they made a point of not making free water available to their patrons. Multiple staff members told me that there was no water fountain available and if I wanted water, I would need to purchase a bottle at the bar. I did so, and went along with my night, but this is a highly unethical practice and it ought to be illegal. Any facility in a first-world country ought to offer their patrons free hydration, but especially a facility that serves alcohol. I understand that the historic building may not have included water fountains, but this issue could be easily resolved if they just filled a few jugs from the tap and made cups available around the venue. Hopefully they can get this corrected soon, before anything bad happens to any of their patrons.

Prog-fusion trio, Consider the Source, started off the first evening with a blistering set of world-music-inspired originals. These guys play what could (very) generally be described as funky-middle-eastern-sci-fi-progressive-metal. This was my second time seeing the group perform, and I was happy to see that their songwriting had only gotten even crazier. You’ll have to look hard for a trio of more talented musicians, and they write songs that utilize the full extent of these talents. While a portion of what they do has its roots in progressive rock music, similar to Rush, another portion entirely draws on Middle Eastern and Indian influences. This unique combination produces some of the most intense, bizarre music I’ve ever heard, and tends to be polarizing. Most listeners either express disbelief at what they are hearing because they are so impressed, or it goes so far over their heads that they find it distasteful.

Dopapod’s fans are generally appreciative of music that is intensely progressive, and the audience was mesmerized by Consider the Source’s incendiary performance. The in-your-face, shredding peaks were broken up with tasteful downtempo sections that kept taking me by surprise. The trio is so flush with instrumental talent; it is tough to believe. Guitarist Gabe Marin’s double-neck guitar helps him to keep an array of tonal variety at his fingertips, which are some of the quickest in the land. His expressive touch and microtonal variations through his whammy bar and wah pedal are what first drew me to listen to the band.

As I’ve grown more familiar with their work, I have learned to spend more time listening to bassist John Ferrera’s hyper-melodic playing. The way he grooves with drummer Jeff Mann is seriously impressive. No matter how strange things got, they always kept it danceable. I thought to myself countless times that I couldn’t believe I was dancing to something that sounded like this. Jeff has clearly spent a lot of time studying the classic rhythms of Indian music, and John bridges this into Gabe’s middle-eastern shredding with his authoritative work on the low end.

By the time Dopapod was ready to take the stage, the crowd had been well prepared for a high-intensity show. The band came out with clear intentions of challenging their fans’ expectations. They walked out to the backing track of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by who else but the Backstreet Boys. Hardcore fans shot each other confused glances, and my best friend, who was seeing the band for his first time, went wild that he had beat me to calling the song.

What happened next requires a bit of historical context. Dopapod superfan Dan DeBarr had been petitioning for the band to play a cover of Rush’s “YYZ” for over two years by posting hundreds of meme photos in the DopaFam Facebook group. While the band had enjoyed toying with him on several prior occasions with numerous teases of the song, they had never given any indication that they planned to appease his wishes in full. Following the “Backstreet’s Back” intro, drummer Scotty Zwang kicked the quartet off with Neal Peart’s cymbal intro to “YYZ,” which we all assumed at first would be just another tease. But then the full band came in behind him, and within a few seconds it was clear that this was far more than just the band harassing Dan.

The band ripped this cover apart with amazing precision, with keyboardist Eli Winderman somehow finding space in the mix to add in organ and synth parts atop the original lines of the power trio. Guitarist Rob Compa and bassist Chuck Jones sounded just like Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, respectively. Rush is not the type of band that you can just cover on a whim, and you could tell that each member had studied the song diligently. The crowd ate it up, and my friend and I were reminded of long hours spent in my family’s basement playing through “YYZ” on Guitar Hero 2. Dan’s screams of joy echoed through the venue, and it was clear that the run was off to a fantastic start.

They moved next into “Trapper Keeper,” which saw the band delve into the first improvisation of the night. A nice, funky dance jam featured Eli’s Rhodes heavily, and served as a nice warmup. The next track, “French Bowling” saw Eli working more on the clavinet as things got very spacey. This jam worked its way into a full-band tease of “Backstreet’s Back,” causing me to simultaneously cringe and smile. As much as I disapproved of the song choice, the band’s message rang loud and clear. As listeners, they want us to be prepared for anything and everything. They returned to finish “French Bowling,” before transitioning into the run’s first original debut, “Present Day.”

The group had spent a large chunk of the proceeding three months in the studio together, working up new material. This run served as the first live proving ground for those tracks. “Present Day” leads off with a quiet section of Rob’s vocals, which builds into a bouncy section that includes nice vocal harmonies from Eli. The instrumental section is keyed around a soaring, David Gilmour-esque riff from Rob. After a short pause, they band continued their groove with a fantastic rendition of “Turnin’ Knobs.” This song has Eli shifting back and forth between his Moog and organ, and constantly one-upping himself. I was originally drawn to listening to this band because of his synth chops, but I now realize that he is AT LEAST that good on both the organ and the clavinet. This jam saw him and Rob playing circles around each other as Chuck and Scotty locked down the rhythm sturdily, milking the crowd’s enthusiasm until it came time for a set break.

The second set began with an extended spacey synth intro that included dubious teases of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” before Chuck and Scotty started giving signs of “8 Years Ended” after almost five minutes. Rob and Eli slowly joined in, with Rob teasing out the rhythm to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as they built tension and approached the first verse of “8 Years Ended.” I love this song’s guitar riff; its power makes me think of thousands of people rioting in the street. The song’s jam was centered around Eli’s organ lines, and at one point saw an extended tease of “If You Wish Upon a Star” from Rob. After this, there was a stop-and-start section that saw Chuck take the reins of the jam. Rob and Eli followed behind him, adding flourishes into the space between his low notes. Eventually, Scotty kicked the tempo up and propelled the band out of deep space, directing them to a nice landing back onstage at the Bluebird as Rob’s expository shredding linked them back into “8 Years Ended.” Just like that, a half-hour seemed to evaporate and the run had its first signature jam to open the second set.

“Bubble Brain” came out next. I was very excited to see this song in the middle of the second set, it is a personal favorite that I feel is often overlooked as a first-set song. This composition is intricate enough to dazzle in the spotlight, and it contains one of my favorite resolutions ever as the main synth riff makes its long awaited, blissful return towards the end. This was my first time seeing the band perform it where I felt like the crowd’s attention span lasted all of the way through the jam to get the full effect of this resolution.

The band ran with this energy as they began “Priorities,” with Rob’s jagged-sounding riff setting the stage for some pensive, Rob-penned lyrics that explore the moral implications of his intentions as a musician. The band has explored some interesting lyrical directions since beginning to incorporate vocals, and this song is a favorite example of that. The resulting jam contained an extensive tease of “Peter’s Theme” from Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” This was really unexpected, but offered a nice, relaxed atmosphere that made me think of a Disney cartoon.

“Picture in Picture” followed, beginning with a cool arpeggiator section before Chuck’s soupy, thick bass tone introduced the song properly. This tune usually sees great improv treatment, and tonight was no exception. The boys went all out during this section, creating a frenetic backdrop as Eli laid down a slow, swirling clav line. The jam immediately reminded me of 4/17/2015’s version of “Freight Train Filled with Dynamite,” with Eli’s clav part serving as a disorienting accent above a powerful, driving rhythm. Both jams made me feel as if I were strapped in and traveling across the galaxy. A wonderfully polished romp through “FABA” closed out the set, including some nice “Vol. 3 #86” teases from Eli during the jam.

Rob returned to the stage alone to begin the encore, and said he would play us a song by himself while his bandmates used the bathroom. After some consideration, he decided to play “Carolina,” a softer jazz tune that shows off his chord voicings and rock-solid technique. The band rejoined him for another dance party, as they played “Donkey Kong Country Theme.” They took this video game theme song and turned it into a jam odyssey with a driving four-on-the-floor dance groove. This version was cut short by the curfew, but they still packed in an epic mashup section that saw the band tease Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 1,” before switching back and forth between teases of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

From cover-to-cover, Dopapod seriously threw it down on the first night of this run. The payoff from months of studio time and rehearsals was apparent in the quality of their improvisation, and the setlist was written to take full advantage of this. They were unafraid to get into extremely exploratory jams and incorporate multiple lengthy teases before returning to earth. The improvisation was loose and flowing in a way that you just won’t see at every show.

Set One: YYZ[1], Trapper Keeper, French Bowling[2] > Present Day[3], Turnin Knobs

Set Two: 8 Years Ended[4], Bubble Brain, Priorities[5], Picture in Picture, FABA[6]

Encore: Carolina, Donkey Kong Theme[7]

[1] Rush cover
[2] “Everybody (Backstreet's Back)” (Backstreet Boys) teases
[3] original debut
[4] “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (Pink Floyd), “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin), and “If You Wish Upon a Star” (Cliff Edwards) teases
[5] “Peter and the Wolf” (Prokofiev) teases
[6] “Vol. 3 # 86” teases
[7] “Another Brick in the Wall (Pts. 1 and 2)” (Pink Floyd) and “Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen) teases

Friday April 1, 2016:

The Friday evening performance saw a wonderful opening set from Denver’s own live-electronic trio, The Malah. It was my second time seeing them play, and they definitely captivated me with their unique blend of electronic and organic sounds. Drummer Seth Fankhauser is an absolute beast behind the kit, able to groove smoothly at any tempo, but also capable of playing the drums as a lead instrument. His work is augmented by bassist Elliott Vaughn, as he switches between bass guitar and synthesizer. Guitarist Brandon Maynard also has both a synthesizer and a laptop for production. As they switch around their instrumentation, you start to see just how diverse their abilities are.

When Brandon plays guitar, I can hear the influences of Lotus’s Mike Rempel and Papadosio’s Anthony Thogmartin in his tastefulness as the rhythm section grooves fiercely behind him. They can get into the same type of driving, bassy groove that fans of The New Deal would feel comfortable with, but the production is constantly pushing them in a more atmospheric, ambient direction. I find their music to be simultaneously driving and relaxing because of this. Although their music can get really quiet, I found that Seth’s flashy drumming technique helped them to keep me ensnared. Watching him play is amazing because you can tell how natural it is to him. He makes it look effortless, and this is something you simply cannot teach.

Dopapod took the stage to music from John Williams’ Star Wars score, transitioning smoothly into the original debut of “Super Bowl.” This fun track has a unique sound that is nicely balanced between clean guitar and high-frequency oscillation, with great vocal harmonies between Rob and Eli. I can see this track becoming a heavy-hitter in the future, especially given the amount of polish it shows at this point. Fan favorite, “Off the Cuff,” followed, with The Motet’s Joey Porter sitting in on keys. Eli ceded his entire rig to Joey for the first few minutes, then sat down beside him, taking back over the organ and clavinet, but leaving Joey his Rhodes and Moog. This section was vastly improved after he sat back down, but still felt abbreviated.

After thanking Joey for his help, the band moved on with a lengthy rendition of “Sonic.” This song builds slowly from Chuck’s bassline, with Rob’s delayed guitar riff giving way to Eli’s soulful synth exploration as Scotty keeps things loose and bouncy. Despite its length of nearly fifteen minutes, the improvisation felt very concise and almost directed. It just seemed like the band was a bit more confident in themselves than they had been the night before. All of the fire was still there, but they were just able to express it more easily and in less time.

The next song, “Flipped” saw a nice cover of Ween’s “Transdermal Celebration” sandwiched inside of it. Although this section was light on the improvisation, I was really impressed with their execution on the cover debut. I had seen Umphrey’s McGee play the same cover only a couple weeks before, and I have to say that Rob’s vocals compared favorably with Brendan Bayliss’s efforts.

After concluding “Flipped,” they debuted another original track, “I am (Whale Song).” This one stood out as my favorite debut of the run, just because of how unique it is relative to the rest of their catalog. It is a slow, plodding song with a lot of focus on Scotty, Rob and Eli’s three-part vocal harmonies. Although none of them has quite the falsetto to warrant this comparison vocally, I thought the song was extremely reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes, in terms of its composition and sound. The vocals are quiet, raw, and emotionally charged. The lyrics are about the 52-hertz whale. This lonely creature’s call has been detected by instruments worldwide, and it has been verified that there is only one whale out there emitting a call at this frequency, which is much higher than most whale species. Indeed, the lyrics include lines such as “Where the hell are all the other whales?” and “They call me 52.” These guys pick the most fascinatingly weird topics to write about!

They capped the set off with a great version of “Weird Charlie” that left audience members to pick up bits of their faces off the ground during set-break. Eli got a great chance to fully let loose on the clavinet and organ, which is truly a sight and sound to behold. The second set began on an intense note with “Psycho Nature.” This song is pretty terrifying the first few times that you hear it, but once you get comfortable with the eerie vibes, it is one of the more fun songs in their catalog. I don’t usually go into shows hoping that they will play it, but when they do I am always surprisingly excited. Songs like this one remind me that the band’s weirdness is what keeps drawing me back to see them. This version’s jam featured teases of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

Excitement was through the roof as they began to play “Nerds,” a standout track from 2014’s Never Odd or Even album. This song’s anthemic synth hook and tongue-in-cheek lyrics have helped to endear it with fans, even before the band grew comfortable improvising within the song. That has been a new development in the past year or so, and it has been a wonderful thing to watch. This version had the crowd dancing madly the entire time, as the band built their groove from the bottom-up and never let go of Scotty’s sense of urgency. This concise jam was very even-keeled and saw the band doing an outstanding job of communicating and making adjustments, without requiring much noodling or time to get comfortable.

“New James” is probably the funkiest song in their catalog, and they turned to it here to keep the crowd dancing. Their smooth groove had everyone practically moonwalking around the Bluebird. Rob’s guitar solo saw a few teases of “Bats in the Cave,” before the rest of the band followed his lead and used a suave reggae jam to find their way into the full song. As Eli launched into the song’s extremely vocal synth line, the sparse instrumentation provided plenty of room for interpretive dancing. The jam saw Scotty kick the tempo up, giving way to a quick funk jam that reminded me of Umphrey’s McGee’s “Day Nurse.” Rob’s palm muting and tight syncopation with Eli’s organ parts absolutely left my jaw on the floor here.

They saved a true Dopapod classic to close the set in “Vol. 3 #86.” This song is one of the group’s best jam vehicles, and tends to make people feel like they are inside of a spaceship well before the improvisation even begins. This is due to Eli’s freakish abilities on the synthesizer, as well as Rob’s uncanny ability to keep up with him note-for-note on guitar. The jam worked its way through a pair of extensive teases, the first being the music to the Chemical Plant Zone section of the video game Sonic the Hedgehog 2. This was a bizarre sounding uptempo segment, but it was followed by the slower, minor-key jam around Black Sabbath’s self-titled track. This part sounded very foreboding and dark, aided by Chuck’s experimentation with his effects pedals. A ripping solo from Rob helped to connect them back to “Vol. 3,” which restored a happy energy to the room.

When the band returned for the encore, they asked the crowd for requests. As you might expect, everyone had a different idea and shouted their idea as loudly as possible. Consequently, the band had no idea what to play and had to ask again a couple of times before audience members started to consider making non-verbal requests. Someone held their hands up to make a circle, which Rob interpreted as a request for “Like a Ball.” This song is another great example of the band writing lyrics from a quirky perspective, with these deep lyrics touching on how "herd mentality" can cause humans to act with the intelligence of cattle sometimes.

Night two of three saw perhaps the most complete show of the run. The band debuted a pair of awesome new songs, while also busting out some heavy-hitters that enabled them to really open up the improvisation. The jams were more confident and had a better sense of direction, but were more concisely executed. This lead to a more danceable show overall, and we saw the band grow more comfortable onstage as they re-acclimate to playing shows again. Expectations were pushed sky-high as we entered the final night of the run.

Set One: Super Bowl[1], Off the Cuff[2], Sonic, Flipped -> Transdermal Celebration[3]-> Flipped, I am (Whale Song)1 , Weird Charlie

Set Two: Psycho Nature[4], Nerds, New James[5] -> Bats in the Cave, Vol. 3 #86[6]

Encore: Like a Ball[7]

[1] original debut
[2] with Joey Porter (The Motet) on keys
[3] Ween cover
[4] “Watermelon Man” (Herbie Hancock) teases
[5] “Bats in the Cave” teases
[6] “Chemical Plant Zone” (Sonic the Hedgehog 2) and “Black Sabbath” (Black Sabbath) teases
[7] by audience request

Saturday April 2, 2016:

Night three featured support from Boston, MA-based jamband, The Jauntee. My east coast friends had given them universally positive reviews, but I was eager for the chance to see for myself. It was my first time seeing these guys play, and they did a great job of living up to the hype. One of the main descriptions I had heard of their music was that it was extremely “Phishy.” This is likely due to guitarist Caton Sollenberger’s flawless mimicry of Trey Anastasio’s tone, circa-1992. While they bear plenty of similarities to Phish, especially in terms of their influences, I believe they deserve a bit more credit for their originality.

Drummer Scott Ferber has a beautiful, high voice with an extremely distinctive sound. This pairs excellently with their oddball lyrical content and delivery (this is well-illustrated on their song, “Ever Upward”), and really helps their sound to stand out among other jambands. They seem to be very comfortable communicating and improvising onstage, and their jams get really funky. Bassist John Loland is an extremely capable taskmaster as the band improvises. Their brand of funk reminds me a little bit more of the industrial funk played by Umphrey’s McGee than of Phish’s signature cow-funk. They have that same ability to crank out amazing, dark-sounding funk jams that still retain their groove. Also, keyboardist Tyler Adams loves to get down on the synthesizer, which helps them to touch briefly on some different styles, such as livetronica and ambient electronic music.

Similar to the members of Dopapod, the members of the Jauntee met at Berklee School of Music in Boston. This connection goes even deeper, as Rob was actually the first person that Scott ever jammed with back in the day. To commemorate this awesome connection, the Jauntee invited Rob to sit-in with them for a cover of Frank Zappa’s “I Am the Slime.” This is a rotation cover for Dopapod, so I already knew Rob would destroy it. The Jauntee’s version was also quite impressive and you could definitely tell that they had listened very closely to the original. This song is way too much fun!

Dopapod took the stage to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” a fitting choice of walk-on music for the last night of the run. They got right into the dance party with nice takes on “Dracula’s Monk” and “Black and White.” “Weedie” followed, and it was my first time seeing this relatively new tune. Originally titled “Live in the Now,” the band renamed it after the Nth Power’s percussionist Weedie Braimah while they were touring with the Nth Power last fall. Weedie is such a cool guy that I already knew I would like the song before ever hearing it. Chuck’s bassline serves as a splendid foundation for the song, which features plenty of screaming from Eli. I think the vocals on this song have a lot of potential because the lyrics are interesting, but they can be improved. The screamed delivery fits the words well, but could be executed less abrasively, and I’m sure it will be as time goes on.

A jazzed-out intro from Rob and Scotty led the band into “Hey Zeus! (Que Tal?)” after a couple of faked-out teases from Rob. This short song stands out in their catalog as one of the tunes with the most country and bluegrass inspiration, and I love the way they use it to change the pace during their live shows. This time it paved the way for a slower, quieter number, “Upside of Down.” Lyrically, this is one of my very favorite Dopapod songs. I especially enjoy the way that Eli foreshadows the vocal parts on his keyboard. There are few musicians with such a natural gift to speak through their instrument, and even fewer who are able to utilize this skill in such a tasteful manner. In spite of all this, I have noticed that the song’s effect is still lost on many audience members, who often choose to talk over it because it is so quiet.

The always-intense, “Nuggy Jawson,” followed. This song is so dark and powerful, and it is that way because of Chuck’s brilliant effects. His technique is so focused on precise effect control; I love to watch him get a reaction out of the crowd without necessarily even playing anything flashy on his instrument. “Nuggy” saw a cool, Rob-led funk jam and carried on for about fifteen minutes. “Bluetooth” was played next, dedicated to crew member Rob “The Detective” Kimmel. This guy is responsible for getting the soundboards out promptly after each show, so we were all very happy to see his request honored. Plus, “Bluetooth” is an amazing song. Prior to the entrance of Eli’s synth line, it has almost a lounge jazz vibe. Once the synth begins and the tempo kicks up, it is more like a jazz-electronica fusion that compels everyone in the room to dance ridiculously. This great tune closed out the first set.

After some banter about Luke being the only member of the band to graduate from Berklee, set two began with the final original debut of the run, “Cure.” This track came out the gate with exceptional polish and saw stellar improv treatment on its first time out. I think this one fits into their existing catalog the best of the new originals. It’s a drum-and-bass-driven banger, with well-rounded instrumental contributions from Rob and Eli. Eli’s lead vocals sound amazing, and Rob’s harmonies fit right in. The jam was trancey, but Rob kept the melody very active throughout. The band played it with so much confidence in its debut that I can’t even imagine what kind of monster it will develop into over time.

Up next came “Braindead.” This one is right up there with “Psycho Nature,” as far as the best examples of how powerfully weird Dopapod can be. Like most of their songs, these two are instrumentally intense, but they are set apart by the oddness of their lyrics. When I listen closely to the words, I don’t find them relatable or enjoyable, but I still have to admit that they are both fascinating and well-written. I do really enjoy the jazzy end section to “Braindead,” which culminates in an epic, climaxing shredfest.

The band paused to acknowledge Dan DeBarr once more, with Rob saying the next song was for him, and telling him in no uncertain terms to cease his meme making. They then played the mysteriously titled “PLSS,” a simple reggae tune that showcased Scotty’s excellent touch. This song is simple enough to be ideal for an unplanned/half-planned sit-in from someone who already has a good rapport with the band. Rob played the first few minutes, before calling on his good friend, Mike Gantzer of Aqueous, to take over on guitar. Mike had arrived by taxi only minutes before from his band’s set opening for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong a few miles away at Cervantes. Aqueous and Dopapod have played a collaborative set before, so the rapport between Mike and the other Dopapod members was well established.

Thanks to this, he wasted no time taking control of the jam and building up some tension. He was undaunted by Luke’s comedic interjection of airhorn samples (yes, like the annoying ones from all of those rap songs). His interplay with Eli was impressive, but my favorite thing about his sit-in was the contagious energy he brought to the stage. Even after he left the stage, everyone in the room was ecstatic for the rest of the set. He was the sparkplug of this entire evening, and this version of “PLSS” has officially replaced 7/14/15 (Portland, OR) as my favorite version ever.

Rob took his guitar back over as the band played their classic original “We Are Not Alone.” This version lacked the distended, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” style organ intro that I have heard them do before (example, 7/13/15 Eugene, OR), but made up for it with a nice segue into “Onionhead” to close out the set. This song is a great dance track, and has one of the band’s most distinctive drum parts. I could just watch Chuck and Scotty play it and I know I would be getting down almost as hard. Before they even made it into the verse, Rob was already laying down “Funky Town” teases. The song’s improv section was dominated by “Nerds” teases from both Rob and Eli. I loved seeing them tie back to the previous night’s show by teasing a song that we all knew they wouldn’t actually play. These guys love to break the rules.

For the encore, the band gave us the evening’s first cover, AC/DC’s “TNT.” This is the type of cover that can totally change how people in the audience are acting. The girl next to me, who hadn’t looked very engaged up until this point, suddenly sprang to life and began belting the lyrics in my ear. Never one to be left out of a singalong, I joined in with every other member of the audience as we collectively drowned out Rob’s vocal efforts in favor of our own. That was so much fun, definitely one of the best placed and executed covers I have seen in a long time.

The chaotic ending gave way to “Indian Grits,” the perfect old song to close out the run in true Dopapod fashion. This show had a few utterly amazing moments, but didn’t flow as well as the two prior nights. Still, I would never have dreamed of missing any of the three nights to be anywhere else. They provided a cohesive experience and showed off just about every facet I was hoping to see. Sure, there were a few songs I’d still like to hear (cough, “Freight Train,” cough), but you won’t catch me complaining about another reason to see them again. The room was excellent, and filled with wonderful people each night. It was a huge treat to see such a talented group in such an intimate setting, especially because they are growing so quickly. In the future, when they start to play venues like the Fillmore, I know I will long for these days. My first three-night Dopapod run stands out as one of my favorite live music experiences to date, and I can’t wait to do it again!

Set One: Dracula's Monk, Black and White, Weedie, Hey Zeus! (Que Tal?) > Upside of Down, Nuggy Jawson[1], Bluetooth

Set Two: Cure[2], Braindead, PLSS[3], We Are Not Alone > Onionhead[4]

Encore: TNT > Indian Grits

[1] Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith) tease
[2] original debut
[3] with Mike Gantzer (Aqueous) on guitar
[4] “Funky Town” (Lipps Inc.) and “Nerds” teases

Monday, April 25, 2016

Method Man & Redman 4.17.16 (Photos)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Butch Trucks & The Freight Train Band 4.21.16 (Photos)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pickin' On Cancer Feat. Members of Yonder Mountain, Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon w/ The Drunken Hearts 4.17.16 (Photos)

Friday, April 22, 2016

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic 4.11.16 (Photos)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nolatet 4.15.16 (Photos)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Marco Benevento 4.9.16 (Photos)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jackie Greene 4.8.16 (Photos)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Twiddle & Universal Sigh 3.31.16

New Mountain Theatre
Asheville, NC

Words By Julie Hutchins
Photos By Julie Hutchins & Gordon Gellatly

This past Wednesday night, the delightful bohemian town of Asheville, North Carolina was showered with warm tunes by Vermont face-melters, Twiddle. From start to finish the entire night at New Mountain was great fun. The vibrant venue was packed with young, budding souls and goofy geezers alike. Compared to the wide spectrum of loyal peakers, I would consider myself a novice to the world of Twiddle. However, the more I see Twiddle, the more I admire their uncanny ability to move people with their music.

Athens, GA based Universal Sigh kicked off the night with an adventurous set of solid compositions. Their original tunes were well received and infused between flawlessly executed covers of “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” by Umphrey’s McGee, Phish’s “Stash,” and “Hey Zeus, (Que Tal?)” by Dopapod. Aside from being floored by Universal Sigh’s ambitious cover selection, I was particularly impressed at their exploration in beginning each song with a miniature jam. The smidget of improvisation engaged the crowd and was a unique way to familiarize their captivatingly meticulous music. The foursome closed the set with a super groovy, crowd favorite “Atoms & Void” and left the people eager for more boogieing. As an avid disciple I was grateful to witness a large, engaged crowd who showed up extra early to check out the set. The kind attentiveness of the pack is a true testimony to the goodness Twiddle fans radiate. Keep an eye out for Universal Sigh’s debut album Atoms & Void dropping in early May.

Speaking of albums, Twiddle’s most recent album title Plump has perpetually perplexed me. Musically, it is a great album. However, what is the meaning behind the all the plumpness? Why would Twiddle choose this curiously vague theme? Where does Plump originate? Well, midway through the twenty five minute “Polluted Beauty” opener, a mighty Plump realization bopped me right on the nose. A plethora of plump epiphanies continued as the band maintained momentum with a fourteen minute “Subconscious Prelude,” which then segued into a sixteen minute busily, buzzing “Beehop,” and a gargantuan “Gatsby the Great > Big Country > Gatsby the Great” totaling a grand twenty four minutes.

“Polluted Beauty” began with minor chords that ventured into realms of tension. I was shocked to witness the fearless foursome kick off the night with Type II jamming. Mihali and Dempsey shared nice complimentary riffing patterns to feel out the dark space. After creating spine tingling tension, Jordan and Gubb increased the tempo to release the intensity and return to a major scale. The dramatic key change lead to astute synchronization and the ultimate dance jam. After a mind-altering opener, the band kept “Wildfire” concise. However, after a short refresher, Twiddle clearly had no intentions of keeping the songs sweet and simple. “Subconscious Prelude” also featured top-notch Type II improvisation sandwiched between minor depths and major soaring peaks. Surprises rolled in during “Beehop” as Mihali called up local Asheville rapper, Swank Rogers who they met earlier that day. Swank’s hip hop flow made this “Beehop” particularly upbeat and bumbly. The Great Gatsby sandwich began loose, which allowed the crowd and themselves to effortlessly groove. The transition into Bela Fleck’s endearing “Big Country” dropped off into Dempsey and Mihali plucking out single notes of the melody. After dabbling with the sweetness of “Big Country” the jam vehicle continued to roar forward back into the familiar Gatsby riff. Within the fifty minutes of non-stop jamming Twiddle, myself and the energy of the bubbly room was transported through the music into deep realms of bliss. The boys brought me back to Earth and closed the set with a feel good, campfire sing along, “Collective Pulse.” They invited up another special guest, Spiro Nicolopoulos to help send everyone off in absolute ecstasy.

Spiro and Mihali go way back and it was awesome to see the old pals having a blast on stage trading soulful licks. Spiro and his wife currently play in Asheville based band, The Paper Crowns. Although “Collective Pulse” is a newer song, I can sense its potential to become another staple uplifting anthem. The band encored with “Zazu’s Flight” a wonderful tune about burning down with a little birdie. In the spirit of recent events, the song was dedicated to political candidate and compassion activist, Bernie Sanders. The band continued to surprise the faithful crowd by debuting “I Need More Allowance” by The Beets, a fictional rock band from Doug, a TV show almost every 90’s kid knows from childhood.

Overall, I have to classify this show as extra special because they incorporated a bevy of shockers, the band boldly harnessed Type II improvisation, and the dance jams reached indescribable peaks upon peaks upon peaks.

Beyond the stellar performance and incredible musicianship, I was taken aback by the light-hearted, yet genuine lyrics. Lyrics are an important part of Twiddle’s music that makes the quartet stand out in the competitive world of jam bands. After seeing the set, I immediately went home and refreshed myself on their lyrics. After being immersed in the beautiful words, I became aware of Twiddle’s thoughtfulness towards Asheville, a place similar to Vermont in its mountainous vibes and environmental consciousness. I sincerely appreciate any band’s mindfulness to sing songs that reflect the beauty of the Earth intertwined with the paradoxes of the human condition. Twiddle’s music takes on this ecologically serious intent with an attitude of awe-inspired whimsy that I perceive as genuine medicine.

This show was my first time giving Twiddle my full, undivided attention and my eyes were opened, bulging out of my head, plump with wonderment. Mihali fiercely shreds and sustains his axe like no other. Good ol’ Gubb was laying down thick, swampy bass in time with Brook Jordan’s faithful rhythm and delightful harmonies. Ryan Dempsey’s playing was brightly animated and he went above and beyond to please the crowd by wearing a long black wig reminiscent of pre-millennia Cher. The foursome crushed adventurous improvisation with skillful dynamics all while engaging the crowd through playful banter. Twiddle emanated a meditative euphoria in their performance and expressed a gracious attitude on and off the stage. The focused energy was undoubtedly channeled through a connection with the audience’s devoted consciousness. Words fail to express the beauty of community I witnessed through this musical experience.

Upon returning to my senses, I excitedly told Twiddle teammate Mike Bishop, I think finally figured out the significance behind Plump. He was excited for me, but revealed that Plump is a dedication to the tubby bellies the band has gained while being on tour. Here I am inspecting Plump from a metaphorical, mysterious perspective and all along the literal definition was jiggling right in front of my very eyes. This small moment of honesty reveals Twiddle’s rapturing good nature.

Aside from the hilarious abstraction of Plump, Twiddle strikes me as a band that beautifully balances between performing like top dog professionals and divulging the spirit and candidness of a child. The band emulates so many different influences from the mellow reggae vibes to spontaneous jazz scat riffs and ultimate hi-def shred fest, in their own, defining way. I’m interested to keep the rest of Plumptydumpty on my radar. Take a look at for more dates. Be on the lookout for more possible live audio streams. This show was live streamed on Mixlr by the wonderful Mike Bishop and you can listen/download the full set via Major kudos to the community for developing such a comprehensive forum of Twiddle information. Last, but not least I must commend New Mountain’s production team, as well as the amiable staff, for creating a cool, welcoming atmosphere. I for one can’t wait to have Twiddle light up the South again!

Setlist: Polluted Beauty, Wildfire, Subconscious Prelude, Beehop, Gatsby the Great > Big Country > Gatsby the Great, Collective Pulse

Encore: Zazu’s Flight, I Need More Allowance

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Through The Trees: A Weekend in the Pacific Northwest with Greensky Bluegrass 3.25 - 3.27.16

Words By Mitch Melheim
Photos By Coleman Schwartz & Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

Pushing boundaries is a bit of an understatement when it comes to Greensky Bluegrass. Formed 16 years ago in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a city not necessarily known for its bluegrass tradition, it should come as no surprise to find out that Greensky Bluegrass isn’t as much of a bluegrass band as their name may suggest.

“In theory,” mandolinist Paul Hoffman explains on their website, “Greensky is the complete opposite of bluegrass. So, by definition, we are contrasting everything that isn’t bluegrass with everything that is.”

Composed entirely of musicians from non-bluegrass backgrounds playing instruments that they didn’t pick up until age 18 or later, their unique sound is to be expected. Paul Hoffman (mandolin, lead vocals) was originally a guitarist who bought his first mandolin at age 18, the same age Dave Bruzza (guitar, lead vocals) began playing acoustic guitar. Michael Arlen Bont (banjo) didn’t own a banjo until age 20, while Mike Devol (upright bass), a classically trained cellist, and Anders Beck (dobro), originally an electric guitarist, didn’t pick up their current instruments until later on as well.

“We were always coming at bluegrass backwards,” Hoffman says. “We were better musicians than we were bluegrass musicians. We discovered that, when it came to learning these instruments, we preferred to do so by improvising and writing our own songs, instead playing standard material and fiddle tunes.”

The end result is what many consider to be the hardest rocking band currently playing music without the help of drums or electric instrumentation. Their ability to create percussion with acoustic instruments is unmatched. Inspired just as much by the Grateful Dead and Phish as any other bands, their improvisation is so good that you may even forget that they write some of the best songs in whichever genre you want to place them in.

The songwriting duo of Hoffman and Bruzza is a beautiful contrast of one another. Hoffman’s emotional and shockingly honest lyrics were what originally drew me to the band (aside from the face-melting) but what has solidified them as a favorite band of mine are the dark and intense songs that Bruzza writes. This contrast, and their ability to fluidly mix the two’s songs together into a setlist, is just as crucial to keeping the band refreshing and unique as their genre-bending and frequent improvisation are.

Perhaps most noteworthy, with all of the wild things they do to such a traditional genre, they are still incredibly well-respected amongst the more traditional bluegrass fans. Starting with their 2006 victory in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s band competition, through their captivating performances these past few years at Del McCoury’s Del Fest, all the way to what has become a near takeover of Yonder Mountain String Band’s Northwest String Summit, where calling them a “fan favorite” only scratches the surface when explaining the love that Horning’s Hideout has for this band.

Accolades and takeovers are becoming very common for Greensky. This summer they will headline Red Rocks with jam grass legends and pioneers, Leftover Salmon, opening for them in Salmon’s home state. A couple weeks ago, the band had such an overwhelming request for tickets to their annual 3 night Bell’s Beer Garden opener in Kalamazoo, that they had to open up a lottery request period for fans to get tickets. Needless to say, more people requested tickets in the lottery than received them, leaving many fans searching for tickets. Sound Phamiliar? Very shortly after, it was announced that they are going to be gracing the cover of the upcoming issue of Pollstar as their “Hotstar” band.

As if that wasn’t enough, due to some exceptional initiative from the band’s fan group, Camp Greensky, the band had themselves a gig opening for Bernie Sanders at the 54,097 capacity Safeco Field in Seattle, just a couple hours before they were scheduled to play down the street at Showbox Market.

It all started with camper Max Berde noticing that Sanders was scheduled to appear at Safeco Field the same day that Greensky was in town. After a few tweets and Facebook posts to judge interest proved worthwhile, he ran the idea past fellow camper Dan Zedonek, who got in contact with the local Sanders campaign office. Zedonek acted as liaison to the Sanders campaign further pushing this dream towards reality. The campaign office liked the idea of a progressive bluegrass band from Michigan, a recent Sanders victory state, playing the rally and decided to run the idea by the national organizers and asked Berde and Zedonek to get in contact with the band. It was at this point that they realized they had done all of this without even asking the band if they were interested first. Once contacted, the band’s first response was, “You’re joking, right?” but after eventually being convinced that this was in fact real life and a legitimate possibility, they jumped on board with the idea and soon there after, they were slated to play Safeco Field, opening up for Bernie Sanders. All of this happened within 48 hours of this crazy little idea popping into Berde’s head. Suddenly, the upcoming weekend run was probably no longer the biggest event of the weekend to the band.

Friday March 25, 2016:

Showbox Market
Seattle, WA

Unable to get into Safeco Field in time due to a horribly long line and excruciatingly slow searches from Secret Service at the gates, we chose to go back to a friend’s house and stream the set from there. We all racked our brains trying to figure out what they might play during such an important set considering their exposure to so many new fans with the only given being “Burn Them” which Greensky fans have unofficially adopted as their own Bernie Sanders campaign song, going so far as to create shirts that say “Bern Them” on the front with the lyrics from the song, “Let’s rob some worse guys done up like the good ones” fittingly displayed across the back.

They opened with “Windshield”, a single from their most recent album, 2014’s If Sorrow Swims. The band followed that with another short and sweet one, this time the old gospel song “Working on a Building.” Hoffman’s beautifully written and emotionally charged “Lose My Way” was next, followed by the inevitable “Burn Them”

At this point, things got a little more interesting. Advertised headliner John Popper made his way onto the stage with Greensky staying out there as his backing band, helping him through two outstanding renditions of Popper’s Blues Traveler hits, “Run Around” and “Hook.” Popper then played the “Star Spangled Banner” as a harmonica solo after “Hook,” ending a great preview set for the weekend that surely initiated some new Greensky Bluegrass fans in the Safeco Field crowd or “Greenski Bluegrass,” as Sanders mistakenly referred to them as.

Immediately after their set at the rally, we all made our way down to the Showbox Market to catch the opening band, talented Portland sister-act Shook Twins. The Shook Twins are led by multi-instrumentalist sisters Katelyn Shook and Laurie Shook. Katelyn plays the guitar, ukulele, glockenspiel, and mandolin as well as lending her beautiful vocals while Laurie plays a crucial role in what makes this band so unique, playing the banjo, guitar, bass, ocarina, and djembe, as well providing vocals, beatboxing, and looping. Adding further to the diversity and flexibility of this band is bassist Josh Simon and Niko Daoussis who plays mandolin, electric guitar, drums, and bass, while adding also vocals.

The best way that I can describe the Shook Twins is that they have the sister power and chemistry of Rising Appalachia combined with the dynamics and beauty of Elephant Revival. They happen to be a lot easier of a band to dance to than both of those bands and don’t always take themselves as seriously as them, which is a great thing. While they have very meaningful and serious songs that could be interchangeable with the material of their friends and frequent collaborators, Elephant Revival, they also know how to let loose and have fun, even working occasional hip-hop and old R&B covers into their sets. For example, my first time seeing them included a beatbox mash up of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” with Lauryn Hill’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low.”

As expected, it was a great opening set and their genre-bending was the perfect fit for a Greensky opener. The highlights of the set were their bone-chilling originals “Time to Swim” and “Shake,” with the former including a rap verse from Daoussis that was as good, if not better, than any I’ve heard from a non hip-hop artist.

Very shortly after, it was time for the headliners, Greensky Bluegrass. Clearly still beaming from ear to ear after a special afternoon, they picked up right where Popper left them, with a little bit of American pride. Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” opened up the night with Lighting Director Andrew Lincoln’s red, white, and blue lights accentuating the message. Always clever with the lyric changes, Hoffman changed the opening line to “last night in Canada put me in a haze” referencing their previous night in Vancouver, B.C. as well as changing the lyrics in the second verse accordingly from Saturday to Friday night. As you know by now and as expressed by the opening song choice, this band isn’t one for respecting genre boundaries but they do show respect to their home state boundaries, covering a fellow Michigan band to start the night.

Next up and sticking with the patriotic theme was the unofficial Greensky Bluegrass Bernie Sanders campaign song “Burn Them” drawing a “Bernie” chant as the song ended, with another signature Hoffman tune “Rafters” from their album Five Interstates following that.

“We’re just trying to figure out what to play,” admits Beck as it becomes apparent that they’re playing without a setlist. “We were kind of busy,” he explains as he’s greeted with a huge cheer from Greensky fans proud of what their band had accomplished earlier in the day. “We asked him (Bernie) to write the set list for us but he was a little busy himself.”

Another Five Interstates song and Hoffman staple “Old Barns” was next before legendary Blues Traveler harmonica talent John Popper snuck up on stage with them for the second time of the day to lend his talents to two covers. The first was the Grateful Dead’s “Mr. Charlie” which included an exceptional harmonica solo from Popper that was met with a huge roar from the crowd. It was a real treat watching Popper’s interplay with Anders Beck’s dobro, who was visibly stoked to be playing with Popper.

The second song with Popper was a cover of his Blues Traveler hit, “Hook” and boy, was it a fun one. Led by what are still outstanding vocals from Popper and another impressive harmonica solo, it became pretty apparent that we were watching a band have a very special night. Hoffman’s huge grin on his face as he lip-synched all of the words to Popper’s rap verse solidified that belief for me.

Next up and now Popper-less, they broke into fan favorite and Norton Buffalo classic “Ain’t no Bread in the Breadbox”. This is one of those Greensky songs where you brace yourself once you hear the opening notes because you know you’re in for a long and eventful jam. As usual, “Breadbox” did not disappoint, building up to an even more intense peak than usual before coming to a close with the catchy chorus we all love.

Another cover was up next, this time The Louvin Brothers’ 1962 song, “Great Atomic Power.” While a quick song, this is always fun to hear pop up in a set. In typical Greensky fashion, Hoffman spices the lyrics up a bit, changing them from “for your soul will fly to safety and eternal peace and rest” to “enjoy life’s pleasures like drugs and sex.” Its just more rock n’ roll that way.

Finally, we get our first Bruzza original to close the set with a whopping version of “Kerosene.” Always an overwhelmingly dark song and extended jam, this one shined bright as one of my favorite versions of “Kerosene” I’ve ever seen. It’s unreal how loud and powerful this string band can get and this song is one of the best examples of that.

Hoffman’s “Just to Lie” opened the second set before breaking into a slow and eerie funk jam loosely based off of “Just to Lie” that included clever wordplay on his lyrics “I told you” sang in the style of Fruition’s “Labor of Love.” “Labor of Love” interestingly enough, was written about a time that Fruition helped Greensky when they had some bus trouble while touring together. Hoffman then tells us, “I told you… We were gonna have a good time tonight,” as he invites Seattle sax-master Skerik Skerik onto the stage to begin what was quite the musical journey.

Jumping immediately into an even funkier jam accented by Beck’s dobro, Skerik gets right to business. Hoffman then comes in with more improv lyrics from sections of “Just to Lie” while things get even more eerie and weird, just the way they like it.

After “Just to Lie’ comes the instrumental track “Tarpology.” This is my absolute favorite Greensky song (originally a song from Beck’s old band, Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band) to see live so needless to say, with Skerik up there as well, I was ecstatic. As soon as the swirling funk of that modulated guitar riff hits, I lose my mind every time. The improv section of “Tarpology” this time began with a stop-time jam with some call and response between the band and Skerik before Hoffman takes off on a mandolin jam that's brought back by Beck’s funky dobro as one by one, the rest of the musicians on stage add on to the jam before it climaxes in the trademark swirling funk riff of “Tarpology.”

Not done just yet, the song segues directly into a playful cover of Paul Simon’s “Gumboots.” It was during this song a few years ago when I first realized how talented of a bassist Mike Devol is. Watching him play with the bass line of this song is truly a treat. More exceptional improv from Skerik highlights this longer than usual “Gumboots” before segueing directly back into that “Tarpology” riff that makes me lose my mind again and again.

Once again, they get straight to business heading immediately into a funky section of improv jamming before Beck’s dobro decides its time to take over the jam, which is fine by me and everybody else in attendance. Coming to a close with the more traditionally acoustic introduction section of “Tarpology,” the Tarp-Boots sandwich clocks in at just over 23 minutes before one more Fruition vocal tease in between songs.

Bruzza’s “I’d Probably Kill You” from their 2011 album Handgunscame after a jam that seemed impossible to follow up, or at least I thought so. That was until I heard Skerik’s saxophone give this song a new sound that I’ve never heard before and I loved it. This is one of those Bruzza songs that is the perfect contrast to Hoffman’s vocals and lyrics and can be a necessary change of pace at times.

Back to Hoffman for the next song, “Demons.” A beautiful yet sad song, this is one of those tunes that you’re happy to see pop up at any point in the setlist and it always seems to fit perfectly. After staying quiet for awhile, Skerik comes through for one more tremendous solo before finally exiting the stage in what may be the best sit in I’ve ever seen with Greensky. The fearlessness with their improvisation allowed all of the artists to push themselves to areas that they don’t typically get to explore.

Following up the Skerik sit in was Bruzza’s take on the traditional bluegrass tune, “Down The Road.” A nice change of pace to remind us that we are indeed supposed at a bluegrass show.

The pretty instrumental “33443” which coincidentally clocked in at the 3:43 mark was next as it led into companion piece and Bruzza song “Wings For Wheels.” Always short and sweet, this version of “Wings For Wheels” hit the spot as it allowed us to regain our breath and sing along before heading into what was sure to be a monstrous set closer.

Monstrous, it was. Hoffman’s “Leap Year,” a fan favorite and also personal favorite closed the set. “How can one more day make a year so long?” Hoffman sings during what happens to be a leap year. Bruzza’s guitar improvisation was the clear stand out of the song, although Beck more than made his presence known. The great thing about this song is that even after a huge section of amazing improvisation, the best part is still yet to come. The fan chant and eventual call and response followed by some of my favorite Greensky lyrics and a powerful outro goes down as my favorite part of this song.

The crowd does the chant from “Leap Year” during the encore before Anders comes out with some banter about how we need to all get to sleep early so we can caucus for Bernie in the morning. Fittingly, they then played J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight” to close out the night. I’ll never complain about any band closing a show with this song.

Set One: We’re An American Band, Burn Them %, Rafters, Old Barns, Mr. Charlie*, Hook*, Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox, Great Atomic Power, Kerosene

Set Two: Just To Lie #, Tarpology > # Gumboots > # Tarpology #, I’d Probably Kill You #, Demons #, Down The Road, 33443, Wings For Wheels, Leap Year

Encore: After Midnight %

(*) With John Popper on vocals and harmonica
(#) With Skerik on Sax
(%) With Keith Kinnear on Tambourine Shake

The next morning, after returning to the Showbox Market to pick up our faces, we took off on the long trip to Eugene, Oregon. The only problem with following a band on tour in the Pacific Northwest is how far apart all of the tour stops are. The beauty along the way more than makes up for it, but the travel time can become a bit of a hassle. It changes your mindset while touring because instead of enjoying yourself all night and partying after the show, you have to keep in mind that you’ve got a 300 mile drive in the morning to get to the next stop. Believe me, one tour gone wrong with too much partying and you learn your lesson. With that in mind, we took it easy in Seattle and were rewarded for it in the morning with a smooth-sailing five hour drive down I-5 to Eugene.

Scott's Photo Gallery

Saturday March 26, 2016:

McDonald Theatre
Eugene, OR

Eugene is a place that is, for lack of a better term, just plain weird. I mean that in the most flattering way and coming from a Portlander, it should be quite the compliment. The creative energy that flows through the city is unlike any other I’ve been to and it is the without a doubt home to the Pacific Northwest’s best after-parties. It is one of those rare college towns that has just enough of a mix of awesome older locals to counter balance the wild college kids.

Eugene also has one of my favorite venues to see a show at, the McDonald Theatre. Run by the family of the late counterculture icon, famed author, and Merry Pranksters leader Ken Kesey, this theatre does an outstanding job of preserving the values of the 1960’s hippie counterculture and you would be hard pressed to ever come across more pleasant security and venue staff.

We entered the McDonald Theatre while the Shook Twins were already playing so I made sure to get down to the floor immediately to soak in as much of the Shookies’ set as I could. From what I saw, the highlight of the set was their dance-y cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together.” I am a huge fan of the way they mesh together genres that one would typically think have no business being together, like folk with rap or their willingness to add electronic elements to such an organic sound. I can’t stress enough how important it is to check these guys out if you’re unfamiliar with them because of how well they’re able to weave together diverse sounds that can make a fan out of the most unsuspecting person.

“Good evening,” Hoffman says as Greensky walks out on to the stage. His traditional introduction has been something I’ve been starting to pay attention to and by my count, he opened all three show over the weekend with his standard “Good evening” greeting.

A Hoffman tune from Handguns, “Jaywalking” opened up the evening. Always a treat as an opener, this is one of those songs that gets everybody in the crowd singing along. Not typically a song that strays too far from the norm, Beck spiced things up a little bit with some spacey dobro during the outro before coming to one final chorus and then playing the lead single from If Sorrow Swims, “Windshield”. I know I said that “Jaywalking” is a song that everybody loves to sing along to but this one takes the cake. I stood in place and looked around at everybody wailing along to Hoffman’s vocals at the top of their lungs and couldn’t help but smile. While a very sad song, “Windshield” seems to always get the crowd very excited and is the perfect song to prepare you for an upcoming jam, whatever that may be.

Sure enough, new song “Living Over” followed. What can I say about this song? After only a few months in rotation, it has clearly become a new fan favorite. Hoffman’s lyrics about the every day fight for your life are outstanding but are rivaled in attention by his magnificent mandolin work in the song, similar to the emotionally charged instrumentation in the “All Four” jams. Anders Beck’s dobro takes the jam to the next level as this song has become their newest home run hitter.

They slowed it down a bit with Hoffman’s “Against the Days” before picking the tempo back up with Bruzza’s take on the Stanley Brothers’ “How Mountain Girls Can Love.” This is a very fun bluegrass song that makes you want to dance at an uncontrollable pace.

Live staple and one of Hoffman’s most well written songs in my opinion, “All Four” followed and was a highlight of the show. Played for “that guy that kept yelling for it last night,” I will use this as my platform to thank “that guy.” This song is just absolutely jam-packed with a never ending amount of beautiful and emotional solos. Almost always clocking in at over 15 minutes of pure bliss, my face lights up every time I hear this one begin. I once heard someone go as far as to say that their ideal way to spend life would be wandering around lost somewhere inside of an “All Four” jam and I honestly don’t have any better words than that to explain how special this song is.

As “All Four” ends, a new microphone is brought on stage and Hoffman and Beck begin to banter about what that could possibly be for. All of a sudden Mimi Naja of Fruition appears on stage to chants of “Mimi! Mimi!” from the crowd. She lent her beautiful voice and outstanding talent on the mandolin to the final two songs of the set.

The first of which was a terrific soulful cover of Fruition’s “Santa Fe.” Things got turned up a notch after that as they began the old traditional “Reuben’s Train.” Always a fun jam, this version of “Reuben’s” excelled above the rest with a bit of mandolin madness from Naja and Hoffman. It's so fun watching these two play together because there is such pure joy emitting from their faces. They have an on-stage love for one another that is extremely obvious and even more contagious. Naja also added some soulful harmonies to Bruzza’s deep vocals that made for a delightfully unique sounding version of the song.

Another brand new song opened the second set, this time Hoffman’s “Fixin’ to Ruin.” This is another new one that fans are loving, albeit not quite on the same level as “Living Over.” Keeping the trend of new songs going, Bruzza played his new one “Take Cover” next. This song is definitely the most playful and funky of the trio of new songs the band has been playing recently.

The eerie and haunting sounds that followed could only mean one thing, it was time to “Bring Out Your Dead.” This song, rich with both instrumental and vocal effects, is about as far from bluegrass as you can get and one of the songs that so distantly separates Greensky from their jam-grass contemporaries. This is a rock n’ roll song, through and through.

A cover of the supergroup Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care” followed and this was a really fun one. Lasting over 13 minutes, the fun never seemed to end, continuing to reach new areas of improvisation until finally coming back into the song for one final chorus. Then came the fun, ever-changing, and somewhat nonsensical tune, “For Sure, Uh Huh.” In this song, Beck will typically engage Hoffman in some sort of conversation that requires him to answer with either "yes" or "no," essentially the only lyrics in the song. Eugene’s topic was whether or not Hoffman was having fun, which he indeed was.

Another fun one came next, Bruzza’s take on Jimmy Martin’s “Hit Parade of Love.” One thing that I love about this band is how they throw these old bluegrass covers into the middle of a bunch of non-bluegrass songs and it causes you to feel the need to take advantage of the fast tempo and dance as hard as you can. That’s a dynamic that some bluegrass bands lack. Afterwards, they slowed it down a bit with Hoffman’s “Forget Everything.” I enjoy this song a lot and don’t seem to hear it live as much as I would like.

Preceding “Broke Mountain Breakdown” was Beck’s usual banter about the song that is all completely untrue (Sorry Anders). He typically will say he just wrote the song that day or have some other wacky story about the origins of the song. The great thing is that after years of doing this, most people still fall for it and think it is in fact a newly written song since it’s all instrumental, but make no mistake, the die hards know exactly what he’s getting at as soon as he starts telling the crowd about “this new song he just wrote.” As a personal favorite of mine, I’m happy to hear Beck tell me whatever crazy stories he would like as long as he keeps playing this song. This version of “Broke Mountain Breakdown” was described as a new song being played for the first time, co-written by Beck and infamous Greensky superfan, Max Berde, at the baseball field the night before in Seattle. “He selfishly named it after himself,” Beck explains before introducing the song as the “Max Berde Breakdown.”

“Broke Mountain Breakdown” is another song brought to Greensky by Beck’s old band, the Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band. It starts in typical bluegrass fashion, trading off solos before all of a sudden, beck’s dobro brings down the funk upon everybody and it goes from bluegrass into an all out funk fest. This continued for another 10 minutes or so while I lost my mind dancing in the audience.

I mentioned “Bring Out Your Dead” earlier as being one of the songs that sets them apart from their contemporaries, and this is another one. If I could pick just one song to show somebody what makes Greensky so awesome and unique, it would be “Broke Mountain Breakdown”. From the picking at the beginning of the song to the dirty funk it develops into, if you can’t get into this song then Greensky Bluegrass probably isn’t for you.

The band then brought rapidly rising pianist Holly Bowling out for the last couple songs. Hoffman and Beck were on Jam Cruise this year with Bowling and there is even some awesome footage of them performing “2001” with the Werks floating somewhere around the internet.

The first song they played was “The Four” with Hoffman changing the lyrics to “I forgot about the six of us” to reflect the sixth member on stage. As “The Four” was ending, they segued into a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World.” A Grateful Dead cover is almost required when playing in Eugene, especially at Kesey’s venue. This is probably my favorite of their Dead covers and this version was even better than most with Bowling lending a beautiful solo to the 10+ minute jam that at one point gave us a full band “First Tube” Phish tease.

Bowling was brought back out again for the encore which was Hoffman’s fun song “Frederico.” This song asks “Who is Frederico?” and at one point, Hoffman pointed to a girl on someone’s shoulders in the audience to find out if she was, in fact, Frederico. She claimed she was so the lyrics were changed accordingly.

Set One: Jaywalking, Windshield, Living Over, Against the Days, How Mountain Girls Can Love, All Four, Santa Fe *#, Reuben's Train *

Set Two: Fixin’ to Ruin, Take Cover, Before Bring Out Your Dead > Bring Out Your Dead, Handle with Care, For Sure Uh Huh, Hit Parade of Love, Forget Everything, Broke Mountain Breakdown %, The Four ^ > Eyes of the World ^

Encore: Who is Frederico? ^!

(*) w/ Mimi Naja on mandolin and vocals
(#) First time played
(%) aka ‘The Max Berde Breakdown’
(^) w/ Holly Bowling on keys (!) w/ Keith Kinnear on vibraslap

Afterwards, while everybody was heading off to those famed Eugene after parties, my photographer and I decided it would be best to head back to my house in Portland to cut down the next morning’s drive to Spokane from 7 hours to 5. We know too well by now that if you stay in Eugene after a show, you’re not going to be sleeping that night.

We woke up Sunday morning feeling rejuvenated and ready to celebrate Easter with Greensky Bluegrass. Due to the remote location of Spokane, and the fact that it was an Easter Sunday show, we knew that this would be a “Pro Bowl” of sorts with only the most dedicated fans making it out to the Knitting Factory. The phrase “Never miss a Sunday show” ran through my head repeatedly as motivation for the long drive through the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge into the hills of Eastern Washington.

Coleman's Photo Gallery

Sunday March 27, 2016:

The Knitting Factory
Spokane, WA

Upon arriving in Spokane, I was thrilled to find out that we would be seeing the show at yet another awesome venue. The music venue the show is held at is often overlooked by bands, but Greensky has always done a great job of playing at the most fan-friendly venues in whatever town they stop in. Whether that be when they come to Portland and play the small 800-person Wonder Ballroom that they repeatedly sell out when there are two other bigger venues in town that Portlandians will be the first to let you know are both sub-par, or the fact that they played the better and smaller of the two Showbox venues in Seattle, to the McDonald in Eugene and the shockingly nice Knitting Factory in Spokane, they continue to play the best rooms in town and I can’t stress enough how much that helps facilitate an ideal concert experience.

After a long drive with a couple mishaps along the way, we unfortunately missed the Shook Twins set and walked in just seconds before Greensky began their cover of John Hartford’s “I’m Still Here” to open the show. Always fun hearing them cover Hartford, this was no different. Another cover was next, this time the gospel song “Jesus on the Mainline,” fitting for Easter Sunday. The religious theme continued afterwards with Hoffman’s “Reverend.” “Reverend” is one of my favorite Greensky songs lyrically and they don’t do much to change it up live and that’s perfectly fine by me. Not every song needs to be jammed out and those dynamics are another thing I really enjoy about this band.

Bruzza’s “Worried About the Weather” was next and man, oh man, it was a heater. One of the loudest songs of the weekend, it included some incredible interplay between Hoffman’s mandolin and Beck’s dobro. Segueing directly into Hoffman’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” made this the highlight of the night. “Atlantic City” is arguably their best cover which is saying something for a band that regularly covers five or more songs per show. For that reason, it is always a crowd pleaser as well.

Bruzza’s take on the traditional tune “Send Me Your Address From Heaven” continued the Easter themed setlist and it was at this point that I began to notice how much fun the band was having on stage. If it weren’t for the obvious excitement and energy coming from the stage after their appearance at the Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle, this would’ve been the most fun I saw them have all weekend. Hoffman’s “Tuesday Letter” from the album of the same name followed and is always a fun sing along song.

Next, was a very eerie and spacey intro filled with bass and in my head I figured it had to be “Bring Out Your Dead” again, but was convinced not because it would be the first repeat of the weekend. Then I thought about the obvious Easter connotations and sure enough, the heavy “Bring Out Your Dead” began.

Afterwards was another repeat and obvious exception on Easter Sunday, “Living Over.” We all know the love for this song by now, but let me reiterate on just how great this song is and that I am okay with hearing it as many times as they would like to play it. This was another scorching version to close the set that got so intense that Hoffman even lost his Easter bunny ears off his head for the first time in the show. Get to know this song if you aren’t already familiar.

Set two opened with another logical song in what had been a very logical Easter Sunday setlist thus far, Hoffman’s “What’s Left of the Night.” Another Hoffman song and old school favorite “Less Than Supper” followed before things got a little wild.

Bont’s banjo introduction to Bruzza’s “Freeborn Man” was exceptional and then suddenly they were breaking into a full band extended tease of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine” with the word “cocaine” changed to “Spokane,” an homage to a 1996 Phish show in Spokane where they did the same. They then jumped right back into “Freeborn Man” as Beck unloaded tease after tease upon us, most notably another “Cocaine” tease and a couple of “Reuben’s Train” teases.

“Freeborn Man” really showcases how powerful of a voice Dave Bruzza has. It's almost a bit of a bummer that Hoffman has such great charisma as a front man because it sometimes overshadows how incredibly talented Bruzza is. The guy can play guitar with the best of them and has a terrific voice with a surprising amount of range and power.

Some more fantastic interplay between Hoffman and Beck as well as another extremely funky jam led me to marking down in my notes at this point that they are “the funkiest bluegrass band on the planet” and while a bit of an oxymoron, it’s hard to disagree with.

An always fun cover of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” followed before the goofy and equally fun interlude “Hots Dogs (On Parade)” led us into another version of “I’d Probably Kill You.” I struggled trying to figure out why this was repeated since it doesn’t seem to be an Easter exception, but based off of the banter before “Hot Dogs” it seemed that this had been a requested song by somebody who could only make the Spokane show.

The gospel tune and Bill Monroe cover “Crying Holy Unto the Lord” was next before a huge “Don’t Lie” appeared to close the second set. The intro to “Don’t Lie” began and led into a couple of hefty “Foxy Lady” teases by Beck with even the Lighting Designer Andrew Lincoln getting in on the tease by blasting the intense red and white light setting he uses for “Foxy Lady” during Beck’s teases.

Eventually, the “Foxy Lady” teases gave way to a full performance of the song with Hoffman on vocals and Beck’s loud dobro before diving straight back into “Don’t Lie” and picking up right where they had left off. On a normal night, I’d be happy with either of these songs closing a set so to get that full “Don’t Lie” after “Foxy Lady” was a true treat and I made sure to soak it all in. “Don’t Lie” is a very emotional song with room for ample improvisation that has become a popular set closer amongst both the band and fans alike.

As the band comes back out for the encore they give us one last dose of their classic, almost always false, banter. They had mentioned earlier in the show at the end of the first set that they had hidden easter eggs around the venue with special prizes in them. I knew that this was just a joke to make people look dumb while looking around the venue for easter eggs at set break and the funny thing is that it actually worked. Just before they began the encore, Hoffman says to keep an eye out for the egg with $500 in it. “I hid it real good,” he chuckles.

Jimmy Martin’s “Drink Up and Go Home” was the choice for encore song and a perfect choice it was. I tend to be one of the people that prefers an upbeat encore over a slow one, but it's hard to argue against this song being a perfect fit to end a show. I made my way to the rail one last time for this one to truly soak in the last few minutes of music and reflect on what an amazing weekend it had been.

Set One: I'm Still Here, Jesus on the Mainline, Reverend, Worried About the Weather, Atlantic City, Send Me Your Address From Heaven, Tuesday Letter, Before Bring Out Your Dead > Bring Out Your Dead, Living Over

Set Two: What's Left of the Night, Less Than Supper, Freeborn Man > Cocaine tease > Freeborn Man, Money for Nothing, Hot Dogs (On Parade), I'd Probably Kill You, Crying Holy Unto the Lord, Don't Lie > Foxy Lady > Don’t Lie

Encore: Drink Up and Go Home

Coleman's Photo Gallery