THE ROCK REPORT: COUNTING CROWS @ RUTH ECKERD HALL (CLEARWATER, FL.)

As much as the Violent Femmes spoke to me as an angst/hormone riddled teenager, August And Everything After spoke to me as a 20 year old manchild struggling to find my way in an adult’s world. Over the years The Counting Crows and I have grown & matured together, and as a result I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I am indeed a Counting Crows fan. That said, until Monday night I’d never seen the band live, so when Creative Loafing started looking for someone to cover the show I jumped at the opportunity.

The warnings were sent out weeks in advance, this show was structured differently and you needed to be in your seat by 7:00, else you’d be missing the show. My brother and I complied by getting there at 6:15 and pounding 6 dollar whiskey drinks until the loud speakers said we had 5 minutes till show time.

The curtains rose and we were greeted with 18 musicians all playing on a single stage. The structure of the show featured The Counting Crows, Michael Franti & Spearhead and Augustana all playing on stage together, with musicians flowing on and off stage all night. This made the show 3 1/2 hours of nonstop music, with each band getting miniature sets alone and also connected via multiband collaborations…almost a live mix from band to band to band, if you will. The flow really kept me engaged while still allowing for times to go grab a fresh whiskey drink where you knew you weren’t gonna miss what you came to see (me = crows, my brother = franti).

The Crows ran through a collection of the songs you expected to hear and some you didn’t. Being a subscriber to the Jimi Hendrix theory of “if you wanted to hear the album you should have stayed home and listened to it”, I appreciated the fact that each song was given its own treatment live instead of just playing it the way you’re used to hearing it on cd and the radio. Conspicuously missing from the Crows’ setlist was “Mr. Jones” and “Perfect Blue Buildings”. While I was surprised at the absence of “Mr. Jones” I could understand and respect why they omitted it from the show, but I was admittedly disappointed in not getting to hear “Perfect Blue Buildings” in a live setting.

Michael Franti & Spearhead’s contribution to the night was largely based in a hiphop infused reggae sound that, while engaging enough, isn’t really my thing and I largely used their mini-sets for my whiskey breaks.

Augustana was the great unknown for myself and it was difficult to get a gauge on their music based on what little solo time they got during the show, but their performances while on stage with Franti and the Crows did impress me enough that did download two of their albums today (yes, i admit it…god killed two kittens today because of me).

As Andy (my brother) and I left Ruth Eckerd with a tipsy heads and muffled ears we both agreed that The Traveling Circus and Medicine Show was, in a word (or so), A Fucking Awesome Show and I doubt I’ll be missing the next Counting Crows tour.

Unless it comes to that p.o.s. amphitheater.

You can see more pictures courtesy of Traci May here.

Augustana – 20 Years
Michael Franti & Spearhead – Hello Bonjour
Counting Crows – A Long December

Augustana & The Counting Crows – Just Like A Woman (Live From Ruth Eckerd Hall)

THE ROCK REPORT – DEEP BLUES FESTIVAL

It’s taken me quite some time to get around to writing this recap. Personally, I find that when writing about festivals it’s best to marinate on them for a while after they’re over. This lets the truly enjoyable moments rise to the top, and such is the case with the Deep Blues Festival.

My personal experience for this year’s festival was night and day from last. See, last year I went up to Minneapolis alone and didn’t know anyone. So as a result, it was all about the music. I saw every song by every band. This year things were different, not only did I take the wife and her friend with me, but over the past year I’d managed to become decent friends with many of the bands playing the fest. An added distraction was that the festival was in a bar this year, which not only allowed for simultaneous shows to be occurring inside as well as outside, but it also allowed a person to drink just as much as they pleased (and we did). So, while it was as much a social event as it was a music event for me this year, it was also 100% more fun. I think Chris has really struck gold by moving the festival to The Cabooze. It’s right on the light rail line with easy access to downtown restaurants and hotels and was a mighty upgrade from the field it was held in last year. Even the weather gods smiled upon this change and mostly kept the rain away. Enough about that though, let’s talk about the music a little.

Thursday night, after being up since 5:30 in the morning, we pounded a few drinks at the hotel and headed out to The Cabooze for a little Left Lane Cruiser / Radio Moscow action. We’d caught Left Lane in an empty bar here in St. Pete a few days before, so it was nice to catch them in a packed house where everyone knew all the words to all the songs. The band was obviously feeding off this energy as the show wore on, playing requests as well as a healthy selection of songs from their upcoming album. At one point during their set, Brenn (drummer) missed his drum and broke his finger on the edge of it. Instead of calling it a night, Brenn just duct taped the drumstick to his hand and soldiered on…if that ain’t rock and roll then I don’t even know what is. Unfortunately we were only able to catch 2 songs from Radio Moscow, but the early hours & excessive whiskey finally got the upper hand and we had to find a bed. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Friday morning came and some seriously cold (for a Floridian) weather came with it, so after breakfast/early lunch I sent the wife and our friend downtown to buy us some warmer clothes. All of this resulted in us getting to the festival a lot later than we’d planned, but what are you gonna do? I’m from Florida- I do heat, not cold. We got there in time to see everyone I needed to, so let’s run through some of the highlights.

One band that came highly recommended from my buddy here in Florida was Red Clay River. Their mournful country sounds were exactly what I needed on a chilly Friday afternoon. Friday was a weird day. As I’ve said before, it was cold (even for Minnesota) and my wife and her friend were drinking at an utterly freakish pace. I mean, I’m not complaining, it was just sort of weird to see her bringing me a fresh beverage while there was still 1/4 of a drink left in my current one. While reminiscing about the festival this week, my wife had this to say about Friday, “I remember at one point thinking, I’ve never been this fucked up in public before in my life and the sun is still up.” As the day wore on, we drank with Brenn from LLC, Parker from Radio Moscow, Scotty from Poopdeflex and there is cloudy recollection of there being others, but nothing concrete. One of the “must see” bands of the festival for me was Davina & the Vagabonds, and I was center stage when they got started. Davina & The Vagabonds. In a word: sexy. In a tweet: “Davina and the Vagabonds. Music you should fuck to.“ These guys (and gal) are truly an undiscovered gem hanging out in Minneapolis. Between trips to the bar, greenroom, inside stages, outside stages & BS sessions with folks, we caught bits and pieces of Smokestack, Gravelroad, Deadeye and Porkchop, before settling in at one of the outside stages to catch the last ever performance of American Relay. They rocked the stage like there was no tomorrow and our little scene will be worse off without them. After the American Relay show we managed to catch a little bit of the T-Model Ford show before we had to leave to catch the Slim Cessnas Auto Club show in St. Paul (more on that tomorrow).

A neat story. On the way home Friday night I get an email from Matthew Dean Herman (wrote about him here). Turns out, he was in Minneapolis from Anchorage, Alaska so his daughter could attend a hockey camp. He was interested in checking out DBF before he had to leave on Saturday. I send an email back telling him how cool that would be, gave him my cell number and told him where we were staying. Turns out he was staying literally 4 doors down from us. It’s a small world indeed.

Sunday morning came and the revelry of the prior day and night had a price that needed to be paid. I finally got the wife and co. up and moving and we got to DBF in time to get a few whiskey drinks in me before Poopdeflex took the stage. Now Poopdeflex had come highly recommended from fellow Ft. Wayne resident Brenn (Left Lane Cruiser) as an act that needed to be witnessed. Poopdeflex plays a version of the blues that dabbles in metal and punk as much as it does the blues, while his treatment of the crowd is planted firmly in “hostile”, dropping nuggets such as, “God damn, they make folks ugly up here is Minnesota”, “I hear there’s are really good band playing inside, maybe you fuckers should go in there and check them out…I won’t mind” & “I hate critics, and I hate fans too”. We thought it was hilarious, but the bulk of the Minnesotans failed to see the humor in it. As the day wore on I managed to match the drinking pace the wife set the night before, while she limped along. We wandered back and forth between the inside stage and the outside stages until an (at the time) unknown gem by the name of Tom VandenAvond grabbed us by the backs of our heads. He also plays in The Woodsboss, which is the band that formed in the wake of The Weary Boys…a fact (him being a member) I didn’t know until I was talking to him later in the day. Later came the highlight of the entire weekend, The Black Diamond Heavies. Anytime the Black Diamond Heavies are in the house, odds are they’re the highlight and it’s a burden they’re proud to carry. They managed to put on the typical show, which is to say it was fucking awesome. After the Heavies I gotta be honest, my night devolves into a whiskey induced haze….a byproduct of this year’s fest being as much a social event as it was a musical event, which is to say it was fucking awesome.

Sunday, instead of going to the Gospel brunch, we elected to spend our last few hours in Minneapolis sight-seeing. We had brunch at this place called the Uptown where we drank Bloody Marys in pint glasses we got to keep and ate burgers with bacon and eggs on them. All in all, while some of the evenings started to blur and the lineup wasn’t as heavyweight-studded as last year’s, it made up for that by ramping the fun level up tenfold. As we boarded the plane to come home Sunday afternoon, the wife and her friend were already making plans to return for the fest next year.

Hopefully, there will be a next year.

Next week I’ll post a photoblog of the weekend and an interview or two.

Left Lane Cruiser – Big Mama
American Relay – Bonedry
Davina and the Vagabonds – St. Michael Vs. the Devil
Red Clay River – Letters To The Sky
Tom VandenAvond – Bones
Black Diamond Heavies – Smoothe It Out

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS – LIVE FROM AUSTIN, TX.

Through 25 years, two lineup arrangements and eight albums, it’s really hard to believe that September 26, 2008 was the Drive-By Truckers’ first ever appearance on PBS’s Austin City Limits. Seizing the opportunity, Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood and Co. put on a show that, while more sober than most, is as good as I’ve seen from them.

The pressed collars and the lower volumes allows the strength of the songs themselves to really stand out to the point where I’ve had to rethink some songs I didn’t even like (“Puttin’ People On The Moon”, “Space City”) prior to watching the DVD. I was also really happy to see personal faves like “Zip City” and “The Living Bubba” make it into the performance. One real high point of the performance has to be “18 Wheels of Love”, which also happens to be “the final performance of the song ever”, where Patterson adds another chapter to his mother & stepfather’s story that is almost too good to be true (but you’ll have to buy the album to hear it).

While the cd of this release is good enough, the real value is the multi-angle wide-screen HD video/DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound DVD. The dvd begs for you to pour a whiskey drink, turn the volume up to 20, sit back, close your eyes and enjoy. While it won’t live up to a real life DBT show, it will certainly help fill the void in between them.

Drive-By Truckers – A Ghost To Most
Drive-By Truckers – Puttin’ People On The Moon
Drive-By Truckers – Zip City

Drive-By Truckers Official Site, Drive-By Truckers on myspace, Buy Live From Austin, Tx.