Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Four Days of Music Completed - The Hot Seats, Grisman and Phish

Laura and I just completed a four night run of seeing live music.  On Thursday, June 16, 2011 we traveled to VA Beach to see local string band favorites The Hot Seats at Doc Taylor's Seaside Lounge.  I've seen the Hot Seats (AKA Special Ed & the Shortbus) many times over the last 5 or 6 years, and they never disappoint.  This night was no exception.  The Hot Seats were without their fiddler for this show, and while that does leave a void, I think it also inspired them to do a creative setlist that included covers like Morning Blues, Rye Whiskey, as well as rarely played originals like Drag Rag and Sell Your Babies to the Army.  This was a free show near the main drag of a touristy area, so it attracted a unique variety of people.  The crowd was a combination of sketchy VA Beach locals/hobos, drunken blue collar tourists on vacation, seasoned bar regulars, old fans of the band, and friends & family.  A weird combination but the band made the most of it; playing one of the most fun shows I have ever seen them do.  Right up until the end when an intoxicated, but seemingly harmless (???) local helped himself to the drum set during Sandy Boys, one of my favorite songs they play.   
The Hot Seats with "new" drummer.  Picture by Laura Fields.

Unfortunately the band wasn't charmed with this dude's boldness, and when a cue to get off the drums was mistaken for a drum solo, the song ended mid-way and the show was over.   

A side note: free evening parking is almost non-existent during the summer months in the touristy area of VA Beach, but if you are going to Doc Taylor's and arrive early you may be able to find a spot in the small lot behind the building. (Wish I had known this first - it would have saved 20 minutes of driving around looking for a spot). 

We made the drive from VA Beach back to Richmond the next day - a trip which should take less than 2 hours under normal conditions.  However, due to the worst traffic jams I have ever encountered on this route, it took approximately 4 hours to complete leaving us no time to stop by home first.  I don't handle traffic stress very well anyway, so it was a relief to finally pull up near Brown's Island at six o'clock in plenty of time to catch Friday Cheers, which consisted of The Hot Seats again, but this time opening for the David Grisman Sextet.  The weather looked very iffy minutes before show time, with some dark clouds, wind, and rain looming.  However by the start time of 6:30pm all rain and clouds had ceased and it made for a beautiful evening.  I think the weather contributed to a lighter turnout initially, so The Hot Seats didn't play to as large of a crowd as I had hoped.  This time with their fiddler Graham DeZarn, the song selections consisted of their most road-tested and crowd pleasing numbers, boiled down to a 45 minute set meant to impress, or at least not offend, the "Touch of Grey" crowd assembled to see Grisman.  I suspect the Sam Stone cover went over particularly well with this bunch.  I have seen The Hot Seats do all these songs many times before but I still enjoyed it because of the setting and having some good friends join us made it even better.  Soon, however, the Hot Seats were done and it was time for the David Grisman Sextet to come on stage.

It'd been, I dunno, maybe 13 years since I'd last seen the David Grisman Quintet live.  I don't really keep up with his music or career that closely so I was interested in seeing what he's been up to.  Like myself, the main reason over half the crowd is even there is because of Grisman's association with Jerry Garcia, and of course Grisman always plays into this with his notorious name-dropping and banter between songs.  His band consisted of veteran flute, bass and drum players, and newer guys on fiddle and guitar.  The sound was basically the same as I remember, or maybe a little more "lite" than before.  I prefer music with a little bit more bite, I think.  Grisman's sound is almost too jazz-grassy for my taste and it was easy to let your attention wander during this set.   There were moments when I really enjoyed it, and it was relaxing, but nothing about it blew me away.  The flute player was dressed in a way that you couldn't help but make fun of, and there were also many jokes made - mostly by me - about this being a "sex" tet.  It was over fairly early, around 10pm, but instead of going home and getting a good night's rest before Phish the next two days, I was talked into going to The Camel to see two more bands.

There's not a whole lot to tell about the remainder of this night.  I had drank very little up to this point because I was driving, but when we got to the packed club to see the local Richmond Bands Black Girls and No BS Brass I knew I wouldn't be driving any more for the night so I had a few beers and mainly hung out at the bar, occasionally checking out the music.  From what I heard Black Girls sounded pretty good - kinda like a cross between Modest Mouse and Dr. Dog.  No BS played after them, but I just didn't have the energy or interest to fully enjoy it by then.  It was getting late and this was musical overload.  Unfortunately instead of getting to bed at a decent hour I stayed up too late, drank some more, and then still got up early the next morning for the drive down to Raleigh to see Phish.

Phish is a band I have seen about 45 times; my first show being in 1994 at Richmond's Classic Amphitheater.  At this point I don't really listen to Phish's music all that much during everyday life, although I still like to keep up with their setlists and read reviews of their shows.  More than anything else, the shows themselves are a good opportunity to hang out with friends who live too far away to get together on a regular basis.  Anyway Laura and I got an early start and arrived at our hotel in Raleigh shortly after noon, which allowed time for a nap.  Soon our friends joined us at the hotel with stories of a great show in Charlotte the night before and hilarious post-show adventures ("Mike Jordan...He Retired") and we were off to a couple bars for some pre-game drinking.  (Raleigh's Flying Saucer pub is awesome!).  Now a caveat: if liquor ever crosses my lips, as it did on this day in the form of Jameson Irish Whiskey, then you can forget about it.  So by showtime I was basically an idiot.  Yeah some good songs were played in the first set, including Peaches N' Regalia and Ballad of Curtis Lowe, 2nd set had Esther and Caspian, but towards the middle of the 2nd set I started to fade out a bit.  When they began Kill Devil Falls - a song I have no interest in even on the clearest of days - I was done both mentally and physically.  The long improv jam during Split Open and Melt, a highlight for most people, was lost on me.  I was tuckered out.  So that was how I experienced Raleigh unfortunately.

Fortunately we were able to sleep until about 10am on Sunday, which helped prepare me for the 3 hour drive to Portsmouth.  A quick side trip back to VA Beach for some home cooked food put me in the right mood for this night.  The venue Phish plays at in Portsmouth is one of my favorite places to see them.  I was looking forward to an easy going night at a cool venue seeing one of the world's best bands with a good group of friends.  Phish opened with Harpua and the crowd got pretty excited as a result (this was the first time it's opened a show since 1989, and I don't think it's been played that much to begin with).  Harpua is a fun song and it was special to hear it as an opener due to the mystique around it.  The band's dads all came out for a portion of the song (it was Father's day).  This light-hearted opener set a nice mood for the show, although it would get pretty dark and menacing later.  Timber Ho was another song I really liked in the first set.  In the 2nd set Sand was the definite highlight, with lots of high-energy jamming and an unexpected stop-start moment.  Walls of the Cave was also a standout song, and I particularly liked the Julius encore on this night.  Nonetheless, this show featured a lot of Trey falling back on signature guitar licks and riffs rather than the true off-the-cuff jamming that made shows from the past years so special.  It was still the heat...well played with a good choice of songs. 

We would use the next day, Monday, as a day off to relax and take our time getting home (traffic strikes again!!!) before resuming normal life, as it were.  We actually drove back into Portsmouth on Monday and lunched in the Olde Towne area - something I had completely missed seeing during the two Phish shows here.  The downtown area is a quaint and pretty part of Portsmouth with lots of nice architecture and cool looking bars and restaurants.  I had no idea this was here, only a couple blocks from the parking lot where we had hung out the day before!  There you have it.  The best overall nights of this four-show run were definitely The Hot Seats in VA Beach on Thursday and Phish on Sunday in Portsmouth.

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