For many people, The Grateful Dead have always been a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. The band’s slavishly devoted army of Deadheads (which still exists today, turning up to see Furthur, the band that includes erstwhile GD singer/guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh) connects to the jazzy fluidity of the band’s instrumental improv, the killer catalog of classic songs penned by Jerry Garcia, lyricist Robert Hunter, and company, as well as the slightly stoned sense of bonhomie that has always emanated from the psychedelic warriors’ core. The Dead’s detractors, on the other hand, deem the band’s jams overlong and sleep-inducing, abhor the hippie aesthetic the group always embodied, and take issue with their hit-and-miss approach to vocal intonation. Apart from those who have never heard them, almost everyone has a strong opinion about The Grateful Dead, winding up either in the love or hate camp sooner or later.
So if someone’s going to write a critically-balanced book about the band, who better than one of the few music fans”and certainly one of the only rock critics”who has found himself on both sides of the fence at various points? Granted, veteran music journalist Gene Sculatti (author of 1982’s seminal Catalog of Cool and 1985’s San Francisco Nights: The Psychedelic Music Trip, among others) isn’t exactly objective when it comes to the subject, but among rock writers, he’s in a unique position to discourse on the Dead”he was there from the start. I always get caught in the middle, says Sculatti, whose new Rhino eBook bears the self-explanatory title Dark Stars & Anti-Matter: 40 Years of Loving, Leavin, and Making Up With the Music of The Grateful Dead. Because I saw them in the beginning, and most of the records I still evaluate in terms of, ˜Does this resemble the way it was then, live?’
Sculatti first saw the band at San Francisco’s famed psychedelic-era venue The Avalon Ballroom in the spring of 1966, about a year in advance of the first Grateful Dead album. That’s one of the greatest gifts anyone ever gave to me, says Sculatti, to be there then and see that. You’re 18 or 19 years old¦this brand new thing that’s never been before is springing up and you happen to be there a couple of feet from it. It’s just incredible to read in the paper about some group with a crazy name like Big Brother & The Holding Company or something and go to this place where it was and see it with light shows and everything that accompanied it. And that’s when I started writing, because there was a little paper there in Frisco. That was my impetus too for writing about the Dead this time”there were things I hadn’t said about seeing them at that time.
The holiday season is supposed to appeal to all of our finer instincts as sentient earthlings ”at least that’s the idea that’s been inculcated in us practically since birth. So why is its annual arrival commonly greeted with the kind of dull-eyed existential dread otherwise reserved for tax audits, traffic court and other such frivolities? Maybe it’s because of the stress that comes along with finding just the right gifts for all the loved ones on our lists. After all, some folks are a snap”another Xbox game, Scotch bottle or sweater, and they’re set”but everyone’s holiday shopping list always contains at least one or two of the type we’ll term “The Difficult Ones.” Their tastes are micro-specific, and they usually seem to want nothing, already have everything or both. With that in mind, in the interest of sucking some of the stress out of the season, here are a few humble holiday gift suggestions for “The Difficult Ones” in your own life, conveniently organized by personality type.
The Classic Rockers
Jimi Hendrix – Winterland
Do you have a dude in your life”and in this context, “dude” couldn’t be a more appropriate designation”whose idea of extreme sports is playing air guitar to Bachman-Turner Overdrive while pedaling his exercise bike? Someone whose TV remote has somehow been programmed to never depart from the VH1 Classic channel? He may already have every classic-rock reissue, remaster and repackaging you could conceive of, but he hasn’t gotten around to this one yet”five live discs featuring Jimi Hendrix in his prime at the legendary Winterland Ballroom. Iit’ll send any card-carrying Classic Rocker into a state of six-string ecstasy.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone to call metal funky. But, if there was ever a band to excel at bringing the groove”among other things”to the age-old genre, it would be Primus. Then again, the storied group, that is most well known for creating the theme song for the popular satire cartoon series South Park, has been categorized in a plethora of different genres ranging anywhere from progressive rock to grunge to thrash to post-punk to psychedelica. Despite a brief hiatus in 2001, Primus has returned with a renewed energy and, after going through a number of lineup changes throughout its history, has settled into its current trio. Guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde was kind enough to spend some time with OurStage to give us an insider view of the creation of Primus’ latest album Green Naugahyde, the band’s upcoming tour and his experience working with the band’s returning drummer Jay Lane.
OS: There are a lot of different ways that the band has been described over the years. If you had to describe your own music with a term or a phrase, what would you use?
LL: Yeah, you’re right, because over the years it’s been called everything. Ahh, it’s just, you know, it’s Freedom Rock. Do you know Freedom Rock? [laughs]
OS: You were on a brief hiatus before you recorded this album. What was it like to come back together and record this?
LL: Well, it was actually pretty great for me, because I was pretty anxious to do some more Primus. When it all came together, and then Jay ended up being in the band and we got in a room and started playing, it was great, because all of a sudden we started writing songs. We had done some gigs over the last ten years but we hadn’t really done any writing or recording. So, you know, over that amount of time, I had come up with a lot of song ideas. Sometimes you’ll come up with an idea and you’re like Aww, that’s a great Primus song and so you don’t use it for anything else and then it kind of sits around. So, for me, it was great to all of a sudden to throw in these things that I had been sitting around waiting to use for Primus for a long time. (more…)
LCD Soundsystem announced their last show of their final tour a few weeks ago, as though you hadn’t already heard. On April 2nd, the band will grace the stage at Madison Square Garden for their sold out farewell show, capping off a valediction of both shocking and well deserved amounts of hype. They will play their swan song, they will leave the stage and that will be the end of one of the great dance-punk bands of our generation. We’re still bummed that we couldn’t get tickets to that show, or to any of the ever increasing number of gigs leading up to the MSG date (Side note: kudos to James Murphy for blasting the scalpers! Seriously, that guy is a class act).
But that’s beside the point. It got us thinking, LCD Soundsystem made a big deal out of this being their farewell tour but they hadn’t really earned their bonafides a live band du jour, as a touring entity, up until that point. Unlike LCD, there are some bands that have always made a big deal out of their live show, that seem to exist only to tour. Not that that’s a bad thing. Let’s take a look at some of the artists we hope never stop touring:
A rolling stone gathers no moss, and even though Dylan is old enough to have moss grow on him, there’s no stopping this man’s touring regimen. His tour schedule since June of 1988 has been dubbed the “Never Ending Tour“; this globe-trotting tour has Dylan performing around 100 days out of the year, and he’s kept up this pace in spite of the fact that he’s almost a septuagenarian. You’d think the man might want a break or a nap or something after so many years. Still, he’s already got April dates lined up in Australia. We should count ourselves lucky that we’ve heard so much from him, and we’ll probably be hearing more from Bob in years to come.
Reel Big Fish
These ska-punk workhorses have been at it longer than most of their ilk from the mid ’90s. You could’ve gone to see them at some festival in middle school, you caught them in the club when they headlined in high school and you went to their show again in college when you were feeling a wee bit nostalgic. They just wrapped up a tour with fellow goof-punk road warriors The Aquabats in January. So what do they have on their plate for the upcoming year? A European tour, you say? Suprise suprise.
This spot could have easily gone to Dave Matthews Band if they weren’t planning on taking 2011 off, kinda. And sure, some may cry foul as there was a long stretch when Phish didn’t tour, but we won’t count periods of band hiatuses/ breakups.
Phish’s reputation as a band is based off of their live show. Not only in how technically good it is or how “communal” (read: chemically altered) the atmosphere at one of their gigs is but also in how Phish fosters the live experience with their fans. For those who don’t follow the band, Phish’s fandom is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s and a lot of other prominent jam bands of yore. And a big aspect of that culture is bootlegging. I won’t go into the number of Phish phan phorums (I’m sorry) on the Internet; suffice it to say, they’re numerous. The online dedication to Phish is also unique in the number of ways fans can get their hands on live material from the band. You can find high quality audio recordings from nearly every live set the band has done on their Web site and the fan bootlegs and set lists for Phish shows spanning their entire career can be found all over the web.
The man has been in the solo game for about 5 years now and has taken to touring with a workmanlike approach. There’s no need to count his time in hardcore band Million Dead in his total number of shows played because his solo schedule is so impressive that it speaks for itself. Since Turner started flying solo, he’s played over 1000 shows at a rate of a little over 200 shows a year. And he’s still had time to record three LPs, a handful of EPs and demos on top of all that. I wonder if he’ll go out on the road behind his next album?
What artist would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments.
When it started looking like the end of the road for the liver that the notoriously hard-living Gregg Allman has had a love-hate relationship with for the last 62 years, things became pretty precarious for the Allman Brothers Band, with whom Gregg’s been hammering the keys and hollering the blues for more than 40 of those years. The ABB are, after all, probably the longest-lived rock & roll road warriors, at least since the 1995 passing of Jerry Garcia made The Dead considerably less Grateful.
The Allman Brothers Band has long understood what most artists are only just now realizing”that the only real money to be made in music comes from hardcore touring. Their annual multi-week residencies at New York’s Beacon Theatre became the stuff of legend, at least until 2010, when the venue foresaw a bigger payday from the new Cirque du Soleil show “Banana Shpeel”, throwing the veteran road dogs over for”quite literally”a bunch of clowns (for what it’s worth, the neo-vaudeville event received withering reviews).
But the biggest roadblock of all came when world-class tippler Allman”who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2007”finally underwent a liver transplant last June. The band canceled an appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival and put the kibosh on all touring plans. Nobody”including the convalescing singer”knew whether this meant the end of the journey for the Southern rock heroes, though Allman remained optimistic.
It turns out that Allman’s innards are more resilient than “Banana Shpeel”, though, and the band has now announced a return to the stage, with a short fall tour that kicks off on November 11th at the Tower Theatre in PA and ends up with a three-night stand at the Orpheum in Boston. Both the Philly and Beantown stints are already sold out, and Allman has been quoted as offering two words that say it all: I’m ready.
11 – TOWER THEATRE, Upper Darby, PA – SOLD OUT!
12 – DAR CONSTITUTION HALL, Washington, DC
13 – ETESS ARENA, TRUMP TAJ MAHAL, Atlantic City, NY
15 – PALACE THEATER, Albany, NY
16 – FOXWOODS RESORT CASINO, Mashantucket, CT
18 – ORPHEUM THEATER Boston, MA – SOLD OUT!
19 – ORPHEUM THEATER Boston, MA – SOLD OUT!
20 – ORPHEUM THEATER Boston, MA – SOLD OUT!
By Jim Allen
Jim Allen has contributed to a wide range of print and online outlets including RollingStone.com, MOJO, Village Voice, Uncut, VH1.com, iTunes, All Music Guide, CMT.com, The Advocate, Prefix, Blurt and many more.