Blair’s Golden Road Blog— Phish, WSP, Derek and Other “Fellow Travelers”
I don’t dig Phish. Lord knows I’ve tried. Through the years I’ve had so many people attempt to convert me. I dutifully auditioned live CDs fanatical fans would pass to me. I checked out every studio album that came my way, wondering if this would be the Phish album that would have songs that actually resonated with me. I recall when one came out a number of years ago a Phish Head pal proclaimed it “Phish’s American Beauty.” Uh, no. I watched most of a live Phish DVD a while ago, wondering if perhaps the visual element would get me off. Nope. “But you gotta see a show, man!” No doubt. I’m still open to that. But at this point, I really have heard many hours of Phish and it just doesn’t do it for me. The songs don’t sing to my soul, and even though the musicianship is clearly amazing on a technical level, it doesn’t hit me emotionally.
I’ve been through similar scenes with other jam bands (and my friends who like ’em). I can at least understand why Phish appeals to people, but in the case of Widespread Panic I don’t have a clue. They sound completely ordinary to me. Again, I’ve given them multiple chances to show me something — live and studio CDs — but the song craft isn’t there for me, the guitar playing does not blow my mind, and they lack even that quirky dimension that Phish has (way too much of). I suppose I have to see them live, too. So, who’s got my 10th row-center miracle ticket for that show? ’Cause in this era, with ticket prices what they are, I ain’t spending my concert money on a headliner there’s a good chance I won’t enjoy.
But here’s the thing: I root for both of those bands, and really, just about all jam bands, because they are “fellow travelers.” No, not fellow communists, as that term was originally applied decades ago, but musicians out of the mainstream dedicated to playing improvisational music before spirited and adventure-seeking crowds. I like any crowd that will dance—sorry, just standing there doesn’t count; gotta shake it at least a little — and any band that will get people up and moving. To me, it’s the highest form of musical communion. The Grateful Dead completely spoiled me, because not only did they inspire you to dance, they had perhaps the greatest song catalog (originals and covers) of any band ever, so every part of your body-mind-spirit was engaged. At this point, I’ve learned to go to shows not expecting that sort of soul-elevating trifecta, so I am often pleasantly surprised when I get one or two, and if not for an entire evening, at least in spurts.
It’s not like I want or expect bands to sound at all like the Grateful Dead. Yes, I love Furthur—it’s those guys and those songs, brought into The Now. But, as I’ve noted before, Dark Star Orchestra, who sound more like the Dead than Furthur, don’t do it for me. Even so, I still want them to do well, because they’re fellow travelers fighting the good fight and providing a space for the people who like them to experience something soulful and true.
My favorite of the first wave of jam bands — moe.— doesn’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead. Nor does String Cheese Incident, who I’ve enjoyed intermittently through the years. SCI and moe. also have made studio albums I love: Untying the Not and Wormwood respectively, and have written many fine songs. A group that I’ve come to love the last few years who go to some similar musical places as the Grateful Dead but in a completely different way is Railroad Earth. Again, it’s good songs as vehicles for inspired jamming, but more from the bluegrass side. Yonder Mountain String Band is often lumped into the loose jamgrass category, too, but for whatever reason I have not gotten into them in the same way. But I root for them, too!
The other night I went to the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and they totally knocked me out with their alternately tight and jammy rock, R&B and soul sound. The crowd was great — hanging on every wail from Derek Trucks’ slide, and movin’ to the big, big sound of a surprisingly flexible 11-piece band, with Derek’s wife, Susan Tedeschi, out front with gritty lead vocals that at times recalled Bonnie Raitt, Bonnie Bramlett and other belters. Opening for the TTB was the married duo Tim and Nicki Bluhm (he’s best known as leader of the Mother Hips and also toured with the Rhythm Devils last year), and they were definitely not a jam band. They played short, catchy, country-flavored original songs—just two voices and one acoustic guitar—but you could tell they were fellow travelers because you could hear their roots in folk and old-time music, feel that the characters in their songs were flesh and blood, and that as performers they were connecting with each other and the audience. It was real. They got a tremendous reception from a crowd that was there to rock—but also open to being moved.
When it comes down to it, I guess what I’m really looking for, whether it’s from so-called jam bands or a solo singer with one instrument, is some sort of connection. When you find it, you know it—you can’t miss it! And when you get it, you want more. So the search continues…
OK, jam fans — tell us who you like and why! (And yes, I will take recommendations for THE Phish or Widespread Panic disc or download I have to hear!)
Jerry's dead and fish stink, I guess we should all go home. Except for Furthur, John k has my vote for the new, DEAD guitar
thanks for the discussion. Im glad it hasnt dissolved into the "my jamband is better than your jamband" argument. I pretty much like all this hippie shit. If I had the money to see it all I would. I've really enjoyed phish since they've returned. However, its been a little difficult to get tix for the western shows. Furthur has been great. I also love the latest formation of the ABB. As far as newer acts, I was blown away by Xavier Rudd's live show. Great musician and great energy. Octopus Nebula is a great new band from Denver that has its own special brand of psychedelic jamtronica. We are spoiled here in CO with all our great venues. There is just too much to see and it seems like all of these bands love to play our state.
A few of the comments reminded me of something that always seems odd to me. I have heard, or read, of musicians from Dave Matthews to Railroad Earth saying that they are not jambands. They give a few reasons for their dissatisfaction with the term.
As I recall, and a paraphrase, Dave Matthews said that the jamming was individuals satisfying their egos at the expense of the band - compare with what Phil and others have said: jamming being all about listening...
From the Railroad Earth side, one complaint was that they start with strong songs and not with jamming. If, as I and a few on this thread would say, the jamband idea all but starts with the Grateful Dead, I doubt whether very many song writers from around this broad genre are going to claim that they do consistently better than what the Dead produced - start with American Beauty, for instance.
Blair and others noted that it all starts with good material and I agree. I read somewhere (how is that for a citation) that jambands happen when bands start with their own music, whether folk, or blues, or hard rock, and approach it live like a jazz band. I guess that is how the label can stick to Greensky Bluegrass and Umphrey's McGee (both of whom cover Pink Floyd but in very, very, different ways!). So, I will agree with an earlier post that when I want to hear "jams" I also think Coltrane, or Eric Dolphy, or etc, etc.
The way you feel about WSP is pretty much how I feel about the Derek Trucks Band. First saw them on my 19th birthday - 12/1/00 (check it out on Archive - a SWEET show, and a great pull by David Hamilton) - and really feel like that's the band that I got to see evolve over the past decade. I probably uploaded 50% or so of the DTB shows on archive, myself. I should see if they need an archivist for their vault....
It kind of went without saying that the Allmans are on the list for me as well. It's sad that so many of the musicians I really dig are no longer around like The Band or Bob Marley, the aforementioned Rory Gallagher, etc. Talk about musicians with soul! And, of course, the Grateful Dead. I never got to see them with Jerry, but I've seen some of the post-Jerry configurations.
One of the reasons I don't get into newest stuff, I think, is because there is so much good stuff from back in the day that I haven't heard yet and I know most of that stuff is really good. Plus with concert tickets costing what they do these days I'm more apt to buy CDs and d/l the shows afterward.
"Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir." Time is a great storyteller. -- Irish Proverb
I was almost going to mention the generation gap myself in the original posting, as it's certainly something I observed. It is always fun to find that new band or act and feel as though you are, in sense, discovering it. Not to mention the smaller venues and cheaper tickets. (I felt that way about U2, who I LOVED on their first-ever U.S. club tour, saw all of their subsequent Bay Area shows for years, but haven't been able to afford to see in years... and don't want to go see in a stadium anyway.... but they'll always be one of "my bands"...)
Not to dump on WSP any more--as I really have nothing against them, as I said; just not my cup of tea--selling out Red Rocks for three shows is a sign of large and devoted fan base, but it is no more a sign of quality than Britney Spears selling out two nights at Madison Garden or the aforementioned Dave Matthews selling out Soldier Field. However, I will say that in my many years of being in the music business and writing about bands, I've tried very hard not to hold a band's success or over-exposure against them. More power to 'em! Listening to music and supporting musicians at any level is cool!
I agree with you on the different strokes thing. As for the generation gap, I was commenting on people like myself who started seeing Phish and Panic in their formative years. There is a sense that you helped in building and nurturing those communities. With the Dead, I was really more of a spectator in those huge stadiums and arenas. I LOVE the Grateful Dead, but Widespread is more personal to me. Their songs were created right in front of me on stage. If you were lucky enough to see them with Michael Houser between '95 and '00 you got to witness a band evolving, growing, and improving on almost a nightly basis. They hold true power for me. Now with Jimmy Herring they are a different band, but i think it is hard to deny their musical credibility as song writers and as a live band. And yes they are fucking loud and I love it.
Out where I live we don't get many bands, but thank you for mentioning archive.org ! I'd never been there before, just added it to my "favorites" list.
I also got into Phish in the 90's as a way of dealing with the loss of the Dead. I saw them a handfull of times and will go back and listen every once in awhile but as far as I ever get with them is amused and slightly entertained. Widespread tends to fall into that pattern of song after song of spiraling guitar solos over a groove. It's something I enjoy for about a half a show then start getting bored with becuase it starts to just sound like three hours of the same jam. (I'm not suggesting their songs all sound the same just their jams)
as far as connecting goes, the closest I've connected with any non-dead music would be John Prine. I feel like I personally know the people in his songs and really appreciate the subtle humor he finds in life.
blair-- i'm with you-- phish isn't for me, and i like widespread sortof...
but bruce hornsby speaks to my soul- there's something about a piano and a man with heart and humor sitting behind it.
keller williams is a groovin good time.
i've also got a thing for the allman brothers in its multiple forms and neil young and bruce springstein and i wanted to be chrissy hynde when i got old enough, talented enough, or hot enough...
but like most of us here, i can't- and don't want to- escape the gravitational (in all its various meanings) pull of the grateful dead.
Should be on this list as well.
"It's got no signs or dividing line and very few rules to guide"