• Wolf Music

In last night's post, I mentioned in passing "RAD Nights in America," the concert video series that Joe Russo's Almost Dead (JRAD) has been running since the pandemic began. In terms of scratching one's itch for live music (as in, truly live) it isn't trying to do the same thing that Goose did with Bingo Tour: the members of JRAD aren't getting together during quarantine to play new music together. Instead, they are making a new video of a past performance available every Tuesday night for fans to stream for free.


Since Bingo Tour finished up (and I, concurrently, really learned to appreciate the relative advantages of watching a concert from my couch), "RAD Nights In America" has become my new fixation. Part of this is just because I love JRAD and their take on the Grateful Dead's songbook (it was JRAD that got me into the Grateful Dead when the actual Grateful Dead could not). The other part is because watching and downloading one show per week forces me to sit down and devote longform attention to a band I love as opposed to just shuffling to a song here or there while whatever music plays in the background as a soundtrack to the other things I'm doing and paying attention to.


One important thing I've gotten invested in during the pandemic (and this is likely another post by itself later on), it's trying to reteach myself how to focus on things in a longform way, whether it's on work, reading, writing, listening, or whatever else. I've never actually been very good at this when it comes to bands: when possible, I tend to try to dive into the minutiae of everything about a band. Phish was my favorite band for most of my adult life (and maybe still is?); I loved them so much that I spent countless hours writing reviews for nearly every show they've played since their comeback in 2009, and by the time I got caught up to the present day, I never wanted to listen to them again.


When I first got into JRAD, I was thrilled that they'd "only" played something like 150 shows: I could listen to them all in order over the next few years, and categorize my favorites! I haven't actually done this yet, but I'm starting to think it might not be the best way to enjoy listening to music.


Lately, when I want to listen to Phish, I put on an album I already own or a recording of a show I saw in person, and try to relisten in a way that I discover new things to love that I hadn't heard during previous listens: depth, not breadth. I'm learning that artificially limiting the pool of what's available to listen to in an age when everything is technically available to listen to really helps my enjoyment of the music. It helps me focus in, instead of overwhelming me with choice and variety.


This is why "Rad Nights" is great: watching three straight hours of JRAD's improvisatory jazz-rock has definitely been helping with the longform focus: it's dense, it's complicated, it's laden with references: it's basically the live music equivalent of reading Henri Lefebvre or Frederic Jameson...which, now that I type that, is probably why I love it. But you absolutely cannot look away while watching them play or you'll miss something. Take, for example, this medley of "Cumberland Blues" and "Big River," which is not jazz, but definitely demands attention to keep up with:


I'm currently in the process of slowly but surely watching every single "RAD Night" in order, from the beginning, complete with nerd-out handwritten setlists and notes (continuing my Bingo Tour tradition). It's been really fun, and it makes a certain part of the band's gigantic oeuvre "mine" in a way that lets me dive into it and geek out about it without feeling like listening to everything they've ever recorded is really necessary.


A few recommendations, just for fun:


1. Week Two's show, from 2/18/18, has an absolutely ridiculous second set, which starts with expansive, standout takes on "Let It Grow" and "Crazy Fingers," and ends with a nearly hour-long sequence of "Terrapin Suite" > "Morning Dew".



2. Week Four's show, from 5/4/18, is my favorite so far. The first set is anchored by a wild "Help On the Way" -> "Slipknot!" -> "Scarlet Begonias" -> "I Know You Rider," and the second set features guest violinist Katie Jacoby for most of its length, which seems to drive the rest of the band to take each song in succession to the sort of euphoric peak that makes you think "Well, they can't top that one, right?", at least until they do.



3. Week Five's show is the next night (5/5/18) I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the last one, but the "Cumberland"/"Big River" medley (linked already above) deserves a mention, and I loved the middle of the opening set, which is a "No Quarter"-esque jam into a "Let It Grow" that leads into a spacey jazz jam built in part around the melody of "My Favorite Things," which in turn segues into a jazzed-out take on "Bird Song."



  • Wolf Music

I'm always hesitant to talk/write about this, because I know objectively that on the list of things we as individuals and we as a society have lost to COVID-19, live music is pretty damn near the bottom in terms of importance, all things considered. On the other hand, music in general and live music in particular have been such fundamental parts of my identity as an adult and are so central to how I understand and process the world around me that having live concerts disappear at the onset of the pandemic, having to reevaluate the rest of my year without my usual schedule of travel for live shows, was one of the hardest things about dealing with COVID-19 throughout March and April.


To wit: the last show I saw before things shut down was on 2/20, for which I drove three hours one-way to see Goose play for fifty minutes as the opener for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, then after those fifty minutes, left the venue before Pigeons took the stage and drove another three hours back home so I could get up for work in the morning...it was a bit goofy, but I was not going to miss my first chance to see Goose play in person, dammit. I had no idea at the time it would be the last time I saw a band play live until *shrugs expansively*. Realizing that, and dealing with it, has been hard.

That All I Need -> Into the Myst was friggin' amazing.

Again, I realize that to others who haven't been as fortunate as I have been, that might sound ridiculous, and maybe it objectively is...but if others are allowed to brandish guns and knives for being forced to wear a mask before eating at a socially-distanced Applebee's that they absolutely had to go to for some reason because the restaurant's rules so violently impinged upon their inborn freedoms, well, then, I'm not going to feel that bad about complaining about the loss of live music, on my own music blog.



In the beginning, a lot of bands pivoted quickly to cancelling tours to getting creative about how to get new content to their fans. Other bands...didn't move quite so fast. I don't know, but am guessing that the distinction is largely an economic one. Younger, up-and-coming bands like Goose (who I'll talk more about in a minute) and Spafford (who offered one of the first drive-in concerts in the country) likely have thinner margins and can't afford to comfortably ride out a year without touring income, so they needed to find a new way to generate that income. Older, better established bands like Phish have been relatively silent during quarantine (though, to be fair, they did release an unexpected and unexpectedly great new album), presumably because they could probably easily retire on the money they have now.



Regardless of the behind-the-scenes motivations, when Goose announced their first livestreamed "shows" from their bassist's living room under the "Live From Out There" banner in mid-March, it felt like it pulled my little niche corner of live music fandom out of a tailspin of confusion and loss. It was a great set of music, sure, but more than that it seemed to say for the first time since quarantine had started (to me, at least): "There will be more music." Sure, by that time lots of other bands were airing archival streams of old shows (Phish and Joe Russo's Almost Dead among them), but few bands were playing new music at that point.


From there, the Live From Out There platform evolved to offer a number of "virtual festival" weekends, and it began to feel like making the best of a bad situation: fans like me got to see new music from bands we loved often performed in intimate or improvised settings, while the bands got our money, often (presumably) without even having to deal with the kind of overhead a physical, traveling tour would require.



Live From Out There was great, and provided some solace during some really dark times, but hands-down my favorite "live" experience thus far has been Goose's "Bingo Tour." The concept was clever: they would play four full, two-set shows live over two weekends from a mysterious "recreation center" somewhere in the northeast, and each night the setlist would be determined by the drawing of bingo balls during the show. So, not even the band would know which song would start the show until it was drawn, and as they were playing that song, the next song would be drawn, forcing them to adapt on their feet. There would be no repeats over the four nights, and some of the balls contained instructions like "Take a Lap" instead of songs.


There was a very Baker's Dozen feel to the whole thing, but in the best way. I paid for a "ticket" after reading the initial email announcement; it seemed like a no-brainer. I mean, I wasn't not going to be home quarantining for those two weekends, right?


Well, the tour wrapped up at the end of June, and those two weekends were really bright spots in a really dark time. Goose went all-out in setting up the stage and lighting, improving immensely on the setup they had when I saw them just back in February. The video production was extremely well done, and of course the band themselves blew the premise of the shows out of the water musically as they jammed their way through eight sets that repeatedly threw curveballs at them (and the audience) via the bingo balls. I got so into the "tour" that I went old-school, bought a notepad and some pens, and took live setlist notes each night to serve a memento of what was a truly unique live experience. It was fun, it gave me something to look forward to between each show, and was executed so well on such a clever premise that there were times that I forgot that Bingo Tour only existed because Actual Tour had been cancelled by a global pandemic.


This is the only video Goose has posted publicly of the Bingo Tour proceedings as of yet, but it features a great performance of their song "Drive" as well as some bingo shenanigans including but not limited to the aforementioned "Take a Lap" ball:



I suppose this is all to say that though the loss of live music at the onset of the pandemic was hard to bear for a lot of us who are into that sort of thing, now that we're a few months in, lots of bands are becoming increasingly clever about how to get new live content out to fans while getting badly needed (and well-deserved) funds back in return. While none of it is a replacement for that feeling of being packed in shoulder-to-shoulder in some concert hall when the house lights go down and the first note of the opening song hits (or that feeling of being in a crowd of 30,000 at the Gorge when the lights go out and reveal the carpet of stars hanging above in the middle of a "Hood" jam) we will, as the song says, get by. Until the next time it's safe to hit the road.


Personally, I've got a date at the Matthew Knight Arena on 7/13/21. I don't know if it'll happen or not, but if it does, it'll be the first show that Phish plays post-COVID, the first show they will have played in 19 months, and 17 months since that 2/20 Goose show. If it does, I imagine half of us will be hoarse from screaming before the first song even starts. If it does, maybe they'll open with "Fluffhead."

  • Wolf Music

When I was a kid, I'd always get so excited when an artist I loved would announce a new album, and then drop the tracklist. It was always so fun to read the titles of the songs and imagine what they might sound like.


Oh, who am I kidding? I still do this. I did it with the last Wilco album. And of course, I was dramatically, gratefully wrong on every count.


I think the only hype that exists for my upcoming albums exists in my own head, but in case you are someone who likes tracklists, I thought I'd go ahead and share what are likely the final tracklists for each album. You will notice that there ended up being a few more than three albums. Whoops:


Wilderness Amen

Running

Better To Have Loved ->

Cassie's Song >

Millie

Idyll

Birdsong

Jezebel

She and Me

Neal, Joan, and Me

Machine of the Universe

Sleep Well, Beast

Montana

Amen


Maps I

Ride (Charley)

I Love You (Or the Mountains)

Sometimes

The Melody

Bright Girl (Hey There)

Oread ->

Jeff Tweedy's 49th Electric Dream

Emerald Downs (Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata) ->

Invocation


Maps II

Back To Ohio

Molly

Dusty Roads

Note To Self

Sadie Norton's Dream*

Trains

Ways To Fly (Part II)

English Girls (Love Song For a Film)

Maps ->

...Still Following the Roads


*Title may change


Fire and Rain

Badlands

Ways To Fly

Ghosts of the Highway

Please Don't Let Me Go

Fear

Neal's Jam ->

Enemy

Blackbird Girl

Ice on the Mountain

Amie

Kurzweil Transmissions ->

Not The One I See >

Fire and Rain


The Amen Demos

Running

I Love You (Or the Mountains)

Ghosts of the Highway

Fear

Ice on the Mountain

Winter Song

Caroline

Autumnsong

Lady Gray

Crazy Woman Creek

Ways To Fly

Take Me Home, Country Roads (John Denver cover)

Kurzweil Transmissions ->

Farmhouse (Phish cover)

Running (Melodica version, bonus track)


What Comes Around*

Heron Jam

I Just Want To Fall In Love (With You)

Standing On the Moon (With a Broken Phone Booth In My Hand)

Prairie Dog Massage Parlor

Revelator Jam

I Will Burn

China Cat Supernova

Third Stoned From the Sun ->

Spiders/Auld Lang Syne ->

Heron Reprise

The Northern Lights

Heron Jam (Full version, bonus track)


*This album is a collection of loop-based guitar jams I recorded, then edited together into a semi-coherent sequence for an album that's meant to function as lyricless background music of a sort.

 

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