It’s the end of the year and that means one thing: columnists can get a free topic by making top 10 lists. 2015 has been a pretty good year for me, both in terms of seeing interesting local music, getting lucky with national acts, and observing one from afar. I might be old and cranky but there were tons of reasons to leave the house and attend concerts. These were my favorites.
Return of the Living Daylights
Before the Jamgrass fun that’s taking over the northwest, there was an earlier scene. At the turn of the century, Seattle was rife with instrumental space-jazz trios. Skerik has remained local and still plays quite regularly – so much so that I invented the term “Skerik Syndrome” to describe the phenomenon where someone plays your city so much that you always assume you’ll just catch the next show, and see them less often than you would if they came around twice a year – but Jessica Lurie of Living Daylights and Dara Quinn of Rockin’ Teenage Combo departed, resulting in the end of those bands. That changed this year. Living Daylights played twice in Seattle and seemed to pick up right where they had left it. No tepid reunion show, this was music that reminded me why I cared so much back in 1999.
Seeing The Who in London
Sometimes things work out oddly. I had wanted to go to London for a while. Using a half marathon as an excuse to travel, we arranged a trip. It was then that the previous year’s Phish Halloween run came into play. We saw Greensky Bluegrass at the Vegas Brooklyn Bowl; wouldn’t it be funny to see a show at the one in London and then go to every BK Bowl except for the one in New York? I looked up the schedule and saw that there would be a Who cover band playing as a pre-show. A pre-show? What for? The real band would be playing next door.
This show was not supposed to happen. It was scheduled for the previous fall but changed due to an illness. Between that and the local setting, Daltrey and Townshend were having a lot of fun with banter both about the canceled show and some hometown references that wouldn’t have played if I saw them at the Key. Moreover the band played well. Sure they focused on the hits – and The Who have a ton of them – but it never felt like pure nostalgia or that the band was going through the motions. If that wasn’t enough, I saw The Who play “Sparks” on the 28th anniversary of the first (known) time that Phish played it. It all went full circle!
Shows Starting at Showtime
As those of you who read my 4 AM Phish Stats updates have noticed, I’m a morning person. It’s great for staying employed and getting workouts in, but it is havoc on my social life. I would see more shows if only bars would start them at 7 or 8 on weekdays instead of 10 or 11. Fortunately, Seattle has had a new trend. When you go to a club these days, “Doors at 7, show at 8,” usually means the first band is on by 8:05-8:10. It’s so entrenched that Trey playing in Seattle and starting 45 minutes late was a culture shock. Apparently this is just a local trend, but I hope it spreads nationwide.
”Banjo Renews” at NWSS
I wonder sometimes what it must be like to create a masterpiece. Did Dylan know that “Tangled Up in Blue” would be played by millions of bands forever but only diehards would know “Meet Me in the Morning”? As a writer, sometimes I feel that I’m clicking better, but I still never know what others will like. If only we could figure out what makes that perfect connection so we could replicate it at will, we’d be littered with masterpieces. Alas, it’s far more random.
John Craigie is a Portland area folk songwriter who tends to lean towards the comedic side of song writing. With songs like “Let’s Talk This Over When We’re Sober and not at Burning Man,” and great banter between his selections, there’s a reason why he won the band competition. However, while he focuses largely on these 21st century slice of life stories, one day he got very sick. While not feeling well, he started to write a song, a song about a healing spell and a magical pot of tea. It’s about God and letting go and apologizing for your misdeeds and celebrating what’s amazing, all with this great chorus of, “I call on the angels/And tell them that I’m sorry/You know, life comes from every angle/When you let go of your worries.”
The song itself is amazing – introduced as one of the “top three songs I love the most in the world,” – but the performance is what makes it transcendent. Adding the Shooks’ harmonies to the chorus gives it extra power and then another local guest Kat Fountain takes an amazing harmonica solo, which then builds to the bridge and then they fire one last time through the chorus in a moment that affirms the need for music in our lives. I don’t normally stay up seeing music at 4 AM, but this time I was rewarded.
Thankfully it’s available here as track 19. Call upon the angels and cue it up!
This one needs a disclaimer. I’m not a fan of most of the post-Jerry Grateful Dead projects. They’re fun to catch if in town, but not something I would ever throw on the stereo. The hype over the surviving members playing together was kind of weird to me at first. Other than Trey sitting in with them, how much different was this really from The Other Ones or Furthur?
Sometimes though meaning is just something that happens. That’s how money works; we’ve made a pact that these pieces of paper have value and the collective belief makes it true. As a community, these shows were officially decided to count on a level beyond other side projects. It might have been weird at first, but once everyone bought into it, it became fun. The decorated envelopes, the excitement of the stadium gigs, the return of Shakedown, it fed upon itself. It reached a point where it didn’t matter what the music was like, but fortunately it did manage to hold up to the hype. There were enough moments of transcendence to make it worth the hype. We might have manifested it, but far better to use that power to create something great.
Nectar 3 shots
What’s the advantage of having a local scene? The Nectar Lounge has started to perfect the $10 3 band concert. It’s a mix and match of many local bands, never quite the same lineup every time. I only go on occasion, but it’s nice to know that whenever I want to see music, the option is there. There are enough new bands that I’m still discovering them; my 2015 Rabbit Wilde obsession came out of randomly attending one of these. If only they’d take my idea to have a repeat customer punch card for free shows, it would be perfect.
Northwest String Summit has a second stage during daylight hours. When they’re switching acts at the main stage, you can walk up the hill and see acts perform on top of the Furthur bus. In practice, it always seems like a better idea than something to do as that hill can get a little steep after the 20th time you climb it during a day. Sunday had a treat for people who read the details of the program.
Just listed as “Sideboob,” the details revealed that it was actually an All Star Band of the women performers. Featuring the women from Shook Twins, Fruition, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Gipsy Moon along with Kat Fountain, they played a series of 90’s R&B covers because, of course they did. The usually somewhat empty area in front of the bus was completely packed with a rapturous crowd. There is talk about making this an annual tradition. While some of the appeal of the set was the one time nature, whenever I watch one of the two videos that are the only recordings of the event ( Waterfalls and Crazy)  , the joy in the moment is so evident that I can only pray for a North Plains repeat.
The Return of the Phish Festival
After the somewhat poor turnout of Superball 9, there were fears that the Phish festival would be no more. 2015 proved that to be wrong. Returning to Watkins’ Glen, Phish actually sold out their capacity, although some people were able to buy tickets at the gate if they arrived with other people who had tickets. Like all post-return festivals, the event ran incredibly smoothly. The weather gods smiled on us, the art exhibits were fun, the addition of the Drive In screen to look at during the event made it a once in a lifetime event, but – in addition – this time the music was also exceptional. Highlights include a “Bathtub Gin” for the ages, a beautifully played version of the rare “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,” and the infamous “Tweezer > Caspian” jam.
As if the music (along with a not-so-secret fourth set with incredible visuals) weren’t enough, there was a new addition this year: the game show area. I got to be a judge for Name That Tune, which was a bizarre experience. Fortunately we were allowed to heckle the contestants, which was useful for when no one was able to get “Reba.” I still can’t believe that the winner solved “Montana” (a snippet from a Bozeman “Tweezer” put on Live Phish) in a few seconds.
The evolution of Fruition
While Phish were playing incredible shows all summer, when I look back on 2015, I wonder if I’ll focus more on Fruition. 2015 felt like the year where things really clicked for them. They’re having one of those creative peaks where – already armed with some incredible unrecorded new songs like “Falling on My Face” – they decided to suddenly release an EP of even newer songs. Jams are starting to evolve, setlists are starting to vary, extra creative moments like the fun costumes of their two Halloween shows are becoming a norm, and all of that combines to make the idea of seeing multiple shows on a run make more sense. When I attended both 10/30 and 10/31, the shows were different enough that I was glad I went to both.
It’s an experience that reminds me of seeing Phish circa 1990. The songs that get repeated night after night are good enough that hearing them multiple times is still fun. The crowd is still so excited to have discovered the band, and the band is so happy to have us loving them. There’s no jadedness or comparing shows to other nights happening; it’s just about the love of music. I doubt that Fruition will be able to rise to the same commercial heights as Phish as the music industry is different now than it was then, but it’s fun to see that excitement once again. I plan to go to both Bellingham and Seattle next January and don’t expect to regret that decision.
Was there any doubt this would place here? When Phish didn’t spell out anything on the first show at Dick’s, it was sad that that tradition ended. What we didn’t know was that the rules had changed.
The three-night run was a lot of fun as Dick’s always is. I wasn’t ready for it to end, so when the encore started with the traditionally show closing “Tweezer (Reprise)” as the clock was getting close to curfew, I jokingly booed. However they didn’t leave stage after the song ended. Instead of the show ending we got the always sought after, rarely played, “Harpua.” It was my first once since 1997, my wife’s first one since, well, ever.
It wasn’t just a “Harpua” though. There was an extended story that worked its way through many other songs including two that hadn’t been played since the 90s. It came to a peak, as it ended with Trey talking about how the scene we’ve built has been so incredible. They then launched into a one-time cover of Brotherhood of Man’s “United We Stand.” With one last joyous guitar solo, this encore – like so many moments this year – cut through my cynicism and reminded me once more why we dedicate so much time and money to seeing music. It has the power to bring us joy in a way that so little can. Here’s hoping 2016 gives me a similar list of events that can bring a smile just from the memory.
 Why so few videos? With the lack of cell phone reception at Horning’s, few people actually carry around their devices, so there isn’t the whole record everything mentality. Normally that’s a cool feature of the String Summit but this time it backfired.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He now tweets and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page
His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and his Create Space store.