The website for the Rex Foundation listed the event, “A Buck Dancer’s Choice”, as a benefit for the Rex Foundation in honor of Jon McIntire, also known as “Rex”, the former manager of the Grateful Dead and New Riders of the Purple Sage and longstanding member of the Rex’s Board of Directors. Jon had passed away in early 2012 and this was their way of honoring him. As told on their website, he would quip at a planning meeting for the Rex’s first benefit back in 2001, “This must be a jewel of an event, tasty in every detail!” Well Mr. McIntire, it certainly was.
I have attended a Rex benefit in years past, at The Warfield. A nice evening for donors, food and libations, an auction (some items up were photos by Jay Blakesberg and Bob Minkin, SF Giants Jerry Garcia bobble-heads, artist prints of some of Jerry’s fine work, to items such as baseball hats and t-shirts donated by members of the Grateful Dead), great – wait, incredible music, and just loads of fun. Walking into The Fillmore that night was certainly different than other nights. There were round dinner tables with table cloths set up all over the floor cabaret style, candles providing a warm ambiance, beautiful floral arrangements on stage with an intoxicating smell of orchids or gardenias or lilies or something that left a faint sweetness to the air. The Fillmore knows how to dress up nice; a Christmas tree all lit up and decorated in the lobby to greet you when you entered, the chandeliers looked prettier, the posters on the walls looked museum worthy, and the upstairs café all decorated for the auction changed the atmosphere just a bit. The bar had been raised. If you chose to donate and attend the entire event, including the pre-show reception, etc. then tickets ranged from $250 up to $1,000, or you could pay $75 and just enjoy the music.
Part I – Members of the Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) w/special guests
The music started with an easy going set from the SF Bay Area’s jamband, ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra, who I remember catching them at some upstairs bar on Geary many years ago when they first started). This night, they were one member shy of the full band (missing was Zach Gill) with Lebo on guitar, Steve on bass and Dave holding the congas and occasional acoustic guitar. They were joined by a remarkable voice in singer Lesley Grant, who (via my google search) is a SF Bay area singer/songwriter and member of a group called London Street, described as a “San Francisco R&B/Soul Treat”.
ALO’s short but sweet set was like butter (pronounced “butta”). I really liked the easy-going Sunday drive feel of “I Want to Feel It”, sung by Lebo. Soothing and swaying, it is breezy and lighthearted, and carries you away to a tropical place. “Listen to the River” was sweet and soulful with Lesley Grant’s rich sultry voice, combined with rich harmonies, a strong funky bass and a light danceable guitar.
Dave picked up the guitar and took the mic for “Easy”, another laid-back, soulful song. Dave has a rough tone or rasp to this voice that is warming. Again, the way Lebo’s nimble playing can sound like he’s dancing lightly on the strings really creates a bright sound.
The “Wild Horses” was quite special. This song is a dichotomy for me, played as a wedding song for my sister and many years later at a friend’s funeral. This song exposed all voices, trading verses and filling out the refrain with warm harmonies. Especially Lesley, who affected it with such a powerfully soulful tone it became a gospel song, leaving the crowd a bit spellbound.
Next, Lebo invited Bob Weir up to the stage for a handful of tunes starting with “Me and My Uncle” and then “Grandma’s Hands”, which is an old Bill Withers tune. Man, I love Bill Withers – I’m so glad that they tossed that into the set list; another very gospel-like song, with the warm harmonies and soulful grace of Ms. Grant. Lebo has a rhythmic groove to the way he plays, whether he’s laying down the rhythm or taking it higher on the lead. Dave’s conga work and Steve’s low thump on the bass held on to that Withers tradition of vibrant R&B and soul – there’s definitely a reason why his songs are covered so often by so many. Before Bobby would exit, they gave us a funky, almost reggae-like “Dark Star”. The combo of Bob and Lebo was pretty intense and sweet at the same time. They really just ALO’d it up making this “Dark Star” more danceable than I ever remember hearing. The place really loved it – lots of whistles and cheers, and a few tribal calls maybe trying to keep them all on the stage for just a little bit more. I might have been one of those yelling a bit loudly. I really enjoyed that set and remembered how much I liked this band. I’ll have to go get more of their music in my collection for certain.
*w/ Bob Weir
Part II – Bob Weir, Solo/Acoustic
Next up was a solo set by Bob Weir; just the man and his guitar. Opening his set with “Loose Lucy” got those in their seats a shakin’ their shoulders and those who just came for the concert and in the standing only area shakin’ just a little more than their shoulders. Bob played it hard on the strings, strong and powerful, a little rougher on the voice, crowd echoing back “yeah!” each time he shouted it out. “Thank you, for a real good time!”
“Playin’ in the Band” was so different than with the full band. Bobby commanding the stage, the whole song was held together with just his guitar. I found myself hearing Jerry and Phil and the rest of the band filling in the spaces around his guitar. Not that his playing wasn’t enough, it certainly was. It just came naturally into my headspace and I let it stay there. This was the first time I’d seen Bobby solo, aside from his live shows at TRI Studios that you can sometimes catch on the internet. He was relaxed and joking with the audience as if it was a small space like TRI, rather than a bigger venue like The Fillmore. But, maybe it is just such a familiar space for him, it did feel like he was at home – letting out a chuckle when the song was through, saying, “I had anticipated that going much smoother,” mentioning his guitar had gone out of tune and the capo he was supposed to use got stuck – well, we didn’t notice.
“Peggy-O” was very sweetly done. It kind of reminded me of my friend’s wedding years ago, when her dad got up to the mic with his guitar and played this for their first dance. Intimate and soulfully sweet, made me remember just how much I love this song. Bobby’s set closer “Black Throated Wind” was passionate and intense. The concentrated purposeful strumming with the emotional and affecting way it was sung, “The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in. With its words of a life where nothing is new. Ah, Mother American Night, I’m lost from the light. Ohhh, I’m drowning in you. Ohhh, I’m drowning in youuuuu,” left the crowd yearning for just a little more time floating in a pool of Bobby.
Set II – Bob Weir: Loose Lucy, Playin’ in the Band, Peggy-O, Black Throated Wind
Part III – The Mickey Hart Band with Special Guests
Waiting for round three of this pretty incredible night, the audience was thoroughly satisfied after Bob Weir’s short but very sweet acoustic solo performance, yet clearly yearning for more. The Mickey Hart Band was the final performance of the night, and the energy in the room was about to expand.
Having just seen the Mickey Hart Band days earlier in Napa (see our other review of that night), I knew that, after two soothing and soulful sets from ALO and Bob Weir, we’d get nothing of the sort from Mickey Hart. While they may have played a handful of repeats, it really didn’t matter as most of the audience that night had not been in Napa, and it certainly didn’t matter to me because, without a doubt, their sound washed over me once again, altering my mind, body and spirit. Again, I did not ingest, inhale or intake anything illicit… If you were there either night, or have seen them recently, you’d know why I’m reminding myself of this. The effect of the music can be pretty amazing.
While hanging out back stage, I noticed one of the brothers from the African Showboyz walking by. I stopped him to say hello and thank him for his heartfelt and spiritual performance on Thursday in Napa and inquire if they’d be performing this night. He let me know they didn’t have their own set planned, but Mickey had asked them to join him. Sweet! Well, that’ll change it up a bit, adding even more rhythm, more thunder, more energy to the night!
Starting with a quiet or muted drum, the audience seemed to be looking around to figure out what direction it was coming from as there was no one on the stage just yet. From the back of The Fillmore, winding through the crowd making their way to the stage while playing drums and other handmade instruments came the African Showboyz! They held the familiar beat strong as Mickey Hart and his Band joined them on stage. The familiar sound quickly became confirmed as “Samson and Delilah”, with Crystal Monee Hall’s voice holding the lyrics strong in front of all that incredible sound from the 10 other musician’s she was sharing the stage along side.
As with the Napa set, this moved into “Cut the Deck”, which I’m quickly growing to love more each time I hear it. I love the way the song moves and sways, it feels warm and light, yet the lyrics aren’t so. Robert Hunter’s lyrics paint a very colorful picture, which, at times make it hard to decipher the exact story sometimes.
Next up, we get “China Cat> I Know You Rider”, which was very special indeed due to one Bob Weir joining the stage to rip it up! Sharing the lyrics with Joe and Crystal, Bob was enjoying the energy laid out on the stage by Mickey’s band. Bob and Gawain Matthews were a great match, first mixing up a super funky danceable “China Cat” and then stirring it around and down the road to a reeling “I Know You Rider”. Just a nice groovy two-song blend, as always. If the crowd hadn’t been on their feet before, they certainly were now!
As “Rider” comes to a close, Bob sneaks off stage as the band slows it down to a hum. The audience is about to be hypnotized by a 10 minute tribal trance feel of “Heartbeat of the Sun”. I lean over to my friend and let her know this is what I meant the other day when I told her that I had to convince myself I took no drugs at that Napa show! “Get ready,” I say. She smiles and her eyes widen. The way this song melts into “Falling Stars” is seamless. Crystal moves back to using both of her microphones, singing strong into one and creating strange native sounds with the other. There is a beat, a constant rolling rhythm to this song that sort of reminds me of the drive of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run”. This is one of those songs that has the ability to change the way you hear, or at least challenge you to figure out what you might think you are hearing.
Before the next song, Mickey took the mic to share his appreciation for the audience support for the Rex Foundation over the years. This foundation, special to both Hart and Weir, was named after a fella named Rex Jackson, aka Jon McIntire, one of the former band managers for the Grateful Dead for many years. “He had a way of saying things that it almost sounded like he was right, all the time.”
Continuing to share, Mickey opened up to tell us about the new song we’d heard in Napa, “JerseyShore”. As suspected, Mickey wrote this song after he had heard and been touched by many stories of the folks who live there. A very soulful and touching song, as the warmth of Crystal’s voice tells the story of the sweet JerseyShore.
The last three songs of the set begin with a rousting “Franklin’s Tower” bringing the African Showboyz back to the stage. Bob was also called back, but he had appeared to have left the building, kind of like Elvis. This was so powerful, with the Showboyz pounding out the danceable funky beats, at moments taking the mic to blend soulful words of wisdom from Ghana together with the lyrics of the song, bringing it across nations. Joining the band again for the last song, “Not Fade Away”, the Showboyz help the beat of this song move from a strong drum rhythm to a hearty audience clap, as the band slowly fades off the stage.
Sandwiched between, “Time Never Ends” continues to give the audience incredible beats, the thumping and throbbing rhythm of time never ending, in circular motion, around to the back of the Fillmore and back up to the stage. The shared lyrics and harmony blends between Crystal and Joe create such an extraordinary vocal resonance; a wondrous reverberation of voices, at this moment, so uniquely belongs to the Mickey Hart Band.
As I take a deep breath, the warmth of a very beautiful and soulfully sweet “BrokedownPalace” washes over me, a perfect way to sway the evening to an end. And, also, seemingly a lovely tribute to Rex, after all, the night was dedicated to his memory and the legacy he is a part of in the Rex Foundation. I must say, I feel pretty lucky to have been able to be a participant in the evening….. Thanks to Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Sandy Socoht and The Rex Foundation for allowing JBO to be a part of that special evening. Also thankful for the fact it did not rain (I had no umbrella), the great parking spot (my friend and I got THE LAST spot in the Japantown garage) and the awesomely perfectly affordable “slice” of Extreme Pizza, which really, c’mon, its two, but I ain’t complainin’ – and only $5.05!
The Mickey Hart Band:
Samson and Delilah**, Cut the Deck> China Cat*> I Know Your Rider*> Heartbeat of the Sun> Falling Stars, JerseyShore, Franklin’s Tower**, Time Never Ends> Not Fade Away** E. Brokedown Palace
*With Bob Weir
**With African Showboyz