How do I keep this short? Sorry, that will be impossible.
Directions: Adults (21 and over) pour two drinks, grab a snack, sit down, and put feet up. Relax and get ready to enjoy a story about three incredible days of music at The Fillmore Auditorium. When you are done, you are bummed you missed it, there is always next year. We suggest you don’t miss it again.
“When Jackie Greene wants to party like a rock star, he simply invites friends over to the Fillmore Auditorium.” (San Jose Mercury News, 11/21) 2012 is the fourth year in a row that Jackie Greene has held his birthday party at San Francisco’s famous Fillmore Aud on Geary Street in a section of The City known as Japantown. Greene knows how to throw a good party and it just gets better every year – just look at the guest list!
I am still reeling from this incredible three days of “extreme madness”, and what the die-hard Greeneheads have coined, “Jackie Fest”. With growing popularity in the US and abroad, he’s certainly got enough fans to pack the place. Along with a broad base of incredible musicians that he’s sat in with over the years, he very well could host this mini-fest well into the future. And it WILL keep getting better, because he does.
JBO was in happy to be the house to soak in all three nights. Each lasted well into the wee hours of the next morning, surprisingly so, since Jackie was fighting a bad cold leading up to the shows. Each night became progressively more crowded and appropriately more rowdy as it led up to Saturday night’s birthday celebration (Mr. Greene’s actual b-day is the 27th, but I’m of the believe you can celebrate well before or late after the actual day as long as you want, or maybe as long as your friends and family will let you…..).
Since there are three full nights of the Jackie Greene Band, I will do my best to extract the highlights of each night, the nuggets that were tossed at the crowd; the one’s that drew the energy from the crowd up to the stage and lit the band on fire. Speaking of fire, after last weekend, the definition of “fire” in the Webster’s Dictionary should have a picture of Mr. Nathan Dale next to it. He must have been feeling the excitement of the long guest list because he was playing in a way I’m not sure we’ve heard or seen before. There was a vibe to the Fillmore room that weekend, and energy that the entire band was creating that you could see the electricity on the stage.
And, a big ole “THANK YOU” to Jackie Greene for sticking it out, for holding the three nights in spite of the fact he’s just gotten back from a string of shows on the east with Phil Lesh and Friends, and was fighting a bad cold. He sounded great, OK, maybe you could tell a little bit that he was sick – the slight tone to his voice and the difficulty with the harmonica at times, or not going as hard and loud at a moment in a song when he normally would. To be honest, I expected only one set from him the first night, due to all that, but he would not let the cold get in his way. And, you know, a bit “THANK YOU” to The Fillmore staff – my first time shooting there and everyone was incredibly helpful to me and really nice. I had a few questions, and if they didn’t know the answer, they would go find out. They deal with a lot on top of us photographers and the band and crew. There is always a chance for a ruckus when you mix music, alcohol and that many people into one space and they do a darn job of keeping it real. While it may not be safe outside the place (my friend had her car broken into, and one photographer was a victim of road rage on his way to the show on Friday), it has always felt safe inside, thanks to the staff. (fist pump)
Day 1. Wednesday, November 21
Wednesday evening started early, with Alex Nelson taking the stage first, promptly at 8:00 pm. Alex is one of Jackie’s younger brothers. Heck, just look at him and you can tell. Last year’s Greene birthday bash was the first time that many of Jackie’s fans were introduced to Alex musically. To be honest, a lot of us thought…… OK, for sure I thought for one second as Alex performed with his band, Walking Spanish, that I was in some time warp looking at a younger Jackie.
Alex formed his band, Walking Spanish, as a teenager (he is 24 now). Categorized as Americana, rock ‘n roll jam-band, and maybe toss in a little indie, they won their first “Sammy” in 2010 (Sacramento area’s coveted local music scene award), and just this year they came in third place of those vying for the #1 spot on the list of “Best Local Bands”, the “A-List” put out by local Sacramento station KCRA. They have two CDs, “Not Yet Now” (2007) and “Wishbones” (2011), which was produced by his big bro, who also sits in on organ, piano, and background vocals on a few tracks. With Nelson going solo, no band behind him on the big stage, just the voice and the guitar layered together, the songs became more poetic, and Alex’s soft soulful style gave his 30 minute set a warm and comfortable vibration. He certainly held his own up there alone in front of the crowd, as his proud big brother would post on Instagram.
Next up were the Tumbleweed Wanderers, hailing out of Oakland, CA. Certainly dynamic, they offer a high energy mix of Americana rock, soul and maybe some folk. Then toss in rhythm and blues, sprinkle on a bit of psycho-banjo and call it Tumbleweed. Thank goodness I successfully avoided actually tumblin’ while boogying around the dance floor!
Describing their beginnings, their website says they formed in early 2001 and probably got noticed when performing one of their loud and energetic sets on the streets of the Bay Area, sometimes outside other concert venues, playing for surprised concert-goers waiting in line or unsuspecting passers-by. This band is Jeremy Lyon (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Zak Mandel-Romann (vocals, bass, guitar), Patrick Glynn (piano, organ, mandolin), Daniel Blum (drums) and Bobby Lawrence (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica).
With their first CD released this year, “So Long”, recorded in a small San Francisco studio, there is drive and talent to carry them farther. There was a little something that, at times their songs reminded me of something from the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty or Workingman’s Dead. Maybe it was that southern twang of the pedal-steel effect that makes you feel like you’re listening to something with a classic country-swing feel, like New Riders or The Byrds – those original psychedelic cowboy bands. And the harmonies were spot on, taking on tone like that of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
For their last few songs, they welcomed up three singers they called, “The Rainbow Girls”, whose energized harmonies filled in the songs with deeper warmth that can only be heard with combining six or seven voices together. The crowd interjecting when they started their new hit, “Roll with the Times”, a song that reminds me of a 60’s rock hit that ready to leave 60’s. “This ain’t ’69, you gotta change your mind.” The last song, “So Long Now”, another from their new CD, hit a chord within me. There was warmth to it, telling a story, painting a picture back in time, to a place that only existed before these young musicians were even a sparkle in anyone’s eye.
The Greenheads that stuck around after the night ended caught a 45 minute set outside on the corner of Fillmore and Geary. Washboards, guitars, melodica, buckets, guitars, harmonicas, voices, hands, knees, feet, you name it they used it to make sound. Keep your ears open – I’m sure you’ll be hearing more of the Tumbleweed Wanderers; maybe they’ll be tumblin’ or wanderin’ around your neck of the woods.
Now onto the Jackie Greene Band, what we really all came for. Highlights from Wednesday, for this fan, have to be the pretty beautiful, “One Bad Love” just because I love, love, love the soft and sweet acoustic-based songs. Those are the ones that really got me hooked on to Jackie Greene – the swing and sway of the acoustic brings the song down to the basics, genuine and poetic. The soul and the feeling behind the songs are relatable. “I had no intention of being a fool, until one bad love up and read me the rules.” I’ve seen this song performed a few times, but this is the first from up so very close, from the pit. You feel like you are within the space of the song along with the musicians, it is that much sweeter, that much more soulful and connected. Especially with Nathan’s melodic electric filling in around, in front, above and behind Jackie’s acoustic rhythm and the steady beat of the drums, the solid slow bass, and Steve’s piano work filling the sound.
Putting down the acoustic to grab the electric, they would be changing it up a bit. After three ballads, they moved into a rockin’ song and got the crowd moving again, including me, boppin’ around with heavy camera equipment (not giving it up that easy when the venue says I can shoot all night – all night you say, OK!). This band also has so much fun with “Bertha”. I may have given my hip a bruise or two, but who cares cuz I just love this song, and really love the way they do it. So did the crowd – “woos”, and “ye-ahs”, and “ooowwws”. The energy of this song moves all over the stage, from Nathan to Steve and then to Jackie when it soars as he screams down the neck of the guitar to hit the high ones, furiously fluttering on the strings sending the notes up to the sky before winding back down to the groove. Whew!
So, have you ever been mistreated? Well, Jackie knows what you are talking about. “Five Long Years” just hurts my body, in a good way. THIS IS THE BLUES. The guitar licks between Nathan and Jackie seem to force your body to sway one way but the pain Jackie sings with, the angst he’s sharing pulls you back in the opposite direction. Jackie was born with that strong bluesman vibe; it seems to emanate from his soul and maybe takes him over during these heavy ones. It’s not just the music, but his body language and expressions tell you he’s feeling it deep-deep down, from his gut to his soul.
Before the set would end, Jackie would invite his brother Alex back to the stage. Giving Alex the mic and the lead, they do a nice “Mexican Girl”. This version had a different energy and sound that we normally don’t hear with that third guitar. When the song is over, I hear someone yell out, “Alex, you rule!” – giving an approving nod to his rendition.
Second set opener, “Jeremy’s Jam”, was written by Jeremy Plog and puts him up in front holding down the lead guitar, Steve Taylor moves on over to guitar as well sharing the lead with Jeremy, Nathan moves on back to the bass, and Jackie sits at the keys. Just a nice bluesy jam, gets your body a movin’. Jackie would stay at the piano for the next few songs, from “Shaken” through “Tore Down”. In between was “Grindstone”, which can be done very slow, ballad like, or can have a slight upbeat feel. This night was on the more upbeat side, Jackie laying heavy on the organ, exclaiming, “Woo!” before he sings, “I need something new, something true-ue-ue, something I do on my own. I-I-I need something fine, to distract my mind, get me off of this grindstone.” I heard someone say, “Grindstone. That was the jam. Abundance!” Now there’s an adjective. I should have stayed next to that guy for a few more songs. As I walked away at the start of “Tore Down”, I hear him say to his friend, “This is getting crazy.”
Jackie, moving back to the acoustic, starts the first few chords of a song he has done with his Skinny Singers duo (he and Tim Bluhm). Oh my. This song….. “Singing My Way to the Grave”…. I was compelled at the end to thank him for playing this song, because this song has meaning for me. On a personal note, my Mom passed away just about a year ago. She loved music and to dance. We played it everyday for her, she sang when she had the energy to sing with us, and we sang to her when she couldn’t (reminds me of the lyrics from Attics of My Life, “When there was no ear to hear, you sang to me.”). I played a lot of Jackie’s sweet soulful ballads, including this one, many times in her last days. I know music soothed her, took away the need to speak to me, instead gently allowing her sing her way home…… It’s probably why I love the soft acoustic stuff the best. It is warming and comforting, just hits the right spots. (Thanks for letting me share, gave me a bit o her back, even if just for a second.)
My last mention of the Wednesday show has, has, has to be the “Way Down”, a song by Nathan Dale!!!!!!!!!!!! Does that explain it? Ho-ly $h*t. Such a heavy, emotionally intense, spinning, reeling, ripping and shredding hard rock song, and Nathan took command of it and the band, making that night one of the best I’ve ever heard it done. Without hesitation, they move directly and perfectly into “Spooky Tina” which keeps the energy high on the dance floor. I hear giggles and laughter around me – seems they are as tickled as I am with this two-song punch.
The double encore started off with a rousting “Gone Wanderin’”. Greene had a bit of trouble blowin’ on the harmonica for some songs early on, but not this one! And, there’s always a “yeehaw” that comes from somewhere in the crowd – because this is a crowd sing-a-long and we love helping when we can! The foot stompin kept on going even after song was long over and the band exited stage left, waiving so long. Jackie stays, reaches over and picks up the acoustic for the final moment of the night, the pureness of “Sweet Somewhere Bound”. Some found it necessary to “shush” the crowd, stop the “ows” and the “yeahs”, trying to get people to mellow a bit after going wanderin’. I have to agree, there was quite a bit of talking during this when the quiet of the song should have enabled you to hear a pin drop. It was easy to bend your ear if you wanted to, to hear the parts of the song you love, like, “where will you wander, where will you roam…” and the tender way his voice fluctuates down……I hear someone to my right whisper softly, “fantastic”……..
Opening Acts: Alex Nelson (Jackie’s brother, solo); Tumbleweed Wanderers
Jackie Greene Band
Set 1: I Don’t Live in a Dream, So Gone, One Bad Love, By the Side of the Road Dressed to Kill, Honey I Been Thinkin’ ‘Bout You, Bertha, Five Long Years, Mexican Girl (with Alex Nelson on vocals)
Set 2: Jeremy’s Jam>Shaken, Grindstone, Tore Down, Singing My Way to the Grave, Shaky Ground, Stranger in the Sand, Way Down, Spooky Tina, Sugaree Encore: Gone Wanderin’, Sweet Somewhere Bound (solo)
Day 2. Friday, November 23
The opening band Friday was The Deep Dark Woods, who hail out of Saskatoon, Canada. How they came together with Jackie Greene you ask? I’m not sure exactly how (you know how it is with musicians, he played with that guy, who played with the other guy, who knows the brother in-law of the drummer who sat in them with once….) They’ve recently spent time together touring the UK and sharing their love of music with new fans. The Deep Dark Woods had invited Jackie and Nathan along to open the shows, so it seems Jackie is now retuning the favor.
There website describes them as alternative country, gritty, with an “unflinching pursuit of steadiness between decadence and minimalism…” Together since 2005, they are Ryan Boldt (lead vocals and guitar), Burke Barlow (lead guitar), Geoff Hilhorst (organ) and the rhythm is held down by Lucas Goetz (drums) and Chris Mason (bass and vocals). Their 35/40 minute set included songs from the four CDs they’ve created; polished and doused in folk traditions and rich vocals. Their 2009 disc, “Winter Hours” won them Best Roots Group at the 2009 Canadian Folk Music Awards. Their songs make you want to tap your toes and shake your hips, with sounds of light piano, occasional banjo, and a strong bass and rhythm section. Memorable was the “Glory, Hallelujah” which really was fun and danceable; it had the crowd moving to the twang of the country pedal steel sound of the lead guitar and dancing to the lightness of the way the keys filled in the spaces. Their music can also be melancholy or lonesome, like their song “The Place I Left Behind”, off their most recent CD. The guitar is played at a breathless or airy pace; there are sounds of a beautiful trumpet or a liquid pedal steel that leaves you yearning.
“River and the Pines” started out a little airy and spacey with experimentation before adding their styled rich warm vocals that share a story so delicately soulful. They carry this song for 10 minutes, allowing it to open up here and there and make room for heavy lead guitar jams before returning to the start, softly and quietly holding on to the notes, leading to an unexpected treat…… It was something that they knew the crowd would love – a beautiful, harmony driven, soulful “Peggy-O”. Truly, I mean what a wonderful surprise to hear. It was warm, it filled the room soothingly – it was that melancholy sound again, leaving you yearning for more.
My friend leaned over and asked their name. I said, “The Deep Dark Woods”. His reply, “That makes sense.”
Hitting the stage a tad later than the night before, the Jackie Greene Band starts with a common opener, “Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind,” before moving into the upbeat, “Farewell, So Long Good Bye”. Then taking it down a notch, they head into a sweet soulful “Ballad of Sleepy John”. I don’t know if he’s played this recently, but it has been nearly a year since I’ve heard it. Getting into it, “Too much whisky make me tumble, too much Jesus make me pray. Too much lovin’, Lord! I feel so all alone!” Animated, showing us the story as he sings, and asking directly, “Are you A-LIVE?” as the song hits its peak, demanding our heart beat along with the persistence of the drums. I hear someone say, “Wow, yeah, that was really heavy.”
Then, Jackie welcomes the “lovely and talented Mrs. Nicki Bluhm to the stage.”……. wait for it……. wait for it…….. wait for it……. Ok, they’ll do one more song since she seems unavailable for the moment, “Another Love Gone Bad”
I highlight the “Deal” for two reasons – Nicki Bluhm (hey well, you know, the chick is awesome) and just because this is another rendition of a Grateful Dead song that Jackie has taken and charged it up, just a tad, greeneified it. There is a harder blues-funk feel to the way that Jackie does these GD songs. Adding Nicki Bluhm, with her soulful airy voice, opens the door to let the song further into a different space. The energy climbs so high that Nicki is torn between the reeling guitars of Dale and Greene, jumping back and forth, pointing to each as if to say, “higher, higher!” I’ve seen many-o-grateful dead cover bands over the years, but I have to appreciate the originality some bands have. You can’t do it just like they [Grateful Dead] did, and they probably wouldn’t want or expect that of anyone. The Dead were always about experimentation, drawing on the energy of the venue and momentum of the crowd to shape the night, picking up the moments that other musicians before them have left emotionality behind in pieces on the stage, leaving sparkles for the next performer to sprinkle on their own set.
For the next two songs, the band is joined by two members of Jeremy Plog’s band, The Golden Cadillacs, who came out from Sacramento to join the party. Nate exits the stage to rest a spell, Steve stays steady at the keys, Jeremy moves to guitar, Nick Swimley joins Jeremy and Jackie on guitar, and Adam Wade takes over the bass. The energy in the room and on the stage changes each time someone new joins them. It is palpable. These two fellas add a southern rock, funk, soul-something to the songs. Nick and Jeremy on electric guitars, shredding back and forth on both “Working Man’s Blues” and this, “Up On Cripple Creek” was so much friggin’ fun! Adam taking the mic for this one, has a lower southern style to his voice, just perfect for these types of songs. If you are out in Sacramento or see The Golden Cadillacs out in your hood, go check them out. They opened for Jackie’s show in January (2012) at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz and totally killed it.
With no break yet, they switch it up again – Nick, Adam, Steve, and Zach exit stage left, Jeremy goes back to the bass and Jackie moves from the keys back to guitar. Next we hear Tim Bluhm and Mike Curry welcomed to the stage for a short and very sweet Skinny Singers set from their one CD they put out a few years ago. Man, they really should do another. For the last of the SS set, Steve comes back out to the keys and Mr. Bluhm invites his wife back to the stage. Well, that can only mean they are about to do, “Squeaky Wheel”, a song that just rolls and rambles quickly around the room, giving you that feelin’ ya want to mooooovvvve! Mrs. Bluhm certainly has some good fun with her two favorite fellas, moving between them, sharing microphones, exchanging glances and very big, wide, genuine smiles. Love is ON the stage people. You can tell by the grin that Jackie wears – going from super happy to shit-eatin’, in seconds flat. I see those same shit eatin’ grins from a lot of other fellas when Mrs. Bluhm comes out – and I ain’t just talking about the fells ON the stage!!
The second set of the Jackie Greene Band had a number of tasty nuggets so it might be too hard to decide what to say. I’ve noted each with some symbol or star meaning there was something special about each one. Hum…… Even sans poor Richard and his banjo, I always love the “So Hard to Find My Way”. Maybe someday soon, poor Richard will make his return, with strings and all. The song has a beat, it makes me feel like I’m walking down a sunny street, whistling, hearing music in my head…….. maybe it’s a banjo, maybe a piano…. Whatever it is, it certainly brightens up my gait.
I think my favs of the second set have to be the “Take Me Back in Time”, “Walking Away” (which has recently walked its way back onto the lists!), “‘Till the Light Comes” (cuz I luv the groove of this, swing it from the hip, “Swing high, mama, swing low. Come and love me baby ‘for I have to go.”), and “Hollywood”, just for the fact that they all have a danceability to them. The “Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right” is one blues tune that I think has the ability to affect the whole place. Jackie too – jumping up from his seat as he hits the keys and they react, hanging from the microphone, begging to know where she was last night so he doesn’t lose his mind. Well, whew, I tell ya, smokin’ hot tune.
I cannot skip over, “Felicity”, which is a Steve Taylor song that sometimes brings Jackie to the keys, next to Steve for both the organ and piano melted together. After the show, I heard people in the crowd talking about “that song Steve sung”. He’s got a falsetto to his voice that isn’t easy to hit. A sweet ballad, maybe with that tone reminds me of a throw-back to the 50’s or 60’s slow dance song. Or maybe it’s the keyboard work, or a combo of the voice, keys and the soul of the song – about a girl. He hopes, he tries, but the emotions spin him around, “moves me backwards until I break….” A guy next to me says, “what song is this?” and at the same time, turns away from the answer, because he can’t help to yell out loudly, “woo!”
I will skip directly to the encore, not that the Tomorrow>Taxman>Tomorrow>Low Rider Jam into Scarlet wasn’t sick…………………..
For the encore, they invite the fellas from The Deep Dark Woods up to the stage. I hear my friend say, “Cripple Creek” – he’s been hearing it all night. You know, some fans just have that ear. You hear one note and you know what it is. That is just what it is like to know a musician so well, so musically deeply, that you know what they are thinking at the very same moment they are. The combo of the Jackie Greene Band together with Deep Dark Woods on this song was just perfect. Sharing verses, Jackie and Nathan, then Ryan – with the way he hangs on every word, elongating it for one second more than what you are used to, putting his own touch to it….. Then Steve takes a verse before the song hits its stride, and we come back around for the last verse, when the entire stage joins in to catch that cannonball, to take them on down the line…..
And, it’s a double-encore night again. All but Jackie leave the stage. There are a few suggestions shouted out. He seems to pick up on one, replying “Did I do this the other day?” Yes, he knew he did it the day before but, “I’m going to do it again anyway,” he says. It was a larger crowd on Friday, yet surprisingly less noise during this song, fewer people to “ssshhhhhhh”. Finally, paying attention each string, to each touch, to each high “ping” as he plucks the string, letting it vibrate and echo if just for a moment. This song, is so sweet and soulful. Upon the last note, someone says, “Oh my god….”
Opener: Deep Dark Woods
Jackie Greene Band with Special Guests
Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind, Farewell, So Long, Goodbye, Ballad of Sleepy John, Another Love Gone Bad, Deal (with Nicki Bluhm), Working Man’s Blues, Up On Cripple Creek (with Nick Swimley and Adam Wade), Goin’ Home Again*, Where The Rain Don’t Go*, Spider Legs*, Squeaky Wheel* (Skinny Singers mini-set*: Jackie Greene, Tim Bluhm with Jeremy Plog, Mike Curry, Nicki Bluhm and Steve Taylor)
Jam> So Hard to Find My Way, Tell Me Mama, Felicity, Take Me Back In Time, Walking Away, Till The Light Comes, Hollywood, Tomorrow Never Knows> Taxman> Tomorrow Never Knows> Low Rider jam, Scarlet Begonias Encore: The Weight (with The Deep Dark Woods), Sweet Somewhere Bound (solo)
Day 3, Saturday, November 24
Saturday Night contained the longest guest list and we were left guessing up to the end exactly just whom was on it. Well, we all had a feeling that Bob Weir and Phil Lesh would show. After all, Mr. Greene has been playing with both of them a lot over the last five years, why wouldn’t they come to the birthday party. Forewarned by Mr. Greene in a Twitter post that afternoon to “expect madness”, we were blessed with four sets that night, with the show going deep into the wee hours of Sunday morning. There were a few reminders throughout the evening, that this night would be more than a good time, to rest up between sets, hydrate and hold onto your neighbor!
The first of the four parts was Jackie Greene’s Band. Second was a very special acoustic set with Bob Weir. The third consisted of a version of the Phil Lesh and Friends crew; and the last brought Jackie’s band back, with Mark Karan remaining on guitar and Sunshine Becker joining on “extreme” vocals. Can you see how this will be hard to compact all of this incredible music into a short review? Do you need to get up and refresh your drink? I’ll wait for ya………
Part 1 – Jackie Greene Band w/Special Guests
The opening song, “Brokedown Emotion”, was a solo by Jackie. Oh man, I was the only one in the pit for the start and, well, you know, it felt like I was the only one in the room for a second. I may have been caught singing and dancin’ a bit, to which I got a glance and a smile. Whoops! Well, the whole place cheers when he says, “I’ll sing to you tonight, if you want me to.” We hope he realizes it is an innate reaction, there is pretty much nuthin’ we can do about it.
Two other sweet special moments were in Dylan’s, “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You”. Sung with emotion and warmth, it is a story about not wanting to let go the embrace of sweet love. The world inside that space has no responsibilities or cares accept but to simply know the intimacy of two. Jeremy offers one solid bass line, Nathan’s guitar softly singing in between the strumming of the guitar, lifting you higher when he sings, “I can hear that whistle blowin’!” “Never Satisfied” was just wonderfully rolling and sweet. I love the way Nathan’s guitar fills in when Jackie’s voice pauses, as if the guitar is taking over the lyrics, singing where there are no words. Jackie’s voice has come back tonight. It is noticeably stronger than Wednesday; he can hit the high notes, he can give us that “I ain’t never, NEVA satisfied.”
Just a mention of the “I’m So Gone”. Jackie leans into the mic and says, “You guys, we wanna welcome a good friend of ours to the stage, Mr. Bruce Spencer, if he’s in the house.” No one shows up to the stage. You hear the low, “Brrruuuuuuuucccce!!!” from the audience, and still nothing. Jackie says, “We’ll just start on the groove, he’ll come.” Then Zach starts with the loud thumping of the drums. Yeah, we know what that means. About a minute and a half into the song, the drums get incredibly heavier, and I look up and sure enough, Bruce is now sitting at the other drum kit that was not usually there. Having the extra tribal beats during this song just amplified it. When I think of the power coming from the stage, the deep rhythm that you could feel in your chest, there is something to a drum beat that can give you goose bumps.
Before the set would end on the sweet note of, “Uphill Mountain” – and I love this song, so very much, but will move back up the set to mention the “Don’t Let Me Down”. Sharing harmonies Beatles-style, Nathan and Steve warm up and fill out the vocals. You know, I can’t say enough about Mr. Dale’s playing this weekend. Really sweet when it should have been, rough and rockin’ at the right times, leaning in and back sharing the energy with Jackie, sending each other higher and higher. This song really had special moments were it soared up to the ceiling before it came raining gently back down on the audience.
Before they leave the stage for a break, Jackie reminds us to stick around, because, “The madness will ensue.”
Part 2: Bob Weir and Jackie Greene w/Special Guest
Those of us who haven’t seen the Weir/Robinson/Greene trio (YET) we were about to experience a special treat, a hint of what’s to come for their mini December tour. Just look at the handful of songs they performed. I probably don’t need to say more? Well, wait, just let me say the, “Easy to Slip” brought back the head-throw/hair-flip from Bob Weir that I haven’t seen in a loooooonnnnng time. This can only mean he was feelin’ it, really getting down into the rhythm, moving in close to Jackie’s guitar, feeding off of every string he requested of Greene, every note that Jackie gave back to him. It was really a site to experience and it has left me eager and anxious for these December shows. Of course, Mr. Weir being the generous musician he is, dedicated that song to Lowell. Oh, and who was the special guest I alluded to? Mr. Phil Lesh jumped on stage for the last refrain of the set closer, “U.S. Blues”. Awe, a very special guest indeed.
Part 3: Phil Lesh and Friends
The third band of the evening would look and feel like a Phil Lesh and Friends set, a version of the band you might see take the stage over at Terrapin Crossroads, Phil Lesh’s dancehall/restaurant in San Rafael. “Can you feel the vibration?” my friend says to me. Oh yeah, we knew earlier that day we’d probably get some of this – had guessed a few on the set list and when we saw who was on stage, we had a feeling about the “Shakedown” and “New Speedway Boogie” being on the set list but the “So Many Roads” was a surprise. I don’t want to skip ahead…….. See, because the room WAS vibrating. Phil had been up at his amp before the set began, tweaking and tuning it, making sure that bass was going to offer up what he needed. He may have turned up the electricity because it was sparking and firing on stage. The “Shakedown” was vibrating, pulsing, rockin’ and thunderous. They wandered into a maze of electric guitar space that rocked into “New Speedway Boogie”, another Dead song that Jackie has added to his band’s repertoire over the past few years. – a seemingly perfect song for Jackie, with its deep rockin’, rhythm and blues.
There was a moment of noodeling a bit on stage, tuning, or whatever. Then I hear Phil start singing, “Happy Birthday to you…” as balloons drop from the ceiling and a girl in a red dress brings out a cake. Could a birthday fella ask for more? I say not!
The set would end with a very sweet and soulful rendition of “So Many Roads”, a Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia song that started appearing on the Grateful Dead’s set list in the early 90’s. This is a soulful song, always so sweetly done by Jerry, the way he made the guitar sing. “From the high road to the low, so many roads I know. So many roads – So many roads to ease my soul….” There was indeed a special touch to the way Jackie sang this song. I don’t know how to put it, but maybe he was letting it ease his soul.
Part 4: Jackie Greene Band w/Special Guests
Well, I think this set blew the last section of the roof off of The Fillmore Auditorium. I don’t even know how to begin. Just look at the set list and you’ll understand the difficulty in just a few mentions. Which ones do I pick? The “Benny” with Steve? When Bobby showed up for “It Takes a Lot to Laugh” when there were four guitar players on stage at once – let me count the slides! I cannot skip over the “Wasting Time”. What a surprise. To have them break this out was just too sweet, especially with Nathan Dale taking the lead on vocals, truly shining at the mic, sounding eerily close to Greg Allman in his younger days. I also really loved the “Rock Your Papa”, with Mark Karan taking over on lead guitar and vocals, commanding the stage and directing the song down the righteous path of rock, rhythm and blues.
Electricity, jazz and lady sings the blues took over when Sunshine Becker was asked to join the stage. I don’t know what happened – she just switched “it” on and turned “it” up, electrifying the stage, sending those fellas into another realm. She hit the stage for “Sugaree”, carrying this for 15 wonderful minutes into a new atmosphere, channeling a jazz or blues singer, scatting and ad-libbing from her inner soul. “C’mon, let’s go to church y’all”, she said, as we repeated whatever she sang, over and over, participating with her and the band. It was awesome. We were lucky, she stayed on stage for the rest of the set, adding in harmonic perfection and intense fills.
The set would end with two incredibly rockin’ songs. Jackie would invite Gabe Nelson to take the bass for “After Midnight” which was as heavy and dirty as it should be. Well, that IS what it’s all about after midnight, after all. The exchanges between Mark, Nathan and Jackie were electrifying. Heavy guitar licks, back and forth, challenging each other to push it harder. Sunshine continued with her incredibly heavy blues, controlled yet raw at the same time – it is clear that when she takes the mic, you’d best pay attention to the moment you are about to receive. “Brown Sugar” was energetic and fun – Rolling Stones-style. I have seen Jackie and his band perform this before, but this version was that much more powerful. Such talent on the stage……….. the whole night and weekend. Lucky those in the crowd. Seriously.
After an electrifying set, we were brought back from the stratosphere to our earthly space, melted back into reality, to be covered with the warm love of, “Hallelujah”. My scribbled notes, “Sunshine brought us to church with that “Sugaree”, and Jackie led us from the pews, down the aisles, and out to the streets. Hallelujah….” Man, what a set.
My overall mentions have to be that Mr. Jackie Greene is the conductor, the spark that ignites the musicians on stage to lift the energy to new heights. This weekend was special. They all, Jackie, Nathan, Steve, Jeremy, Zach………… they ALL get energy and play differently when joined by their friends. Jeremy’s Jam and his opportunity to sit on lead guitar displays the guy’s true talents. He ain’t just a killer bass player ya know. Jackie has a way of raising the bar – this blow out was different from last year. It was more polished, but yet more exploratory and free. There was a higher energy; there were more expansive jams, and songs I’ve never heard them do.
I can’t help but refer to the very recent article in the San Jose Mercury News again. In this, he refers to his last 5 years, his experiences with both Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, how they have changed him musically, have opened him up to explore areas maybe he wouldn’t have gone, or maybe just not yet. I am certain that this rubs off on Nathan, Jeremy, Steve and Zach and has evolved this band’s live shows over time.
“Life is made of a million moments, catch one if you can.” (Stranger in the Sand) Well, we caught many moments this weekend. There was an affective energy that touched the souls of the musicians, blending their sounds and styles perfectly. Call it what you want – rockin’, funky, electrifying, soulful, tender, experimental, outrageous, madness….. As my friend might say after a night like that, “I’m all out of adjectives.”
Set 1 – The Jackie Greene Band
Brokedown Emotion (Jackie solo guitar), Medicine, Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, Never Satisfied, I’m So Gone*, Moment Of Temporary Color*, Don’t Let Me Down*, Uphill Mountain* (with Bruce Spencer on second drum kit)
Set 2 – Bob Weir and Jackie Greene, acoustic
Friend of the Devil, I Ain’t Broke But I’m Badly Bent, Easy To Slip, US Blues (Phil Lesh joins the stage for last two verses)
Set 3 – Jackie Greene, Phil Lesh, Grahame Lesh, Brian Lesh, John Molo, Steve Taylor, and Mark Karan
Shakedown Street> New Speedway Boogie, Happy Birthday Jackie!! (Phil sings, cake, balloon drop), I Know You Rider, Dire Wolf, So Many Roads
Set 4 – The Jackie Greene Band plus Bruce Spencer, Mark Karan, and Danny Louis (keys), *with Sunshine Becker (vocals)
Benny and the Jets, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (With Bob Weir, Mark Karan on vocals), Ain’t Wasting Time No More (Nathan Dale on vocals), Rock Your Papa (Mark Karan on vocals), Sugaree*, After Midnight* (w/Gabe Nelson sitting in on bass), Brown Sugar* Encore: Hallelujah (Jackie solo piano)