I got to be part of a very cool project this winter as Johann invited me to join a band he put together for a series of David Bowie tribute shows. We performed together with two other bands on two different nights in two separate venues!
One of the coolest parts about this project for me was that I was playing bass instead of guitar. They needed a bass player so there ya go. Play bass, mate? Yer in the band.
No recordings from the shows themselves, but I did make this tape of our final rehearsal.
Last month we saw Steely Dan at the Beacon – incredible shows.
I went on a Monday night with Bill for Aja, the Dan’s 1977 album. The title track is amazing:
On Tuesday night I brought Mrs P, Anna and Tuck for The Royal Scam, from 1976. Best track, “The Caves of Altimira”:
They played “My Old School”, “Hey 19”, “Peg”, “Reelin’ in the Years”, and all sorts of hits. Plenty of Dan Fans were singing along in the audience – there was a very close-knit feel in the crowd. The Beacon is a beautiful theatre and I highly recommend it to all.
For a better explanation of why The Royal Scam is so awesome, check out this guy’s blog, where I cribbed the photo of Fagen.
Luckily I have a lot of good friends, ones that I can hang with in New York, and ones I can reach by phone around the world – and my family makes for pretty good company, too. So it hasn’t been terrible. But without my girl, things aren’t complete. We’re supposed to be together – we’ve got a plan!
Relax, I tell myself. The plan is still in place. It just feels like a giant interruption.
Meanwhile, I have been having quite a lot of fun.
There was the giant Phish festival – SuperBall IX – in Watkins Glen, NY, which is practically a home town for me, with Seneca Lake and Geneva – the birthplace of my grandfather – right there. I’ve been going to Seneca Lake since I was three months old, but I never went to a three-day rock festival at the race track and camped out on the grounds – over Fourth of July weekend. That was awesome.
I even managed to get up to the old lake house and have a swim!
My campgrounds for the weekend were comfortable and pleasant:
Also, I went to Nantucket with the GRP – my old reggae band from college. What a fantastic weekend that was!
My friends took a great shot of me walking on a beautiful beach:
Don’t call it Two Thousand Ten or Two Thousand and Ten. We’re done saying “Two Thousand” now. It’s a relic, appropriate only for history professors or others who want to sound dignified. That’s my two cents. We can still hang out.
Two Thousand Nine was a cool year, I think. A lot of people are down on 2009, with good reason. Lots of lost jobs and houses, for sure. I don’t want to sound insensitive to that, but things are going pretty great for me and I’m happy. I got problems, sure, but I don’t have life-threatening problems. And I’ve got a lot of good people around me to help out, starting with Xianyi, and extending through my family, to my friends all around the world.
What else was cool about Oh-Niner? I saw a bunch of good concerts, which was a goal of mine, so – mission accomplished. Black Keys back in February kicked it off. Phish on the lawn at Merriweather, where I ran straight into my cousin Nick while roaming the grounds and shared a beer with him. Phish again, this time at the Garden, with the incredible light show courtesy of Chris Kudora – WOW.
I was twice at Carnegie Hall, once as a date to the symphony with Xianyi, and once with her, Dave and Tom for Arlo Guthrie. Amazing theatre. My goal for 2010 is seeing more historic NYC venues – Beacon top of the list (sidenote: too bad Cirque de Soleil’s 6-month run will block the Allman Bros from doing their gazillionth show in a row at the Beacon this March).
We did two great weddings this year. One was an entire adventure vacation, and the other was an intimate affair at home, and our first trip to the Cape.
We were up in Beijing for the Labor Day holiday, and it was six days of relaxation and partying. Xianyi and I finally visited the Forbidden City together, although we failed (again) to find our way to the Great Wall. We were just too busy sleeping in each day to bother making the 2-3 hour trip. Anyway, the wall’s not going anywhere. And one of the cool things about Beijing is that you don’t have to go far to see really cool traditional Chinese architecture. The above picture, for example, was taken during our last hour in the city, when I asked the taxi driver to pull over for a minute as we drove to the train station.
The highlight of the trip was the MIDI Festival, China’s only outdoor rock festival. We spent one of our days at the four-day show and had a great time. Probably should have gone on other days, too, but it just didn’t work out. While there, we saw a lot of bands, none of whom I was familiar with. But I wasn’t really there for the music, more for the atmosphere. Here you have ten to twenty thousand young Chinese gathering in Beijing’s Haidian Park just hanging out, listening to music, drinking beer and selling wares. Lots of food stalls, people selling t-shirts and handmade goods, and plenty of cheap, cold beer. It was awesome!
Mostly I spent the hours skating on the mini-ramp that Eli’s company had set up on the grounds. I fell down about 20 times but it was great to watch some of the guys there who really knew what was up, like this Swedish dude:
I was having so much fun skating, I pretty much missed all the bands. But we could hear lots of music, so that was all that mattered.
Here I am looking like maybe I know what I’m doing. To see what actually happened, click here. It’s pretty funny.
About a month ago I saw Ziggy Marley at the Yunfeng Theatre here in Shanghai. I love reggae music – used to be part of a reggae band, and I still write reggae songs for my blues band – but I didn’t catch a ticket for Ziggy for two reasons. First, because I didn’t want to spend the money. Second, because in the back of my mind I was thinking maybe it wouldn’t be – what’s the word here – genuine?
There is a line of thinking that says Bob Marley was the best thing and the worst thing that ever happened to reggae. The best, obviously, because he put reggae on the map and became an international superstar. But also the worst, because he was so celebrated and triumphant, and in his untimely death became a lionized legend – and the thinking goes, no one will ever be as great as Marley again. Meaning reggae is doomed.
Some say it has played out that way. The eighties were tough times for reggae. Despite the success of Black Uhuru, with famous rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare (who played with many, many reggae groups), fewer and fewer people seemed to pay attention after Marley’s death. As the eighties became the nineties, and especially as we moved into the 21st century, reggae has been making a comeback on the strength of artists like Toots Maytal, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Burning Spear and Eek-a-Mouse.
Bob’s oldest son with his wife Rita, Ziggy Marley first gained popularity as the leader of the Melody Makers, a band he formed with his siblings. That got old pretty quickly, however, and for the last few years he has been establishing himself as a solo artist. He came into Shanghai with a ten-piece band (including a Chinese-looking guitarist, who I’m not sure is a full-time member, two backing vocalists and himself), fresh off his success at the Grammys, where his recent album, Love is My Religion, took the award for best reggae album.
Ziggy played lots of songs from the album, including the title track, which I found particularly uplifting. “I don’t condemn, I don’t convert.” Also beautiful and inspiring was “A Lifetime,” as in “A lifetime isn’t enough to love you, a lifetime isn’t enough to live.”
During the show I took a break and caught up with some friends. In a circle of conversation there was a German guy I’d never met who agreed with me that the concert was going well, but complained that Ziggy was “just playing his dad’s stuff.” My first reaction was that Ziggy was splitting it 50/50 between his own and his father’s songs – and that was fine with me! They opened with a great Ziggy tune – I don’t know the name – which talked about the “children of Palestine” and right after that launched into a killer “Positive Vibration” that really blew the crowd up.
Thinking about the German’s comments, I realized that had been my fear coming into this whole thing – that Ziggy’s music wouldn’t be genuine. That somehow it wouldn’t be a good concert. I suppose I had the image of the Melody Makers in my head. I was totally wrong. Ziggy brought some of Jamaica’s finest musicians to China to show us what Roots, Rock, Reggae is all about. As for critics’ complaints that Ziggy plays Bob’s stuff, my retort is: who else is more qualified to play it? And don’t the people still yearn for it? You bet we do.
There were times when I doubted myself in this conviction. Ziggy’s lead guitarist played most of the show wearing a menacing screw face. He seemed to be thinking, I can’t believe I’m playing “Jammin” for a bunch of white kids AGAIN. But you know what? He doesn’t have to play in Ziggy’s band, does he? As a great man once said, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride. And there was a special moment in the middle of a forbidden riddim when this same dude broke it down and started toasting over the beats – to the crowd’s roar.
And when they did the epic “War–>No More Trouble” medley that epitomizes the struggle for justice in all the world, I was a full-blown Rastafarian shouting out the words of Haile Selassie himself as Bob had arranged them.
It was a night the GRP should have celebrated together. Props are due to Dave Hoya for calling me up and saying, “I’m in line to buy tickets to Ziggy Marley and I’m getting one for you.” It was a lesson I won’t forget.
All week, we’ve been doing little besides eating, sleeping and reading. I finshed one book and started another. Xianyi has been in a blissful mood for days as she constantly feeds on her mother’s cooking. And this little computer and wireless internet are keeping me from getting too bored in between meals and naps.
One of this year’s blessings has been the weather: Chengdu is pleasantly warm and dry. The first year we visited Xianyi’s parents for Chun Jie (2004) was a cold, wet nightmare. It rained every day. The cold was biting, especially since they don’t have any heat except for an electric blanket. In fact, the following year, they bought a space heater just for me because it was obvious how miserably cold I was the first year. And I used it all the time, though it didn’t help much. But this year, it’s been great.
Despite the warmth, however, Xianyi’s mom still implores me to “Chuan yifu!” (put more clothes on) every chance she gets. And her life comically revolves around food. Her last words before going to bed every night are, “If you get hungry, boil some eggs.” One night, after she had retired and we were still watching TV, she called out from the bedroom, “Are you guys hungry? I can make you some rice.” Her food is delicious, though. And she certainly can’t be blamed for her food-centric ways; as a child, she was poor and food was a constant concern. Not an uncommon thread in China.
The other night we went out to see Dan and Tenzin, though we only caught up with Dan. He has been DJing at a local club, which, as it turns out, was one of Fang Bian Mian’s stops on the infamous Tour. It has been completely re-done since then, however. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was Dan at the controls:
Besides us and about 50 staff, the place was dead. Such is life on the Tour. The manager, Nick, introduced himself and showed us around his very large, very nice, and very empty nightclub. We had a drink, chatted a bit with Dan, and came home.