7th Jammy Awards – Breakdowns & Insight: Wamu Theater at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 5/7/08

It was the tightest Jammys show in at least three or four of them-thetype of night for which you’re tempted to use the word lean but pull back only because that might under-represent such a high quality of talent assembled. Tight, tight tight, with changes from the past few Jammys were subtle, but essential: slightly fewer acts with longer stretches devoted to each, giving time for collaborations (most, anyway) to marinate a bit and really suss out some value and excitement.

A friend-and known carper-suggested I title my recap "The Year The Jammys Lost Their Sense of Adventure," and it’s a harsh criticism with a nugget of fairness: all of the show’s pairings were pretty glove-fit, and there were no Travis-Tritt-Meets-Bisco style moments of once-in-a-lifetime weirdness/coolness, for better and for worse.

But to hear the silence-the heaviness in the room-when Trey Anastasio offered his thanks was all the in-the-moment catharsis anyone needed (anyone who tempered their expectations enough to realize Trey, Mike, Page and Fish wouldn’t be playing together, anyway). And yes, everything you’ve heard about the tribute’s appropriate handling is true, at least from this observer.

You can find any number of play-by-plays and breakdowns at this point, but without further ado, a few final shots across the bow from Glide’s Jammys desk:

MOST WELCOME CAMEO (EXPECTED): A Trey Anastasio guitar flight was an inevitability, but bringing him on to shred some Beatles with the Fab Faux was a masterstroke, made even more so by the fact that his entrance was a dramatic lift during a dramatic song that everybody knows-the easiest route to a "wow" moment possible-and it was still a "wow" moment all the same that didn’t end up feeling the least bit manufactured. Fire and brimstone between Trey and Jimmy Vivino in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," followed by playfulness and virtuosity in "Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." C’est magnifique.

MOST WELCOME CAMEO (UNEXPECTED): Joan Osborne with the Fab Faux. I miss Joan’s soulful cooing with the Phil & Friends lineups, and when she turned up to sing "Come Together" it was like a too-quick cup of coffee with an old friend.

MOST WELCOME CAMEO (PRESENTER DIVISION): Andy Gadiel, a true stalwart of the scene.

MOST WELCOME CAMEO (PRESENTER DIVISION, RUNNER-UP: Anthony DeCurtis, who has presented at every Jammys except 2006. The erudite DeCurtis has long championed what’s great about jambands while holding its sloppier groups accountable. Were it that more renowned critics didn’t dismiss the scene entirely on the basis of its quirks (I’m looking at you, Kelefa Sanneh), when half the shitty indie rock bands they regularly squander column inches on are cut from a far more generic  cloth. DeCurtis and another pantheon scribe, Alan Light, were a nice inclusion as presenters.

BEST UNFOUNDED RUMOR: With Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige performing at the arena upstairs, well, you couldn’t help but wonder…

JAMMYS MVP: None. I had this award pegged ahead of time for Warren Haynes; I figured he’d put in at least as many sit-ins as previous Jammys hosts, and well, being Warren and having a Warrenesque rolodex of pals, you’d be led to think so too. But Uncle Warren just wasn’t feeling it tonight-he seemed a little withdrawn (although anyone would next to the radiant Grace Potter). Following his and Potter’s opening blast-off with Joe Russo, Booker T. Jones and Will Lee-a stunner of a set, for sure-Haynes made but a single guest appearance, joining Tea Leaf Green, Allie Kral, and Glenn Tilbrook for Squeeze’s "Tempted." A fine moment, but fleeting.

LINE OF THE NIGHT: You could pick any sentence from any Phish tribute-start with Danny Clinch, proceed to Matisyahu, and then to Trey or Mike-but I have to give it to Leslie West for saying what we were all thinking: Grace Potter is a beaut. Actually, he didn’t say that so much as "the guy who played keyboards in Mountain was an ugly fuck!"

LINE OF THE NIGHT RUNNER-UP: Chevy Chase, dapper and amusingly aloof, accepted Keller Williams’ Jammy on Keller’s behalf-pretending to be Keller. Rambling his thank yous, which included "Blow Me Records" and "Clive Davis, for no apparent reason," it was funnier than the somewhat inspired, somewhat hamfisted Williams/Chase musical pairing.

BEST SET: Galactic kept things jumping (see below) and the McConnell-led jazz combo was a real treat, but no group had a hotter
fire blazing in a truncated set than the Fab Faux. Granted, they got to ride the Trey appearance to crowd feedback nirvana, but the energy was palpable even without Big Red.

HUBERT SUMLIN AWARD FOR PLEASE GIVE THAT GUY MORE TO DO IF YOU’RE GOING TO INVITE HIM: Todd Park Mohr, who played a stemwinder of a solo during his own "Sister Sweetly" during the Tea Leaf Green set and left without much else to contribute. Big Head Todd & the Monsters were a big part of the early 90s jam/alternative scene essential to the jamband tree’s cultivation, and the Jammys missed an opportunity to recognize one of the scene’s most underrated margin men.

ALMOST TOOK THAT AWARD FROM MOHR I: Booker T. Jones would have been the runaway winner-he appeared with the Haynes/Potter combo for some minor organ filigree-but he did get an impressive showcase in Galactic’s set, as the band strutted through "Hip Hug-Her" and thenbacked Sharon Jones for a scorching "Born Under a Bad Sign."

ALMOST TOOK THAT AWARD FROM MOHR II: Sharon Jones, who was onstage for all of five minutes, and owned every one of them. They couldn’t give her one more showstopper? How about a lead vocal on "Harry Hood"? (A guy can dream…)

MOST INNOVATIVE PHISH TRIBUTE: The jazz set. Sure, the speeches were nice (see below), the video and photo montages great and the Head Count Allstars’ set was a valiant show-closer, but the most innovative Phish salute was this conference of jazz greats for "Magilla" and "Cars Trucks Buses." Roy Haynes was crisp and clean, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton and James Carter all blew the doors off the place with their solo spots, and Page McConnell held his own with stylish aplomb. A stately acknowledgment, and not something just anyone would have thought to do.

BEST LEFT FIELD SONG CHOICE: Phish’s "Maze." Having to choose a Phish tribute set for a 30-minute slot must have meant brutal choices for Brownie, Magner, Joe Russo, Kyle Hollingsworth, Barber and Jake C. Kudos to them for going a little under the radar for their closer.

NOT SO BEST LEFT FIELD SONG CHOICE: With a little more time to explore, Rose Hill Drive and Matisyahu-coming aboard with his bandmates Aaron Dugan and Rob Marscher-might have had something. But their joint reading of the Flaming Lips’ "Are You a Hypnotist" barely got off the tarmac.

BEST "YEAH, THAT MAKES SENSE" PAIRING: Leslie West with Rose Hill Drive. Big, beefy, 70s-sounding rockers back one of that sound’s loudest, proudest torchbearers. "Goin’ Down" and "Mississippi Queen" were thick-cut steak, complete with gut-buster guitars and a narsty Grace Potter organ solo, too.

BEST "OK, NOW THAT WE’VE HEARD IT, YEAH, THAT MAKES SENSE, TOO" PAIRING: Glenn Tillbrook with Tea Leaf Green. "Mussels from the Shell" is definitely in TLG’s folk-rock ballpark, and it sounded great.

MIGHT NEED TO SWITCH TO DECAF AWARD: (tie) Will Lee and James Carter, and that’s no slight on either of them. Lee was bonkers, dancing around, goading Trey during the Fab Faux’s set, and ratcheting up the fun factor. Carter’s solos, especially during "Cars Trucks Buses," were skronky wonders full of atonal blurts and fireball runs-needed ostentation in what could have been a too-calm jam.

WAY TO INJECT YOURSELF AWARD: Cornmeal’s Allie Kral. Already humble in accepting Cornmeal’s much-deserved New Groove Jammy, she added a gorgeous, twangy country element to TLG’s set without claiming the limelight.

WAY TO TOTALLY TAKE OVER, IN A GOOD WAY AWARD: Doug E. Fresh, wh totally galvanized the end of Galactic’s set, trading lyrics with Chali 2na and then engaging in some beatbox/drum call-and-response with Stanton Moore, who matched him beat for beat, stomp for stomp.

TOUGH JOB, BUT SOMEONE’S GOT TO DO IT AWARD: The Headcount Allstars. The catharsis of the Phish speeches meant that instead of an all-hands finale as has been the case in previous Jammys, a Phish tribute set would be more of an epilogue-touching, reverent, just. As Hidden Track editor Scotty B. mentioned, the supergroup’s "Antelope" never quite took off, but Aron Magner worked delicious organ into "Maze" and Umphrey’s McGee’s Jake Cinninger injected enough of himself into several lead solos to draw a perfect balance between being one’s own guitar player and tipping one’s hat to an obvious influence. An important part of the evening, handled deftly.

WHY WASN’T MOE REPRESENTED IN THE PHISH JAM? BUT WAIT, THEY WERE! AWARD: Props to current moe. lighting director and scene staple Jeff Waful, who worked the light board during the HeadCount set to great effect.

BEST PRESENTATION: Danny Clinch, who almost single handedly kept Phish love from leaving appropriately sentimental territory and crossing into tongue-bath territory. A poignant salute to the band, especially in that he used a slide show of nostalgic photos as much as words. Perfect choice to do it.

BORN TO HOLD A MICROPHONE AWARD: Grace Potter, charming as hell, changing her outfit frequently and working the crowd. A true natural front-woman, as anyone who’s seen the Nocturnals can already attest.

PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE BUT DIDN’T PLAY: I spotted Eric Krasno, ReidGenauer, Scott Metzger, Tom Hamilton, Ryan Stasik, Fuzz, and Jonah Smith, and there is a glut of reports circulating about who else was milling about.

JUST WHEN IT’S FIXED, IT’S OVER: Word is trickling in today (LINK) that last night’s was the final Jammys show, at least in its present format. Which is too bad: I was already looking forward to Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic tributes brought to bear with similarly deft execution.

As the red-haired guy suggested, it was fun while it lasted.

Chad Berndtson is a music critic for The Patriot Ledger, a contributing writer to Glide, Relix, and other publications, and a
staff writer for PopMatters. He lives in New York City; drop him a line at [email protected]

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

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