Joshua Bogen of JamBandsEurope doesn’t get to catch many jam acts in action as a European resident, so he’s taking full advantage of Jam In The Dam. Each day he’ll provide a diary of his experience in Amsterdam watching DSO, Mike Gordon, Lotus, Keller and moe.
After a busy day on Tuesday I woke up late, which I think will pretty much be the case for the duration of Jam In The Dam. The weather has been unchanged, overcast but not uncomfortable, with more than a touch of grey. A quick breakfast/lunch and off I went into the city to actually see something today. We were now relatively oriented and it did not take too long to arrive at the Van Gogh museum, probably the can’t miss sight for Amsterdam. An amazing collection, well organized to make the tour really easy to follow. And in the middle, we discovered a little gem, an oil painting by Van Gogh titled Skull of A Skeleton with Burning Cigarette. If you haven’t seen it, here it is…
Yet another good omen for the festival, and possible evidence that Van Gogh himself may have attended the earliest incarnations of Jam In The Dam. After that, and despite a drawn out quest to try what are apparently considered possibly the best french fries in the world, which ended in failure as the place was closed, we made it the Melkweg on time.
At this point I should mention that the Jam In The Dam schedule is printed out in what, for me, is a completely backwards way. For each day’s schedule the times for the “headliner” of the day, the last band to go on, is printed first, and the start and end times for the “opener,” the first band to play, is printed at the bottom, with the other bands’ time slots listed in reverse order. If you can follow me, that means that the first time you see on the schedule is when the last band goes on, a set at midnight, and the last time you see, at the bottom, is the time that the first band is supposed to finish their set, at 9:30 PM. However, when I first glanced at the schedule, reading in a logical fashion, i got the idea into my head that each night started at 12 midnight and ended at 9:30 in the morning. (which actually if you think about it, would be quite convenient for the people coming over from the U.S., who would basically never have to adjust to European time). Thankfully, that is not the case, and the festival got rolling right on time at 8 PM.
First up was Lotus in the main hall. The venue wasn’t full, but there was still a pretty good crowd as people wandered in late for the festival kickoff. There was also a contingent of old school Deadheads and Keller freaks who had already camped out in the small hall, and I imagine didn’t have plans to move from that room until the festival closes. Lotus was a pretty good choice to get things started as they let the crowd ease into dance mode. Although there is maybe a little too much synthesizer and sampling – almost all the vocals – for my comfort zone, I guess this is part of the future of jam music. And despite my quite unfounded fears that might be more techno than jam, it was very much live music, with some amazing guitar leads, a low slung but very heavy handed bass thundering throughout and sharp percussion. In fact, watching Lotus was sort of like watching any other jam band, it’s just that they pretty much toss aside the songs and go right to the improvisation.
[All Photos by Jon Derow]
Of course, almost from the get go, my plans went pretty much to hell in a bucket, as Keller Williams had started in the other room and we wanted to see what he was up to. Keller, the jam scene’s answer to Bobby McFerrin, is a one man spectacle. It was mesmerizing to watch him hop about the stage barefoot as he layered different loops and built his songs. Don’t know if he plays it often, but I was quite surprised to have him pull out Can’t Come Down, which is as vintage Grateful Dead as you can get. His show was a combination of music, storytelling and pure entertainment. The set finished up with the first sit-in of the festival, as Dark Star Orchestra guitarist Jeff Mattson and both drummers from DSO joined Williams on stage for a take on the JGB repertoire staple Don’t Let Go with a nice jazzed out mid-section.
We left Keller to make sure we didn’t miss the start of Mike Gordon’s debut set in the big hall, which was a spot on decision, despite being exactly what I had intended not to do – leave shows in the middle of a set. In theory, everyone is expecting Mike’s band to go “over the top” on night two, when they have the two-hour hedlining slot, but he pulled out some pretty heavy guns for his first set of the event. Early in the set, he had already broken out Sailin’ Shoes for a funky sing-along, a classic Max Creek tune (I guess Scott took my request to heart) and a Phish tune, which was all the Americans were waiting for. Then, out of nowhere, they bust out Jim Croce’s Don’t Mess Around With Jim. Completely unexpected, but surprisingly there were more than a few of us who recognized the song immediately, mainly as you can imagine the older crowd. After that, we ducked out of the main hall to go check out DSO, which was great, but I’m still kickin’ myself, as Mike ended his set later on with Idea, which is THE song i wanted to hear them play, can only hope it gets a repeat.
I came into the Dark Star Orchestra set right in the middle of Dark Star, which is as weird a place as any you can imagine to enter. That soon merged into St. Stephen, The Eleven and finally Lovelight, which went on forever. It’s natural for Deadheads to immediately focus on Jeff Mattson and Rob Eaton, as the main guitarists and vocalists, but for the second time that I had seen DSO, it was again Rob Barraco that really grabbed my attention. The first time I saw DSO it was with his take on Brent, and this time with a classic Pigpen rave up. Spot on. With this classic early seventies sequence of songs, and Rob playing a Hammond organ, it was pretty clear DSO was playing to their audience. European Deadheads, especially the veterans of the few dead tours over here, are purists to say the least (as in, “after ’72 it was never really the same band’), so they got a high energy dose of exactly what they came to see. “Donna” wasn’t to be seen, but she showed up later for a Dancing in the Streets with a We Bid You Goodnight closer.
DSO actually has the only fixed spot in the festival. They are set up in the small hall where they hold court each night starting at 10:30, and basically play till the night ends. The place is packed from start to finish (which is a nuisance if you want a beer, it’s easier to leave and get one at the bar in the other hall and come back, than try to worm your way over through the crowd). The acoustics are, however, spectacular, and it sounds fantastic wherever you are in the room. Especially as compared to the max hall where it’s obviously very high decibel up front, but at the back not all the music gets to you.
The headliner for the first night, charged with closing the show in the big hall, was moe. And they tackled it head on with an immense raging jam pretty much from the get go. As with almost every band here at JitD, with the exception of DSO, this is my first time to see them in action, so it’s always curious to see what’s behind the music you’ve only heard on tape.
Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey are a study in how two completely different guitar styles accent each other. Chuck strikes me as a very measured, composed guitar player, carefully laying down each note. And Al, well he’s pretty much all over the guitar, much less restraint and some wild solos. So you’ve got these two guitarists playing at different speeds and then behind various layers of rock you have a marimba covering what would have been keyboard parts and so there is this sort of cool bebop vibe peaking through. Complex and amazing. In any event, the first half an hour or so pretty much set the tone, as they moved in and out of songs assembling an asymetrical Zed Naught Z > Bearsong sandwich, with a Billy Goat filling. Quite delicious. A little later we got a nice BTO-esque rocker in Haze, the only thing they played off the new album, although I imagine we will get some more tomorrow. By the time they hit Timmy Tucker it was around two in the morning. Hopefully, we will be able to make it through three days of this.
More tomorrow, when Keller plays the big hall and Mike Gordon will play (we hope) his monster set.
3/15/69 Hilton Hotel San Francisco CA
Set One GD show: Hard To Handle ; Good Morning Little Schoolgirl ; Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven > Turn On Your Love Light
Set Two Elective: Doin’ That Rag ; Alligator > Drums > Alligator > Death Don’t Have No Mercy > Viola Lee Blues
Encore: It Hurts Me Too ; Dancing In The Streets ; And We Bid You Goodnight
Set: Zed Naught Z > Bearsong > Billy Goat > Zed Naught Z > Bearsong, Can’t Seem To Find, Haze, Where Does The Time Go?, George >(nh) Down Boy > (nh) Timmy Tucker
[via moe. FB Page]
Mike Gordon –
Set: Horizon Line > Voices, Sailin’ Shoes, Emotional Railroad, Meat, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim*, Dig Further Down, Don’t Do It, River Niger, Idea
* – First Time Played (Jim Croce)
[via Jen Bernstein]
Keller Williams –
Set: Bellwether, The Surf, Bush Pilot, Middle Road, Harps, Plant Your Root > Spiritualize, Behind Midwest Storefronts, Jump Off > Zelda > Jump Off