S. Balaji Mani

Review: Phish PNC Holmdel – Night One

Phish @ PNC Bank Arts Center – May 31

While the opening three-night stand in Bethel, NY showed a lot of promise for the current summer Phish tour, Tuesday night’s show at the PNC Bank Center was a small step backward. Unexpected sound issues and botched sections nearly zapped most of the band’s confidence but despite these setbacks the band put forth a relatively energetic performance (albeit a very restrained energy).

[All photos by S. Balaji Mani]

Launched by the much-awaited Chalkdust Torture, the first set opened strong. A nicely placed Roggae followed, maintaining the energy while taking a laid-back tempo. Guitarist Trey Anastasio first encountered some tuning issues during The Moma Dance, correcting himself later on.

A high-energy Rock n Roll and intense Sand were extended but remained relatively structured as strictly Type I adventures. The improvisation in Sand was especially noteworthy, with Trey and Page taking melodic cues from each other. Just as the first set was coming to its eventual close, the composed parts of Divided Sky escaped Trey’s reach – whereas he had flubbed it in the past, this time he completely forgot one entire section. Embarrassed after attempting multiple times to remember the part, Trey deferred to the audience and encouraged the crowd to sing the missing notes. During these uncomfortable moments bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman exchanged looks of confusion but kept playing.

READ ON for more on Night One of Phish @ PNC…

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Review: Phish @ Camden, Night One

Phish @ Susquehanna Bank Center, June 24

Phish, continuing its 2010 summer tour, spent the first of two nights in Camden, NJ in a laid-back & playful mood. Kicking things off with David Bowie, the fans were sure that Phish was going to have fun that night. Starting off with one of the more compositionally challenging songs of the Phish canon, Trey Anastasio spent the first couple minutes keeping to himself – luckily his deep concentration resulted in a near-flawless execution of the bouncy lines he’d written decades ago. A false vocal start during Water In The Sky had Trey & Page light-heartedly poking fun at themselves. A refreshing Uncle Pen showed Mike having a blast, especially during his bass solo.

Following a Boogie On Reggae Woman that was the first real dance breakdown number of the evening (including two foot-bell calls from Mike), were a whole slew of much anticipated songs. Of note were the concise Gumbo, the dark Timber, and a speedy Birds of a Feather. Welcoming the audience to the concert, Trey took an opportunity before Fishman stole the limelight in I Didn’t Know to discuss his prediction at last year’s Camden show that the Philadelphia Flyers would win the Stanley cup. Having not won this year, Trey let the audience knew that Fishman would play a “voodoo” solo to “summon the spirit of the beast” and “guarantee” a Flyers victory in the future.

An energized crowd started a “Let’s Go Flyers!” chant that led to an impromptu call-and-response with Fishman’s vacuum solo – a special treat indeed for Phish fans. A seemingly long first set (13 songs) featured an unexpected Reba and concluded with the classic Led Zeppelin tune, The Rover. As the band began the scorching classic-rock ode, confused fans turned to one another asking “Is this a Zeppelin song?” The song featured melodic riffs and multiple sections brimming with fluid chord changes. Page took the helm at lead vocals and pushed the top of his range in a stunning performance, pleading “If we could just join hands!” during the song’s chorus.

READ ON for more of Balaji’s photos and thoughts…

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Review: Wilco @ the Orpheum Theatre

Wilco @ the Orpheum Theatre – Boston, MA – April 6

I think Wilco just outdid itself. No, in fact, I’m certain of it. The band’s current tour, dubbed An Evening With Wilco, is one of the boldest and bravest artistic statements the band has made since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot subverted big-wig record moguls at the beginning of the ’00s.

On Tuesday night in Boston, Wilco played just shy of 40 songs during a non-stop three-hour set. Twenty minutes later than anticipated, the band walked on stage as a computer-generated voice announced Wilco’s policies. The band slammed right into Wilco (The Song), bringing the voice back to introduce the band members in response to the chorus of “Wilco”s. The stage was much more decorated than previous Wilco tours, and the elaborate light display was synced to the music. With lights to set the mood of each piece and just a breath between songs to change guitars, Wilco was running an extremely professional tight ship.

The first half-hour included newer songs and the classic I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. The song ended in chaotic noise (not to mention a dizzying light spell), that drifted into frontman Jeff Tweedy’s casual strumming on One Wing, a track from Wilco’s latest self-titled album. Lead guitarist Nels Cline’s lightning strumming during solos garnered the room’s attention and propelled songs such as Impossible Germany. Bassist John Stirratt traded places with Tweedy for the lilting and folksy It’s Just That Simple, a song that showed Wilco’s roots and its softer side.

READ ON for more of Balaji’s thoughts and photos from Wilco…

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Review: the Disco Biscuits @ HOB – Boston

The Disco Biscuits @ House of Blues – Boston March 19

Disco Biscuits fans went into last Friday’s show in Boston with mixed feelings: it had been announced earlier that day that Jon Gutwillig (or “The Barber” as he’s commonly called) injured his wrist in an accident after the previous night’s show. Instead of canceling the show, the Biscuits decided to treat fans to a free evening – offering reimbursements for purchased tickets – full of “surprise guests.” After an opening set from The Indobox, an impatient audience chanting “Bisco” brought the band out, minus Barber. Bassist Marc Brownstein confirmed Barber’s absence, and introduced the new three-piece version of the band as The Triscuits. Without any hesitation, the band kicked into a straightforward and unadorned Oname Wa.

The first guest to fill Barber’s position came in after the first song – Chris Michetti, Burlington guitarist for the band RAQ and a friend of the band, got the call earlier that day and spent “seven hours living and breathing Biscuits.” Brownstein even joked that Michetti “knows the songs better than me.” Michetti punctuated a version of Park Avenue with hits from his Whammy pedal, but his playing was decidely low in the mix. Watching keyboardist Aron Magner for cues, Michetti got through the next few songs comfortably. His playing was especially good on a track from the recently released album Planet Anthem called Uber Glue, which evolved out of an upbeat and well-received Tricycle.

Even though it seemed like the band was keeping things a little simpler than usual, there was still some fantastic improvisation, and room for Michetti to explore. As the first set went on, the dancing crowd seemed to have forgotten Barber’s injury. The Indobox’s guitarist Joey Zarick (a local Berklee-grad) also took the challenge of learning a couple Biscuits tunes. He came on for set closing Helicopters, which segued into a subdued Gangster. Zarick was ready to bring the band back into Helicopters for the finale. Not only did he take on guitar duties (along with Michetti, who remained on stage), but he also took care of Barber’s vocals, much to the delight of the crowd. READ ON for more on the Biscuits in Boston…

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Review: Mike Gordon Band in Northampton

Mike Gordon Band @ Pearl Street – March 13, 2010

Mike Gordon’s solo project combines a good dose of funk with a lot of boundless improvisation. The band stopped at the Pearl Street nightclub in Northampton, MA on Saturday to prove how capable and willing they are to put on a fresh, exciting, and unique show. In a post-show conversation with percussionist Craig Myers, “Mike is constantly pushing new sh**. Sometimes the hits come late, but then other times we’ve just created something new.” And more often than not, they’re creating something new.

His backing band is not so much of a “backing band” when you look at how guitarist Scott Murawski and keyboardist Tom Cleary took the helm during portions of Saturday’s show. Murawski’s solos are smooth and story-like, concluding gracefully as Mike subtly brings the band back to a chorus. While Murawski is off on his own improvising, he’s clearly locking into Mike’s playing at all times. Cleary, on the other hand, usually lays low adding color when necessary to every song. However, when it’s his turn to solo, Cleary is unstoppable and wild – he often ends up halfway through his jams standing up and spinning around while playing.

The Saturday show kicked off with Can’t Stand Still, an original song that evokes ’90s era alternative pop. Mike’s voice harmonized and blended well with the voices of the other members of the band who sang backup. While everyone danced in sync to the opening song, Spiral, which followed, was a little hiccup in the setlist. The groove was a little hard to grasp for an audience that wanted to dance. Things quickly changed however when Mike invited Mark Mercier, one of his favorite musicians and Murawski’s Max Creek band mate , to take over Cleary’s position on the boards. Mercier sang lead and jammed on Columbus Stockade, and Cleary came back to do double duty on keys with Mercier on Voices, a standout track from The Green Sparrow.

for more of Balaji’s thoughts and photos of the MGB…

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