Thursday, May 10, 2007

3 concerts in 2 weeks

It's like we're young again or somethin'.

We saw Muse and My Chemical Romance at W&M Hall on the 28th of April, Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit and The Derek Trucks Band last night, and will see the Rachel Leyco Band on Friday night.

While the first of the trio was a really great show with excellent showmanship from both bands, great performances, and cool light effects, last night's show was decidedly on a different note. In a word, it sucked.

Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit was a monumental, groundbreaking band in the early '90's. Bruce brought together Jimmy Herring (a phenomenal guitarist who later went on to tour with the Allman Brothers), Oteil Burbridge on bass, Apartment Q-258 on drums, and Chuck Levelle (the former touring keyboardist from the Rolling Stones). Their music was southern rock / jam / jazz / experimental / fusion, kind of all tossed into one, with a little flair of country mixed in for good measure.

In the early days, they weren't so much a jam band as they've become. Sure, there would be a longish solo somewhere in almost every song, but each of these guys were virtuosos, and the song always had a cohesive beginning, middle, and end, and often the solos would work within the fabric of the song, telling a story that weaves its way back to the melody. The music was wildly inspiring, and seeing them on stage blew my mind. Twice.

Sadly, the Col. had some health problems in the 90's, and he left. He went on to some lower-key projects like the Fiji Mariners and CodeTalkers, but never really put another group of musicians together that were as talented as ARU. ARU, however, couldn't keep up the momentum without Bruce Hampton, and they disbanded. Jimmy went with the Allman Brothers, Oteil released some solo stuff, and the rest just went and played with other groups.

Last night, they were all together again, with some dude I didn't know playing banjo. Chuck Levelle was nowhere to be found, and Count M'butu (who originally played percussion) was slated to play with the Derek Trucks Band later. Weird, but ok.

Anyway, they sounded like they had never played together before. The Colonel didn't play much, and didn't call on his bizarre vocal tricks very often. He was very subdued, and the band was, too. Oteil was great, Jimmy was phenomenal, but it wasn't cohesive. The songs regularly dissolved into solo masturbation, each handing off to the next for minutes on end. It quickly became difficult to tell one song from the next, and the banjo player was pinching off a lot of notes: just not playing cleanly at all.

I still enjoyed it, don't get me wrong. But the music and the vibe have changed. There was a cool moment when Derek Trucks just showed up on stage and started jamming with them (I swear, the guys playing sounds exactly like Duane Allman's), and a couple of times when Apt. Q-258 handed the drums over to other folks in the middle of the songs. So it was an engaging and entertaining performance, but altogether lackluster.

We decided to catch a couple of Derek Trucks songs afterward, and that was all I could handle. His music was very proficient, but also very boring.

All in all, not really worth the price of the tickets, but it was great to see all my heroes back on stage together. I even got a pic of Col. Bruce talking with Derek Trucks between sets (I was just about 6 feet away from them, but couldn't get close enough to ask for an autograph).

I'm sure Rachel's performance tomorrow night will be much better. I know and enjoy her music, and this time, we get to take Alastair with us.

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