Last night I witnessed things that both saddened me and reaffirmed my faith in the power of music.
The night started out well. I closed shop, headed over to Fremont and snuck into a great little Cuban hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Paseo for a satiating Cuban Roast Pork platter. I could have died and gone to heaven right there.
From there it was a short roll down the hill to the Nectar Lounge, where Moonalice were playing. On paper, this looked like a can't lose proposition. Jack Casady, Barry Sless, Pete Sears, G.E. Smith and a supporting cast in a little club. Some encouraging internet chatter. It should have been good. Sadly, it wasn't. I'm a music fan and don't think I've ever had to write a negative review, so this pains me. I really wanted this to fly. After getting hit up for a $15 cover (the ads listed it as $12, and I have a real problem with this venue continually jacking their cover price) I went inside, ordered a Mirror Pond and a Makers neat and checked out the scene. I could see Barry's pedal steel set up on the side of the stage with a Phil Lesh & Friends sticker still on it. Promising signs.
There was an okay opening bass and guitar duo, and when I sidled over to check out the event poster, I got a pleasant greeting from a band staffer who encouraged me to sign up on the MA email list and pick up a free poster. It had a nice graphic of a hummingbird and was printed on thick paperstock, a generous freebie. After the opening act concluded, I was heading out to drop the poster off in my car when I stopped to show it to a local concert promoter I see at all the local jamband shows. He was impressed by the high quality materials used to make the poster, but told me that it was mostly because Moonalice is underwritten by some multi-millionaire who plays in the band. Interesting, but not necessarily a deal-killer.
Back inside, the band was on the stage. Jack looked dapper as always, all gussied up in a nice suit, and Barry was tucked away on the dark right corner of the stage, workin' the headband.
Seeing G.E. Smith's mug up close reminded me of all the time's on SNL when he'd stick his face right up in the camera. He's a very muscular looking guy with some of the biggest hands I've ever seen on a guitarist. He was front and center on the stage and Pete Sears was on the left with the audience afforded a clear view of his keyboards. The rest of the band was an anonymous drummer, female background vocalist, and a guy on acoustic guitar and vocals who seemed to be fronting the ensemble.
What's there to say. It just didn't click. It was nice to be up close to so much talent, but it all seemed wasted. This was my first time seeing Barry live and I definitely look forward to catching him with the DNB--if not for some nice leads by him, the show would have been a complete bust. Jack had to read the arrangements off a sheet music stand before each tune, as if this gig was just an afterthought. Pete Sears seemed uninspired. G.E. Smith had to defer his role as rhytmic center to the acoustic guitarist, who shambled on with some new age hoo-hah as he tried to kiss ass with the crowd. The highlight of the night would have been a pretty solid cover of Michael Martin Murphey's "Geronimo's Cadillac" that G.E. was singing and playing leads on, but a loud-mouthed drunk by the bar caused a disconcerting commotion during the tune that killed the tune's potential. After a thorougly lifeless cover of "Messing With The Kid," I found myself yawning openly. I did not want to embarass the band, and I realized I'd have to take drastic measures. It wasn't worth it to stick around. My soul felt like it was draining out onto the floor. Maybe they turned it around and the show got better, but I'm doubtful. I can't remember the last time I walked out of a show for any reason other than feeling sick.
When I parked my car back in the U-District, I remembered that a local band of kids I've seen a handful of times was playing at the Blue Moon Tavern, the legendary bohemian dive-bar frequented by the likes of Charles Bukowski, Alan Ginsberg, Tom Robbins and Janis Joplin. The band is called the Moondoggies, and their sound is similar to a fusion of The Band and Crazy Horse, although for the most part, their material is all original. The Blue Moon never has a cover, and usually has three bands a night. When I got there I asked the doorman if the Moondoggies had already played and he said they had. I told him I was disappointed, as I'd hoped to see some good music that night, and the Moondoggies had never failed me. I went inside and said hey to the drummer, a guy my friends and I call Carrot Top for self-evident reasons. He turned out to be a genuinely nice person and introduced himself as Carl. Turns out they hadn't played yet. I told him I was glad to hear that after my earlier letdown. He was suprised the Moonalice show had been a drag. I asked if they'd come up with any new material and if they were planning to get any of their material recorded. Carl said they'd worked up a few new tunes and were soon to be entering the studio. This band has been steadily gigging for over a year, so they would definitely benefit by making their music more accessible.
The Moondoggies are a five piece these days. Drums, guitar, bass, organist and a harmony vocalist. The Band comparisons are due to the bass player's dead-on reprise of Rick Danko's loping, popping sound, Carl's harmonic drumming a la Levon Helm, the guitarist's haunting lyrics and biting leads similar to Robbie Robertson and the organist's similarities to Richard Manuel's vocals and Garth Hudson's playing. The recently added guy who harmonizes has added yet another texture to this bands' vocal blend.
This is what the setlist looked like, although I'm guessing on the names of some of their originals:
Blue Moon Tavern
October 19, 2007
I Went Walkin'
Won't You Try A Little
It's Time I Start Changin' (Jesus Gonna Save My Soul)
Old Black Bird
Don't Make It Right
Jesus Is On The Mainline>
Back In Time
All Night Long (Where You Goin' With My Black Shoe)
You Got Me Upside Down
Don't Be Afraid To Wash Your Sins Away
Let's Go Downtown
I've Been Thinking About You>
I'm Running On Down The Track
Everything was original except "Jesus Is On The Mainline" (a recent addition) and the cover of Neil Young's "Let's Go Downtown," which these guys rip to shreds.
The Moondoggies played their hearts out and it was clear to see they believed in the music. Wish I could have said the same about the Moonalice show. This band would be better if they lost the guy on acoustic guitar and let G.E., Jack, Barry and Pete do the heavy lifting. Don't think I was just being cranky, I was prepared to dig their act but it just tanked. The Moondoggies, on the other hand are some talented young brothers who have a chance to do great things.
The Kids Are Allright!
I think you quite accurately described this band. I was fooled by this line up a couple of times and have learned that they are not worth the price of admission (which is usually free). Even the free T-shirts, posters & stickers isn't enough to get me there again.
>>>>the acoustic guitarist, who shambled on with some new age hoo-hah as he tried to kiss ass with the crowd.
Along with the chick vocalist is the problem.
Yes, she also seemed somewhat saccharine. The drummer was competent, however.
damn I am glad i didn't make the trip down. real life got in the way thankfully.
The kiss-ass is the rich guy who buys the band and the woman is his wife.
This band gets quite a bit of chatter around here and most of it is negative, which is unfortunate because as you say there is so much potential it's really surprising how bland and empty they are.
I've seen 'em a couple of times, and both times blaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
I don't think there's anything wrong with a rich guy buying a great band to play with; what the hell, I'd do the same thing....... EXCEPT I'd let the players I'm buying lead the way, and that is what the guy should get ripped for.
There is NO excuse for a line-up with GE Smith, Barry Sless, Jack Cassidy & Pete Sears to be so boring.
I mean, just as I'm reading over my post here and I see those names together I can't help but think, "Wow, what a band!"
It's really too bad.
BTW Dave, you get my vote for the most DETAILED reviews! Thanks for the time & effort.
I was there too. I have to agree with most of the above. Being an amateur, frustrated, really bad bass player the chance to see Jack Casady in a small club for $12 was a great thing under any circumstances. I found a few of the McNameess songs pleasant. Casadys playing was great but restrained. Every time I've seen Pete Sears he's always stayed in the background, lost in the mix. I'm glad I stayed to the end because GE took over and led the band in some more spirited playing on some interesting covers. Ending with a completely rearranged version of Somebody To Love with GE singing lead.