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11/5/04 Magic City Music Hall,
Johnson City, NY
Setlist (courtesy donnabase.com)
Everything Seems To Want To Hurt This Time, Tides Of Time, Killing A Man, No Place Like The Right Time, Pretty Boy Floyd, Positive Friction, Blue Sky, One Drop Of Rain, Do My Thing,* You're Breakin' My Heart,* It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, Let's Try Again,** Family Picture, Living In The Promiseland, Funkyside*
Encore: Small Axe, Ring Of Fire, When I Lay To Sleep, Let Love Move Me
*with Ward Puryear on rubboard
Ring of FIIYYYYAAAARRR
If there was any question as to whether the outcome of the presidential election was weighing heavily on the minds of Donna the Buffalo, the band made it perfectly clear with their choice of openers: Everything Seems to Want to Hurt This Time. And this was no simple symbolic opening song, but a heartfelt expression of their collective disappointment at this turn of events, ringing with sadness and dismay with every note, every lyric, and every change. The song peaked and dipped over and over again, with Tara's fiddle never sounding more forlorn as it did on this particular version.
At least that's how it seemed to me.
As the setlist unfolded, it struck me that the choices were nothing short of brilliant. The band purposely avoided musically expressing their political frustration through obvious tune like Push Comes to Shove or America, and instead set the tone with the opener and left most of the rest of the songs subject to interpretation. Jeb made veiled references to the election throughout the set, mentioning a "great tragedy" and jokingly welcoming us all to the underclass. But he held off on directly addressing our country's choice of president until the very end, right before an astoundingly appropriate Let Love Move Me.
There was lots of great music between those two songs--more than three and a half hours worth. After starting the show with Seems to Want at an uncharacteristically early 9:30, Tara fired up the accordion for Tides of Times, and everyone who wasn't already dancing by then joined in. I thought Killing A Man was a move to slow the pace down, but I was wrong--the only was to describe how they played this song was scorching. I had seen them play this song only a few times before, and don't remember them playing it with such passion.
No Place Like the Right Time and Pretty Boy Floyd were followed by Positive Friction, during which I took a moment to leave the rail and see how the other half was enjoying their show. This proved to be a BIG mistake, because even though I did get to meet the esteemed Liz O'Brien, the band absolutely smoked on this song, with Jeb in full rock guitar mode. Listening to the show on CD later I heard things I had never heard in any previous version of Positive Friction. Oh well. The Blue Sky that came next was spirited, with everyone throwing their arms in the air during the chorus, which I hadn't seen or noticed before.
Then the band did slow things down for One Drop of Rain, a song I especially enjoyed because I wasn't very familiar with it. But then it was right back up again, and back up to rail for me, for a high-energy Do My Thing into You're Breaking My Heart, both of which were augmented by Ward on scrub board.
I don't think anyone could have guessed the Dylan song that the band was going to play for the first time next, and I had always been a big fan of It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry since hearing recordings of Jerry and John Kahn doing it. The crowd went beserk and the band really seemed to enjoy playing this tune, enough that they'd do it again in Rochester the next night.
Jeb debuted a new song of his next, titled Let's Try Again. It was a slow, sad number apparently about love lost that played well into the theme of the evening. Family Picture brought us back to classic Donna, while Living in the Promisedland spoke yet again about our nation's future.
What went down next was one for the annals of Donna history. The band launched into Funkyside, and then apparently decided to see just how far they could stretch it out. At some point this tune completely abandoned all known highways and headed out to deep space nine. This was about as spacey, and at times, noodle-ish, as I'd seen them get. At one point Dr. Jim playing while kneeling on the stage with Jeb hovering over him, with each guitar player in a vastly different musical space. When it all came to an end no less than 30 minutes later, no one was quite sure what to think, and the band bowed and left the stage.
Their break was extremely short, and when they came back out for what would be a four-encore, they picked up right where they'd left off, both musically and spiritually. Small Axe was absolutely the right song at the right time, and now the political overtures were no longer subtle.
After this song ended, Tom leaned into the mic and said "Ring of fire! Ring of FIIYYYYAAAARRR!" in a satanic growl that had the rest of the band hysterical, and so they played it. This song was followed by a long conversation about what to play next, which eventually was the pretty and apparently somewhat rare Tara tune When I Lay To Sleep.
As sweet as this song was, it seemed obvious that the night would have to end on something else. That something else was no less than Let Love Move Me, played after Jeb commented on the election and forgave anyone in the crowd for voting for Bush. This song was a fitting, nonpartisan message of hope for us to dance to and then take home with us. I had been wanting to hear this song for quite some time, and the version they delivered was every bit as poignant as I'd hoped for.
I've seen several Donna sets that I'd describe as average, many that I'd describe as great, and a few as excellent. But this was by far the most emotional I'd ever seen this band play.