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1/15/05 Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NC
Setlist (courtesy donnabase.com)
In This Life, Ancient Arms, Me & Depression, Life's A Ride, Mr. King,
Family Picture, America, River of Gold, I Don't Need a Riddle, Positive Friction,
Blue Sky, Tomorrow Still Knows, Yonder, Killing a Man, Le Chanson Perdue (The Lost Song), Little Wing, Riddle of the Universe, No Place Like the Right Time, Mystic Water
Encore: Hollywood Dream, Don't Go Down
One More Saturday Night
By John Gibson
In the spirit of equivocation, I'll clearly assert that this band and their sound truly miss Jim Miller. But alas, as has repeatedly been stated, they more than hold their own on musical and other levels, and proceeded to literally blow the roof off of the Lincoln Theater at times Saturday night. Every single one of them cranked it out, added new/missing elements to the music, and took it places we'd yet to realize they had in them.
I can't give a set list, only time for a few highlights of the evening. I walked in to a very, very tightly packed theater Saturday night in the middle of a mighty finely out there mid-song meandering on the all-too-absent-lately Me & Depression. This one wasn't quite as towering as that Black Cat version from January 2001, but from the moment I walked in, Jeb & Co. had this song going in some rather exploratory, noodling directions, which ain't a bad thing at all.
After the last half or so of Me & Depression, the songs seemed to hit an official starting point of sorts for the night. Tara followed that with a really short version of Life's a Ride, and then I swear EVERY SINGLE SONG was played a little bit better than the previous one. By the time the night had ended, then, we'd hear some epic versions of more than a couple of tunes.
Jeb and Tara in particular were expressive and thankful and heartfelt in so many ways beyond the music. Their body language, eye contact, waves, and words were as genuine as they've ever been. As he often does, Jeb spoke on several occasions. The recurring message, particularly toward the end of the evening, was that this band is deeply appreciative for all the support they always receive, especially right now, and he seemed to repeatedly stress that the band was forging on with no intention of slowing down or changing anything.
This is a paraphrase, NOT his exact wording. But even a friend who sees them at best once a year with me and was there last night said that Jeb really seemed to be reaching out to fans to thank them for everything and also to reassure them that proverbial show would go on. That's not a shocker to any of you, I'd imagine, but it was very refreshing to hear in person last night, since I hadn't seen a show since Shakori.
The rest of the band has only upped their contributions to making this an even tighter unit. Kathy was already getting more and more room to showcase her chops every time out it seemed, but boy, was she on it, throwing in some fine clavinet thingies in addition to the keys. Jeb seemed to really be grooving on her and was literally rocking his body and guitar in her direction on several tunes, as if he were going to morph into part of the keyboard. In fact, at times I thought we were going to get some Puryear down on his knees like I remember in some of the jams/raps with the Overtakers a few years ago.
I can't remember which Tara tune inspired it, but Jeb also had the serious vertical bounce going on as well. Y'all know what I'm talking about. He gets himself to just bouncing up and down like his loosening up for a basketball game or something. It might have been "River of Gold," but I'm not sure.
Bill's mannerisms and expressions are simply priceless. I've seen very few who can "feel" music through expressions as well as he can. These are no rock-star wannabe looks--they are purely the looks of a man possessed (in a good way) by something that one's body and instrument cannot contain. He appears as if his mouth is having to utter and force out everything he's thinking but can't work out of his bass without ruining the song for everybody else. He absolutely pulses with a yearning that says his every molecule is pushing that cosmic thunderclap out of him.
I even found myself mesmerized by Tom on occasion, particularly during something late in the evening. There was a point where I swear he had his head pointed up in the air and did not move it for 5 minutes while he kept it going on the snare drum. He was motionless with his head uplifted in a sense of truly spiritual homage to the vehicle that was carrying them all somewhere very, very special, sacred, difficult, moving, complex, simple, pure, convoluted, and then some. This might have been during Mystic Water or Riddle of the Universe. The purple/violet lights they had shading him at some point were mighty fine, too.
By the way, that "Mystic Water" was another of those (aren't they all?!) that really makes me re-orient my bearings with that tune. I'd best verbally compare that place to what David Gans sings about when describing the old Dead parking lot scene: "Best place to get your wires crossed." Nearly every time I hear "Mystic Water," I honestly feel that music (particularly from this song and these people) can achieve no higher sense of raw bliss and sheer honesty.
This version, sans Jim even, roared with aggression from the get-go. Jeb and Tara stretched it out quite a bit, but this one never, ever seemed to even take a nod in the direction of serenity. And yet the entire mantra of its message and roar of its beastly engine is somehow one of absolute tranquility. This version sounded to me like it would go right up there with any of the all-time ones. Some of Jeb's near-growls at times had me reminiscing about the Magic Valley '98 version, even...
On another note, the band even had its physical set up such that you'd hardly imagine Jim having space up there. Tara was no longer truly on a side. She and Jeb were on the same sides you'd normally seem them on, but both were just a bit off center, so neither of them really seemed on the side. Plus Kathy seemed positioned a little closer to the front and away from the side of the stage, so that they were visually trying to make sure the space Jim would occupy was not vacant (in a physical sense). This is not a criticism; in fact, I think it's a fairly wise move.
There were many, many fine tunes, particularly the last half or so. A couple of Tara's tunes did seem shorter than normal, but my oh my, the late-show Yonder simply scorched my brain. Her fiddle playing was simply sizzling, particularly on this one. She physically rocked from her waist up throughout most of this one, and seemed to determined to take everyone well, well beyond the typical lengths this song is jammed too, especially since it has come back in the rotation in the past couple of years. I will never tire of her fiddling--ever. It's very easy to get used to hearing something a hundred times on disc, but seeing and hearing (live) her bow that thing is one of the purest pleasures on earth.
The Mr. King/Family Picture/America combo was a very tasty, jumpy mixture that definitely had the theater about ready to bounce itself into the parking deck across the street.
Tara continued her run on I Don't Need a Riddle, into which I'm sure folks are reading all kinds of real-time symbolism. I found it more sensual than dirge-like on this evening. Shit, I'll go ahead and say it: It was downright sexy, though I doubt that was the intention. Just one of them things ya can't put a finger on, but boy, can you feel it.
Speaking of honest and touching, during Riddle, Jeb stepped up to the mic and had everybody tone it down. He said a few words about Tara mid-song. Everybody else played very soft rhythm while she seemed to get louder. Jeb then said something along the lines of, "I want everybody to listen really closely right now and you're going to hear something very, very beautiful." I don't know if he even mentioned Tara's name or not, but for a minute or two, he called the band down and very matter-of-factly made us all realize how truly "beautiful" to the point of being sensual her playing was on this, likely the instrument she plays the least with the band.
They closed with Don't Go Down yet again. I actually heard the last night of Key West's version on my home computer, but this one was much, much meaner, tighter, forceful, and vocal. As others have said, it literally sounded like they'd already worked this one into a regular tune, though it was barely a week old. I wouldn't say angry was his tone, but Jeb sounded very, very intent, raw, commanding, and relentless. I know the song has three verses, but the last one or the chorus to it seemed to be repeated a half dozen times or more as they ground that thing to an almost never-arriving end. I really sensed that they didn't want to let it end, to let the breath stop filling the air. There was no fear in it, but Jeb was not going to let that one end quietly.
Anywho, enjoyed it and that's far, far enough for now. Just got a brief window of time tonight and wanted to somehow get out some of the beauty and reassurance all of those beautiful people gave me. I can't wait to hear this one again. I love this band. I love these people. I love music :-)