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11/17/07 Highline Ballroom,
New York, NY
Movin On, Living in Babylon, Ring of Fire, Locket & Key, Family Picture, Rockin Horse, Hey Trudy, Conscious Evolution, Blue Sky, These Are Better Days, If You Only Could, Funkyside, Temporary Misery, Pancho & Lefty,* Broken Record, Everyday, No Place Like The Right Time*
Encore: Mystic Water,** Hot Tamale
*with David Gans
**Jeb and Tara only
By Jeff Bauer
As far as friends go, David Gans is a good one to have. The popular musician/author/GD Hour radio host has long been vocal about his unapolgetic love for Donna the Buffalo, and he isn't shy about showing this love, most recently by inviting the band to headline a benefit for the Rex Foundation that took place 11/17/07 at the Highline Ballroom in New York, NY. In addition to DtB's set, the event also featured performances by Gans himself and Ollabelle.
This was a night of several firsts for me: First time seeing a show at the Highline Ballroom, first time seeing DtB with Jay Sanders on bass, first time seeing whoever new was doing sound for the band, first time seeing DtB with Gans, who I knew was going to sit in for at least part of the set. I also brought along a friend who was seeing DtB for the first time.
We got in early enough to catch David Gans' set. He perform solo for most of his set, then invited up most of Ollabelle--and his niece, whose name I missed, on bass--for a cover of Donovan's Season of a Witch. He ended the set with Ollabelle but minus his niece for a version of Birdsong that the Deadheads in the crowd welcomed enthusiastically.
Ollabelle's set was a pleasant surprise. I had seen them before and while they're extremely talented, their gospel-tinged sound was at times a bit mellow for my taste. On this night, they focused on their more uptempo tunes. They also covered several Dead tunes, including New Speedway Boogie, a stunningly beautiful version of Ripple, and a High Times encore with David Gans. Vocalist Catherine Russell joined the band for their entire set; if you haven't heard this woman's incredible voice, it was a definite highlight of the night.
Next came a long (45 minutes) break. I don't know who did sound for DtB at this show, but by the time the band hit the stage and launched into Movin On at 10:15, they sounded great, and stayed that way throughout the night.
Tara's Living in Babylon came next, and it was apparent that the band's high energy from the previous night's show, which I'd listened to as a webcast, was still in full force. Ring of Fire was the next song, and it here that I first noticed how well I could hear each individual instrument, particularly Kathy Z.
After Locket and Key, the band got the already excited NYC crowd into a frenzy with a hard-rocking Family Picture. Again I was especially enjoying KZ's playing here. Rockin Horse is one of my favorite Jeb compositions, and this version was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that I could clearly hear the lyrics.
Finally Tara broke out the accordion, and the dance floor came alive with Hey Trudy. This was when I decided to abandon my comfy perch on the balcony, where the sound and sightlines were near-perfect, to join the masses on the floor.
The band built on this energy by going into Conscious Evolution. I've seen this song a few too many times, but on this night, it was PERFECT--the right song, at the right time in the set, played with an intensity that other songs just don't bring out. Jeb solo'd effortlessly, Tara kept right with him on the fiddle, Kathy did her thing, all while Tom and Jay, who played like he's been in the band for years, held down the bottom end, keeping things for descending into complete chaos. It was one of those times where all musicians' playing merged into one, and the music and the musicians and the crowd all rode this beautiful wave together. Seriously!
Normally, after such a workout the band would mix things up with a ballad. But instead, they kept it going with Blue Sky, and then again with These Are Better Days. This three-song run was Donna the Buffalo at their rock and roll best--when the band is "on" like this, there's absolutely no one better.
How to top this? By playing my favorite DtB song, of course. When I recognized the beginning of If You Only Could, I quickly snuck my way up the the rail and listened intently to Tara. In my opinion, this is lyrically her most beautiful song.
Funkyside, Temporary Misery, then Tara tells a joke: "What did the mother buffalo say to her boy before he headed out to work? Bi-son." Next David Gans came out for Pancho & Lefty, during which he and Jeb took turns singing.
Back to Tara for Broken Record, which was followed by a long, jammy Everyday, during KZ was still keeping it real. Gans comes out again for No Place Like the Right Time, and the set ends.
For some reason, I assumed we'd get a quickie encore and that'd be it. But instead, just Jeb and Tara came out and did Mystic Water as a duet. I'd seen them do this before, but this long, heartfelt version was nothing short of spectacular. If you're as big a fan of Tara's fiddle playing as I am, you would have really appreciated the chance to hear her like this. Unfortunately, I didn't see any tapers in the Highline, so this song may be gone for good. As if this treat wasn't enough, the full band came back out for a scorching Hot Tamale, sending dancing out into the NYC streets.