Thanks The Roots http://www.therootslive.com
++ http://www.therootslive.com/archive/show_042605.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jammy_Award
Date Recorded: 04/26/2005 Special Guests: Phil Lesh, Buddy Guy, John Mayer, Keller Williams, Nelly McKay
As soon as we got to the venue, I had doubts about it. The Theater at Madison Square Garden is not Roseland, and it's damn sure not The Wetlands. Even though the Jammys had been held in the room on one prior occasion, it just didn't seem like a comfortable fit. There's something about the concept of guys in tuxedos walking around the room selling cans of Budweiser for six dollars apiece to guys wearing homemade hemp pants that just doesn't sit right with me.
My doubt was reinforced, as I said, as soon as we got there. The first thing I heard was one of the security guards, who all were wearing those phony old Hollywood bellhop uniforms like you see in Disney World, making an announcement to the good folks on line. The announcement was, and I assure you I'm not making this up, "Ok guys, now you know, you can't bring anything inside." No you can't bring food, or drinks, or drugs. You can't bring anything inside. I was glad I got to bring in my notebook, after the announcement, I wasn't sure if paper was a banned substance.
Following the notification that nothing was allowed, a small battalion of guards began making their way through the crowd with handheld metal detectors, screening people at random. After getting my phone, palm pilot, keys, wallet, and change out of my pockets, I was of course not wanded down. As we finally entered the theatre, I found myself wondering what all the security was about. Then I realized it made perfect sense considering the unspeakably violent crowd that is usually attracted by acts like The Grateful Dead, Mavis Staples and of course, Huey Lewis.
Anyway, we got inside and headed down to the general admission floor section. It didn't take long to make the executive decision that we would do everything in our power to obtain some type of seat for the majority of the five hour event. We walked up to the "tapers section" a.k.a. the first row of seats beyond the standing room only section, and sat down. Apparently, the deal was that if you asked if you could sit there, the usher would tell you no and kick you out, but if you just sat down, as we did, no one would bother you. So there we sat, watching people getting thrown out of the section that we shouldn't have been sitting in and waited for the show to begin.
At eight o'clock sharp, the music began with the appearance of "washboard man." Washboard man, who actually turned out to be the drummer of the North Mississippi All-Stars, was joined almost immediately on stage by North Mississippi, with Chris Myers from Umphrey's McGee on drums. They played one song in this configuration and then Myers left. Washboard man took to the drums and Mavis Staples, of The Staples Singers, joined the band on voice.
Mavis was awesome. She sang "Freedom Highway" and the whole room marched along with her down that road. This marked the first great moment of the 2005 Jammy Awards. It was followed by a slight disappointment. The disappointment was not Buddy Guy who joined North Mississippi next . . . that was actually pretty great. The disappointment was that Mavis left after only one song. My experience with Jammy's past has always been that artists would pair up and jam together for a while. I've never seen a collaboration last for just one tune. Bummer.
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Photo: Adam Foley
As I mentioned, Buddy Guy, the blues legend and recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, took the stage next. Whoa! Buddy's guitar was so raw I felt like it might cut me in half. What an incredible tone. It really tears through the bullshit and declares that this guy is the real deal. They played the Muddy Waters tune, "Got My Mojo Workin" and then, DAMN IT, Buddy Guy left the stage after just one song. It was the second time in as many songs that I wanted to see more of what was going on and it was abruptly cut short. I hoped that wasn't the new format of the show. It proved not to be.
At this point, there was a quick break in the action while producer Peter Shapiro welcomed us to the show and said he was glad that they pulled the event off with no sponsors. I'm sure the good folks at American Spirit, D'Addario, Evans, Planet Waves, Linden Travel, Red Hook, Palm Pictures, A View Of You, eMusic, Techistry and the rest of the show's sponsors which I found on the Jammys website under the heading "Sponsors," were happy to hear him say that. Anyway, he then invited Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead's bassist and host of the show, to the stage. Phil said hi, and announced the next musical performance.
Yonder Mountain String Band with Bruce Hornsby and Vince Herman, did absolutely nothing for me. It was one of only two sections of the evening that I didn't enjoy; the other, which I'll get to, was actually one step worse because not only did I not enjoy it, I found it actively irritating. I'd like to blame my dissatisfaction with Yonder/Hornsby/ Herman on the fact that the sound was terrible, complete with a constant buzz, a few gunshot-like pops, and a keyboard that was completely inaudible for an entire half of the set. But honestly, I think the lack of energy following two great high intensity performances was more to blame than anything. Onwards.
Up next was the beginning of the award show side of the Jammys. Okay, lets be honest people, up next was the beginning of the self-serving bullshit side of the Jammys that no one on earth cares about other than the people giving out the awards and the people getting them. Am I just cynical? I think not. Case in point: Phil Lesh who gave out the first award, held up the award at one point and said "This is cool, I've never seen one of these." Phil has won at least three of the awards to date, getting at least one at each of the past three Jammy Awards. EVEN THE PEOPLE WINNING THESE THINGS DON'T CARE!! But I digress, the awards are part of the show and I'll report on them accordingly. The first award was for best song. Umphrey's McGee won for their tune, "In The Kitchen."
Dean Budnick, editor of the Relix-owned website Jambands.com, took the podium next and announced that it was time to hand out the lifetime achievement award. A hush fell over the crowd. The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2005 had been kept a big secret. All the press for the show would run down the line-up and then add the as yet to be announced Lifetime Achievement award winner. In the past, the announcement was made early, and for at least the past two Jammy's, the winner headlined the show. It was odd that they were not telling anyone who it was this time around. As he was in town the night of the awards, there had been much speculation that Bob Dylan was going to receive the award, and they were keeping it a secret at his request so as not to hurt ticket sales of his shows at the Beacon. Alas, this was not to be. The top secret recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award was . . . Buddy Guy. What? Buddy Guy? But he's been on the ads for this show for months, and they all said "plus the as yet to be announced Lifetime Achievement Award winner." It was simultaneously pleasing since Buddy surely deserves the award, and would more than likely now play a little bit more for us, but also disappointing because the audience was promised a surprise and wasn't given one.
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Pigheaded Les Claypool, Mike Gordon and Phil Lesh
held a bass summit at the Jammys.
In my mind, one of two things happened. Either, the Jammys were trying to secure a big name to accept the award, like Dylan, and it fell apart at the last minute so they just gave it to Guy, or they had this planned all along and just screwed over the fans in an attempt to sell out the room, which, if that was the plan, did not work. I would bet it was the former, since the Jammys seem to be fairly fan friendly, but it seems like we'll never know the truth behind the move.
Anyway, Buddy graciously accepted his award and made a great speech about how guys like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and T-Bone Walker really deserved the award and he considered it theirs as well as his. Then he strapped on his guitar and kicked off what to me was the highlight of the show; a jam session featuring Guy and John Mayer on guitar, ?uestlove of The Roots on drums, and Phil Lesh on bass.
The quartet played as if they'd been in the same band for years and ripped through the blues classics "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Stormy Monday" and "Rock Me Baby". The biggest surprise was when Guy and Mayer started battling on guitar, and Mayer held his own with the legend! Who the hell knew that guy could do anything other than the fluff pop he's known for? Apparently, Buddy Guy did. At one point he said Mayer was "the kind of guy who could keep the blues alive." I was impressed and clearly had been underestimating John's ability.
It was also a cool little bonus to see John Mayer jamming with ?uestlove; a collaboration that hadn't to my knowledge actually existed in real life, but had occurred during a comedy sketch on the Chapelle's Show.
Two more awards came next. The Duo won the Best New Groove Award and Phish won the Best Tour award. As Mike Gordon was accepting Phish's award, I began to ponder the fact that the line-up of the show had been announced a month and a half before the fan-based internet voting for the awards concluded, yet so far everyone who had won an award, had been on the show. As the night progressed, there were only two awards which were won by artists not performing at the event, and one of those was won by Jerry Garcia. In case you didn't know, he's dead . . . but I'm sure he was grateful.
The suspicions I was harboring and will not say out loud here, were increased when Keller Williams, who was at the event, beat out Widespread Panic, who were not. When Keller Williams plays in New York, he plays in a club the holds roughly 1,000 people. The last time Panic were in town they sold about 40,000 tickets when they sold out Madison Square Garden for two consecutive nights. 40,000 fans vs. 1,000 fans, and the little guy wins. Seems a little too David and Goliath to be believable, but what do I know?
Now, I'm almost 2,000 words into this review, and I've actually only covered the first hour of what was to be a five hour concert! I think I have to pick up the pace a little. Let's get a few of the performances out of the way, chronology be damned!
Ryan Adams was the first and only act of the night not to be involved in a major collaboration. He and his band, the Cardinals, played two songs and then invited Phil Lesh to join them on a mini-Dead jam of "Wharf Rat/Bird Song". The Dead thing was interesting, the rest kinda wasn't. Oh and Adams has a new look . . . Junkie. Interestingly enough as I write this, about a month later, it was just announced that Ryan Adams would be touring as part of Phil Lesh and Friends in the coming months. I guess they hit it off.
Keller Williams and ?uestlove did some really interesting stuff together which was quite enjoyable, until Nellie McKay joined them and provided the one moment of the entire night that I just couldn't stomach. I went to the men's room. Taking a leak proved to be much more enjoyable than listening to the next big thing absolutely butcher a Dylan song and then babble on for a few other nails on the chalkboard tunes.
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The Roots' ?uestlove and Keller Williams
jam on "Whole Lotta Love."
Travis Tritt and the Disco Biscuits doing what Phil Lesh described as "Electronic Country" wasn't nearly as awkward as it sounds. In fact, it was pretty cool, and Travis came off great. It was no weirder than the 2004 Jammys collaboration between the Biscuits and old school rapper, Slick Rick.
Patti Smith would have been great if she showed up, as she was supposed to, but she didn't, so she wasn't.
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Burning Spear and Sinead O'Connor
sing about "Marcus Garvey."
Sinead O'Conner who didn't show up the first time I was supposed to see her, which was coincidentally the same day I did see Patti Smith for the first time, performed twice. Once with Huey Lewis, Mavis Staples and Umphrey's McGee which was really pleasurable - they did things like "The Weight" and "I'll Take You There" - and once later in the night with Burning Spear, Medeski Martin and Wood, and the Anti-Balas Horns which was kinda pleasurable, but way too long. The Sinead/Burning Spear thing consisted of not one, not two, but five different reggae songs, before everyone on stage along with Luther Dickenson, Les Claypool, ?uestlove and a few others, tore into the Hendrix classic "Crosstown Traffic." permalink
Everyone's favorite pope hating skinhead did provide the most awkward moment of the night when she asked Burning Spear to begin the song "Jah No Dead" again because they were in "the wrong key". Sounded to me like he was just singing and she was just being way too full of herself. But again, what do I know?
Now, while "Crosstown Traffic" was actually the finale of the show, it wasn't the highlight. If that distinction doesn't go to the Buddy Guy/Phil Lesh/?uestlove/John Mayer jam from earlier in the night, it definitely goes to the jam between The Duo, with Mike Gordon of Phish, who were joined by Phil Lesh, Les Claypool, Gabby La La for Claypool's tune "D's Diner." If you know anything about this genre of music, you know that seeing a three way bass off between Phil Lesh, Les Claypool and Mike Gordon, is a once in a lifetime experience. It lived up to it's potential and more or less stole the show.
That's it for the music.
The other moment that I found interesting was when Headcount won the Community Service Award. Since Headcount, like many leftist organizations, failed to swing the 2004 presidential election even after giving it all their stoned little minds could muster, the "we changed the world" speech stayed in the guy's pocket and the "Headcount wasn't about the election" speech came out. He actually said that! "Headcount wasn't about the election." I have just one question for Headcount guy: Your sole purpose was registering people to VOTE and when the election ended you all but disappeared. What the hell did you think it was about? Fuckin' hippies.
Well that's about it. The show overall was fantastic, and I had a ball. The only thing I have left to mention, is an idea I had for next year's Jammy Awards. I got the idea when I noticed that one of the two guys in front of me was wearing a Woodstock jacket and the other was wearing a Slayer jacket. What the show really needs is a little metal to shake things up. Just about every other genre from Rap to Bluegrass is accounted for. How about next year you guys have the ultimate unexpected collaboration and put some Death Metal band . . . say, Morbid Angel on stage with a gospel group like the Blind Boys of Alabama! It would be incredible. You could bill it as a God vs. The Devil, then rig it so God wins, and finally - this is the kicker - give God the lifetime achievement award!! It would be the biggest thing in the history of music! Plus, it would be interesting to see who he thanked, since most people that win these corny-ass awards tend to thank him first and foremost.
But then again, what do I know?