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The Replacements – For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986

One of my top-five concerts of all time was The Replacements 2014 reunion show at Midway Stadium in St. Paul Minnesota. I was shocked at how good they could play, given my memory of their 1987 show at the Orpheum in Minneapolis where they were remarkably awful. The highlight of the 87 show was Westerberg falling off the stage. Their legend was that live they were sublime or they sucked. I have always kicked myself for not catching one of those sublime shows from the glory years. Finally, there is a document of the original lineup’s greatness with this recording of a 1986 show.

Poster from 2014 reunion show

One of my vivid memories of the 1987 show was that the boys wore overalls and the Orpheum stage was stripped bare.

In 1986, the band was at their critical and commercial height. They had signed to Sire, released the critically acclaimed album Tim and performed a career defining middle finger salute on Saturday Night Live (which resulted in them being banned from the show). Sire’s plan was to use this recording as a promotion tool given the boys refusal to play the MTV video game. When guitarist Bob Stinson was kicked out of the band shortly after the show, Sire shelved this recording and it has been sitting gathering dust for 30 years.

This is a quality live recording and remarkably the boys are on good behavior and not subverting the Sire investment in a legitimate live recording. It is a nice snapshot of their catalog at that point in their career. The guitar interplay between Westerberg and Stinson is delightful. It could be argued that this was the end of The Replacements because subsequent albums became more and more Westerberg solo albums. So if you never got a chance to see them live, or if you did and you want a great souvenir, this album is highly recommend.

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The Waterboys – Out Of All This Blue

I have not given The Waterboys a thought or a listen in a long time. I recently went to see U2 at US Bank Stadum in Minneapolis. Sadly one of the highlights of that show was the last song played before the lads came on: The Waterboys’ “The Whole Of The Moon.” I made a note to myself to pull out This Is The Sea and give it a spin.

A couple days later I was at Mill City Sound record store when I saw the double (and deluxe triple) LP Out Of All This Blue by The Waterboys as a new release. I did not even think The Waterboys/Mike Scott was still a going concern.

I was intrigued, but not willing to commit. So a day later I dialed it up on Spotify and gave it a listen. It is good and best of all a bit funky.

I loved This Is The Sea and Fisherman’s Blues (and the first two The Waterboys alum Karl Wallinger’s World Party albums from roughly the same period). But I lost interest and have not followed the band since then. But it sure was interesting that Mike Scott had a super-sized release like this late career.

The album has the grandeur of Springsteen, the Celtic soul of Van Morrison, the pop sensibility of Belle and Sebastian and the folky humor of John Prine.

There is not a bad cut on the album, but there a few songs that really stick out as gems:

  • “New York I Love You” a Springsteen-ish rap
  • “The Connemara Fox” a Dylanesque rocker that has special relevance because Connemara references the region of Ireland that my dad grew up
  • “Nashville, Tennessee” a twangy rocker with a couple catchy phrases like “I’m one part psychedelic gypsy, and three parts blue-eyed refugee” and “My soul is in Memphis, but my ass is in Nashville, Tennessee.”

This album is a delightful surprise and will have me backtracking through The Waterboys’ catalog of the last 25 years to see what else I might have missed.

The album has a delightful tossed off almost demo feel. Normally I would find that half baked, but here I find it pleasant, unpretentious and most of all fun.

Lyrically there are lots of love songs balanced by songs of adventure. The backstory of the album is that Mike Scott fell in love and married a Japanese artist. Their romance and The Waterboys touring the world is the influence for this batch of songs.

Musically it is a nice mix of The Waterboys diverse styles they have toyed with over the years: “big music” (think mid 80s rock like U2), Celtic soul, folk rock, country, mainstream rock and new to me, a bit of a funk and hip hop influence.

My initial listens were via Spotify and some of the songs had a lo fi feel. After about 20 listens I am finally listening to the vinyl version. What a a revelation that is. The songs that had a lo fi feel open up into a much richer sound. What once had a demo feel now has a hip hop aesthetic. The sound is deep and textured. It is not at all pandering to contemporary taste, but rather an artful fusion of rock and hip hop.

It is delightful to know an old rocker still has some swagger.

Welby Family On Fleek – Pacific Northwest Fall 2017 – Day 10 Gualala and Mendocino CA (10/1/17)

This was our last day of real vacation. Again we had a perfect weather day. We slept in, Paul made us an amazing breakfast – his variation on Eggs Benedict- which I will rename Eggs Gualala: English muffin, a crab cake (made with crab Paul had caught), smoked salmon (caught and smoked by Paul) topped by a runny egg and a side of bacon. Added bonus was espresso coffee and lattes.

After our late breakfast we headed to Mendocino for some site sightseeing. The goal was to wander the cliffs and take in the sights – mission accomplished! We walked down the main street and checked out the shops. We stopped for a beer at Dick’s Bar which had a local feel.

We then headed back toward Gualala. We stopped in Port Arena to have a beer and snack at Pier Chowder House & Tap Room.

The next goal was to grab some beer, a to-go pizza and head over to Paul’s friend Sabrina’s ocean front place to watch the sunset. We made it just and time to see a great Pacific Northwest sunset. We enjoyed the pizza, beer and conversation. It was an amazing location and a bonus was Sabrina’s gazebo which protected us from the wind.

We head back to Paul’s for final night cap. It was a perfect last day of vacation. The next day we packed up and headed to San Francisco for our flights home. This included a final 90 minutes of Highway 1 winding road (again we were blessed with great weather to enjoy the spectacular ocean views).

Over all it was great vacation. Mom, dad and two adult children managed to spend 10 days together in close quarters without getting on each other’s nerves. We had great food, great beer and great sights. It was great to catch up with an old friend. A special thanks goes out to my wife Laura and daughter Al for organizing the trip. Quote of the trip from Paul on our final night “is this a normal amount of beer for you all to consume?” We laughed and responded no – we were restraining ourselves.

PS – Happy Birthday James L. (Jim) Adams (RIP) 10/2/21 – 8/6/14.

Welby Family On Fleek – Pacific Northwest Fall 2017 – Day 9 Eureka to Gualala CA (9/30/17)

The weather was near perfect for a costal drive. We did take detour via the Avenue of the Giants. This is a pretty amazing drive: a narrow winding road cutting through a grand redwood forest – where many of the trees were in excess of 3000 years old. When you pull over into one of the many groves (a little parking space and some amenities: picnic tables, restrooms, fire places and access to Eel River) it is like entering a cathedral. Allow a couple of hours to meander through this heaven on earth.

Once out of the forest we were back on the coast. If you have never experienced Highway 1 on the coast of California, it deserves to be on your bucket list. First there is the drive – be prepared to average under 30 MPH, experience hairpin turns on a harrowingly narrow two lane, close to the edge of cliffs with no guardrails and some of the best ocean views on the planet. It is not for a meek driver. Learn to pullover at the many turnouts to let the experienced natives drive by, rather than having them breath down your neck. You will get nice little horn toot thank you for getting out of the way in a timely fashion.

We stopped in Fort Bragg at North Coast Brewing for beverage and some snacks. The clam chowder was top notch. I did not realize it, but I was familiar with this brand and I am a fan of their Brother Theloneous Ale. We picked up some beers for the evening – one of my new discoveries was their take on a dark Mexican beers like Negra Modelo called Laguna Baja. Their beer is some of the best we experienced on the trip.

We arrived in Gualala at the home a our family friend Uncle Paul – our final destination. Paul is a great fisherman and cook. He prepared us a great meal of fresh French Fries, deep fried cod, grilled salmon and a salad. We devoured the meal and Paul topped it off with a dessert of vanilla ice cream topped with local huckleberries and maple syrup. It was a grand meal and great conversation as we all caught up, told stories and belly laughed.

An added bonus is Paul’s house, which is beautiful. He now has a second house that is about 90% renovated and is right next door. Laura and I stayed in the main house and the kids stayed in the second house – it was nice to have the extra breathing room.

Welby Family On Fleek – Pacific Northwest Fall 2017 – Day 8 Portland (9/29/17)

This was a pure travel day and I was not expecting much from this. Turns out the drive is very scenic. So it was pleasant surprise the travel day turn out as a fine adventure. There a three major sites along the way:

1. Freeway 5 from Portland to 199 – which is rolling hills/mountains – unfortunately we had rain and fog through most of this. But I assume on a clear day this would have been an impressive view.

2. 199 to the coast – is a poor man’s Avenue of Giants , but still impressive. I had no idea we would get this treat. The weather turned to partly sunny for this stretch of the trip.

3. Highway 1 – more about that tomorrow- fog obstructed most of our views. But if it hadn’t it would have been another great set of views. Fortunate the next few days were sunny.

We ate along the way at Wild River Brewing in Grants Pass OR. Nothing special, but better than average road food.

Once in Eureka we stayed at the local Days Inn. We walked down to the local brewer: Lost Coast. In addition to brewing their beers it is decent restaurant serving good bar food. A nice treat for a small town.

Welby Family On Fleek – Pacific Northwest Fall 2017 – Day 7 Portland (9/28/17)

We started the day with breakfast at Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen. As you might guess this is a fancy deli. It was good, but not unusual.

We then wandered the Knob Hill retail on NW 23rd Avenue. Again it was a mix of familiar national retailers and local.

We then headed over to Base Camp Brewing Company. This brewery had a Minnesota feel – right down to the guy who was pouring the beers who went to the University of Minnesota. They had nice outdoor space and plenty of good beers. Again we had a perfect weather day in Portland.

I had the anniversary beer called Four (8 IBUs, 7.3 SRM, 19.3°P OG, 1.0°P TG, 10.5% ABV –not sure what all that means beyond the IBU and ABV). Per their website:

Our yearly anniversary beer, brewed in celebration of our fourth year spent doing what we love. A tart and funky strong amber saison. It showcases pilsner malt, wheat malt, and flaked wheat, then fermented with our two favorite saison yeasts. We then add to the complexity of this beer with an extended aging in red wine barrels, where it’s dosed with brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and Willamette Valley-grown Pinot Noir grapes from Goschie Farms.

We had a snack from one of the on-premise food trucks: the classic nachos, but instead of a base of chips, it was fries – a simple but brilliant innovation.

The Base Camp bartender suggested we try out Wayfinder. Again a brewery with great outdoor space for a top-10 weather day. They also had a great play list of classic and new-classic soul/funk over a well designed sound system. This brewery’s shtick was recreating some German classics – I had their Octoberfest (Freight!).

We headed back to the Airbnb to regroup and prep for today’s feature event which was to see Sturgill Simpson at a local theater.

Before the show we went to Shalom Y’All for dinner. Their deal is Israeli street food. Food was great, but the real feature was the incredibly fresh pita bread – literally prepared on the spot. Stuff melted on your tongue like butter.

We then walked over to the Arlene Schnitzer Hall to see Sturgill. The Arlene Schnitzer Hall is the building with the iconic Portland in neon marquee you have seen in TV and movies. A absolutely beautiful old concert hall.

Given how elaborately arranged his latest album is, I was not sure what to expect from Sturgill. He came up with a great idea: an outright rock presentation of his catalog. It was a very pleasant surprise to learn Simpson is a fine guitar player. The four piece band was tight and jammed without getting boring. My only complaint was that Sturgill’s vocals which were a garbled – it seemed the goal of the sound system was to make his vocals sound musical, but not necessarily understandable. It was a fair compromise. Overall a great show and I highly recommend him if you are a fan of his music – he can deliver live.

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference

When I first listened to Kamasi’s The Epic in the spring of 2015 I was blown away. It was my album of the year in 2015. I have not tired of it since that first listen – I listen to all or part of it at least once a month for the last two years. Given its girth (nearly three hours) and depth (elaborate arrangements, large ensemble, vocals, choir, etc.), I have needed a couple of years to fully absorb it, yet I have been looking forward to new material.

Kamasi gave us a taste of something new this summer with the thirteen minute single “Truth.” “Truth” has similar ambitions as The Epic. I was feeling like we were going to get another six course meal, but Harmony of Difference is a mere 31 minute EP. I have to laugh at Kamasi’s sense of size: three hour albums, thirteen minute singles and thirty one minute EPs (that would have been a normal jazz LP in the 60s).

Despite its brevity, Harmony of Difference is another great album and no less grand then The Epic. Per the liner notes:

An original six part suite that explores the philosophical possibilities of the musical technique known as “counterpoint,” which Washington defines as “the art of balancing similarity and differences to create harmony between melodies.”

Side one consists of five short songs and side two fuses those five songs from side one into one suite. The side one songs are each unique with their feel, but once fused on side two they become one. It is a wonderful act of alchemy.

I am a jazz fan who cut my teeth on 70s fusion and soul jazz. That music could be crap or brilliant, with the line between those two extremes a razor’s edge. Kamasi effortlessly walks that line. Imagine the perfect cocktail of Grover Washington Jr., Coltrane and Gil Evans. This is accessible jazz with integrity. This is the kind of music that turned me into a jazz fan in the first place and reinvigorates my enthusiasm for jazz.

This EP is composed, arranged, conducted and produced by Washington. Washington is the featured soloist. Washington has great tone and his engaging phrases that can both caress and bite. He may not end up on the jazz saxophonist’s Mount Rushmore, but he has something special: the ability to musically communicate to old jazz fans like me and to millennial hip hop fans. That is pretty magical.

After listening to this EP for several days, I prefer it to The Epic in that is a more manageable listen. Bravo, Kamasi! I look forward to seeing you live again in Minneapolis in November.