My brother John agreed to go, and no arm-twisting was needed, as he had seen the Arena tour with me in Bearsville last July, and had a great time. We planned to drive down that day from Boston and spend the night, but Mother Nature had other ideas. Snow was in the forecast, and in the days leading up to it I became a Weather Channel junkie. The predictions were mild enough to start the week, 1-3 inches, no big deal. Then as the day approached, the forecast ballooned to 2-4 inches, then 4-6, etc., to the point where I just had to stop watching. I was like a postal service driver a week before my review – nothing was going to stop me from making my rounds.
We left two hours earlier than we originally planned, and managed to get through town easily enough to the Mass, turnpike. The roads were empty, but the snow started as we crossed into Connecticut, and the visibility plummeted as we drove straight into the wind of the storm. We must have passed at least 50 vehicles on the side of the road, including one major accident and a half-dozen small ones. There were even moments I had to turn the music off, which doesn’t happen often with me on a road trip.
Once we crossed into NY and turned south on Rte. 87, the snow turned to a rain mix, and I knew we were golden. Driving the NJ turnpike was a breeze, and after a bit of Philly traffic, we made it to the hotel. I saw Patrick at check-in and knew I was in the right place. We got to our room, cracked open a beer, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. At that point any sort of usual concerns about how a night might go – how the food is, what the sound is like, where are we sitting, etc. – all went out the window, because we had made it! Whatever happens happens, let’s just get this party started.
We go downstairs and within moments I see so many familiar faces. Veggie, Amy, Mott… and as we go for our cab, who gets out of one but Sheri, Pippi, and Mindy, the wedding party gals who I finally meet in person. It might have been then that a smile crept along my face that would not wane for another 12 hours.
We shared a cab with Patrick over to the Silk City Diner for a pre-show dinner. Doug and Mel greet us and we head to the bar. I try chatting with Doug but he’s working on getting ice delivered over to the gig. We meet a few couples at a nearby table, and a fellow named Gary recommends the Otter Creek Copper Ale, a great choice.
Doug mentioned that he invited Stewkey, lead singer for the Nazz, to the occasion. He immediately headed for the back of the bar near us, and we chatted with him and his guitar buddy Otto for a bit. He seemed happy to be there, if a bit uneasy about what to expect. They told stories about how they’ll often be in a club and strangers will see them and think they are in the presence of Jerry Garcia and Keith Richards, and start texting away. Otto is a dead ringer for Jerry, and Stewkey has this vintage rock star look about him that makes you think you should know who he is, even if you don’t. We talked a bit about their reforming of the Nazz with new players, and the challenges they are facing.
While most people cabbed it over to the show, we decide to walk as it’s only about four blocks away. It was great to be in Philly again. I spent a lot of time there years ago and my brother John went to Temple and lived there for about ten years. We see the mural outside the building and realize we’ve found The Painted Bride. It was then that John remembers he had not only been there before, but he was Rachel’s dad, jazz bassist Charlie Haden, play there 20 years before. Being a bass geek, John remembered meeting Charlie that night and talking with him to the point where he put him on the guest list when they came up to Boston the following week.
We get in line for our laminated tickets, and behind us is a couple I saw at dinner, Karen and Dave. Karen looked familiar to me, and I assumed her to be a Todd fan from way back. I was surprised to learn they had never seen him before, and had come down from Boston for the wedding of their friends Jody and Richard, and were a lot of fun to hang out with. It’s always fun to see a Todd show with people who have never seen him before. They have a band called Girl On Top, and John recognized Karen from her ads as a vocal teacher in Boston. Turns out I know their drummer from way back too… small world.
We schmooze in the café and discover there is fresh Yuengling on tap… Doug shoots, he scores! Lots of meeting and greeting with old friends and new, including Roger Linder, host of the TR Connection. On to the next event of the evening… the wedding of Jody and Richard. It almost served as a warmup act, as it involved most of the members of the band. We filed into the theater, not quite sure what to expect. Prairie served as the “officiant” of the ceremony, dressed in his priest gear left over from the Liars tour. Rachel did the readings, served straight up as a nice contrast to Prairie’s comic pomposity. He would spout some Italian gibberish and wave his arms in benevolent benediction, taking it seriously to the point of silliness.
Kasim was then introduced to sing his signature ballad, “Love Alone,” starting right into the piano intro. However someone forgot to test his mic, which wasn’t working. Prairie came right over to offer his wireless, but it popped right out of Kasim’s mic stand, too large for the clip. So Prairie stood there and held it the entire time with his arm outstretched, which made for quite the visual presentation.
The sound of the show was impeccable. I think there were only 8 rows of seats, holding something like 220 people, so it was very intimate even if you were in the back. Todd set the tone from the start by saying “This isn’t a show… IT’S A PARTY!” And what a party it was. The dance floor between the band and the first row, maybe 10-15 feet deep, remained a buffer zone for the first song or two. Then as they went into “Open My Eyes,” Pippi realized her high heels did in fact NOT mean no dancing, and she got up to do some serious high-steppin’, at which point the crowd followed suit and eventually the dance floor filled with whoever could not sit still or those who just HAD to be up front. The band was in a great mood, and for good reason – it was not only a great party night, it was the end of this leg of the tour, time to let it all out before some well-deserved time off.
As I write this, almost nine months later, the specifics of the music that night have faded, but are captured in a quality bootleg I revisit from time to time. The midnight bliss of a rocking “Auld Lang Syne” giving way to Todd counting the clock down into “Today” was brilliant – both reflective and forward-looking, rooted in the moment. Some of the details were captured in other reviews, so I’ll just post a little bit of improv that Todd threw out in the middle of the one surprise of the set, a version of “Hello It’s Me” that may not have been note-perfect, but wasn’t just mailed in either. The rhythm section broke down to let Todd do some vocal wanderings:
Other than that, the band didn’t go changin’ all that much, but the 220+ in attendance sure seemed changed by it. “Strike” all of a sudden became a party anthem. And seeing EJ blow some celebratory smoke Todd’s way during JOV was priceless. Afterward Doug and Mel had the presence of mind to order up some pizza, and we wandered about for awhile, eventually making it backstage to hang out with the band and some very familiar and very happy faces. Sharing shots of Bushmills with Todd on your 50th birthday – what’s a word that comes after priceless?