Hardrock Cafe Boston MA
December 8 2012
I cruised into Boston, and Magellan had things all turned around, but eventually I found my way to the Hard Rock Cafe and parked in their expensive but convenient garage. I live in the country, among trees and streams, so when I emerged out onto the street I was discombobulated a bit. But I heard my name called from across the street, and I saw Jay Stanley (new percussionist for Max Creek) standing in a doorway. We shared a smoke and he seemed pumped for the show.
I had been to the Hard Rock once before for the New England Music Awards last year. It's a 400 capacity room styled out exactly as you would expect from the Hard Rock, but a really decent room to see a band. At $15 the ticket price was quite reasonable, and I chose to donate $1 to their hunger campaign. I put on my little charity wristband and went inside. There was a crowd, though not packed. I spotted my old friend Gary Backstrom and his wife Kelly, and I hadn't seen Gary much aside from an occasional howdy at the Wormtown festivals all the way back to his days in Jiggle the Handle, one of Boston's premier jam bands around the turn of the millennium. It was great to catch up, and we both were stoked as Max Creek took the stage and fired into the opener, She's Here. This is a great song, and it was common when I was first seeing the band back 20+ years ago on Wednesday nights at the Living Room in Providence, RI. It's a great way to open a show, because it showcases Scott Murawski's rough and tumble vocals, allows the band to come together collectively, throw out a few rocking solos, and then onto the rest of the set.
Mark Mercier took the reins as She's Here morphed into the Band's Ophelia from the Last Waltz soundtrack. This made sense as just a month ago Mercier, keyboardist and vocalist for Creek, contributed as the organist in the Last Waltz tribute show in Great Barrington. (Read the review here.) After the show I asked about the connection between that show and the inclusion of Ophelia in the set, and Mercier just expressed his love for The Band, and didn't put any more emphasis on it than that. The rest of the set contained both old favorites like Jones and Dream helmed by Jon Ryder on the bass and vocals, but also a song I hadn't heard or remembered in the roughly 40-50 Creek shows that I have seen, Old Stones Broken Bones. Mercier also paid tribute with a little tease of the recently late Dave Brubeck's Take Five before the double set closer I Will Always See Your Face and Cities.
I had a chance to chat with Murawski briefly during the set break and we talked about guitars and music education, I always like catching up with him. Murawski is a grounded guy who can at one minute seem like a huge rock star, full guitar hero stance at the ready, and the next radiate family man energy and the ability to chat on a variety of non musical topics. He's a good egg.
Set two started with Cocaine Lady which transitioned into Kangaroo, a fascinating cover by the Big Wu. You never expect to hear a Big Wu cover at a show, but I've seen Creek do this one several times and it is playful and fun, and illustrates that they know a little something about bands around the country. Another nod to the Last Waltz and The Band emerged with the classic Don't Do It., which was smoking. The set devolved purposely into a Drums jam along with a bass solo and other ambient explorations. Both Bill Carbone behind the kit and Jay Stanley behind the percussion set are now settling into their roles within the band, no longer the total new guys on their first shows, each now has quite a few under their belts, and along with playing the roles established for them by over forty years of previous example, they are each stretching out and injecting a bit of their own personalities into their performances. Carbone's pinache peeks out during individual fills, tom flavors and syncopated rhythms that are his own and honed from his time in bands as varied as Miracle Orchestra and Sparkplug. Stanley's personality comes out more on the timbales when he every once in a while bursts out as if to say "Don't forget I'm here!" though mostly he's content on the congas keeping things rhythmic. But each is now putting his own fingerprints on this era of the band, and I like that.
Carbone's contributions only got greater when he had his turn on the microphone, taking lead vocals for the Bill Withers tune, Sweet Wanomi. There has been a long tradition of drummers who sang an occasional tune in Max Creek and Carbone certainly holds his own in that department without a problem. Murawski closed the set with You Let Me Down Again and the band departed the stage briefly before returning. The encore was Going Down the Road Feeling Bad which I have heard the band play before, oftentimes as the closer for a weekend long festival or after a particularly epic set. Bassist Jon Ryder injects some alternate lyrics, and then brings everybody together and reviews some of the original and traditional lyrics that song has had prior to being popularized by the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers in their sets.
All in all, a great night with the Creek. It was their first show in Boston in some four years at a night club, and I'm hopeful that this may signal a return to a regular beantown rotation for the boys. While my wishes for an Emerald Eyes or a version of The Field weren't granted, I wasn't disappointed, and with a band whose repetoire includes literally hundreds of songs, you can't be disappointed seeing some new material from a band you've been seeing for decades.
Max Creek ft. The Three Murawskis
She’s Here into
Old Stones, Broken Bones
“Take Five” jam into
I Will Always See Your Face into
Cocaine Lady into
Don’t Do It into
You Let Me Down Again
ENCORE: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad