November 5 2014
The announcement of this show got me super excited, so much so that I booked a plane ticket, rental car, and hotel room to go to California from the comfy confines of New England to catch it. As it was the first of several shows on the John Kadlecik acoustic tour, we put up an article announcing those dates. And then, just after it was posted, I noticed that Furthur announced the end of the band. So the first question for the live music loving Grateful Dead scene would be, what’s next? What do we do now? The fact that the answer was possibly a mere 36 hours away had me anxious with anticipation. The fact that thousands of people checked in on that article showed me that I was not the only one curious as to what the immediate future might hold.
So I walked from my hotel in San Rafael to Terrapin Crossroads. I had been hearing about the venue since it opened, and I was not sure what to expect. When I got there, the band was sound checking, and I got to sit and relax for a bit. The music room, dubbed the Grate Room, has a large and open feel, with a listed capacity of three hundred which is recognizably less folks than you could truly fit in there. The walls were wood, not really paneling, rich and dark, and the ceilings were adorned with crystal chandeliers. The orientation of the room with the stage running the long way wide, illustrates that the room was created really for the music, and not to sell food and drink necessarily, though a stocked bar seemed easy to access. Next door was a spacious California restaurant and bar, though I spent almost no time there. And aside from the terrapin logo, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that this was Phil Lesh’s establishment, though perhaps there is more memorabilia and historical adornments that I didn’t notice on my first trip.
But what truly was next? The band? The Golden Gate Wingmen is a band formed in concept a few weeks ago through casual conversation by the musicians recognizing that everyone was available the night that Kadlecik had booked for the first night of his electro-coustic solo tour. But in actuality, it was formed on stage during sound check, as this particular group of guys had never played together before in this lineup. John Kadlecik (Furthur, Phil Lesh and Friends, Dark Star Orchestra, and more) on lead guitar and vocals, Jeff Chimenti (Furthur, Ratdog and more) on keyboards, Jay Lane (an original Furthur member, Primus, Ratdog) on drums and Reed Mathis on bass (Jacob Fred’s Jazz Odyssey and most recently Tea Leaf Green.) As the band was relaxing backstage before the show, there was a great conversation about the feeling that they get as musicians when they are supporting other band members while playing music- Kadlecik related it to volleyball where one band member receives the ball, another sets it up, and a third slams it home. A perfect analogy and follow up of a conversation I had with Kadlecik about the name of the band a few days ago.
Wingmen: in air force parlance the term refers to jets that fly in formation supporting the group leader even if that means ignoring other opportunities. Or in modern terms, a wingman is a friend who supports their buddy by flirting with the lady friends of the buddy’s true target- in both cases, someone who supports someone else’s goals through their own actions, supplanting their own goals for the good of their leader or friend. In musical terms and especially as it relates to this lineup, it could be viewed as these players who have made careers as members of bands with perhaps slightly more famous members, but whose talents are well known in their own right. Getting all of these players into one band would showcase their talents perhaps in excess to what they had done previously- well we’ll see about that.
Kadlecik started off the night with a solo set, electro-acoustically. He had the tone of the guitar set in such a way that it sounded mostly like an acoustic, but it was indeed his electric guitar that he was using. He had a great set starting with the song Any Road and running through songs ranging from his own compositions to others that he perhaps picked up throughout his career from other band members. One example: The Hairball Willie song, Seen Love. There were also songs that came through a collaboration of Greg Anton and Robert Hunter from the band the Mix which featured Anton, Kadlecik, and Melvin Seals on American Spring.
Songs referencing the lifestyle of Grateful Dead fans and the crazy things that happen to them, or perhaps the recreational activities for which they are sometimes known, appeared. The Good Friday Experiment, for instance, is a Kadlecik original with words by Indi Riverflow chronicles an experiment involving subjects, some of whom were given psilocybin while others were given none, and then sent into a church service. Or perhaps the Alliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah song, Lake Shore Drive, that seemed to be a staple of Chicago music a few decades ago whose song title playfully calls up its abbreviation, LSD.
Fans expecting to hear some good ol’ Grateful Dead were rewarded with the Robert Hunter Vince Welnick tune, Way to Go Home, which was introduced almost apologetically by Kadlecik. The set also included James Page’s song, Heading Down to Eugene to see the Grateful Dead, popularly done within this scene by David Gans. Between songs Kadlecik would banter with the crowd about his feelings on this night, the source of the songs, or his general mood. You could tell he was happy, and the crowd, while subdued, was supportive and appreciative. Perhaps everyone was anticipating the set to come as I was, but to not give full credit to Kadlecik on this night in terms of his first set would be unfair. It was a great set illustrating the original compositions that he has created over the years, quality songs done by someone who really cares about both their creation and the execution of them in front of a live audience.
In between sets the band came together and got energized before taking the stage. I guess that I felt that they would take a while to get warmed up, but that was wrong. They took the stage and put out some eerie and spacey sounds, which led surprisingly into Bob Dylan’s, When I Paint My Masterpiece. Certainly, this is a song well known to everyone in the audience from the years of the Dead and JGB performing it, and it took only a few minutes for the Wingmen to put their own assertive stamp on it. You could instantly feel comfortable with the sounds, tones, and licks that they were producing, being in familiar territory, but it was clear that the energy, intention, and direction of the music are something that already completely original to this quartet.
It would be easy to expect a set list filled with Grateful Dead and other classics, but instead the band launched into Desert Trance. That song was penned by Bob Weir along with lyrics by Indi Riverflow, who was in attendance that night. This was quite the ambitious performance of a song that twists and turns significantly for a band that was premiering this night. But together they went places: man did they go places. This felt like the climax of a show, ten minutes into their performance, with the solos being passed around from one member to another and the audience taken off to faraway lands. You could see jaws dropping throughout the sold out crowd of three hundred plus, as nobody could have expected a band this sick just in the second song of their first show. It was beyond imagination.
You could see the smiles erupting on the faces of the players, with Reed Mathis beaming, and rightfully so! Folks who came to see some Grateful Dead were offered up Dupree’s Diamond Blues as an offering, and it was done well. It was then back to original material, this time songs from Kadlecik’s recent release under his own name, Liquid Silver Live.
Liquid Silver spread out over a good ten minutes and was a musical topography map, meandering through a variety of moods and feels. The band segued into the song, River Run, with its slightly Celtic or Scottish feel. Next up, the rollicking Givin Me the Business which I think is another holdover from the days of the Mix. And on the wingmen concept- I don’t think that I have ever seen Jeff Chimenti go off on keyboards as hard as he did at this show, through all of the times that I saw him with Furthur and other outfits. Instead of a strict supporting role, his presence was highlighted by extended solos and a greater level of participation than I’ve seen in the past, and his chops are beyond question. His flourishes and embellishments that he does in those other bands were super present and amazing, but his ability to grab the spotlight when it was his turn reinforced my idea that he has a lot more to give than we’ve seen. The Wingmen concept succeeds.
But the band got thick and really adventurous in the second half of their one set. The Police song, Walking in Your Footsteps, was thick with Mathis dropping bombs and Kadlecik cranking out the power chords and amazing sounds which called up mental images of dinosaurs during his solo. The anticipation that you can feel between those chords (They say the meek shall inherit the earth… BAMMM!!) is electric, and the release of that pent up energy that he can build is palpable. This is part of Kadlecik’s brilliance, to recognize material outside of the typical Grateful Dead songbook and to drag it into this world effectively and with great vigor. I’ve seen him play this tune a few times with his East coast outfit, the John K. Band, and it is always a highlight.
Next up, a boiling jam with a ton of rhythm and feel that lead into perhaps the Dead’s most classic live piece, Dark Star. But this was not a reverential look at the standard version of the song, rather Kadlecik’s take. The band’s rhythm was totally different than any version you’ve heard before by the Dead, calling up a DC Go-Go beat that Jay Lane easily was able to access and apply.
Dark Star gave way via segue to a Kadlecik original, Page 43. The down tempo quality almost mimics what one might expect from Dark Star in its original form, but not in this band’s presentation. Kadlecik announced before what he called the final song that he was “The happiest guitarist alive.” You could just see the joy on every player’s face. Another Kadlecik original, The Great Vehicle, took us out with its playful lyrics “We are the bus, and the bus is us…” It has the feel of a classic Dead tune, but hops along in a way that matches Kadlecik’s own personal energy and spirit.
The band left the stage but didn’t make the crowd, who were stunned by the stellar performance, wait for long. They came back out for the community building Ripple that brought everyone together and sent them into the night. Everyone felt it. We were much like a group of people watching a new life being birthed, aghast and amazed at the creation of something altogether new to the Earth. Who knows if we will ever see another performance of the Golden Gate Wingmen, though I hope so. For anyone who criticized the Dead or Furthur or any of the recent incarnations as being too polished or predictable, this band was everything that you are seeking- fresh, unafraid, innovative and inspired. I left with a completely new appreciation for this music, which has so often been rehashed, but so seldom been rehabilitated in such a way as the Wingmen were able to achieve on their very first attempt.
John Kadlecik – guitar, vocals, Reed Mathis – bass, Jeff Chimenti – keyboards, Jay Lane – drums
8:10pm – 9:04pm
(John K Solo Electro/Acoustic)
Seen Love (Hairball Willie)
Run For The Roses
Good Friday Experiment
LSD (Lakeshore Drive)
Going Down To Eugene (To See The Grateful Dead)
Long Way To Go Home
9:23pm – 11:14pm
(John K & The Golden Gate Wingmen)
When I Paint My Masterpiece
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
Givin’ Me The Business
Walking In Your Footsteps>
Dweller On The Threshold
The Great Vehicle
UPCOMING John Kadlecik TOUR DATES: