July 30 2015
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Holy cow was it raining as I was driving from the CT suburbs into NYC. What can be a 70 minute drive turned into two hours easily, as drivers were dodging the massive puddles on I-95 heading into the city. But I found my parking spot, and sauntered over to Watermark as the clouds were parting and the rain was breaking. I had gotten some panicked phone calls from friends saying “What if it gets rained out?” I assured them that all was good, and that a show for the ages was in the offing.
Watermark is an amazing venue built at the end of a pier at the South Street Seaport. But it’s not really a venue. It’s basically a large spot jutting out into the water that has electricity, the rest is up to the bands and the promoters. They had a stage set up underneath a patio overhang, sound, lights, and Boom! As the sunlight faded during the show, an amazing view developed of the Brooklyn Bridge lit up, the sea, and across the way the Jehovah’s clock was calling out their request for a song, “Watchtower.”
I was easily able to find my friends, along with acquaintances who are becoming good friends here while we all travel this summer. Fans of Jeff Chimenti were represented (FoJC Facebook group), tapers I had met at Jerry Jam and abroad. And suddenly, it was time for the show to start.
The band opened with Shakedown and immediately were great. There was a tremendous bass solo from Reed Mathis, and you could tell that the band was listening carefully to each other as they made a huge amount of room for Reed’s solo, and all came back in together at the perfect moment.
The first set was totally solid, with the band playing off of each other. I was enjoying the venue atmosphere, looking out at the river, seeing the lights on the Brooklyn Bridge become brighter as the sky darkened. In deference to the rain storm that happened earlier in the day before the show, John Kadlecik busted out Bertha. He really put a great emphasis on the “Rain into a rainstorm..” lyric and the audience responded loudly.
After Van Morrison’s Cleaning Windows, the set closer, Might As Well helped to capture the collective and happy mood of the assembled.
AUDIO SET ONE:
The set break was a reasonable length to get a few beers and chat with friends and the band took the stage again. It was now fully dark and it was a really great atmosphere. The bridges in view, the clock towers, the booze cruise boats passing by, it was all very visual with almost no light show necessary.
The lyrical content of Might As Well spilled over into the set opener, All Roads I think it is called, and was sung by Kadlecik. I especially like the line, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” I’ve only recently learned that it is a George Harrison song. That is one of the really cool things about this band. You get to learn about songs that are amusing or important or just fun for the players to play. They are not constrained by the song book that was defined by their predecessors. They certainly sample from that song book liberally but they are adding their own material and songs that they love from others into it themselves.
But easily, the total highlight of the show was the second song, He’s Gone as sung by Reed Mathis. This lengthy and far reaching version I believe to be the best one I have ever heard by any band ever. They explore every nook and cranny of the previously played versions of the song. They then completely deconstructed the song and rebuilt it from scratch, down to it’s molecular make up and back up until it was fully formed again. Masterful.
AUDIO SET TWO:
Surprises continued one after another. While the public pain from the absence of Jerry Garcia has been palpable this summer, there is still a collective pain from the absence of Brent Mydland whose passing is now decades past us. Golden Gate Wingmen kept his memory alive that night playing the mostly forgotten song We Can Run. I ran into John after the show and remarked how nobody plays that one, and he cocked his head a bit and said “I’ve been playing that one in my solo set for years,” shrugged his shoulders a bit and walked along. Such is the unique sensibility of this sensitive musician.
Next up the Reed Mathis original, The Ladder. This song is meticulously crafted and with the capable skills of this band it blossoms. It’s telling that after a really full night of music, when I woke up the next morning, it was The Ladder that was stuck in my head. Again, not content with song book limitations, Golden Gate Wingmen offer up original songs and rarities and the audience accepts them with a willingness that I don’t think I’ve seen for any other band in this scene.
A spirited Help on the Way brought us back to that songbook, and the funkiest Slipknot I’ve heard in a long time, or maybe ever followed. An extended improv section let us back to the hooks, and then Jay Lane made his presence known. In the part prescribed to be an area of drum improvisation, Lane went full frontal, assaulting the skins with the precision of a surgeon and the strength of a musical warrior. Holy smokes, the band was on fire. Rock and Roll.
Now I’ve become wary of expecting a Franklin’s Tower after the Slipknot from this band. It almost seems like they do it one out of three times to keep us expecting it, but I’ve seen and heard Ripple come out of Slipknot, so I was half expecting that. But instead Touch of Grey came next and Kadlecik was clearly warming up after hours on stage.
The encore came with the classic Like a Road. Instead of an easing into the night though, this version was hefty, meaty- a working man’s meal after a hard day, with the gristle intact. Kadlecik attacked his guitar with fervor, and the crescendo of the energy from this show, mirrored the crescendo of the whole tour. It all come to a peak, and as the last tonal remnants spilled out of the water and into the humidity, I realized it was over. I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, it’s just when you put down a really intense book, or your favorite tv show stops making new episodes, it can be jarring.
We got to hang around for a while, and my long lost friends and I reminisced and reconnected. This is another great thing about Golden Gate Wingmen- it gives us all an excuse, post Chicago, to get together. Ours is a rather strong community, and we are spread out all over the place. Wingmen shows are the perfect place to meet up with old friends, and to recreate the magic that we have been creating together for the last fifty years.
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
Might as Well
We Can Run
Help on the Way
Touch of Grey
E: Like a Road
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