Album of the Week: Phish Live 6/27/2010 at Merriweather Post Pavilion (2010)

I’ve been to Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion exactly once, to see Animal Collective perform for the very first time at the venue they named their seminal 2009 album after (the Centipede Hz-heavy show included just 3 songs from MPP). This was in July 2011, and as a high-schooler I was ecstatic to see my favorite band deliver the goods. I knew almost nothing about Phish at the time except that my dad considered them a shameless Grateful Dead ripoff, and being far from even a Deadhead myself I was in no rush to counter. Phish was a total blindspot.

A decade and change later, Phish is my most listened-to artist (I type this with as much humility as possible). Most “phans” consider the mid-to-late 90s as their peak live era, and I won’t dispute that claim. But for whatever reason, a disproportionate amount of their 2010 shows are available on streaming services. This is one show deserving of attention.

The band’s first two-night stand at Merriweather (there have been seven since) began on Saturday, 6/26/10, with the band notably performing a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”. While I haven’t heard that whole set, the “Aeroplane” indicates the magic in the air at Merriweather that weekend.

Merriweather Post is a beautiful venue with a large outdoor lawn and a summery roof over the stage. A phish.net review sets the scene for 6/27: “The HEAT was bad! Lot’s of humidity, def. could have rained on us but it held back. This actually created a sweaty, half naked crowd that was just waiting to get down.” Sunday night’s show opens with a rare “Walfredo” (one of only two in the past 20 years!), which despite some speaker feedback and a forgotten line signaled a special night ahead with its appearance. A Marley cover (“Mellow Mood”), the evergreen “Divided Sky”, a roaring “Bathtub Gin” and a ripping “Run Like an Antelope” highlight a fun first set.

The second set is where things step into all-killer no-filler territory. “Wilson” starts things off by rocking the engaged crowd before “Meatstick” sends things into funkier territory. One thing about Phish: they are silly. I don’t think everyone will appreciate just how goofy “Meatstick” is, but if you let it take you there, it’s 8 minutes of liquid funk. This jam somehow morphs into the near-metal of “Saw It Again”, which turns into a repeated theme for the rest of the show. This “Saw It” is the first since 2003, and it appropriately fries the brains of the present crowd as it explodes. From the ashes of “Saw It” rises a “Piper” which starts delicately enough before Trey absolutely rips shit on guitar. The cheers are audible around the 11:45 mark when Page finally takes over on organ.

“Ghost” is one of Phish’s all-around best and one of their most consistently played songs (they’ve played it at 2 of the 4 shows I’ve seen) for good reason. On this version, Trey’s got that wet guitar tone and stretches the notes out while the rhythm section churns. In the blink of an eye this “Ghost” turns into the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (only time ever played!), an unexpected treat, before resolving as a reprisal of the monstrous “Saw It Again”.

“Contact” is a great breather between the climactic “Saw It Again” and the set-ending “You Enjoy Myself”, the most quintessentially Phish-y Phish song. As for the “Fire” encore, it’s an appropriate victory lap given the level they were at on this night. Give it a go and see for yourself.

Listen to 6/27/10 here.

Album of the Week: Emily Remler’s East to Wes (1988)

Welcome to 1988, the CD era! George Michael and Rick Astley ruled the charts, and Kenny G’s Silhouette would go 4x Platinum. Miles Davis was recording the glossy Amandla with the help of writer and bassist Marcus Miller, who had just written and produced the hit “Da Butt” for D.C. go-go group Experience Unlimited (chorus: “she was doin’ the butt”). Wayne Shorter’s Joy Ryder, a synth-filled foray into adult contemporary, was described as “grossly overproduced middle-brow funk”. Jazz wasn’t what it used to be.

Emily Remler, then, might as well have been living in the 50s. The 30 year old Berklee alum was devoted to bebop and swing, her greatest idol the jazz guitar giant Wes Montgomery. “I was so obsessed with Wes Montgomery that I had a picture of him on my wall,” Remler shared in a 1986 interview. “And for two years, I learned a new Wes song every day.” Hence the title of her sixth album East to Wes.

Though the album itself features no Montgomery compositions, East to Wes is largely composed of Remler’s take on other songs. “Daahoud”, from the classic Clifford Brown and Max Roach, starts things off with pep. Marvin Smith on drums provides a hopping rhythm allowing Remler to take off. Hank Jones, who played piano with Cannonball Adderley among many others, works as a melodic counterpoint.

“Snowfall” aptly begins gently and rhythmically before Remler takes things up a notch on acoustic guitar. You can watch her performing the song with her eyes closed, deeply focused. Smith’s drumming accentuates the speed of Remler’s playing while Buster Williams provides the perfect backbone. Remler’s original composition “Ballad From a Music Box”, by contrast, is 7 minutes of mellow, an easy highlight for me. Later in the album, the standard “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” gets the centerpiece treatment as the longest track. Remler draws it out nice and easy, waiting at least 4 minutes to really let it rip with the fingering before Hank Jones takes over. Williams even gets a tight solo in.

Emily Remler died just 2 years after the release of East to Wes, a tragic loss for a young musician who was steadily improving. Listening to the album today, it feels like neither a product of the 80s or a bebop-era time capsule, but an ageless testament to Remler’s skill.

Listen to East to Wes here.

Album of the Week: Sweet Smoke’s Just a Poke (1970)

Or, a bunch of jewish stoner kids from Brooklyn move to Germany and record a psych-rock classic. With legendary Krautrock producer Conny Plank at the helm, the guys of Sweet Smoke managed to release a two-track jam LP with European distribution on Columbia. Full of flute and guitars, “Baby Night” kicks off with an interpolation of Jeremy & The Satyrs’ “In the World of Glass Teardrops”. Not 3 minutes in, the tempo shifts to a “Moondance”-like strut, stretching out the instruments into jam territory. A minute later, things kick back up into high-gear, with dueling lead and rhythm guitars driving the instrumental passage. Marvin Kaminowitz’s lead around 7 minutes is tantalizing in its brief melodic passage. Then the song shifts again, turning into a cover of The Doors’ “The Soft Parade”. This provides another place for Kaminowitz to stretch out, this time achieving some trippy delay effects, before cycling back to “Teardrops”.

Side B’s “Silly Sally” features some hot saxophone action, so best to start there if you have any aversion to flutes. With some wah-wah guitars, things groove for about 7 minutes until we reach what one Discogs user describes as “one of the most amazing drum solo to hear on drugs .” Some sick fading enhances the solo of Jay Dorfman, who, according to a blog post later “programmed the drum tracks for the seminal dance tech record Planet Rock for Tommy Boy Records” (no way!). The “Silly Sally” solo is about 5 minutes of funky drumming. After that, things round out with more cookin’ sax. Though I have not heard either of their follow-up records, Sweet Smoke’s international debut stands as a strong entry into the canon of both American psych and German Krautrock.

This French fan site also has some good info on Sweet Smoke.

Listen to Just a Poke here.

Album of the Week: Emmylou Harris’s Roses in the Snow (1980)

Emmylou Harris cut her teeth recording with the late Gram Parsons in the early 70s before breaking out as a solo star. Her output was eclectic, with records ranging from country rock, to Beatles covers, to folk music and other styles. In 1979, she changed direction yet again, hitting the studio with multi-instrumentalist Ricky Scaggs for a bluegrass album.

“Only at one point was I told that what I was going to do was an absolute mistake, was going to end my career, was going to become a commercial disaster—that was when I wanted to do Roses in the Snow,” she told Lucinda Williams in 1997. “And I just said, ‘Well it’s my career.’ I knew I had to make that record… Everybody I knew wanted to do a Bluegrass record and everybody was talking about it, and I wanted to be the first.”

Roses in the Snow, then, wasn’t a mistake at all. It peaked at 26 on the Billboard charts and collects a rich assortment of recordings, beginning with the esoteric title track written by Ruth Franks and originally performed by Bill Grant and Delia Bell. Finding some lyrical parallels with Gram Parsons’ “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning” (on which Harris sang), it’s an upbeat start to a short and sweet album. Always with a trick up her sleeve, track 4 of the album is Emmylou’s cover of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer”, eschewing the traditional country/bluegrass songbook.

Acoustic guitar legend Tony Rice, who died in 2020, plays a key role on this album. Rice, whose proficiency in soloing found him collaborating with virtuosos like Jerry Garcia and Béla Fleck, appears on 6 of the album’s 10 tracks. His solo on the folk classic “Wayfaring Stranger” is beautiful and lithe. He also provides fast guitar accompaniment on “I’ll Go Stepping Too” and delicate picking on “You’re Learning”. Probably the biggest accomplishment on side B is “Miss the Mississippi (and You)”, which sparkles with a kind of classic Hollywood sweetness.

Among other guests, Johnny Cash can be heard singing on “[Cold] Jordan”. The album’s streaming version (a rerelease from 2002) features 2 bonus tracks, including a great take on Hank Williams’ “You’re Gonna Change”. Below, see Harris play the title track from “Roses in the Snow” in 1993.

Listen to Roses in the Snow here.

Album of the Week: Burial’s Young Death / Nightmarket (2016)

So, like most things Burial, this isn’t actually an album. By my count, Burial has released 20 singles and EPs since 2007’s full-length Untrue. Some of these releases are collaborative, most are solo. Some are one track, most are 2-4. There’s a lot of gems in the group, but this one stands out to me.

Side A’s “Young Death” has a heartbeat and ghostly vocal samples, at least for its first 3-and-a-half minutes (this section would fit well on Untrue). After that, things slow down to a crawl as thunder, breathing and a perfectly placed Skull Kid laugh create the track’s atmosphere. This section feels to me like a precursor to the B-side.

On “Nightmarket”, Burial flips an esoteric Mike Oldfield sample, and the result is like a rave frozen in time, or the biggest moment in trance suspended in amber. To me, it’s sort of like the spacey portion of “Born Slippy” in its epic reach. This sample recurs several times in the first 3 minutes of the track, and I spent countless nights in college with this addictive moment soundtracking nighttime wanderings about campus. The rest of “Nightmarket” (outside of its open space and vinyl hiss) diverges with a slew of video game-y prog-electro. Unlike “Young Death”, there is no backbeat on the track. Its Burial at his most mysterious.

Listen to “Young Death / Nightmarket” here.

Album of the Week: Jeremih’s Late Nights: Europe (2016)

It’s been a little while since Jeremih dropped a project. Despite some smash hits throughout the last 13 years or so, his last album was Late Nights in 2015. While that album was critically and commercially successful, I feel that its mixtape follow-up Late Nights: Europe is under-appreciated. Recorded largely on the road during a European tour, Late Nights: Europe feels like an off-the-cuff project that shows just how fire Jeremih was coming off the success of Late Nights.

Talking to Billboard in 2016, Jeremih said “in Europe… I brought my homie Soundz out with me. I was trying out new treatments while performing. After a lot of the shows, we’d set up small little booths in the hotel room, which I had never done before. Over the last week and a half or two weeks, we came up with a body of work, like 20 songs.”

“Amsterdam” was always my favorite song here. It’s one of 10 songs here produced by Soundz, who made Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo” (amongst other things), and the bass-heavy track provides ample room for Jeremih to breathe. It’s also a track that sticks closely to the theme, with references to the red light district and smoking weed (sounds like Jeremih had a good time in Amsterdam).

Setlist.fm indicates that Jeremih played a show in Beirut on July 9, 2016. Whether or not he played “Lebanon” there, it sounds like he had a good-ass time there too, as it’s one of the most fun and explicit tracks on the tape. “Belgium” features Chicago’s trademark juke production. “Paris” is a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, who appeared on the Late Nights album and would eventually make a full-length project with Jeremih (2018’s excellent MihTy). I really like that a song called “Oslo, Norway (feat. The Game)” by Jeremih even exists (and it’s good, too!) Things round out back in Jeremih’s hometown with “The Crib”, a tribute to Chicago, appropriately featuring G Herbo.

Some of my favorite YouTube comments on the Late Nights: Europe songs:

“I be listening to this while travelling Europe wit the love of my life” (“Czech Republic”)

“This tune is real UK underground… dance done… real road underground… dance hall business. it was prevalent in the 90’s Loose Ends, Cool Notes, Janet Kay, Matumbii etc there is a lot to name so I am most certainly not excluding the great artists of that period of UK Lovers Rock, so it’s nice to see that it’s reformatted for the 2000’s similar to what Vybes Kartel has done with Dance Hall basheee…. and Popcaan. The tune is tappa tappa.” (“London”)

“Ayyye” (“Amsterdam”)

“I know my ex playing this with some one else 😂😂😂😂” (“British Headboards”)

Listen to Late Nights: Europe here.

Album of the Week: Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

Yer tellin’ me you never heard of rainbow dome musick?? Well, big Steve Hillage was quite productive between the years of 1969-1979. At 17, he played lead guitar in Arzachel (previously Uriel, later known as Egg) and joined Gong shortly thereafter. By 1979 he had released 4 studio albums with Gong and 4 solo albums. Most of these fall in the psychedelic rock/Canterbury scene category, but Rainbow Dome Musick exists in its own ambient plane.

I found some info about the Rainbow Dome on this website, which includes the poster I repasted below. As you can see, the dome was advertised as part of the 3rd Festival for Mind Body + Spirit, which took place at London’s Olympia exhibition space/music venue in ’79. Billed as “The show about you & me”, the festival featured such new age-y attractions as astrology, “Earth mysteries”, and “sports”. Hillage and his wife, the musician Miquette Giraudy, made the music for the Rainbow Dome. I’m guessing this was some sort of psychedelic 3D art piece you could venture inside and space out in, like a Turrell space.

If you’re familiar with Mario Party 3, there’s some sparkly SFX that you hear for about 10 seconds when the players first enter a level (you can hear this at the 6:55 mark here). About 5 minutes into Rainbow Dome Musick, a very similar sequencer sound appears, creating the background for the rest of the track. Shit gets super gnarly about 12 minutes in when Hillage, gently at first, starts ripping on guitar. By 15 minutes in the music has become transcendent.

That’s “Garden of Paradise”, which takes up the A side. The other half is “Four Ever Rainbow”, which to me is somewhat evocative of Ashra’s New Age of Earth meditations. Less ecstatic than “Garden of Paradise”, but quite mellow. The guitar here is more rhythmic, and the synth sounds great.

I really like this comment on the above blog from one Julian Guffogg – “I went then – and met Steve Hillage in the dome!” It appears the event founder Graham Wilson commented as well.

Listen to Rainbow Dome Musick here.

Album of the Week: Az Yet’s s/t (1996)

Wtf happened last night? Oh, that’s right… Az Yet were making love… to you.

Even though most of the disembodied faces on the album cover look like they just dropped their phone in a sewer grate, Az Yet deliver the goods on their self-titled debut. Some people really can’t stomach the kind of intensely saccharine R&B heard on the opener “Last Night”, and I get that. But Babyface wrote or co-wrote 7/12 of these songs (I should also mention Keith Andes is credited on 5 of those), and he was no slouch in the 90s! While “Last Night” is not my favorite track on the album, it has the winning Babyface touch and reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Elsewhere, Babyface’s “Care For Me” glides with the same slow-jam arranging that carried tracks like “Red Light Special” and “Rock Wit’cha”. Singer Marc Nelson (the Chris Paul-looking dude on the cover) had previously been in Boyz II Men, which comes through on the almost acapella “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, which was written by and features Chicago’s Peter Cetera (what?). “Secrets” is another standout jam, courtesy of the legend Jon B. “Sadder Than Blue” takes the vibe into more jazzy hip-hop territory to good results.

I’m not really sure what happened to Az Yet, they seem to have gone fairly quiet after this album and then resurfaced 10 and 20 years later with follow-ups. I wouldn’t recommend it to Babyface n00bs as the place to start, but Az Yet is yet another winner on his CV.

Listen to Az Yet here.

Album of the Week: Bloodstone s/t (1972)

Bloodstone started in Kansas City in the early 60s as a junior high singing quartet started by Harry Williams, which became The Sinceres. While The Sinceres they never released an album, you can find their excellent single “Don’t Waste My Time” on Spotify. Moving to LA as Bloodstone, they recorded and released this excellent debut for Decca.

Bloodstone is a tight mix of classic 60s R&B and dirty 70s funk. I love the electric guitar on this record. While opener “Sadie Mae” is not necessarily a killer song, the band makes up for it with their ripping guitars. The centerpiece here is the lone cover song, “Little Green Apples”, written by Bobby Russell and performed by several artists including O.C. Smith, who hit #2 on Billboard with his version. Whereas Smith’s version was about 4 minutes, Bloodstone kick it into epic territory with a 9 minute take. The pre-chorus (“If that’s not lovin’ me…”) is magically drawn out, and the falsetto backing vocals make the track. This is a killer soul deep cut.

The B-side starts with “This Thing is Heavy”, an outsider’s take on the bourgeoning world of recreational drug use (“What’s this thing, people talkin’ bout ‘let’s get high’?”) “Lady of the Night” is a funky rave-up with some excellent rhythm guitar. Next to “Little Green Apples”, closer “Dumb Dude” might be my favorite track here. It starts out as an almost dirge, with Bloodstone’s vocal-group roots showing in vocal harmonies. Then the track finds a more upbeat groove in its final 2 minutes, with a killer guitar tone. Wonderful ending to a tight album.

Bloodstone would go on to record their biggest hit as the title track of their sophomore record, Natural High. Somewhat oddly, the entire B-side of Bloodstone was released on the CD (and now streaming) version of their third LP, Unreal, which is also a winner. But for a place to start, Bloodstone comes with my high recommendation.

Listen to Bloodstone here.

Album of the Week: Nelson Angelo e Joyce (1972)

When it comes to albums that have that hazy, late-night feeling, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. It’s one of those 70s records, like Das Hohelied Salomos, where you can practically hear the weed smoke coming through your speakers. Look at Nelson on the cover – dude is walking on clouds!

The two Brazilian singers were around 22-23 years old when they recorded this album. Angelo, who was part of the Clube de Esquina movement, worked closely with legendary artists Naná Vasconcelos and Lô Borges. Joyce Moreno is a singer and guitarist who would go on to work with Vinicius De Moraes. My understanding of Portugese is about nil, but the opener “Um Gosto de Fruta” translates to “A Taste of Fruit”, and it’s appropriately refreshing.

Angelo is mostly at the reigns here in terms of songwriting and performance. Joyce doesn’t take the lead until “Linda”, which is short and sweet, and then standout “Comunhão” delights in its melodious chorus of na-na-nas. “Ponte Nova” reaches a transcendent jam in its final 20 seconds, only to fade out. Joyce also takes the lead on “Meus Vinte Anos”, which she wrote, and has a blissful harpsichord backing.

Nelson Angelo e Joyce is indispensable. My only possible qualm would be that the record and its songs are so short, it’s hard not to want more. Well then, time to find more Nelson Angelo/Joyce albums…

Listen to Nelson Angelo e Joyce here.