JAMALOTThough I'll freely--and proudly--cop to being a fan of the Grateful Dead, the bulk of bands that has followed in its wake--the legion of so-called jam bands--leaves me largely unimpressed. There are many mysteries surrounding the jam band circuit (how did it become the province of both the great unwashed masses and gelled-haired packs of frat boys, for example?), but there is perhaps no more perplexing mystery than this: How did these bands become so damn popular, in most cases by mere word of mouth?
We'll leave that one to the cosmos, but until we receive an answer ...
Fans of noodly extended guitar solos (and bass solos, and conga solos, etc.) have much to celebrate, as three jam band heavyweights (it would have been four, if O.A.R. hadn't canceled its previously scheduled appearance at the Rialto Theatre) make Tucson a part of their tour itineraries this week. Break out the 5-foot bongs, and get your tickets while they last.
First up is the most interesting of the lot. Medeski, Martin and Wood are a New York trio boasting a pedigree of schooling from the likes of John Lurie and John Zorn, two of the more fascinating figures to emerge from NYC's experimental jazz scene (though they also later collaborated with Phish--do with that what you will). The threesome--John Medeski on Hammond B-3 organ, drummer Billy Martin (not the former Yankees manager, but thanks for asking), and bassist Chris Wood--have done something in the world of music that few have managed: They've brought challenging, groove-based jazz to a mainstream audience that likely couldn't tell you who Art Blakey was.
Medeski, Martin and Wood perform at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $20 at the Rialto box office. They'll be $22 on the day of show. For more information call 740-1000.
The popularity of Widespread Panic, meanwhile, continues to confound. For about 20 years the band has been one of the most popular of the current crop of jam bands; its tours gross enough cash to consistently keep it on the Pollstar charts (in 2005, it's climbed into the Top 15); it's headlined a plethora of festivals, including Jazzfest, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo--a testament to their its-the-board appeal; and it's done all this by performing rather nondescript, run-of-the-mill blues-based Southern rock songs that often last in the 20-minute range. Is there something here that I'm missing?
The band plans to enter the studio next year to record a new album, but in the meantime fans have 2004's 11-song, double live CD Live at Myrtle Beach (Sanctuary) and this week's live appearance to tide them over.
Widespread Panic performs at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at AVA at Casino del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road. Tickets cost $20 to $30 in advance, available at all Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com, or by calling 321-1000. For further details call 838-6700.
The Notre Dame alumni and current Chicago residents constituting Umphrey's McGee are relative newcomers in the jam band scene, having come together about eight years ago. Rather than jazz or blues-rock leanings like the aforementioned two bands, the cryptically monikered combo instead takes a page from the Phish playbook, focusing on tricky, post-Zappa arrangements. Reportedly, the band members study (or, used to study) tapes of their own performances in order to improve upon them. While there may be no doubting the fact that the group's members are impressively talented musicians, my complaint with their music is the same as with most bands of their ilk: They're far too focused on nailing each complex change in any given song to allow any semblance of passion to seep into it.
Umphrey's McGee performs at the Rialto Theatre next Thursday, Oct. 27. Tickets are $16, available in advance at the Rialto box office. An opening band TBA opens the all-ages show at 8 p.m. That number again is 740-1000.
FRODO LOVES 'EMIf you've seen photos lately of actor Elijah Wood sporting a Gogol Bordello T-shirt, fret not. Though we suspect he's not a regular at any business competing for customers with the Mustang Ranch, he is a fan of the New York-based band fronted by Eugene Hutz, his co-star in the upcoming film Everything Is Illuminated. Hutz is a Ukraine native, and his band has appropriated Eastern European gypsy music and brought it to the hipster masses by fusing it with energy derived from punk rock and elements of performance art (lots of costume changes and dancing girls, for example). The band's live performances are not to be missed.
Gogol Bordello performs at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Tuesday, Oct. 25. The show begins at 9 p.m. with openers Throw Rag (who come highly recommended by Al Perry) and Scotch Green. Advance tickets cost $10; they'll be $12 at the door. The number to call with questions is 622-8848.
RACHEL'S, RACHEL'SSeveral years ago I found myself in New York City on Halloween. Costumes really aren't my thing, so I decided to take in a show instead. Perusing the Village Voice, I found my options rather limited, and opted to go see a dual bill of laptop tweakers Matmos (who had, at the time, recently collaborated with Bjork) and Chicago chamber music combo Rachel's, at the Knitting Factory. Each group performed a set of its own, then collaborated on a third set. That collaboration is what initially sold me on the show: How the hell would Rachel's, which performs what is essentially experimental classical music, manage to incorporate the avant-garde electronica of Matmos, which is perhaps best known for creating music out of such sounds as amplified recordings of surgical procedures, into a seamless whole?
Well, the results were, while tough to describe, far better than it sounds on paper and far more listenable than one might imagine. And, almost as inspired, if far less bizarre, was the set Rachel's performed alone. I wouldn't call myself a fan of classical music, though the classical music I do like tends to be more pared down (think Beethoven's string quartets) and less orchestral bombast. The music Rachel's played that night was decidedly the former, and with a band member that once was in experimental indie-rock band Rodan, the group tossed in just enough modern, rockist elements to keep me thoroughly engaged. Classical music for indie-rockers? That's exactly what Rachel's does.
Check it out for yourself when it performs at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Tuesday, Oct. 25. The all-ages show begins at 9 p.m. with opening sets by Invert and Marianne. Admission is $10. Call 884-0874 for more 411.
HURRICANE HELPThis week brings yet another benefit for victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. The Old Pueblo for New Orleans benefit boasts an eclectic, 18-act line-up of locals including Sam Taylor and Heather Hardy, The Determined Luddites, Stefan George, Kathleen Williamson, Barry Sparks, Wendy Adams, Mudwerks, Mitzi Cowell and Mary Redhouse.
The event runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23 at Javelina's Coffee and Friends, 9136 E. Valencia Road. For more information call 663-5282.