(FAITU#20 & #21)


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The Shack Project celebrates MMW @25 years!

My first 2 MMW live shows. Life changed forever. I’d been listening to the band for a few years by this point, had maybe 15-20 cassettes of live gigs and was digging it and knew I had to see them live. The shows I had were all from ’95-’96, nothing from ’97, so when I went to these April ’98 gigs it was like encountering a *completely* different band. What? A DJ? Huh? What are these songs? Lots of new music … unknown sounds … and I was hooked!

The band was really working the tunes that would be released in the fall of ’98 on the album Combustication. But, most of these songs were debuted in the spring of ’97 and played throughout the year, so not having access to any ’97 recordings (mid’90s in Atlantic Canada = slow acquisition of live shows) basically meant I’d no idea what the band sounded like now … but the next 2 days would open my ears to that and beyond …

MMW 1998-04-23 ticket stub

MMW 1998-04-23 ticket stub

**Thursday, April 23, 1998**
– SET I –

I can recall a small Canadian contingent that all came from my home area (Saint John, NB), and we were all gathered centre on the floor, against the railing that divided this middle section of the floor from the step-lower front section of the floor. None of us had seen MMW live, but we’d all heard them either peripherally or with some degree of focus (that would be me and one of my buddies). The tech guys (Kenny?) are flittering around the stage, and some guy comes out and grabs the stand-up bass and starts plunking away — I’m thinking he’s soundchecking the thing, but it sounds cool (I’ve been fooled by tinkering soundchecks before in altered states of consciousness though, so I wasn’t buying this one … yet). Then the dude starts whacking the main body of the bass — I’m like, what’s he doing?! Then back into the groove. Then 2 other guys come out from each side, one sits at the keys, the other at the drum kit, and we move from an opening Bass Solo > Basso Profondo, and we’re off! At this time I’d never seen a picture of the band — well, maybe one in the back of Relix, in the up-and-coming section or something, but I really had no idea what the band looked like so when Chris came out, and the lights didn’t change, we didn’t realize the show had even quite begun until we were already swept away into it. Nice. No idea how special that was at the time, but it grabbed me right into what MMW were doing onstage — I was hooked. I’m not sure I can even think of *any* other gig that opens with a bass solo, and Basso Profondo, it turned out, was a new tune to the band’s repertoire — I think it’s their own tune? — but was never really played much. A handful of times ever, so nice to have caught a performance — and especially nice that performance was captured by a kind-hearted taper who shared his efforts. Thanks, Brian!

Back to the show … Lifeblood pulses out the end of Basso Profondo, and this was a tune I recognized — at the time I’m sure I was thinking it was Lifeblood or Henduck — HA! Used to confuse those two a fair bit … similar in structure … and so we enjoyed this familiar Shack-man groove, and it was the only tune I knew for this short but sweet set. Lifeblood flows into the warm groove of Gonzo, unknown to me at the time, always welcome to my ears now. The song found more of a home in the live show as an encore or closing number, sometimes with an acoustic outro post-’99, but at this point it’s new and floating around more and here it was in the middle of the set, leading us to what was for me one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had at a show: hearing No Ke Ano Ahiahi for the *very first time*, not knowing what it was, but just soaking it in. Sooooo lovely. If my wife and I ever actually had a wedding, I always imagined this as the song we’d use for our first dance, and I’m pretty sure she’d concur. We were together seeing MMW for this first time, and hearing this song for the first time together always made it special to me with her. I just love it and could hear it any time. We’ve heard some great versions together, one happening the very next night

Then the fun of Roland Kirk’s Hip Chops closes this 49min 1st set, a new song for the live shows as of ’97, and another tune that was never overplayed with this being its only performance on this tour, and ’97-’98 seeing the bulk of its performances, a few in ’99 and only a couple scattered since. Check out Kirk’s recording here from his Gifts & Messages album:

… and check out Roland Kirk more if you haven’t — the guy can lock a groove!

– SET II –

Once again, I recognize very little in this set which is both exciting and, well, at that time I liked having more of a handle on what I was going to see live so it was a little confusing too — while the 1st set was mostly new music, it was the trio and I was loving it. The 2nd set with DJ Logic would prove to just confuse me on top of all the new music as I had a hard time picking out Logic’s sounds at various times, while other times it was obvious. I’m not a fan of DJs, I just don’t really get it, but I can appreciate something about it — and I trust MMW wholeheartedly, so if they wanted to get down with a DJ, then I was game to hear it. The opening improvisation set the spacey tone for what the keys and Logic could do together — hmmm, this could be interesting — which slams into Sugar Craft and showcases Logic as a percussive DJ perfectly. He has real purpose in that tune, which would become a tune they would play with him just about any time he would return to sit in over the next decade and beyond.

Medeski c.1998

Medeski c.1998

After the Open Improv, with some degree of groove about halfway in, moving > Sugar Craft, which showed us what the new w/DJ sound was like, the band explores some more open space coloured by Mr. Logic, and then we drift into a VERY welcoming groove with Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus. ITAHTLMJ is probably the earliest MMW melody I remember, specifically solidified in my memory from the moment my buddy threw on this new MMW disc his brother had purchased – his older brother was *always* buying new music, so we had access to lots of sounds as a result. We’d heard MMW before that, but that’s the moment where they really *clicked* for me, I guess, since it stands out so much. That swirling keyboard that starts the studio version on the Shack-man album had me hooked – never heard anything like it before! For this performance, it’s the bassline that gets us going while John and Logic sprinkle some sounds until John brings in that key sound as just a long sustained note, then the groove is in and we’re boppin’ our heads – and dancing! That’s what I remember at these first shows is dancing!

Next up was a brand new song to me and it’s a great boogie. Coconut Boogaloo brightens up the set at this point – it’s a nice cheery groove – but that busts apart as the tune comes to an end and then, what at the time I’m sure was just chaotic madness, out comes COMBUSTICATION itself! The namesake tune, buried on the album as a hidden track that surfaces minutes after the closing track, Hypnotized, wraps up, and this crazy groove REALLY rocks you to the core. It’s hilariously HEAVY!

Just Like I Pictured It was one of my favourite titles to later discover, but on this night it was a brand new song that soothed our souls after we were Combusticated! I remember loving the way the beat kind of lilts along … feels good …

What follows is about my favourite sequence of the gig. After Billy introduces everyone, a little groove starts building, mostly Logic and illyB at first, but then John and Chris jump in and after 1.5min or so a groove begins that has eluded me for lo these 18 years: This looks to be the very first known performance of what would become Toy Dancing only 2 shows later – they mess around with it loosely again the next night in Boston, but by Philly’s performance on 4/25 it’s pretty much Toy Dancing as we know it – well, the song, just like the rest of them, goes through mutations and variations of sorts, but at this time it is in its infancy and VERY cool to hear. Then suddenly the pace is picking up as the groove morphs and we are in a full-on BUBBLEHOUSE! Nice, another tune I recognized! There’s a reason everyone calls out for this song, and it’s not just because it’s one of the only titles folks know (even if they don’t know what song it might apply to), but it’s because this is one FREAKIN’ KILLER groove! John moves to the piano for part of this performance and things spin into a jazzy area, but still just pumping – illyB is locked in tight. The band keeps driving it until the end builds tension between Medeski and Logic, and boom, we’re done. Billy intros the band again, Logic swirls some sounds, and it’s goodnight.

The band comes out for a classic encore of Chubb Sub, another welcome and familiar tune to my ears. Billy apologies that they’ve run out of time, and only have until 11pm, but that they’re gonna play it out – great news, but I was honestly a little miffed because the band came on *almost* an hour late – huh? Never heard why or anything, and I was totally satisfied with the breadth and depth of music played, and hopefully the late start was beyond their control … I just pictured them drinking wine backstage or something … HA! Anyway, an incredible introduction to the live MMW experience – and I was so stoked to head to Boston the next day for more grooves!


**Friday, April 24, 1998**
– SET I –

A quick little Drum Intro gets us rolling into Coltrane’s epic classic Africa — new to MMW’s repertoire as of this spring ’98 tour, and the band is just tearing this piece apart over the tour with this night’s performance being no exception. Each performance the band gets more confident with the song, and again it’s a shame this is yet another tune lost to the ages without surfacing again much, if at all, after ’98. Thank goodness for the TAPERS! And then Africa hooks onto a tune/groove that’s been labeled “Chris & Tam” — I think this is like a groove MMW developed out of what they were doing with Africa. The two pieces seem to live in the same world, and were almost always played together during their time in the live shows. Brilliant work from illyB on the TAMbourine!

MMW 1998-04-24 poster

MMW 1998-04-24 poster

Next up is a tune that we heard the night before in Portland, but during the 2nd set — Coconut Boogaloo was an instant success in getting our asses moving. The song boils down to this cool little bluesy swirl of sound at the end of the track, which is basically a tiny intro to Just Like I Pictured It – another instant classic. That loping bassline groove is so soothing … and the title is one of my favourites – HA!

Then *SOMETHING* is played – it lasts 1min 37secs and is fantastic. Does anyone recognize this? I’ve been hearing it for almost 20 years while listening to this show so my perspective is skewed … it just sounds so familiar … but it trickles over to the start of Latin Shuffle – clever title, eh? illyB begins the Latin shuffle, John trickles in on the ivories, and Chris drops in on his acoustic – this is a nice tune and the guys rock it from the time they debuted it a year prior. The band shuffles into a short Bass Solo to finish up. Then the 3rd performance ever of Tubby, which is a super fun tune that goes through a number of phases over the years. On this night it ends the set with a feeling of positivity … and we take a break …

– SET II –

I remember the guys walking on and each banging woodblocks to start. You can hear Logic creep in under the percussive beat then gradually John and Chris move to their respective instruments and, well, chaos ensues for a wee bit. Then the sounds get a little spacey and creepy – you can hear him approaching – this ensues for wee bit until the bass drops and Dracula has arrived. He plods along for a while, until illyB kicks it in, we get some “woos” from the crowd at the breaks during this ramped up “chorus” section of the tune, and then it drops back down into its gentle approach, back and forth – and I knew this tune too, unlike the entirety of the first set, so latching onto that was welcome …

At this point, I recall looking around the theatre and noticing nobody was *not* paying attention – everyone seemed focus on the band, the music, and getting down. I always recall this set as a very warm feeling from a crowd that was completely into the moment.

The Improv that busts out the end of Dracula – because the guys play right through with a wonderful flow to the set for over 50 minutes, culminating in a piece of musical beauty, but we’ll get to that – this next Improv is just so good! Is it something? Sounds like it must be, but damn, these cats can pull this stuff from the ether … and this moves smooth and nicely into the 2nd ever appearance of the Toy Dancing melody, noted as an Improv based off the tune but it’s not quite the tune just yet – that will solidify more the next night in Philadelphia.

Sugar Craft jumps into the flow next – hmmm sounds familiar to me at the time? From last night, right? COOL! More impressive work from Logic in here. The music moves us to Golden Lady, which I have thought was just a wacked version of the Stevie Wonder tune all these years, but I really don’t know. I have hard time singing along with MMW’s take – HA! Check out Stevie’s Golden Lady here:

… I think the bass might be the key between them, but can’t say for sure … Regardless, this is the song’s first appearance and it gets some attention through ’98, but not much after, which is too bad because it’s hauntingly intriguing. I think that’s the Mellotron John is using on this track, which interacts nicely off Logic’s work. Chris and Billy hold us steady as the lady moves along … until it’s time to Start/Stop – a very apt title. Loving this groove with Logic working well here too, he and John playing off each other. I love how this song pushes out into space, further and further, so the groove Stops, but then it Starts again and we’re dancing along. Over the years the guys will really push out that space between the groove sections, sometimes where you forget they’re even playing that song until the head comes back around.

MMW 1998-04-24 ticket stub

MMW 1998-04-24 ticket stub

We’re coming up to the 50min mark, and as Start/Stop fizzles out the sounds crossover into something exquisitely beautiful, starting to sound familiar from the night before again, oh yeah: No Ke Ano Ahiahi. Loved this song/melody from the first moment it took me away … the placement here is perfect at the end of 50 solidly grooving and wild minutes. Just so nice …

Then we have a 30min sequence that finishes up the set with the music getting even weirder, maybe …

Improv > My Little Suede Shoes, a Charlie Parker tune – these 2 pieces make for an interesting 10min, folks. The Improv starts out very dark, and creeping, with Chris bowing a quick riff, percussive fills all over from Billy, while John and Logic soundscape the atmosphere. This seems to grow, building more tension along the way, with spaz fills from Billy on the kit now, wild sounds from everyone else – it’s getting noisy in here! This building up gives way to a skittery shuffle from Billy, space sounds from John, but then the coolest little melody surfaces that’s sure to make you shine – or, at least make My Little Suede Shoes shine! Check out Charlie’s original:

… interestingly, MMW only ever played this melody like 3 times, with this being the 2nd. Heard again late in ’98, but not since. The next Improv comes out darkly, moving along in this dark groovy space. Again, so good it should/could be a tune, but improvisation seems just as likely. There’s this cool shift between an organ pulse and the groove, then at around 3.5min in this track the Spy Kiss bassline comes out STRONG for like 30secs, then the music veers away and begins to disintegrate … suddenly it’s just Logic and illyB in this weird techno-tribal beat, things getting kind of subdued until BANG!

Combustication combusticates all over our ears! DAMN! That’s wild! Don’t think this one sounded “familiar” to me from the previous night’s chaos – just wrapping my head around the live MMW experience was crazy enough! But this madness gives way to the closing tune, which couldn’t have been better:

NIGHT MARCHERS lead us out, and it is so raunchy and groovin’! LOVE IT!

Another unknown for me in the encore with Gonzo, but recognized from the night before in Portland, a James Booker tune you may as well check out in addition to the other covers:

… Gonzo was new on this April ’98 tour, but has stuck around in the band’s live shows since with varying consistency, used mostly as a closing tune or encore, and eventually being one of the tunes the band would bless with the acoustic outro treatment. On this night, it’s straight up electric groove and sent us out into the night smiling …

That 2 night stand changed my life, with MMW’s music taking more and more of a hold on me, until over the next few years I’m addicted beyond control … and The Shack Project is born …

enjoy the grooves,

    Download MMW gig Read MMW txt file State Theatre, Portland, ME
    Thursday, April 23, 1998
    Set 1: Bass Solo > Basso Profondo > Lifeblood > Gonzo > No Ke Ano Ahiahi, Hip Chops

    Set 2: Open Improv > Sugar Craft > Open Improv > Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus > Coconut Boogaloo > Combustication > Just Like I Pictured It, DJ Improv > Toy Dancing Improv > Bubblehouse

    Encore: Chubb Sub

    w/ DJ Logic opening, in between sets, and sitting in the entire second set

– SET I (tracks 1-6) –
– DJ LOGIC SET BREAK (tracks 7-10) –
– SET II (tracks 11-18) –

    Download MMW gig Read MMW txt file Orpheum Theater, Boston, MA
    Friday, April 24, 1998
    Set 1: Drum Intro > Africa > “Chris & Tam”, Coconut Boogaloo > Just Like I Pictured It, Improv > Latin Shuffle > Bass Solo, Tubby

    Set 2: Open Improv/Intro > Dracula > Improv > Toy Dancing Improv > Sugar Craft > Golden Lady > Start/Stop > No Ke Ano Ahiahi, Improv > My Little Suede Shoes* > Improv+ > Combustication^ > Night Marchers

    Encore: Gonzo

    w/ DJ Logic opening, in between sets, and sitting in the entire second set
    * Charlie Parker cover
    + w/Chubb Sub tease
    ^ w/Spy Kiss bassline

– SET I (tracks 1-7) –
– SET II (tracks 8-21) –


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