|Trouble playing tunes?|
- MEDESKI MARTIN & WOOD
The Ash Grove, Santa Monica, CA
Friday, April 11, 1997
Set 1: “Down On Me ’97 Improv” *, Start/Stop > Hip Chops, Fast Clicks, Just Like I Pictured It, Latin ShuffleSet 2: Dysfunctional Ash Groove*+ > Drum Solo, Disrobe, Everyday People, Bubblehouse, Jelly Belly
Encore: Think* First Known Performance; earliest noted recording of the Down On Me melody
+ Not An Official Song Title
– SET I (tracks 1-6) –
– SET II (tracks 7-12) –
– SHACK THOUGHTS –
FRIDAY AFTERNOON IN THE UNIVERSE (FAITU#4)
The Shack Project celebrates MMW @25 years!
One of the reasons I LOVE listening to MMW is that I wholeheartedly trust their musical exploration — really, they can do no wrong for me because they embrace the music in a way that no other group does for me. There is no “scene”, no gimmicks, no characters to fall in love with from the songs, no real stage production — just the music and how they approach making it and what that results in. That has always been refreshing to me and part of what appeals to me about them as a band. In 1997 MMW made quite a shift in their sound, so much so that when I finally got to see them live in the spring of ’98, having heard nothing from ’97, I was astounded by the soundscape they were creating as it was NOTHING like I’d heard from them having only heard tapes from ’95-’96 over the previous couple years — it took a while for music to reach Atlantic Canada in the mid-’90s! Anyway, that shift in MMW’s sound began in ’97 when they debuted a bunch of new tunes and covers. The new MMW songs, at least most of them, would end up on the ’98 release Combustication, but for this guy who’d just gotten into the ’95-’96 sound, ’98 really threw me for a loop. It wasn’t until years later that I finally got my ears on some ’97 recordings and started to bridge the gap between ’96 and ’98 … and so, this week’s pick comes right at the beginning of the ’97 development.
– Set I –
The presence of this embryonic Down On Me melody is a wild way to open the show! Things start slow and easy with Chris establishing his bassline and Billy locking down a beat with some piano sprinkles and around 1min John starts to loosely introduce the melody to what became known as Down On Me — it wasn’t until 2003 that the band took this old traditional melody and really established a tune, but not before toying around with the melody again in spring 2000 which found the melody paired with Tsukemono’s bassline and beat — clearly the guys have dug the Down On Me melody for a while! Since this “version” of the tune only happened once (that we know of) it’s unclear whether this arrangement was established or if John just started dropping the melody into the opening improvisation … eventually the groove moves away from Down On Me, becoming its own thing, getting heavier as the track plays on.
Early performances of Combustication tunes, some others we never hear again, a couple covers and a few Shackman tunes populate the rest of the show.
After some monitor requests to the soundman and a note that they’ll be trying out some new music tonight, the wonderfully slinky groove of Start/Stop comes next and this would be like the 3rd time the tune was played — debuted on April 8th, we don’t have a recording of the 9th but it’s safe to assume it was played, making this show on the 11th most likely the 3rd performance. Just noting that this is an EARLY rendering of this tune and it’s already just busting out into some nice space. They aren’t pushing the “Stop” moments as far into space as they eventually will but the hints are there. As the tune fizzles out we enter into some Open Improvisation, just as wacky as ever! Bird calls from illyB, bowed bass from Chris, some dancing piano on top of that from John which are leading us to the night’s first cover, and a new addition to the MMW repertoire on this tour …
Hip Chops, a Roland Kirk tune new to the live repertoire, is a nice influx from a more traditional “jazz” sound while still retaining some oddities — it’s a weird tune, I think! But I dig it.
Fast Clicks pops in with a breaking illyBeat and a super poppin’ bassline from Chris while John colours the upper spectrum using a few of his different toys. This tune is SO GOOD! WHY DON’T THEY PLAY THIS! Well, I can ask that about lots of their tunes … the answer is that they’re always moving forward. Just makes me wonder what makes a tune stick for them? They have a high turnover from tour to tour as they tend to focus more on new music when they’ve got some, but those new tunes eventually become older tunes and some stick while others don’t. Always interesting what an artist digs vs. what the fans might dig. Anyway, Fast Clicks would have been cool to hear over the years moving through the band’s various palettes of sound, but alas, all we get is the ’97 treatment — so, I listen to these old gigs to get my fill. The song pumps along and then they bring it down to this nice little soft vamp around the middle of the track and that continues to get tighter as the track nears its conclusion with a nice explosion of keys from John (not sure what board it is??).
Just Like I Pictured It bloops out as Fast Clicks finishes and finds some odd-to-my-ears key work from John — not the usual clean sound we know from the album version and subsequent performances. He’s using a muddy sound in the start and then moves to organ, and I’m digging it as it makes the tune a little less smooth. A nice early take on this MMW classic.
The lovely Latin Shuffle (what a title, eh? HA!) takes us to set break, and again, this is a brand new tune at the time but the guys are all over it! Chris is back on upright bass and this line just gets my head boppin’! Billy is well locked into the Latin shuffle and once John hops in on piano we are off and running, smiling, and just enjoying the groove … breaks down to just bass’n’drums at the end before we reach the end of the set — this will later become a place where Chris often takes us out into a larger solo, but they’re still feeling their way around these tunes at this time.
– SET II –
With a Latin beat (no shuffle) the 2nd set gets going with the debut of something I’ve dubbed “Dysfunctional Ash Groove“, after the venue name — it is wacked! Wish both this and Fast Clicks would pop to the band’s attention now to revisit … so the groove is SOLID but something sounds a wee dysfunctional to me, like I can’t quite dance to it but wanna – HA! My body keeps jerking in different ways — picture Elaine from Seinfeld … if you know how she dances, that’s kinda how I feel this tune makes me move. The groove gets more intensified as we approach 5min, and John is just swirling away, Billy crashing, while Chris holds the groove. This all dissolves into a short illyB solo leading into …
Disrobe was great to hear again in recent years (2010-11), with its slinky groove (much of MMW is “slinky” to me, I guess), and back in ’97 it was real nice too as the band’s sound was morphing yet again, while still retaining that MMW vibe … the tune was part of a soundtrack for the film End of Violence (never saw it, myself) and the studio track is sweet too. This tune is simply KILLER. Period. I REALLY LOVE IT! When it resurfaced in 2010 I was stoked, but didn’t catch it in the shows I saw … then it came back in 2011 in the all requests first sets they were playing, with Billy even noting they hadn’t played it in forever … well, it had only been a year at that point, but I think he forgot that they, the band, dug the tune out on their own back in 2010.
Next up, a little Everyday People, MMW-style — can you even recognize this as the Sly and The Family Stone tune? This cover kinda introduces MMW’s gospel-treatment of certain cover tunes, i.e. Hey Joe, Julia, etc. This is a nice mid-set meditation, which is also messing a bit with what had been the usual construction of an MMW set of music. Up until this point the band’s “slower” tunes were still intense in some way and not really bringing the mood down like these tunes do, in my opinion.
Well, we’re not down for long and now things are bubbling up in the Bubblehouse! Everyone’s favourite song, right? HA! I mean, I love the tune, like really dig its groove and release but why is this the tune that most folks seem to call for? During the all request first sets in 2011 this tune was played almost every night, either in that set or in the encore slot due to it being requested by folks online before the tour began. I found it hilarious! There were SO MANY other songs I would have wanted to ask for since the band already plays this tune with regularity, but … I digress … nonetheless, the groove gets you moving and this performance is no different. It’s interesting for the ’97 sound to it. When it drops to John skittering along just before 5min and Chris starts dropping bombs before the half-time beat kicks in — well, that’s cool to my ears every time!
After a short pause, John gives us some nice organ swirls before Chris kicks in the bassline, which starts cooking along as Billy smatters some percussive interjections, with the tension building as we wait for the groove proper to kick in, which ain’t too long in ’97 but eventually they can really milk this opening! At this time they’ve played the hell out of the tune over the previous couple of years so they are rocking it hard. Nice moves with John on the piano mid-tune, and then exploding into the Jelly Belly again before illyB busts out with a little solo before John and Chris jump in to finish it out. It becomes common for Billy to bust out the end of this tune with a solo, as we’ll hear in shows to come.
For the encore Billy ponders aloud what they should play, with the audience shouting out a garble of suggestions. They “THINK” about it a bit and then, well, they Think us right to the end of the show. The opening features stellar tambourine work from Billy before he hops on the kit when John busts into the main melody. I’d say this is a fairly reserved rendering of the tune, but it still makes you Think!
enjoy the grooves,