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Radiators still steaming on live album

Aspen Times writer

The jam-band scene hits a high mark this weekend. The third annual Bonnaroo will bring together 90,000 fans and nearly 80 acts in rural Manchester, Tenn. The loosely defined jam tent keeps getting bigger, as reggae singer Burning Spear, avant-jazz piano trio The Bad Plus, folk-blues guitarist Doc Watson and rocker Patti Smith join usual suspects The Dead, String Cheese Incident and side projects by members of Phish and Widespread Panic on Bonnaroo’s six stages.Summer’s coming, and I want to review some live jam-band CDs.The Radiators, “Earth vs. the Radiators, The First 25″produced by Geoffrey Hanson and the RadiatorsMy college career got off to a very bad start. On the day before classes at New Orleans’ Tulane University started, a young local rock band, the Radiators, played a free gig across the street from my dorm. I was nothing but a Deadhead at the time, but when the Rads launched into the Dead staple “Turn on Your Lovelight,” I was hooked. Over the next year, I would see the Rads more often than I’d see my professors.Somehow, the Rads are still at it – despite never having a radio hit and barely making it past the level of club band. It’s not uncommon for jam bands nowadays now to make a decent run without a radio presence, and playing mostly clubs and festivals. But the Rads predated the jam-band model by over a decade, and they have lasted a remarkable 25 years.”Earth vs. the Radiators” – I like that name; it conveys the enormous odds the band has overcome to survive – captures the band on two discs recorded over three nights earlier this year at New Orleans’ Tipitina’s. (I remember seeing the Rads at the pre-renovation Tip’s, with more musicians onstage than people in the audience.) Joining the original quintet – yes, the Rads have the same membership as that day in 1981 I first saw them – are Gregg Allman, saxophonist Karl Denson, New Orleans bass icon George Porter, Jr. and the Bonerama Horns. The set includes tunes I heard 20 years ago (a wonderful “River Run,” “Make Fire,” “Hard Rock Kid”) and a cover of “Midnight Rider” with Allman on vocals. There’s even a photo on the liner notes from, I believe, my first Rads show. (It’s labeled “Tulane Campus, New Orleans, 1981.”)

Disappointingly, the band has never progressed much from the blues-based boogie I heard ages ago. On the other hand, the Rads sound as enthusiastic after the first 25 as they did after the first two, which is an impressive feat.Also available is a DVD version of “Earth vs. the Radiators,” with band interviews and more.Allman Brothers Band, “One Way Out”produced by Michael Barbiero & Warren Haynes (Sanctuary)Three years ago, the Allman Brothers released “Peakin’ At the Beacon.” The live CD, recorded at the band’s weeks-long 2001 run at New York’s Beacon Theatre – now an annual March event – was supposed to catch the Bro’s in better shape than ever. But the sound was horrific, the playing spotty, and the song selection questionable. The Allmans may have returned to form, but the album was no reflection of it.Last year’s fabulous studio CD “Hittin’ the Note” really showed the greatness of the current band, and the point was hammered home with the two-DVD set “Live at the Beacon Theatre.” The only piece left was a new live CD set, and here it is.With just a two-song segment – “Rockin’ Horse” and “Desdemona,” both new tunes from “Hittin’ the Note” – “One Way Out” makes up for the last live release. Both tunes feature ferocious jams, intense vocals and a focus by the current Bro’s on reclaiming their place in the blues-jam world. The rest of the two-disc set, from the 2003 run at the Beacon, doesn’t disappoint either.

Caveat emptor: Much of the material here is lifted from the “Beacon Theatre” DVDs. And curiously, the title song isn’t included. However, there are four tunes here – including the blues standard “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and the old Allmans his “Wasted Words” – not included on the DVD. Keller Williams, “Stage”(KW Enterprises)Warren Haynes, “Live at Bonnaroo”(ATO)How does a solo act fit in the jam world?Keller Williams does it by being a one-man band. Through a technique he calls “live phrase sampling” – recording a musical phrase live on stage, then electronically repeating it and playing over it in real time – Williams creates layers of sound. It would be a mere gimmick if Williams weren’t such an inventive guitarist. Check out the instrumental “Shapes of M + M’s” to see how Williams deftly blends jazzy chords and quick, quirky one-note riffs.

The live, double-CD set “Stage,” recorded at various 2003 shows, is a high point for Williams. Along with originals like the twisted blues “Cracker Ass Cracker,” he leaves his unique mark on “Rapper’s Delight,” “Moondance,” “For What It’s Worth” and a sublime version of Jerry Garcia’s “Birdsong.”Warren Haynes’ jam credentials are impeccable: He is a member of The Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends and his own Gov’t Mule. On the side, he does the occasional solo acoustic set like the one here, recorded at last year’s Bonnaroo. Haynes uses the opportunity of playing solo to drop the jams, and focus on singing and strumming, both of which he does powerfully and with a breadth of emotion. The set includes songs from all his bands, plus versions of U2’s “One,” Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and the Grateful Dead’s “To Lay Me Down.” And of course, Haynes’ signature “Soulshine,” which makes its way onto most every project he does.Steve Kimock Band, “Live in Colorado, Vol. 2″(Big Red Barn)Detractors knock the jam scene as a bunch of aimless noodlers, casting about in search of the rare moment of inspired playing. This two-CD set by the Steve Kimock Band, recorded live last December at Denver’s Gothic Theatre, is testament to the fact that they may have a point.Led by San Francisco area guitarist Kimock, the five-piece band plays limp instrumental fusion that goes precisely nowhere. I would say it’s all technique and no heart, but even the technique doesn’t blow me away.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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