Working through the Labor Day schedule
August 27, 2010
In years past, I’ve offered a helping hand to concertgoers puzzling over Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival schedule, figuring a few questions could use answering: Was John Fogerty an old grouch trotting out moldy old hits? (Answer: No.) Could I blow off Euforquestra’s side-stage set in favor of a beer? (Sure: Euforquestra has a show every other week in the valley. Enjoy the brew and catch them at Belly Up.) Was Matisyahu a new sushi stand in the JAS Village, or an Orthodox Jewish reggae singer? (The latter.)This year, it’s no mere tidbits I’m handing out. Trust me, this time you’re going to need Ol’ Stewy’s expertise. The questions posed by the 2010 Labor Day lineup are profound ones. Why are the Black Crowes on their farewell tour, and how will it compare to their last farewell tour? Why do those two chicks in Court Yard Hounds look familiar? Calexico – isn’t that a city in California? DeVotchKa – isn’t that a city in Romania? Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh – are those the two Eagles who hate each other? Is Wilco merely an underground sensation/critic’s darling, or the greatest rock band currently roaming the Earth? Lynyrd Skynyrd – hunh??And foremost on everyone’s mind: Will Timothy B. Schmit make a surprise guest appearance, turning the Frey & Walsh set into a genuine Eagles appearance?Here, I list the mainstage acts in the order of urgency, ranking from, You need to blow off your kid’s first birthday party (Photoshop yourself into a few pictures and she’ll never know you weren’t there) to, This would be a good time to check out Juggling Jim in the kids area at the back of the venue.
Very much the real deal. The Chicago group has released eight albums, ranging from very good to excellent, and they’ve never stopped covering new ground, from Neil Young & Crazy Horse-style garage romps through experimental art-rock through alt-country, always sounding fresh, intelligent and assured. On the side, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy has been part of the notable side project Golden Smog, and contributed greatly to the two excellent “Mermaid Avenue” albums, built around old Woody Guthrie lyrics. This is Wilco’s area debut, and Stewy has to confess he has never seen them perform live. But he can’t wait.
Southern rockers the Black Crowes are hanging it up – just like they did in 2002 – this time with their Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys tour, with shows that feature an acoustic set and an electric set. But failures in the music don’t seem to be the reason for the farewell. Last year’s album “Before the Frost” found the band in a form rivaling their acclaimed 1990 debut, “Shake Your Money Maker,” and the addition in 2007 of the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson meant the Crowes would have one of the finest blues-rock guitarists in the fold. The Goodnight tour also features a good-bye album: Released earlier this month, “Croweology” is a two-CD set of their old tunes given the acoustic treatment.And if this show rips, and leaves you craving more, not to worry; the Crowes are taking their time saying good-bye. The tour runs into mid-December. Beyond that, there’s always the next reunion tour.
On the positive side: The best thing about the Eagles these days is Joe Walsh; his songs (“Ordinary Average Guy,” “Life’s Been Good”) get a far more enthusiastic reaction than, say, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” or “Heartache Tonight.” So count on Walsh getting more time in the spotlight than he does in the Eagles. The question on everyone’s mind – Will former Aspen resident Don Henley make a surprise appearance? – should add plenty of suspense to the day (and probably boost ticket sales).On the negative side: Henley doesn’t seem like the type to jump on-stage with his old buddies – especially given widespread reports that these guys haven’t exactly been buddies for the last few decades. Which is too bad; Henley’s solo appearance at the 2006 Labor Day Festival was impressive. And assuming the show relies on solo material, that’s more bad news: Henley’s solo work includes “The End of the Innocence” and “Boys of Summer”; Frey’s repertoire is topped by “Smuggler’s Blues” and “The Heat Is On.” And, yes, the vapid, but sure to please Aspen anthem, “Partytown.”Question to ponder: While Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski has made his feelings about the Eagles abundantly clear, would he object as strenuously to Frey & Walsh? Yeah, I figured.
Calexico took part in one of cinema’s great musical moments, backing My Morning Jacket singer Jim James for the take on Bob Dylan’s “Goin’ to Acapulco” in the arresting band-shell scene from the quasi-biopic on Dylan, “I’m Not There.” Apart from that, Calexico, led by singer Joey Burns and drummer John Covertino, draws on the influence of their Tucson hometown to create atmospheric Southwestern-flavored indie-rock. The question is whether the sound is big enough for an outdoor festival.
New Yorkers Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings play old-school soul straight out of the analog era, with a powerful, well-coordinated horn section and tight arrangements. After three albums, they have found no need to mess with a formula that works; “I Learned the Hard Way,” released in April, is as straight-forward a shot of classic soul as you’ll find, nothing “neo” about it.
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DeVotchKa is based in Denver, but you’d never guess. The quartet plays a burlesque-inspired show, and the music, made on instruments including accordion, sousaphone, bouzouki and theremin, combines elements of gypsy violin, Mexican mariachi and Slavic rhythms, and mixes them in a fashion that ends up reminding you sometimes of Talking Heads. DeVotchKa wrote most of the music for the indie film “Little Miss Sunshine,” and has performed at the Bonnaroo festival.
As the story goes, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison were ready to record the next Dixie Chicks album; lead singer Natalie Maines was not. So Maguire and Robison formed the side project Court Yard Hounds, with Robison taking the role of lead vocalist. The group’s debut album, released in May, strikes a balance between country, bluegrass and rock that will be familiar to fans of the Dixie Chicks, with a touch more singer-songwriter feel. By all appearances, the current arrangement seems amicable. Among those contributing to Court Yard Hounds’ self-titled album, released in May, was Natalie’s father Lloyd Maines, a respected Texas producer and string player. And the full Dixie Chicks played a series of shows this summer – as an opening act for the Eagles.
A Los Angeles group boasting four lead singer-songwriters, Truth & Salvage Co. play rootsy country-rock heavy on harmony singing. Their self-titled debut album, released in May, was produced by Chris Robinson, lead singer of the Black Crowes.
The current Lynyrd Skynyrd lineup features one original member (guitarist Gary Rossington); a lead singer who is the younger brother of the band’s original lead singer, who died 33 years ago; and a drummer-guitarist who was the band’s drummer for a brief period before Skynyrd had released any recordings. Even the members who survived the 1977 plane crash have died or parted ways with the band. With all due respect to the anthem “Sweet Home Alabama”; “Tuesday’s Gone” (my personal favorite); and yes, the anthem of anthems “Free Bird,” this isn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd; this is a hair away from being a tribute band.The side-stage action at the Labor Day Fest gets chopped down to just one stage this year, but the quality is good. And as always, funk rules in the club-like atmosphere of the side stage.On Friday, British groove quartet the New Mastersounds play the Outside Music Club. This is not to be missed: Eddie Roberts is a bad-ass guitarist, and it was just two years ago that the New Mastersounds were featured on the festival’s mainstage.Lubriphonic, a Chicago funk group that sports a two-piece horn section, greases up the club on Saturday. Sunday brings a change in style, as the Stone Foxes, a blues-rock quartet from the San Francisco area, make their area firstname.lastname@example.org