Syd Arthur and The GOASTT in Madison
31st May 2014
This was surreal — Syd Arthur in Wisconsin! They got the gig supporting Sean Ono Lennon's psychedelic band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (a.k.a. The GOASTT), starting in San Francisco, travelling up the West Coast to Vancouver, then down across the Midwest, back up into Canada, and on to the East Coast to finish up in Boston. The first night at the Great American Music Hall in SF, a very special local guest got up for The GOASTT's encore, and Raven and Joel from SA were invited to join them, quite a way to kick off a North American tour! [Check out Rave's solo from about 8:20]
Funnily enough, I'd just emailed this to the band earlier that day:
If you didn't know, the GAMH is where the Dead's "One From the Vault" was recorded in 1975. This was the show where they debuted the Blues For Allah album. Mickey Hart's percussion involved a miked box of live crickets on that occasion (to simulate some of the desert sound effects from the album). According to Phil Lesh's autobiography:
"...during the course of the show, they escaped, one or two at at time, from their sand-filled box through the microphone hole. Healey [their sound man], at Mick's insistence, kept running the cricket track louder and louder ("More crickets!"), as the crickets became fewer and fewer. To the best of my knowledge, they can still be chirping nightly from the highest rafters of the Great American Music Hall."
So listen out for that!
I don't think they heard the crickets, but jamming with Weir probably made up for that...
Their Madison set apparently wasn't quite to the standard they've now become used to. The soundcheck was a bit hurried and I could sense they weren't 100% happy with things on stage. But that's only because I've seen them so many times before. Also, Liam had damaged his elbow in an accident after their gig in Des Moines a couple of nights earlier, so their set was cut a little bit shorter than usual (no "Chariots"/"Singularity", unfortunately). But they've got to a stage now where even when they're not at their best, they still sound amazing! The set began with the first three tracks off the new Sound Mirror album ("Garden of Time", "Hometown Blues" and "Autograph", the latter sounding tougher and more energetic than the album version which took a while to grow on me). They played "Dorothy" and "Edge of the Earth" from On an On, plus "Forevermore", "Sink Hole" and "All and Everything" from the new album. Enjoyment of that final number was affected by someone (I think) having something like an epileptic seizure near the front, which created an understandably strange atmosphere. Raven was playing his Prophet analog synth more than I've ever seen before, but mixed up with the violin and mandolin (plus their ever-expanding arsenal of effects) this just meant more textural variation than ever.
Hearing broad Wisconsin accents in a Syd Arthur crowd was inducing cognitive dissonance in me, as was the collision of two previously separate social circles, e.g. overhearing their soundman John Evans chatting to an old Wisconsin friend, Eric Brucewicz, who's both the in house soundman for the venue and brewmaster at a nearby microbrewery (Eric has toured English breweries as part of his work, so knew Faversham well...Joel and friends have worked on the hop harvest for Shepherd Neame brewery there and all like their Kentish ales, so we had an unexpected Canterbury/Wisconsin sound-engineering/real-ale convergence for a moment).
The GOASTT were really very good. About 2/3 of the audience seemed to be older Beatles fans who'd come to see what John's son is getting up to these days, and after each song you could sense them thinking ("Wow, this is actually really good!"). The energy built up and up, and if I'd walked in in mid-set I would have been blown away by what I was hearing and wanted to know who the band was. Unfortunately for Sean he's in a position something like that of a prince...everyone's interested in him primarily because of his lineage, rather than who he actually is. Dealing with the press is beyond tedious, ridiculously fanatical Beatles fans won't leave him alone, and he gets horrible YouTube comments from small-minded people who seem to have some pathological hatred of his mum, and feel the need to lash out at him for not being John Lennon. Poor bloke. But he's dealing with it so graciously. The Syd crew reported that he's been really great company on tour, and spends at least an hour at the merchandise table every night, patiently signing things and listening to American Beatlemaniacs telling him about their feelings for his departed father.
And he's got the music just right for the situation. Fresh, original heavy psych with some Beatles-y chord progressions and enough classic rock riffage to please the people who are there for the wrong reasons, and enough psychedelic weirdness to please the edgier, hipper younger crowd who sense there's something to be discovered here. Of course he, like any music freak his age, is going to be influenced by The Beatles (and Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin) He and his girlfriend Charlotte (on bass) have put together a magnificent band (including someone playing a digital Mellotron emulator!) and their seriously rocked-out encore of Syd Barrett's "Long Gone" was one of the best things I'd heard in ages.
Back at Maggie and Ken's afterwards I had a few very relaxing hours watching some of the new Cosmos series. I'd almost forgotten about the late 70s original with Carl Sagan until recently when Adam (from Lapis Lazuli) and Kim discovered it via YouTube and started enthusing to me. The new one is, as Maggie put it, like "taking a warm science bath"! She and I managed to get up and have a groggy breakfast with John while the band were still asleep at their hotel on the rougher periphery of this otherwise groovy city. We all eventually met for lunch and swapped notes about American culture, the appeal of the jam band scene, etc. before they headed south to Chicago and I headed north to Stevens Point. Ginger Baker's song about Americans' inability to make a decent cup of tea came up in conversation...
After the tour they're hitting the Knitting Factory in NYC, then down to the big festival in Bonnaroo. People over here are hearing them on satellite radio now and travelling hours to see them, and the album's getting great reviews. So good to see such deserving musicians getting these opportunities and this recognition. It'll be interesting to see how far it goes...