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Blackalicious, Magnaball, and Ship of Fools

It’s Summertime and along with the NFL preseason and my birthday celebrations, that means the live music continues! On Sunday night I got to catch Blackalicious at the Sinclair in Boston – yes, they’re back! – along with two great openers but we’ll get to that in just a moment. For the hippie in me, the jam band rock ‘n roll, highlighted by Dead50 last month , continues running strong here in August. Last weekend (Aug 14) I hopped aboard the Ship of Fools for its 9th annual cruise around Boston Harbor, starring Playin’ Dead, a fantastic cover version of the best band in all the land (i.e. the Grateful Dead). Alongside our good friends and rock ‘n roll companions known in these volumes as N2D2, my lady and I and 300 others took to the high seas to dance with an electric soundtrack in front of us and the glowing Boston skyline off the starboard bow. Food for the soul administered in rocking waves.

In a similar vein, this past weekend in Watkins Glen, NY marked the return of Phish to super-festivals with Magnaball, a three-day concert with the Vermont quartet as the sole performers, complete with 7 official sets and one “secret” entirely improvised set (the “Drive-In jam”) that began late night Saturday/ early Sunday (1 am). The 10th such weekend-long festival put on by Phish throughout their illustrious career, it is truly a feat few bands could undertake, both in endurance (nearly 12 hours of music) and catalog (no song repeated). And though I wasn’t fortunate enough to be in attendance (N2D2 were, those glorious bastards), thanks to the miracle of modern technology and Phish’s command of the interwebs I was able to tune in to the live webcast on Saturday, continuing my summer #CouchTour with all the living room dancing fervor expected and required of my hippie soul. Any day that begins with “Divided Sky” is a-okay by me and I find myself digging the new song “Blaze On”, despite/because of its Trey-simplicity. But it was Tweezer > Prince Caspian to end the day’s second set that was the real highlight. Reports of one Bodacious Bathtub and an excellent ‘Hood were plentiful from Day 1, while Day 3 was wider and more colorful than it was deep. It all it was a weekend that for many Phans felt like home, capturing an energy and sprawling excitement reminiscent of Clifford Ball, complete with trampolines, vacuum solos, fireworks (glow stick and otherwise) and a feeling that both the band and the fans were right where they were supposed to be.

More recently, as I said in the opening, I caught Blackalicious as they made their return to the stage in support of their first new album in a decade, Imani Vol. 1, a crowd-funded self-release. Though the Quannum movement has continued to bubble in Cali’s Bay Area including feature and collaboration work from Gift of Gab and Chief XCel, it’s not been since 2005’s The Craft that fans have been treated to a new album from the duo themselves. On Sunday night they lit up The Sinclair in Cambridge with many a dedicated fan on hand to rap every word of their classic hits (“Make You Feel That Way”, “Blazing Arrow”, “Rhythm Sticks”) as well as Lateef the Truthspeaker and Jumbo of the Lifesavas on hand for guest and backup vocals. Clad in a Rev Run long leather coat, Gift was in vintage form with few missteps and a stunning “Alphabet Aerobics” that completed a fantasy for many fans who never imagined they’d see the duo live. Pick up Imani Vol. 1, available September 19.

Fran-P Pancho @ www.JPLimeProductions.comAudience members, though, got their money’s worth long before we got to the headliner. Kicking off Sunday’s bill was hometown rap act Fran-P whose smooth Fiasco-informed style brought the room from a tepid, half-full tone to bobbing and brimming as the set progressed. Taking the stage with Twan manning the DJ duties behind him, the Dorchester emcee moved little but packed a sonic punch as he performed tracks from his newest release Pancho available here, making many new fans along the way (myself included). Be sure to keep an ear open to a fresh new talent in the rising Boston Hip Hop scene and follow his label AR Classic Records @arclassic.

The show’s real star was the New Breed Brass Band from New Orleans, a seven-piece brass band on tour with Blackalicious throughout the Fall. With two trombones, two trumpets, two drummers, and a sousaphone, the group truly got the blood pumping and hips shaking. The skill and focus of snare-drummer Jenard Andrews were on full display as he struggled to play a cymbal whose stand was determined to fall apart. Playing it sideways, then upside-down, then abandoning it altogether with a boisterous “Who needs a cymbal?!”, Andrews never dropped a note, even feeding the band drum cues verbally at times. It was nonstop energy and the NOLA boys certainly made the Boston crowd get up and dance. It’s hard to ignore the recent influx of Bayou Brass music making its way northward, an excellent trend for those of us that like to move our feet. July’s Levitate Music Festival in Marshfield, MA featured Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, prolific NOLA brass with a Hip Hop flavor and, incidentally, Andrews’ uncle.

Summertime has nearly come and gone, my rocking compatriots, but the music continues on! At JP Lime we’re always interested in the newest and latest in live music so let us know who you’re going to see by tweeting us @JPLime and @DrProfEsq.

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