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Radio Daze

By Kirsten Ferguson


Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 30

At the inaugural EQXfest on Monday, a celebration of Vermont-based radio station WEQX’s 23 years of independent radio, the band with a great song called “Staring at the Sun” found themselves staring directly from the second stage into the late-afternoon sun. “This is fucking blinding,” said TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe, wiping sweat from his face and spraying one bottle of water after another into the crowd. The glaring sun and excessive heat didn’t stop Adebimpe from bounding up and down with vigor during the band’s most forceful and energetic songs (which were also their most enjoyable). A droning lassitude afflicted “Dreams,” a bleak track from the Brooklyn band’s first full-length, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, despite Adebimpe’s wild hand gestures and a band member’s wind-chime-festooned guitar. But the payoff for wilting in the sun came with “Wolf Like Me,” the band’s latest single and possibly one of the best songs getting airplay on EQX at the moment, which cut through any weariness with a whirlwind energy and blistering beat. Before their last tune, Adebimpe held his hand up to the demon yellow eye and sang the opening words to “Staring at the Sun” as the song’s distorted guitars kicked in.

“It’s so fucking hot, man. This global- warming shit sucks,” lamented a young concertgoer to her friend, as the early evening had yet to absorb much of the day’s heat. Before the headlining bands shifted to SPAC’s amphitheatre stage in the evening, the afternoon action took place on two smaller stages near the food-concessions area, and included short “EQX-Posure” sets by a handful of local acts, including Sunset Aside, Maggie Mayday and the Loyalty.

Lughead, who had their heyday in the Albany music scene of the 1990s but recently reunited, closed out the local-music portion of EQXfest in fitting fashion, as their song “Whatever Makes You Happy” was one of the most requested songs at the station in the mid ’90s. Singer Nick Ferrandino and bassist Mike Pauley sounded back in fine form on a couple of tunes that brought back memories from their Paint Chip Records days.

“I’ve got Perry Farrell on the line. Could someone pick him up at the airport please?” joked EQX DJs Jason Irwin and Willobee from the SPAC main stage as they announced the cancellation by the former Jane’s Addiction front man of his current band Satellite Party. As a result, the remaining headlining acts just started a little earlier than expected, with Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu following Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who performed a solo-acoustic set of protest folk under the name the Nightwatchman.

A half-empty but enthusiastic amphitheatre crowd greeted Matisyahu, an unlikely phenom if there ever was one—a stiff moving, gawky performer in white sneakers, khaki pants and skullcap who nonetheless demanded respect for the sheer gravitas of his performance. In front of a banner emblazoned with an Israeli hillside, Matisyahu sang about Mount Zion, with great feeling; a song later, he sang about Jerusalem, also with great feeling, even while busting into strains from Matthew Wilder’s ridiculous synth-pop hit from the ’80s, “Break My Stride” at the end.

Matisyahu came out later for a cameo during the set of headliners 311, the band most of the crowd—a veritable army in newly purchased green 311 T-shirts—seemed eager to see. His appearance during the reggae-cum-metal band’s cover of the Cure’s “Love Song” was the highlight of their set, other than, perhaps, an inventive (at least, inventive the first time they performed it) drum interlude that found every member of the band joining soloing drummer Chad Sexton to bash out their own beat.

Don’t Mess With Texas

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock

Caffe Lena, July 25

“Each of us had six or seven careers. Four or five of them were together,” joked Jimmie Dale Gilmore at Caffé Lena, seated on a stool next to Butch Hancock, his friend for 50 years and on-again-off-again performing partner. The pair had kicked off the show with one of Gilmore’s greatest, “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown,” a song that can sound either hopeful or hopeless depending on its treatment (here, as an opener, it was upbeat). Billed as the “poet laureates of the Buddhist cowboys,” the singing-songwriting pair were onstage at the intimate Saratoga Springs coffeehouse representing two-thirds of the legendary progressive-country trio Flatlanders, who last played the area (along with third member Joe Ely) at a free show in Albany’s Washington Park back in August 2001.

The trio first met as schoolmates in Lubbock, Texas, and onstage at Lena’s, Gilmore and Hancock shared the chemistry of old friends, clearly still fond and full of respect for each other, and used to humoring each other’s quirks. Gilmore laughed about the occasional lyrical amnesia plaguing Hancock, who amusingly forgot the words to “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own,” a Hancock tune oft covered by Gilmore (and, more recently, Phish). Hancock jumped in to join Gilmore on the song’s jaunty chorus as the crowd stomped out the beat with their feet on the floor, only to flub the line that begins, “I seem to forget half the things I start.”

And Hancock smiled through each of Gilmore’s rambling stories and chatty asides, many of which he’s undoubtedly heard countless times, whether involving Gilmore’s surprise to learn that the Colorado River actually flows through Texas (the inspiration for his song “Another Colorado”) or the philosophical studies that led him to lament being “afflicted” by his own opinions. “When I was younger I had stage fright. Then I learned how to talk on the mic and I couldn’t stop,” Gilmore laughed, making light of his reputation as a performer prone to digressions.

Although by Gilmore’s math they have had at least two or three musical careers apart, the pair have always been bound by their sharing of songbooks, Gilmore, especially, taking on Hancock tunes and making them his own by virtue of his singular, evocative voice. “He kept writing these songs that were really my songs. I’m going to do one of my songs that Butch Hancock wrote,” Gilmore quipped before “Just a Wave, Not the Water,” a Hancock song better associated with him. His silver mane thinning, Gilmore looked slightly more weathered than the last time he played Caffé Lena, five or so years ago, but his voice, veering from warm tenor to ethereal warble, had all the same power to evoke strong emotion.

Hancock, on the other hand, his voice strong and steady, lightened the mood with the talking blues of “The Ballad of Split and Slide,” a jokey song about two characters who were “born to lose.” A newer song, “When the Good and Bad Get Ugly,” took a more serious and topical turn, however, referencing the Patriot Act and the corruptions of war. As Gilmore announced at the start of the show, “The main message I have these days is that all Texans do not agree with all Texans.”

—Kirsten Ferguson

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