Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: New Riders of the Purple Sage at the Visualite Theater, Charlotte, NC [Music Monday]

The New Riders of the Purple Sage are a country-psychedelic band from the 1970s. They're a Grateful Dead spinoff - originally Jerry Garcia's pedal steel guitar side project, though he wasn't very awesome at it and was soon replaced by Buddy Cage, who is excellent. They're best known for their stoner anthem "Panama Red" but slipped into obscurity in the 1980s before reforming midway through the decade. Their distinct, trippy sound and well-constructed blend of country and rock, improvisation and structure, make for a terrific time - they're one of my favorite bands to see live. Though their appearance at the Visualite Theater in Charlotte, NC on Saturday the 8th was scaled down by grief, it was still a night of competent grooves.

Donna Jean Godchaux MacKay's eponymous band opened for NRPS. Donna Jean, a backup singer for the Dead from '72-'79, is beautiful - one of the reasons I plan on refraining from hair dye as I age. However, she wasn't the central attraction of her own band. Her guitarist Jeff Mattson stole the show with his nimble playing and Garcia-esque guitar tone.

Original member John Dawson, who did not appear in the re-formed New Riders but gave it his blessing, died a few weeks ago, and the grief from his passing was a distinct weight on the band. While their shows usually last for at least two hour and a half sets and a multisong encore, this performance only lasted two hours with a one-song encore. (I did appreciate that they started on time, though - I've seen them start as much as three hours late.) Their presence was less enlivened than usual, but not incompetent: just a little sad. Donna Jean and Mattson joined them for a few emotional songs, which was a particular treat.

NRPS' new material (cowritten with Robert Hunter) is almost as good as their old material. I'm a particular fan of "Where I Come From" and "Ghost Train Blues":

The definite highlight of the show was the encore. "Ripple" is one of my favorite all-time songs, and their performance moved me to tears:

Next week in Music Monday, I'll won't be covering white men! Instead, I'll be meditating on Janis Joplin, another all-time fave.

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