A November Saturday night that’s alright for fighting. The ghosts of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Oasis, Green Day, Bo Diddley and others haunting my dreams. Family, friends and some strangers abound. Loud things. Fragments of broken instruments from musical journeys past onstage. Free brew and super-helpful staff for the performers.
These are the voyages of the Starship Bands that Play The Legendary Dobbs. There are hundreds of bands that do it each year, and have been thousands since it opened. It’s ground zero for the small-time gigging musician with big dreams in Philly. And there are several huge bass cabinets in front of the stage – that’s gotta count for something.
As a keyboard player on the main stage there (and a full 88-key Korg digital beast), I sat off to the side behind Chris and Rob, the band’s fearless leaders, so as also not to obscure Big John the bassist or Mike the drummer (who will respectively be the Pete Trewavas and Ian Mosley of my Marillion tribute band at some point in our lives). It’s all good - sitting off to the side gave me the advantage of not being the focus of attention on the stage (enhancing my ability to hide and subvert the music from the shadows) while giving me the appearance of being more like a data-entry clerk dutifully entering information into a large computer that doesn’t exist somewhere. Nobody suspected a thing. Muwaha! Actually, sitting next to a large, unused stack that doubled as a place to put my gig bag and drink wasn’t half bad, either.
We were pumped for the gig, as we had played the upstairs lounge/stage earlier that year (on a 90-degree summer night in late August). Hot sexy action music! Not really, but certainly a solid performance tearing through the originals off the first Wayside EP. The gig went off well. I even managed to cram a Tweezer tease into a reading of Bill Wither’s “Use Me.” Bow down for what you have received, Shakeheads.
Following the August gig, Rob and Chris had talked with Dobbs folks in an attempt to get us a spot on their coveted downstairs stage. They succeeded wildly, and we ended up on the bill with five other bands as the opener. In fact, we’ll know we’re ‘making it’ there when we move farther up that bill and headline at midnight on a future Saturday night. I’ll bring the espresso.
By the time the set was started (precisely at 8pm, goddammit), the place was packed. At least 75-100 people with tiny spaces to move and breathe. The TV screen that had been covering the stage with a random college football game was raised, and it was time to rock. The opening strains of “Tell Me When to Kiss You” (Tell Me When in setlist notation) rang out through the venue, with Rob exhorting the audience to prepare for face-melting the likes of which they had never experienced. Kicked into the song, faces melted, gig was over because everyone died. Good night, folks! I kid – the opener was strong, and since we had spent the whole day rehearsing the set a few times, it felt like nothing at all. When the opener is over, you know in your bones that you nailed it and all you hear is applause, it’s an artistic high that has few equals on the planet – kind of like jumping out of a plane into a giant bowl of vanilla pudding.
Did the Phish-y no-stop (earning this pairing a > on the set list) into Don’t Run Away. A dark, rumbling blues excursion into the mind of Chris’s worst fears about being left alone in a world gone mad. Or a relationship gone sour. Whatever – your mileage may vary. Did some tinkling on the keys, no big whoop. Sounded good. The audience was also inching closer to the front of the stage, probably lured there by the huge bass cabinets and their mysteries.
No hitches – solid version of DRA. My role in that tune is usually to color lightly, unless I’ve had 17 whiskey shots. Then my job is to pass out.
Speaking of color, a quick aside: one of the neat things about doing a gig with decent in-house lighting is the neat colors and hues they cast on the piano keys. Since they’re mostly white, it’s fun to see the keys flashing and morphing interesting colored ambiance back at you. The problem comes when you begin to stare too long at them and miss a cue or clam your part. That, of course, never happens with me because I’m the Liszt of your generation and am not troubled by your Earthly concerns such as staring at pretty lights and colors and things. At least not on that particular night.
Back to the set, peons. I’ll breeze through the rest, since memory of sensations experienced runs shorter with each second ticking by.
Going to See Her. A mite pitchy in the beginning, but solid in its being. Does what it does well. Love is Temporary flows next. A nice electric workout from Chris, inspiring the Van Halen tease permeates the bridge. Give it a listen on the YouTube channel Right Now (bad dum tsss).
Avalon was sweet as a Hershey bar, and was the highlight of the night in my not-so-humble opinion. Tight-yet-loose, danceable and rambling, it’s a becoming a jammy little staple in Wayside set lists across the nation. Dig?
City People is nice. Just…nice. Country-cum-shuffle, Dead-flavored, and succinct, it’s a wistful little tune that changes the timbre of the show to a lonely road-side dive somewhere in southern Georgia for its 3-minute duration. On the heels of a rocker, it’s a nice breath of air. What more could a self-respecting concertgoer ask for? A William DeVaughan cover, perhaps?
Yes, bitches. That’s exactly what could be asked for. Be Thankful For What You’ve Got was delivered as the other highlight of the set. The Wayside version is a bit more muscular, and what it sacrifices in subtlety it makes up for in a goopy groove augmented by double-octave bass effects. Rob wanted John to get a kiss from a lucky attendee in the audience who could actually name the song. I’m OK with that.
Tallest Building, the sugar-coated kiss to Haddon Township, went well. Twas sincere, unassuming, and punctuated with Twippie-related band intros and banter in its latter half. It’s come a long way from the stripped-down drum-machine version Chris and Rob put out earlier in the year on YouTube. And then again, it hasn’t. It’s one of those songs essentially done correctly off the bat, and it’s nice that it’s retained its essential nostalgic connotations.
And apparently, we were Responsible for your Happiness, as the old-school Wayside tune brought the show to a rousing and fitting end.
All in all, a great gig, minimal clams, and some really great moments. I’ve got my soundboard recording. How about you? Looking forward with great fervor to the next gig.