Spice company Adams Extract is thought to have spread the red velvet cake throughout the US during the Great Depression by including it on recipe cards as a means to sell red food coloring; the cake was appropriated by the Waldorf-Astoria as the Waldorf-Astoria Cake; additionally, the cake may have seen a resurgence in the late 80s after being featured as an armadillo in the movie Steel Magnolias. (Thanks, Wiki.)
No matter its history as a food, fans began the guessing process following the announcement of Red Velvet as the flavor of the third evening of the Baker’s Dozen. Guesses of Velvet Underground bust-outs to a cover of Velvet Revolver to the obligatory "Wading In the Velvet Sea" glazed over screens throughout the day. But I tried to keep an expectation-free head as I made my way into the Garden (alas, too late for doughnuts but not too late to settle-in a few people back, Mike-side). Having followed the first two evenings — or, shall we say, Coconut and Strawberry — via Twitter, stream, and shitty chat rooms, I was quite ready to get my sweet on in person.
With the lights dimming to a velvet color, fans were met with the sight of Trey taking his place behind the drums. With Mike and Page in their respective spots, fans were briefly left wondering what Fishman had in store for us. Sorry, His Holiness Fishman. With the opening notes of Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning," His Holiness strode onto the stage, complete with mitre and stole. As Jon did his best Lou, singing lyrics originally meant for Nico, he lifted up a censer from the stage and filled the air with incense. He even went as far to fling (holy?) water out into the crowd from an aspergillum. As Mike would later Tweet, “It was a religious experience.”
Following Trey’s attempt at the aspergillum (flung Mike’s direction), the opening of “Axilla I” ripped through the crowd, causing us all to move. To the point that the floor was rippling as if it were on springs (oddly, that was the most it bounced over the course of the evening).
Despite its squeals and meows, “Your Pet Cat” helped to settle the crowd with its slight groove. As would become a theme of the evening, Page stood out on keys, rocking the clavinet. Just as he did with the “Back on the Train” that followed, the first “stretched” moment of the evening. With Trey playing with standard blues themes (confidently, I might add), Page moved from clavinet to piano, with the full band dialed in to a nice Type I stretch.
Mike's “How Many People Are You,” while not as open as “BOTT,” featured a little extra mustard with Mike driving a bit on bass (one of the few moments where he really stood out, from my vantage point).
“Glide” was well played, with Trey’s fingers deftly running through the Irish-sounding opening. Which was a pleasant surprise; “deftness” isn’t a description that is always included in reviews of composed sections these days.
It felt like the “Theme from the Bottom” which followed had a little something extra. But not as much extra as the “It’s Ice,” which for me featured one of the jams of the evening. A song not known for its exploration, “It's Ice” visited some really interesting places, especially with the interplay between Trey and Page (not to sounds like a broken record). To my ears, parts were even Grateful Dead-like (think, say, “Slipknot!”). The interplay dissolved into slight dissonance before Fishman counted back into “It’s Ice.” Highlight of the set.
“More,” a song just written to close a first set, closed this one. Fans sure seem to enjoy vibrating with love and light.
All in all, I found this first set to be quite the win. The band played well and took some unexpected chances. Oh, the obligatory doughnut reference was quite enjoyable.
The second set began with a slightly slow “AC/DC Bag.” And for a brief moment, it felt like it had a chance to escape its own grips. But alas, it segued into a second-set “Wolfman's Brother.” I found this to be a very good version for 2017; while not terribly long, it featured a strong Type I jam with Page on piano. Then, without pause, the band dropped as a whole into Type II section that reminded me of a Haunted House selection with echoing effects from Trey and Mike while Mike got funky. Then for something completely different (do you see a pattern?), they shifted into a moment of quite beautiful ambiance with Trey offering these snippets of melodies. (That whole section may have been my favorite point of the evening, if I was forced to choose). Not wanting to stick to anything too long, Mike dropped some “bombs” from the bass, vibrating chests, before building on yet another idea, which transitioned into “Twist.”
The improv that grew from the “Twist” featured, how shall we call it, a “deliberate” tempo before Page began to push things. They found their footing as Trey followed Page’s lead, strumming out a bit of a funky melody before the interesting stuff began. A friend described what was to follow as “ferocious.” I found it slightly aimless albeit interesting — a bit aggressive, with Trey wrestling out notes, the band building together in waves (reminding me a little of “First Tube,” as an example). It was almost as they were trying to find some ideas through the “Wolfman’s” and first portion of “Twist” and decided to just put their backs into it. Either way, it is worth a listen.
Eventually, the waves would lead to “Waves.” And yet again, the song opened up to snippets of ideas. First with Mike rumbling away on bass, then Fishman on cymbals. Some Page on piano, opening up to an ambient build. (Yet another moment I wished had been stretched just a little bit longer.)
You know what I noticed with the “Miss You” that followed? It is one of those songs that forces you to move; in particular, to sway back and forth. Just try not to next time. Picture frame.
The “Boogie On Reggae Woman” was a bit unexpected, but certainly welcomed. This Type I echo-y build that had everyone moving — but only for a little bit, as the obligatory “Wading In the Velvet Sea” (complete with red lights) closed the evening.
I found myself contemplating the second set during the encore break, wondering whether we actually were just presented with the show of the year thus far with so many moments of improvisation (like a series of short stories rather than a novel) or did the space and transitions tilt towards aimlessness. Never the less, the internal debate abruptly ended with the opening notes of “Sweet Jane” (and the hugs from friends), and was replaced by a huge doughnut-eating grin, plastered across my face. Perfectly placed bust-out. Well done.
All in all, an interesting and entertaining evening. There were moments of indecision, almost as though they were struggling with ideas. But on the other hand, the band surprised as they stretched open “It’s Ice,” amused with their choice of covers (both a debut and a bust-out), offered up a number of moments of creativity, and gave their nod to the flavor of the evening (Velvet, Velvet, Velvet, with the red coming in the form of lights). Still less than a quarter of a way through the box, we all know there are even more great flavors to come. Tuesday is already being billed as “Jam-Filled” . . .
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November 22, 1997
20 years ago
 Lyric changed to "Michael Esquandolas."
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