Monday, November 19, 2007

Biscuits and Blues Review

Recently, I had the opportunity to see James Cotton at Biscuits & Blues in San Francisco. What happened to me that night has made me hesitant to ever return to a place which was once a favorite of mine.

I went to see James Cotton at the late show. Tickets were $35 each. I took my wife. We each had a couple of drinks. Our bill at Biscuits was over $100. That didn't include: $15 for parking, $5 for bridge toll, plus about $15 for gas.

The guy that sold us the tickets was kind of rude after he took our money. After we bought our tickets, we were told that we had to wait outside. We went outside, stood in the light drizzle and were hassled my a more than a dozen of bums attempting to extract money from us and the other saps waiting outside. Additionally, the person selling the tickets told the tourist types that he would be their host and seating them as he placed a tip jar on the counter. It was a not-so-subtle way to extract a couple of extra bucks from the out of town clientele.

When we were let in and took our seats everything was cool. The waitresses were pleasant and friendly.

When the band took the stage, the volume was very nice. Unfortunately, several of the patrons were in the midst of conversations. Conversations that ran the entire length of the set. Ninety minutes of uninterrupted conversation. I could hear conversations at tables two rows away.

After a couple of nice mellow numbers, James Cotton came to the stage. He was barely audible and quite frustrated with the sound. He sent an audience member to talk to the sound man. It didn't matter much. The sound improved for a brief moment.

James called Kenny Neal up to do a couple of songs. He used the same microphone as Cotton. The problem was simple to fix. There was a short in the cable for the harp microphone. It's a standard XLR cable. I'm sure they had several of them lying around. The sound guy did nothing to fix it.

Cotton came back up and blew a few more tunes. They were really nice, but it was hard to hear him with the cable shorting out. He was playing almost acoustically, which sounded great.

Luckily, the volume was low enough for the other patrons to continue their conversations without interruption. I know I didn't want to miss a second learning about little Timmy struggling with his spelling. It didn't really matter much that James Cotton was in town and played two sold out shows. The volume was low enough that people could talk. Damn it! Isn't that the most important thing of all?

I know when I go out and drop $100 to see a legendary performer perform, I don't want to hear the performer. I want to hear about little Timmy's spelling woes. Timmy's parent's very should be thankful that my wife was there to restrain me. I was not pleased. Not pleased one bit.

The staff at Biscuits is more than willing to oblige those customers in the midst of an important conversation by ensuring that the performer can't really be heard with a poor sound mix and a defective microphone cable.

Dancers should also note that you can be as intoxicated and as careless as you wish while spending time at Biscuits. There was one couple that was dancing in front of the stage knocking drinks over. The staff said nothing to them.

For people that go out to hear live music as background noise while they converse, Biscuits is a great place to go. For people that wish to dance like drunken fools, Biscuits is a friendly place. If you want to be hassled by the homeless, Biscuits is a great place to go!

If you wish to go see live music by legendary performers, Biscuits is not a friendly place to visit. Fortunately, there are other venues. At this point, I would probably drive a couple hundred miles to another venue to avoid that place after my experience on Friday evening.

If you consider this whining or complaining, Biscuits pulled in a lot of money on Friday night. They pulled in more than $11K based on an average spend of $50 per person for the two shows. That's
conservative after a $35 cover charge. For that kind of money, I expect to be able to hear the band, without rude service, poor and defective sound and unruly patrons.

When I go out to hear music, I expect to hear music and not individual conversations.

I hope that this wasn't my last opportunity to see the legendary James Cotton.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday Night @ Murphys Law

Monday night, I went down to Murphy's Law in Sunnyvale, CA. When I arrived, the Pleasure Kings (Johnny Cat, Mike Phillips and Deniss Dove) were in the midst of playing an excellent Freddy King instrumental. Chris Brown, Big John Stokes and Scott Miller were hanging out. Jimmy Dewrance showed up a bit later. There were some excellent singers and jammers that I had not seen before. It was a fun evening. Shortly before I left, Carol Fran showed up just in from Louisiana.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Steve Freund @ The Poor House Bistro

I went out Friday night. I caught Steve Freund with the fabulous Burton Winn and the Human Timepiece, Robi Bean at the Poor House Bistro. I met a couple of people from the office down there. It was a fun evening. Steve and his trio played some fabulous Blues, old school style.

One of the fun things about the Poor House is that there are always some fabulous players milling around soaking up the sounds or sitting in on a few tunes. Sid Morris was present and enjoying a fine evening out. Jimmy Dewrance hanging out with friends. Scott Miller was present and accounted for. Suzy Tyler and Eddie Mac played a couple of really nice tunes. Harp player, Aki Kumar was enjoying a fine meal. Overall, it was a really fun evening.

Here is a short video of me sitting in with Steve and his excellent trio on the Floyd Jones classic, Dark Road.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Old Days

While I was going to college, I worked in a liquor store in suburban Chicago. One of the guys there bought a pristine Gretsch Country Gentleman, an acoustic guitar and cheeseball Valco tube amp for a princely sum of $20 off of some lady that was cleaning out her attic.

He was a pretty good blues guitar player, but I'll never forget the time we went to Fitzgerald's in Berwyn to catch a Mighty Joe Young show. He was that he was married with three kids. We met up with his parents, him and his date. When I asked him if he was still married, he said, "Joe, you can't expect me to go out at night without a date. My wife is busy taking care of the kids."

It was also the last time that I saw Little Brother Montgomery perform. He was escorted to the stage. He tore it up on a couple of tunes, including one excellent version of Vicksburg Blues and then he split.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Jimmy Reed Highway

I saw it. Some of it I liked, some of it I didn't care for. I don't know, if I'll watch it again.

I didn't care much for Omar Dykes. I found myself wishing he would disappear. Lou Ann Barton looked like she would have preferred to be anywhere else, but where she was. I've never been a huge Delbert McClinton fan. I thought James Cotton and Kim Wilson sounded good. It would have been nice to see more of Gary Clark Jr. He sounded okay. I thought the rhythm section was good and they should have been introduced.

The show covered Jimmy Reed's material quite nicely. I thought the short interviews were very complementary toward his contribution and impact on American music.

Overall, it was good TV, but something was missing. Like many performers of his time period, Jimmy Reed was really good at delivering the emotion of the song. This was what I found lacking on the TV show. Some of the performers sounded like they were reading the lyrics off a teleprompter, which didn't seem much like a fitting tribute to a monumental contributor to American music. Some of the performances felt forced.

Given the caliber of talent on this show, I was expecting the delivery of the material to be off the charts great. It wasn't horrible or bad. It wasn't knock your socks off great, which was what I was expecting.

However, I think I made a huge mistake watching one of the American
Folk Blues Festival DVD's immediately afterward, which reinforced that Lonnie Johnson is probably one of the most under-recognized talents in American music history.