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RAD Nights In America

In last night's post, I mentioned in passing "RAD Nights in America," the concert video series that Joe Russo's Almost Dead (JRAD) has been running since the pandemic began. In terms of scratching one's itch for live music (as in, truly live) it isn't trying to do the same thing that Goose did with Bingo Tour: the members of JRAD aren't getting together during quarantine to play new music together. Instead, they are making a new video of a past performance available every Tuesday night for fans to stream for free.

Since Bingo Tour finished up (and I, concurrently, really learned to appreciate the relative advantages of watching a concert from my couch), "RAD Nights In America" has become my new fixation. Part of this is just because I love JRAD and their take on the Grateful Dead's songbook (it was JRAD that got me into the Grateful Dead when the actual Grateful Dead could not). The other part is because watching and downloading one show per week forces me to sit down and devote longform attention to a band I love as opposed to just shuffling to a song here or there while whatever music plays in the background as a soundtrack to the other things I'm doing and paying attention to.

One important thing I've gotten invested in during the pandemic (and this is likely another post by itself later on), it's trying to reteach myself how to focus on things in a longform way, whether it's on work, reading, writing, listening, or whatever else. I've never actually been very good at this when it comes to bands: when possible, I tend to try to dive into the minutiae of everything about a band. Phish was my favorite band for most of my adult life (and maybe still is?); I loved them so much that I spent countless hours writing reviews for nearly every show they've played since their comeback in 2009, and by the time I got caught up to the present day, I never wanted to listen to them again.

When I first got into JRAD, I was thrilled that they'd "only" played something like 150 shows: I could listen to them all in order over the next few years, and categorize my favorites! I haven't actually done this yet, but I'm starting to think it might not be the best way to enjoy listening to music.

Lately, when I want to listen to Phish, I put on an album I already own or a recording of a show I saw in person, and try to relisten in a way that I discover new things to love that I hadn't heard during previous listens: depth, not breadth. I'm learning that artificially limiting the pool of what's available to listen to in an age when everything is technically available to listen to really helps my enjoyment of the music. It helps me focus in, instead of overwhelming me with choice and variety.

This is why "Rad Nights" is great: watching three straight hours of JRAD's improvisatory jazz-rock has definitely been helping with the longform focus: it's dense, it's complicated, it's laden with references: it's basically the live music equivalent of reading Henri Lefebvre or Frederic Jameson...which, now that I type that, is probably why I love it. But you absolutely cannot look away while watching them play or you'll miss something. Take, for example, this medley of "Cumberland Blues" and "Big River," which is not jazz, but definitely demands attention to keep up with:

I'm currently in the process of slowly but surely watching every single "RAD Night" in order, from the beginning, complete with nerd-out handwritten setlists and notes (continuing my Bingo Tour tradition). It's been really fun, and it makes a certain part of the band's gigantic oeuvre "mine" in a way that lets me dive into it and geek out about it without feeling like listening to everything they've ever recorded is really necessary.

A few recommendations, just for fun:

1. Week Two's show, from 2/18/18, has an absolutely ridiculous second set, which starts with expansive, standout takes on "Let It Grow" and "Crazy Fingers," and ends with a nearly hour-long sequence of "Terrapin Suite" > "Morning Dew".

2. Week Four's show, from 5/4/18, is my favorite so far. The first set is anchored by a wild "Help On the Way" -> "Slipknot!" -> "Scarlet Begonias" -> "I Know You Rider," and the second set features guest violinist Katie Jacoby for most of its length, which seems to drive the rest of the band to take each song in succession to the sort of euphoric peak that makes you think "Well, they can't top that one, right?", at least until they do.

3. Week Five's show is the next night (5/5/18) I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the last one, but the "Cumberland"/"Big River" medley (linked already above) deserves a mention, and I loved the middle of the opening set, which is a "No Quarter"-esque jam into a "Let It Grow" that leads into a spacey jazz jam built in part around the melody of "My Favorite Things," which in turn segues into a jazzed-out take on "Bird Song."


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