Monday, July 01, 2013

Terrapin Crossroads

I've now visited Terrapin Crossroads three times for no-cover bar music. I heard the Terrapin Family Band twice (with slightly different lineups) and the Terrapin All Stars with Stu Allen once. These bands, and this venue, are a significant if pleasantly understated contribution to the Bay Area music scene. I've also seen Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Mumford and Sons recently at the Greek Theater, and they were all awesome. But I recommend Terrapin Crossroads and these bands to anyone who enjoys professional, soulful music without the hassle that often goes along with shows at larger venues.

On my first trip, I heard the Terrapin Family Band with Brian and Grahame Lesh. They started with the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" from the Some Girls album of 1978. It was an interesting choice, especially for a band made up of guys in their twenties. They also played several bluegrass numbers, including the Stanley Brothers' "Long Journey Home," and ended with a superb version of The Band's "The Weight." There were about 50 people in the bar, and we spotted Phil Lesh sitting at a cafe table near the soundboard, working on a plate of pasta, singing along, laughing, and clearly enjoying himself.

This week, the Terrapin All Stars with Stu Allen featured Naturally, the 1972 album by J.J. Cale that included "After Midnight," which they killed. Each number opened out to a jam that built slowly to a climax; then the band tucked it all back in, usually under Allen's restrained vocals. That style worked especially well on "Bringing It Back from Mexico," which combined a swampy blues sound with vintage hippie lyrics about smuggling weed. ("I think I'll get me some to go/Bringing it back from Mexico.")

Yesterday I dropped in for brunch and heard the Terrapin Family Band. Once again, the band drew a set of strong and compatible songs from different sources and periods. Not all of them were famous; one was the Deep Dark Woods' "Two Time Loser"; another was Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." They also played "Long Black Veil" "Long Journey Home," and Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel." The execution was flawless, with no nonsense or chatter, but I really appreciated their ability to simultaneously curate and put their own stamp on songs that predate them by decades. It's gratifying to see younger people exploring and continuing musical traditions that, in this case at least, mean a lot to me and my generation.

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