My brother Mike & family’s Christmas present to Cindy & me was a delightful overnight stay in the City, centered around a late show by the excellent New York City area Grateful Dead tribute band, Wigjam, at Sullivan Hall on Sullivan Street in the heart of West Village. Our overnight residence was in the Sheraton Tribeca on Canal Street, on the northern border of the TriBeCa (the triangle below Canal Street) section of Manhattan. The hotel is lovely and reasonably priced, and the service is excellent!
The show itself was scheduled to start at 10:30. Like most concerts, the start time was suspect but, in this case, that was putting it mildly. For the early part of the evening, Sullivan was booked for a private birthday party event. We stopped by the Hall at about 9:00 and were told that the line to get in for the very inexpensive $10 ticket priced event would begin at 10:30, w/ the band starting at 11:15. In the meantime, we landed a few doors down at the very cool & laid back 206 Lounge for a few $3 Bud & Coors Light bottles. We closed our tabs at 10:30 and headed to Sullivan to find that the doors weren’t going to be open for another 20 minutes. Obviously, that time was also suspect so we went back to 206 for another round, then showed up at Sullivan finally walked right in at 11:15. The band eventually made their way to the stage in this perfectly designed for sound venue at 11:45 for the start of what was sure to be a late night.
The sound was a little rough at first, w/ the bass very overpowering: The worst possible acoustical issue; a flaw that cannot be overcome. You can compensate for it somewhat by moving behind & to the side of the crowd so that the bulk of the sound will be absorbed by the audience in front of you. This technique was satisfactory and shortly thereafter, the sound was perfectly clean no matter where one was situated.
Highlights of the first set included a rousing rendition of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodle-oo (1/2 Step), a rockin’ version of the Grateful Dead’s arrangement of the Johnny Cash classic Big River, and the classic GD suite China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider (a traditional folk song). But to these ears, the highlight of the set came at about 12:30 w/ Jimmy Cliff’s signature Harder They Come. The song was long a Jerry Band standard and the arrangement doesn’t stray too far from the original short of smoothing out the calypso beat. That tune produced smiles all around, most of which stayed for the remainder of the show.
After the set break, the band was back out for another solid 75 minute set & encore. Though the second set was the shorter of the two, it was definitely the better of the two excellent sets. By the time it started at 1:45, much of the crowd had left. I only have the one complaint about the show – a 11:45 start time and 3:00 end time actually requires a pm and am to clarify. Though the City never sleeps, had this been a 10:00 – 1:00 event, the audience would have been bigger and the start & end attendants almost identical. Leaving a show in Manhattan at 3:00 a.m. makes for a 3 hours of sleep night. It’s a minor issue, but one nonetheless.
Highlights of the second set included The Music Never Stopped and arguably the Dead’s best ever suite, Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain. But the best tune of the night was the jazzy Garcia-Hunter composition, Eyes of the World. I’m convinced that, if performed at a high level, it’s impossible to not be celebratory during this song. It’s long and sweet and joyous. As time progresses, this tune continues to bubble to the top of my favorites list. And this version was not just the best song of the night, but the best I’d heard performed so far this year.
The Encore was Otis Redding’s Hard to handle performed in the style of the Grateful Dead’s early frontman, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. It was pretty much of an after thought – we didn’t expect to be afforded another song at 2:50 – but much appreciated. The highlight of the Encore came when one of the birthday bash celebrants – remember the birthday party that postponed the start of this show – a 20-something hottie in a little black dress who amazingly was still there minimally 6 hours after she arrived at Sullivan, decided to earn some Mardi Gras beads by lowering the top of her dress to show off her backless black bra: A perfectly perky end to an otherwise big & bouncy WIG JAM! 🙂