God Street Wine @ Gramercy Theatre, August 16
If you’re a band that tours regularly, having the word “nostalgia” attached to your concerts isn’t a compliment. But in the case of God Street Wine, an act that called it quits in 1999 and has only played a handful of shows since, it’s a good thing. Last night at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City the band took the stage for only the 10th time since 2001 and acted as a musical time machine for a sold-out audience of mostly fervent followers who appreciated the opportunity to relive the band’s glory days at the first of three shows that brings this latest reunion to a close.
[All Photos by Jeremy Gordon]
God Street Wine had multiple types of crowd members to please: the die-hards who want to see songs the group hadn’t played the last time around in 2010, those familiar with their best-known material and those who never saw the band before but wanted to see what the hub-bub was about. By delivering two lengthy sets filled with classics, rarities and choice covers; the band did their part in satiating all three types of Winos and potential Winos.
Set One: Nightingale, Vanity Street, Mile By Mile > 615, Ballroom, Electrocute, Stranger, Weird Dream > Imogene
Set Two: Molly, Hungry Again, Stupid Hat, Wendy, Silver, Cheap Utah Blues, Hellfire > Strange as it Seems, Warm in Here, Bring Back The News
Encore: Without You* > Twin Peaks Theme > Upside Down-Inside Out-> Crosseyed and Painless, Get On the Train
* – First Time Played, Harry Nilsson Cover
When the audience entered they noticed more setups than original band members. For the majority of last night’s performance the five-piece was augmented by multi-instrumentalist Jason Crosby (a former member of the band who played with them last week in California), vocalist Lizzy Friel and percussionist John Woody. This “God Street Wine Orchestra” added depth to the tunes, though at times it was hard to pick out Woody and Friel’s contributions. GSW opened with perhaps their most well-known song, and certainly their most catchy original, Nightingale. While the energy in the room was nowhere near the frenzied response to the NYC based band’s return after nine years on July 9, 2010 there were still plenty of hugs, high-fives and knowing glances exchanged when the reality of the situation kicked in. Just three years ago Winos never thought they’d see this day, let alone for a tenth time.
Unlike the 2010 shows, where it was tough to find any flubs, it took the band more time to warm up this time around. Meshing all the vocals didn’t come easy during the first set, though by the end of the night they were firing on all cylinders. The first set focused mainly on material from GSW’s early days such as Vanity Street, Weird Dream, Imogene and Electrocute. Unlike many of their jam brethren, the songs are more of the focus for God Street Wine than improvisation. That said, both Imogene and Electrocute saw the band break free of the tunes’ normal structure with impressive results. The rhythm section of bassist Dan Pifer and drummer Tom “Tomo” Osander caressed the bottom end leaving guitarists Lo Faber and Aaron Maxwell ample opportunity to dig into their solos. $1.99 Romances classics Mile By Mile and The Ballroom broke up the string of super oldies and garnered the most hearty responses from the near-capacity crowd.
This latest reunion not only gave the band members a chance to reconnect, it also gave the fans the same opportunity. During setbreak you heard one conversation after another about how much the return of God Street Wine has meant as fans from across the country gathered for this weekend’s shows. There were also plenty of stories bandied about of past performances and talk of what an incredible opportunity this was to relieve the past.
For the second set the original five-piece took the stage by themselves and opened up with an unusual arrangement of Molly featuring Faber on acoustic that was first played at last week’s TRI Studios webcast. Molly is a perfect example of the God Street Wine formula of mixing elements of Steely Dan, Zappa and the Grateful Dead with a bit of pop to create their own signature sound that was ahead of its time in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The oldie Hungry Again came next followed by Stupid Hat and Wendy. Towards the end of Wendy, the other three musicians made their way back to the stage leading to a frentic duel between Faber and Crosby that served as one of the evening’s highlights. Silver, a tune that showed the progression and maturity of GSW’s sound as the late ’90s rolled around, led into an extremely tight version of the blues-based romp Cheap Utah Blues.
Hellfire turned the focus on the keys duo of Jon Bevo and Jason Crosby, who weaved in and out of the tight funk groove held down by the rhythm section. As the clock passed midnight on a school night, some of the crowd headed for the doors which gave those who stayed much-appreciated extra space. Despite the smaller audience the reaction to second set closer Bring Back The News was the most emotional of the night as fans screamed the quirky “when you walk into the dawn, you must put your slippers on” refrain right along with the band – a stirring moment to say the least.
God Street Wine has always peppered their encores with covers and that trend has been exacerbated during these reunion shows. To kick off the encore, Maxwell strode to the mic and sang a ballad it took many in the crowd a few moments to recognize. It was in fact Without You, a song originally performed by Badfinger which Harry Nilsson took to #1 on the U.S. Charts in 1971 that was also a hit for Mariah Carey. Aaron’s earnest delivery made this cover a keeper. But was happened next was so incredibly out-of-left-field it was thrilling – GSW worked their version of Without You into the theme from Twin Peaks. Angelo Badalamenti’s instrumental composition worked as the perfect bridge to Upside Down-Inside Out, an original dependent on sparkling harmonies that sounded as good as it ever has. UDIO segued into a frenzied take on Crosseyed and Painless by Talking Heads that stayed true to the original. The marathon show ended with a Get On The Train that gave the band and the audience one last chance to get their ya yas out.
For many God Street Wine fans the band’s tenure represented a special time in our lives and these shows have allowed us to escape from our present reality for a few hours to celebrate the good old days. Getting to hear these songs we grew up with, played well, in the perfect room for the occasion, is an opportunity that no one is taking for granted. God Street Wine returns to the Gramercy Theatre tonight and tomorrow.