Doing the Boston Rag -- Tweeter Center, Mansfield MA

Saturday July 15th, 9am EDT: I stagger out of the Northwest DC10 on which I have just spent the past eight hours, not into the burn of the brain-dead dawn, but rather the steambath that is Boston in deepest July. Logan Airport has been hacked all to pieces in the years since last I graced its linoleum halls, no doubt by some city-planning sadist who wasn't satisfied by the urban turmoil produced by the Big Dig (the decades-long project intended to transmogrify miles of the city's Central Artery from an elevated freeway to one buried underground).

Fortunately, my friend from Our Old School, Carl, is there at the baggage claim to rescue my already-weary bod. We climb into his Volvo, and he navigates expertly through the labyrinth of construction. I'm already flashing on huge doses of nostalgia; I lived in Boston, off and on, from 1975 through 1989, including those formative college years in which I first became a raging Danfan. And Carl was one of the folks who shared large amounts of that experience with me--including various libations and sensations, many Midnite Cruises in our mutual friend the Madman's venerable '63 Chevy Nova, and shitloads of music--including the Dan.

After a brief stop in Harvard Square for Carl to get a haircut and for me to inhale an iced-latte concoction (glad to see that Seattle beverage fetishes have conquered the world), we tool over to his house in Watertown. There I shower, nap, and generally get myself replenished for the evening's extravaganza. I produce one of the cruising tapes I made specifically for this trip (2vN on one side, Alive in America on the other), Carl fills his trusty flask with Tanqueray, and we head out under cloudy rain-threatening skies for the sleepy little town of Mansfield.

Mansfield is typical of the towns in the outer suburbs of Boston--the good bones of the original colonial-era New England small town have been obscured but not obliterated by such modern amenities as highways and strip malls. In one of the latter we locate the restaurant in which the local Danfest is scheduled to go down. As I clamber out of Carl's Volvo, I look across the parking lot and immediately spot a couple of familiar faces. "Pete! Hoops!" I bellow. "Imagine running into you guys here!" Messrs Fogel and McKay give us a hearty welcome, and advise us to go along inside, the show is already underway.

We run into more familiar faces inside (Pete's partner The Lovely Shari; Bostonian enGORGEment 2000 veterans Jane and Al Daddario). Mark Drinan comes up and introduces himself, saying he recognized me from photos on the web (the first of many people that afternoon to pick me out that way--see? The Net really does make the world a smaller place!)

We grab seats, order burgers and beers, and listen to special guest Dinky Dawson spin tales and tapes. The man is a riot--wonderful mane of graying hippie-hair, and an accent that to my ears could have come right out of "This is Spinal Tap" (you'll all be relieved to hear that I behaved myself and resisted the urge to go up and ask him if he ever built The Guyz an amp that went up to "11"). We sit back and enjoy his recordings of early '70s live Dan (particularly rocking versions of "Bodhisattva" and "This All Too Mobile Home" stand out in my memory). At some point Hoops comes by with iDanvention videocam at the ready, and we both get ourselves immortalized for posteriority.

Presently Carl and I get raring to go, so we bust out of that place a little ahead of the rest of the crowd. This is good in some ways, because we hit the parking lot for the venue so early that we get a relatively close spot (I'm still hobbling around on a cane and a crapped-out knee or two). It also, unfortunately, means that we never thereafter find the rest of the Danfest crowd for tailgate partaying … ah well. We do keep running into various folks inside the venue as the evening progresses, and we have Carl's supply of Tanq on which to tank, so we're doing well enough.

This Great Woods/Tweeter Center thang had only just sprung into existence when I moved out of Boston some eleven years ago. Previously the property was home to a huge and beloved flea market and swap meet. On that ample acreage arose a nice modern "shed" style amphitheater, with decent sightlines and acoustics (as far as I could tell), lots of relatively comfortable reserved seating in the roofed area, and a somewhat skimpy unreserved lawn space beyond. At some point it apparently got bought out by a local hifi-stereo chain named "Tweeter Etc." -- thus its current bizarre-sounding name.

The ever-athletic Carl opts to go exploring the property, while I stroll off to hit the merchandise stand. Lessee--okay, I can no longer resist the SDU hat, and I must have the subway token keychain … and I must bring another keychain home for my partner-in-crime Diane/JackofDays (hey grrl!) …

Then I settle down on a bench to await Carl's return and do some Dannish people-watching. Looks to be another smart-but-mellow crowd--and a nice age-balance between boomers, twenty-somethings, and all points in between and otherwise. A woman passes, stops, looks at me more closely. "Are you from Seattle?" she asks. Turns out she's none other than on-line Danfan extraordinary Ms. Oleander! Yet another person who recognized me from web-photos. Carl shows up in time to be introduced to Oleander, and is amused at the means and level of notoriety I seem to have achieved. Me, I'm amused too--and also all warm 'n' fuzzy feelin'. Hey, I ain't too proud to revel in my own fifteen minutes' worth!

It comes time to find our seats. Through ticket legerdemain too convoluted to go into here (thanks a million, Pete!), Carl and I have progressed from seats way the hell back in the nosebleed section to seats just in front of the boxes, in the middle of the left section as you face the stage. Plus this time I wised up and brought binoculars with me, so I'm ready for some up-close and personal scoping. There isn't quite so much room up on Tweeter's stage as on the Gorge's ample platform, so with those sculptural scrims and all it's kind of a snug fit along the back ranks of drums, piano, and horn-section platforming, but everything that I recall from the previous show looks to be there again. And from this angle I get a whole new eyeful of racks of control equipment, all black panels and rows 'n' rows of Blinkenlights; plus the ever-faithful, ever-laidback Mr. Roger Nichols pokin' about with a couple of helpers.

The crowd takes its time milling about, but as 8pm approaches I look up and suddenly Every Seat In The Joint Is Taken. Wow. It's as close to a sell-out crowd as makes no nevermind, and the buzz of anticipation is palpable.

And then … it's Showtime!

The crowd goes nuts as the band, minus the Principals, file out on stage. The Background Vocalists are their usual outgoing selves, waving and smiling as they take their places. Those first crunchy-funky notes of the intro ring out--wow, the sound is fabulous, I can really hear Tom's bassline stand out in a way it just did not do at the Gorge!--and then the crowd is on its feet as Donald and Walter step out, assume their places, and launch this thing into this crowd's hometown favorite, the Boston Rag.

The two indelible impressions I shall ever associate with this show are 1) The whole band, every single player including Donald and Walter, are totally on -- if anything, even tighter than they were at the Gorge, as hard as that might be to imagine; and 2) I never saw a crowd demonstrate such all-out fan-love as this nigh sell-out Boston crowd. Case in point: throughout most of the evening one can hear, discreetly under the music, the sound of thousands of fans fervently, quietly, singing along with nearly every song. It's like every member of that audience is thinking "Oooh, I can't resist singing along, but I still wanna hear Donald (or Walter), so I'll just sing really really quiet-like so as not to drown them out." And so they all do, and so it is indeed soft enough to not interfere a bit with the gorgeous music, but still just loud enough so that you can hear that everyone in this crowd knows all the words to all the songs, even the "deep cuts." Now that's what I call Dannic devotion.

Other signs and portents: lotsa dancing, but thoughtfully off to the side aisles in deference to those who prefer to sit'n'groove. Standing ovations for just about everything--to the point where I barely can make out any of Donald's between-song patter (the more stage-easy Walter remembers to wait a beat for the crowd to die down a bit before starting his between-song raps)--but the minute a note of music sounds everyone shuts up, sits down, and listens. Crowd does vote whatthefuck and goes all standing for the last three songs of the night--and then cheers its brains out so extensively between the first and second encores that Donald has to wait for the pandemonium to die down a bit before giving the downbeat on "FM." And afterwards, the satiated crowd members still randomly singing snatches of this or that song as they make their mellow way back to their waiting vehicles …

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As I said above, the band is tight and groovin'. Bits that stand out particularly in my mind: Michael Leonhart seems a little less physically energetic than I remembered from the Gorge, understandable considering he's probably still recuperating from whatever laid him low a week or so earlier, but he still blows most righteously on "Royal Scam." Ted Baker produces yet another fantastic solo segue from "Janie Runaway" into "Josie," this one sounding like jazzed-up Debussy (damn, I hope someone is collecting all these Baker segues, the man's a genius of invention and definitely deserves his Bunsen hottie award). Ricky Lawson thunders out a take-no-prisoners solo right afterwards in "Josie," taking it higher and higher till it all comes crashing down in triumph. I happen to have my binoculars on Donald during both Ted and Ricky's solos, and see him sit back from his Rhodes, a look of trance-like bliss on his face as he basks in the beauty of his players' work.

Jon Herington looks to have come into his own since last I saw him at the Gorge. Without any showy gestures, the mild-mannered axman shreds the whole night long, producing solos that largely achieve that Holy Grail of recalling the famous recorded solos without aping them, leaving his own stamp on them without ego-crunching them, and doing all this with consummate style and grace. Walter, for his part, is in fine form all evening as well--both on guitar and vocals. He's really made "Daddy Don't Live…" and "Monkey in Your Soul" his own now, tossing them off with casual bluesman aplomb. And once again he has great good fun with the band intros, giving a little boyish smile after each player takes their musical bow.

The Girlz seem to be having great good fun as well. They've worked out some Moves since last I saw them--doing them all together with these big grins on, like it's the most wonderful fun joke. Their collective solo on "Dirty Work" is beautiful and moving. (Man, that's another thing I hope Somebody has collected--all the different versions of "Dirty Work," with each woman soloing individually, plus the various permutations of this trio/solo arrangement. Yeah, I just can't get enough, can I?) Um, lessee, what else? I already mentioned how great it is to hear Tom Barney's fabulous work loud and clear all night long. Cornelius and Shep and Jim Pugh all acquit themselves admirably, as to be expected; neat to compare and contrast Shep to the much more angular Ari, and to the more soul-oriented blowing of Mr. Bumpus …

Oh yeah. And that funky dude behind the Rhodes and the Lync.

Sigh. What can I say? Y'all know I'm a total fool for Donald -- I'd probably show up to hear him even if all he did was play "Chopsticks." But believe me, that is not what he plays tonight. He is all into it tonight--and I'm into him all night long via my trusty binoculars. Singing practically flawless, voice so strong he's matching his 70s sound, rock-solid rocking at the Rhodes both during songs and in these jewel-like segues he spins between several of the first-set songs; dropping in those wonderful grace-notes on the Lync, grooving it up with especial verve as he sings at the standing mic … and throughout it all, this intensity of concentration, this pure focus, as if he loses himself and disappears into the music in an extended trance of Zen-hypervigilance. It's like Vicky Cave said in the PBS documentary, the man is made of music. And I love diggin' on what he's made of.

And he even has a bit of fun with the audience in his own quietly deadpan way. Remember what I said about the audience fervently singing along to just about everything? Well you know this crowd can't resist singing along with "Hey Nineteen," and giving a big ol' cheer for the "sweet things from Boston" line. They're still merrily singing along when the "that's 'Retha Franklin" line comes along, and Donald lets them go there … and then drops a particularly dry "that's Otis Redding" on top of them. And it's like the crowd lets out a collective giggle, as if to say "oooh! Donald's playing with us! Play with us some more, Donald! Please!" Which Donald proceeds to do--heading into the mid-song instrumental with "Alrighty … let's talk!" He's got the crowd in his hand as he unrolls the by-now well-known rap about hitting the beach with a beauty, a basket of goodies, and this and that, and … the crowd waits for it … and waits for it … "and a bottle of tequila"--whoops and hollers!--"what's that stuff called?" "The Cuervo Gold," the Girlz coo right on cue. "Thank you, girls," Donald sez, and the fans laugh and cheer, the ritual now complete. Who says this song is getting threadbare? Not I, anymore!

Toward the end of the show Donald gives his usual exclamation of "What a night!" But by the emotion in his voice and the way he throws his arms wide as if to embrace that night, I know it is no piece of rote patter. And by the way the crowd roars back at him, I know they understand that too.

And then like a dream it's over. Donald hollers his final "See you next year!" into the uproar of the cheering crowd, and he and Walter (still playing) exit; the band wraps up "FM," acknowledge the crowd in their own styles, and also exit. A final bit of fun business occurs as Ted and Carolyn get into a playful "After you!/No, no, after you!" contest until they're the last two people left on stage, at which point Ted literally sweeps Carolyn off her feet and carries her offstage. (Bet there's a few of you folks out there who now have additional reason to wish you were Ted, huh?) And then the lights come up, and we're back on Planet Earth, and it's really, *really* over.

Carl and I pick our way back through the crowd to the parking lot, drained but happy. We make a stab at finding the Danfest after-concert tailgate party, but between the chaos of moving cars in the lot and the fried state of our brains, we're not quite up to the challenge. As it is, we barely succeed in finding Carl's car in that mess--and I've had no chiba whatsoever this evening, honest! (Okay, several snootfuls of good gin, but who's counting?) Anyhow, we regain our vehicle just before the rain, which had threatened all evening, lets loose in what soon turns into a classic New England gully-washer. Nice of Mama Nature to hold off as long as She did.

As we stop-start our way through the exiting gridlock, two big sleek tour busses shoulder their way past the line of cars and speed off towards the interstate. No sign of the limo that might be bearing the Principals, but no doubt it lit out some time before. So I gaze at the busses and visualize also that limo and its by-now exhausted occupants. "God speed, kids," I murmur. "And thanks again, my friends."