Bill Graham's 80th Birthday Party BenefitLos Lobos
Poor Man's Whiskey
January 8, 2010
As much fun as: Two straws in a malted mushroom.
was due to turn eighty the same day Elvis would've reached his 76th birthday. That this world is notoriously hard on oldtime rock 'n' rollers doesn't need a confirmation press release from Keith Richards' liver. Walking evidence tottered gamely through the lobby at the Fillmore on this chilly Saturday night: elder hippies and road dogs from back in whatever long-gone day. These lifers aside, it was an only somewhat older crowd than usual at the Fillmore, tricked-out and totally game to guzzle and toke at this benefit for the Bill Graham Foundation
. Graham, legendary impresario, local and national concert promoter, and godfather of psychedelic rock, died in a 1991 helicopter crash, but birthday celebrations continue on as one of the city's more notable excuses for a post-New Year's party.
Poor Man's Whiskey
began to go off almost as soon as the doors opened at 8 p.m. They do tough and durable West Coast country about Sierra girls and bootleg high times along the Truckee, their unironic chops on the same level as brand-name Nashville cats like BR-549.
The lights went up on a half-full house of friendly quasi-hippies on a Saturday night slosh. A few James Brown sides like "Do the Popcorn" and "Body Heat" kept the mood aloft, and the boards were pulsing under my feet well in advance of Jackie Greene's solo set. Mr. Greene and I got off on the wrong ear back at the last Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and I blame my own insufficient medication. Greene's passes at "Gone Wanderin'" and "Just Don't Let the Devil Take Your Mind" settled things into a hippie rock groove, and the air began to turn blue from a dozen nearby weedfires. The singer diffidently suggested "I think it's appropriate to do a coupla Grateful Dead things" and a big cheer and more smoke went up for "Don't Let the Deal Go Down." Steve Berlin, saxophonist from Los Lobos, brought out his axe and accompanied on a couple of Lobos tunes, including a soulful "Hold On." "Use your imagination," Greene cracked through a sidewise grin, "and imagine a totally ripping guitar solo right now."
Jerry Pompili, Bill's business partner, intro'd some vintage movie clips of the birthday boy -- including ripping into some shitheel on the phone, climaxing a gorgeous torrent of Bronx-accented abuse with "You do me a favor, on the count of three, hang up!" Balloons dropped and headliners Los Lobos choogled into the Diddley tribal stomp of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and the Dead's fabled take on Holly's "Bertha." My girl, despite her new-wave look, is an old Deadhead, and nearly jumped herself into an ankle brace over this long set of classic rock covers and originals from one of L.A.'s greatest-ever rock bands -- as did nearly everyone else. Including one heroically stunned dude who looked like a pudgy Steven Seagal who fell on his doppelganger's face late in proceedings, bowing low before a wall of histrionic sound.
Balloons floated and popped throughout as Lobos ground on past the midnight hour, stopping at one point to complain the Man had bid them shut down. Lobos guitarist Cesar Rojas looked out at us in full shamble, shook his head as he saw we'd fallen for it, and happily cranked the music back on.
Overheard: ""If you can do something, do it. If not, you should shut up."- Bill Graham
Los Lobos setlist:
Not Fade Away
I Walk Alone
Burn It Down
Mean Woman Blues
Just a Man
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