LIVE: Howard Fishman Quintet @ Caffe Lena, 10/3/15
Review and photographs by Rudy Lu
The Basement Tapes are a series of recordings made in 1967 after Bob Dylan had gone on tour with what was to become the Band and was convalescing in Woodstock. The series of recordings are considered legendary and a turning point in the history of rock, as Dylan turned away from the increasingly serious and complex explorational tendencies of the music of the time to focus on the basic and traditional origins of the music that has now been labeled as Americana.
This was documented in a book by well known author Greil Marcus titled “The Old Weird America.”
The celebration of the music can either be celebrated reverentially and academically by reproducing the songs note for note, or simply in the spirit of good friends recording casual music. Howard Fishman and his band chose the latter during their recent two-night stand at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs.
Old country songs such as “Kicking My Dog” and “Bucket with a Hole in It” were played with glee, delight and frequently sung in harmony. Songs written by Dylan and the Band – such as “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “Tears of Rage” – were sung with gusto. “Down in the Flood” took a more contemporary turn, performed in a somber manner as to reflect the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Drummer Jeremy Bean Clemons sang a sweet moving version of “I Shall Be Released.” A traditional murder ballad was performed with wild abandon almost resembling free jazz or an extended Grateful Dead jam, complete with broken strings.
Between songs, Fishman read passages from “The Old Weird America” to frame the musical performances. The unorthodox combination of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, trap drums, trombone and string bass lead to spirited, almost homemade renditions of the music that certainly captured the informal nature of the basement tapes.
As a frequent visitor of the old Caffe Lena, I wondered what Lena Spencer would have said about the presence of electric guitar and a complete set of drums in the Caffe. The times certainly are a changing…