|Vida Blue with the Spam Allstars - Live at the Fillmore|
|Written by Jeff Fish|
|Tuesday, 30 November 2004|
For those of you who don’t know, Vida Blue was a totally dominant pitcher for the Oakland As in the early ‘70s when they won three straight World Series from 1972 to 1974. Vida Blue is also the name of a band that incorporates influences from jazz, techno, blues, psychedelia and, with this release, a decidedly Latin feel. Vida Blue’s core members are Page McConnell (Phish) on keyboards, Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers) on bass and Russell Batiste (The Meters) on drums and percussion. For this tour and for the album that they were supporting (The Illustrated Band), Vida Blue was backed by The Spam Allstars. After hearing the first Vida Blue album, I’ve been anxious to hear what they’d be coming up with next in terms of new music. The first Vida Blue album was one that really took me by surprise -- I totally didn’t expect what I heard. I guess I was expecting Phish meets the Allman Brothers, but what I got was a techno/jazz exploration with a very funky feel. Well, this DVD doesn’t disappoint either. The Spam Allstars definitely add the element that I felt was missing from Vida Blue’s initial release: true lead instruments. This was probably my only complaint about their first album. Actually, “complaint” is the wrong word: it’s just more of a preference.
The Spam Allstars add four horns, two percussionists, a guitar and their leader DJ Le Spam. What a total joy it is to watch this disc. The interplay of these 11 musicians on stage is amazing. The dynamics in each song are really well captured on this recording, with each musician given all the room he needs to roam, musically speaking. The Spam Allstars hail from Miami, so the influence they exert in this concert is defiantly Caribbean. They sound almost like The Miami Sound Machine on steroids, with a whole lot of Dizzy Gillespie thrown in just to stir the mix up. The musicianship on the release is topnotch. Oteil Burbridge has to be one of the most incredible bass players in the world. He makes it look so effortless while laying down these grooves that if you don’t move, you’re probably dead. I’ve seen Burbridge play several times live, but until watching this, I never realized how truly great he really is. McConnell has a bank of keyboards that surround him on stage and he makes great use of each one of them, but never at the expense at any of the other musicians. Probably my only complaint with this disc is that McConnell doesn’t really take true solos. After hearing Phish for all these years and seeing them live several times, I know that McConnell is an incredibly talented keyboardist. I just wanted to hear him tear it up on the keyboard, but with Vida Blue, the overall vibe is the critical thing.
I don’t want this to imply that McConnell doesn’t take any solos with this release, because he does. It’s just that with Vida Blue, musical space is just as important as the tune -- in some cases, probably more important. As I wrote earlier, this concert has a definite techno/jazz feel to it. DJ Le Spam makes better use of the turntable than any other DJ I’ve heard previously. I’ll admit that I’m a purist when it comes to instruments, but without his “scratching,” I doubt I would have enjoyed this disc as much as I did. I found this added to the overall sound immensely, without the obvious drawbacks. All the musicians, from the Spam Allstars to Vida Blue, were perfect foils for each other on stage. You can watch this disc and see how all the musicians communicate on a visual level with one another, giving everyone the musical room they require.
For all those who know Phish, The Allman Brother and The Meters, you know that cover tunes are something that each of these bands play at their respective shows. Should this be any different? I would hope not, and you’re not disappointed. Pink Floyd’s “Sheep” and the Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces” are two of the covers on this disc. There are also very cool versions of Phish’s “Cars Trucks Buses,” The Meter’s “Just Kissed My Baby” and The Spam Allstars “Ochimini.” On “Sheep,” McConnell’s voice sounds almost identical to that of Roger Waters, with the rest of the band doing a very cool Floyd impression. Overall, I really liked the way the way that this disc sounded, especially in 5.1. You can hear every nuance of all 11 musicians on stage. One thing to keep in mind is that when the disc starts on its own, the format that comes up by default is a stereo mix that really doesn’t do justice to the band. The instruments, from my point of view, were hard to hear and sometimes lost in the stereo mix, but in the 5.1 mix, this problem goes away nicely.
This DVD would be perfect for a party or gathering. Put it on and watch the people move. If you’re a Phish phan, you need to own this disc. If you’re a jazz or fusion fan, I would highly recommend this release to you as well. Heck, if you’re a fan of watching truly talented musicians play, I would recommend this disc. My only complaint is that I had an opportunity to go to this show and I didn’t… Thank God for the DVD.