A night in Treme

On Friday night Penelope and I had dinner at Urban Tavern, where we encountered the "rather strange server" once again. She's not bad per se, but she's not fast and she is rather odd. But I really like the food there, it's two blocks from my apartment, and for a corporate restaurant in a huge hotel chain it's a better restaurant than it has any right to be. The Host(ess) (a mature woman of a certain age) had on a dress to die for. On top of that, and perhaps the number one reason I like it so much is that the bartenders there make great Manhattans which never disappoint. Okay, sorry- way off topic, I know. Did I say the food is good?

Afterward we made our way over to the sold-out SFJazz presentation of A Night in Treme at Davies, the traveling roadshow featuring musicians who've appeared on the HBO program Treme (pronounced Truh-may')- which I've never actually seen because I don't watch enough TV to care about cable, much less subscribing to a premium channel, especially since you can buy seasons of Breaking Bad and Mad Men from Amazon.

You'll likely read rave reviews about the show from everyone else who attended but I'm going to have to say there were two things which kept it from being the rollicking good time it should have been. One was the format, which made the the first half of the gig a let's-school-these-mostly-white-folks-on-our-heritage-and-music.  Standing at a lectern no less, Wendell Pierce, told us what was what and then the assembled players gave us a musical example of what he was talking about. Now the guys (all male) onstage definitely knew what they were doing and some seriously fine chops were on display from Donald Harrison Jr. on the alto sax, Kermit Ruffins on the trumpet, the extraordinary Dr. Michael White on clarinet, and Big Sam Williams on the trombone. No doubt and no complaint there, but just when they'd hit the groove and exhort the audience to its feet, the music would stop, Pierce would start yammering again, and everyone would sit down, only to be told a couple of minutes later get back on their feet and get down for a couple of minutes and then sit down again for more schooling.

When Pierce finally did shut up and let them play for maybe ten minutes max things hit high gear quickly and backed by members of the Rebirth Brass Band, the show finally started cooking like it ought to have from the first note.

Then guess what? Yep, intermission time. Just when things were really getting a groove on.

The second half of the show started off with the musicians entering from the rear of the floor in a second line. Handkerchiefs and parasols came popped up throughout the audience, everyone was on on their feet, and Davies felt like it was about to erupt.

As they hit the stage, the aforementioned talents kept on going, exiting through a side door, waving goodbye, leaving the audience with the Rebirth Brass Band. Don't get me wrong- I like the Rebirth Brass Band, but they tour regularly and they're not enough of a draw for me to make me want to see them headline a gig at Davies. I wanted the other guys to keep playing.

But the second half was a Rebirth gig, and on top of that, the volume and sound simply sucked. From where we sat in the orchestra it was actually painful- too loud and all that brass was horribly distorted and as the band kept telling everyone to get up and dance (which they quite willingly did) it only seemed to get louder and grow more distorted. Finally, and this didn't take long, I turned to Penelope and said let's go see if it sounds better from the second tier, which she readily agreed to and up we went.

Thankfully it wasn't as loud up there, but the mix was still horribly distorted and since the place was packed leaving nowhere to sit nor stand and the upstairs ushers were a bit uptight about keeping the aisles clear, we bailed. I'm sure it was a party, but not one we needed to stay for.

Later on, we ran into a couple toting SFJazz swag bags who said the headliners came back at the end and it was a glorious show. Well, good for them. For us, it was pretty disappointing, especially considering all that talent on hand and the music could have made for one seriously great night. This is the second time in a month the people doing the sound for SFJazz gigs at Davies have messed it up really badly to the point where I'm considering skipping any further shows there which aren't acoustically oriented.