A Brief Review
Mike introduced the band as "our own tribute band," saying that they had waited long enough for a tribute band to form, and when one didn't, they decided to do their own. There's a lot of history behind this band, for which you would be better served to visit the official Incredible String Band website or the Be Glad ISB website, but in brief, the original ISB had a brilliant life from 1966 to 1974, recording a remarkable string of albums including The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, Wee Tam and The Big Huge, Changing Horses, U, and many others. In 2000, Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer, and Mike Heron reunited for a couple of years doing gigs as the Incredible String Band before Robin left to continue persuing his own solo career (for info concerning Robin, visit Pigs Whisker Music), leaving Mike and Clive at the nucleus of the current Incredible String Band. They formed a quintet with Lawson Dando, Fluff, and Gavin Dickie, and now, for their first US tour in 30 years, they are touring as a trio, Mike Heron, Clive Palmer, and Lawson Dando.
I can't really compare the trio with the quintet since I've not seen the five-piece live (though they sound excellent on their recently released Nebulous Nearness cd), but I have to say the trio is very strong, and I think quickly growing stronger. They were fine at the Iron Horse in Northampton, their first US gig, but even more together at Joe's Pub. At Northampton, Mike just got brighter and brighter as the night wore on, his smile getting bigger and bigger and more and more radiant. I think that he may have been a wee bit unsure of himself and the band before their first concert here, but as he saw how the audience loved it, he got brighter and brighter.
Chatting with Lawson after the Iron Horse show, I asked how the trio was coming together, and he said that Mike was a little uneasy, but he said, "just do your bit and we'll take care of the rest", and he and Clive did, in spades. I can't really give a blow-by-blow description of what I thought was as good as or maybe even better than the record or the classic ISB recordings of old, but I was mesmerized both evenings by their joy, charm, and their truly incredible interplay. They really meshed well together, with Lawson playing kazoo on A Very Cellular Song one high point, along with Mike's organ and Clive's esraj (an Arabian instrument looking like a cross between a miniture sitar and a cello). I was amazed at how smoothly and captivatingly they performed all the parts of the long songs, like Ducks on a Pond and A Very Cellular Song, and I loved the shorter ones as well. Especially strong I thought were Everything's Fine Right Now, Hedgehog, and Painting Box. The third rendering I heard of Cellular Song (Saturday night, near the end of the second set) was stunning, as Mike kept the chorus going and playing off "may the long time sunshine upon you" lyric for, I don't know, maybe 3-5 minutes. One piece definitely improved by Saturday over Thursday, Sleepers Awaken. On Thursday, I though Mike's high vocal was a little off, jarring the a cappella sound somewhat (though not badly), but on Saturday he nailed it.
The set lists:
I did not write down the set list at the Iron Horse, though it was quite similar to those at Joe's Pub.
Unfortunately, thanks to problems with my flash, I only captured a few decent photos of the band, with a couple of Mike easily being the best. I apologize in advance for the quality, but at least you'll get a look at the trio in action at the beginning of their first US tour.
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