Tuesday, 17 November 2009

745 BIG DIPPER, Great Plains, Paper Thin Stages, Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, Massachusetts MA USA, Saturday 26 April 2008

Hmm, how to put this adequately into words? Not sure that I can, apart from to recount the facts. Big Dipper ARE my favourite band of all time, and this gig was the sole reason for this trip (yesterday's gig 744 being a happy coincidence), indeed the only reason I'd fly transatlantic without Rachel and Logan for this length of time. The Dipper blazed a brief incandescent trail of brilliance in the late 80's/ early 90's before sinking under the weight of major label indifference, the band disappearing to get "proper" jobs. I'd maintained a correspondence with guitarist Gary Waleik which happily morphed from musician/ fan admiration, to a friendship of two old dads talking about their kids. So when I mailed him last Summer to inform him of Logan's arrival, the last thing I expected was to be told of a planned Big Dipper reunion tour! Rachel, bless her, gave me "permission to fly" as a Christmas present, and I'd lived a parsimonious existence for 4 months to scrape together the ackers to pay for this mad venture! Well, it's The Dipper, right? The root cause of my love for Boston Rock, harmony, melody, quirky intelligence and all the things I love about this thing called rock!

Thus it was that I was on the "T" this sunny evening, hitting the Middle East in double quick time from my graciously provided digs (thanks Corin!) and grabbing a booth to have some pre-gig grub, alone, I'd presumed. Fate, however, had other plans, as Big Dipper vocalist Bill Goffrier chanced by, I introduced myself, he said, "glad you could make it! You here on your own? Want some company?" and that was that. What do you say when the lead singer of your all time favourite band asks YOU if YOU want some dinner company? Hell yeah! So I spent an hour or so over a chicken sandwich and an (eventually ordered!) lamb kebab with Bill and various other peeps, including Gary, another fan from Kansas, and the Dipper's roadie, who was as psyched to be here as I was. Bill, who is allegedly 57(!) was wry and humorous dinner company, enjoying recounting how this week's gigs had been a reliving of his adolescence and had reverted him from a respected college professor to a sexist grunting rock pig! Gary was as laid-back as ever, giving an interesting insight into my good friend EdV's (ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to get his band The Gravel Pit to support tonight. Now THAT would have been something...!

Eventually popped downstairs to the Middle East's larger room for the sold-out but quiet early doors show. The Red Sox were blowing a Buchholz gem in the late innings against Tampa on the big screen by the bar - I watched a bit of that before post-rock support Paper Thin Stages came on at 9. Gary's idea, this, indulging his more idiosyncratic experimental bent - this trio of jazz-like noodlers covered tracks from the Dipper's nevertheless wonderful major label white elephant CD "Slam"! Actually, it wasn't the carcrash I'd anticipated after checking out their freeform originals on their MySpace site - at least I could recognise the songs they played (all 3 of them - "Another Life", "All The Way From Memphis" and "Love Barge"), once they'd gotten going...

I watched the final outs of the Red Sox loss, then took a position near the stage for main support, Ohio's Great Plains. Apparently a band of similar vintage to The Dipper, they'd worn nowhere near as well either personally or musically, as they kicked off a rocking but nondescript pre-grunge US alt rock noise. Kind of like Superchunk, only without the tunes... Took a walk during their set, bumping into local hero and huge Dipper fan Ad Frank in the process, and also the ubiquitous Mr. Pete Stone, who I again saw as I took my spot right down the front - "The Peach" had wangled his way onto the family section, immediate stage left!

So, The Dipper finally joined us just after 11, introduced onstage by my roadie dinner friend, which must have made his day/week/year/life! No messing, straight into the angular, jagged "Guitar Named Desire", the taut, hyper new wave rhythms at least starting me off dancing, even if no-one else did, and the boys threw a couple of new verses into this largely instrumental number for good measure! Then the thrilling rush of debut single "Faith Healer", 22 years old but fresh as a daisy, and we were away.

"Thanks everyone for coming," said Bill after that number, then said DIRECTLY to me down the front, "I think you win the prize for coming the furthest!" Incredible - then "Life Inside The Cemetery", the standout track from "Slam" delivered faithfully with to-die-for tune and strident hook. An early highlight, but even better was to come as 2 numbers later "The King", my favourite Dipper song - hell, probably my favourite song EVER! - was delivered perfectly, a huge slice of aural heaven and the reason I'd worn my Elvis shirt!

They just kept coming - "Edith" ("it's time for the kid to sing one," said Bill as drummer Jeff took lead vocal chores), a wonderful "Bonnie" (slowing the tempo but not the mood, with that delicious middle eight, that just sounds like home, delivered note-perfectly by Gary), a perfect-for-the-occasion "All Going Out Together" ("tonight's the big night," indeed!), all songs I know better than I know myself, songs I dream of, songs I never thought I'd hear "live" again, dreams made reality tonight. I could probably talk about every single number at length - suffice to say EVERY one was a winner, delivered with honesty, humour, talent, passion and care by the band - Bill, rolling back the years with an angular, tense, energetic performance; Gary, the rock at the heart of the Dipper; Steve, extraordinarily tall, a looming presence; and "The Kid", rock steady at the back. The set just flew by on a haze of brilliance; in fact, so swept away by it was I, that I didn't realise until the following morning that I'd been bashing my knee on the stage so hard while dancing that I had a huge bruise! Once again; harsh and shiny, colourful and caustic, the set was magnificent and left my ears buzzing for days.
But then the encores; following a breathless "Making Plans For Bison", Bill asked if there was any fertile virgins in the house, to sing backing vocals on the Byrds-esque drone of "A Song To Be Beautiful", and invited anyone who fancied joining them onstage! Well, I decided to break my onstage rule, and The Dipper became the second band I'd danced to onstage, both times at this Middle East venue! Amazing! The stage cleared thereafter, and Bill (who'd been talking to me throughout the set from the stage) finally brought this renaissance, this resurrection, to a close with a stomping destruction of Wings' "Jet". This wasn't just a "great gig" - even the phrase "Best Gig Ever" sounds trite and fails to do it justice. This was an EVENT, a LANDMARK in my life, like my Wedding day to Rachel or seeing my children born. Yeah, THAT important.

So naturally I didn't want the night to end, and hung around for pix and mutual congratulations. Bill said, "you inspire us!" which was lovely, and Gary and I agreed that we'd come full circle in our friendship. Taxi back after an awesome, amazing evening, then on the plane early the next morning, elated and vindicated!

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