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Gary Melts Hearts and Minds at the '99 Meltdown Festival
Gary blew into London at the end of June for his first live appearance
there in 8 years, as Nick Cave's featured guest at the 2 week long 1999
Meltdown Festival held each summer at the Southbank Centre on the banks
of the Thames, this year curated by Gary's old collaborator and buddy
Nick Cave. Here Gary gave his first UK performance of The Golem before a
large crowd in the Purcell Room of Queen Elizabeth Hall, a crowd that
included old British fans and new ones like the legendary Van Dyke Parks,
Robin Holcomb, and Eric Mingus, son of the late Charles Mingus. Also in
attendance was Chris Bohn, editor of English new music magazine The Wire,
who later wrote that the show was one of Meltdown's highlights, as did
Jonathan Romney, film critic of The Guardian, who contrasted Gary's Golem
favorably with the failure of most attempts at integrating live music
with film in a long article in The Guardian.
Two days later Gary appeared
onstage at the Royal Festival Hall 11 separate times as part of
legendary producer Hal Willner's Harry Smith Project, a 4 hour
extravaganza with a cast of music luminaries old and new providing an
audio and visual celebration of the life of Harry Smith, the mastermind
behind the classic Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music compilation,
as well as producer of the Fugs' first album, Thelonious Monk's
"Mysterioso" album, and a noted underground filmmaker in his own right.
Musical guests paying homage included the above-mentioned Van Dyke Parks
(with whom Gary struck up a warm collegial relationship with, Van Dyke's
music having helped warp his sensibilities since the late 60's).
near sold-out house of 3000 British fans Gary accompanied Nick Cave on a
stark and haunting version of Blind Willie Johnson's "John the Revelator"
and another gospel number; the lovely Kate and Anna McGarrigle on a
crazed and joyous version of "O Sunflower", a song from the first Fugs
album with lyrics by English mystic William Blake; Geoff Muldaur, a
great voice in American music from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band on "Poor Boy"
(which featured the great trombone tailgating of another Lucas hero,
free jazzbo Roswell Rudd) and "K.C. Moan" (which Gary had jammed on with
Bob Weir at the Bell Atlantic Jazz Fest in NYC in June) featuring a
group singalong with the McGarrigle Sisters, radiant new English music
singer and fiddler extraordinaire Eliza Carthy, sensitive American avant-roots singer
Robin Holcomb, and Gary's old buddy and collaborator Bobby Neuwirth
on faux-jug; cool cat Eric Mingus on the storming gospel number
"Judgement" and another spooky hymn "Death Where Is Thy Sting" in which
Gary created a tripped out electronic landscape as a pallette for Mingus'
exulted preaching; and the legendary Bryan Ferry, one of Gary's heroes
since Gary's Yale dj-ing days when he would regularly spin the first Roxy
Music album as an import. Gary backed Bryan on a very ethereal "Butcher
Boy" and "John Hardy", with keyboards on the latter courtesy of Van Dyke
Gary himself was featured on two solo numbers, an intense
fingerpicked psychedelic acoustic "Indian War Whoop" which brought the
first sustained ovation of the evening from the crowd that night. (The
song was originally recorded by the prosaically titled Floyd Ming and his
Pep Steppers, and was the title cut of the second Holy Modal Rounders
album, Gary of course being in cahoots for some years with head Rounder
Peter Stampfel, a Harry Smith disciple of course—it all adds up). Gary's
second solo number was a hellbent for leather rocking version of Doc
Bogg's celebrated "Sugar Baby" (with backing from Eric Mingus and ace
percussionist and former Gods and Monsters drummer Michael Blair).
reviews were stellar from audience and critics alike, and Hal Willner has
vowed to repeat the triumph in NYC on Nov. 11th and 12th this year at
St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, with west coast dates tentatively scheduled
for next year and a possible album and film in the works.
It was certainly one of the highlights of an incredibly jam-packed year