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If you're anything like me, you hate Billy Joel with a renewed passion each morning. The buzz around campus is already so deafening that I am beginning to enter that weird psychological state somewhere between blind rage and paralyzing depression. To drown out the Billy Joel in my head, there was only one option: go to as many shows as possible before the psychosis takes over.

The shows attended were a good sampling of music not seen on TRL or filed under "Crap" at Tower Records. The first one, Wynton Marsalis, was straight jazz, but there were aspects of the performance that made it feel more like a classical music concert. But the second two--Medeski, Martin and Wood and Robert Randolph--featured so many different elements that it's easy to cop out and call them "jam bands," a label that oversimplifies the array of musical elements contained in their sound.

And now, the music.

Before I stepped foot into the Annenberg Center's, Zellerbach Theatre, I was ready to tear Wynton "I have a life-size bronze statue of me erected in a small French town" Marsalis to shreds. As far as many jazz heads are concerned, Marsalis and his septet are nothing more than a really good cover band, too obsessed with jazz's history to do anything new for the genre.

And then he and his septet launched into their version of Thelonious Monk's "Green Chimneys" and promptly shut me the fuck up. For the next two hours Marsalis and his band played some of the most difficult pieces as if they were "Mary had a Little Lamb." Each piece was clean and perfectly executed, showing a band with some of the best musicians in the world playing at their absolute best.

Marsalis' stunning performance stood counterpoint to the disappointing Medeski, Martin and Wood show at the Electric Factory. In typical MMW fashion, they started off by exploring the sonic and rhythmic realms of each instrument. What makes MMW amazing is their ability to go off on these tangents and then bring it all back together for an orgasmic explosion of creation. But for whatever reason, on Thursday, October 25, they just couldn't provide the sort of denouements that have propelled them to their God-like status in the jazz world. MMW just got too bogged down in musical journeys to provide anything coherent, rushing through this show to get to the next. I went home in tears.

Finally, there was Robert Randolph and his Family Band at the NorthStar Bar. Randolph, who plays the steel guitar, is fresh from touring with John Medeski's side project, The Word, and is part of the group of young musicians trying to fill a certain Phish-shaped hole in the hearts of stoners everywhere.

Randolph played a six-song, two-hour set with a cousin on bass, another cousin on drums and a chain-smoking organ player. Having just crossed over from the church world, Randolph's set felt a PCP-driven "Gospel According to Randolph"--complete with clapping, a sermon and even a dance lesson.

The set started with a smoking 20-minute-long song and took off from there; all songs were hard-driving, down-home jams fueled by Randolph's magnetic presence. By the end of the night, the NorthStar's "Accountant by day, Bacardi by night" audience members were so worked up that they simply could not gyrate any longer and all walked away from the show as Believers.

If you haven't seen Randolph, Marsalis or MMW yet, you should. If you missed these shows, you're worse off because of it. Finally, if you have never heard of any of the bands and/or were offended by the introduction of this piece, you're probably a Billy Joel fan... and... well... I guess that's all I need to say.

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