July, 2009:

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our 10th show in the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub. It won’t be our last. 🙂

Last night’s show was awesome, among the best we’ve seen.

There were only four performers last night (which has happened before, typically there are five), but there were five people on stage (I’ll explain shortly).

Doing my usual left-to-right recap:

Keith Follese sang, played the electric keyboards and acoustic guitar. Keith is a fantastic songwriter, penning a large number of hits, getting big applause every time he started one of his songs. He also debuted a song that hasn’t been picked up yet, and from the audience response, someone should, and soon!

Keith Follese

Keith Follese

Keith is wonderful on the keyboards, and good on the guitar. I don’t know if he ever had a good voice, but if he did, he lost it a while ago. He sings on key, so there was nothing wrong with it, but he’s more in the mold of the songwriters where you don’t wonder why he isn’t performing his own material.

For one number, he was joined on stage by his wife, Adrienne Follese (a songwriter herself). It was her birthday. They sang a duet. She has a lovely voice, and a sweet personality. No disrespect to Keith, but it would have been interesting to have Adrienne sing his/their songs with him accompanying her.

Adrienne Follese

Adrienne Follese

Bob DiPiero sang and played the guitar. He’s the host, and only regular performer at each show. He was on last night (as he is on most nights), doing a great job with his songs, and with the crowd banter as well.

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Billy Currington sang and played acoustic guitar. This is one of those rare treats, when a real star performer (who happens to also be a top-notch songwriter!) attends the show. Billy has the current #1 Country hit, People are Crazy (it’s a really fun video as well).

Billy Currington

Billy Currington snapping a photo of the audience

Billy has a great voice, and plays rhythm guitar very well. I mentioned above that I would explain that there were five people on stage. Tucked in the right corner of the stage, behind the four performers, was Doug Collins (I’m pretty sure I heard the name correctly, but I can’t find any links to him!), who was there to support Billy Currington.

This is the same type of setup that occurred when Craig Morgan was at the CMA show last October, and he brought Mike Rogers along with him. Doug played fantastic leads all night (invisible to us, obscured by Billy), and sang harmonies with Billy on most songs as well.

Lois snapped this one photo of Doug while he was tuning up, which was the only time we could see him. It’s dark, and I adjusted it, and it’s still bad, but this is all I can offer up now. Sorry:

Doug Collins

Doug Collins

They were very polished together (as were Craig and Mike), which in addition to their generally better performing skills, raises the ante a bit more for the lonely singer/songwriter who performs at these shows. The only difference was that Mike sat right alongside Craig Morgan for that. I think it would have been a nice touch to have Doug sit next to Billy, but it wasn’t my call. 😉

Jason Sellers sang and played acoustic guitar. He has an excellent voice, writes great songs, plays the guitar well, and gives a good performance all around. He’s also a story-teller by nature, and was extremely comfortable with the crowd. For those of you who are Country trivia types, his ex-wife is Lee Ann Womack!

Jason Sellers

Jason Sellers

They went around a bunch of times, each singing a song and telling a story (that’s the usual format). When they left the stage, it wasn’t clear whether they would come back. While there have been encores at most shows, sometimes, only Bob and perhaps on other returns. Last night, all five came back on the stage and performed another round, much to the delight of the entire crowd (the place was bursting at the seems).

They were on stage for almost exactly two hours. Two wonderful hours. We are currently scheduled to be out of town the next time they are set to show up at Joe’s Pub, but we’re seriously considering trying to change some things around to be able to continue our attendance at this extremely satisfying series.

Toward the end of the show, Keith Follese shared some excellent personal news with us. I already mentioned that his wife was there, and that it was her birthday. After she left the stage, she ended up sitting two tables to our left. At her table was their daughter, whom Keith introduced as a basketball player.

But, DiPiero prompted him to mention that a third generation of Follese’s were now officially in the music business (Keith is second generation). Keith then told us that both of his boys (ages 22 and 17) are in a band with other famous kids.

The band is Hot Chelle Rae. Keith’s kids are: Ryan Keith Follese and Jamie Follese. The other band members are: Nash Overstreet (son of Paul Overstreet, a longtime favorite of ours) and Ian Keaggy (son of the great Phil Keaggy, whom I was late discovering, but now count as a favorite as well!). They were in NJ opening for David Cook!

Was it all great? The show was, with no disappointments whatsoever. We had incredible seats (they gave away our normal table to someone who was a guest of one of the performers, even though we confirmed it last week). But, there was a row of people immediately behind us that were close to the rudest, loudest bunch of people we’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting next to.

When that happens, and I’ve written about it before, it’s almost always someone who isn’t a fan to begin with. They’re either on a date, and happened to randomly select a show to impress their date, or they’re along for the ride with friends, and don’t care to show respect to anyone around them, the performers included.

Last night was different, a first for us. The people behind us were obviously big Country music fans. For the few minutes that they stopped talking, they knew every word to every song from all of the performers. I was beyond impressed with their breadth. But, that didn’t stop them from talking nearly non-stop, at the top of their lungs.

The microphones on stage were set pretty loud last night (good quality, but high volume). Even so, when these people were screaming (without the aid of a mic), it was louder than the singer at that moment. They were sitting 10 feet from the stage, so there’s no way the performers weren’t aware of the distraction, and no amount of shushing from us or the people around them could slow them down.

I don’t get what the attraction is for paying to see someone you obviously admire enough to memorize their songs, and then interrupt them with your personal chatter, at top volume. I hope I never understand that, and I hope it annoys me every time it happens, because I don’t want to be callous to the effect it must have on the performers…

Earl Klugh and Bob James at Blue Note

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Earl Klugh is my favorite solo jazz guitarist, and has been for 30 years! Bob James is my favorite solo jazz pianist, and has been, for nearly as long! I’ve seen each of them perform (separately) at the Blue Note, but last night, finally got to see them play together, for the 30th anniversary of the release of their album One on One (I own three of their collaborative CDs).

When we saw Earl at the Blue Note, I covered it extensively, including a very long and detailed back-story (how I discovered Earl, how I tried to get Lois to see Earl for our first date, etc.). If you haven’t read it, I personally recommend it. 😉

Since this was a collaboration last night, there were fewer supporting players on stage with them. Earl brought along his normal bass player, Al Turner, and his drummer, Ron Otis, both of whom were with him the last time we saw them. Both keyboard players were absent, naturally, since Bob James is such a master at the keyboards. The horn player (the great Lenny Price) wasn’t there either.

Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

Bob James played the piano (a grand), but it had to have electronic components, because he had cool sounding organ sounds on some numbers. He was beyond brilliant last night. Practically every time he took a solo he received a rousing ovation. Half way through most solos, you could feel people dying to clap to let him know how much they were enjoying his play.

Bob James

Bob James

Earl Klugh was superb, but for the most part, took shorter leads than Bob did, which made people miss opportunities for applause, because they didn’t expect him to pass off the lead so quickly. Don’t misunderstand, he got plenty of applause, and most of the songs were his compositions (fabulous set selection last night!), but he wasn’t as highlighted as Bob James was.

Earl Klugh

Earl Klugh

Al Turner was fabulous all night (mostly on the electric bass, but on two songs, on an upright bass as well). Toward the end of the song Angela (the theme from the TV show Taxi, written by Bob James), Al took a smokin’ bass solo that rocked the house. People were applauding wildly long before he was done, which is cool, and he appreciated it, but it also means you’re missing part of the solo.

Al Turner

Al Turner

Ron Otis was incredible all night. A soft but inspirational touch all night. Even though it was soft (appropriately), his hands were flying, keeping an extremely up-tempo beat for Bob and Earl to dance around.

Ron Otis

Ron Otis

During the encore, Ron took a long solo, or rather, a long duel, with Bob on the piano. Ron would take a solo, then Bob would do something dazzling on the piano, and when he stopped, Ron would counter with a drum solo to match what Bob did on the piano. They kept it up for a few minutes, and it was awesome (both of them). Great way to close a great show!

In total, they were on stage for 80 minutes (they never left the stage to play the one song encore, which would take too long at the Blue Note).

Last night I had the Grilled Salmon (I usually have the steak there), and it was perfection. I haven’t been highlighting the food aspect of many of these clubs lately, but I feel compelled to do so now. I believe that Lois enjoyed her chopped salad nearly as much as I enjoyed my meal. 😉

Jeffrey Steele at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we saw Jeffrey Steele (and band) at Joe’s Pub. If you’re used to Twitter, and only have patience to read one paragraph, then let me describe his show in one word: Wow!

We’ve had it on our list to catch a Jeffrey Steele show for a while now (if you read to the bottom, you’ll find out why). He was in NYC in March, but we were out of town. When I found out he was going to be back now, I jumped on the opportunity immediately.

Jeffrey Steele is one of the giants in Country Music songwriting. Many top artists have cut his songs, including Rascal Flatts, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, Tim McGraw, etc. I’ve written numerous times about our love for the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub (in fact, we have another show there tomorrow night).

We knew we’d enjoy Jeffrey Steele from that angle alone (meaning, seeing a songwriter that has written many songs that we already love), but we had no idea what kind of a show he puts on himself.

Jeffrey Steele is a great singer, and an even better guitar player (blazing electric leads, in Country style, as well as true Rock tradition). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that he’s an exceptional piano player! He also played a bit of harmonica last night. I looked at the credits on one of his albums, and he plays many more instruments, I’m sure all equally well. Mind-boggling!

Jeffrey Steele Guitar

Jeffrey Steele Guitar

Jeffrey Steele Piano

Jeffrey Steele Piano

Jeffrey Steele Harmonica

Jeffrey Steele Harmonica

Stevie Cirkvencic played lead guitar. He’s incredible. Since Jeffrey Steele is himself a great guitarist, for Stevie to make the cut and take leads away from Jeffrey, says all you need to know about Jeffrey’s respect for Stevie’s play (more on that in a bit).

Stevie Cirkvencic

Stevie Cirkvencic

Stevie looked to me to be a dead ringer for Kenny Chesney (under his cowboy hat), and I was suspicious that Kenny was just sitting in with Jeffrey for a laugh. 😉

Tommy MacDonald played the bass. He too was incredible. Jeffrey Steele’s brand of music (even the slow songs) requires a ton of energy, and the bass needs to be interesting and constant, to keep up, and Tommy “Mac” is a perfect complement to Jeffrey and Stevie.

Tommy McDonald

Tommy McDonald

Tom Hambridge on the drums, was also perfect all night. He was the only one who occasionally sang harmony with Jeffrey, though for most of the evening, Jeffrey sang solo. His nickname is “The Hammer”.

Tom Hambridge

Tom Hambridge

The four of them are awesome. In addition to playing some (not enough time to make a serious dent) of Jeffrey’s big hits, they also throw in some classic rock (at times, in the middle of a Jeffrey Steele song, at other times, on it’s own). They played a little bit of Country Joe and the Fish, The Who and ZZ Top!

The point is that they are both a top Country group, and an all-out top-notch Rock group. Basically, whatever they want to be, they deliver!

Here’s the quote that Lois said as we walked out:

Steele: A force of nature with a volcanic yet spiritual soul

We’ve been to Joe’s Pub more times than I can count. For the most part, the sound is very good, though on occasion, not so much. Last night, Jeffrey Steele thanked someone named Steve on sound. I’m glad he called him out, because that guy is a genius on the sound board.

This was flat-out hard rock, and yet, while everything was plenty loud, it was perfectly balanced (you could hear every note on the guitar, piano and bass), and all at a level that made it enjoyable, rather than head-splitting. Bravo!

They were on stage for 110 minutes of bliss. That’s just about the maximum you can squeeze out at Joe’s Pub for a 7pm start, given that there is another show at 9:30pm.

Most headliners call out their band members names at some point in the show, usually toward the very end. Jeffrey Steele is an exception, willingly, happily, joyously sharing the spotlight with his band. After the second number of the evening, he introduced each band member. He repeated their names multiple times during the show, and called them out whenever they were highlighted in a song. We loved every second of it, and all three of them deserved the recognition!

The only distraction that I had during the show is that Jeffrey Steele is the doppelganger for a good friend of mine (also a famous guy in his own right), Dick Hardt. If Dick had Jeffrey’s hair, they could be twins. 😉

If Dick were a rock star, I truly believe that his style and personality on the stage would be very similar to Jeffrey’s. Of course, Dick is a rock star, just in a different industry. 😉

I started blogging purely to document our experiences (most of them wonderful) right after they happen, so that as we age, we will have easy access to these memories. I could have done that in a journal, without making it public in a blog, but others (most notably Rob Page, CEO of Zope Corporation) hounded me to keep it public.

I’m very happy I did. Mostly, because of some amazing personal connections we’ve made through this blog. One such connection is a woman who runs a management company in Nashville (I’ll update this post with her name, and a link, if she says it’s OK).

We’ve met her once IRL (in real life) already, and correspond on a semi-regular basis. During one of those exchanges, she told us that we simply had to see Jeffrey Steele live. She knew that we (Lois in particular) love to see singer/songwriters, and she knew Jeffrey would blow us away. She was right! Thanks!

We can’t wait to see Jeffrey Steele, and Stevie, Tommy and Tom, as soon as practical. Wow!

Another theSetNYC Show

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Three weeks ago, we attended our first theSet NYC show, documented here. While the show was a little choppy, we really liked the place, Le Poisson Rouge (specifically, the Gallery Bar). We think the people behind theSet are wonderful, and we believe in their vision for showcasing upcoming talent.

So, when I saw that they had another show scheduled in the same place last night, and I knew that it was our only free night in an 11-day run of social commitments (all fun, so don’t feel badly for us), instead of using the one night off to collapse (a very tempting choice), I really wanted to support their efforts.

Oh, and the fact that the Kobe Sliders (Sloppy Joe’s) and Spicy Tuna Roll (and the Edamame for Lois) were beckoning to me, didn’t hurt either. 😉

While there was a nice crowd the first time we attended (July 6th), it was a holiday weekend (duh) so I shouldn’t have been surprised (pleasantly!) that there were probably nearly twice as many people last night. It will still comfortable in the space, but it was much closer to a practical limit than the first time.

There were also more performers last night (nine in total), but again, the host Kai Raziq (the only repeat from the last show) kept things moving along very nicely.

Since I’ll cover each artist separately, in at least one paragraph, this will be another long post. For those who are more interested in my overall impression of the night, and theSet NYC in general, I’ll get that out of the way now, so you can skip the individual comments, and my summary.

To repeat from my intro above, I really like what theSet NYC is doing. We thoroughly enjoyed last night’s show (more than the first one), even though there were definitely some lulls in the action (low points).

It’s not fair to judge or criticize any of the performers by the same standard you’d use if you went to see a full set by a professional comedian or singer, especially one you’d pay top-dollar for. The point of these shows is to see up-and-coming talent, hear something fresh (hopefully), and watch people try to hone their craft.

So, bottom line, a very entertaining evening that we’ll be sure to repeat again!

Last general note about theSet. They go out of their way to create a safe atmosphere for the performers. We love that! It’s OK not to like a performer or their material. It’s not OK to heckle them, be rude in other ways, disrupt their performance, or ruin other people’s opportunity to enjoy a routine you might not be enjoying. Bravo for that!

Normally, we put up at least one photo of each performer. For whatever reason, every picture Lois took last night came out so dark, that I decided not to post any, since each performer is  linked and you can see a ton of information about them (including photos). Sorry.

Last night there were seven comedians and two singers. I’ll cover the comedians first, in a block, in the order that we liked them (like last time), then the singers (so don’t assume that all seven comedians were better than either singer).

Harrison Greenbaum closed the show, but we both considered him the most consistently funny and polished. Tons of self-deprecating humor. Very comfortable delivery. Interacts with the audience well. He clearly already performs at a professional level.

He finished the show with a magic trick that was clever, engaging, funny, and left the crowd laughing hard (and a little amazed) as they walked out. theSet was correct to put him up last!

Dan Nainan bills himself as a 100% clean comedian. Lois prefers that greatly. I don’t mind stooping to a lower level, if the muck ads comedic value. Most often it doesn’t, so I admire Dan (and the likes of Jerry Seinfeld) who have to work a little harder to make us laugh, without having the shock value to work with.

For the most part, Dan was terrific. Like Harrison, he’s already a pro, no doubt. The difference in the ease in delivering the lines between a pro and an amateur is painfully obvious.

He took one trip off the rails (in our opinion only, as the audience was going crazy for it, so keep that in mind!). He did a George Bush imitation. He had it down pretty well, and the few lines were funny enough. But, because he’s an easy (and in our opinion a tired) target, Dan continued too long. Making fun of different words that Bush flubbed isn’t a new joke, so after a few, that’s enough.

He had an opportunity to be let off the hook. One of the security walkie talkies interrupted him in mid-routine, and he stopped to comment on it. Then he said “Where was I?”, and after a pause, jumped right back into the Bush routine.

As opposed to Harrison, to us, that meant Dan peaked earlier, and ended on a weaker note, which isn’t the way to leave your audience. Still, we’d happily go see him again. He’s funny, and has an excellent delivery!

Sam Morril has a completely self-deprecating style. For the most part, his material is fresh and funny. On occasion, his delivery is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes, total comfort to great effect, at other times, reasonably awkward. Even in the awkward moments, you can see the content peek through, but if Sam raises his game just a bit, he has what it takes material-wise.

Sean Donnelly was very different than Sam, but essentially as good overall. Lois’ instinct was to list him above Sam, barely, and mine was to list Sam first, barely. Sean opened the show, which can be brutal or great. You don’t have to be better than anyone else, yet, but you also don’t have a warmed-up crowd, and you have no clues as to what they like and don’t like.

From that perspective, Sean did an excellent job. He too is very comfortable on the stage, and has a quality delivery for the most part. Like Sam, a few times, he lost focus and had a little trouble getting back on track. He’s not afraid to engage the audience, and was reasonably adept at it.

For the most part, his routine was quite clean. So, when he launched into one vulgar joke, he got a little more mileage out of the f-word, since he hadn’t used it yet. The joke itself was reasonably funny. Ironically, while his use of the f-word was in context, and not gratuitous, it was also totally unnecessary.

There were many other words that would have substituted well (I think better), and added euphemistic color to the joke. Oh well, I don’t write ‘em, I just judge ‘em. 😉

Nore Davis is an inventive, comfortable comedian, who loses his way a little too easily. I’ll give two specific examples in a minute, but first I’ll make the generic point. Nore’s delivery is terrific. He has command of the crowd, and has a smooth delivery that was consistent. His content is pretty funny. So, what’s the problem?

When he came on stage, he had that quality that immediately grabs your attention. When he started his routine, he (and we) realized that there was a ton of reverb left on the mic, since he followed a singer. The person handling the sound (Pim, filling in for Leo) had stepped away, so Nore was on his own.

While waiting for Pim to return, he made a very funny, and very vulgar ad-lib (about feeling like he was trapped in a cavernous vagina). It was funny, so I’m fine with that. But, he couldn’t help himself (in my opinion), and he pushed the joke too far, and ended up saying and doing some over-the-top crude things to keep that one clever (and quick!) line alive…

One more example. He told an excellent joke about getting a portable CD player for his birthday (the very last one every sold, and he told that part really well too!). He said that everyone made fun of him because he could only carry around 12 songs at a time, all from the same artist. Even grandma laughed at him, telling him that she had 15,000 songs on her new iHear hearing aid!

Funny, right? Indeed! And, his delivery was flawless. We were laughing our heads off, until he couldn’t stop himself from immediately saying “what a bitch!”. He then cursed grandma a bit more. Bottom line, that is for shock value only, hearing someone calling their grandma a bitch. It didn’t add a single thing to the already wildly successful joke!

Anyway, not to beat it to death, but he overuses that specific word, along with other (potentially) equally offensive ones. Yes, yes, it makes me sound like a prude, but like I said already, the vagina ad-lib was hilarious (until he pushed it too far).

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Nore Davis become a very big name in comedy in the years to come (even if he doesn’t change his act), but, if he finds a slightly cleaner style, I’ll bet his appeal will be that much broader.

Brandon Greenspan has some clever material, buried in a consistently poor delivery. His style is self-deprecating, so it’s possible that he tries intentionally for a specific delivery style (like Woody Allen does, or Steven Wright), but in my opinion, it isn’t working (or it isn’t deliberate). He simply comes across as not self confident, and easily distracted on the stage.

Both he and the next comic had to refer to their notes a few times. That’s really not a big deal, but we’re talking about 7-10 minute sets here, which isn’t all that much to memorize, so either he/they aren’t working hard enough to prepare, or they’re overly nervous (I’ll have a bit more to say about that in my summary).

To repeat, I think he’s a clever guy, with some interesting comedic insights, which felt fresh (so he’s writing interesting material at home), but he needs lots of practice delivering it. For that, shows like last night are perfect. I would see him again, willingly, so I don’t want you to read this and think it was hard to take.

Scout Durwood was not originally listed on the schedule for last night’s show. On the other hand, two other comics were listed that didn’t show, so getting Scout at the last minute was good for their lineup, timing-wise. Unfortunately, as you see her listed last on our list, she didn’t add too much to the comedy…

I would have listed her above Brandon, but Lois felt more strongly about the order than I did, so I swapped them (like I did in the last review when Lois felt strongly about one of the comics).

Like Sam above, her delivery is inconsistent. On some jokes, she’s a complete pro (delivery-wise). On some, she comes across as a rank amateur. She too needed to consult her cheat sheet. Again, no biggie, but she looked at her sheet before telling a single joke! Really? Couldn’t she have snuck a peek right before stepping on the stage?

She told a few funny jokes, and quite a number that just lay there. She has the style to be a lot funnier, if she works on her consistency, but I don’t know whether she has enough material to fill more than these 10-minute slots.

On to the singers, then a summary.

Sarah Nisch sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. She did two numbers, both originals. She has a really good voice. Both songs were good (though both of us vastly preferred the second one, which Sarah described as a bit more uplifting, rather than the first, which she described as wrist-slitting inducing). 😉

Sarah plays the guitar reasonably enough (mostly strumming, straightforwardly), but, oddly enough, it didn’t work for me at all in terms of accompanying her voice and lyrics. In other words, her guitar playing was more of a distraction.

Still, she’s a talented singer/songwriter, and I’m sure Lois and I would be happy to catch her again at one of these shows.

Jamie Alimorad sang, backed by a CD playing through the speakers. Before I cover the performance, I want to compliment Jamie’s stage presence. Since Leo wasn’t there to operate the laptop and the sound system, there was quite a bit of trouble getting the background CD to start, and when it did, it was a whisper in the background. Jamie never lost his cool, and even though he isn’t a comedian, he handled himself and the situation well, and kept the crowd relaxed and interested.

Unfortunately, I don’t have all that much else to say that is very complimentary. He has a pleasant enough voice, but he did two covers, starting with Bryan Adams Summer of 69. If his voice were spectacular, OK. But, everything about his performance was more Karaoke than professional singer. Good Karaoke, to be sure, but compared to all of the other original works (Sarah included), it felt completely out of place. Sorry Jamie…

I realize that many (most?) who get this far will simply label me/us as prudes, and say that we simply don’t get the humor in raunchy jokes. If you knew me, you’d know how ridiculous that is, but I totally get how I’m coming off.

One of my all-time favorite comedians is Buddy Hackett (I can recite dozens of his jokes verbatim, including some very long routines). They are mostly filthy (dick jokes, etc.). Not only do the jokes kill me each time I hear them, I love telling them, so I have no trouble delivering those words. But, they are integral to the jokes, not gratuitous.

A number of the comedians we’ve seen at the two theSet shows used their words as crutches. What happens in that situation is that the audience is focused on the crutch, not the joke, or the person. If a person walks into the room on actual crutches, you’re less likely to remember other things about them, because it steals your focus. The same is true in comedy.

So, while I’m but one voice, I’ll continue to hammer away to these very talented up-and-coming comedians, that they need to hone their craft better by concentrating on the actual joke, not on using vulgarity for the pure shock value of it. Follow my advice or not, it’s your careers. 😉

As for theSet, one of the things that the host (Kai Raziq) has done at both shows (repeatedly) is attempt to get anyone from the audience to come on stage and tell a joke, a story, anything. His point is that it’s harder than it looks, even for 30 seconds, and of course, he’s right!

In the first show, no one took him up on the offer, even though he tried hard. Last night, no one took the bait either, for the first few times that he tried to get someone on the stage. Then finally, one woman got up for 30 seconds. She had no idea what to do, but turned it into an amusing physical bit. We all appreciated her courage and effort nonetheless.

I don’t really have a need, nor even an interest to try that out, but out of curiosity, one of these days, I might just have to find out how awful/hard it is to stand up there, and perhaps I’ll be a bit less harsh on the real comedians after I do that. 😉

Everything’s Easy by Girlyman

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Who doesn’t know that Girlyman is our favorite group yet? Come on, raise your hand.

With the production of their new CD, Everything’s Easy, Girlyman tried something different: asking their fans to help them buy a top-notch microphone for their vocals. We joined many other Girlyfans and pitched in to get them that mic!

So, can you buy this CD yet? No. It will be available in late August, 2009. Do I have a copy yet? Yes. Am I special? No. You too could have had it, especially if you follow me on Twitter, where I urged people to pre-order a copy.

The pre-order was at a premium price, but came with a lovingly signed copy of the CD, and helped the band directly, so fans should have been happy to pay a bit more, to get it early, and support the band.

According to Ty’s blog post last week, over 1,000 fans pre-ordered, which is music to my ears!

I have had my hands on the CD for nearly a week. I have listened to it eight times. I didn’t want anything that I wrote here to be based on a single first impression listen.

One word to describe the new CD: Gorgeous!

Lois’ needed to one up me, so she decided to double the number of words she used to describe the CD: Soulful…Intimate!

There are so many dimensions to personally grade a song and/or a CD, and I’ll cover a few of them here. First, when it’s an artist you are a fan of, you can ask yourself if it’s similar or different from their previous work.

Neither is inherently good or bad. If it’s similar, some fans will be bored, others will be over the moon. If it’s different, some fans will be angry, others will be over the moon. Of course, if it’s too different, it’s not inconceivable to lose a majority of your fans, but possibly pick up another whole group who like the new genre.

So, how do I grade this CD in that respect? Similar: Yes. In a number of ways (especially the important ones). Amazing harmonies, brilliant lyrics, wonderful melodies, superb production.

Different: Yes. In a number of ways (mostly good). First, there are studio versions of three songs that were actually debuted on their last CD, Somewhere Different Now (a Live CD). There is a song called Hudson, where Ty sings without Doris and Nate.

Perhaps the biggest difference (to me) is the mood of the CD. On all of the previous efforts (four, not including the many CDs we have from their live performances, which are priceless to me!) there is a wide mix of songs. Ballads sit side-by-side with very up-beat numbers (causing people to label them as Folk/Pop, since without the Pop, it’s hard for some to peg them as just Folk).

The only song on this CD that truly qualifies as perky (to me) is My Eyes Get Misty (a song we have loved for over ninth months, having seen them perform it many times!). True Enough is a very happy song, but still retains a relatively mellow sound.

Even the title song, Everything’s Easy, which is a happier song, with a little bit of an up-tempo feel on the Live CD, has been slowed down dramatically on this studio version.

It’s nearly one minute longer, due entirely to the pace. It’s gorgeous, but if you’re used to other version (and what fan wouldn’t be?), then it might take some getting used to (which is why I wanted to listen many times before writing this!).

Another dimension: new vs familiar. If you’ve never seen Girlyman live, and never heard one of their recent concert CDs (not counting Somewhere Different Now Live), then only the three songs from that Live CD will be familiar. Everything else is brand-spanking-new material.

Of course, if you’re like us, and follow them around like puppy dogs, then you will have heard some of the songs in one show or another. For us, here’s the count:

Total number of songs on the CD: 15.

Number released on a previous CD: 3 (Everything’s Easy, Somewhere Different Now and Storms Were Mine).

Number we’ve heard in concert: 9 (several were debuted at the recent Highline Ballroom show, so even if you’ve seen them before, the odds of you having heard nine of the songs isn’t likely).

Number we never heard before: 3 (whew, the math happened to work out!).

There isn’t a weak song on this CD. But, you better be in the mood to be moved! To repeat Lois’ characterization above, it’s a very Soulful, Intimate CD, both lyrics and sound, with a lush feel.

I’d describe this CD as making you feel Swept Away rather than Swept Up. The music and lyrics drape and carry you with them, to another place.

If you are a Girlyman fan, I’ll be shocked if you don’t love the CD. If you’re a newbie, it will depend on what brought you to this one.

Personally, I am thrilled to have my name associated with Everything’s Easy. Well done Girlyman! 🙂

Disclaimer: We are listed as Executive Producers (EP) on this CD but had nothing to do with the creative part of the CD, nor were we EPs in the sense of helping with the business (distribution, etc.). But, in our small way, we helped get it made.

We participated in the production of this CD in the form of a donation, and we have zero financial relationship with Girlyman. We don’t derive any money from sales of the CDs.

Wonderful Weekend

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We’re in NYC for an unusually long stretch. We’re at the halfway point, and it will be hard to top last week, but we won’t stop trying. 🙂

We returned from VA on Tuesday to one night of solitude. Our extravaganza started on Wednesday. Since we had been away, I got back on the exercise track by taking a seven mile walk by myself.

At 4pm, friends of ours who were passing through arrived to spend the night. After catching up a bit on the deck (in perfect weather), we walked up to the Peking Duck House for a wonderful meal. We waddled back, taking a tour of Grand Central (including the amazing Food Market), and after schmoozing a bit more, collapsed.

The next morning, I took another long walk with our friends, this time roughly six miles. They (correctly) shamed me into getting a new pair of sneakers when they heard me tell Lois that I had not forgotten to stuff some tissues into my socks to stop my sneakers from cutting my heels. I am now the proud owner of a new pair of New Balance, purchased at Modell’s (Gotta Go to Mo’s!). 🙂

In the afternoon, we dropped our friends off uptown and headed straight to LaGuardia to pick up David. Since it had started raining reasonably hard, and his flight was delayed, we parked the car in the garage (highly unusual for us), and we relaxed at the food court, where we had excellent coffees from Coffee Beanery. I watched a bunch of The Onion video podcasts on my iPod (laughing my head off non-stop), while Lois browsed at Borders.

Rain At La Guardia

Rain At La Guardia

David was only an hour delayed, and even though it was still raining, we made great time back to the city. We ran across the street and had a terrific Mexican meal at El Rio Grande. Afterward, Laura and Chris came up to catch up with David.

On Friday, David had lunch out with his college roommate, and Laura (who took a half day off) planned to take another long walk with me. Just as we were about to leave, David texted me that he could be back in 10 minutes if we could wait. We did, happily, and the three of us did the full 8+ mile walk, on yet another glorious day.

Friends of David and Laura (and us as well, though we’re their parents’ ages) were flying up from Richmond, scheduled to arrive at 3:30pm. When a flight attendant was unable to make it on time, they were delayed awaiting a replacement who was flying in from Cincinnati! We had tickets to the Blue Note Jazz Club that evening, and they ended up having to meet us there straight from the airport (putting their luggage in the coat room).

It all worked out fine, and they got there in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely meal with us. Chris joined us a bit later, due to work, work, work…

Group At BB King

Group At BB King

We saw Charlie Haden (a great bassist). He was playing six consecutive nights at the Blue Note in an Invitation Series with a different guest performer each night. On Friday night, Kenny Barron was the guest, an amazing piano player. The two of them played together, and each took a number of long solos for 70 minutes. It was a slightly short show for the Blue Note.

The air-conditioning seemed to be off only during the show (it came on seconds after the show ended) and they were working so hard on the stage, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the heat caused them to cut it short just a bit. A lovely evening of good food, great company and excellent music.

When we returned to the apartment, the old folks hit the sack, and the youth stayed up (who knows how long?). Before I said goodnight, Chris asked if I wanted to walk in the morning. That would have made four days in a row for me (something I hadn’t attempted as yet), and being the macho machine that I am, I said yes.

I was a bit late (sorry Chris), and met him downstairs at 8:19am. We did the full 8+ miles, at a faster pace than most of my group walks (in fact, we shaved 24 minutes off of the average group walk time, and only six minutes longer than my best time ever). Chris kept me on a crisp and steady pace. Thanks!

While I was off walking with Chris, our guests enjoyed breakfast on the deck.

Breakfast

Breakfast

After a shower, the boys (David, Chris, Clint and I) headed to the new Yankee Stadium to catch the game against the Oakland A’s. This was collectively our first time at the new stadium. In my opinion, it’s awesome. Nice job Yanks!

The Boys

The Boys

Too many food choices to articulate, so I’ll just say what we selected. Chris had the Pizza from Famiglia, which was not exceptional, but not bad either. The rest of us had Philly Cheesesteaks from Carl’s. Pretty good, but I’m not sure I would call it Best in Manhattan (as the web site claims). Not that I know of a better cheesesteak in Manhattan, just that it was good, not amazing. 🙂

Three of us had a $10 beer (which included a plastic commemorative cup, valued at $1).

We fried in the sun for an hour (and I have the sunburn to prove it, especially on my knees). Once the sun passed, the breeze made the rest of the day delightful. Unfortunately, I continue to be a curse on local sports teams. The Yankees had an eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday. They made it exciting, almost pulling it out in the ninth inning.

Last year (at the old stadium), they lost when I showed up. The year before, the Mets lost when I attended a game. My new retirement plan will be to charge both the Yankees and the Mets to keep me away from the stadiums. I should be able to make a good living, since they play 162 home games between them. 😉

Laura and Sally Ann had a mini-spa afternoon followed by Vietnamese food, while Lois slaved away at her computer.

The Girls

The Girls

When we got back to the apartment, another round of showers was in order due to the aforementioned frying in the sun. Then we walked up to the Duck House, where David’s college roommate and his fiancée joined us for dinner (nine of us in total). We had an absolutely spectacular meal. With that many people, we get to order that many more dishes, and therefore more tastes, than with the four of us who attended on Wednesday night.

Duck House Dishes

Duck House Dishes

Group At Duck House

Group At Duck House

Again, the old folks headed home, and early to bed. The youth headed to see Harry Potter 6, and told us the next morning that they thoroughly enjoyed it!

On Sunday morning, the youth all attended Church Services at Redeemer. Lois and I headed to BB King and waited on line for them to join us. The same nine people who ate the night before at the Duck House now gathered to see the world famous Harlem Gospel Choir over a wonderful brunch at BB King. It was our second time, but the other seven were experiencing it for the first time.

It’s hard to describe the show, unless you’ve been to a revival service, in which case it wouldn’t be hard to describe it all! 😉 Awesome music (both the singing and the band), with wonderful spirituality, including forcing participation by the entire crowd.

Crowd Participation

Crowd Participation

Only the infirm didn’t stand (at least at some point during the show) and clap and dance along. As much as we enjoyed our first time, this one was substantially better, so we’re doubly glad we suggested this activity for the group.

At each show, a group of people is invited on the stage (I won’t tell you why, so you can be surprised if you ever see it), and one of the people in our group ended up on the stage. See if you can spot her (hint, hint). 🙂

One Of Us On Stage

One Of Us On Stage

After the show, Lois bought one of their CDs, and got it signed by all seven of the singers, plus the founder of the Harlem Gospel Choir. We also made a separate donation to their ministry.

We walked back to the apartment and relaxed while watching the Yankees win on TV. I’m awaiting my royalty check for not attending the game yesterday. At the same time, I finally caught up on the weekend’s email and Twitter stream, having not logged on at all on Saturday (a very rare occurrence for me!).

The youth headed across the street for a superb Sushi meal at Hane Sushi. Just as they finished up, the heavens opened up, and we all waited out the thunderstorm. The second it let up, all of us (except for Lois) walked nine blocks to Berry Wild (only Laura and Chris had been there before). Everyone loved theirs, including me. I had Banana and Coffee yogurt, with shredded coconut on top. Yummy!

When we got back, our Richmond friends headed out to JFK. Their flight ended up being delayed by the continuing storms, but they did arrive in Richmond safe and sound, shortly at 2am! 🙁

The rest of us watched a DVD of the 1989 movie The Dream Team. Wes sent it to us as a gift a few weeks back, so we were looking forward to watching it. It starts off a bit slowly (or perhaps awkwardly is more apt), but, it builds, cleverly, and while it’s kooky or corny, I have to admit that I laughed out loud quite a bit. Definitely an enjoyable evening.

David had a 6am flight back, so alarms were set for 4:25am, and Lois and I didn’t get much sleep. David has already landed safely, so the weekend extravaganza is now officially over, but we’re both wiped like the party is still going on. 😉

While we don’t have company staying with us any longer, we do have plans for the next six consecutive nights (alone for the first four, then with other people on Friday and Saturday), before we finally get to completely collapse!

Dave Mason at Tarrytown Music Hall

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Last night was our eighth concert at Tarrytown Music Hall, and our third Dave Mason show (first one at the Hall). I covered the previous shows extensively here and here.

To summarize the things that were the same: Dave Mason is beyond awesome. His voice is still amazing, and his fingers move across the guitar like butter. The old songs are as magical today as they were then. The news songs (he recently released a new CD called 26 Letters ~ 12 Notes) are wonderful as well, showing that he hasn’t lost a step in all these years.

DaveMason

Dave Mason

The band (each and every member) is fantastic.

That said, there were a number of differences last night, some even notable. 🙂

Two band members who toured with Dave last year, and were at both of the shows we attended, have been replaced. I tried (reasonably hard, but hardly exhaustive) and I couldn’t find any articles explaining their departure. The band page has scrubbed their existence.

The links to their bios from my previous posts still work, but they point to the new person playing that instrument. Strange. In fact, now that I looked, one of the links that worked before was to a name of someone that was already gone from the band. In other words, they replace pictures and bios on the site, but keep the old links…

Anthony (Tony) Patler replaced Bill Mason on keyboards and vocals. We both loved Bill Mason’s singing and playing, so I’m sad (for him) to see him gone (unless it was his choice to move on). Tony was incredible last night, both on the keyboards and on vocals, so the band didn’t lose any magic in swapping him in.

Johnne Sambataro and Tony Patler

Johnne Sambataro and Tony Patler

Gerald Johnson replaced Alex Drizos on bass. Alex didn’t sing, but Gerald does, on a few numbers. Gerald used to tour with Dave back in the 70’s, so he’s no stranger to the music. If you read my past posts, you know that I think very highly of Alex on the bass.

Gerald Johnson

Gerald Johnson

Like with Bill Mason above, I can’t find a mention of why Alex is no longer with the band. Like with Tony above, Gerald is absolutely incredible, in fact, better than Alex (in my opinion), so the band lost nothing here either (though fans of Alex certainly have…).

Johnne Sambataro was as incredible as he’s been at the previous shows. He’s a crowd favorite, rightfully so!

Alvino Bennett was again amazing. Last night was a treat for me personally, as in both previous shows, I had very restricted views of Alvino, and I’m a drum nut. Last night, he and Tony were on an elevated platform behind Dave, Johnne and Gerald, so Alvino and his drum set were in full view. The man has guns for biceps!

Alvino Bennett

Alvino Bennett

Last night posed a few challenges for Alvino. He broke three separate drums (I assume the skins) during the performance. Dave kidded that Alvino doesn’t know his own strength!

In one number, I noticed him unscrewing a snare drum and handing it to a stage hand, while the song continued. He never caused a disruption, using his bass foot pedal, and occasionally his right hand to keep the beat, while repairing his drum in real time! Unbelievable!

As with the previous shows, Alvino didn’t take any solos, but was solid as a rock. He’s a master drummer.

The one other major difference last night was the venue. If you read my post yesterday (which I’m not linking to because it’s way off topic for this post), then you’ll find what I’m about to say ironic. 😉

Tarrytown Music Hall is a wonderful old theater. Even though the seats are ancient, they are extremely comfortable. We were in the seventh row and had a wonderful line of sight to the entire band. The sound system was excellent last night, and all of the instruments and mics were set at the appropriate levels relative to each other.

Given that we were facing the stage (as opposed to BB King, where you generally have to contort a bit because you’re at a dinner table), the entire experience was as excellent as we could have hoped for.

Dave Mason was on stage for 95 minutes, including his signature encore of Feelin’ Allright.

Opening for Dave Mason last night was the TJay Trio. TJay is good guitarist. One thing that he does particularly well is seamlessly switch between lead and rhythm playing. That’s good, because he’s the only one playing each style.

TJay

TJay

His singing is pleasant enough, and he certainly hits every note, but I didn’t find his voice that interesting, and it was nearly impossible to catch any three words in a row (which was not a problem when Dave Mason was at the mic).

Correction: Nick Soto played the bass, filling in for regular TJay Trio bassist Mick Houser. Afterward, Nick sat across the aisle from Lois for the Dave Mason set. He’s extremely good. I thoroughly enjoyed his play throughout their set!

Nick is constantly moving on the stage (he has tons of energy), and Lois was unable to get a single shot of him that was in focus. Sorry Nick, this was the best of a bunch of bad ones…

Nick Soto

Nick Soto

Correction: Bryan Rinaldi played the drums, filling in for normal TJay Trio drummer Rob Gueli. Nothing flashy, but very solid throughout the set.

Bryan Rinaldi

Bryan Rinaldi

They played a nice mix of rock, blues and jazz and received enthusiastic applause from the crowd after each number. They were on stage for 40 minutes, and warmed up the crowd nicely for Dave. They were also well-matched genre-wise to be an opening act for Dave.

One footnote regarding last night in relation to the night before. There is little doubt that the crowd last night was as in love with Dave Mason as the crowd the night before was in love with Yonder Mountain String Band. And yet, nearly everyone sat in their seats all night, until the encore (I’m not counting the standing ovations).

This isn’t a mark of their age, lack of energy, or lack of love of the artist. It’s a mark of their respect for their neighbors, who came to see the same show, with certain expectations. It was a thing of beauty to see the one woman who was dancing at her seat for 1/2 a song, finally realize that no one else stood up to follow her lead, and she quietly sat down with no one having to say anything to her. 🙂

In order to avoid the typical parking problems in Tarrytown before a show at the Hall, on both Friday and Saturday nights, we came to town 30 minutes early, parked four or five blocks away, and walked to Main Street Sweets for some Ice Cream.

On Friday, it was our first time ever at Main Street Sweets (I read some excellent reviews online of their home-made Ice Cream). Obviously, it was good enough to schedule our return for the next night. It’s a block and a half down Main Street from Tarrytown Music Hall, so it’s easy to relax eating some Ice Cream, and time it to walk into the Hall whenever you like.

Yonder Mountain String Band at Tarrytown Music Hall

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We live near Tarrytown Music Hall and we’ve been to six shows there since we discovered it (we were very late to the party). We are on the mailing list, so we get notifications of upcoming shows. A couple of months ago I noticed that Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) would be playing there (last night). The name evoked Bluegrass, which we love, and listening to their music (available right on their website) convinced me that we would like them a lot.

This won’t be a typical post for me following a concert. So, I need to get the good out first, before I start my rant.

All four members of YMSB are talented. All are professional musicians and they sing reasonably well (nothing special). The guitarist, Adam Aijala, is the one standout musician (excellent flat-picker, though not in the league of some others that I have covered here). I know that fans of YMSB will argue that Jeff Austin is great on the mandolin. He’s good, perhaps very good at times, but he’s actually not even close to special compared to quite a number of current mandolin stars.

Their music is very good, all around, and I’m sure that owning their CDs would be enjoyable from the first listen, and consistently so thereafter.

OK, time for their fans (very rabid ones indeed) to turn away. The rest of this post will be a train wreck from their perspective (understandably), and they should look away.

Here’s the nicest thing I can say about the show last night:

Live, YMSB is a Bluegrass version of a Grateful Dead Jam Band wannabe.

That’s not meant as an insult to the Grateful Dead (who’ve been near the top of my favorites list for 40 years!), nor of the Jam Band experience. Even the wannabe tag isn’t meant to be an insult (OK, it was definitely a shot), because they’re very good, and their fans adore them (in fact, exactly like many Dead Heads love the Dead!).

But, context matters (at least to me), and Tarrytown Music Hall isn’t exactly known for being an indoors Woodstock. You wouldn’t have known that last night.

The one thing that is all too typical of Tarrytown Music Hall (TTM) events (and I’ve made this complaint a number of times) is that they never start on time. The show was called for 8pm. I had no doubt it would not start then. At 7:50, there were perhaps 50 people in the hall (it can seat 840!). At 8:05 there were about 150 people there. At 8:18, when the band wandered on the stage, there were probably 400+, and shortly thereafter, there were over 600, I’m reasonably sure.

The point is that TTM couldn’t start the shows on time if they wanted to, because the majority of the regulars know that it’s stupid to show up on time, since the seats are assigned (no advantage to being early), and you’ll just end up sitting and waiting… It’s really rude to people who might have plans later on, or long drives home, etc. TTM needs to figure out a way to spread the word that shows will start on time, even if the audience is empty!

The vast majority of the audience last night were giant fans of YMSB and knew exactly what to expect. The couple in the row in front of us (to our left) were about to see them for the 18th time!

So, what did they know that we didn’t? First, that 90% of the audience would stand for the entire concert, and sway (not really dance), like people do at Grateful Dead concerts. This wasn’t an outdoor festival. Not only are specific seats assigned, the ones that are closer to the stage cost more. We paid for fifth row dead-center seats, but we might as well have paid for last row balcony seats.

Immediately in front of us were two couples that were in their 70’s or 80’s, and had no idea what they were in for either. They stood for roughly 1/2 of the show (at least the part we stayed for), and were clearly extremely uncomfortable for having to do so, just to get a glimpse of the action on stage.

All of that would be somewhat acceptable, if this was an adoring crowd who was mesmerized by the music. Nope, this was a party (and not the kind I’ve covered for a Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban concert). This was a literal party. In fact, here’s a direct quote from the YMSB website (that I wish I had read more carefully before buying the tickets):

“We love that people come to see us,” Johnston points out. “Everyone appreciates good music. Some people want to go to a recital and some people want to party.”

Too bad if you are in the want to go to a recital category. There’s no way that this could ever be the case for a YMSB concert, so the above quote should have been slightly different.

Still, I said above it would be OK if the crowd were adoring. Instead, the four people immediately behind us talked at the top of their lungs, all night long, about their friends who were dating each other, not about the band. And yet, the men (we think not their dates) were fans, as on occasion, they sang along, so they clearly knew the words to some of the songs. The girls’ voices were grating, and made it very hard to hear the words to many of the songs.

Next, the two leaders of the band, Jeff Austin (on mandolin) and Ben Kaufmann (on bass) have a great rapport with the crowd, and are very comfortable bantering and telling stories. Are any of them good? Who knows.

The second either of them opens their mouth, a few dozen morons start shouting, whistling, and generally whooping it up (in an apparent drunk/drugged stupor), and the voices on stage are instantly drowned out. That’s a shame, as I like banter and connecting with the performers in addition to just enjoying the music.

Even if that didn’t happen, there was another problem preventing the clear understanding of the voices on stage last night. Typically, the sound system and acoustics at TTM are top notch. Last night was beyond awful. I’m not even sure that the band was using the TTM speakers, possibly only using their own amps (even for the voices) on stage.

The biggest problem (by far) was the volume on all of the microphones. The vocals were at 50-66% the volume of the instruments. When they sang, making out the words was difficult, and harmonies might have been there, but you would never know that.

The banjo, guitar and mandolin were clear and at good volume levels. The bass was disgustingly loud (and regular readers here know that I love a good bass, so it’s not that I don’t appreciate the instrument). Aside from shaking the floor on every strum of the bass, it was so loud that it hummed (as in feedback) and overwhelmed the voices and other instruments all too often.

I have no idea whether this was because YMSB’s own sound person was just one of the worst (we’ve experienced a few bad sound engineers) or whether this was the fault of TTM (which normally nails sound!).

The audience didn’t seem to notice, let alone care. Like I noted above, they were there for a party. I was thinking to myself that if the band slipped off the stage, and put on a live CD in the background, few would have noticed.

Could there be an explanation? Perhaps. One of their songs is about smoking marijuana, and while they sang it, a bunch of people near the stage were clearly smoking it. That’s not so unexpected outdoors, or when seeing an Allman Brothers concert at the Beacon Theater, but at TTM, for a somewhat Bluegrass type show? Totally unexpected. No, I’m not a prude when it comes to this kind of stuff, just surprised at the context.

I must be running out of complaints, no? No. I’ll probably lose interest in typing before I’m actually done complaining. 😉

Next up, for the first time (reminder: this was our seventh show at TTM), no one came out to introduce the band. They just wandered on stage, and after talking for three minutes, started playing. No problem, but after the fact, it made us think that TTM wanted to distance themselves from the band. But, if that’s true, why invite them to begin with?

You might think I’m joking about TTM wanting to distance themselves, but I’m not. Ben Kaufmann made a big deal about that very fact. He told a story (that I strained to hear) that they played a theater the night before and would likely not be invited back, and he predicted the same would be true for TTM. I hope he’s right. Actually, I don’t care, as I know better than to go again…

Why did he think they wouldn’t be invited back? First, he said “They had no idea what they were getting themselves into!”. Ha ha, that’s a good one on them (the theater owners/bookers)! But, he was more specific. He said that at the theater, there was a special section called Gold Circle Seating, where he believed rich people with season’s tickets sat (the implication, never said, is that these idiots came because they owned the seats, not because they had any interest in the show).

He made fun of a gentleman who was wearing an ascot, and who left the show in disgust, complaining to management that he had no view from his special seat. Ben thought it was hysterical that he expected a normal show from YMSB. Lest you think I don’t have a sense of humor, or that I actually believe that there was a person wearing an ascot, you should know that I took the story figuratively.

I think it’s wonderful that they are successful, and have such a huge and loyal fan base. What I don’t understand is the joy Ben takes in alienating potential fans. People who buy season’s tickets (or people like us, who specifically bought tickets for this show!), need to be included, drawn in, not made fun of. I’m gonna guess that the rich guy is less likely to download an illegal copy of their music (should he become a fan), but perhaps YMSB eschews money as well.

I’m running out of steam, so I’ll just add one additional rant, aimed both at YMSB and TTM, equally.

Tickets at TTM are expensive in general. The same exact group costs dramatically more at TTM than they do just 30 miles south when they play in NYC. One example: we’re seeing Dave Mason at TTM tonight. We paid $126 for two tickets (including fees). When we saw him at BB King in NYC last year, it cost us $80, and a few months earlier, in NJ, cost us $60 to see Dave.

Well, TTM is a non-profit, and doesn’t have a show every night, so I guess that they charge a premium to keep up this beautiful and historic theater. We aren’t too annoyed to support that. Especially, if it means a bigger cut for the performers. Of course, at 840 seats, it also has a significantly larger capacity than many of the clubs we frequent in NYC, so there’s a double effect of potentially putting a lot more money in the artist’s hands. Good.

Except when the artist shoves it in the face of the patrons, making fun of people who can actually afford to pay for a ticket, and have some expectation of what it means to have a certain seat reserved for them.

Last night, we paid $86 for two tickets. I’ll bet that there are few shows a year where YMSB commands this high a ticket price, especially in a venue this large.

When intermission came (75 minutes into the show), we were thrilled to have the ability (and the excuse) to get up, without having to push and shove through the crowd, and we happily went home. I applaud YMSB for putting on a very long show (many shows are only 75 minutes in total), and clearly, they were going to give at least another hour, but we’d had enough.

Summary: they have talent, and the music is good. The sound was beyond awful, they were smug and obnoxious and the crowd was mostly there to feel good about themselves, rather than enjoy the actual performance.

I Made Lemonade from Ceili Rain

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I’ve written about our love of Ceili Rain before, most recently after we saw them perform at Joyful Noise III. At the time, their new CD, I Made Lemonade was not yet available for purchase, but as of July 1, happily, that’s no longer the case!

In the above link, the new CD is highlighted in the big block in the center. You can order it (please do), listen to snippets of every song and read all of the lyrics.

You can also hear full Ceili Rain tracks (including the title track: I Made Lemonade) on their MySpace page. You can also check out two of their huge hits, That’s All the Lumber and Love Travels.

In other words, don’t take my word for it, listen for yourself, fall in love, then go out and buy the new CD (and the old ones, if you don’t already own them!).

I Made Lemonade is very special to Ceili Rain, and to their fans as well (including us). After making five studio CDs under the Music Label system, Ceili Rain decided to create and produce this CD with the direct support of their fans. Lois and I happily and heartily participated, sponsoring two songs on the CD, including the title track: I Made Lemonade.

Hadar and Bob

Hadar and Bob

The sound is fantastic (who needs a record label anyhow) and the songs are wonderful! We believe Ceili Rain will appeal to all music lovers who appreciate great musicians, an amazing vocalist, uplifting lyrics and a totally professional, energetic performance that always delivers.

Most people (including me) classify them as Christian Rock/Pop, because the messages are full of spirituality, love, God, etc. The music supports, yet far transcends that classification in the universality of message and sound. I have read that they would like to spread their message more broadly.

I don’t believe they’ll add an overwhelming number of non-Christian listeners with this one, as it is a Christian-themed CD throughout. It’s a joy to listen to, over and over, but they’ll need to make another one if they want to expand the current base. So, even though I’m still enjoying this one, I’m eagerly anticipating the next one. 🙂

In the past, when we love an artist, we’ve done one of two things:

  1. Run a contest to give away CDs
  2. Give CDs away to our friends

This time, we’re going to do it a bit differently. We have a bunch of the new CDs, and are going to give them all away, with a twist. Instead of just handing them out, we’re specifically asking our friends whether they want the CD, and if so, that they try their best to share the music with at least one other person, hopefully more.

In other words, ask for a copy of the new CD if you will help spread the word actively!

Second, instead of a contest, we’ll entertain requests from strangers for a free CD, but it will have to be in the same spirit as with our friends.

Tell us why you want I Made Lemonade, preferably by pointing out how you have, or will help spread the Ceili Rain love, and we’ll seriously consider sending you one of the CDs. No promises (as opposed to the contest above), but we’re serious about sharing the music with people who will appreciate it and spread the word as well.

Disclaimer: while we participated in the production of this CD, it was purely a donation, and we have no financial relationship of any kind with Ceili Rain. We don’t derive a penny from any sales of the CDs.

theSet NYC at Le Poisson Rouge

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A month ago, I posted about a wonderful weekend that included catching Altar Boyz at New World Stages. As a result (I assume) I received an email from Pim, a member of the team that founded theSet NYC.

theSet NYC is a great idea. Collect a group of talented performers and promote a show featuring a bunch of them on the same night. The idea is to give these people an alternative to the grind of a pure open mic night. Pim used to do standup comedy (and might again in the future), so he was well aware of the difficulties of getting the appropriate breaks.

For the performers, it typically means a slightly longer set (roughly 15 minutes each) and a (hopefully) friendlier crowd. For the audience, it typically means a (slightly) more vetted group of performers (no one who just mustered up the courage five minutes ago to get up on the stage), and also a friendlier atmosphere (not oriented toward heckling, etc.).

theSet NYC aims to put on a show once a month. They use a number of venues, one of which is the lounge at New World Stages, which is how I guess Pim ended up finding me.

One of Pim’s roles is blogger outreach. Once he connected with me via email, he invited me to attend their next show, which was last night, at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR), in the Gallery Bar (downstairs, they also have a more traditional club upstairs). The show fit with our schedule, so we decided to attend.

Pim

Pim

Most of the shows have been free to date (including last night), though there’s no guarantee of that in the future. We arrived at 7pm (the show started at 8pm) because we intended to eat (and drink) at Gallery Bar first.

You can check out the menu to see the eclectic range of food and drink offered there. Lois had the Edamame. She raved non-stop while she was eating them. I had the Spicy Tuna Roll (absolutely incredible), and the Sloppy Kobe Joes. Folks, I do believe that this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Not quite a hamburger (because it’s not pressed together in a patty, since it’s a sloppy joe), and with a sauce that’s spicy (not hot, flavorful!) and fantastic.

If theSet NYC did nothing else for us, it introduced us to a place that we will return to for the food alone, no doubt! In addition, the lovely bartender made me a perfect Chocolate Martini. Thanks!

Gallery Bar Bartender

Gallery Bar Bartender

On to the show. Lois asked me to cover the performers in the order that we liked them, rather than in the order that they appeared. Seems fair enough to me, so here goes (I think we are in basic agreement on the order, but I’m not double checking with her, so technically, this is my personal order):

Evon Campbell was the most consistently funny of the comedians (which dominated last night’s show). He has a very relaxed style which relaxes the audience. He is then easily able to catch the audience off guard with very clever jokes that aren’t easy to predict (the best kind). Here’s a three minute video of him from a previous theSet NYC show (he didn’t repeat a single line from this clip last night!).

Evon Campbell

Evon Campbell

Arthur Carlson had the most professional delivery of the group last night. Here’s a clip of a bit he did last night as well. He was more in control of the audience than the rest, and appeared more comfortable and self-assured on stage than the rest. I’ll have a more general note at the end, in which I’ll have some more to say about Arthur.

Arthur Carlson

Arthur Carlson

Kai Raziq hosted the evening. He didn’t actually do any specific routines, but his style on stage was engaging, and we all chuckled at nearly everything he said, even though he wasn’t telling any jokes per se.

Kai Raziq

Kai Raziq

Alec Sobel held his own reasonably well. He too has a professional quality to his delivery. Here is a link to a five minute video that will give you a good sense of his style and genre. At the bottom of the page is a link to a different video that is a little less adult in nature (not much, but perhaps a little cursing removed).

Alec Sobel

Alec Sobel

Matt Rittberg was close behind Alec in my opinion. While he too has a pretty good command of the stage, he relied a bit too much on sexual jokes, and isn’t quite expert enough to walk that kind of tight rope. Here is a page with a variety of videos of Matt’s routines which includes stuff the seems cleverer than most of the material he did last night.

Matt Rittberg

Matt Rittberg

I’m going to present the next two performers (the only musical ones last night) in the order that Lois preferred them. For my taste, I would swap them, but I’ll predict and respect Lois’ choice.

Adontay sang two songs last night. The first was a cappella and we both enjoyed it more than we thought we would when he first started. Adontay has a very nice voice, and the song was pretty good too. Unfortunately, he didn’t carry that through to the second number. In that one, he had a soundtrack (played off of a laptop). The song wasn’t as good (in our opinion) and was a little too long. When the soundtrack ended, he continued a cappella, and to our ears, rambled off key and out of tune. He has a lot of talent, but he needs significantly more polish and practice.

Adontay

Adontay

Stephanie Carlin sang and played acoustic guitar. I think she has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well enough, and has a reasonable amount of stage presence. Unfortunately, neither of us was drawn to her two original songs. They brought her back on stage at the end because two of the scheduled performers didn’t show up, and we somewhat preferred the two covers she did then (a medley of Hit the Road Jack and Moondance). The raw talent (at least in the voice) is most definitely there, but the performance and musical selection isn’t our personal cup of tea.

Stephanie Carlin

Stephanie Carlin

Ranked last in both of our opinions, but opening the show (which made for a tense few minutes when we thought the rest of the night would be like this) was April Brucker. Her delivery last night was completely flat (close to zero energy). She started with very crude sexual jokes about her roommate, and then brought out the roommate (from a suitcase), a puppet called May.

April Brucker

April Brucker

April describes herself as an Inappropriate Ventriloquist. That’s an incredibly apt description. She’s a reasonably talented ventriloquist, and she’s beyond inappropriate. I’m sure that the college boys laugh like hell at that kind of shock you humor.

I can’t reconcile her lack of energy last night with this video. In the video, she has tremendous energy, but the same crude humor. At the four minute mark, she introduces May, so you can get a sense of that part of the act last night as well.

I have explained in a number of posts how much I love comedy (and laughing) in all forms, even crude ones. Lois isn’t as forgiving of pure crudeness, which she (correctly) equates with comic laziness. In other words, it’s easier to get a laugh by shocking your audience (especially if you’re female) than by actually being clever.

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all time, and he never resorts to cursing. He doesn’t resort to much sexual innuendo either, and when he does, it’s high level enough to be acceptable even if kids are in the room.

If I wasn’t sitting with Lois, and analyzing in my head the fact that a crude joke probably just rubbed her the wrong way, I would enjoy the crudeness a bit more myself. Still, fundamentally, I agree with her that it’s a cheap way to get a laugh.

That said, I mentioned above that I would circle back to Arthur Carlson. He had two routines that were 100% sexual in nature. One was actually gross (if you attempted to visualize it). Yet, I laughed like hell at both (even the gross one), and even Lois chuckled at the gross one, and liked the other one a lot.

There were three things that made us/Lois react differently to Arthur’s sexual jokes than to most other such references:

  1. His delivery is so professional that you’re listening to a true joke teller, not someone just trying to deliver a crude one-liner.
  2. Both jokes were very inventive. The punch lines weren’t predictable, so it wasn’t shock value that made you laugh, it was the imagery and the comedic absurdity of what he was saying.
  3. It was a change of pace for him. Since he was able to tell a bunch of clean jokes too, telling a clever sexual joke caught the audience more off guard than when they are coming at you one after another.

While this isn’t really Lois’ idea of a perfect night out, we both had a really good time, and would recommend catching a theSet NYC show to anyone who is interested in seeing fresh talent, in good quantity, in reasonably contained sets (in case any one performer isn’t to your liking), in a very pleasant and supportive atmosphere. If it’s in the Gallery Bar at Le Poisson Rouge, then we can recommend the food and drink very highly as well!

Thanks again to Pim for reaching out, and to Leo (the producer of the show) for making it happen!

Leo

Leo