March, 2010:

Amy Rivard at Metropolitan Room

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We’ve seen Amy Rivard perform twice before. I covered those in blog posts that you can read here and here. One was a Livestrong fundraiser and the other an intimate set in a small club in Astoria.

Last night was Amy’s official NYC Cabaret debut at the beautiful Metropolitan Room. Here’s what I wrote about her after hearing her sing one song at the fundraiser:

Amy Rivard sang, accompanied by Alex Berger on the keyboards. Before I begin, let me take a deep breath, and say Oh My God! Seriously, Amy has such an extraordinary voice. Alex was worried that Amy might be late, because she was singing the National Anthem at the NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden last night. Holy cow, I can only imagine how awesome that must have been!

There was no way we were going to miss this show. Amy was on stage for 60 wonderful minutes. In addition to nailing every single song vocally and artistically, she was funny and personable in between songs, setting them up with stories from her travels and experiences around the world.

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Those travels included long stints with Riverdance and Celtic Woman. She performed in Tokyo Disney (for a year I think). She has her own YouTube channel called Candy Canadiana, where she shows off her comedic talent and creativity.

Last night’s show was a typical Cabaret, which I define as theatrical in nature (most of the numbers could be from a Broadway show). There’s generally a loose thread that moves you from one song/mood to the next, with stories explaining the shifts. There is a certain amount of acting/emoting during the songs, not just singing.

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Everything in the above paragraph plays to Amy’s strengths. She is one of the most incredible singers you will ever hear, but she can act, tell a story, move gracefully (though she poked fun of her dancing ability) and she can certainly make us laugh.

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She performed 13 numbers that ran the gamut from slow blues to the Mr. Softee song (no kidding, we all had to sing along with her during the last verse, she printed the words out for the audience) to opera!

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The first song we heard Amy sing was Taylor the Latte Boy, a song made famous by Kristen Chenoweth (one of our favorites). Last night, she sang a different number that Kristen does, The Girl in 14G. If you watched that Kristen YouTube video, then you understand my reference to Amy singing opera. She nailed it, just like Kristen does.

Amy sang one of her own songs as well, A Best Friend in Me (yes folks, she also writes some of her own material!). She sang a medley from the Sound of Music. Punctuated in that medley were a bunch of sharp barbs (both sung and spoken).

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Because Amy knows us (I’ll finish this post with how that came to be) she waved us in during her sound check (we always show up early). We heard bits of the Sound of Music medley without hearing the story introducing it. The snarky bits didn’t make sense to me whatsoever. During the show, when she set the context, it all made perfect sense and was another of Amy’s masterful performances.

That Amy isn’t starring in a top Broadway musical is a loss for all of us, mostly for whatever producer isn’t aware of what she would add to their production! We’ve see Wicked eight times. Eden Espinosa played Elphaba two of those times. She was perfect. We then saw Eden in a Cabaret show at Joe’s Pub (covered here). She didn’t deliver anywhere near the quality experience in a Cabaret show that she did on Broadway.

I would love to see Amy in the Elphaba role, so that I can prove (at least to myself) that she can cross over from perfect in a Cabaret, to perfect in a starring role on Broadway. Now, someone needs to make that happen for me, pretty please?

Ross Patterson accompanied Amy on the piano. He is an extraordinary pianist. He had to play as wide a range as Amy had to sing and was amazing throughout. He has accompanied the likes of Julia Murney as seen in this photo. He also plays regularly at Metropolitan Room, with his own band and accompanying others. Catch him if you can, he’s a complete delight in every respect.

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A Frenchman named JP did the lights and sound. I can honestly say that it was the best job of lighting I’ve seen in a club setting. His fade-outs and color changes complemented and enhanced the performance.

After hearing Amy the first two times, I reached out to her to ask if she would lend her voice to a project I produced for fun, a Tonight Show Tribute Song. I wrote the lyrics, Ben Schwartz wrote and performed all of the music and Amy Rivard sang, making us look good. 🙂

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Public Theater

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I am about to be pretty harsh in my review of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson which we saw last night at The Public Theater.

If you’re a fan of the show, you might want to turn away now. If you don’t like reading anything critical of anything or anybody, turn away now. I will only have one spoiler, and that has been covered in other public reviews as well.

In fact, if you want a balanced review by a trained professional that I largely agree with (in a purely artistic sense), please read The New York Times Review of the show instead of this one.

Final disclaimer before I dive in. I know that to many who read this I will come across as prudish and close-minded. For sure, I will come across as humorless. In fact, I have a completely puerile sense of humor. I laugh at the crudest jokes. Andrew Dice Clay used to kill me (as disgusting and misogynistic as he was/is).

Cursing doesn’t bother me. Bathroom humor cracks me up. In fact, I am the easiest target of most comedians, because I give full credit to whatever I perceive as the concept of the joke, even when the delivery/implementation flops.

So, what makes Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson the worst thing I’ve ever seen performed? Laziness and a general lack of creativity (though there are sparks of it hiding here and there).

The play/musical starts off with a bang. The first words out of the mouth of Andrew Jackson are a sexual vulgarity aimed at the specific audience watching that performance. Since it has no connection to the story, it serves two purposes (I will stop adding In My Opinion after this one, as I hope it is obvious that everything I say is my own, uneducated opinion):

  1. Shock the audience (possibly getting some titillating laughs in the process)
  2. Set the mood to allow an anything goes mindset for the rest of the show

It was downhill from there! Basically, the author has no idea what he wants to convey. That was poorly phrased. The author has no idea how to convey what was in his mind. The entire show is a disjointed collection of every known trick/technique for getting a rise out of an audience.

Every few seconds there is a vulgarity (not just garden variety ones, but some choice phrases that would perhaps even have Andrew Dice Clay blushing a bit).

Every few seconds there is some anachronistic device. Most are repeated until they have been beaten to death, even the ones that might otherwise have been clever. In almost every case, they add nothing to your understanding of the scene, they are merely gags.

Here is my one spoiler alert. It is fully covered in The New York Times review above, so if you read that, I’m not giving away anything. Even so, it has nothing to do with the story (though it is a setup for another joke at the end of the play).

There is a narrator for a part of the story. The narrator is in an electric wheelchair (one of the anachronistic devices). At some point Andrew Jackson tires of the narrator telling his tale, so he shoots her in the neck and she dies. Ha ha, we shot a cripple, aren’t we cool? No wait, I’m sure it was meant to show us just how Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson really was…

The anti-Indian humor is excessive and vulgar. Every person in the play is an overdrawn caricature. The majority of the men are portrayed as gay, or more effeminate than 95% of the gay male population is today, with our substantially more open attitudes.

Not to leave the women out of it, there is a very long kiss between two women on stage, just in case you weren’t titillated enough by the language and all of the pelvic thrusting throughout the rest of the show.

So, the playwright takes on disabled people, Indians, homosexuals, politicians, Spaniards, British, etc., all irreverently. If only it came across as irreverence, it might actually have been funny. Instead, it seems to be more of a stream of consciousness rant about Political Correctness.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the rant is meant to convey. Is it supposed to show us that PC is so deeply entrenched that we can’t help laugh (nervously?) when we abandon it completely? Or, are we meant to see how hurtful it is when we don’t practice PC?

Personally, I think that Political Correctness does more harm than good. It’s not used to educate narrow minded people about some of the hurtful things that they say (that would be great), it’s used to control and punish those who behave differently than what the people in charge determine to be acceptable.

If you spit on a Christian, burn the flag and ban Christmas, you’re exercising your right to free speech (you might even get a parade in your honor). Say one word about someone from Bora Bora and you’ll be sued, vilified, have your children suspended from school, etc.

Presumably, the ultimate point of this work is to make some strong political points about some very trying times during the early years of our Nation. That one may draw some strong parallels to some of the more difficult issues of our day (including the last decade or two) could also be interesting.

If you strung together those historical lessons and stripped them of the vulgarity, anachronisms and PC gags, the play might have lasted 10-15 minutes (no, I’m not kidding!). It would seem that a more effective writer could have taught some more lasting lessons by swapping the gags and history, still keeping a light-hearted sense of humor along the way.

To me, the story of Andrew Jackson’s rise was a plot device meant to loosely string together the most sophomoric, disconnected one-liners and sight gags ever collected in one place. Animal House is high art in comparison (yes, I think Animal House is a classically hysterical movie, so that wasn’t a put-down of Animal House!).

I have no idea how a play like this gets produced and put on for public consumption. I imagine that it didn’t start off this bad. In fact, in my speculative universe, I suspect that the first time it was seen in public, it received a rather dry reception (you know, history bores most people, since it happened so long ago…).

I bet that a few of the zingers got laughs. The next time the play was shown, they added a vulgarity or two. Enough people howled (shock value can’t be underestimated), and people around them were embarrassed not to be laughing, or laughed contagiously, so that the next time the play was put on, more of that had to be added.

At some point, the original intent of the play was completely lost, and it regressed to a crass commercial attempt to sucker an audience into laughing at things they would be crucified for participating in if they were on the street.

To repeat, if anyone said the things that were acted on the stage anywhere in the real world, the thought police would ostracize them and shut them down. Those same people have no trouble laughing out loud when hearing/seeing the same thing portrayed as art. It’s wildly hypocritical to me.

We have court battles over the names of football teams (Redskins, The Tribe, Seminoles, etc.). If the people who bring those suits see this play, I have to wonder whether they too wouldn’t be hypocritical and laugh their heads off, putting it all down to clever writing

After all, it’s the PC crowd that brings those kinds of suits, and those are also the people who feel that in art, anything goes.

So, is there nothing redeemable in this production? No!

There are a few very talented actors. I don’t blame them for taking the job, it’s not like even great actors (especially up-and-coming ones) can pick or choose jobs at will (even non-paying ones!).

I was most impressed by Lucas Near-Verbrugghe who played Martin Van Buren. While he played Van Buren in the most overtly gay manner of all of the performances, he had some brilliant flashes that showed tremendous range.

Kate Cullen Roberts had the best of the voices (a good portion of the show is delivered through emo rock songs).

Michael Dunn played a variety of roles (most of the actors played multiple roles, with the exception of Benjamin Walker who played Andrew Jackson). I was impressed with Michael and his range as well.

Jeff Hiller was another standout. His comedic flair in undeniable.

No one was bad as an actor, though a small number of those that sang would be better served never trying that again in the future.

Finally, and for some this will be the only important point, clearly, the play is provocative. Here I am spending a good deal of time writing about it. We went with a group of six people, and we certainly discussed it a bunch afterward.

That would be perfect, if we were discussing the concepts conveyed, even if we wildly disagreed. Unfortunately, we were mostly discussing how far off the mark it was. Still, better than being instantly forgettable…

Lost and Found Karma

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In 2000, my most trusted device was my Blackberry. This was before Blackberrys were also cell phones. This was only an email device. It was perfect for my needs, and I loved it.

I went on a trip to San Francisco and I knew before I left that my belt clip was very loose. I ignored the danger and paid the price. After crossing a very large street I got into a cab and when I arrived at my hotel, I realized that the Blackberry was gone. I had dropped it on that street and didn’t notice.

I prayed that it was crushed by a car rather than picked up by a malicious stranger. This was a primitive device that couldn’t be remotely wiped, etc.

I fired up my laptop in the hotel and emailed my device, on the off chance that a good Samaritan picked it up. Unfortunately for me, we were leaving at the crack of dawn and couldn’t change that.

A few (tense) hours later, I received an email from a young man who said he had my Blackberry, that he was out for the evening and that he would drop it at the front desk on his way home. He did, at 2:30am, and I had it back in my loving hands when we checked out of the hotel at 6am.

I called him and asked him what I could get him, and after being unsuccessful at getting Giants tickets (they were sold out on the dates he could go), I got him a gift certificate to Amazon. We were both delighted with the result.

Last night we had dinner at our favorite restaurant, The Peking Duck House. Two of our friends from Richmond, VA were in town for the weekend with their friends. We met their friends for the first time in front of the restaurant.

After saying hello, the first words out of my new friend’s mouth (we already love our friends’ friends, they are amazing people) was “I hear you’re technical” to which I answered “Correct”. He handed me an iPhone and told me that his wife discovered it on the back seat of the cab that they came in. He wanted to know if I could figure out who it belonged to.

I’m a Motorola Droid person now (a fanatic in fact) and prior to that had a variety of Palm Treo devices for eight years, so I know zero about the iPhone. I have to admit that as lovely as the interface is, it wasn’t obvious what I should look for to determine its owner.

I immediately found the person’s phone number, but that was useless, as it would have rung the phone that was in our hands. The phone was not in service and I didn’t try to figure out how to turn that back on, largely because it was nearly out of battery.

We did what seemed like a clever idea and called a number that the phone had called a few hours earlier. Unfortunately, the person on the other end had no idea who called them at 4:12pm, and asked us to call back from the actual iPhone, in the hopes that the contact name/photo would pop up for them and they’d know. See above for why we didn’t do that.

I then opened the email program and looked at the To: field (I figured out I had to press the little details link on the top right) to see who the emails were addressed to. Bingo!

I then used my Droid to email the person from our table. Less than five minutes later I got a reply with a request to call. I did, and we arranged for him to pick up his phone with my doorman later that night.

He asked if he could bring me a bottle of wine and I told him the above story (a shorter version) and said that he should bring me nothing, as I finally felt that I paid off my Karmic debt to the universe’s Lost and Found box.

This afternoon I returned from a long walk in the city to see that he didn’t heed my request. There was a lovely bottle of wine waiting for me. I appreciate it as much as my young friend appreciated the Amazon gift certificate!

Of course, I feel a little guilty. While I did figure out whose phone it was, and did make the connection and the handoff, I’m not the one who actually found the phone. If my new friend wants the wine, I will gladly give it to him as he was the actual good Samaritan in this tale. Perhaps we’ll find the time to drink it together before they all head back to Richmond. 🙂

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our (lucky?) 13th time at a CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub. There was a very special guest star, announced well in advance, which made them sell out even sooner than they usually do (and they always sell out!).

In order to give the special guest, Dierks Bentley a little more time with the crowd, they only had four performers rather than the more typical five (though I’m just guessing at the reason).

For the first time in our experience, Bob DiPiero (the host of the series) sat at the left end rather than the middle.

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Going from left to right:

Bob DiPiero is always a crowd favorite. I’m convinced that he could show up himself, and most of the people that attend these shows would come anyway. There’s no doubt that he’s written huge hits, and that many are great songs, but for as large a catalog as he has, he doesn’t vary it all that much from show to show (for my taste). I don’t blame him, as every morsel gets eaten up by the audience, so he’s playing to the heart of his fans.

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David Lee Murphy played guitar and sang. We saw David Lee once before on September 9th, 2008 at one of these shows. He was excellent that night, as he was last night again. He’s a polished performer with a lot of hits. As I mentioned in my post the last time we saw him, he’s funny, but lower key than many of the others who come to this series.

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Dierks Bentley played guitar and sang. We saw Dierks at Madison Square Garden on October 21st, 2009 when he opened for Brad Paisley. I covered that show in this post. If you read that, you know that Dierks was great that night. We were extremely excited to see him at our favorite club, in an intimate environment.

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He didn’t disappoint that expectation, in that he was amazingly personable, funny, and he played a nice selection of his hits. Unfortunately, it wasn’t magical, since he was fighting some sort of throat condition (cold?) and as he himself pointed out, his voice wasn’t coming out as he and we all know it to be (he really has an excellent voice).

Jim Beavers played guitar and sang. Jim is incredibly funny in a totally self-deprecating manner. He was the target of both Bob and Dierks the entire evening, and he held his own both pushing back and piling on himself. He has written a number of hits and performed them well last night.

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It was a fun show, with a slightly higher banter-to-music ratio than normal (something we both appreciate) with a very appreciative crowd. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd alone would have made it an event you wouldn’t want to miss, but for my money, the quality of the music itself last night was below the norm for these shows.

Vienna Teng, Rosi Golan and Ari Hest at Rockwood Music Hall

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On Tuesday night we saw Vienna Teng perform at Parkside Lounge. I detailed the show in this post. Two points to carry over from that night: 1) Vienna tailored the set list for the audience/venue and 2) She played 100% solo. Last night showed her flexibility in mixing it up.

If you’re a fan of an artist or a venue, I highly encourage you to find as many ways to follow them on the Internet (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Buzz, etc.). You never know when a last minute show will be announced, or the artist might appear under a pseudonym, etc.

On March 19th, Vienna tweeted the following:

Gig alert: NYC, Linz Ho plays Rockwood again Wed 3/24, w/band no less. Then to SF to join Paper Raincoat @ Noe Valley Ministry, Fri 3/26!

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that it’s possible that Linz Ho was going to be Vienna herself. A little digging could easily confirm that. We knew we’d be there.

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Yesterday afternoon, when checking the Rockwood Music Hall site to see who was on before Vienna I noticed that right after her (I mean, right after Linz Ho) were Ari Hest and Rosi Golan appearing together, as a new group called The Open Sea. A couple of hours later, Rosi tweeted the same thing, so I had two chances to discover their last-minute engagement.

Vienna was back on a grand piano last night. Her set list was excellent. Constructed from memory, so excuse any lapses:

The Drugs Don’t Work (a cover of The Verve), Blue Caravan, I Don’t Feel So Well, The Last Snowfall (with Ari Hest), accompanying Ari Hest on one of his songs, [Update: I knew I missed at least one, she played a new song co-written with ambeR Rubarth called Everything’s Fine], 1 Br / 1 Ba, Augustine, City Hall

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Vienna closed the show with City Hall, which was the first time in the nine times we’ve seen her perform that she didn’t close with Grandmother Song. City Hall was an excellent choice, and she continues to keep us on our toes. 🙂

The song that Ari sang during her set was a song he debuted during a Vienna set in January that I covered in this post. He didn’t write the lyrics on his hand this time, and therefore didn’t need to use a candle to see them (a shame, because that was a very cool visual effect!).

Here they are singing The Last Snowfall together:

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Vienna apologized for not having prepared enough in January to accompany him that night (to her standards, as none of us noticed anything other than excellent piano playing on her part). She was determined to rectify that, and she did. Her piano was incredible on this song, and I encourage Ari to get her to record with him whenever he gets this track into the studio.

Even though she performed under a pseudonym, Rockwood was packed. In contrast with the act on before her (which I’ll cover briefly at the end of this post), people were hanging on her every word/sound, meaning, it was a quiet and respectful crowd.

The band referred to above turned out to be:

Melissa Tong on violin (and even harmony on one number, which was a huge and pleasant surprise!). Melissa is always top-notch and last night was no exception.

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Doug Yowell on drums. I think this was the first time that Doug has played with Vienna. [Update: Vienna’s manager informed me that Doug has played with her before, and is in fact on the live DVD which we own, but haven’t watched yet. Thanks Amy!] He was excellent throughout the set, and did a very nice job on the potentially difficult Augustine, which has a lot of drama (should that be drumma?) 😉 in it.

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In the middle of one her songs, Vienna forced Doug to take a dual solo. While continuing to play the drums alone, she made him do his rendition of John Wayne’s drunken commencement speech. When he hit the punch lines, the crowd was hysterical. It took a while to compose ourselves, even when Vienna was singing again. Well done! 🙂

We’ve only gotten to see Rosi Golan and Ari Hest perform briefly. In addition to Ari’s song with Vienna in January, both he and Rosi performed at the Haiti Benefit which I covered in this post. Both had a full band, and it was a pretty crazy night with so many performers rotating throughout the show.

At the Haiti Benefit, Rosi won the raffle for a high-end Martin guitar, signed by all of the performers (including Rosi, Ari and Vienna!). She debuted it in public last night, and here’s Ari making a surgical adjustment to it before it was formally introduced to live play:

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Last night was a perfect setting to see each (and both) perform to their true abilities. We were sitting two feet from them (literally). They are each headlining performers (solo and with full bands) in their own right. They also have a side project together, called The Open Sea. This show highlighted The Open Sea, but each did a few of their own numbers as well, with Ari doing one solo.

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Both Rosi and Ari have exceptional voices. I can’t describe how well they go together, you’ll simply have to make it to a show to be placed under their spell. I already told you how quiet the crowd was for Vienna, the same was true for Ari and Rosi, because the thought of missing a single note was inconceivable.

They performed four numbers that they co-wrote for The Open Sea. They played at least another four of their individual songs (photo of the napkin set list appears below). Ari finger-picked the guitar on all but one song, and this is the first time I got a chance to notice and appreciate what a wonderful guitar player he is.

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Rosi complained that she had SXSW Voice, a condition caused by having to give so many interviews and performances in a short time, often yelling over tons of incredibly loud music. While it may have felt awful inside of her, it sounded as sweet as could be externally. Rosi will be headlining The Highline Ballroom on April 22nd, and I encourage you to run (not walk) to get tickets and make it to that show!

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In the fall, Alex Berger told me that I needed to buy Rosi’s CD The Drifter and the Gypsy. I dawdled longer than I should have, but bought it a few months ago. Wow! The entire CD is fantastic. The opening song, Think of Me, grabs me every time I listen to it. It was just featured in the new movie Dear John. Excellent choice on the part of the producers of the film!

Think of Me is available for you to listen to on Rosi’s MySpace page (linked above). Do yourself a favor and check out my claim. 🙂

Ari Hest just finished recording and mixing a new CD. It was produced by the extraordinary Alex Wong. Given how much I love The Paper Raincoat, Alex Berger’s Snow Globe and Vienna Teng and Alex Wong’s Inland Territory CDs (all produced by Alex Wong!), I can’t wait to get my hands on Ari’s CD when it finally lands.

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The Open Sea is working on a new EP. I can’t wait for that either. Why are you folks eating and sleeping, when I have a need to listen to your new music over and over?!? 😉

To repeat my point from the introduction to this post, if I didn’t follow Vienna on Twitter, I would be reading someone else’s account of last night’s show, rather than sharing these extraordinary memories with the rest of you, having experienced them first hand!

Rockwood is a fantastic place to see live music. Unfortunately, it’s small and has very few seats. We would stand for Vienna, Rosi and Ari, but we much prefer to sit (much). So, I looked up the act that was on before Vienna, and we decided to catch that set as well, in the hopes of snagging a seat we could hang on to throughout the night.

Bryan Dunn played with a full band, singing lead vocals and playing both acoustic and electric guitar. Most songs were a driving rock style with Bryan singing his heart out. He played rhythm on his acoustic (mostly) but took some nice leads on his electric. He has a great personality on stage and comes across like a very nice guy.

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Jim McNamara played an upright bass. He blew me away. I can’t say that I recall an upright bass being used by a mostly rock ‘n roll band, but Jim made it work perfectly. A few times he played leads in harmony with Bryan’s guitar. Some of those licks were pretty darn fast, and he nailed every one of them!

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Craig Greenberg played the piano and sang some harmony vocals. Craig did a solid job on both, and Bryan gave him a few leads to stretch himself on the piano.

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Chris Benelli played the drums. This was the first time that Chris played with Bryan Dunn, and he did a very nice job.

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Here’s a shot of their set list:

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We enjoyed their music, though it was a bit loud given how close we were to the stage. The only surprise (mentioned to contrast the quiet we experienced for Vienna, Rosi and Ari) is that people took the opportunity to talk to each other too much for our taste during Bryan’s set.

To make matter worse, because the music was so loud (which is what I think makes people feel that it’s OK to talk, heck, no one will hear them, right?), they had to scream at each other, which of course, then makes it easy to hear them.

Amazingly, a number of the worst offenders were personal friends of Bryan, who obviously came out to support him. He closed the show with a cool song where the audience sings and he responds. Two tables filled with his friends (one included his wife) did a fantastic job of singing and making the song a ton of fun. One of those tables was filled with people who talked throughout the rest of his set.

Oh well…

Another fantastic night out! 🙂

Vienna Teng at Parkside Lounge

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Ignorance is bliss, at least it was last night. 🙂

On March 14th, our friend @HappyBee3 tweeted the following:

Wow nice line up! RT @chrisayer: Added NYC show March 23 w/ @viennateng & Rachael Sage at Parkside Lounge!

I had never heard of Parkside Lounge before, but I made a mental note to see the show for three reasons:

  1. Vienna Teng (OK, I didn’t really need any more reasons) 😉
  2. Rachael Sage (we saw her at Joe’s Pub and I enjoyed her show)
  3. Chris Ayer (@HappyBee3 saw him at Canal Room and tweeted her love for the show, so I was really looking forward to catching Chris, as @HappyBee3 has very good taste in music!)

The show was listed on Parkside’s calendar as: “Stanford University Alumni Showcase”. Tickets were not available for purchase, so it seemed like a free show, with a likely drink minimum. I knew Vienna graduated from Stanford, and I assumed so did Rachael and Chris, and this was a bit of fun to bill their show as such.

That was the ignorance part. We showed up and it turns out it was run by Stanford in Entertainment, with the audience all being Stanford Alums, as were all of the performers. Oops!

The ladies who put on the event were so nice to us and let us in. We made a donation to their “Raise Money for Haiti” drive (we would have anyway) and bought a few drinks (which had to help out Parkside, etc.). It’s possible that we were the only two non-Stanford alums in the very crowded audience.

Vienna closed the show, but since I nearly always cover performers in reverse order, and since we mostly showed up for her, I’ll stay with my tradition.

We’ve seen Vienna perform seven times before (hence, reason #1 above). This was the first time she performed every number solo. It’s also the first time we’ve seen her on an electronic keyboard (I’ve seen her play one on YouTube videos, but live, it’s always been a grand piano until last night). It’s not that the sound of the electronic keyboards is different, it’s the visual aspect of the performance.

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When Vienna plays on a grand, you have a profile view of her at best. For many, she’s nearly completely obscured. When she plays the electronic keyboards, she’s center stage, facing the audience. Vienna is an emotive singer, so the full-on view is very welcome.

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She’s always very warm and engaging with the audience, but this was a special audience, with many shared experiences and memories. There were inside jokes (that everyone but us got). Vienna gave longer introductions to a few songs, something we love to hear, so that too was a treat.

She chose a very fitting set list for both the audience and the venue (in our opinion). She was a bit worried that she wouldn’t pull off the magic in The Last Snowfall, since her looping machine was on a stool, much lower than normal. She needn’t have worried, it was perfect!

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I know a number of her fans really want a set list from each show. I’m probably missing one or two, but here’s what I recall (not necessarily in order!):

Whatever You Want, Blue Caravan, 1 Br / 1 Ba, Soon Love Soon, The Last Snowfall, Grandmother Song

ViennaTengGrandmotherSong

Amazingly, as much we love every one of those, there are many of our favorites that she didn’t play, hence my remark about her tailoring the set list to the specific crowd/venue.

Next up was Rachael Sage. When we saw her at Joe’s Pub, she had a full band, which included the mind-bogglingly brilliant Dave Eggar. It was a holiday show, and she played significantly more upbeat numbers that night.

RachaelSage

Last night she was solo, on Vienna’s keyboards. She has an excellent voice, and plays the piano wonderfully. She cracks me up to no end (very quick, witty, inventive). Unfortunately, she too crafted her set list specifically for last night’s show, and the choice didn’t sit as well with us. Her songs were darker, a bit less melodic. I still got a kick out of seeing her, and laughing a bunch, but for my taste, the show at Joe’s was substantially more to my liking.

Chris opened the show. He’s a superb guitarist. He’s a lefty, but I won’t hold that against him. 😉 He has a wonderful voice, and writes very interesting songs. Excellent stage presence.

ChrisAyer

For 2/3’s of his numbers he had Matt Simons join him. Matt played electronic keyboards and sang a lot of harmony. Their voices blended beautifully!

MattSimons

Chris played a few solo numbers in the middle of the set. For the last two songs he was also joined by Morgan Holland (sorry, couldn’t find a good link for her). Here’s a YouTube video of her singing with Chris at Capital Ale House (a lot of background noise…).

MattSimonsMorganHolland

Stanford Alums, sorry we crashed your party, but thanks for being so warm and thanks to Vienna, Rachael, Chris, Matt and Morgan for making the evening so enjoyable!

Parkside Lounge is a very nice venue. We’ll be happy to return there whenever we get the chance!

Girlyman at Southern Cafe

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Another night, another Girlyman concert. This one was in Charlottesville, at the relatively new The Southern Cafe. This used to be Gravity Lounge. It changed hands and was gutted on the inside.

Last night was the final show in the current East Coast tour for Girlyman. I can only imagine how exhausted they were. Thankfully, none of that was projected on the audience, as they performed with incredible energy over two sets.

All of the praise I heaped on them for the show the previous night applied last night. They varied the set list a lot, with at least half of the songs swapped from the night before. Their banter was almost 100% fresh. One of the reasons that this is almost always true for Girlyman is that they feed off the crowd’s reactions. They might start with a seed that they have in mind, or have used in a previous show, but each audience will take them in a completely different direction.

DorisMuramatsu

There were more, and longer tuning songs last night. Not because Ty and Doris had more trouble tuning, but because they got stuck (in the best sense) on a particular theme/interplay and drove a truck through it at every opportunity.

NateBorofsky

Girlyman audiences are among the best, at every venue, on a consistent basis. They are true fans who make unreal noise between songs, and are reverently quiet during songs. That’s all you can hope for.

TyGreensteinMandolin

They played a 45-minute set and took a break to sign merch and mingle with the audience (exactly like they did the night before at Jammin’ Java). They returned for a 70-minute set including a three song encore.

JJJones

The first song in the encore was the Girlyman Benediction. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen them do it live, and it was fantastic (as it always is). In addition to their normal antics during the song (e.g., Doris does the belly-rubbing and head-patting motions at one point), adding JJ Jones to the mix (the newest Girlyman) was hysterical. She was balancing drumsticks and water bottles, making it very hard to look anywhere else to see what the rest of them were doing. 🙂

JJJonesBalancingDrumSticks JJJonesWaterBottle

Next they played the other encore favorite, Son of a Preacher Man, which has also been a while since we’ve seen it. They closed the show with the amazing a cappella number, Up to the Sea (from the new CD) like they did the night before.

GirlymanACappella

After the show Nate signed their latest CD for our friends. Lois bought one of their Everything’s Easy T-Shirts (for me, since they were out of her size).

NateBorofskySigningCD NateBorofskyWithFans

ModelingMyT-Shirt

Opening the show was Andy Moore. We missed the beginning of Andy’s set (my rant about that will come in a minute) but caught her last two numbers. She has a beautiful voice and accompanies herself well on an acoustic guitar. Very moving lyrics.

AndyMoore

Lois made up for our guilt of missing her entire set by buying two of her CDs, so we now have a chance to get to know her music better. We also spend a lot of time in Richmond, where she’s based, so we might get to catch one of her shows there.

The Southern Cafe is still relatively new, so it’s important to cut them some slack while they get their sea legs. On the other hand, I’ll still rant a bit in the hopes of sparing someone else what happened to us, and encouraging The Southern to get it together a bit more quickly than they seem to be.

The show was listed for 8pm, with doors opening at 7pm. We wrote in advance because the website is one of the things that hasn’t quite gotten fleshed out yet. They wrote back saying that the opening act would come on at 8pm, with Girlyman hitting the stage at around 8:30pm.

We arrived at 6:20pm, and our guests arrived at 6:30, exactly when we asked them to. The doors to the cafe were already open (very welcome, since it was drizzling outside). We tried multiple times to order dinner, and each time were politely told that they wouldn’t be taking orders until roughly 7pm (fine, that’s when the doors were officially supposed to open).

They did indeed take our order at 7pm. Even though it’s traditional southern style comfort food (I had an amazing pulled pork sandwich with equally amazing sides of mac ‘n cheese and slaw), it took forever to come out. The good news is that the food is good enough so that you should go there for lunch or dinner even if you’re not interested in the music.

Unfortunately, while eating our food (which got to the table at around 7:35), we heard some applause. We ignored it while we ate, but then Lois got curious. She went to check it out, and it turns out that Andy Moore came on at 7:30. No announcement was made in the cafe part that we were sitting in. We wolfed down the rest of the food and caught the end of her set.

Summary: The Southern Cafe is going to be a great venue for both food and music once they get their act together. You should still attend now, because the overall evening was fantastic, but, be aware that things might not be perfectly smooth, or as advertised, for the time being.

Girlyman at Jammin Java

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Last night was our 14th time seeing Girlyman perform. Tonight will be our 15th and I’ll write about that tomorrow. 🙂

From March to October each year, we tend to see Girlyman in bursts, keeping our need/desire in check. Most years, we have a Girly-drought from October to March. It’s a rough patch, aptly named Winter, and we were happy to officially declare our version of Spring last night!

We were pleased and surprised to see Girlyman book Jammin’ Java. For the past two years, they have played The Barns at Wolf Trap this time of the year (on their VA visit). The Barns seats 400 people and Girlyman has sold out both times they’ve appeared there. We love The Barns, but the more intimate, the more we like it.

We’ve been to Jammin’ Java once before, covered in this post. We liked everything about that evening, including the food quality and selection. While that show was reasonably well attended, it didn’t prepare us for trying to accommodate Girlyman’s fans in this smaller venue.

Gone were the tables that were set up near the stage (making it easy to sit up close and still eat comfortably). Instead, they had rows of seats (theater style) from the stage all the way back to the bar area. People sat on the floor (lots of people) wherever there wasn’t a chair. Many more people stood behind the chairs all the way back to the entrance.

Jammin’ Java earned it’s name a few times over last night. First, while waiting for the seating to begin, the smell of their fresh brewed coffees was intoxicating. One of our guests commented to me that he would need to have some as dessert. We did. We got Lattes to go after the show was over and drank them on our way back to Fredericksburg.

Next there’s the intended meaning of Jammin’, the music. Wow, Girlyman was/were their usual extraordinary selves. Finally, people were literally Jammed into every opening, and no one seemed to mind in the least. We were all just happy to be part of the music and the energy (and the comedy) that is Girlyman.

So, why we do go to see groups that we love this many times, and often go out of our way to do it? The easy, obvious answer, which is 100% true is that we want to support (financially and emotionally) the groups that we love. But that’s not the whole answer.

The live experience brings with it a joy that is qualitatively different than listening to the CDs (which is something we also do a lot). With a group that has a large a catalogue like Girlyman, each show has a number of unique elements to it, even on back-to-back nights on the same tour. Then there’s also the inevitable moment of discovery, when they perform something on stage we’ve never heard, or they tell a story and reveal something we were unaware of, and our love of them deepens further.

There were a number of examples last night. We had an opportunity four months ago to tell Ty how much we love the song Could Have Guessed (on the new CD, Everything’s Easy). Last night, before playing it, we got our first shout out from them, as Ty dedicated the song to us. Cool!

TyGreenstein TyGreensteinGuitar TyGreensteinDjembe

Ty told a story that we hadn’t heard before they played Young James Dean (a song we’ve seen them perform many times). She said she was inspired to write that song when she read The Last Time I Wore a Dress. Lois told me when we left that she wants to read the book.

They played a few songs we hadn’t heard them play live, including one we’ve simply never heard before, because they haven’t recorded it yet. They were:

  • St. Stephen, a song Ty co-wrote with Nate in 2006. I could feel Lois tingling throughout the song, her reaction was that palpable.
  • For the first song in the encore, Doris sang a cover of Loretta Lynn’s Fist City. We love country music, and it was fun to hear Girlyman’s take on this song.
  • They closed the encore with Up to the Sea, a stunning a capella number on the new CD. The music is by Beethoven, Nate wrote the lyrics. The three of them bunched up together and shared one microphone. We’ve listened to the song many times on the CD, but have never seen them perform it. It was magical. You couldn’t hear a rustle (let alone a whisper) in the crowd.

GirlymanACapella

Girlyman now officially has a fourth member, JJ Jones on the drums. We’ve seen JJ play with Girlyman twice before, but she was actually the full-time drummer for the opening band, Po’ Girl each of those nights, also sitting in with Girlyman.

JJ is an incredible drummer who adds a nice depth/dimension to Girlyman. Many of Girlyman’s songs have a full drum set on the CD version, so it’s quite natural to hear that full sound on stage as well.

JJJones

During Young James Dean, JJ was beyond awesome. I am grateful that I know the song so well, because I might have missed it given that I was fixated for much of it on JJ. I wasn’t alone in my awe. The second the song was over, before Ty even thanked the audience for their wild applause, she turned to JJ and introduced her, and said something to effect of “Wow, thanks JJ!”. Thank you indeed!

JJJonesDrums

JJ also was perfect on the always upbeat Joyful Sign, a song that really benefits from strong drumming. JJ never speaks on stage. Well, she never used to speak on stage. Nate asked her a question last night, which JJ typically answers with a particular drum roll. Last night she said “Yes”. Nate was as flabbergasted as the rest of us. 😉

NateBorofsky NateBorofskySinging

The other thing that Girlyman did wisely last night was not have an opening act. While we have discovered some of our favorite bands by accidentally hearing them when they were opening acts, sometimes it’s better to skip it.

DorisMuramatsu DorisMuramatsuTuning

Girlyman was in effect their own opening act. They performed a 45-minute set and then broke for an intermission. They did something we are not accustomed to seeing (even in our few previous 2-set evenings seeing them). They came out during intermission to say hi to the fans and to sign merch and take photos. It’s a wonderful touch, especially for people who need to hit the road the minute the show is over and can’t wait in long lines no matter how badly they want to.

GirlymanAndDjango

When they returned to the stage, they played a 70-minute set, including the above-mentioned two-song encore. An absolutely wonderful evening, as I’m sure tonight will be as well. If you’re anywhere within driving distance of Charlottesville, VA, come see the magic at The Southern Cafe.

Here’s our gang (minus us) from last night:

OurGang

NginX and WordPress OpenID Plugin

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I normally have super powers when it comes to persevering through annoying technical problems. On rare occasions, Kryptonite appears out of nowhere and strips me of those powers.

This blog is powered by WordPress.org software. I use a variety of plugins to make my life a bit easier. One of my favorites is the OpenID WordPress Plugin. I’ve been using it since it first came out and I’m very happy with it.

Because I was using it from the beginning, I lived through a few rough upgrades (not complaining, just explaining). The problems always got sorted out quickly.

Back in June 2008 (yes, a long time ago), I switched from Apache to NginX and have never looked back. The trickiest part of switching a WordPress site (especially WordPress MU, even more so with BuddyPress installed!) is converting the Rewrite Rules that are typically stored in a .htaccess file into nginx syntax.

While I got my initial attempt to work, I’ve grown way more comfortable and familiar with nginx over the past year, and I’ve tweaked my rewrite rules quite a bit.

Along the way, there were numerous updates of the OpenID Plugin as well. Most times things just kept working. Once, OpenID stopped working, and I tried to track it down. I gave up pretty quickly because I had seen that behavior before with an individual update of the plugin. Sure enough, the next update got me working again.

Then at some point, it stopped again. At this point I had conditioned myself to ignore it, and I went back to logging in with a password (something I really prefer not to do). This lasted for months. At some point, the plugin got updated at least twice, and things still didn’t work for me. Now I was getting annoyed.

I stopped trying to use OpenID. Two days ago I tried again, I can’t explain why. I got a strange Google Toolbar redirect error message. I did a search, and someone was complaining about something that looked similar, but had nothing to do with WordPress. A Google employee responded to him that he should temporarily disable the Toolbar (in Firefox) and see if the problem went away.

I decided to try that and instead of a strange Google error, I simply got a 404. What? A simple 404 couldn’t be the plugin’s fault. Time to dig in (finally).

I turned on nginx debugging and tried to log in. I was shocked when I saw that the error had nothing to do with the plugin. Instead, my nginx rules weren’t even calling in to PHP to let the plugin do its work.

Without a doubt, I had an error in one of my rewrite rules in nginx. There’s a possibility that at some point, the plugin changed the way it redirects, so that it was a combination of a new URL coming back to me (that I wasn’t catching correctly) or simply one of my changes in nginx, without the plugin doing anything different.

I added a new rule and was able to log in (for the first time in over six months!) via OpenID.

In this case, I let my own normal persistence fade, because I incorrectly assumed that the problem was contained in the plugin. Shame on me!

Ian Axel at Joe’s Pub

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We’ve seen Ian Axel perform three full sets before, plus a few songs at the New York Sings for Haiti benefit and some guest appearances. Still, we were looking forward to last night with great anticipation.

Joe’s Pub is our favorite NYC spot to see a show, and Ian is one of our few current obsessions, so having the chance to see him headline at our favorite place was a real treat.

The show was sold out (no surprise). Ian put out a new CD, This is the New Year, on January 5th. The title track video has become a music-lover’s destination on YouTube, with over 61,000 hits at the time I’m writing this.

I’m sure there were a few guests in the audience who hadn’t heard Ian’s music before, but from the roar and claps three notes into most songs, clearly the overwhelming majority were quite familiar with his material.

Ian is an exceptional pianist with an electrifying voice, who happens to write great songs. As great as his music is in our iPod, his performances are better for the energy that emanates from Ian, through his every pore.

IanAxel1

He opened the show with Waltz [Intro] (a solo classical piece for piano) with the band in the shadows standing quietly watching like the rest of us. Just like on the album, [Intro] flows directly into Waltz, where the band comes alive and everybody starts to tingle.

He played all but two or three of the songs on This is the New Year. He also played Say Something on the ukulele. That song isn’t on his CD or EP, but we’ve seen him perform it before, and I know a few people who tear up each time they hear it! (You know who you are!)

IanAxelUkulele

Toward the end of the set, Chad Vaccarino stepped onto the stage. It’s hard to describe how much noise (and joy) can be generated by the roughly 200 people that were stuffed into Joe’s Pub. Obviously, there was no secret as to what the next song was going to be. Chad was rightfully overwhelmed.

ChadVaccarino

Chad is Ian’s manager. He sings lead in one verse and harmony on the others with Ian on This is the New Year. He’s our hero because he’s the one who convinced Ian to start singing. Before that, Ian was just a piano player.

Chad is self-deprecating about his singing style (he sings wonderfully and expressively!), but the most interesting part is that he’s perfectly matched in his energy with Ian, and it all comes across in This is the New Year!

ChadVaccarinoSinging

Two of Ian’s core band members were on hand with two additions.

Chris Anderson played bass and a bit of harmony. We like a lot of bass players, Chris included. But, as with Chad, Chris is perfectly matched with Ian. He has an emotive, energetic style on stage, and he’s fast enough to keep up with some of Ian’s more challenging riffs. Chris is always a joy to watch and listen to.

ChrisAnderson

Adam Christgau on drums and a bit of harmony. We missed Adam the night before at Highline Ballroom (covered in this post, where I specifically mention that). I’ve noted many times that Adam always matches his drumming to the artist and song, but that much of Ian’s music allows Adam to let out his wild child a bit. He was as tight and good as always last night!

AdamChristgau HadarAdamChristgau

(No, I wasn’t drunk or high, just a little cold. We bumped into Adam before the show while we were on line.) 😉

Adam Tressler was a new addition (for us) playing electric guitar and a bit of harmony. I didn’t hear quite enough to have a strong opinion, but the little I heard was quite nice. Ian’s music doesn’t tend to highlight solo guitars (which is fine) but Adam supported the rest well enough.

AdamTressler

Dave Eggar played the cello on most of the songs. I covered him extensively in yesterday’s post (linked three paragraphs above), so I won’t get too repetitious here. This is the first time we’ve seen Dave sit in with Ian, so the comments I made about how well he blended with ambeR on such short notice probably apply here.

After the show, I accidentally crossed paths with Dave Eggar as he was leaving. I got to say the following to him (100% heartfelt!): “You are perhaps the greatest musician I’ve seen live, on any instrument!”. The fact that his instrument is a cello astounds even me, and I said it! Obviously, that’s a wildly subjective statement, but I’ll let it stand.

Given how active Dave is on stage, and how dark Joe’s Pub is, there wasn’t a single photo of Dave that was worth sharing from last night. 🙁

Ian closed the show with a song that the audience sang along on the chorus. As the song went on, the band left the stage and Ian started playing the piano softer and softer, until the audience was singing with no accompaniment. At that point, Ian slipped off the stage too. The audience was supposed to keep singing (I suppose), but instead erupted in whoops and claps until Ian came out again.

For his encore, he performed Home which also isn’t on the CD or EP (YouTube video of Home) accompanied only by Dave Eggar. A very emotional way to end a spectacular night.

One of the more amazing things is watching the band when they play with Ian. It’s obvious (to me at least) that they are huge fans and aren’t just there to pick up a paycheck (though what indie musician doesn’t desperately need one of those?). They are as happy as we are to be a part of the evening, though their part is just a tad more integral and difficult than ours is.

In case you doubt me when I say how much energy they put into the show, I’ll try and prove that assertion. Ian broke a piano string during the performance. A few minutes later, Adam cracked a drumstick.

I can’t name names, but someone was kind enough to make sure that we got both the piano string and the drumstick as mementos. We’re grateful for that, and we’re willing to share our booty/bounty with the rest of you (at least through these pictures):

PosterBrokenPianoStringDrumstick BrokenPianoStringDrumstick

Greg Holden opened for Ian. We’ve seen Greg a number of times before, and his music continues to grow on me. He started the set a bit more mellow than usual but it had a nice feel. He got more energetic throughout the set.

GregHolden

Ian joined him for one number (just piano, no harmony). Nate Campany joined Greg for one number as well, also just piano. Greg said that he co-wrote that song with Nate.

Dave Eggar joined Greg for two numbers. No such thing as “too much Dave”!

Greg also joined Ian on Say Something. Greg sat at the piano, but didn’t play it (during the song), singing very soft harmony. Before the song started, Greg tickled the keys a bit, threatening to start a couple of Ian songs (including This is the New Year), and Ian retaliated by starting a Greg song on the ukulele. The crowd was in stitches.

Apparently, Ian is giving Greg piano lessons. Even though he only played a few notes, I bet he’ll master it in the not-too-distant future.

After the show, Lois bought a few more T-Shirts (we already had two) and posters. If you’ve watched the video (if you haven’t, shame on you) then you might recognize that Lois had one of the women in the video model the poster for us (and now you):

PosterModel

You have two chances to catch Ian on the East Coast before he heads out west. In Philadelphia at Tin Angel this Sunday, then on March 12th at Nightcat in Easton, MD. If you can, do it, you won’t regret it!