May, 2010:

Ian Axel and Joey Ryan at Rockwood Music Hall

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We had a big birthday celebration weekend for Lois. I just put up a short blog (OK, short for me) about The Addams Family which we saw on Friday night. Last night, we had a special dinner at the Peking Duck House, and I will write about that in the next couple of days.

We pushed the dinner up to 6pm, so that we could be sure to make it to Rockwood in time to see Ian Axel and Joey Ryan.

We’ve seen Ian mostly with a full band, and once mostly solo (with others, like Joey Ryan, accompanying him a bit). He’s great both ways. Last night was the first time he was solo on a grand piano (the other time he was on electric keyboards).

IanAxelPiano

Ian creates a big enough sound to fill the room with the piano and his voice alone, so no disappointment at not having the full band. That said, if I get to choose, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson are so wonderful, and fit Ian’s sound so perfectly, that it’s a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts (or some other high brow observation).

Ian Axel

Joining Ian for two songs was the ever-wonderful Chad Vaccarino. They did both Shorty Don’t Wait and This is the New Year. Even though it was just the piano and the two of them on the stage for This is the New Year, when the two of them were belting out the vocals together, the sound got very big.

ChadVaccarino

Joining them on stage for Shorty Don’t Wait were both Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale (who I will call out later on). Joey and Kenneth were also on stage with Ian for Say Something (which Ian played on the ukulele, which he also played during Shorty Don’t Wait).

IanAxelUkulele

Ian played a song that he co-wrote with Greg Holden. Greg joined him to sing harmony. Gorgeous song. It was the first time we’ve heard it.

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Rockwood was packed to the gills. Ian mesmerized the crowd. When he whispered during a song, you could close you eyes and believe that you were the only one in the audience, it got that quiet. That’s not the norm, even for Rockwood, where you can often hear people chattering during the songs.

We spotted a number of friends in the crowd, who also juggled other plans to make sure that they didn’t miss Ian. Kindred souls we are. Check Ian out sometime soon, and join our club. 🙂

Friends

Coming on immediately after Ian was Joey Ryan. This is the first time we’ve seen Joey play with a trio. We have loved Joey both live and on his CDs, even when it’s just him and a guitar. I have to say that putting together this trio, with their exceptional harmonies and guitar interplay was brilliant.

JoeyRyan

Joey’s songs are rich musically and lyrically and his self-effacing banter is endearing. He’s also an excellent guitar player. He was hitting on all cylinders last night.

To his left (stage right) was Kenneth Pattengale on guitar, harmony vocals and lead vocals on one of Kenneth’s songs, Charlie (which you can listen to on Kenneth’s site, linked to above). Kenneth’s voice blends beautifully with Joey’s. But the real magic happens when you lose yourself in Kenneth’s lead acoustic guitar.

KennethPattengale

Kenneth has a feel for dancing in and around the melody of a song enhancing the basic structure with his soulful leads. He sounded great on the few songs he played with Ian, but he is so much more familiar with Joey’s music that he felt looser and more creative during every one of Joey’s numbers.

Rounding out the trio is the very talented Mark Stepro. Mark played guitar and sang harmony throughout the set. All three have excellent on-stage personalities.

MarkStepro

Ian joined them for two numbers.

Rockwood is mostly a set of 45 minute sets. Matt Duke played the set before Ian. Matt has been touring with Ian and Joey, so technically, he was opening for them last night. We got there in time to catch his set.

MattDuke

Matt plays mostly straight up folk style, solo vocals accompanied on an acoustic guitar. He’s a talented guy, good guitar playing. Unfortunately, for people who came to see Ian and Joey, worse if they already knew Ian and/or Joey, it was a little hard for Matt to hold the crowd’s attention or live up to the others musically.

The Addams Family

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In a recent post I mentioned that it was Lois’ birthday this month. The celebration continued throughout this weekend, when 11 of our closest friends from Richmond and Birmingham came to spend the weekend.

On Friday night, 13 of us went to see The Addams Family on Broadway. One of the leaders of the visitors worked some magic and got us 13 contiguous seats in the front row of the mezzanine (there are only 14 seats in the row). The seats were incredible.

As I understand it, the reviews have been less-than-kind, but the show continues to sell out and get strong word-of-mouth. I believe that only Wicked outsells Addams, and considering that Wicked is our favorite show of all time, and that we’ve seen it eight times, I don’t begrudge their continued strong sales. 😉

The only way that The Addams Family can get a poor review (in my opinion) is if your expectations are completely mismatched. If you’ve never seen (or heard of) the original TV show, or the movie versions, and you think you’re coming to see some deep drama or weighty philosophical musical, you’ll give it a low grade.

If you realize you’re coming to see a farce, based on the original premise, but updated to a more modern story (working in homages to the original throughout), then you can’t help but laugh out loud quite a number of times, and chuckle constantly the remainder of the show.

Addams moves along at a nice pace. Most of the singing is excellent. While many of the songs are funny, none are memorable musically (not really surprising). A few even feel forced, given that they likely need to have a certain number of songs to feel good about calling it a musical.

Nathan Lane is fantastic in everything he does and this is no exception. Bebe Neuwirth does a terrific job acting. While her singing was good (entirely on key), of all of the cast, her singing was the weakest and most inconsistent.

Uncle Fester (played by Kevin Chamberlin) was perfectly cast. He looks the role, sings wonderfully and delivers all of his lines deliciously.

Grandma (played by Jackie Hoffman) was also perfectly cast.

The kids were very good, the understudy who filled in for the Pugsley character that night (Matthew Gumley) and Krysta Rodriguez who plays Wednesday.

The set was highly imaginative. They represented different parts of the house by shifting around the staircases and reconfiguring them.

If you want a light-hearted night out, with a fair number of laughs, I recommend The Addams Family.

Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel at Mercury Lounge

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Lois and I go out of our way to avoid concerts where we have to stand throughout the show. That cuts out a number of top venues in NYC where that’s the norm.

For most rules, there are some exceptions. Last night, knowing we would be standing, we still couldn’t imagine skipping The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel. We would have gone to see either separately, but together, it was a lineup that was a crime to miss.

In fact, here’s my friend’s Facebook update about last night’s show:

HOLY CRAP!! Okay, seriously if you live in NYC and you did not come out to the Mercury Lounge to hear Ian Axel and The Paper Raincoat tonight you should be ashamed of yourself. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G show!

The only thing that would have added icing to the most delicious (birthday) cake would have been adding Vienna Teng to the lineup. While that magic didn’t happen, she was in the audience, so we were at least graced with her presence. 🙂

LoisViennaTeng

Both The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel had all-star musicians supporting them. I’ll give each of them a shout-out toward the end.

Aside from the always spectacular performances that these artists deliver, last night had an extra-special surprise in store for us. Lois has a birthday this week, and The Paper Raincoat worked up a rendition of Happy Birthday which the jam-packed crowd sang along to.

They were singing the wonderful It All Depends, and toward the end, stopped singing, but continued the beat. Alex Wong announced that their friend Lois was in the crowd, and that it was her birthday, and would everyone please sing Happy Birthday to her. That was cool enough, but he got everyone in the audience to clap a rapid beat (to match the song), and ambeR Rubarth handed Lois a tambourine to play along.

LoisTambourine

This was super meaningful to both of us, because it’s only a tad over a year ago, April 17th, 2009, that we first discovered The Paper Raincoat, and that night, Lois also played the tambourine during It All Depends at Canal Room!

They end the song with three people drumming fantastically on the same drum set at the same time (Alex, ambeR and Greg Ritchie). It’s incredible. But this time, because Alex got the crowd clapping in high-speed rhythm, everyone was essentially drumming together at the same time. What a crescendo!

GregRitchieAlexWong ambeRRubarthGregRitchieAlexWong

Speaking of clapping, there was another magical moment early in their set. They opened with Brooklyn Blurs, and then played Sympathetic Vibrations. Before announcing Sympathetic Vibrations or playing a single note, Alex merely said:

For those of you who already know your part, join me now

Nearly everyone in the crowd (probably close to 200 people) didn’t need any other clue. We all started clapping a pretty intricate beat to Sympathetic Vibrations. Too cool to describe, seriously. Having 200 people stop on cue as well is something to behold.

For the tiniest taste of the show (you can’t capture the feeling in a YouTube video), here they are performing the above-mention song, clapping and all, Sympathetic Vibrations at Mercury Lounge, last night.

ambeRRubarth AlexWong1

Mercury Lounge has a capacity of 250 people. It had to be close to full. The crowd was insane for Ian Axel and just as loud (between songs) and interactive for The Paper Raincoat. Standing wasn’t bad, because it’s impossible not to move with the music, so you’re really not stationary (not that we’ll start searching out shows to stand for).

Early in Ian’s set, he played a particularly energetic song, sung with his usual passion. He was probably close to collapsing in a pool of sweat at the end of the number. Someone in the crowd yelled out “Play in again!”. Lois immediately added “This time, with feeling!”, which evoked a huge laugh both from the audience, and from Ian himself. 🙂

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Joining Ian on stage for two numbers was Chad Vaccarino. For the first number, they were also joined by Mike Campbell (I can’t find a good link for him). They played Shorty Don’t Wait. It was awesome. Here’s a YouTube video of them performing it from last night’s show.

ChadVaccarino MikeCampbell

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Immediately following that, Ian did his signature song (which is the title cut of his new CD), This Is The New Year. Chad is featured on that as well. Seriously, check out the “official” video of that song as well. If an Ian set was comprised of simply playing that song 10 times in a row, I bet no one would leave disappointed! 🙂

IanAxel1

During The Paper Raincoat set, they announced that Paste Magazine (one of the premiere music industry publications) will be featuring them for the next month or so. I think the magazine will be giving away a free song each week, and a bonus free song from artists that The Paper Raincoat will pick to match their own free song. Awesome for those of you who haven’t yet bought their amazing CD!

The Paper Raincoat et. al. taking a bow at the end of their show:

DavidFalloMelissaTongGregRitchieAmberRubarthAlexWongTonyMaceli

On to the shout-outs for all the amazing musicians who were on stage. Starting with the people supporting The Paper Raincoat:

David Fallo on viola was superb!

DavidFallo

Melissa Tong on violin was her typical excellent self!

MelissaTong

Greg Ritchie on drums. As I pointed out in a recent blog covering The Paper Raincoat in Norfolk, VA, the drums are an integral part of The Paper Raincoat sound. They did an amazing job in Norfolk without a drummer, but the sound was distinctly different.

GregRitchie

Filling the shoes of Kevin Rice and Adam Christgau, the two drummers who between them play at nearly every show is no small task. Greg did an excellent job. I judge that by how many times I can’t help but look away from the singing (and other instruments) and I’m forced to zone in on some top-notch drumming. That happened often enough last night. 🙂

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is always wonderful. Typically, Tony plays the upright bass and occasionally switches to the electric. Last night’s show was purely electric (both the instrument, and Tony’s play!).

TonyMaceli

On to Ian’s band:

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. As masterful as he always is, but I’m still dying to see him wail on the bass (where I’m told by people I trust that Chris will blow my mind!). We also finally got to meet Chris last night after seeing him play quite a number of times. He’s incredibly nice (no surprise for this group of musicians!).

ChrisKuffner

Adam Christgau on drums. Man, it’s been a little too long since we’ve had the pleasure. We got hooked on seeing Adam often over the past year, and he’s captivated me each time. Adam was a trooper because directly from last night’s set with Ian, he ran to Joe’s Pub to play the 9:30 show with Julian Velard.

AdamChristgau

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris is perfectly matched with Ian, both musically and passionately. We love his play and his style every time we see him.

ChrisAnderson

We were at the head of the line to get in when the doors opened (no surprise). That had the added benefit of us being at the door when the musicians were coming and going after sound check. Here are some pictures right outside the club, before the show started, with a few shots at the bar after the show thrown in for good measure. 🙂

AlexWongHadar AdamChristgauChrisKuffner

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IanAxelViennaTeng ambeRRubarthLois