October, 2010:

ambeR Rubarth and Ed Romanoff at a House Concert

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This was our second house concert on the upper west side of NYC. It’s a series called Music On 4 run by a wonderful couple who create a perfect atmosphere to enjoy live music.

amber Rubarth is no stranger to us or to readers of this blog. I’ve written about her and The Paper Raincoat (her project with the amazing Alex Wong) dozens of times. We’ve seen ambeR perform in a wide-variety of venues. Highline Ballroom (which seats 400+), down to NAU (a clothing store where she set up in the back). I’ve written about each one if you have the inclination to read for a few days.

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We’ve seen ambeR play solo, with a trio and with a large band (strings, oboes, the works!). She excels and adapts in all of those situations. There was no way ambeR could surprise me last night. Musically, that was true. Emotionally, it wasn’t. There was an intimacy (roughly 60 people attended, which is a sell-out at Music On 4) that was new.

ambeR introduced a few songs with backgrounds that I hadn’t heard before, even though I know the songs well. She chose a perfect set list for the setting, complemented by three requests from the audience that were all good choices. The entire evening (including the opener) was un-mic’ed (both vocals and acoustic guitars). She finger-picked beautifully and her voice was the perfect volume for the room.

What makes ambeR so special? She’s an incredible songwriter. Don’t take my word for it. She just won the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest for 2010! (If you’re reading this a year from now, the link might no longer be highlighting ambeR.) Still not convinced? She co-wrote Washing Day with Adam Levy. It too won an award:

Amber Rubarth’s song Washing Day (co-written with Adam Levy) won 1st Place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition in the ‘Lyrics only’ category, judged by Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Robert Smith

ambeR writes about universal experiences in a way that captures the deepest feelings succinctly and honestly. Along the way, there is enough disarming humor (both outright funny and bittersweet introspection) to keep the mood just right. Her imagery is vivid and insightful.

She’s off for a European tour today. I miss her already! Smile

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Ed Romanoff opened for ambeR. He’s joining her on the European tour as well. We’ve seen Ed a few times before and enjoyed his sets. Last night was no exception, but I don’t feel that he’s as suited to an un-mic’ed house concert as ambeR is. For a big guy, Ed tends to sing reasonably softly. When he’s mic’ed correctly, that’s fine. When he isn’t, at times his guitar overwhelms his voice.

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Even so, he was a good choice to open for ambeR. He is a very good story-teller (this was particularly true when we last saw him at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2) so he had the audience totally warmed up by the time his set was done.

Ed and ambeR closed the show with a duet, performing Hold On by Tom Waits.

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As with many shows, not everything always goes according to plan. Ed and ambeR had a bit of trouble getting there, arriving roughly 20 minutes after they were supposed to appear. Unlike a commercial venue, house concerts can deal with this situation more creatively.

One member of the audience came up to the stage area (not raised) and led everyone in singing the first verse of Amazing Grace! Then another member came up and sang a song he wrote. A third member stood up and sang another song (not written by her) right from her seat. All were a cappella since there were no instruments in the apartment. Just as the third song was finished, ambeR and Ed walked in. A very warm experience shared by and between audience members only.

Another night of great music shared with a wonderful group of people!

Girlyman at Workplay

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Earlier in the week I said we’d finish off our Birmingham trip with a surprise. Seeing Girlyman perform at Workplay on Sunday night topped off an already incredible week of family, friends and fun (henceforth known as the 3 F’s). Smile

Anyone who has read more than a few of my posts knows how I feel about Girlyman. For the rest of you, here’s a brief summary. I tend to rank music (in my mind) in terms of whether I could listen to it over and over, forever, if I were stuck on a deserted island with nothing but that band’s music (and, I guess, some form of electricity, solar would probably be abundant).

There are at least 100 bands that I could be happy listening to over and over, with no other music to fill the rotation. That speaks to my general love of music, and the fact that there is so much great music to be enjoyed in the world. But, if I got to choose in advance which music to be stuck with forever, I would not hesitate to pick Girlyman. That answer hasn’t changed since the day I discovered them in August 2007.

Girlyman just completed their first UK tour a couple of weeks back. Nate returned home two weeks ago, but the girls made a week of it in Paris and returned early last week. Unfortunately, Doris brought back a European cold with her. She was worried whether her voice would hold out. Thankfully, it did, extremely well!

They opened with EZ Bake Ovens (a number of my friends count that as their favorite Girlyman song!). Nate sings a verse solo, then Ty, then Doris. When it came to Doris, she whispered the first line or two. Uh oh, I thought that she had lost her voice completely!

Fortunately, the sound engineer just had her mic off (or too soft). He noticed the problem and with a very loud crack (like someone plugging in an electric guitar), Doris’ voice came alive. It wasn’t her normal voice, but it was pretty cool (and really good) nonetheless. It wasn’t quite nasal, a bit more chesty and rounded off. Perfectly in tune. She wisely controlled the volume, not quite belting out the rage in Storms Were Mine.

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The set list was superb! Of course they didn’t play some songs I wanted to hear, but they didn’t play a single song that I didn’t want to hear either. What’s a fan to do? Winking smile In fact, in Girlyman’s large catalog, there is only a single song that I find boring. Lois is the only one who knows which it is. She also happens to disagree with me on that one. Smile

We were treated to some UK road trip banter. We now all know why they use 220v over there. You’ll have to attend an upcoming show to find out for yourself. Winking smile Speaking of banter, Nate and the gals did a fantastic tuning song to More Than Words by Extreme. When they were asking for requests, after hearing more than 20 different titles, someone yelled out Do More Than One. So, More Than One was born, to the tune of More Than Words. Excellent!

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There are always a few surprises at a Girlyman show. This one had them inviting the audience to sing the chorus of Postcards From Mexico (three separate parts) with them. Depending on our vocal range, we were singing with Nate, Ty or Doris. I sing out loud in the car to every one of their songs, so getting to sing out loud with them was a hoot. The guy to my left had a great voice. He harmonized (a fourth part!) with them at the song’s crescendo. Bravo!

Ty debuted a new song (likely called The Person You Want Me to Be). Absolutely gorgeous. After the show, I went over to her to tell her how much I loved it. In the car ride home, Lois bugged me many times asking me how she could get her hands on a recording of the song.

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Ask and ye shall receive! I just got a Google Alert on Girlyman with a link to a YouTube video of that song, played the night before we saw them, at Eddie’s Attic, in Decatur, GA. Thanks Donna, you made Lois’ day and my life got simpler at the same time. Smile

The Person You Want Me To Be

JJ is an excellent drummer, always. One of the things that makes her excellent is always playing the appropriate accompaniment to a given piece. Since many of Girlyman’s songs are very mellow, JJ is correctly understated in most of her drumming with the band. Then, they sneak in Young James Dean and JJ lets loose. Fabulous, each and every time. The second the song is over, rather than enjoying the accolades the crowd is giving Ty (and Girlyman in general), Ty immediately turns to JJ and points out how amazing she is during that number. I couldn’t agree more! Smile

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As exhausted as they were and as sick as Doris was, they put on a terrific show. For those of you who are keeping track, Sunday night was our 16th Girlyman show. We have tickets to see them at City Winery (with the amazing Red Molly co-billed) on November 17th.

This blog is appearing 24 hours later than normal. We hit the road at 7am Birmingham time yesterday intending to stop in Northern VA for the night (at which point I might have blogged). Instead, we pushed on (like the whimsical people that we are), through torrential rainstorms in PA, making it back to NYC at 11:30pm. Only 15.5 hours in the car. No big deal…

We had invited a number of people to join us for the show. We ended up only purchasing four tickets, for our godson (David), his fiancée (Rebecca) and us. We were given another special surprise when Rebecca’s parents, one of her brothers and his girlfriend also purchased tickets and joined us (the eight of us dominated the front row!).

The brother and his girlfriend had to run out when the show ended (the life of students with papers due). The rest of us hung around to say hello to the band (always a treat).

Before the show, the eight of us dined at Silvertron Café. I heeded the advice of the locals and got the mini-steak sandwiches. Wow! We all had a great meal, putting us in the perfect mood to enjoy a great show. Can’t wait to do it again! Smile

Joey Ryan and Matt Hires at Workplay

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We visit Birmingham, AL at least twice a year. We were planning to arrive late last night. A week earlier, I noticed a tweet by Joey Ryan that he was touring the South opening for Matt Hires. After a quick consultation with Lois, we changed our plans to arrive much earlier in the day, in order to see them at Workplay (a place where we saw Vienna Teng and Alex Wong open for Glen Phillips).

We came to visit our godson and his fiancée and we were glad (and lucky) that they were able to join us for the show.

Joey Ryan put on his typical (in the best sense!) show. If anything was a bit different, it was that his self-deprecating humor was highlighted a little more. He was dead on. When Joey asked the audience questions, often only one person answered. Even when the answer was whisper soft, Joey (and the rest of us) could hear it clearly. That gave him fodder for some very funny (and spontaneous) responses/comebacks.

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The sound system and engineer at Workplay were both excellent last night. Joey’s guitar and voice were crisp and the volume was just right. His set selection was wonderful and included both a new song (at least it was new to me!) and a Ray LaMontagne cover.

The audience wanted Joey to keep going, but after checking two different times with the sound engineer, Joey was forced to leave us hanging.

After the set, we headed to the lobby to say hi. We bought a copy of Joey’s CD and EP (both), got them signed by Joey, and gave them to David and Rebecca. They were both wiped. Anticipating that, we came in two cars, and after chatting with Joey for a few minutes, they headed home.

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We stayed to see Matt Hires and his band, having never heard of him before discovering that Joey was opening for him during the last leg of his six week tour.

We both liked Matt’s sound a lot. Very energetic numbers, catchy/hooky lyrics and melodies. Matt has an excellent voice and does a nice job on the guitar (he played both acoustic and electric). He played one number solo. In addition to playing his own material, he also played a Beatles cover: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. Hard to go wrong with a Beatles cover, as long as you can deliver, and Matt and the band delivered. Smile

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Matt’s band, standing left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Miranda on lead electric guitar and harmony. Chris was superb on the guitar and did a terrific job singing with Matt as well. A quick search shows his name all over, including that he played lead guitar for Kate Voegele among others.

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Bob Matthews on drums. Bob did a very nice job throughout the set, including coming up to the mic for You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, playing a tambourine and shaker, finishing it off with a Melodica!

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Aaron Bishop on electric bass and background vocals. A solid job on both!

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In addition to Chris playing with Kate Voegele, so did Bob and Aaron, so Matt hooked up with a ready-made band. Good choice, as the chemistry and talent were already a proven commodity.

If you want to hear a teeny tiny flavor of Chris’ smoothness on the guitar, you can watch this YouTube video of Matt introducing the band. It’s from 10 days ago, but it’s exactly how he introduced them last night.

When Matt’s set was over, we went out and bought his new EP, A TO B. It’s only four songs long, with two being different versions of the same song. Still, it’s very good. Both the title cut (A TO B) and both versions of Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song are wonderful productions. It’s $2.99 to download on iTunes.

We said a very quick goodbye to Joey and headed back to the hotel. What a great way to start off the week in Birmingham. We have a fabulous way to end it as well, but you’ll have to wait to read about that until we’re headed home. Smile

Cirque De La Symphonie at Richmond CenterStage

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I grew up on classical music. My dad had thousands of full reel-to-reel tapes that he played non-stop from tape #1 through the last. When I need to be rejuvenated, I still turn to classical music, though I listen to other stuff way more often.

Last night our friends invited us to a very special performance of Cirque De La Symphonie at Richmond CenterStage. It was a one-night performance (with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra), but you can catch them with other orchestras and I highly recommend that you do!

This was our second time seeing the Richmond Symphony perform. I covered the previous one in this post. I am sure it won’t be our last, they are wonderful! They are led by Steven Smith, Musical Director and Conductor. Last night his role was expanded, as he also interacted with the Cirque performers, including one fantastic illusion.

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The symphony performed four or five pieces without the Cirque performers on stage. During those pieces, the symphony was well lit and it was as visually interesting as it was aurally. My particular vantage point allowed me to focus on the cello players. Their fingers were flying up and down the frets, mesmerizing. The violin section was all bows to me, moving in unison at lightning speed.

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I love most instruments, but I always surprise myself when one is highlighted and I catch myself thinking “That’s really one of my favorites!”. Last night was the flute. Many of the pieces were flute heavy (or should I say flute heaven?). Smile

The last row was the horns. I love brass (see, I told you, I really love them all!). Our godson’s fiancée plays the French Horn, so  I couldn’t help but try to pick out every note from the four French Horn players. I wasn’t so successful at that.

One last shout out to the viola section, they were superb.

When the Cirque players were on stage, the orchestra was beautifully but dimly lit. That made it easy to spend 100% of the time being awed by every single performer (six in all, with a few of them performing multiple routines). I have never seen a Cirque performance live. It won’t be my last.

If you know what Cirque is you don’t need my description. If you don’t know, my description wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll just leave you with a few of Lois’ photos of the performance.

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Thank you to our friends for inviting us last night and to the Richmond Symphony and Cirque De La Symphonie for a truly magical evening!

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We spent a couple of hours in the afternoon wandering around the annual Richmond Folk Festival. A perfect day of weather and music. We didn’t stay at any one stage long enough for me to write a blog about it. If you get a chance to attend one in the future (or later today?), run, don’t walk!

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Susan Greenbaum at Weinstein JCC

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Two very special things happened last night at the Weinstein JCC in Richmond, VA. The first was a tribute and fundraiser for the Henry S. Fine Memorial Fund for Special Needs. Henry S. Fine was quite an extraordinary person (unfortunately, he passed away last year). You can read about him and the benefit in this Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

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The second special thing happening last night was Susan Greenbaum performing at the benefit.

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On May 22nd, Susan Greenbaum was one of several special guest conductors at the Richmond Symphony for a benefit held at Richmond CenterStage. It was one of the rare nights when I couldn’t muster any energy to go out, but Lois joined our friends for the performance. Susan Greenbaum was voted winner of the guest conductors and Lois got to meet her and chat for a bit afterward.

The next day we met Susan and her husband, Chris Parker for brunch. We enjoyed our time together and bought two of Susan’s CDs: Wake Up! and You are My Holiday. I love both CDs.

Susan performed with a full band last night and I’ll cover each member (like I always do). The set list last night was special (to me, but I’m pretty sure it was for the entire audience). Susan played Carole King’s Tapestry album start-to-finish. It’s one of my favorite albums which I rarely listen to now, so I was particularly excited.

Susan educated (and regaled) the crowd with an amazing tribute to Carole King in general (listing many top hits that Carole wrote or co-wrote that we had no idea were Carole’s). Susan has incredible stage presence and warmth, a complete pro.

In addition to performing, Susan and Chris also sponsored a table at the benefit. We had the privilege of sitting at that table. Henry used to identify with a one-eyed Smiley, so they used that as the logo for the event.

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On to the performance.

Susan has a fantastic voice. I already knew that from both CDs, but not all produced voices come across live as well. Susan’s does. Power, nuance, range, always with an appropriate volume to the rest of the band and the material. She accompanied herself on the acoustic guitar (nicely) on all but one song, the title cut, Tapestry, where she sang and just held the guitar.

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In addition to playing the entire album in order, Susan closed the show with two non-Tapestry numbers. The first was a Carole King song cut by The Monkees, Pleasant Valley Sunday. Susan wanted to end on a more upbeat Carole number, rather than the last song on Tapestry.

After receiving a standing ovation (quite a long one!), Susan apologized for breaking the all-Carole-King set to close with a number of her own, Everything But You. She introduced the song saying that Henry S. Fine had it on his iPod and that it was his favorite Susan Greenbaum song. Easy to see why, it’s gorgeous!

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The band, from left-to-right on stage:

Ed Drake on electric guitar (and a bit of background vocals). Ed was extremely good throughout the set. Very fast and smooth leads, matching the material perfectly. Susan highlighted Ed a number of times, thank you Susan!

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Lucy Kilpatrick on electric keyboards and harmony. Wow! Seriously, Lucy can play the piano something fierce. Like Ed, Susan highlighted Lucy quite a bit, but the material itself is oriented toward the piano, being Carole King’s primary instrument.

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In addition to the exceptional keyboard play, Lucy provided the primary harmony for Susan (way too little) and she was excellent at that as well. Bravo!

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Chris Parker on drums and background vocals (sorry, no good individual link to Chris). The Tapestry set doesn’t call for any exceptional drumming. Chris opened it up a bit for Pleasant Valley Sunday and Everything But You. Very nice job.

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Mike Drake on electric bass and a bit of background vocals (also no good individual link). Mike is Ed’s brother. Mike did a wonderful job though the material doesn’t particularly highlight the bass.

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To summarize, I was not surprised to find out how wonderful Susan Greenbaum is as a performer. Still, she exceeded any expectations I had. That she was accompanied by such an excellent band, with Lucy Kilpatrick as a standout, was indeed a wonderful surprise.

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P.S. As with most live performances, we were all asked to turn off our cell phones before the show started. I never need to be reminded. Mine was off 15 minutes before the announcement.

Toward the end of Tapestry, Lois leaned to me and asked for the name of the song that she loves from Susan’s Wake Up! CD, in case she had a chance to call out for a request. I pulled my cell out to look it up. While scrolling through the songs, I accidentally pressed on one of them and the phone started playing Susan’s song, loudly. Yikes!

I was so flustered that I didn’t even look at the display to find the pause button. I just covered the speaker (clumsily) with my finger and rushed out of the auditorium. My humble apologies to Susan and everyone there, who thought I was the one jerk who didn’t turn off his cell phone.

Rather, I was probably one of the few people there who has two of Susan’s CDs loaded on his cell phone (and of course my iPod too). I’m also the only klutz who tried to share that CD with everyone else while Susan was singing. 🙁