November, 2010:

Joey Ryan, Kenneth Pattengale, The Springs Standards and Meg and Dia at The Studio at Webster Hall

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Joey Ryan comes to NYC a few times a year. If we’re here too, you can bet we’ll make it to one of his shows. Even though we love seeing him solo, this time he was touring with Kenneth Pattengale as well. The two of them make magic together, so we run rather than jog to see them whenever we can.

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Last night included an interesting first, one I completely support and was impressed by. For many of the shows we go to, it’s hit or miss whether an artist (even the headliner) will actually get an introduction. Most times, the lights dim and people start to clap when they notice the band coming on stage. Occasionally, there might be an announcement over the PA. Rarely, someone from the club will come on stage and make a more formal introduction.

At 8pm (show time), Dia, of Meg and Dia came on stage. She introduced Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. She did it in a completely humorous, sarcastic manner, which might have confused (or offended) people who misunderstood or don’t get that kind of humor. I don’t think there were many in the audience who missed the real meaning.

The more important thing here is that the headliner bothered to come on stage, to let their fans know how highly they thought of the opener. I haven’t seen that before and I’d love to see It happen more often. Occasionally, a great opening group gets little respect from a crowd who is there primarily to see the headliner. Perhaps they would pay more attention if they realized that the headliner chose the opener for a reason! Bravo Meg and Dia!

Joey and Kenneth performed seven songs, alternating their material with each singing lead on the songs they wrote. Joey started and ended the set with Kenneth performing the even numbered songs.

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Both are very good guitar players. Joey mostly finger picks and Kenneth is a masterful flat-picker. They blend beautifully. The same is true of their voices. Harmonies are gorgeous. Each has a wide range. Each tends to sing very high when they’re harmonizing for the other, and lower when they’re singing lead.

In his signature style (making it worth coming to a show even if you listen to their CDs and EPs constantly), Joey (and Kenneth as well) is just plain funny. Completely deadpan delivery (and soft-spoken to the point of having to strain to hear him at times). I believe that Joey could have a career in comedy if he wanted it. He was most definitely on last night (not that I recall ever seeing him off).

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The crowd was extremely enthusiastic for them. There’s no doubt that we weren’t the only people there who know and love Joey and Kenneth’s music, but I also suspect that aside from them being able to win people over on their own, having Dia come out to give her fans the word had to nudge some to pay more attention. Their set lasted around 35 minutes.

After a pretty quick turnaround (a little less than 10 minutes), the second of the three groups took the stage.

The Spring Standards have been on my list for nearly a year and it just hasn’t worked out in my schedule to catch them. We saw them perform at the New York Sings for Haiti Benefit in January. They did two songs and had a minimal setup. I was extremely impressed and I wanted to see/hear more.

Last night was nothing like the Haiti Benefit. The fact that they were able to set up in under 10 minutes was quite impressive given all the gear that they had on stage. Nothing minimal about their set this time.

Standing left-to-right on the stage (for the most part, though the two James’ switched sides a number of times):

James Cleare played the acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums, harmonica and sang (lead and harmony). Excellent all around.

Heather Robb (apparently an actor as well as a member of this group). Heather played the drums, double-decker electric keyboards, glockenspiel and sang (lead and harmony). She also had a melodica out, but if she played it, I missed it. She too was excellent all around, though her voice sounded a bit strained at times (markedly different from the Haiti benefit, where her voice was the highlight).

James Smith (no good individual link, so I linked to a good but old photo of him) played electric bass, acoustic guitar, trumpet, drums and sang (lead and harmony). Another excellent performance all around.

Updated: I had the two James reversed originally, even I was pretty sure I was wrong. The photos at ContactMusic are mislabeled and I incorrectly followed their lead. 🙁 Thanks to the commenter who pointed out my error!

All three are talented multi-instrumentalists. They all drum standing up, playing other instruments during the same song. Typically, two of them are drumming on the same song (e.g., James Cleare will be using the kick drum while playing the electric bass, as Heather plays the snare, bass drum and cymbals while mixing in the keyboards or glock).

Joining them for at least half of their numbers (standing/sitting behind them) was their Tour Manager, Noah Goldman. Noah played pedal steel guitar, bass, acoustic and electric guitars (possibly something else).

The energy level they put out is incredible. Everything about their performance is fun. Due to the big sound (loud, but clear) and the amazing amount of visual distractions (eye candy) to pay attention to on stage, I can’t say that I registered more than a handful of their lyrics, here and there. As such, their songs aren’t (yet) memorable to me.

They finished up their set in a big way. First they invited Joey and Kenneth to join them. They performed I Shall Be Released by Bob Dylan. Joey sang the first verse, followed by each of The Spring Standards singing a verse. Kenneth played electric guitar (first time I’ve seen him do that). Many people in the audience (myself included) sang the chorus with them (we were invited to). Gorgeous version of an old-time favorite song!

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Immediately after, they invited up the entire Meg and Dia band (five members) to sing a high-energy song. There were 11 people on stage for this number. The Spring Standards did all the singing, with everyone else banging away at something (part of the drum set, a tambourine, etc.), making a big sound.

They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes.

I was more intrigued by the initial (mellower) Haiti performance, but there’s little doubt in my mind that this group is filled to the brim with incredibly talented people who mesh really well together. I want/need to explore them more.

Roughly 20 minutes later, the headliners came on stage.

We were really wiped out and would have loved to have just bolted, but I really wanted to get a sense of Meg and Dia.

We stayed for two songs. I’m impressed with their voices. I was impressed with their musicianship as well, but in general, it was just a bit too loud. Great energy and rhythm. I would see them again, but I was glad to get off my feet and hit the sack before midnight.

Speaking of getting off my feet, this was a standing-only show (yes, there are a handful of seats along the side and back). I stood the entire time. Standing for people like Joey and Kenneth is simply ridiculous. That kind of a mellow sound should be savored from the comfort of a chair.

The Spring Standards have the energy and sound to drive people to their feet, but I know that I would prefer to see them in a seated show as well. Meg and Dia can definitely generate the more dance-crowd kind of feel, so I’m not surprised that they would play a room that is standing only. Independent of whether the music fits, we will always prefer venues that are seated.

We attended with three other people (and unexpectedly met two other friends at the show). Before the show, the five of us had a lovely dinner around the corner from Webster Hall (our first time there) at Apiary (also a first for us). Another winning night out! Smile

P.S. Lois dropped her camera on Saturday night and it was acting up a lot last night. Given that today is Cyber Monday, there is a new camera in her very near future. So, the shots above are the last ones you’re likely to ever see from her old, trusty Canon PowerShot 1100 IS. May it rest in peace. This, plus Lois’ vantage point in the few seats in the back, explain the lack of photos.

Jenny Scheinman at Barbes

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Last Wednesday we saw Girlyman and Red Molly perform at City Winery. We were there with five friends. One of them told me before the show that I had to join him some Tuesday to see Jenny Scheinman play the violin at a bar in Park Slope in Brooklyn. She does a residency most Tuesdays and he’s seen her there many times.

On Friday we attended a birthday party in Brooklyn. I spoke to someone I’ve heard about for a long time but had never met. During the conversation, he tells me that I have to see a group called Slavic Soul Party some Tuesday at a bar in Park Slope. I tell him that my friend told me about Jenny Scheinman. He tells me that they play at the same bar, Jenny first, then Slavic Soul Party, most Tuesdays!

That bar is Barbes, on the corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue in Brooklyn.

The next morning I contact my friend and tell him the small world story. We agree to go see them both on Tuesday (last night).

Jenny is considered to be one of the top violin/fiddle players in the world. She plays many styles, many genres with many different artists/bands. Her Tuesday residency at Barbes is not likely as raucous as some of her other shows (from what I’ve heard), given the tiny room size and that she is likely rarely accompanied by more than one person at Barbes.

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Most of the selections last night were pure (hard core) Jazz, with a bit of Blues thrown in. A number of the songs were written by Jenny, but the rest were old time classics (not that I’d know many if I heard them).

Jenny displayed quite a number of different techniques on the violin, from near-whisper shimmers (spooky and cool) to Bluegrass-style riffs, to orchestral long strokes. She’s a master. Whimsical and serious, depending on her mood. She’s brilliant in every respect.

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The problem for us (Lois and me) is that hard core Jazz doesn’t really do it for us like most other music does. This wasn’t improvisational stuff (which can meander even farther from our likes), it was real songs, but still not melodic enough for us. We were certainly not the typical listener though, as nearly everyone else in the room was in complete rapture.

Jenny was accompanied on every number by Steve Cardenas on electric guitar. Steve was wonderful. When he took a number of leads, he was so fast and interesting. When he played in the background, he was good.

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He played on the smallest amp I’ve ever seen, a ZT:

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Steve Cardenas packing up:

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Jenny called up a guest from the audience (embarrassingly, I didn’t catch the name, Maddy something), that our friend tells me is a star in her own right. She sang two songs with Jenny and Steve accompanying her with them taking turns doing amazing leads themselves.

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All in all, a technically brilliant evening, that didn’t move us musically. I am very glad to have experienced it, and I would actively seek out a Jenny Scheinman show that had a different character/genre to it, but I’m not likely to show up at another Tuesday residency show of hers.

In an unusual twist, Slavic Soul Party canceled their 9pm set (I don’t know why and whether that happens with any regularity). Rather than just rush home, the four of us had a drink at the bar. I had my first Chocolate Martini in so long I can’t recall the last one. It was awesome. I can almost say that the trip to Brooklyn was worth it just for that drink, but the company I was enjoying while drinking it was most definitely the highlight of the evening. Smile

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Mike Campbell at Rockwood Music Hall

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What happens when a nice, smart, funny, talented musician tweets that he is performing his first-ever solo show? Wait, before you answer, what if I tell you that he only has 49 followers on Twitter (I’m one of them)? OK, time’s up, I’ll just give you the correct answer:

People fill up Rockwood Music Hall to support him and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless he lied to us, or to a future audience!). Winking smile Seriously, the place was jammed, so the word spread much faster and further than his Twitter follower count would suggest.

There’s little doubt that Mike Campbell was nervous. Is there any artist in the world that wasn’t when they debuted? The test (of course) is how they handle that nervousness. Mike passed with flying colors.

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He took control of the room with his conversation, not just his music. He turned little slips into funny and memorable moments. For example, he gave an intro to a song, then played the song. Immediately afterward, he asked the crowd if they noticed that the song didn’t match the intro? Oops, he intro’ed a song he was going to play later in the set list. Smile

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Let’s answer the most important question of the night: was the music good?

Yes!

Mike is a very good songwriter. I was impressed that the songs varied as much from each other. Mike is stretching early in trying to say different things, but also say them in different ways. He also has the ability to write songs that grab you the first time you hear them (not as easy as you might think).

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After he played Paper Heart, Lois turned to me and said “Amazing! I love that song!”. The second the show was over, a friend who was standing 10 feet away during the show walked up to me and said “Wow, Paper Heart is a real winner, don’t you think?”. Yes, I think. Smile

Of course, it wasn’t a flawless performance, but it proved to me (hopefully to Mike too) that he made the right decision to do a solo show. I imagine (actually, I’m sure) that with a few more performances under his belt, his delivery will become polished very quickly. He has all of the ingredients.

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He has one song where he scats while playing the identical notes high up on the guitar. It’s awesome (the guitar playing and the perfectly matched scatting). That said, here’s a public suggestion that I think will make it even awesomer (yes, it’s a word, or needs to be!). Mike, you should scat in harmony with the guitar leads. I personally guarantee that it will blow people’s minds!

Mike, if you take my suggestion, I hereby legally forego my co-writing/producing credits and royalties. (Disclaimer: that only goes for that one song, I’ll take full credit and royalties on all of your other songs!) Winking smile

We’re very glad we got to see Mike’s first solo show and look forward to catching more of Mike Campbell!

Going back to my first sentence, I said that Mike was nice, smart and funny (traits that are independent of his artistic talent). I had no doubt that some/all of it had to come from his parents. After the show, Lois and I met Mike’s parents and now I know for sure that he got a lot of it from them. Absolutely lovely people. Good job raising your son! Smile

Edgewise at Walkerspace

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We don’t see plays that often, though 2010 is turning into somewhat of an exception. We typically go to see a friend perform. Last night, we went to see a friend of a friend (not sure we’d go to see a friend of a friend of a friend though).

Edgewise is a play written by Eliza Clark, directed by Trip Cullman and co-produced by PAGE 73 and The Play Company. It is being presented at Walkerspace.

I showed up knowing nothing about the play. Any expectations I had were more due to preconceived notions that kick in when one (or is it just me?) sees some off-Broadway spaces and sets. Before getting into some details, I am thrilled to report that I overwhelmingly liked the play and was extremely impressed by the actors (all of them) and the set, lighting and effects!

There are quite a number of reviews online already (the play officially opened the night before we saw it), reviewed by the AP, The New York Times, with the AP review being picked up widely (Yahoo!, ABC, etc.). Not a single bad review that I could spot, with the AP review quite positive. The New York Times review got it wrong (IMO), which is par for the course in my opinion.

If you want a professional review (rather than one of a rank amateur, me), read this instead of the rest of this post.

The play unfolds through the eyes of three teenagers who work in a fast food restaurant. Often, we (my wife and I) get annoyed at the gratuitous use of cursing (notably the overuse of the F-bomb). Last night, I cringed for the first minute and then realized that if the language had been sanitized, we would hardly be privy to the real conversations that are happening in every teenage-filled fast food restaurant in America. In other words, the dialog became incredibly authentic and integral to the story, very quickly.

What at first appears to be another telling of teen angst quickly switches gears. Something is very wrong in America and it is our job to piece it together through the eyes of these same angst-ridden teens. We’re told just enough to be able to draw quite a wide variety of opinions. The one thing that isn’t in doubt, it’s hellish existence out there on a number of levels.

There’s nothing absurd about the possibility of this becoming a reality in the not-too-distant future here. Just read the Twitter streams of ultra-{both wings}-doomsayers. Even the (supposed) absurdity of showing up to work at a fast food restaurant, or stopping in the drive-through for a burger, amidst the turmoil, is actually a well-placed setting for dealing with the inevitable absurdities in any new and difficult reality.

Rather than leave it 100% to our imaginations (are these pot-smoking teens simply fantasizing about what’s going on out there?), a creative set and terrific effects make the outside reality all too clear. Two additional characters are introduced to show the difference between theory/philosophy and the choices that must be made when faced with a specific situation.

The acting was excellent so I’d like to take the time to say a bit about each one, in the order that they appeared:

Tobias Segal as Marco. Tobias (Toby) was pitch-perfect in each scene. Of all the actors, he was called upon to display the widest range of emotions. His transformations were effective, believable and in the end, even devastating. He plays the shy, love-struck teen as well as he does the pushed-to-the-limit combatant.

Philip Ettinger as Ruckus. Philip had the most lines and was the vehicle for giving us glimpses as to what might be happening outside. His transformation from stoner/loser to in charge was much subtler than Marco’s character, but they were effective nonetheless. Philip needed to have us believe that someone who was stoned a minute ago was now making the toughest decisions of his life. One way that the playwright, director and most importantly Philip accomplished that is by layering what might have been paranoia into the transition until the story unfolds. I was impressed on all accounts.

Aja Naomi King as Emma. Another stellar performance. Aja had a difficult role (IMO). Not only did she have to transform as events unfolded, she had to convincingly show a different character to Ruckus and Marco in the same scene. Reacting to Ruckus one second with a steely resolve, then pivoting and showing a vulnerable side to Marco is tricky. Of the five actors, I wouldn’t be surprised if some in the audience felt that some of Aja’s lines were overacted, but I think she did a superb job of walking an extremely difficult line. She has one big scene where most of the dialog is hers and she completely nails it in my opinion.

Alfredo Narciso as Louis. Wow! I feel like anything else I say will detract from that one word, but here goes anyway. Alfredo might have delivered the best acting performance I’ve ever seen live. Given that 95% of it is delivered in a chair, making it all facial expressions and vocal modulations, is all the more impressive to me. He’s the mystery man in the show, a role that can easily be overplayed. I can’t imagine a better performance for his role.

Brandon Dirden as Paul. Brandon is the last to arrive on the scene but his role is critical to furthering the story. While he’s on stage less than the rest, he too does a wonderful job.

As I noted above, the set is very creative. The effects are excellent if a little overwhelming at times (loud, bright, but exactly to the point).

Of all the actors above, I suspect it’s not an accident that only Alfredo has his own website. I recommend that the others do as well, even if the site does nothing more than link to their IMDB pages. Stake out a home on the net for people to easily find you. I know we’ll be hearing a lot more about each and every one of you!

Finally, a hearty thanks to our friend who suggested we attend this show. It’s running through December 4th, and I recommend that anyone who wants to be challenged to think about the kinds of choices we might make if the world were to fracture just a bit more.

Here’s a photo Lois took of Toby and Philip after the show. We also got to tell Brandon what a great job he did. I wish I had told Alfredo how awesome he was when he walked right by me, but I didn’t react quickly enough.

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Girlyman and Red Molly at City Winery

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This show was announced over six months ago and the minute it was, I grabbed tickets. It was a long wait and it was well worth it. We even got to see Girlyman three weeks ago in Birmingham, which only enhanced our anticipation of last night’s show.

It is the rarest Girlyman show that we attend alone. We want to share our joy and grow their fan base whenever we get a chance. Last night was no exception. We had a party of seven, four of whom were experiencing Girlyman and Red Molly for the first time.

Girlyman opened with an energetic Paul Simon cover. This already set the tone for an unusual evening. I don’t think that in the nearly 20 times that we’ve seen them perform they’ve ever opened with a cover. Lois and I are sensitive to the opening song (of all bands that we love, not just Girlyman) because it often determines whether newcomers are leaning forward or backward for the rest of the show. So, opening song jitters overcome with flying colors (ours, not theirs), check! Smile

My next fear was locale-based. City Winery is beyond gorgeous. The food and wine are excellent. The sound is generally excellent too. But, the place is large and many people sit at the bar or off to the opposite side of the stage. Every other show I’ve been to at City Winery has had too many loud talkers during the sets (amazing sets at that!). It distracts from the show.

Thankfully, even though the place last night was packed, it was full of Girlyman and Red Molly fans. That meant whisper quiet during nearly every song, and raucous noise between them. Exactly as it should be! Venue enhances show rather than distracts, check! Smile

Any additional fears to overcome? Nope, good, only enjoyment left. One last note, earlier this week someone adjusted Lois’ camera in order to take pictures of some close up items. Lois didn’t readjust the settings, so nearly every photo she took last night was blurry. I’ll post a very few just to give you a sense of the layout. The camera is now back to normal.

Girlyman has such a large catalog to select from. They mix it up frequently, which is one of the reasons that seeing them often is invigorating. Of course, it means that something you’re desperately in the mood for on a given night might not be delivered. No worries, the entire catalog is fantastic.

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The tuning songs last night weren’t quite up to par (less rhymes, shorter, fewer), but the general banter and interaction among the band was superb. I had the warm fuzzies throughout the set.

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When they got to the request section, it was complete bedlam. It sounded like 200 of the 300+ people there were screaming at the same time, at the top of their lungs. I can always make out at least a dozen distinct titles being yelled at any show. I couldn’t make out a single title last night, because I think that over 50 songs were being yelled out.

The band didn’t seem to hear them either. When there was a break for a second, quite a number of people coordinated their screams for Everything’s Easy (the title track of their latest CD). The band seemed willing to play it, given that it was the only one they could be sure of.

But, in another clever, coordinated, premeditated move, a handful of people sitting right in front of the stage held up sheets of paper with the word Angel printed on them. This created a memorable set of events.

Angel is one of Doris’ new songs on the latest CD. It’s a beautiful song and I understand why this group came prepared to lobby for it. But, it’s one of the few songs in Girlyman’s catalog that they haven’t practiced together in a while. They were checking with each other on the stage whether any of them remembered it well enough to perform it. No one (including Doris) exuded confidence!

It was impressive that they love and connect with their fans well enough to at least try performing the song. There were flubbed chords and a few missed words as well, but it still sounded great and showed their courage to deliver what people wanted to hear rather than just what they could guarantee would be a flawless performance.

What makes it more impressive is the fact that Girlyman returned to offering live recordings of last night’s show after stopping the practice over a year ago (we cherish the many live shows that we purchased from them). As they noted on stage, anyone who wanted to listen to them butcher Angel over and over could now do so, by purchasing last night’s show. We do, so we did! Smile

Rather than leave it at that, they also performed Everything’s Easy, ensuring that one of the requests was performed as people expected it.

They introduced two new songs, one of which we heard in Birmingham (and fell in love with instantly). That one was The Person You Want (Me to Be) by Ty. The other, which they said was only the second time they’ve performed it, was Supernova by Nate. Supernova was a big hit at our table!

They closed the show with Postcards From Mexico in the same fashion that they did in Birmingham, but the size of the crowd at City Winery made it more of a spectacle (in the best sense of the word). They split the crowd in thirds, according to vocal range. We sang the chorus with them. It’s complicated, because the three parts have different words and different melodies (they don’t all start on the same beat either!). It sounded pretty darned good from where I was sitting. When I get my live CD in the mail, I’ll get a better sense of the full effect.

They performed a one-song encore, bringing Red Molly out to join them for Through to Sunrise. Cool! Five part harmony on one of our favorite songs (Abbie Gardner of Red Molly didn’t really join in the singing, but she played a mean Dobro solo that was double the normal length of the traditional Banjo solo that Doris plays). Bravo!

In total, they were on the stage for just under two hours, a super healthy (and welcome) set, considering there was a top-notch opening act as well. They correctly thanked City Winery for allowing them to do that!

We also count Red Molly among our favorite performers. Earlier this year, they decided to start touring more and that caused Carolann Solebello to leave the group (in July). Some groups can’t survive the transition to a new core member.

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In a not-so-small irony, the group selected Molly Venter to join them. (Get it? Red Molly now has an actual Molly in the band?)

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I’ll admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the character of Red Molly would remain intact, even if Molly Venter was a talented solo performer. That remained true even though someone I trust told me that she knew Molly well and that she was very much up to the task.

She was and is! Molly has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well and her voice blends beautifully with Laurie MacAllister and Abbie Gardner. She also brings her songwriter cred to the group, something that I think will be a big win for Red Molly (who performs more covers than most groups that we like this much).

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The first of the new songs is a lullaby written by Molly Venter which was amazing. I definitely need a recording of it, STAT! The second is a song she recorded on her own in 2008 that Red Molly has arranged for their trademarked three-part harmony. Gorgeous!

Thankfully, their 40 minute set included the ever-heavenly a capella cover of Susan Werner’s May I Suggest. If any song would be the test of Molly Venter fitting in, that would be it. Check (again). Smile

We arrived at 6pm to enjoy a terrific meal, including City Winery’s own wine. It’s exciting to sit at a table of vegetable lovers. We had two orders of the brussels spouts (yes, we all loved them!) and the cauliflower was heavenly too. Main dishes were all devoured as well.

We hung around after the show catching up with the band, getting their updated poster signed by all and mingling with friends who also attended the show. Another amazing evening in the books, more on the way (including tonight).

The Weepies at Hiro Ballroom

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On May 8th, 2008, a musician friend of ours sent both of us an email recommending that we listen to the new album by The Weepies, Hideaway.  I trust her and bought the download without even listening to the previews. After one listen, I bought Happiness (their EP) and Say I Am You (another full-length album). I love all three and have listened to them countless times.

The Weepies is a husband and wife team, Steve Tannen and Deb Talan. Each was an individual singer/songwriter. They never toured in support of Hideaway, because they had their first child shortly before it was released. That didn’t stop Hideaway from being a runaway hit (deservedly so). They have had a large number of placements on TV (shows and ads) which has made them a commercial success without having to tour.

They just released a new album, Be My Thrill, and with a second son in tow, they are currently touring in support of that album. That included one night in NYC, last night, at Hiro Ballroom. There was no way I was going to miss it, even though it was a standing room only show (very low on our list of things to do).

Deb and Steve are exceptional songwriters. Most of their songs have a light/mellow pop sound/feel. There’s almost an ethereal quality due both to their voices and the top-notch production of their albums.

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Deb has a distinct voice that affects my ears like a personal earworm, even though it’s not the most classically beautiful voice. Steve sings well, but his voice comes across better to me on the albums than it did last night (for the most part).

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Both play acoustic and electric guitar, mostly rhythm with the occasional finger picking. They were supported last night by four band members, left-to-right on stage:

Brad Gordon on electric keyboards. Brad did a very good job throughout, but it didn’t always feel integrated to me.

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Frank Lenz on drums. Frank did a nice job as well, but I didn’t really take note of his skill until the last song of the night.

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Jon Flower on upright and electric bass. Another good job, which occasionally commanded my attention, but mostly blended well in the background.

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Meghan Toohey (Meg) on electric guitar and harmony. Meg is actually the most integral part of band. She nails the guitar riffs that complement Deb’s voice, bringing the ethereal quality to the live performance that is likely more easily captured in a studio. She did a very nice job harmonizing with Deb and Steve as well.

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Both Deb and Steve are warm and engaging on stage. Steve is the more natural/comfortable story teller, easily drawing the crowd in with stories/intros and responding to the many things that people yelled from the audience. Deb was a little more hesitant but did end up telling one story very well toward the end, the introduction to Antarctica.

The good: excellent set selection, excellent sound system, overwhelmingly respectful crowd, seeing The Weepies live for the first time.

The indifferent: I’m a huge live music lover, often enjoying shows more than the perfect recordings of the same groups. It’s possible that my expectations for this show were too high, but there was no magic for me whatsoever, just a well done show. I spent this morning listening to The Weepies non-stop and I love it every bit as much now as before, so the lack of magic last night hasn’t affected my opinion of The Weepies.

The bad: the mixes on the albums are perfect. Last night, occasionally the keyboards or the bass slightly washed out the vocals. Steve sang his harmonies way more softly than his leads. In my opinion, their music is more suited to a seated show. The crowd loved them and for the most part was exceptionally quiet during the songs, but it’s not exactly dance music. To make it worse (for me), I was at the back, so it meant that every time someone shifted, it was a distraction from my view and I had to adjust to see again.

They were on stage for 98 minutes, including a two-song encore. They put on an excellent show and thrilled the overwhelming majority of the people in the room (capacity is listed as 400, but it felt like more than that to me).

Greg Tannen opened the show. Greg is Steve’s brother and a singer/songwriter in his own right. He just released his own new album, Maybe the Sun.

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Greg has a very good voice and plays the guitar well and writes good songs. He has a relaxed style on stage and engaged the audience quite a bit (including poking fun at how he was invited to open for The Weepies).

He was accompanied by:

Andrew Sherman on electric keyboards and harmony. I couldn’t find a good individual link for Andrew, but there’s a bio of him at the bottom of the page that I linked to. He was very good on the keyboards and did a very nice job harmonizing with Greg.

AndrewSherman

Tim Luntzel on electric bass. Tim did a nice job, not highlighted much.

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Greg was on for 35 minutes and we both enjoyed his set. For his fourth number, he invited Steve and Deb up to join him on a song he co-wrote with Steve, that The Weepies recorded, Vegas Baby, a song I like a lot (on the Happiness EP).

AndrewShermanGregTannenTimLuntzelTheWeepies

Lois and I did not experience the show together. I stood on the floor, near the back, dead center with a friend of ours who spotted us toward the end of Greg’s set (amazing, given how crowded and dark it was). Lois stood on the staircase about 15 feet away, so she could actually see the stage.

I would go see The Weepies again, but only for a seated show.

Mozart Requiem at Holy Family Church

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Ask and ye shall receive (no, seriously!). On Thursday I saw Alex Wong perform at Rockwood Music Hall. One of his guests was the wonderful Melissa Tong on violin. Here’s what I wrote about her in my post about that show:

Melissa Tong on the violin joined Alex for the next number, one of my favorites, Brooklyn Blurs, which they knocked out of the park. I’ve said it so many times, Melissa is an incredible musician, we can’t get enough of her. I look forward to seeing her play with a symphony, her specialty.

While that last line wasn’t rhetorical, I didn’t expect it to bear fruit so quickly. This morning I woke up to a wonderful surprise. Melissa updated her Facebook status to say that she was playing at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle at 2pm. We were already at the house, so there was no way we were going to miss this one.

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The Artemis Chamber Ensemble and the Choirs of Holy Family and St. Frances de Chantal Churches performed Mozart’s Requiem. (Note: you can click on any image to see a larger version.)

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Artemis and the choirs were conducted by Matthew Oberstein (Executive Director of Artemis). Monsignor Ferdinando D. Berardi of Holy Family introduced the program, describing Matthew Oberstein as Energetic. He’s that, and much more.

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Lois and I sat in the first pew near the center aisle. I have never been so close to a conductor. My vantage, five feet to his right, gave me a view of his technique that I have never experienced. From behind, we all see the arms moving up/down and in/out to the music. From a distance, you might see them point toward a particular section of the orchestra as well.

I could see so much more. Matthew uses many subtle cues to extract the sound that he wants. Tiny finger movements, things that would be difficult to detect from a distance, even if you had the correct angle. I was extremely impressed. Lois noted how riveted most of the choir was on his every movement.

There were four Solo singers (who also sang together):

Wendy Baker, soprano. Absolutely stunning voice.

Elizabeth Mondragon, mezzo-soprano. Beautiful voice, not quite as highlighted in this piece as the others were.

Steven L. Nanni, tenor. Amazing voice. He really moved me whenever he sang.

Kevin Burdette, bass. Looks can be deceiving. Kevin is tall and thin, not a body type I associate with a deep bass voice. Wrong. Kevin has an incredible voice and he easily (or at least apparently easily) reaches extremely deep notes.

Each sings wonderfully on their own. When the four sang together in any combination, it was mesmerizing. When they all sang with the choir, it was heavenly.

WendyBakerElizabethMondragonStevenNanniKevinBurdette

Artemis configures themselves depending on the material. They range from a quartet to a full chamber orchestra. Today, they were 19 pieces, 18 right in front of us, and one on the organ on the side of the Church. They were all awesome. I was inches away from Flavio Gaete on Viola. Watching him so close up was wonderful.

FlavioGaete

We came to hear Melissa (President of Artemis, something I didn’t know prior to the performance) and I am so thankful that we made the effort. She’s as good as I imagined (as are the rest of Artemis). Requiem is quite complex, in particular the starting sequences right after the long pauses. Melissa and Heidi Schaul-Yoder were like Siamese Twins nailing those flying measures.

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The other person I’d like to call out is the cellist, Christine Chu McGovern (Artemis’ Artistic Director). Wow. I could name every person in Artemis, so please don’t assume I think less of the others.

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We didn’t have a great view of the right side of the orchestra during the performance. Here are two shots of them afterward:

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Everyone mentioned above are professionals, in every sense of the word. On to the so-called amateurs. The choir was large, made up of the combination of both Holy Family and St. Francis de Chantal Church choirs.

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They were absolutely amazing. As I mentioned above, they were riveted on Matthew’s every little movement and they responded perfectly to those instructions. They sang softly when called for, and filled the entire Church with their power when that was requested of them.

Here are the names of everyone who performed from Artemis and the Choirs:

ArtemisAndChoirMembers

After the performance I asked Melissa how many times they rehearsed with the choir. Twice! Amateurs indeed (not!).

I challenge those of you who don’t believe me to go see this exact performance next Sunday (November 14th, 2010) at St. Francis de Chantal in the Bronx, 3pm. I urge those that do believe me to go and enjoy next week’s performance as well.

If you would like to support this amazing group of musicians, please send contributions to:

Artemis Chamber Ensemble

P.O. Box 813

Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520

Alex Wong and Jesse Ruben at Rockwood Music Hall

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I haven’t been to Rockwood Music Hall (the original, Stage 1) in quite a while. In fact, I had to look it up (I knew there was a reason that I bother to blog!). It was 7/29/2010 to see Delta Rae. I’ve been to Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 a bunch of times since then, so Rockwood is still getting the majority of my NYC music business. Winking smile

Alex Wong is reason enough to show up wherever he is. He’s an extraordinarily talented individual (note, I didn’t just say musician). He’s a singer/songwriter, songwriting collaborator, multi-instrument musician, amazing producer and all around nice guy.

AlexWongGuitar

While Alex was reason enough to come out, he had a number of guests announced (not all played) and I have long wanted to see the person who was on at 9pm before Alex.

First the bottom line, then some color commentary. Last night’s set was fantastic.

Alex played 2/3’s of the set solo, mostly on the acoustic guitar. He played two songs at the grand piano. He opened solo with The Same Old Things.

AlexWongSinging

Melissa Tong on the violin joined Alex for the next number, one of my favorites, Brooklyn Blurs, which they knocked out of the park. I’ve said it so many times, Melissa is an incredible musician, we can’t get enough of her. I look forward to seeing her play with a symphony, her specialty.

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David Fallo on the viola joined both Alex and Melissa. David is a star (as are all of the musicians who play with Alex). In addition to sitting in on these types of shows, David is currently part of the orchestra in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. That’s no shabby gig!

AlexWongMelissaTongDavidFallo

The three of them played a fun and energetic version of Motion Sickness. Alex divided the audience in half. I was in the Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na section (yes, those were the exact number of Na’s we sang at a clip, over and over). Smile

Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and harmony joined Alex for another favorite of mine, A Girl Like You, from Alex’s previous group, The Animators. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Martin is an excellent guitar player who always defers to his plethora of guest star guitar players in his own sets. When playing with Alex, he’s the guest and therefore featured on the guitar. Such a wonderful thing to hear. Do more of it in your sets too Martin!

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Alex finished the show by playing three consecutive new songs, all co-written with other wonderful singer/songwriters. If you weren’t there last night, you wouldn’t know that I just lied to you. Alex announced on Facebook that he would play three new songs in a row, but he actually threw in an existing song after the first new one, before completing the new trilogy.

The first new song was a Christmas song co-written with Rachel Platten. Alex told a long story about the derivation of the song. It was his first Christmas in NYC (2004), which wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas in NYC. The story was incredible, funny and touching. Alex doesn’t usually talk this much on stage. I vote that he talk more, it was a very nice addition to the set.

The second new song was played on the piano. It was co-written with Paul Freeman. Alex is producing Paul’s new CD. A very moving song.

AlexWongPiano

Finally, also on the piano, Alex played a song he co-wrote with Nate Campany. Nate was supposed to be there to sing harmony with Alex, but he didn’t show up (I saw him tweet today, so there’s no reason for concern). Excellent song. I told Alex after the show that when he produces it, he needs to have a full choir singing the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” part. I heard it as clear as a bell in my head even though Alex was singing alone.

Alex offered that I produce it instead. I told him I’ll happily produce those three words, he can work his usual magic on the rest. Winking smile

Jesse Ruben played the set before Alex. I have wanted to see Jesse for a long time. He tours with some other people that I like and I like his MySpace stuff (linked to his name). Not only didn’t Jesse disappoint me, he surprised me in a number of positive ways.

JesseRuben

Jesse is a very good songwriter (wide range of topics). He sings extremely well. He plays the acoustic guitar solidly, mostly rhythm, but beautiful finger picking on a song I’ll cover in a minute.

The biggest surprise was Jesse’s general stage presence, in particular his wit. There was a ton of laughter throughout the set. It came both from his stories and from his very quick responses to things that audience members shouted out.

JesseRubenTalking

Jesse introduced practically every song with a story. It was extremely well delivered and enhanced my enjoyment of each song.

Kyle Patrick joined Jesse for two songs. We’ve seen Kyle once before at the Livestrong fundraiser. I thoroughly enjoyed his 2-song set that night and I have tried hard to arrange my schedule to catch Kyle again, unsuccessfully. He sang lead on one of the songs last night harmony on another. There was a good bit of na-na-na-na on the song that Kyle sang lead, with much of the audience joining in.

KylePatrick

Karly Jurgensen toured with Kyle and Jesse all summer. Jesse invited her up to perform one of her songs, accompanied by Jesse and Kyle. Karly has a wonderful voice and plays the piano solidly. The song was beautiful, a slower bluesy number. Jesse and Kyle harmonized during the chorus. Very nicely done.

KarlyJurgensenJesseRubenKarlyJurgensen

Back to the song that Jesse finger picked. If you know me, or read this blog regularly, then you know that Lois and I are obsessed with Wicked and The Wizard of Oz in general. Not that this is too small-worldish (given how huge Wicked and The Wizard of Oz are), but we always get signs from one or the other that connect us more deeply to things we already like.

Out of the blue, without even announcing a cover song, Jesse played If I Only Had a Heart. Absolutely gorgeous rendition. The only thing missing was not having Lois there to look at knowingly and hold hands with. That Jesse also chose that song to show off a bit of his guitar skills is the kind of thing I was talking about in the paragraph above. Smile

Rockwood was packed for Jesse’s set, dominated by people who were obviously huge Jesse Ruben fans. That always makes the sets more fun even though Jesse was new to me.

One of the people in the audience was Sam Teichman. Sam, Jesse and a bunch of other people in the audience are running in the NYC Marathon this Sunday, raising money for cancer care. Last Thursday, Sam was involved in putting together a charity concert at The Bitter End, called the “Born to Run” show, featuring Bruce Springsteen covers.

I would have loved to attend that show and a number of my friends did. I was already committed to a house concert featuring ambeR Rubarth and I too had an amazing evening.

Jesse mentioned that Sam was still raising money for the cause and that he was offering a DVD filled with music from 22 different artists that participated in the Born to Run show. Donations greater than $1 would get you the DVD. I was sitting across the table from Sam (whom I have met once before at a Rockwood 2 show) and I donated in exchange for the DVD right after Jesse’s set.

After Alex Wong’s set, I made a quick tour of Rockwood to say hi/bye to a number of friends. We’ve been away for a long time and it was really good to see everyone (performers and audience members alike). I wish Lois could have been with me, but she’s been sick ever since we returned. Today is day 12. Let’s hope it’s one of the last. This isn’t the type of streak anyone is proud of.

Given that Lois wasn’t in attendance, any complaints about photo quality land squarely on my shoulders.