December, 2010:

The Nutcracker at Richmond CenterStage

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I was supposed to be at work all day yesterday. If you promise not to tell anyone that could get me in trouble, I’ll tell you what I did after leaving the office at 10:15am (I was in at 7am, so I got some things done). Winking smile

Our friends in Richmond bought six tickets for the matinee of The Nutcracker at Richmond CenterStage. We went with our godchildren and their significant others. This is our third time at CenterStage (actually Lois’ fourth time) and we have enjoyed each performance immensely.

I may be one of the few adults in America that never saw The Nutcracker growing up. For whatever reason, I never sought out ballet or opera, even though I grew up loving classical music. That said, I didn’t squirm at the thought of seeing it this time, given how much I enjoyed the ballet portion of the Richmond CenterStage opening (covered in this post).

TheNutcracker

Even though I hadn’t seen The Nutcracker before, I knew the music very well. I am a major fan of The Richmond Symphony and they performed Tchaikovsky’s work beautifully. Everyone in the orchestra contributed, so I feel badly calling out two instruments. The flutists were incredible. There were a number of harp solos that were delivered flawlessly.

The ballet was much more ornate than I imagined it would be. The costumes and sets in the first half were gorgeous. There were nearly two dozen kids as well (always good for heart-warming chuckles, I’ll give a specific example later). Not to ruin it for the other person in America who hasn’t seen it, but there isn’t much ballet in the first half. There’s some dancing and graceful moving around, but the real ballet mostly takes place after intermission.

The most impressive scene in the first Act is the magical coming to life of the dolls. Awesome in every respect.

Act I ends with the dream sequences beginning, first up The Enchanted Snow Forest.

There are a number of different fantasy scenes (dreams) in the second half, all set to traditional ballet. All of the choreography is top notch and the costumes are stunning. That said, the various scenes are not equal. Some are adorable (non-stop chuckling in the audience), specifically, the Russian Dance, which includes a bear doing ballet. On the other end of the spectrum is Waltz of Flowers, which is visually interesting, but way too repetitive.

The men seemed to all perk up during the Arabian Dance. The ballerina was stunning, her outfit inventive (and suggestive) and her movements (dancing) were mesmerizing.

The two most impressive ballerinas (to my taste) were the Sugar Plum Fairy (the program lists a number of possible dancers, so I can’t be sure which one I saw yesterday) and the Snow Queen who ended Act I (that role also lists multiple possible dancers).

Coming back to the child-induced chuckling. There is a scene with Little Bo Peep and her sheep. The sheep are all little girls. All but one sheep is dressed in white. The smallest girl/sheep is dressed in black. She was beyond adorable and every time she wiggled, we all giggled. Smile

I really enjoyed the ballet but I admit to occasionally feeling that the visual distraction was keeping me from fully immersing in the music, which is still my first love. I’ll need to get back to Richmond to see a performance of the symphony, with nothing else going on (no Cirque, no Ballet, no Opera, etc.). I look forward to that!

Kudos to all involved in this excellent production. Unfortunately, yesterday was the last day of a two-week run, so you won’t get to see the same show I saw, at least not this year.

WellDeservedCurtainCall

While the ballet was a highlight of the day, it was by no means the only one. Before the show, the six of us, plus our benefactors (our godchildren’s parents), had a wonderful meal at Chez Foushee. Here’s a shot of us, thanks to the waiter:

ChezFoushee

Lois forced us to split four desserts. Here are two of them, just make you a bit jealous:

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After a little R&R following the show, our benefactors were back in action preparing a home-made feast to top off the night. Here’s the home-made pasta drying:

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Thanks to everyone for making yesterday a memorable and special day! I leave you with a shot of our wonderful godchildren:

TheGodchildren

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We waited nearly a year for the pleasure of seeing Alex Berger perform live again. We had to console ourselves by listening to his wonderful CD, Snow Globe. It’s great, but it’s not quite the same as seeing Alex live. Last night was his first time performing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. We weren’t scheduled to be in NYC this week, but we couldn’t resist changing our plans in order to catch the show.

Wow, we are both so grateful that we did that. This will be a long post, which I know means most of you will bail now. So, the bottom line first, it was an absolutely spectacular show (as in awesome, but also a spectacle, in the best sense!).

On to the details! Smile Most of the photos were taken during setup, since the stage was so crowded there were very few clear shots from as close as we were to the stage.

Alex is just here visiting (briefly) from his native UK. That he was able to get booked into Rockwood 2 is good enough. That it was mobbed is a testament to how many fans and friends Alex has. If you know someone who is nicer than Alex Berger, please tell me now, because I very much want to meet that person and become their friend!

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Let’s start with Alex’s talents (as a singer/songwriter, I don’t have enough time to cover his talents as a person!). Alex has a fantastic voice. I am a very happy person (nearly 100% of the time), but if I’m ever tense, I’m sure that listening to Alex sing would relax me instantly.

Alex is fantastic on the keyboards (last night he played the grand piano). He can tickle my ivories any time he wishes. Winking smile

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Alex plays the guitar beautifully (last night he played Adam Levy’s electric guitar). I believe we were at the show where Alex first played a guitar publicly (The Living Room, on 1/11/2010). Perhaps he was practicing for years, but if he has truly only been playing the guitar for roughly a year, he’s picked it up extremely quickly. He closed the show solo with a finger-picking masterpiece (more on that later).

Alex writes gorgeous (lush) songs. Most are more of a throwback to jazz, ragtime, Dixieland, blues styles, but he also has some pop tunes (just to confuse you). Winking smile One of the most pleasant concert surprises I had was seeing Harry Connick Jr. play at Radio City Music Hall (I simply didn’t know his music well). If you like him (and how smooth he is), you’ll like (love!) Alex Berger, I’m sure.

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So, if you trust me (and why shouldn’t you, I haven’t steered you wrong yet!), then we can move on to the numerous musicians who joined Alex on stage last night. I’ve never seen that many people on stage at the same time at Rockwood. Most songs had eight people playing at the same time (a veritable orchestra!). There was a ninth person as well (we’ll get to him), but not all the others were on stage when he was. So, the record (for me) is eight on stage at once.

Left-to-right and front-to-back, here’s who sat (or stood) in with Alex:

Melissa Tong on violin. I can never say enough, or get enough of Melissa. We just saw Melissa play with Artemis Chamber Ensemble the day before, and I covered that in this post. It was a treat to see her change styles so radically a day apart.

MelissaTong

Christiana Liberis on violin. Christiana was wonderful! She and Melissa did not play in unison, they each had their own leads. I admit to thinking that Lindsay Lohan was getting on stage to play the violin, but it was only the looks that deceived me. Christiana was well behaved. Winking smile

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Marika Hughes on cello. We’ve seen Marika a number of times and she never disappoints.

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Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times as well and he too is a wonderful cellist. As with Melissa and Christiana, Marika and Ward often played different parts.

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Tony Maceli on upright and electric bass. Tony was wonderful (as he always is). On the opening number, it was pretty much just Alex and Tony playing, with Tony taking a long tasty solo on the upright bass.

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Katie Scheele on oboe. Katie is part of Threeds a wonderful oboe trio in NYC. We’ve seen Threeds and Katie separately a number of times and always enjoy her performance. She had a few standout solos last night and was always interesting even when in the background.

KatieScheele

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Tucked away in the corner, behind all these wonderful musicians was one of my (newly discovered) favorite drummers. I wrote about Elliot in a post about Bess Rogers. Let me add to my praise of Elliot. Before seeing him, at least two people told me Elliot was a “real hitter”. That means he strikes the drums really hard. Both people think Elliot is a great drummer, so it was a compliment, but it could also be taken to mean that Elliot is one-dimensional. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Last night, Elliot drummed nothing like he did for Bess and Lelia. He used brushes, had soft touches on the rims only and in general kept a quiet (appropriately) but steady beat to the more jazzy numbers that Alex played. To repeat, my respect for Elliot Jacobson grew last night. Sorry, no good photo of Elliot, this will have to do:

ElliotJacobson

Including Alex, that makes eight people.

Alex Wong joined Alex Berger on stage for one number. They played a song they co-wrote this weekend. According to Berger, they finished it the morning of the show, when they were rehearsing it to play for us. That kind of stuff just amazes me. Yes, they both had the words written down. Still, they nailed it. Lois cried during the song, titled The Fighter.

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Alex Wong played the piano and Berger sang with him (they alternated verses and sang harmony throughout). Wong also scored all of the strings for the entire show. If you’ve never read this space before, then you don’t know how in awe I am of Alex Wong. Now you know! Smile

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Alex (back to Berger now) had a number of songs left on his set list, but the mean management at Rockwood told him he could only do one more. Winking smile

Set List

He chose to play a cover. The song is called Washing Day, co-written by ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy. I love the song. It has a wonderful feel to it (really slow). But, the thing that makes it a great song are the lyrics. Fantastic imagery to capture universal emotions. ambeR and Adam won 1st place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition for this song! It was the first song they ever wrote together.

Alex said that he was playing it because it’s one of the songs that inspired him to pursue singer/songwriter as a career! ambeR was supposed to sing a song that she co-wrote with Alex earlier in the set, but she didn’t make it to Rockwood in time. At least she was there to hear Alex heap some mighty praise on her for being his inspiration!

Alex just killed Washing Day. Of course, his voice is perfect for the song. But, he also shone on the guitar, which is a non-stop finger-picking extravaganza. I was incredibly impressed all around, independent of the fact that I love the song.

AlexBergerGuitar

Right before playing it, Alex gave us a shout out, mentioning that we changed our plans to attend the show. Thanks Alex, it was more than just worth it, it was an evening we’ll never forget. We miss you already. Move to our (frigid) city soon!!! Smile

Artemis Chamber Ensemble at Holy Family Church

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We were supposed to be gone yesterday morning. When we heard about two shows we pushed our plans back by two days. The first of those shows was yesterday.

The Artemis Chamber Ensemble had another show at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle. One of the tenets of Artemis is to have a configurable set of musicians/instruments, to be able to perform a wide variety of works in a wide variety of spaces. The last time we saw them (also at Holy Family Church) they were configured in a 19-piece ensemble, with a conductor, paired with two Church choirs. I covered that concert in this post.

Yesterday had a dramatically different feel. There were a total of six musicians (who performed in a variety of configurations) plus one baritone vocalist. The conductor (the absolutely amazing Matthew Oberstein) was in attendance, but he didn’t conduct. I asked him after the performance whether he had drilled them in advance and he said that he had nothing to do with it, he was there to enjoy it as we were.

MatthewOberstein

Another Artemis goal is to play as many pieces by contemporary composers as they can (obviously, Mozart’s Requiem doesn’t qualify). Yesterday’s program was titled “Chamber Music: Then and Now”.

The program started with String Trio No. 2 by Bohuslav Martinu. It was performed by Melissa Tong on violin, Christine Chu McGovern on cello and David Fallo on viola.

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Melissa is one of our favorite violinists (and people!). She was, of course, fantastic yesterday, as was every single person who played and sang. She introduced the piece explaining the various influences that we would hear.

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Christine Chu McGovern was superb on the cello on every piece.

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David Fallo was a very pleasant surprise for us. We’ve seen him a half a dozen times (at least), supporting Alex Wong, The Paper Raincoat and ambeR Rubarth (usually with Melissa Tong sharing the string duties with him). I’ve always loved his play in those shows, but you can’t really compare background strings in a pop show to the kind of performance David gave yesterday. Wow!

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As for the piece itself, neither of us is likely to want it on our iPod. The virtuosity of the musicians was obvious (it’s no easy piece to play), but it’s way too dissonant throughout to be our cup of tea. I don’t know Martinu, so I don’t know if this piece if typical of his work.

Next up was Dover Beach, for baritone and string quartet, Op. 3 by Samuel Barber. Joining Melissa, Christine and David was an additional violinist, Bryony Stroud-Watson. Christopher DeVage supplied the amazing baritone singing.

Bryony Stroud-Watson also performed at the Mozart Requiem concert. She was amazing then as she was yesterday. I didn’t mention her in the last post (though I included the program which listed her) because I only selected a handful of the 19 musicians to highlight. Last time, it seemed to me that both Melissa and Bryony played the same notes at the same time (most pairs did that as well, violas, bassoons, etc.).

BryonyStroud-Watson

Yesterday, even when Melissa and Bryony played together (as in the piece I’m discussing now), they played different lines. I’ll mention Bryony again for the last piece of the program.

Christopher DeVage has a gorgeous voice (velvety). In addition to singing, Christopher introduced this piece, explaining that it began as a poem that was later set to music.

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I found the singing beautiful, but distracting, since I can understand the English (as opposed to operatic Italian), but I didn’t find the lyrics compelling in song. The quartet was amazing.

Voyage, for flute and string quintet by John Corigliano was next. Corigliano is the only living composer among yesterday’s selection. Two additional musicians were added to the mix for this piece. Melissa Healy on flute and Scott Thornton on upright bass. Melissa introduced the piece.

MelissaHealyBryonyStroud-WatsonMelissaTongScottThorntonChristineChuMcGovernDavidFallo

Melissa Healy is an extraordinary flutist. I’ve always been a fan of the flute (specifically, Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway).

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Scott Thornton also played the bass at the last concert. He did a very nice job on this one piece yesterday.

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Love Blows as the Wind Blows, songs for baritone and string quartet by George Butterworth swapped Christopher and his vocals for Scott and his bass. This piece was introduced by Christopher, reading a piece of the poem/song before singing it with the flute and string quartet.

Again, I found the fact that I could understand what he was singing more distracting than enhancing. The music, again, gorgeous, as was Christopher’s voice.

Saving the best for last (at least in my opinion), they performed Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major, K. 285 by Wolfgang A. Mozart. The quartet consisted of Melissa Healy (flute), Bryony Stroud-Watson (violin), Christine Chu McGovern (cello) and David Fallo (viola).

The piece is spectacular. Melissa’s flute play was heavenly (and mind-boggling). Lois wondered if Melissa took any breaths during her long lines.

Bryony was fantastic on the violin (as before, but without Melissa Tong on stage, there was no question as to who was hitting what notes on the violin).

Christine and David were equally wonderful, as they were on all of the other pieces.

Holy Family Church is a wonderful place to hear these types of concerts. The acoustics are wonderful and the people are so welcoming.

Alex Wong at Rockwood Music Hall

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Alex Wong played a solo set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. Usually, that means a lot of guests (and this show was similarly teased). But last night was nearly purely solo, with the exception of Alex Berger (visiting here from the UK) joining on two songs.

AlexWongSinging

If you were there, but didn’t know Alex, it’s remotely possible that you didn’t know who you were listening to. When he first introduced himself, he just said: “Hi, I’m Alex” (no mention of his last name). He quickly started playing on that. He said, “I’m Alex, with an extra two X’s at the end.” Followed by “Actually, it’s Alex with an ick and three X’s, as in AlickXXX”, which ended up being his nickname for the night.

We’ll take him with however many X’s he wants to tack on to his name. Winking smile

I saw Alex at Rockwood a month ago without Lois. Here’s what I had to say about that night. You’ll note the many guests that night. As importantly, you’ll note the mention of three new songs, each co-written with a different person. I was very sorry that Lois missed them that night and just as equally happy that she got to hear them last night!

She loved all three (instantly) as did the other five people at our table (their reaction to the songs was palpable!). It’s no surprise to those of us that love Alex. He’s an amazing songwriter (solo or co-writer). He’s one of our favorite producers as well. Aside from his musical talents, he’s flat out one of our favorite people.

In my previous post, I mentioned that Alex performed Motion Sickness and split the audience in half, with me in the “na na na” section. Last night, the split was right where I was sitting, so I could have legally chosen either part. To shake things up, I chose the “Oh, oh, oh oh oh” part this time. In retrospect, I made a wise choice, it challenged me more than the “Na na na” part. Winking smile

Alex teased us on his second number, playing the intro to Brooklyn Blurs. He then backed off, saying it was too much of a summer song, so he switched to a more wintry one.

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For his third song, he invited Alex Berger on stage. Alex played the grand piano and sang gorgeous harmony with AlickXXX (note how cleverly I avoided the confusing use of last names in that sentence!). Winking smile They played Don’t Be Afraid.

AlexBergerPiano

When Alex played the song he co-wrote with Nate Campany (I don’t know the name, it’s the one with the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s) he noted that Nate was in the audience, but that he was unlikely to come up and sing. A few people in the audience were really vocal about encouraging Nate to come up, unsuccessfully.

Berger agreed to come back up, singing the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah part in harmony with Wong. Beautiful, the song and the harmony. I need a professionally produced version of this song, pronto. Get on it AlickXXX!

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Another highlight of the evening was Alex (back to Wong now) playing In the Creases, one of our favorite songs. I couldn’t stop thinking that an entire set of the various versions of In the Creases that we’ve see live would make for an awesome show.

First up, Alex playing In the Creases (ITC) solo. Then ambeR Rubarth doing it solo. Then the two of them (they could even do it three times in a row, once with each playing the guitar alone and once with both playing the guitar at the same time).

Next would be Alex playing it with Melissa Tong and David Fallo on the strings. Then bring ambeR back up to play it with the strings as well.

Finally, the crescendo, bring Vienna Teng up (keeping the strings) and add Katie Scheele on oboe and recreate the most perfect version of ITC we’ve ever heard live with Vienna on the grand piano and adding three-part harmony to the mix. Ahhhhhhhh, just remembering it brings me peace and joy!

Yes, we have indeed seen every combination of the above versions of ITC and loved them all!

Another wonderful set, thanks AlickXXX.

We got there 10 minutes before Alex’s set. I stood outside (brrr) and caught up on some comms on my Droid. Lois went in and heard the last song of the set before Alex, Dorie Colangelo. Lois was extremely impressed by Dorie.

When I walked in, she was telling Dorie how wonderful her voice was. She asked if Dorie had any CDs/EPs and Dorie handed her one (she didn’t want money for it). Lois insisted. She asked me for money. Since I wasn’t privy to the conversation, I handed her a $5, thinking it was the standard fee for most EPs. When I loaded it up this morning, I saw that it was an 11-song CD. I’ll slip Dorie some more money the next time we see her. Given Lois’ reaction, I’m sure there will be a next time. Smile

DorieColangelo

After the show, I made my way to the room on the other side of the bar. In all the times that we’ve been at Rockwood, I’ve never been in that room (used as the green room, but it’s open to the public, so not quite a real green room, just a staging area). I bumped into Tony Maceli there and got to tell him in person how amazing he was the night before, playing as part of Greg Holden’s band.

Only two shows (that I know we’re going to) before we hit a month-long dry spell. The first will be on Sunday, 1:30pm, seeing Artemis Chamber Ensemble (at Holy Family Church in Larchmont, NY). They are amazing. Then on Monday night, we’ll be at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 10pm, to see Alex Berger perform. Can’t wait! Smile

AlexBerger

Greg Holden at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We’ve seen Greg Holden perform three full sets over the past year and sing as a guest at a few other shows. He’s grown on me each time I’ve seen him. Last night was his last show of 2010, at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. It was scheduled for 10:30pm so we were shaky about making it out that late. In the end, Lois was too tired to go out. So was I, but a scalding shower and the outside air gave me the necessary second wind.

I was particularly interested in seeing the show because Greg just finished recording a new CD (Titled: I Don’t Believe You, likely out in the Spring). He was going to debut a few new songs from the CD. I was also under the impression that there were new arrangements for some existing songs and I was curious to hear those as well.

Greg came on stage at 10:45pm. That was way better than I expected, given that there was a private party at Rockwood from 6-10pm.

The first number he performed was solo, Following Footsteps. It was very slow, very quiet, very well done. The vast majority of the people at Rockwood were quiet and totally focused on Greg. One jerk at the bar could be heard (louder than Greg). Unfortunately, that jerk became a focal point throughout the set. It made for some laughs along the way, but ultimately, people like that need to be shown the door.

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When the song was over, Greg was joined by a full, all-star band (another reason why I pushed myself to go out). I’ll cover each of the band members shortly (as I always do).

That second number, Hell and Back, was very upbeat. It got the crowd going (and overwhelmed the jerk). After the song, Greg joked that he should have opened with that number.

Greg only played one other song solo (I think: I Don’t Believe You), another slow soulful number, beautifully finger-picked. The band left the stage for that one, but otherwise accompanied him on the rest of the set. Greg joked that he was playing some depressing songs (e.g., American Dream, inspired by a homeless couple he sat next to on the subway). He added that if you wanted happy songs, you should have gone to see Ian the night before.

While it’s true that the subject matter of some of Greg’s songs was dark (depressing?), whenever the full band was playing, there were more rock overtones to the songs making them feel less sorrowful. Speaking of the band, from left-to-right on stage:

Ian Axel on grand piano and vocals. The first time we ever saw Ian was when he sat in as a guest on a few numbers for Greg Holden’s set at Rockwood 1 (that was also the first time we saw Greg). Their interaction has clearly grown since then. Ian sang significantly more harmony with Greg last night than he did last year. I really enjoyed their blend, with Ian taking the high notes and Greg the baritone. Of course, Ian always sounds great on the piano, nothing needs to be added on that subject.

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. I’ve said dozens of times what a solid musician Tony is. I was shocked that it took Greg Holden’s music (something I don’t, or rather hadn’t associated with rock) to open up Tony’s bass playing considerably. On the first song that the band joined Greg (Hell and Back), Tony wailed on the bass, playing faster riffs than I’ve ever seen him do. He remained energized and tasty throughout, handling the mellower numbers with his usual skill.

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Adam Christgau on drums and vocals. The night before (in my post about Ian’s show) I mentioned that my count-down clock to see Adam had started again. I’m so happy that I got to reset that clock a little over 24 hours later! Adam is a joy to listen to. I even got to see a bit more of him than usual at a Rockwood 2 show, because Tony kept moving toward the piano, giving us a slightly better glimpse of the drum set tucked in the corner. Adam also did a nice job on the vocals (a bit more on that later).

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Chris Kuffner on lead electric guitar and vocals. One night after finally getting to see Chris open it up on the bass, I got to see his best performance (in my opinion) on the electric guitar. That’s saying something, because he’s impressed me a number of times in the past! Just like with Tony on the bass, Hell and Back had Chris going wild with incredible leads. To repeat, not something I expected from past Greg Holden shows! Chris continued this kind of play, including one fabulous number mostly played with a slide. Bravo!

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Back to the show. One of my favorite Greg Holden songs is one he co-wrote with Joey Ryan. The only versions I’ve heard (live and on YouTube) are acoustic, very mellow. Lois titled the song Nothing But a Memory (when it was still untitled). Greg and Joey finally named it As Far as I Can. It will be on the new CD and Joey recorded it with him. Here’s their debut of the song on YouTube (have patience if they show an ad first!):

Greg Holden and Joey Ryan performing As Far as I Can

Last night, with a full band, and Ian singing Joey’s part (well!), the song was dramatically different. More rock-n-roll than folk. I liked it and it was performed well, but I much prefer the original version. When the song was over, I turned to my friend and noted that. She likes the original version too, but was much happier than I was with the new one. I’ll be curious to see which version Greg puts on the new CD.

To close out the show, Greg played one of his signature songs, Bar on A (co-written with Nate Campany). Greg invited anyone who wanted to sing it with him up on the stage. Nine people (mostly professional musicians) came up and formed a Rockette-like chorus line behind Greg. The ones I’m sure of, left-to-right were Katie Costello, Lauren Zettler, Bess Rogers, Allison Weiss, Sam Teichman, Nate Campany and standing behind them Seth Faulk. There was someone standing to Katie’s right (our left) who I couldn’t see (and don’t know). Between Allison and Sam was a comedian (Sam told me his name after the set, but I’ve forgotten it).

GroupSingingBarOnA

Greg did a generous and cool thing with this song. When the song started, he turned to Ian and nodded. Ian sang lead on the first verse. Then Greg looked back to Adam, who stood and sang the next few lines. Greg then followed that with Tony singing a few and Chris doing some as well. A very nice way for him to highlight the amazing band that played with him!

A fun night out. I’m glad I shook off the exhaustion! Smile

Before the show, Greg and Adam going over the set list (on an iPhone!). Technology marches on! Smile

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P.S. Since Lois didn’t attend, any complaints about the photos go directly to me…

Ian Axel and Rachel Platten at Mercury Lounge

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When this show was announced in October, we instantly grabbed four tickets (the maximum that Mercury Lounge sells, online or in person!). Since then, we’ve been waiting impatiently for the show to start.

The last time we saw Ian Axel perform was a single song guest appearance on 9/22/2010. Before that, it was 7/22/2010 when he performed an intimate two-person show (Chad Vaccarino was the only person to appear with him that night) at Flux Studios. It was definitely full-on withdrawal time for us, since we missed Ian’s big CMJ show in October.

For those who don’t like all my details, the bottom line first: The show was absolutely awesome!

Ian is releasing a CD on 2/15/2011. Before that, next Tuesday (12/14/2010 to be exact) he will be releasing three of the songs from that CD on iTunes. If I understand correctly, you’ll be able to complete your purchase of the full CD on 2/15/2011 without being penalized (or buying double) if you buy the first three songs next week. Do it!

If you’re not familiar with Ian (shame on you), here’s a YouTube video of This is the New Year. If you are, consider this a warm-up to get you in the mood for the rest of this post:

Ian Axel This is the New Year video

You can preview (stream) next week’s release at Ian’s Facebook fan page. If you listen to This is the New Year carefully, you’ll note that it’s a new version. I (normally) hate when artists tinker with perfection (and I hope you’ll agree that the video above is perfection). Yet, I grudgingly admit that they made an even better version (not that it needed improving), so even fans who have the previous version stuck in their head will love this one!

Last night, Ian played all three of the songs on next week’s EP release. If you missed the show and want to experience a bit of the magic, listen to Girl I Got a Thing on the above Facebook page. When Ian sings “Girl I Got a Thing for You”, you respond with “Girl I Got a Thing for You” out loud (like we all did). Then, when he sings “Na na na na”, you shout out “Whoa Wo”. If you can get a couple of hundred people to do it with you, really loud, you’ll come close to reproducing what it sounded like at Mercury Lounge! Smile

Ian poured out his heart to us and from all of the FB statuses and tweets I’ve seen, everyone responded similarly. He rocked out on some numbers, played solo on Say Something (on the keyboards this time, rather the slightly more typical ukulele version) and added ukulele magic on two others.

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Ian typically plays with a four piece band (including Ian on the keyboards). Last night, they were down a man. It didn’t matter, the sound was huge. I’ll start with the core members who were on stage for all but Say Something, but stay tuned, because there are two other people who will be covered right after!

Adam Christgau on drums and background vocals. It’s simply been way too long since we’ve seen Adam play (7/8/2010 to be exact!). It felt good to feel Adam’s rhythm hitting me straight on (we were right in front of the stage, dead center). The clock for missing seeing Adam play is now officially ticking again…

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Chris Kuffner on electric bass and background vocals. If you read this space regularly, you know that we love Chris Kuffner. All but one of his performances have been on electric guitar (excellent). Still, I lament that I need to see him open it up on the bass. The one time I’ve seen him on the bass, the music called for a more sedate style.

Last night, Chris got to open it up and I’m glad I was there. He also did something I’ve never seen/heard before. Using his pedals to add effects, Chris got the bass to sound exactly like an organ! It was cool and a little eerie. Scratch another one off my music bucket list, seeing Chris play electric bass! Smile

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That everyone at every Ian show loves Ian is no surprise. In fact, if it weren’t true, there’d be some slapping going on in the audience. What warms my heart each and every time (even though it’s completely expected now!) is that the audience totally gets how awesome Chad Vaccarino is and what an integral part of the magic he is.

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First and foremost (before any of us get to see/hear the result), Chad is Ian’s regular writing partner, co-writing many of Ian’s songs. For that alone, he deserves a spot in some hall of fame. But it’s hardly that alone. When Chad steps on stage to sing with Ian (and now to play trumpet a bit as well), there is an electricity in the crowd. The roar when Chad sings is even greater than that.

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Last night was no exception. Chad ripped the room up. There’s little more to say than that. Each is an enormous talent on their own. Together, they boggle the mind.

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Mike Campbell was a special guest on two numbers, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. I just recently covered Mike’s first solo show in this post. The first song that Mike joined on was also the first song that Ian played the ukulele on, Pacific Sun (a song Ian rarely plays live, so it was a very special treat). Chad stood between them and the three of them harmonized beautifully. I’ll get to the other song in a minute. Well done Mike (who also got a rousing cheer when he came up each time!).

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When Ian played his last song the crowd went nuts screaming for him to play more. After the band milled around on the stage hugging each other for a minute, Ian looked at the sound engineer to see if he could play another one. He got the OK. He announced that he would play a new song that wasn’t on the new CD. He and Chad performed You’ll Be OK. They nailed it (you didn’t expect otherwise, did you?).

Once they finished, they tried to get off the stage again. A 100+ people starting chanting Shorty (short for Shorty Don’t Wait, another new number that isn’t on the new CD). If Ian and Chad had stepped off the stage, trouble might have brewed. Ian looked up at the sound engineer again and got the OK for one last number.

Mike Campbell came back up and Ian picked up the ukulele again. They blew the crowd away. I can’t think of a better way to finish off an extraordinary evening than by playing a song the crowd demands and delivering it better than the crowd could hope for.

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They were on stage for 53 minutes. It felt like one minute in terms of time flying by. It felt like three hours in terms of the level of satisfaction.

As if the above weren’t enough, that’s only part of the story of why last night was so spectacular. There was an opening act before Ian that was incredible.

Rachel Platten opened the show. I’ve seen Rachel perform a full set just once before (covered in this post). If you read that, you know I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Rachel’s show that night. Unfortunately, Lois was sick and missed that show.

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Last night Rachel had a smaller band and that worked really well for me to appreciate her on an entirely new level. While I like the sound of a bigger band (in general), sometimes it’s harder to pick up on the lyrics to songs. Last night I had no trouble hearing every word that Rachel sang. I have a huge new respect for her as a songwriter. Every song was interesting, but some were deep and moving.

Rachel’s voice is unbelievable. Power, but crystal clear as well. It’s almost laser like. As I mentioned in the last post, she beams throughout her set. If you’re not infected with her energy and sweetness, get yourself to a doctor stat!

I knew she was good on the keyboards from the last show, but last night she also had a song where she danced up and down the keyboard at high speed. I was standing right in front of her and could see every finger movement. She’s better than I realized the first time and I had no complaints that night!

Here’s last night’s set list, all gems!

RachelPlattenSetList

Playing with Rachel were:

Craig Meyer on drums. This is the third or fourth time that I’ve apologized for not having a good link to an individual page for Craig. One of his friends better force him to have a presence somewhere, soon. Craig is excellent. His drumming is as much a visual art form as it is aural. He played a snare and a djembe last night rather than a full drum set. He also played the smallest glockenspiel that I’ve ever seen, with the tip of a drum stick. It was funny.

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Nathan Eklund on trumpet and harmony. Nathan sang beautifully with Rachel, I really liked their harmonies. He’s excellent on the trumpet as well, lending jazz tinges to Rachel’s songs when he took his solos.

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When the show was over, Lois headed to the merch table and bought a CD and a T-Shirt from Rachel. We both got to tell her how wonderful she was.

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Even though we only bought four tickets (hence two guests), we ended up seeing a dozen friends there, most of us standing front and center stage. It was truly a party in the best sense of the word, with Ian and Rachel performing DJ duties. Winking smile

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Jess and Jesse Terry Wedding

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Yesterday’s post ended with: “Congratulations to Jesse and Jess as your new life together begins in a few hours!”

This is the sequel to that post, sharing some memories from an absolutely gorgeous wedding ceremony that we were honored to be invited to.

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Just like the night before, things weren’t exactly hitch-less as far as timing is concerned. This time, traffic wasn’t to blame. Someone (I don’t know who, so I’m not just protecting the guilty party) Winking smile accidentally left the video camera in the hotel room. So, even though everyone was gathered, the ceremony was delayed until the camera was retrieved. We were sitting with three friends, so the time passed very quickly.

The wedding and reception were held at Tomes-Higgins House in Greenwich, CT. There was a grand piano in the corner (eventually played beautifully by Justin Coutu), but the majority of the music in the wedding came from an iPod, sitting in a speaker dock, sitting on top of that piano.

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The first song played was Over the Sun We’ll Fly, written by Jesse Terry as his engagement/proposal song for Jess (Jessica Groom). Here is a YouTube video of him singing it for her (and proposing in front of the audience!) at the Bluebird Café in Nashville:

Jesse Terry performing Over the Sun We’ll Fly at the Bluebird Cafe

After that song, they played Moon River, while the wedding party came down the aisle. The flower girl and ring bearer stole the show (a few times).

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Officiating was the Reverend Andrew Williams (Drew), Senior Pastor at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT. In these Internet-crazed days, most people associate WWW with World Wide Web. Yesterday, it was Pastor Drew’s: Wisdom, Warmth and Wit. All three were in full bloom and moved Lois and I throughout the ceremony.

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I hesitate to share his first humorous statement, because I know it won’t come across with the warmth that was obvious in context. When Jess and Jesse settled in before him, he said that their entire lives were destined to bring them together on this day. “Both families prayed for this to happen. Looking at Jess, clearly, Jesse’s family prayed a bit harder.” Winking smile

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There was a spontaneous roar and any worries that this would be a stiff ceremony were dispelled immediately.

The Pastor led us in prayer and song. Jesse’s grandfather read from First Corinthians 13 and his mother read A Prayer of St. Francis.

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The Pastor gave a number of inspirational talks and blessings. The one that overwhelmingly got to Lois was a message to the couple to go through life learning to dance together (poor paraphrase by me). He spoke about the various stages of learning to dance and the feelings people experience. He related them to his family (wife and kids) in a beautiful way, giving a more practical sense to a theoretical topic. The dance manual? The Bible, of course!

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After the ceremony, Lois bolted straight to the Pastor and asked him whether he would be willing to give her a copy of his message so we could post it on the blog. He told her that he would email it to her. If/when he does, I’ll update the post and include it here.

Update: The Pastor emailed Lois today! I include the wonderful Dance Instructions in their entirety, unedited, at the bottom of this post!

I already mentioned the flower girl and ring bearer. The flower girl’s enthusiasm was literally bursting at the seams. When the Pastor asked for the rings, the tiny ring bearer jumped up and announced: “I have them!”. The entire room started giggling.

The Pastor was not the only one to crack a joke. Right after the ceremony concluded, our friend leaned over and said: “Not every bride is also a groom!”. If you don’t get it, check back to see Jess’ maiden name in the parens above. Smile

When the ceremony was over, all of the chairs were removed from the two rooms and tables were rolled in as the food was brought out. It was very nice not to have to run from one location to another to shift from the ceremony to the reception. As the wedding party took photos, the rest of the guests started the other kind of party, celebrating the happy couple’s nuptials.

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Jess and Jesse Terry are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. Sharing this joyous occasion with them and their loved ones was truly an honor. We wish them a life full of love and happiness and hope to share some of it with them along the way!

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Pastor Drew Williams’ Dance Instructions:

1.  Dancing Lessons

As you stand at the threshold of your marriage, I believe that the Lord would have me give you some dancing lessons.

Let me explain:

Your marriage is God’s gift to you both.

Not happenstance.

Not the outworking of a random series of events.

Your marriage is God’s gift to you both.

God has chosen you and He has chosen you for each other.

This gift is given in love and is part of God’s plan to enable you both to be all The Lord created you to be.

His desire for your marriage is that it should be a place where:

  • all your gifts
  • all that makes you both fully alive

all of this should have its fullest expression.

But for this happen – you are going to have to let the Lord teach you to how to dance.

‘A time to dance’ Ecclesiastes 3:4

Irony here is that I am of an age where according to my children I dance just like my father!

I would like to show you how to dance with your Heavenly Father.

In doing this I want to look at:

  • theory,
  • practical dance tips
  • and then an invitation.

Let’s look at some theory first.

2. Dance Theory

2.1 Following the Manual

There is a dance manual!

In the beginning it was the word of God that created.

God spoke and chaos became choreography.

Make this dance manual a living part of your marriage.

Read it together.

Work at it together.

Pray through it together.

2.2 Following Emmanuel

So there is a manual and there is ‘Emmanuel’ – God is with us.

Dance that is truly inspired always contains something that is extemporary.

The wind blows wherever it pleases.

You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.

So it is with everyone who is born of the Holy Spirit.

Let The Holy Spirit lead you

and you can be sure that you won’t have a ready answer for those who want to know your next move

but there will be moments in His leading when it will feel that you have been lifted off the dance floor altogether.

And here is where you find eternal perspective.

So there is some dance theory.

  • Embrace The Word of God.
  • Embrace the Holy Spirit.

What about some practical tips?

I had a list here of twenty five practical tips.

I have narrowed it down to two.

3. Practical Dance tips

What we have here in Jess and Jesse are two solo routines that now have to be re-cast by the Lord so as to be one amazing salsa partnership.

3.1 Practice

So the first practical tip is exactly that.

You need to Practice.

In the Old Testament David was a terrific dancer – he had all the moves.

But when he married he took a year out from the Battle field where David and his wife joined the Lord on the dance floor and worked out some new steps.

So take plenty of time in the next year to put in some practice;

push back the furniture,

roll back the carpet

and enjoy the music!

Tell your family and friends that you can’t come out – you are having some dancing lessons.

They will understand!

When we were first married my wife and I had some ballroom dancing lessons.

We learned a lot about each other in those evenings.

We learned that:

  • I had very poor rhythm but I could remember the next move.
  • We learned that my wife was great at keeping time but could not always remember what came next.

So we hurtled around the dance floor – her shouting out the rhythm in my left ear and me shouting out the next move and trying to avoid her feet.

Sometimes I was leading and sometimes there was really only the appearance that I was leading.

I see now that Lord was teaching us something that would serve us well.

A good dance partnership is clearly all about just that ‘partnership’ –

but there will be times when it will be your responsibility – Jesse(y) – to discern in God the next move – and take a strong lead.

There will be other times when you – Jess– will sense the Lord’s timing and you are going to have to help Jesse take that strong lead.

And all of this takes practice.

Sometimes it may feel to you that the Lord is using your marriage to slow you down.

Actually this is all about timing.

Don’t underestimate the deep significance of what God is doing through these slow tempo seasons.

And for later – the Lord would have you both remember Isaiah 40:11 ‘The Lord gently leads those that have little ones.’

3.2 Physical Touch

Practically speaking, there is something very Latin about the way the Lord dances.

‘When I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go.’ Song of Songs 3:4

This is a dance that you have to feel; to have and to hold.

I want to give you something – very precious.

My wife gave this to me on my wedding day.

It is one of the most precious things

I have and I had to ask her if it was OK for me to give it to you.

Can you feel that? On our wedding day, as we said our vows my wife held my hand and said that.

Can you feel what is being said here?

And in the days that have followed – during the birth of our children, in the moments before I was ordained, during times of great joy and in times of sorrow – she has held my hand and this is what she says to me.

And this is what I say back.

And nobody else knows except us and the Lord.

Find the same secret language – you are very welcome to borrow from our vocabulary – but find this physical language and use it.

Don’t let today be the last time you kiss your wife in public.

Be indiscreet on public transport and hold hands for goodness sake!

Physical touch is essential language in a great dance partnership.

So you have some theory and some practical tips and now I want to extend to you both an invitation.

4. Take hold my right hand

There is a clear warning in the Bible that the dance floor may be strewn with the occasional obstacle.

The apostle Peter, talks about many kinds of trial.

But even in that warning there is an incredible encouragement hidden in the cadence of the language.

The Greek word Peter chooses to describe these ‘many trials’ is ‘poikilos’, which literally means many or multi- coloured.

Peter uses that word only one other time and that is to describe the love of God ‘in its many colours.’ (1 Peter 4:10.)

His point is this.

Along the way, our troubles may be multi- coloured but so too is the Father’s love.

There is no colour in the human situation which the love of the Father cannot match.

‘For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.’ Isaiah 41:13

Take hold His right hand.

Dance with the Father.

Finally

How might I conclude?

In just a moment you are going to move from two solo dance routines to dance with one another.

It will last the rest of your life.

So then finally this:

Live every day of your long, happy and healthy marriage as if it were – the last dance.

Amen.

Jesse Terry at The Bitter End

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What do you do the night before you get married? Have a wild bachelor party? Meditate on the changes your life is about to experience? Not if you’re Jesse Terry, a wonderful singer/songwriter who hails from Nashville. You give your family, friends and fans a chance to celebrate with you.

Jesse Terry played a 35-minute set at The Bitter End last night (he’s getting married today!). We had heard about Jesse for over a year from one of his biggest fans and finally got to see him perform three months ago at a house concert at that fan’s (our friend’s) house. I covered that night in this post. We’ve been big fans ourselves ever since.

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Last night started off a bit shaky. Jesse and his entourage (fiancée, mother-in-law-to-be, others?) allowed two hours to make a 40-minute drive to the city. With crazy holiday traffic, it wasn’t enough. After scrambling to set up, Jesse’s set started 15 minutes late. That’s fine, it only added to the anticipation. Smile

Jesse played a seven song set of mixed genres. The third song was Natural, one of two songs that Lois plays over (and over, and over, and over…). Jesse switched from up-tempo strumming to fantastic finger-picking for this heart-tugger. I linked to the YouTube video in the last post, but I’m going to do it again, because you need to hear it (even if you’ve heard it before!). Smile

Jesse Terry performing Natural at the Bluebird Cafe

A couple of songs later Jesse asked for any requests. Lois was first with a request for Noise, but we heard at least five other people call out Noise, including Jesse’s father! Noise is another stunning song, finger-picked to perfection. I can’t resist linking that one either. Winking smile

Jesse Terry peforming Noise at the Bluebird Cafe

If you don’t know Jesse, don’t be fooled into thinking that everything he does is mellow finger-picking (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Winking smile Jesse is simply a wonderful singer/songwriter who isn’t shackled to one style. These two songs just happen to blow both of us away.

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To close out his set, Jesse invited up his duet partner, Carley Tanchon to sing with him. Jesse and Carley performed together for months on a South Pacific cruise. It’s on that cruise that Jesse met his bride-to-be, Jess (yes, they’ll be Jess and Jesse Terry). Smile

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Carley has a gorgeous voice (you can check it out in the link to her MySpace page above). The two of them sang beautifully together and ended the set on a high note.

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Congratulations to Jesse and Jess as your new life together begins in a few hours!

Bess Rogers and Lelia Broussard at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Scratch another one off my music bucket list, Bess Rogers. We’ve been aware of her for a long time, having seen her husband, Chris Kuffner perform at least a dozen times. Even though we were hoping to stay in last night and catch up on some much-needed rest, when I found out Bess was playing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, neither of us hesitated to add it to our schedule.

Bess is part of Ingrid Michaelson’s band, tours as a solo artist and is also a member of The Flux Capacitors. Last night was a solo show (with full band), opening for Lelia Broussard (they’ve been touring together). Bess and Lelia shared the same band, so when I say something about a member of Bess’ band, the same goes for their performance when Lelia was on stage.

Bess played a mix of catchy pop songs and up-tempo rock numbers. Both styles worked well. Her voice was excellent, even though she noted that she had been sick all day and was chugging DayQuil. She opened on the ukulele, mostly played an acoustic guitar and finger-picked when she played the electric guitar.

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Bess just recently released a 5-song EP called Bess Rogers Presents Bess Rogers. She played all of the songs from the EP last night, along with five others (one called out from the crowd that isn’t on the set list).

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One of the songs on the EP was put up on YouTube and all of the band members (that I’m about to cover) appear in the video. The song is Favorite Day. There are two additional musicians in the video that were not on stage last night, Dan Romer and Saul Simon-MacWilliams, both playing brass:

Favorite Day by Bess Rogers

On to the band, left-to-right on stage:

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and harmony. Chris is excellent on electric guitar and on bass (which he didn’t play last night). I’ve heard him sing before (well), but last night, harmonizing with Bess (his wife), was even better. Clearly, they get some quality practice time. Winking smile In general, their interaction on stage is fun and fresh.

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Elliot Jacobson on drums. I’ve heard about Elliot for a while now. He too plays in Ingrid Michaelson’s band. In 2010, Elliot was voted as #1 Up and Coming Drummer in the Modern Drummer Magazine’s Readers Poll. I was very impressed with Elliot’s performance last night. Both Bess and Lelia had a ton of very up-tempo songs. It’s easy to over-drum them, or under-drum them. Elliot did neither. He was really interesting and extremely fast, time and again. I’m officially a fan now!

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is such a solid musician, on electric and upright bass, as well as trumpet. Last night was no exception as the combination of Tony and Elliot created such a solid bottom, giving both Bess and Lelia a very big sound.

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Bess called Lelia up twice to join her on stage. The first time was to play ukulele (no singing). The second time Bess also called up Allison Weiss. Lelia played the electric guitar and Allison harmonized with Bess. Very well done.

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Bess’ set lasted 45 minutes. I look forward to the next time!

Immediately after Bess left the stage, Lelia’s set began. Since they were sharing the band, no additional setup was required. Except, the band reminded her that the first song on her set list was solo, so they all walked off the stage.

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In retrospect, that was the one mistake Lelia made in arranging her set (IMO). She’s a fine solo performer, but that one song was nothing like the rest of the set, so it set the wrong expectation for newcomers like us.

Once the band rejoined, the rest of the numbers were up-tempo rock. The music was totally engaging and I found my foot tapping (and stomping) throughout the set. The only downside is that for me, Lelia’s voice (excellent) was another instrument, not a lyrics delivery system. The music was loud (not annoying, just really full) that I could hardly make out more than a few words/lyrics in a row. Musically, I still enjoyed every number.

Lelia sang, played the ukulele, electric and acoustic guitars. Late in the set she too called up Bess and Allison Weiss. Bess played the tambourine and both Bess and Allison sang harmony with Lelia. I thoroughly enjoyed Lelia’s set. There was a bit more musical variety in Bess’ set, but every song in Lelia’s set was well executed.

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Lelia’s set also lasted roughly 45 minutes.

After the show, Lois went over to buy a T-Shirt from Bess. Bess announced on stage that if you bought a T-Shirt, she’d throw in the new EP. Cool! I listened to the EP while writing this post. Wonderful!

We also ran into Tony and Chris afterward:

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The show was called for 7:30pm. We arrived at 7:10pm. I noticed that Karly Jurgensen was playing next door at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 from 7-8pm. I have seen her perform one song when I saw Jesse Ruben there and he called her up as a guest.

I was impressed with that number. Lois was sick that night so she missed Jesse and Karly. I suggested that Lois go next door to catch at least one Karly song before the Bess/Lelia show started. She did.

When she returned, she couldn’t stop raving about how great Karly’s voice is! Whew, I didn’t steer her wrong. Winking smile

You can listen to her on her MySpace page. We’ll be looking out for Karly’s upcoming shows!