May, 2011:

Ian Axel, The Spring Standards and Madi Diaz at Bowery Ballroom

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I tell everyone I meet that Ian Axel is magical. Since I don’t distinguish between people I’ve already told it to and newcomers to this fact, I am not surprised when people start running away as I approach. Winking smile

Until now, it has seemed subjective, but I finally have proof, to convince all of the skeptics. It was supposed to thunderstorm in NYC last night. It didn’t (Ian had a show headlining the Bowery Ballroom, so it would have been inconvenient for his fans if it had stormed). I see you shaking your heads in disbelief. Mere coincidence or luck (you say). Wrong!

As of yesterday afternoon, rain was predicted every single day (but one) for the next week+ (I know, my doorman showed me the weather on his iPhone!). Check the NYC weather today, and more importantly, the forecast for the next seven days. Only one day of possible rain (a complete reversal). First 80+ degree days as well.

All it took was getting Ian Axel to perform in NYC, with a full band (well, specifically his full band), and the weather is now perfect. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is! Smile

IanAxelSinging

It’s been 97 days since we’ve seen Ian with his band. We’ve seen Ian and Chad Vaccarino performing together three times in between, as recently as 16 days ago, so don’t worry about any deep withdrawal. Ian’s solo shows and his performances with Chad are magical as well. That said, even though the set lists are often the same, the experiences are dramatically different (both great in their own way).

I have a few nits to pick as well (not about any of the music last night), but you’ll have to read nearly to the bottom if you are interested (no cheating and skipping ahead!).

You can spend an entire day on this site reading everything I’ve written about Ian in the past. I won’t repeat too much of it here.

In addition to playing a more typical (fantastic) Ian Axel set, there were a reasonable number of surprises. At the top of the list was the debut of two new songs: Rockstar and Golddigger (perhaps it’s two words). We’ve seen them performed once before at North Star Bar in Philly, but this was the fist time they were ever played live with a full band. I’ll wager a few dollars that there are still a few audience members who haven’t yet recovered from having their minds blown. At least we had a bit of warning from the duo show. Smile

Pacific Sun was performed very differently. All five band members were clustered together. Chris Kuffner created an organ-like sound on his electric guitar (adding a cool/eerie flavor to the song) and all five sang the chorus together. Excellent.

IanAxelChadVaccarinoAdamChristgauChrisAndersonChrisKuffnerPacificSun

Since I mentioned Chris Kuffner above, let me mention each band member briefly before continuing with the surprises.

Chad Vaccarino was tucked away in the far left-hand corner of the stage. He had a double-decker electronic keyboard setup and was mostly creating organ sounds to complement Ian’s piano sounds. He broke out the trumpet for Hangman and one or two others, to great effect.

ChadVaccarinoSinging

Adam Christgau on drums. We used to see Adam play with various bands (including Ian’s) a couple of times a week. We were quickly spoiled and expected to see him as often going forward, and have other drummers live up to his standard. Then all of sudden, poof, Adam started traveling more and for longer periods, so we don’t get to see him as often. I savor ever single strike of his sticks whenever I can.

AdamChristgauDrums

Last night was no exception, but it wasn’t a robotic reproduction of his previous play either. His fills during the epic This is the New Year varied quite a bit, at some critical moments. I enjoyed it, but my ears were expecting the fills I’ve come to love and it caught me by surprise. For those that are curious, the changes were to a more understated drum pattern, less focus on Adam. Nice, but bring back the more dramatic version, please.

AdamChristgau

Chris Anderson on electric bass. I seem to write about Chris a lot as well, since he plays with a number of bands that we can’t get enough of (I wonder if Chris deserves any credit for that?). Winking smile He was wonderful last night as well. Later, in the nit-picking section, I’ll have a bit more to say (very positive) about the difference between Chris’ play last night and the bassists who were on stage before him.

ChrisAnderson

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. Chris was great as he always is. In addition to the organ effects mentioned above, he also effectively used the slide. But, his best work last night was actually in the set before, so I’ll save that for a bit and describe it where it belongs.

ChrisKuffnerSlideGuitar

Now that the core band has received its due, I can continue with the surprises, which largely involved guests (but not entirely).

Ian brought out Dan Romer, who played accordion on a couple of numbers. Dan produced Ian’s CD (This is the New Year) with the exception of the title song (he is credited with producing the piano track on that song as well). Dan is an icon in the NY music scene (on many levels). Having him on stage is more of a huge Thank You from Ian than a necessary addition to the sound.

DanRomerAccordion

If you’ve been to Ian’s NYC shows in the past, you know exactly what happens when he plays Girl I Got a Thing. It happened last night too, but with some twists. Normally, when Ian starts the song, Glenn Chocky climbs on stage and does his thing (read any of my other NYC-based Ian posts to know what that thing is).

Last night, Ian actually called Chocky up before starting the song. Obviously, we knew what song was about to be played, but clearly there was going to be a twist. First, Chocky came out in a red sweatsuit (track suit). Next, he was carrying a gym bag which he laid on the stage. Third, instead of his signature bourbon in a glass, he had two of them, in plastic cups.

ChockyTrackSuit

Chocky had a surprise in the gym bag. When it came close to the time to shake my tambourine, Chocky opened the bag and started tossing tambourines into the crowd. His timing wasn’t perfect as he got to his a beat or two later than he usually does. It still created a memorable moment. Hundreds of us joined Ian and the band in singing the “Na na na na, Whoah wo” part repeatedly as well.

That wasn’t the last surprise of the song though. Toward the end of the song a Blues Brother’s looking guy walked onto the stage carrying a gong held by a rope (he had white gloves on). He held it unwaveringly, center stage, as Chocky banged the hell out of it for the rest of the song. Smile

ChockyStrikingGong

Another surprise was an added twist to one of Ian’s standards, Waltz. Toward the end of the song they broke out their version of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), returning to finish it off with the end of Waltz.

Ian dismissed the band for one song, removed his glasses and played a perfect version of Say Something.

IanAxelSingingSaySomething

The rest of the surprises came during the encore. Of course there was an encore! I can’t do justice to describing the electricity in the very large crowd throughout the set. Surely, Ian wasn’t getting out of the building without coming back when the set was over.

He returned by himself and played You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman. Ian joked (or perhaps he was serious) on Twitter about starting a Randy Newman cover band. Last night he started it off perfectly, without an actual band (or rather, he was a band of one!).

He called the band out when he was done and they performed You’ll Be OK. During the song, Dan Romer came out and shared the mic with Chad (who was center stage, leading the awesome vocal mayhem). A minute later, Chocky came out and eventually settled on Ian’s bench. He mimed the key phrases, pointing at the crowd (letting us know that We’ll Be OK). Thanks Chocky. Now we will be!

ChadVaccarinoDanRomerChockyIanAxel

I was pretty sure that would be the end (and what a high-note ending it would have been). But no, there’s more!

After Dan and Chocky left the stage, Mike Campbell appeared. Everyone knew exactly what song was about to be played. For those of you playing the home version, it was Shorty Don’t Wait. Smile

MikeCampbellIanAxelChadVaccarino

Mike picked up an acoustic guitar and Ian returned to the ukulele (that he played on Pacific Sun). Chad took the mic at center stage (he kicks off the song). It all started as amazingly as you could hope/expect. After the first verse, there’s a dramatic pause in the music as Chad launches into an incredible vocal beginning to verse #2. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

For the first time in my experience, Chad lost the words for a second. It turned into quite a funny moment as nearly everyone on stage broke down laughing (Chad most of all!). The audience ate it up as well. Chad wanted to pick it up exactly from that point, but Ian would have none of that. As if to punish Chad (I’m kidding), but more importantly to thrill the crowd with an extra verse, Ian insisted they start from the beginning. Thanks Ian, that was the correct call! Smile

From the second Ian walked onto the stage, until the second he walked off, the people all around me (we were right up at the stage) were in a state of rapture (that’s an honest description, and my one and only homage to the numerous hilarious Twitter comments I enjoyed for the past two weeks).

The Spring Standards were co-billed with Ian and appeared right before him. There’s something very fresh about The Spring Standards that isn’t just about their excellent music. They are inventive, passionate, talented people who blend together really well. It’s near impossible not to get sucked into their energy (not that I noticed anyone in the crowd trying to avoid being pulled in!).

I don’t know their music so I won’t rattle off song names (like I can and do with Ian). I’ll attempt to describe what I meant in my adjectives above, but first, who are they? Left-to-right on the stage:

James Cleare on acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, drums, electric bass and vocals (no doubt I left off a dozen other amazing things he did). He’s an excellent singer (more on that later) and a really good guitarist as well (leads on acoustic and electric were really well done).

JamesCleare

Heather Robb on electronic keyboards, drums, percussion, melodica and vocals. Heather is often the visual focal point of The Spring Standards both because she is the constant fixture center stage (the other two swap spots on the edges, often) and because she has enough energy to power the energizer bunny for decades. She sings many of the leads. She’s very impressive in every respect save one.

HeatherRobb

She puts so much power into everything she does, that while she hits every note, more than occasionally, her voice sounds strained. That might actually make her voice more appealing to some, because it’s different, but I’m used to hearing people with more control over their vocals and I notice the difference.

James Smith (I can’t find a good individual link) on electric bass, acoustic guitar, drums, vocals and likely others. Like James Cleare, James Smith has a very good voice and plays all of his instruments well.

JamesSmithGuitarDrumsSetup

Noah Goldman (also no good link) supported The Spring Standards on nearly every song, standing or sitting right behind them. He used to be their road manager (might still be). He played pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass and once or twice banged the daylights of some cymbals and a drum. He did a very nice job on everything, bringing a dancing energy that matches up well with the rest of the group.

NoahGoldman

So, aside from their music, what makes them so interesting?

They take a full drum set and split it apart, putting the various pieces in three separate areas on the stage. The kick drum and some other parts are on the right hand side (where James Smith spends most of his time, but James Cleare is there a reasonable amount as well). High hat cymbal and some other drum parts on the left. The rest of the kit is on either side of Heather, behind the keyboards, with some cymbals and a drum to the right of the keyboards (so that everyone, including Heather, can easily reach that, including Noah).

HeatherRobbKeyboardsDrumsSetup

It’s quite interesting to watch James Smith playing the electric bass and singing, while realizing that the perfectly timed kick drum is being operated by him at the same time. Similarly, watching James Cleare play guitar and harmonica while operating the high hat cymbal tells me that their brains operate more interestingly (if not efficiently) from mine.

Heather does a ton of drumming with sticks and brushes, all while weaving in very good keyboard play. It’s all a joy to watch.

The three of them sing extremely well together. I need to listen to their songs at home to learn them better so that I can enjoy that aspect of their show even half as much as the people around me. There were similar trances (in the most positive sense) on the faces around me as there were for Ian’s set. The other similarity is that everyone seemed to know every word to every song with the exception of the brand new ones (yes, The Spring Standards broke out new material, just like Ian did).

The Spring Standards are extremely well matched to play a show with Ian Axel (well done, whoever thought of pairing them!). So much so, that the next thing I describe was one of the highlights of the night (for me).

As you may know, musicians all over are celebrating Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. He has obviously inspired more singer/songwriters than most, so it’s natural for people to want to salute him, at the least.

The Spring Standards invited Ian and his band (including Dan Romer) on stage and they performed Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. Everyone sang the chorus simultaneously (all nine people on stage plus most of the audience). James Cleare sang most of the lead (Heather joined him on a couple of verses).

James did a fantastic job. He donned sunglasses, had the harmonica holder and played acoustic guitar. There were a few phrases that were extremely close-sounding to Dylan, without the typical over-the-top impersonations where someone’s trying to be more like Frank Caliendo doing Dylan than an honest singer songwriter becoming a little more Dylan-esque.

JamesCleareAsBobDylan

Toward the end of the song Chad Vaccarino came out of the wings, trumpet in hand, and took a simple, but perfect solo. That brought the stage total to 10.

ChadVaccarinoTrumpetIShallBeReleased

In the middle of the song, Chris Kuffner took an absolutely amazing lead. It had a single flaw in it, it was too short. That was a missed opportunity for whoever was running the song to turn to Chris (in amazement) and give him the signal that he simply had to take another turn on the lead guitar.

Anyway, it was so excellent, that when Ian’s band left the stage, Heather correctly joked that perhaps they should have considered closing their set with that number. Anything else might feel anti-climactic now. They played another two or three songs. While they didn’t necessarily have the drama of everyone on stage, there was really no letdown in the final numbers. When The Spring Standards left the stage, it was completely triumphant, with the crowd screaming their heads off.

Here is the set list from The Spring Standards:

SpringStandardsSetList

Madi Diaz opened the show with a full band. She sings (beautifully) and played both electric and acoustic guitar.

MadiDiaz

Madi just recently signed with the same label that Ian is signed with, tinyOGRE. As I type this, she still isn’t listed on their site, but I’m (reasonably) sure it will happen soon enough. Having her open for Ian and The Spring Standards was a good move to get her better recognition in NYC (she’s based in Nashville).

I was completely unaware of Madi’s music before last night. Many were upbeat catchy pop-style numbers, but there were slower ones to mix it up as well. Even the slower numbers had a deliberate beat which made them feel less folky.

Madi’s voice is excellent. She’s roughly 25-years-old. I would describe her voice as sweet (that’s not a negative, but is the only word I can think of to say that somehow, she sounds more like a 16 or 17-year-old who has an excellent voice, rather than someone whose voice sounds more mature, not necessarily better).

Given that she came onto the stage at 8:02pm (I really like that Bowery started the show on time!), the crowd was much thinner than it was later for The Spring Standards and Ian Axel. Even so, most of the people there knew every word to every Madi Diaz song. Her fans were very passionate, often making her smile (but never losing her composure) when they yelled silly things to her.

I’ll mention the band in my usual order, left-to-right on the stage. It has a bit more significance this time, because that’s also the order they contributed to the success of Madi’s set last night (in my opinion). I also have to apologize in advance if I got the drummer’s name wrong. Other than clearly hearing the first guy (and being unable to mistake him once you search, as you’ll see), Madi rattled off the other names in a nearly inaudible manner. I would swear she never even named the keyboard player (I’ll explain below why that’s important).

Kyle Ryan on guitar and vocals. It turns out that Kyle Ryan is actually the second half of Madi Diaz! Confused? Don’t be. In addition to having the name Madi Diaz, the group itself is actually called Madi Diaz as well (I didn’t know that until I looked her up), consisting of Madi (the person) and Kyle Ryan. They write together (much as Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino write together).

KyleRyan

Kyle plays the guitar really well and sings well too. It took a while to realize he sings well, mostly because it felt like he was whispering into his mic. Two guys standing behind me yelled a number of times to him that he should sing louder (that’s what I was thinking, but I’m too old to yell that out, much as I’d like to). Winking smile

Somehow, either they, or Kyle himself caught the attention of the sound guy, who turned up Kyle’s mic a bit (not enough to be at parity with Madi’s voice, but loud enough to tell that their harmony was nice and Kyle can sing).

Adam Popick on drums. Adam was never flashy, even when a song would have allowed it (let alone called for it). That said, my respect for him grew on every song. He was quite an integral part of the sound of each song. Keeping such an excellent and interesting beat, without ever being the focus of attention (except for mine, because I pay a lot of attention to drummers).

AdamPopick

I just looked up his touring schedule, and it seems he plays with some pretty big acts (and opens for a lot of even bigger ones). Clearly, Adam is a very talented musician (I think he plays bass as well, perhaps more often than drums, but I’m not sure).

Bass Player (electric). I just gave up trying to find his name, sorry, but I did work at it. He was fine, but very straight up, nothing that made me pay attention to him (other than a related topic in my nitpicking section).

MadiDiazBassPlayer

I have no idea who the keyboard player was. At the end of her set, Madi mentioned that her normal keyboard player quit 24 hours earlier. She was raving that this guy learned the material in under 24 hours and traveled to play with them. From the beginning of the set, I was thinking that he was barely noticeable (there were a few exceptions) and hardly integral to the sound. I am reasonably sure Madi never named him.

MadiDiazKeyboardPlayer

So, I’m not holding anything against him, or judging his skill. Clearly, he never got a chance to play with them. But, for my taste, Madi Diaz would have been fine with just Madi, Kyle and Adam.

Here is Madi’s set list:

MadiDiazSetList

All in all (even with the nitpicking section to follow immediately), it was one of the more amazing evenings of music in recent memory (and we’ve had many).

I need to put the nitpicking in context. There’s a difference in pointing out things that could stand (or even just benefit from) improvement, vs things that are awful (where the word improvement doesn’t really apply). It’s all a matter of context and relative degrees. Given how great the show was in general, these complaints fall under the category of “should be fixed”, not “ruined my experience”.

On the positive side, the guy who was running the stage (he sat in a booth way above the stage, deep in the left-hand side of the stage, was totally on top of every physical issue and he pounced on them immediately. Early on, he noticed that Adam Popick’s kick drum was sliding forward with each kick (I didn’t notice). He ran down the stairs from his booth, grabbed something like a sand bag from the side and placed it in front of the kick drum feet so that it stopped moving. Very impressive. He continued jumping on problems throughout the show in an efficient manner.

On the negative side, mic volumes weren’t handled as well, as smoothly, or as quickly. I already gave the example where the crowd needed to point out that Kyle was dramatically under-mic’ed. That continued throughout the show, all three sets. Mic’s were turned down when they weren’t in use (good, smart). When someone stepped up to them later on, it often took a full verse for the sound engineer to notice and get it to the correct level (sometimes, it never got correct, but at least became audible).

Chad Vaccarino was plagued by a number of mic mishaps, since he moves around on the stage a lot and switches mic’s. What a shame. He has one of the most special voices around (on a number of levels) and we were cheated out of the first few words more often than I care to remember.

That was a tolerable problem, because it didn’t last long and you were then lost in the vocals once they got it right.

The biggest problem, and I’m not sure where to lay the blame, was the general insane volume of the bass for much of the night.

I mentioned that the first bass player was very “straight up” (which is fine). What wasn’t fine was that he overwhelmed most of the other sounds nearly every time he played a note. This included full-on buzzing at times. Of course, the floor shook (a ton) with every note as well. If he were an extraordinary bassist, it still would have been wrong (even bad), but it might have been interesting as well, which it wasn’t.

I don’t know if it was the Bowery Ballroom sound guy, or the bass player himself cranking his amp and bass to unreasonable levels. I have no idea what it sounds like on the stage. Perhaps the monitor engineer had the levels better set so that it sounded good on stage, but horrible to the audience.

The Spring Standards share the electric bass duties. Both James’ and Noah play the bass at various times. None of them is fancy either (again, fine), with all three doing a nice job. Nice, with the exception that 80% of the time, their bass also overwhelmed the other instruments. One of the nicest songs The Spring Standards performed was when both James’ were on acoustic guitar. Everything was so clean and pleasant. A correctly leveled bass would not have detracted from any of the other songs.

I mentioned above that I would praise Chris Anderson down here. As far as bass playing goes, Chris was dramatically more interesting on every single bass line than the others, combined. But, what was more interesting (shocking) to me was that for the first half of Ian’s set, he was also at a much more reasonable volume (still quite loud, but no distortion).

Then, mysteriously, in the second half of the set, he too became too loud (while maintaining fantastic bass lines, so I was correct in stating above that if you’re going be too loud, you better be interesting as well!). Did Chris change something, or did the sound guy wake up and wonder why the bass wasn’t killing everyone in the front half of the room? We may never know…

Anyway, rather than ruining the show, all it did was make me think about things I shouldn’t have noticed. This was an awesome show that simply could have been much better.

I mentioned above that we’ve seen Ian and Chad three times in a row without the full band. One of those shows was at Jammin’ Java in VA. Another was in Philly. At each of those shows, we brought friends who had never seen them. In both cases our friends fell in love with them. One of our VA friends flew up just to catch this show. Our two Philly friends took the bus up. All three of them left early this morning to return to their normal lives. All three were thankful to have made the effort to soak in last night’s experience.

Before heading to the show, we had an awesome Mexican meal with our out-of-town guests. Note that the two of us on the ends are both proudly wearing our Ian Axel T-Shirts.

HadarOutOfTowners

When the show was first announced, we bought our tickets the day they were available online. I know for a fact that we bought the fourth and fifth tickets sold. At the show (actually in line before the doors opened) we saw Lindsie, who organized the amazing house concert that Ian and Chad performed at in VA. She showed me her ticket and it was #3 sold. Inside, we ended up standing with Lindsie and Alison (another Ian fan whose tweets I’ve seen many times). While I didn’t check Alison’s ticket, I’ll bet it was one of the first sold as well. It’s a badge of honor for a true fan to get tickets early and spend a long time anticipating the great night out!

HadarLindsie

We ran into so many friends at the show it was almost comical. Here are some photos of people that Lois forced to pose for the blog:

AmyRivardElyseShannonTerryElyse

LindsieAlisonMelissaTongJimSamTeichmanKelly

After the show was over, I found myself standing next to none other than Derek James (of Derek James and the Lovely Fools). We chatted for a bit about how absolutely incredible the show was. I made sure to tell Derek that we would be at his show next Wednesday, June 1st, 8pm, Rockwood 1. The original Lovely Fools (Roy Gurel and Assaf Spector), both of whom were away the last time we saw Derek, will be back this time.

If you’re in NYC next Wed, and don’t show up for this set, you have no idea what damage you’re doing to your immortal soul. Come, experience the outrageous fun that is a Derek James and the Lovely Fools set. You won’t regret it! Smile

Big Apple Singers and Mighty Kate at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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What do you do when an extremely talented group of musicians doesn’t blow you away, then announces a new show? You go, without hesitation. No two shows are alike and the likelihood of a repeat experience is low.

When I noticed that The Big Apple Singers (TBAS) were playing last night at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 10:15pm, I admit to a second’s hesitation (making my second sentence above a bit of a white lie). However, when I also noticed that it would be a night of songs exclusively by The Band and would likely be TBAS last show for a while (ever?), I really had no hesitation.

It was a fantastic set. The only complaint was that much of it was too loud, but not in exactly the same way as the last time.

TBAS is four people and they brought up four guests as well. I’ll get to the guests after I mention the main guys. Left-to-right on the stage:

Greg Mayo on keyboards (grand piano and organ) and vocals. Greg has an excellent voice and he put it to good use last night on leads and harmonizing with the others. Greg is my favorite local guitarist, but he doesn’t play guitar in TBAS. Greg is an excellent keyboardist (aside from seeing him with TBAS before, that’s his instrument of choice in his own band, the Greg Mayo Band).

GregMayoPiano

I have always enjoyed Greg’s keyboard play (at every show), but last night he took it up a notch. He played some parts with both hands on the grand, others with both hands on the organ and many with his left on the organ and right on the grand. All were tingle-worthy.

GregMayoOrganPiano

All three of the lead vocalists (including Greg) took one very long solo (without any accompaniment whatsoever) to start off one song each. Greg’s was entirely on the organ. He played for somewhere between 3-5 minutes while everyone on stage and in the audience stared at him and his fingers in amazement.

GregMayoOrganSolo

Evan Watson on electric guitar and vocals. Evan is an excellent guitarist and has a powerful voice. As I mentioned in my last post about TBAS, he’s very generous on stage. When Josh sings or does a drum solo, Evan squats on the stage so that the audience can see Josh. I didn’t mention it in the last post, but this is the second time that Evan broke a string on his primary guitar. Just like last show, rather than string a new one, he grabbed a spare electric guitar on the next number.

EvanWatsonGuitarJoshDionSinging

Just like Greg above, Evan took a 3-5 minute solo on the electric guitar to kick off a song. It wasn’t too flashy, more like a building melody that kept the crowd interested, with their pulse (or at least mine) rising slowly but surely throughout, so that we were primed for the full band to kick in when the solo was done.

On the last number, Evan wailed on the harmonica quite well. I knew he wasn’t going to play it again that set, because when he was done with the harmonica, he tossed it (unceremoniously) on the floor and immediately switched to a guitar lead. Smile

EvanWatsonHarmonica

Josh Dion on drums and vocals. I was late to the party on hearing about and seeing Josh. He’s a favorite of many people whom I respect and that goes for me as well now that I’ve seen him a number of times (on drums and on keyboards). He’s an excellent singer and an amazing drummer.

JoshDion

Just like Greg and Evan, Josh took a 3-5 minute solo. He’s soulful when he’s drumming slowly and blazingly fast when the sticks are just a blur. At either speed, he’s tasty and captivating. The looks on the band’s faces (let alone the crowd’s) were priceless!

JoshDionSoloSticksFlying

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris did a great job on the bass. In addition to singing harmony, Chris took the lead on a verse in at least two separate songs. The only other time I’ve heard Chris sing lead was at the last TBAS show. He does it quite well.

ChrisAndersonBassChrisAndersonSinging

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. Rebecca jumped up on stage a number of times. Twice by herself and two other times with the ladies I will mention next. What can I say about Rebecca’s voice that I haven’t said before? Well, I’ve mentioned how powerful it is (coming from a tiny person), but not how easily she was able to be heard over the too-loud music. Such a force. Rebecca has her own set at Rockwood 1 on Thursday at 8pm. We’ll be there. Join us and experience this dynamo first hand!

RebeccaHavilandSingingTambourine

The first time Rebecca came up, three other women joined. Two of them are the leads in a group called The Vanity Belles. Carrie Welling (no good individual link) and Jessi Rae Waltz (also no good link) both added to the vocals and dancing, standing on either side of Rebecca. Both Carrie and Jessi joined Rebecca on a second song later in the set.

CarrieWellingRebeccaHavilandJessRaeWaltzAshleyLehmann

Ashley Lehmann joined Rebecca and The Vanity Belles the first time they were all up on stage. Considering that all four members of TBAS sing (well!), that made eight voices rockin’ it out on that number. Fantastic!

I am very glad to went to see TBAS again. Smile

Before going to a show at Rockwood, I always check to see who’s playing the set before. Aside from the opportunity to discover good music serendipitously, I do it because Rockwood has limited seating and we prefer to sit. Back in January, when doing exactly that, the set before was Mighty Kate (Katy Pfaffl).

MightyKatePiano

If you visit the site I linked above, at the time I’m typing this, the song Better Days starts playing automatically. That’s all I needed to hear to know we’d be attending the earlier set independent of the desire to sit. Unfortunately, Katy (or should I call her Kate, or Mighty?) got very sick and canceled that set back in January. I admit that I forgot to track her, but it turned out she didn’t reschedule until last night anyway (I’ll explain later!).

Imagine my surprise when I checked who was on before TBAS and immediately recognized the site and song. This was a no-brainer, we weren’t going to miss a second chance to see Kate/Katy/Mighty (OK, I’ll stop now). Winking smile

The set before Katy was a paid show, so even though we arrived way too early for her set, we had to wait outside. Thankfully, the weather was nice (it ended up pouring at some point while we were enjoying the two sets and was nice when we left again!).

Even though we were the first two to line up for Katy, the line got long pretty quickly. It was amusing to see how many people showed up claiming to be performing with Katy. It felt like a cast of thousands (it ended up being seven people in total).

Kate (see what I did there, I switched to her performing name) started the set off solo, playing the grand piano and singing. A very mellow, jazzy number that highlighted both her incredible voice and her excellent piano skills. Not the greatest song to grab a somewhat noisy crowd by the throat, but for those who listened, a well executed opener.

For the most of the remaining numbers (very few exceptions), Kate was joined by a drummer and bassist (electric). I’ll get to them shortly.

In addition to having such a great voice, Kate is also a mutli-instrumentalist. In addition to her piano play (most of the songs), she played an acoustic guitar (mostly picking, a little strumming) and a violin (on one number). She’s good on all three, but the piano play was the strongest (and most consistent).

MightyKateViolin

Not every song grabbed me, but all were very pleasant to listen to. Some were great. Many of the lyrics were deep, sophisticated and flowed very naturally. She’s a very talented woman (more on that in a bit).

Rich Mercurio on drums. I can’t find a good individual link for him, but here’s a summary on a band page (a little outdated, but wildly impressive nonetheless):

Manhattan based producer/musician/songwriter, has produced and written for various record and television projects. Rich has recorded and/or performed with artists including Enrique Iglesias, Jewel, Chris Whitley, Vitamin C, Jonatha Brooke, Michael Bolton, and Ronan Tynan. Appearances include The Tonight Show, The Late Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brian. He can currently be seen in the broadway production, Martin Short, Fame Becomes Me

RichMercurio

Richard Hammond on electric bass. Read his performances and discography. Be prepared to have your mouth agape while you’re doing it.

RichardHammond

That accounts for two of the seven people that performed with Kate, the two Rich’s (as she called them) forming the core band members.

Matt Doyle joined Kate to sing a cover, Thin Air by Aqualung. Kate played acoustic guitar and they sang harmony throughout. They were amazing together. Matt’s voice was buttery smooth.

MightyKateMattDoyle

This is as good a time as any to fill in why Kate waited five months to reschedule at Rockwood. Both she and Matt are currently appearing in War Horse at Lincoln Center. While Kate was on stage entertaining us, War Horse was winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play! Nicely done, Kate, Matt and all involved in the play.

Kate brought out two women to sing harmony with her on two numbers. Morgan Paige and Nisha Asnani. Very nicely done ladies.

MorganPaigeNishaAsnani

Jody Shelton joined Kate toward the end of the set for another duet with Kate on acoustic guitar. Another winning combo. In other words, in addition to singing so well alone, Kate is masterful at singing harmony with others and at choosing the right people to sing with.

MightyKateJodyShelton

OK, we’re down to one last (very special) guest. Kate brought out Scott Chasolen to accompany her on piano while she sang a gospel song (the only song that Kate did not play an instrument on). Scott wowed us the only other time we’ve seen him, at a recent Rockwood-based Backscratch show. I found out after the show that Scott is Kate’s husband. They too were well matched, but Scott, who has an excellent voice himself, didn’t sing on this number.

ScottChasolenMightyKateSingingGospel

Kate closed the set with Morgan and Nisha singing harmony. She explained that she tries really hard to sing at least one new song every time she performs. Given her current schedule, she hasn’t had much time to write. She performed a song that she said she wrote mostly in her head, Bright Star. It was awesome, truly, so perhaps we need to lock her in her loft bed (I think that’s where she said she wrote it) more often. Smile

There was quite a large crowd there for Kate and they wouldn’t let her get off the stage when her set was over. She was given permission to play one more. She performed it solo on the piano. It was another brand new song, that she begged forgiveness for in advance if we didn’t like it. This was the first time anyone was hearing it in public.

Kate, no need to worry, it too was beautiful. Lois was particularly drawn to that last number, so you left us on a high note. Smile

MightyKateSetList

Jeff Litman at Arlene’s Grocery

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Yesterday I posted a long rant. I ended it with the following:

I’m going to stop now, or I’ll miss the show we are attending tonight. Hopefully, I’ll be back to my normal blog style tomorrow, having loved tonight’s show. Smile

I can happily return to my normal posts after enjoying last night’s set very much! Whew.

Jeff Litman headlined the set at Arlene’s Grocery. We saw Jeff once, playing electric bass in a fantastic benefit concert organized by Sam Teichman at the Bitter End. He was one of 15 people on stage. I had no trouble recognizing his talent, but at the time, I had no idea that he was also a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter.

I think Jeff started following me on Twitter and I followed him back. I then discovered his site (linked to his name above). I listened to some of the music he has available for streaming there and liked it. Much more important, I started reading his blog entries (right on the home page, just scroll down), in particular his post on giving away music.

I was extremely impressed by how smart Jeff is and how well he articulates his views. That made me all the more interested in seeing him perform. That opportunity finally arrived last night.

Jeff sang lead and played the electric guitar on nine of the 10 songs. He sings really well and plays the guitar extremely well (great leads and an excellent sense of rhythm).

JeffLitmanGuitar

I liked every single song (nine originals and he closed with a great cover of Pump It Up by Elvis Costello). Jeff wore a suit and tie for all of his originals. When he started Pump It Up, he took his jacket off. This was quite a feat, because he didn’t take his guitar (and strap!) off, so he had to wriggle out of the jacket.

JeffLitmanSetList

He tossed the jacket down on the stage and proceeded to stomp all over it during the song. Ah, the life of a Rocker! Winking smile

MattBasileJeffLitmanJacketOnFloor

On one song, Maine, Jeff switched to acoustic guitar and added a harmonica. There are many songs that I love that took a number of listens to reach that status. That said, most of my all-time favorite songs grabbed me within seconds and by the end of the song were already on the list. Maine is on the list and it was obvious within seconds. Lois felt exactly the same way. She just told me that she wanted to yell out “Play Maine again!” for an encore.

JeffLitmanSingingMaine

It is a blend of Dylan’s first electric efforts coupled with some of the best Country stuff we love. I’m listening to it on repeat now while writing this. I’ll never get tired of this song, I promise! Smile

Jeff was supported by a fantastic band, left-to-right on the stage:

JeffLitmanBand

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals. We’ve seen Bryan once before (scroll to the bottom to read about Bryan) and really enjoyed him and his set (and his band!). More recently, he’s become the hub of a number of comments I’ve made on the blog. I didn’t know he’d be playing with Jeff until yesterday afternoon.

BryanDunn

Bryan was wonderful. His leads on the electric guitar were terrific and he complemented Jeff’s play when they were both on electric. He also played rhythm on the acoustic on a few numbers. His vocals were spot on, harmonizing beautifully with Jeff. It’s been too long since we’ve seen Bryan’s own set, but it sounds like we might have to wait until his new CD is out (September perhaps?) to see him again.

In the above-linked post, I mentioned that Bryan seems like a nice guy. I can now confirm my suspicions were correct. We chatted with Bryan and his wife (actually the entire band) after the show. We purchased Bryan’s current CD (he didn’t have it with him, but he’s mailing it to us, once I get him our address). Smile

Elliot Jacobson on drums. I’ve written about Elliot twice before. He’s a great drummer, not much more to add to that. Last night, that was critical. Elliot’s kick drum was mic’ed to the hilt. I was sitting on a bar stool. Every single time Elliot kicked, the floor shook my chair, and my heart and hair jumped around. Considering his perfect beat, it worked, as my body was part of the song (literally). Still, it could have been dialed back a notch.

ElliotJacobson

Matt Basile on electric bass. Excellent throughout, though I had to work at times to pick out his bass line given that it was often synchronous with the kick drum.

MattBasile

After the show we met up with the band in the bar area. In addition to purchasing Bryan’s CD, we also bought Jeff Litman’s current CD, Postscript (he’s recording another right now). Four of the songs from last night are on Postcript, including Maine, which Lois asked before we bought it. The entire CD is really good (I listened to it once through before putting Maine on repeat). At the moment, I’m on the 11th listen of Maine. I can squeeze a few more in while I type and select photos. Smile

ElliotJacobsonBryanDunnHadarBryanDunnMattBasile

I mentioned how great Bryan Dunn’s harmonies were, but I also have to give a big shout out to Kelly Jones (I hope I guessed the correct Kelly Jones!), who sings co-lead/harmony with Jeff on Maine on the CD. Superb.

I have one complaint and one giant compliment for the sound engineer at Arlene’s last night. The sound was well balanced (hearing leads, vocals, etc., were easy to pick out). But, it was insanely loud. Arlene’s Grocery is a relatively small room. I know this is Rock ‘N Roll, but it’s one of the few times I would have shoved earplugs in if I had them (Lois did, and did!). Aside from volume as a consistent complaint, this was our third time at Arelene’s, and I am very impressed with the way they run the place!

On to the major complement. While setting up, there was a lot of shuffling on stage. Jeff has a very large, sophisticated looking pedal board. He had to move it away from his microphone stand to adjust some settings on his amp at the back of the stage. While he was at the amp, Matt went over to Jeff’s pedal board and moved it a few inches. Unfortunately, the mic cable was caught under the pedal board. Before Matt realized what was happening, the mic stand (with the mic attached) came crashing to the floor.

A few seconds later, order was restored. The show began a few minutes later. When Bryan started singing, the mic was cutting in and out. Obviously, the cable came loose when the mic hit the ground. Within seconds, the sound engineer came flying out of his booth in the back of the room and he jumped on stage. When tightening the mic cable on both ends didn’t solve the problem, he grabbed an extra cable from the side of the stage, waited patiently, and then swapped the cables mid-song when Jeff finished a verse and was taking a short lead on the guitar.

By the time Jeff started the next verse, the mic worked perfectly. It’s great to see someone who is good at their job, but even better when they’re passionate about doing it well!

One last word about the loudness. The only other complaint about Jeff’s vocals was that they were a bit too bright. In a not-so-small irony, when doing the sound check, Jeff asked the sound engineer to tone down the treble on his vocals in the monitor. He gave him a thumbs up after the adjustment. The same adjustment should have been made on the house speakers.

We were glad to be back on track for thoroughly enjoying a night out listening to great musicians doing their thing!

P.S. I ended up listening to Maine 18 times while writing this post. Not quite enough, but it will have to do, since I have a few other things to do today. Winking smile

To Blog or not to Blog…

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Introduction and Caveats

My strong instinct was/is not to write this post. I often regret overruling my gut and I suspect this time won’t be different. This is a 100% opinion piece (obviously, every post is just my opinion, but this doesn’t even contain the normal factual parts like posting a set list, etc.). If you’re not interested in my personal rant, please tune out now, otherwise, your blood will just boil. Trust me.

I’ve mentioned many times that this blog is written just for me (and Lois) to help me/us remember what incredibly rich and rewarding lives we lead, knowing (from first-hand experience) how quickly memory can fade. That we also end up helping spread the word about many of the musicians that we love is a bonus, but it’s not the purpose.

While I’ve tried to be more positive than not in my musical posts, finding the good things to say, I’ve taken my shots when appropriate (this is the last time that I’ll repeat in this post: in my opinion). This won’t be one of those posts. I have no interest in being mean for the sake of being mean. I don’t need to rant just to get it off my chest. I want to mark this moment, and our feelings, so that we remember it (especially if it causes adjustments in our future behavior!). I have no illusion that it will change anyone’s behavior (other than possibly ours!).

I don’t believe that I’m a particularly naïve person (although that statement might actually prove how naïve I really am). I will say things below that will make me look extremely naïve, so be it. Rather than naïve, I believe I am ignorant of many things in the world (but aware of my ignorance in most cases). Specifically, I know that I have close to zero knowledge about the Music Industry. In fact, many things that seem obvious/intuitive to me about the music business end up being wrong when someone explains them to me.

I am not a music critic. Aside from knowing nothing about the music business, I know very little about music theory. I only know what I like, and on occasion, can articulate why I like it. People correct me here often enough not just on technical points, but when I misidentify someone on stage. I correct it as quickly as I can. I want to be accurate with facts, but I am not trying to review shows in the classical sense.

My final caveat before jumping in: we love music, live and recorded. We love many of the musicians we’ve come to know personally, both as artists and as people. I understand that some of the people I will mention in this post have equally rabid fans and loved ones, who will feel compelled to jump to their defense and call me an idiot, a hater and likely worse.

I get that there are a wide variety of tastes out there. I get that many people scratch their heads (or laugh) at the music that I think is amazing. This isn’t about specific musical taste (though some of the points will come off that way). My apologies in advance for offending anyone specifically. I’m trying to make some generic points, but I feel compelled to give some recent specific examples in making them.

What started this

Up until recently, I’ve posted about every single show we’ve attended, no exceptions. Even when I railed about a particular show, I tried to present a lot of positive things as well (at least why we chose to go, if I couldn’t find anything else nice to say). Needless to say, it led to a few venomous comments. I was impressed that we were able to engage in a meaningful dialog in most cases and come to a better understanding of each other’s positions. I hope that if this post starts off with hostile comments, that we can use it to better understand each other in the end as well.

In March, a musician wrote to me out of the clear blue to tell me that he read my blog about someone he had performed with at another time. He was letting me know that he had a show scheduled in NYC in April, inviting me to attend if I could. I asked the person he performed with if he thought I would like his music and he said I would. Lois and I made the effort to attend.

After the show, I had a hard time thinking of anything particularly nice to say. I also didn’t have anything negative to say that had a point to it. I just didn’t enjoy the set. It was simple. I wasn’t even annoyed that this artist was bold enough to market to a single person, that part still impressed me. It was the first time I didn’t write a post about a show we attended. If I didn’t mention it here, it’s easy to believe that at some point, we’ll forget we ever even attended…

I felt badly afterward that I edited myself. Other than writing a post to mark the occasion, and saying that I didn’t enjoy the set, I was too conscious of not wanting to hurt that artist’s feelings. Consider my statement above about not being a music critic. I didn’t feel the need to warn people to avoid this person’s shows. Even accounting for the fact that he has a lot of fans, the people that regularly read this blog might have more similar tastes to mine and want me to say who I don’t like, as much as who I do.

Last weekend it happened again. Someone reached out to me in an email, inviting me to her show this past Tuesday. It was one of the best notes I’ve read, completely professional and to the point. She told me why I should come (if I was available) in a very concise way. We bought tickets and attended the show.

Afterward, I had a ton of negative things to say. This time, many even (potentially) had a point. And yet, for only the second time, I decided not to blog. I felt badly again. I was compromising the purpose of this blog for the sake of sparing people’s feelings. That sounds noble, but it’s also a bit of a copout. Given how long-winded I am, the amount of effort that goes into each and every post is overwhelming (at least I have the time to do it). I was somewhat relieved that I had a rationalization for avoiding the effort, especially for a show I didn’t enjoy.

So, why am I writing now and mentioning both of those shows? Last night was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. We walked out of another totally unsatisfying show (that’s being kind) and our first instinct was to skip another blog again. Three times in three weeks? I felt that I at least had to say what it was that was making me not blog. Depending on how I feel after this post is out and see what kind of reactions it gets (if any!), I’ll decide how to deal with these types of shows in the future (they will happen, it’s inevitable given how often we attend live music).

Let’s start with the first post I skipped. The show wasn’t awful, it was just a waste of our time. But, it struck me deeply. This person drove from out of state to play this show. He had another band member with him. He had a small entourage (photographer friend, merch seller, etc.). Where did they play? A place we had never been to before: The National Underground. I think there are two rooms there. This show took place in the bar area, on the street level.

It was a small crowd. The room couldn’t handle a large crowd anyway, so my point isn’t that it wasn’t well attended. They didn’t pass around a tip jar either. So, it seemed to me that this person drove to NYC for the chance to pick up a handful of fans (whatever that means), and to possibly sell a little merch. There’s no way it could have covered the gas and tolls under the best of circumstances. If it was an extra stop along a tour, it’s a little easier to understand. Otherwise, I found myself wondering why does he bother?

But, perhaps the more burning question (which only became clearer to me after last night’s show), why did the venue book him? Is it so hard to find acts that can do a better job? In particular local acts who have at least a modest following who could bring business to the bar? Something felt broken to me about how these places get their lineups.

On to this past Tuesday. I have no need to try to hurt this specific artist’s feelings, so I won’t mention her by name. I also won’t mention the venue, because then it would be trivial to figure out which show we attended.

One of the things that she promoted to me in her email was interesting. She wanted to do something different in the indie scene. She intended to have all of her backup singers from her set perform individually in the round, as the opening set. I liked the idea. It’s not the only reason we attended, but it was a selling point. We love when artists highlight their band (including backup vocalists, etc.). This seemed a particularly good way to do it.

Guess what, that’s not what happened. There was no in the round at all. There were three opening acts (very traditional), each performing exactly five songs. Two of the acts were indeed part of her backup singers. The third wasn’t. One of her backup vocalists was ill. This person filled in for the ill person’s opening act, but a different person filled in for the ill person in the backup singers, even though the fill-in for the backups is quite a performer in her own right (we know, we’ve seen her multiple times).

OK, not the end of the world, just not as billed. But, while the large-ish room was reasonably empty for the openers, the people that were there did a helluva job sounding like 1,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. My heart cried out for the people on stage who could barely be heard even though they were amplified. I know, it happens (you’re saying). Yes, but this was supposed to be different.

If the headliner had meant what she wrote to me, she would have come out before the openers, explained what she was trying to accomplish (presumably, to highlight the amazing people she had chosen to back her up vocally), and asked her friends and fans to join her in enjoying some talent that they otherwise might not discover.

Nope, she just threw them to the wolves. Wolves that were there presumably because they have some connection (musically or personally) to her.

OK, so we’ve seen rude crowds before (perhaps not this bad), we knew we’d survive. Surely, the headliner was going to floor us. Bzzzt, nope again. There were highlights, to be sure, but they did not include the headliner.

Her band was really good. The drummer is amazing (we’ve seen him before), the lead guitarist was terrific on a number of leads (in particular the closing number). It turns out we’ve seen him once before supporting a solo artist and we were both blown away by him then as well! Then there’s the bass player. We saw him once before too, in one of the best sets we’ve ever experienced (OK, more me than Lois, as the style of music is more to my taste). At least, after the show, I got to tell the drummer and bassist about that magical set (they were both part of it). I can’t name them here, because again, I don’t want to make it too easy to figure out the name of the headliner.

All of the backup singers (five in total) had excellent voices. There was a string quintet on stage as well. They were all good too. While I wouldn’t tell you their names either, we were both annoyed that the headliner introduced her band by their full names, but the backup singers and quintet were introduced by first names only (so I don’t even know the names of the quintet players even if I wanted to promote them).

So what, we didn’t care for her music. So what, we didn’t care for the fact that she slighted 10 of the people on stage with her assuming people could try and figure out their last names on their own. So what that she didn’t do anything to help out the openers with her crowd. Is there anything else that annoyed us? Yes.

Her crowd was just as rude to her as they were to the openers, only in a different way. First, while it filled in more for her set, it was still not a well attended show (by any measure). She booked too large a room for her following. Her friends (I feel safe in calling them that, rather than her fans, as you’ll hopefully agree) came a bit closer to the stage (most were hanging near the bar when the openers were playing).

Between songs, they cat-called to her, yelling her name every few seconds, whistling, basically calling attention to themselves in as loud a manner as they could. The minute she started playing a song, most turned their backs to her and started talking to each other at the top of their lungs. I would have been more annoyed if the songs were better, but instead, it provided a whole different level of entertainment watching them outdo each other in currying favor between songs, while ignoring each song as judiciously as they could. See why I call them friends rather than fans?

So, on to last night. Here, I’m going to name names, at least some of them, because I have enough good things to say about them in general (not necessarily regarding last night) and because they have real fans (many of them) so there’s nothing I can say to really hurt their careers (which is the last thing I want to do to any aspiring artist).

I’ve heard about The Click Five many times, but had never seen them, nor really heard any of their music. I’ve seen the lead singer Kyle Patrick a couple of times, and was impressed each time. I’ve seen the bass player Ethan Mentzer as well and he’s terrific too. We are friendly with many of their musician friends, all of whom respect The Click Five tremendously.

For icing on the cake, one of the openers was Jesse Ruben. I’ve seen a full set of Jesse’s at Rockwood and really enjoyed it. Lois missed that show, so I was particularly interested in last night’s show because I thought she’d really like Jesse. There were three other opening acts in addition to Jesse and the venue was new to us: Rebel NYC.

The doors opened later than announced, and the line moved like molasses once they were opened. When we finally got inside we saw that the main room wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience for watching the show (to our taste). A long, narrow room with the stage at one end of the long side. Speakers all over the room (it was going to be loud) and flashing/strobing lights everywhere, with disco balls hanging from the ceiling (yes, multiple ones). There were a few benches/booths along the sides, most already taken.

At the far end of the room (opposite the stage) was a lounge area with leather couches. Since we knew we had at least a three-hour wait until The Click Five would come out, we decided to forego standing the entire time and we sat on a couch along the back wall, facing the stage. The most positive thing I can say about the evening is that the couch was incredibly comfortable (though even that got tiresome in hour three…).

While it’s easy to look up the three openers from last night that I am not going to mention by name, I really mean it when I say that I’m trying to make some generic points, but using specific examples to make them. In other words, I am not trying to put them down, as I’m sure that they too have some very rabid fans.

First point, not enough fans of headliners make the effort to honestly check out openers. There are many openers I don’t like either (last night qualifies), but I give them every single chance to win me over, until their set is over. I don’t use it as an excuse to make their job harder, just because I’m not enjoying it. Ultimately, my point is that most of the rude people don’t even give the opener’s 10-seconds of listening, so it’s not that they don’t like it, they don’t care enough to find out. In other words, not music lovers at all, just people who want to be part of the scene.

When the first band hit the stage, there were very few people in the audience. Part of that was due to how slowly the line was moving to be let in to begin with, coupled with the doors opening late. Still, that small crowd managed to be so loud, in the face of a blaringingly loud rock band, that it was an incredible thing to witness. Granted, we were as far away from the stage as you could be (and still be in sight of it), so we were closer to the noise-making than people standing next to the stage. Unfortunately, there were very few people next to the stage.

The next band had more members in it. While I didn’t enjoy their set either, their lead guitarist was excellent and the drummer was incredible. Here’s what amazed me though. Somehow, the crowd settled down for them. There was noise, to be sure, but there were enough fans of this band to have entire pockets of people actually paying attention. I was getting hopeful.

Then the next act came on (acoustic). I was particularly interested to see if the settling down would continue further given that this would be harder to hear with any noise. It also seemed that this person was better known. Not only did it get noisy again, it was way worse than before. It felt like there wasn’t a single quiet person in the place (of course that isn’t true, as Lois and I tried to listen as intently as we could).

To be fair (to the crowd, and to be honest with myself), I thought this person (solo for a few songs, then accompanied by one then two people at the end) was awful. The person who sang harmony with him didn’t hit a single note (really!). I am a sucker for harmony and this wasn’t it.

OK, I’ll circle back to my real problem with the openers in my summary. At least, the two acts I really came for were about to hit the stage, Jesse Ruben followed by The Click Five!

So, three bands performed without any technical glitches. Jesse hits the stage solo, with just an acoustic guitar, and they can’t get him set up. He was on the stage for over five minutes, then he left. He didn’t return for nearly fifteen minutes and when he did, they still couldn’t get his sound out (to his satisfaction). It took another 10 minutes. In other words, it took over 30 minutes for him to start his set after the intermission from the set before. A long night just got way longer than it needed to be. I have no idea why, I’m just complaining anyway…

Here’s where it gets weird (really Hadar?). The only place where people weren’t making noise consistently throughout the night was in the lounge area where we were sitting (15-20 people in total). I found it strange because it’s the most natural place to ignore the show. You’re sitting as far from the stage as possible, in a square of couches, with a wall between you and the standing audience. You could almost pretend you were somewhere else and there was some background music being piped in (albeit deafeningly loud).

Why is that weird? Because the people in the lounge were clearly there for Jesse and/or The Click Five. They hooted every time The Click Five were mentioned by an opening act. They hooted when Jesse came on the stage. The couple next to us were friends of Jesse (the guy was, and he introduced Jesse to his girlfriend during an earlier intermission).

When Jesse started playing, our lounge got loud. The group of eight girls that had chatted quietly started passing around phones (presumably sharing text’s or FB updates) and screaming at the top of their lungs in response. The two women immediately in front of us who spent the entire night texting (quietly), started doing the same thing (well, not screaming, but talking much more loudly). They were so not into the show, they picked this moment to ask the staff to take their pictures!

His friend and girlfriend chatted throughout his set. Quietly, but they didn’t pay attention to a single song, even though the girlfriend obviously hadn’t heard him before. I was quite surprised that they didn’t bother to get off the couch and move closer to the stage, for at least Jesse’s set. Hey, at least they supported him by buying tickets, right? Right, unless they were on the list

When Jesse started his last number, one of the eight girls screamed “I love this song!”. She then proceeded to scream to her friends throughout the rest of the song, not listening, nor allowing them to either.

So, from my perspective, how was Jesse’s set? Musically, excellent. He played five good songs, sang well, accompanied himself on the guitar well. I can only hope that enough people recognized the vast difference in talent that Jesse displayed compared with the earlier acts (in particular the other acoustic one).

However, at his Rockwood show, I was also impressed with Jesse’s ease on stage (his banter and connection with the crowd). Last night, he totally misread the nature of the crowd and the venue/room. He tried to take control with similar banter, and I honestly believe that he lost more people every time he opened his mouth.

As a general point, that I’ve mentioned once or twice before, performers, please, stop saying “How are you all doing tonight?”. It’s ridiculous on every level. In particular when you’re the fourth act on stage and the first three asked the same question, with effectively zero reaction from the crowd. It makes you lazy and appear to have not paid any attention to what went on before you.

The one impressive thing was that when Jesse was done, it took significantly less time to get The Click Five going (all five playing more sophisticated instruments than Jesse did) than it took to get Jesse going. Whew.

We stayed for three songs and left when they started playing a cover as the fourth. We liked their sound (so our leaving was not a knock on The Click Five). We were wiped out and in no mood to enjoy music. It was crazy loud (we often feel that the sound guy cranks the headliner just to ensure that they are the loudest act of the show). It wasn’t enjoyable, even though they are clearly wildly talented guys.

The noise level subsided a bit, which only made it all the more strange that the volume of the band got cranked to unreasonable levels. And their fans? Well, the eight girls who hooted every time their name was mentioned walked out during the second song. Huh? I know why we left, but them?

OK, I realize how crazy long the above is. I also realize it’s specific, not only to our tastes, but to a very limited number of shows. Lois would argue that the points I’m about to make now should have been made first, with the specifics supporting them. Because I felt badly not covering those shows, I wanted/needed to get the specifics off my chest, so they came first, even if that meant losing a lot of people before the generic points were even made…

Generic Points

Who decides on the opening acts? I’ve been told by bands that it varies. Sometimes the band is asked/allowed/required to choose the opener. Sometimes the venue dictates (or the promoter). Last night (and a number of times) the decisions made, make little sense.

Either the acts are mismatched to the headliner (then people like me wonder why the audience doesn’t pay attention) or they simply stink (I know how subjective that is). In my heart of hearts, I can’t imagine that top acts think highly of the acts that I think are horrible. Yet, they appear with them, names on the same marquee.

This industry is full of talent. Yet it’s still hard to discover good music in the swamp of bad. I feel it’s incumbent on both the venues (specifically the bookers) and the acts that have sway, to ensure that the openers at least have some reasonable talent. I know it’s not going to happen, but there’s so much good music that doesn’t get heard, that it’s a crime that awful groups get to play every night, at thousands of venues across the country.

Next, these shows aren’t festivals. Why did we need four openers last night? Is it to make people feel that they’re getting their money’s worth? If so, pick better acts. Even if that’s true, most are coming for the headliner. One of the reasons this happens (on Tuesday and Thursday this week for the shows we attended), is that the headliner either can’t, or isn’t interested in being on stage for over an hour. The “can’t” part would be true if they have a very small catalog.

Venues need to decide if they are a disco or a concert hall (even if it’s standing, with the intention of dancing/swaying to the music). One of the single most ridiculous things we encounter (worst of all at Rebel NYC!) is lights that flash at the audience. Rebel is the worst, because in addition to normal floodlights of all colors flashing in our eyes (during the performance), they had strobe lights (so bright they could land planes in fog with them) that could easily set off seizures. It’s crazy. We’re trying to watch the band on stage, and we’re blinded in the process. I simply can’t imagine the purpose, other than to enhance a drug high!

There are many more bars/clubs/discos in the country than music venues. This is even more true of paid music shows (meaning, where you have to buy a ticket in advance to get in). I simply can’t wrap my head around people who knowingly pay for a ticket to a music show, and then not only proceed to ignore every act (presumably including their reason for buying the ticket) but knowingly disturb everyone else’s ability to enjoy the show. I say “knowingly”, because even when they are forcefully shushed, they give a dirty look and continue to talk as loud as they can.

Why don’t those people who want to drink and socialize go to a bar/club/disco? I have a good friend who is a full-time musician. When I rant to him about this, he says: “Any musician who can’t deal with a rude audience better quit today. It’s simply a part of the job.” In other words, he’s excusing it (in my mind). Of course, he’s not, he’s accepting it. I wish we didn’t have to settle for that kind of behavior as the norm.

I’m going to stop now, or I’ll miss the show we are attending tonight. Hopefully, I’ll be back to my normal blog style tomorrow, having loved tonight’s show. Smile

Martin Rivas, Mike Campbell and Chelsea Lee at Rockwood Music Hall

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We saw three consecutive sets last night at Rockwood Music Hall. I could write about them in any order (they were independent) but I’ll write about them in reverse order (which is the usual order here) because that’s the order in which I heard about the sets and therefore dictated our planning the night out.

We’ve seen Mike Campbell a number of times now, solo, in a duet with Chad Vaccarino and with Chad and Ian Axel as well. We enjoy all of the variations. He’s a good songwriter and his collaborations with Chad Vaccarino produce gorgeous songs.

Mike was up at 11pm last night, typically too late for us, but he doesn’t play that often and we decided not to miss the opportunity. Aside from the earlier sets (which we enjoyed!), I’m glad we came out for Mike (on a monsoon-like night), because he surprised us by switching to an electric guitar from his usual acoustic one.

MikeCampbellElectricGuitar

I will admit that more often than not, I really don’t like a solo singer accompanied by only an electric guitar. Mike made it work really well. I mentioned that to him after the show. The only exception was his song Come Home, where he strummed the guitar a little harder and somewhat overwhelmed his vocals.

One of our favorite songs is Days Gone By co-written with Chad. We’ve seen them perform it with Chad in the lead and with Mike in the lead. Last night was the first time we’ve seen it completely solo. Mike did a wonderful job. I can’t say I wouldn’t have liked hearing the harmony, but to be honest, if this was the first time I ever heard the song, I wouldn’t have known the harmony was missing and I still would have thought it’s a great song.

Of the three solo sets we’ve seen Mike perform, this was the strongest, so he continues to grow as a performer.

I had tweeted to Mike in advance that we might not make it out that late. Even though we were committed to trying, finding out a short time later that Martin Rivas was performing the set before (10pm) sealed the deal for us.

We’ve seen Martin many times, as recently as two weeks ago, but it’s been nine months since we’ve seen him perform a purely solo set (even that night, he was joined on vocals for two songs by Chrissi Poland). We love Martin’s upbeat full band shows, but I have to admit (after the fact) that seeing him captivate the audience with nothing but his voice and acoustic guitar last night reminded me that there are many ways to enjoy Martin’s music.

MartinRivas

It was so quiet when Martin performed (a difficult thing to imagine at Rockwood) that a number of times, I caught myself feeling that I was the only person in the audience. Hearing the roar of the applause after each song brought me back to reality. It’s so great to really listen without distraction. Nicely done Martin and Rockwood crowd!

Martin performed four new songs that will appear on his upcoming CD (hopefully out later this year) which will be produced by Alex Wong. All four songs were excellent. In addition, we were treated to other favorite Martin Rivas songs, including one Lois called out (but Martin already had on his set list), Raise Me Again.

Craig Meyer joined Martin on his last number, playing just the tambourine. I’ll still call this a solo show and feel good about it. Smile

A great set shared with a great audience.

Once we knew we’d be going for the 10pm set, we checked out who was on at 9pm so we could raise our chances of getting seats for Martin’s show.

Chelsea Lee was listed. We saw Chelsea Lee open for Girlyman at Birchmere in October 2008. She was 17 at the time. Her voice was stunning but the set didn’t do it for us (I’m not linking to that post, but if you’re really curious, you can easily find it). After that night, I wasn’t on the lookout to see her again, but this turned out to be an easy way to see if she’d matured in the 2.5 years since, so we both happily agreed to see Chelsea as well.

ChelseaLee

I am very glad that we decided to go. I enjoyed the set a lot. In a not-so-small irony, I don’t think her voice was anywhere near as good as it was back then. It’s still gorgeous, but it’s smokier now, a little more rounded (reminded me loosely of Rosi Golan). But, the material was dramatically better (IMO).

ChelseaLeeSinging

There were a few slower numbers (which I liked as well), with the majority of them being more upbeat light pop, very well executed. After the show, we bought her 5-song EP from her Dad. I listened to it this morning and I like it a lot. She has come a very long way since we last saw her and I will be happy to see her again.

Chelsea was accompanied by two people:

Wes Hutchinson on acoustic guitar and vocals. We’ve seen Wes once before, briefly, at the Haiti Benefit in January 2010. I liked him then, but didn’t get enough of a sense. He’s a staple in the NYC scene, but our schedule hasn’t worked out to see his own sets just yet.

WesHutchinson

Wes did an excellent job last night of accompanying Chelsea on the guitar and his vocals were spot on. When they sang together, it also reminded me (a little, don’t draw too strong a parallel) of The Open Sea (the collaboration of Ari Hest and Rosi Golan, which is another reason I compared Chelsea to Rosi above).

I don’t know how Chelsea (based in DC) hooked up with Wes (based in NYC), but it’s a very good fit.

Spencer Cohen on cajon, tambourine, shaker and cymbal. Very nicely done. While I could hear every beat on the cajon, it didn’t seem to be mic’ed the way Alex Wong’s is. Somehow, Alex produces a much richer sound on the cajon, but that seems like an easy problem to solve. Spencer has the talent.

SpencerCohen

When I checked the schedule, I saw that Drew Yowell was playing the 8pm set. We’ve never seen him, but we’ve seen his brother (Doug Yowell) drum for both Vienna Teng and Katie Costello. I had an interest in checking him out, but not in sitting in Rockwood for four hours, so I decided to look for Doug another time.

DrewYowell

Even though the weather was bad, we made better time getting to Rockwood than we anticipated, so we caught the last four songs of Doug’s set.

Guess what? I really liked it (OK, to be honest, I really liked three of the four songs).

Drew sings really well, plays the acoustic guitar nicely and was accompanied by as many as six people (that’s a lot for Rockwood 1) on two of the songs. The upbeat numbers are infectious. I purposely stood for all four songs and found my foot tapping and body swaying during those songs.

Since we came late, I didn’t hear the introductions to his band. They were good. The only one we’ve seen before was the drummer, who I recognized instantly.

Chris Benelli played the drums. The only other time we’ve seen him was in March 2010 when he accompanied Bryan Dunn. This makes for two separate small-world stories.

First, that same night was the first time we ever saw Doug Yowell play the drums, in the set following Bryan’s, accompanying Vienna Teng. That Chris is the drummer for Doug’s brother, Drew Yowell, feel’s small world-ish to me.

Second, on Friday night I wrote about a bass player, Jim McNamara, who also plays with Bryan Dunn, a name I hadn’t written about since we saw him the night we saw Chris Benelli. All good memories, brought back in focus by Drew Yowell. Cool.

Even though we didn’t get home until midnight, in a monsoon-level rain, it was more than worth it. We had a great night out.

With Friends Like This…

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With friends like this, who needs family?

Yesterday, I entered a weekly contest that Amazon.com runs. This week’s prize is a Kindle 3G. It’s only the second time I’ve entered an Amazon contest.

After entering, I was offered the opportunity to update my Facebook status. It was optional. Even though spreading the word about the contest feels counterintuitive, because it encourages more people to enter, I decided that what Amazon is doing is nice and I wanted to help spread the Amazon love.

So, I posted the following:

I am so on the fence for buying a Kindle. Winning one would solve my problem. :-)

Below that was the full link and description to the contest.

Within minutes, a buddy of mine IM’ed me to tell me that he believed my Facebook account was hacked! I got a huge laugh out of that, because I correctly pointed out that his had been hacked a couple of months back!

I assured him that it was me that essentially created an ad for Amazon.

Today, I got a package from Amazon. Here’s a photo, including a gift card (click for a larger version):

KindleGiftWrappingAndCard

A different friend of mine (you know who you are!) saw my update and decided to create a contest of one and he immediately declared me the winner! Wow, unbelievable. I don’t know what to say, except:

Thanks, you are beyond awesome!

I have no doubt that I am going to love this. It turns out that my top five favorite gadgets of all time were things I never thought I wanted, let alone needed. Someone else knew better and bought it for me. Within a day, each became so indispensable to me that I couldn’t imagine how I lived without it the day before (e.g., my first email-only Blackberry, my first GPS, my first Treo, my current Droid, my Garmin Forerunner).

Let’s safely add the Kindle to that list.

Thanks PSC! Smile

Jesse Terry, Michael Logen and Carley Tanchon at a House Concert

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For people who see live music as often as we do, I’m still amazed that it’s only been eight months since our first-ever house concert. We’ve been to a reasonable number of them since. Last night brought us full circle. We attended a concert at the same house that kicked it off, with the same headliner, with two other artists.

I’m normally very long winded (for the newcomers here, it’s because I write purely for myself, to remember the events in detail). Today, since I’ve written about all three performers (Jesse most of all), I’ll be briefer about them. You can click through above to see more about Jesse from the last house concert, or the links below for my coverage of Michael and Carley. You’re welcome! Smile

Jesse Terry was spectacular (again). In addition to selecting (and performing) a great set, he was on fire with his banter (quick and witty). He dedicated two songs to our amazing hostess. He dedicated another to a therapist in the room (a deeply moving song called Silver Hills, that melted everyone’s heart when Jesse introduced it). He dedicated another to Lois (I think just because he knew he could make her cry, he’s cruel that way!). Winking smile

JesseTerryGuitar

Jesse made reference to a video shot in Vanuatu. He mentioned that it’s the last documented case of cannibalism (we found out later it was roughly 25 years ago). None of the people in the video look like they were involved in that incident, but you never know, so be careful (especially of the one guy who dances behind Jesse, looking a little too happy!). The woman in the pink dress is now Jesse’s wife (not yet when the video was shot) and the woman in the straw hat, bikini top and shorts is Carley, another of the performers last night:

Ain’t No Tellin by Jesse Terry

Here’s Jesse telling the story about the video:

JesseTerryBanter

And the lovely ladies who appear in the video:

JessTerryCarleyTanchon

And the effect the story had on Carley!

CarleyTanchonLaughing

Michael Logen alternated songs with Jesse (like he did the only other time we’ve seen him). This time it was only acoustic guitar (he played the grand piano as well at Rockwood). I’ll repeat that Jesse was right when he said we’d love Michael, we do!

MichaelLogenGuitar

Michael has a wonderful voice, plays the guitar and harmonica beautifully, and writes excellent songs, many of which are very moving. We were happy to buy his CD last night, Things I Failed to Mention (we ran out too quickly after the Rockwood show), so now we’ll get to hear them over and over.

MichaelLogenHarmonica

At Rockwood, Michael harmonized with Jesse on Noise (a song they co-wrote), while accompanying him on the piano. Last night, he also harmonized (beautifully) and accompanied Jesse on the guitar. In fact, Michael added a bit of harmony to a few of Jesse’s songs last night (and Jesse returned the favor once or twice). I was sitting less than two feet from Michael, so I could hear every note, but Lois asked him to sing his harmonies louder, because they were so well done!

Carley Tanchon opened the show. We had a tiny taste of Carley, singing harmony with Jesse on one song at The Bitter End. Then we finally got to see her goods at her CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. That was a full band, all-out Rock ‘N Roll show.

Last night was solo with acoustic guitar. Still, everything I said about her in that show applies. Aside from the generic fact that Carley has a stunning voice, it’s a bit hard to imagine a better fitting voice for a house concert. No microphone? No problem! Her voice projects so clearly and cleanly. She has such power, but there’s no yelling about it.

CarleyTanchonPerforming

Jesse called Carley up to sing harmony on Ain’t No Tellin (the video above). Of course, the harmony was gorgeous.

They closed the show by calling Carley back up again and all three (but mostly Jesse and Carley) sang To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees. Of course they nailed it, but more interestingly, nearly everyone sang the chorus with them, quite well.

Excluding an intermission, they played for three hours (or a bit more!). It was by far the longest house concert we’ve seen. It was awesome, but made for a very late night, since we still had to drive back to Manhattan from Long Island.

Here are a few photos from before and after the show:

CarleyTanchonJesseTerryJesseTerryHadarHadarMichaelLogen

Now that I’ve gotten the music out of the way, let’s get to real point of last night, eating our hostess’ food! Ah, you think I jest, but I don’t! Last year’s meal was one of the best home cooked meals I’ve had. I’ll admit (now) that I was bit nervous if the second time around would live up to my own memories and expectations.

OurAmazingHosts

No need to worry! There was an even bigger choice, so there were a few dishes I didn’t get to taste, but everything I ate (which was a lot of variety) was simply amazing. Pasta Puttanesca, Beet Salad, Rigatoni with meat sauce, Meatballs, Tandoori Chicken, Indian-spiced Chickpeas (cooked, not a salad), Bean Dip with Chips, Homemade Breads (made by a male guest!).

PartialViewOfTheFoodMeatballsRigatoniChickpeasRice

Every bite was excellent, but I still can’t get the taste of the meatballs out of my head. If my godson had been there, I don’t think they could have gotten him to leave. Winking smile

The reason I didn’t eat everything (I skipped the Poached Salmon, Asparagus Salad, Grilled Chicken, Basmati Rice, Veggie Wraps and a few other dishes) is because last year I was too full to enjoy the incredible desserts. Since I am occasionally capable of learning from my mistakes, I saved room.

While trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid stares from Lois, I did indeed indulge in a number of desserts during intermission and after the show. They were all amazing, but I have to shout out to the chocolate covered strawberries (OMG) and the blond-mini-kisses covered pretzels. Desserts were provided by a variety of guests, so a special thank you to all of you!

ChocolateCoveredStrawberries

Merry, you outdid yourself! So, now I’m already nervous about the next house concert and what you will serve to delight me (that’s why you’re doing these shows, right?). Smile

Chris Ayer, John Schmitt and Andy Mac at The Living Room

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On April 21st, 2011, I tweeted the following:

Crushing traffic on I95 yesterday. Listening to @johnschmitt and @chrisayer saved our sanity!

I received back the following back from John:

@hadarvc Thx Radar! If you’re free on May 13th, Chris and I play the Living Room, at 10 & 11pm! Would love to say hello! I’ll have my band!

Yes, iPhone autocorrect prefers my name be Radar, such is life. Winking smile

That’s all the information we needed to lock it in our calendar (the show took place at The Living Room, as noted the tweet above). Even though something else important came up, we weren’t going to miss this show (see the very bottom of this post for our compromise/workaround). Doing my usual working backwards on the sets.

Chris Ayer started his set shortly after 11pm. I’ve written about Chris many times and how amazing he is. The last time I wrote about him I noted that Sierra Noble called Chris a poet (and I agreed). Let me take a stab at defining what I (and Lois) mean when we say that.

There are a ton of great lyricists out there. Substantially fewer of those are also poets. Great lyrics can tell a great story, have catchy rhymes or phrases and therefore clearly are the foundation of great songs. Poets create all that, but in addition, they emblazon images in your mind. Their turns of phrases are like Van Gogh’s brushstrokes. Many great songwriters achieve poetry on occasion. Poets achieve it regularly and prolifically. Chris is one such poet.

ChrisAyerSolo

Chris played his usual fantastic set. It was a blend of solo, full band and duets, all of which were equally satisfying. He played a new song, something like Hide in Plain Sight (but I’m reasonably sure it’s not that exactly). Wow, another one that had our table mesmerized.

Chris closed the show with Roy G. Biv. Lois might have tripped him on his way out if had skipped that song last night. Fortunately, she asked him to play it before the set started and he told her it was already on his set list. Winking smile

The band unplugged for Roy G. Biv. John Schmitt joined Chris. Chris, John and Matt Simons came into the audience standing in a large triangle so they could serenade different members. Chris Anderson and Stephen Chopek (the other two band members) came to the front of the stage. It was an amazing way to end a wonderful night.

In addition to bringing John up as a special guest, Chris also brought up Morgan Holland to sing with him on two songs. Perfect! John Schmitt and Morgan Holland will be playing back-to-back sets at Rockwood 1 on June 4th, at 7 and 8pm respectively. Come join us to enjoy what will undoubtedly be a great evening!

ChrisAyerMorganHolland

Speaking of upcoming shows, Chris Ayer will be at Rockwood 1 before them. May 27th at 8pm. We’ll be there too. Smile

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

Chris Anderson on electric and upright bass. Chris is one of our favorite bass players and last night was no exception. As fun as it is to listen to him play a more mellow set like Chris Ayer’s, I am distractedly looking forward to seeing Chris play with Ian Axel at the Bowery Ballroom on May 24th. Aside from the fact that it will be one of the epic nights of music in NYC, Chris Anderson will let loose in a way that tickles me to no end!

ChrisAndersonElectricBass

Stephen Chopek on drums and percussion. Stephen has quickly become a favorite drummer of ours. I was extremely pleased to see him playing with Chris Ayer last night, because he was not drumming for John Schmitt the set before. When we saw John and Chris at Jammin’ Java, Stephen drummed for both (it’s too expensive to bring two drummers I imagine). Another wonderful performance last night by Stephen.

StephenChopek

Matt Simons on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and vocals. Matt is an excellent singer/songwriter in his own right and complements Chris Ayer perfectly when he plays sideman to him (which he does quite often). Their harmonies are wonderful and Matt’s keyboard play is excellent. While he didn’t play it last night, I love his sax playing as well.

MattSimonsMattSimonsSinging

I think we missed our tradition of showing Chris Ayer’s unique set list (from his and our vantage) the last time or two. Here is the one from last night:

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

John Schmitt mirrored Chris’ set (or the reverse, since John was on first) by playing solo, full band and duet as well. He just so happened to do it with an entirely different crew. While John is a somewhat newer discovery for us, you can see from the tweet that started this off, being late to the party hasn’t cost him any of our affection.

JohnSchmitt

His recent CD release, Ophelia, is a gorgeous album. John has a fantastic voice (very soulful) and he plays the guitar beautifully. Add a top band (which isn’t necessary, but always welcome!) and he too wows the crowd, every time.

We like a lot of John’s songs, but at the top are Ophelia and Ave Regina. If he hadn’t sung either of those we might have had to mug him in the (proverbial) parking lot. Thankfully, he performed both (more on each in a minute when I mention the guest stars). Both qualify as poet songs. Smile

Joining John on Ave Regina and Going Back was Lissa Farquhar on vocals. Lissa has a beautiful voice and did a great job on both songs. Ave Regina has stunning harmonies in it, in addition to Lissa taking a verse on the lead. What I particularly liked is the fact that Lissa belted out the harmony as well as the lead. Many backup vocalists think it’s incumbent on them to sing softly to let the lead vocalist shine. It’s a nice thought, but it makes the harmonies so much more difficult to appreciate. Let your voices ring out! Smile

LissaFarquhar

Joining John for his last two numbers was Chris Ayer on vocals. Another wonderful piece of harmony.

JohnSchmittChrisAyer

John’s band, from left-to-right on stage:

Greg Barbone on keyboards (organ and grand piano). The Living Room has both a grand piano on stage and a double-decker organ (the size of an upright piano). They are on opposite ends of the stage. John joked that Greg was going to be running back-and-forth, but it turned out not to be a joke. So, I could have listed Greg first or last. Since he kicked it off on the organ, first it is.

GregBarboneOrgan

Greg was great on both. We already knew he would be great on the piano, because he was also the pianist for the set before (covered shortly). The organ was covered up during that set, so I didn’t even know it was there (two feet from where I was sitting).

Brian Killeen on electric bass. We’ve seen Brian many times (mostly with Martin Rivas) and have enjoyed his play each and every time (last night included). When John mentioned that Brian had recently opened for Bon Jovi, Brian joked that it was a solo bass performance, and he did a quick and cute bass-rock-star like thing on stage.

BrianKilleen

Mike Sutton on drums (sorry, couldn’t find a good individual link to Mike). Recall what I said above, that I was expecting Stephen Chopek on drums. I was impressed with Mike’s play, but I need to hear more to form a better opinion.

MikeSutton

Here is John’s set list. Don’t believe everything you read. For example, Lissa did not join on Ophelia and there was no sax during the set (it does say “possible Sax solo” after all):

JohnSchmittSetList

Originally, we had intended to show up just for those two sets. John tweeted that Andy Mac would be on at 9pm. We’d never heard of him, but if he’s part of John and Chris’ crew, we wanted to give him a shot. It was a fun set, so I’m glad we made the effort.

AndyMac

Andy started the show off with a bang. After being ready to go, he just walked off the stage. While our attention was focused on him walking away, his band quietly slipped on Hockey Masks in honor of Friday the 13th. When Andy came back on stage, he too was wearing the mask and had a hoodie on as well. All very menacing. He sang the entire first song with the mask on.

SeanDixonAndyMacHockeyMasksFridayThe13th

That first song is an ancient classic, Build Me up Buttercup. Andy didn’t do it in the classic style. Rather, it was a very slow, Jazzy version, with a few substituted lyrics to make it dead-on for Friday the 13th. What makes me note it is that in the same week, in Philadelphia, we heard Julia Nunes play the same song (on the ukulele, in the more traditional style). The universe is telling me something, I just don’t know what, yet…

Andy has a really nice voice, plays the guitar well, and was accompanied by a tight band. While there were a number of styles performed during the set, most had a fun up-beat vibe to them.

Andy is quite funny. One of his bits was pulling out seven really bad horror movie DVDs that he found while cleaning his apartment. He promised the first seven people who bought one or more of his CDs (he had three available for sale) would get to pick which free horror movie DVD they’d like to take as a bonus.

AndyMacHorrorDVD

Andy’s band, left-to-right:

Mal Gibbes on saxophone (which looked like it was an antique and my apologies, I couldn’t find a good individual link). He performed in roughly 1/2 the numbers. He was excellent, but on most of the numbers he was trying to be super mellow and soft (more complementary than lead, even when they were clearly his leads!). On the last number, Sara, he blew it out, loud and proud and he nailed it!

MalGibbesJimMcNamara

Jim McNamara on upright bass. First, the Mac in Andy Mac is really McNamara. Jim and Andy are brothers! Second, we’ve seen Jim once before, supporting Bryan Dunn at Rockwood 1. We were there to see Vienna Teng followed by The Open Sea (Ari Hest and Rosi Golan). We showed up one set early to ensure good seats for Vienna. Here’s what I had to say that night about Jim:

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

JimMcNamara

Suffice it to say, he was excellent last night as well, though nowhere near as highlighted as he was with Bryan Dunn’s group (perhaps there’s some sibling rivalry going on). Winking smile

Sean Dixon on drums (also couldn’t find a good individual link and thanks Sam for saving my old-man brain again!). He was excellent, in particular really interesting cymbal play. I’d like to hear more of him.

SeanDixon

Greg Barbone on grand piano. As mentioned above, Greg was outstanding. This was our first time seeing him, but certainly not our last.

GregBarbonePiano

For his last two songs, Andy called up Dave Pollack (a.k.a. Shaky Dave, also no good individual link) to play the harmonica. Very nicely done!

ShakyDavePollack

Not to slight Andy, here is his set list:

AndyMacSetList

To make the evening all the more enjoyable, we shared our tiny table with three lovely ladies, all of whom we consider friends, all met through this music scene.

After saying goodbye to a bunch of people (most of whom were on stage during the three sets), we headed off to the compromise mentioned above.

Earlier last night, The Borromeo String Quartet had a show at the TENRI Cultural Center. Melissa Tong’s brother (Kristopher Tong) is one of the violinists in the quartet and she has told us how awesome he and the quartet are (and she should know!). We’ve missed them once before when they played in NY and we felt badly missing them again last night (we would have had to leave at intermission and we would have missed Andy Mac’s set completely).

In addition to the show, there was a surprise Birthday Celebration for Kristopher afterward. His parents flew in, but the bigger surprise was that his other sister flew in too. Since she wasn’t landing in LaGuardia until 11:30pm, Melissa told us that we could show up as late we needed and the party would still be going. She was correct!

KristopherTongMelissaTong

We walked into the café at 12:30am and indeed, got to meet everyone and wish Kristopher a happy birthday. Even though it was brief, it was a very happy time. I particularly enjoyed meeting Melissa’s Dad and chatting with him a bit. It’s no wonder his kids are so awesome!

Another late night tonight, but you gotta do what you gotta do… Smile

Chris Thile and Michael Daves at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Any Chris Thile show in NYC sells out, whether it’s with the Punch Brothers or with Michael Daves. Add a little special sauce, say a CD Release Show and you can be sure that the sellout will happen even more quickly.

Chris Thile and Michael Daves just released a new CD, Sleep With One Eye Open, on Tuesday this week. To celebrate, they scheduled three shows on consecutive nights (Tue/Wed/Thu) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. We were lucky enough to have a friend who alerted me to the impending ticket sales a day before they were available. We bought ours for the Wednesday night show (last night) as did a number of our friends.

ChrisThileMichaelDaves

There were two problems last night:

  1. Rockwood 2 had a problem with the air conditioner for about an hour and the place was hot (they worked feverishly and got it working roughly 30 minutes after the show started)
  2. Before they started playing, Chris announced that Michael had been stricken by The Pollen (something I’m familiar with because Lois has been similarly stricken for over a week, almost debilitatingly so!)

#2 couldn’t be solved by having a crew climb up and down through a tiny open tile in the ceiling (which is how they solved #1). Instead, 100% of the vocals were handled by Chris last night. While he made a very few flubs (all turned into highlight reel moments!), it was a qualitatively different experience. It was impressive to know that Chris paid attention to Michael’s parts when they were rehearsing, rather than dozing off. Winking smile

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Apologies for the photo quality. The lighting is never good for compact cameras, but it was darker than usual last night (which fit the mood just right, but made it worse for the camera), plus we were further from the stage than usual. All photos can be clicked on for larger sizes (that’s always true, even though I mention it every once in a while…)

I mentioned to a friend before the show started that I had never seen the Rockwood 2 stage as barren as it was last night, even when there was only a solo singer/songwriter performing. All instruments were removed. There were no amplifiers. No electrical chords of any kind. Just a single microphone (with a shock mount, not the typical mic’s they use in these types of shows).

Chris and Michael did not plug in their instruments (mandolin and guitar, respectively). They shared the one mic on stage for the vocals and the instruments. As intimate a setup as you can imagine, even though there were roughly 200 people getting to know each other really well (come to think of it, that’s pretty intimate in its own way).

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Both Chris and Michael were simply amazing. Aside from the fact that Chris was forced to sing all of the vocals, the two of them are a 50/50 team on this project. Even though Chris is an international superstar (perhaps the best mandolin player in the world, in my opinion), Michael gets as many leads on the guitar. At no time during a Michael Daves lead do you find yourself thinking “When will Chris take the reins again?”, that’s how lightning fast and interesting Michael is on the guitar.

They didn’t just play material from the new CD. In fact, Chris joked after the third song that they still hadn’t gotten to one that was on the new CD. No one was complaining, though I admit to still being curious as to what was on it. In the end, they did play quite a number of the songs (there are 16 on the CD) and I knew I would love the CD when I got my hands on it.

The show was split into two sets with a 12-minute intermission. Each set was over 50 minutes. Including the encore, they played for nearly 115 minutes (that excludes the intermission!).

During each set, there was a request portion that was obvious to many in the crowd (we’ve seen Chris and Michael separately, but never together, so we didn’t know what was coming). Even before Chris could get the words out: “You know what’s coming, it’s time for Fiddle Tunes!”, people were yelling out a dozen Fiddle Tunes for them to play.

During the first set, after conferring, Chris and Michael settled on three Fiddle Tunes, which they played consecutively, morphing one into the next, with no breaks. Awesome! The only thing missing was that Melissa Tong was sitting right near us and they could have forced her on the stage to have an actual fiddle player up there with them! But, given how blazingly fast both Chris and Michael are on their instruments, you could almost imagine a hard-sawing fiddle player up there.

During the second set, they agreed to do four consecutive tunes. Afterward, Chris joked that someone famousHoudini (of course, my old-man brain is blanking on exactly who now, sorry!Thanks Melissa!) died because theyhe tried to do five consecutive Fiddle Tunes. That’s why they had to stop at four. It would simply be too dangerous. Winking smile (In case you can’t easily see it, in the next photo, Chris is holding up four fingers as the crowd is going wild, literally!)

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During intermission, Lois ran up to the merch table and bought the CD. This morning, I listened to it two times straight through.

It’s an absolutely fantastic collection of traditional Bluegrass (Hill Country) music. As amazing as last night’s performance was, the CD is better (musically, not experientially). Michael’s voice is very distinctive and the two of them sing harmony really well. The mixer has their vocals and instruments at exactly the right levels throughout. There isn’t a weak song in the 16 and there are enough leads on both the mandolin and guitar to blow your mind multiple times.

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Well done, both live and in the studio!

Ian Axel at North Star Bar in Philadelphia

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Some days are perfect. Yesterday was one such day. It began with a long call with my mom. While relaxing in the apartment (catching up on the last two episodes of Blue Bloods [great show]), the doorman rang up to say that someone left us a package. A few minutes later, I was tasting some incredible fudge, with exactly the right amount of peanut butter flavor. Heavenly!

After that, we got in the car and headed to Philadelphia. Our good friend Wes moved there last year. For a while now (9+ months!) we’ve been hearing him rave about his lady-friend, Jacklyn. We’ve almost managed to meet her a couple of times, but our collective crazy schedules conspired against it.

When we noticed that Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino were playing in Philly on May 8th, we immediately asked Wes and Jacklyn if they could join us for a leisurely dinner followed by the show. Thankfully, that worked for them, so we were finally going to get to meet Jacklyn. Getting to see Ian and Chad perform, well, no need to tell you how exciting that was for us as well.

The show was at North Star Bar. A quick scan of the menu coupled with the 5pm opening made that the perfect place to get together. I’ll heap additional praise on North Star Bar (NSB) later on as well, but the most important compliment I can give them is their complete and straightforward FAQ. Perhaps it’s because I’m old, but I like knowing what to expect (in advance) when going to a new venue. NSB delivered exactly the experience they said they would. Thanks!

I’ll circle back to the dinner later, as most people clicking on this are coming to find out whether Ian and Chad were their usual awesome selves (spoiler alert: they were!), but for us, meeting Jacklyn was reason enough to make the ride to Philly worthwhile, so I’ll wrap up with that and more on NSB in general.

Ian opened his set solo. This is from memory, so I could be reversing the song order: Leave Me Alone, Afterglow, Gone and Waltz. At each show, Ian seems to get a little more comfortable telling a story before playing a song. More, please! One of those stories preceded the final solo number, Say Something (this time on keyboards).

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After Ian wrote Say Something (an emotionally draining song, which probably gives only the slightest hint as to how emotionally draining the inspiration had to be!), Ian didn’t write another song for a year!

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It seemed fitting that when he called Chad Vaccarino up to the stage the first song they sang together was also the first song they wrote (they co-write most of Ian’s songs) after the year of Say Something was up, You’ll Be OK. Of course, their performance was amazing.

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More important than the performance was the story/transition from despair to hopefulness. Obviously, Ian went through that same transition during that year, but he also conveys it in the songs so that we can have a glimpse of the journey. For those experiencing the emotions in their own lives (most of us have, are or will), it’s much more personal than a glimpse.

Thankfully, Ian experienced it in the correct order and the songs were played in the correct order for us to be left more hopeful. Smile

Ian then invited Julia Nunes up to the stage. Ian switched to the ukulele and the three of them (Ian, Chad and Julia) shared one microphone. They sang Pacific Sun, with Julia taking the second verse lead (Chad normally sings that verse) and all three singing harmony on the chorus.

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Julia joined them for a new twist on Shorty Don’t Wait (one of my favorite songs). Chad sang the lead (as he typically does). Julia took a verse and belted it out wonderfully in a gospel-like voice (can I get an Amen!). Ian also sang lead and all three harmonized together. I loved it, no hesitation or reservation. But, with no disrespect to Julia, I missed Mike Campbell’s guitar playing and his harmony as well.

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After Julia left the stage, Ian and Chad introduced two new songs: Rockstar and Golddigger. Wow! Both are fantastic songs. Add to that the as-yet unrecorded Shorty, You’ll be OK (and an ancient, but still favorite of mine, Home), we’re well on our way to another amazing CD. Let’s get on it guys! Winking smile

They closed their set with This is the New Year, always awesome.

We bought a ton of merch (they have brand new T-Shirts in great colors). Thankfully, they now travel with a Square reader so they can take credit cards on their iPhones. Whew! Smile You can see a few of the T-Shirts hanging on the wall over Chad’s shoulder:

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Talain Rayne opened the show on keyboards and vocals. Talain has a very nice voice and plays the keyboards well. His entire set (the music portion) was pleasant enough. Unfortunately, while I could understand every word when he spoke between the songs, it seemed like he added an accent of sorts when he sang, making many of the words hard to follow.

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I found him to be quite funny between the songs, including plugging his phone into the PA system and calling his mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. Of course, he got her voicemail. All of us in the audience left a message for her. She called back during his last number and we got to say Happy Mother’s Day to her live.

I might have preferred that his whole set be comedy though, since the transitions from the comedy to the music (and back) were a little jarring. I spoke to another audience member who had the opposite reaction. That person felt the transitions were jarring, but wished it was all music and no talk/comedy. In any event, Talain is talented and will likely hit his stride sooner rather than later.

After Ian was done, Julia Nunes took the stage. While we were saying goodbye to Ian and Chad, we caught all of her first number, Maybe I Will. It’s an echo song (call/answer) and the crowd was totally into it, singing their hearts out with her. Nicely done!

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Unfortunately, we left as she started her second song because our garage closes at midnight. We made it back at 11:45pm, so we didn’t have much wiggle room and were thankful that there was significantly less traffic coming home than heading to Philly earlier in the day.

OK, rolling the clock back to 5pm. All four of us arrived minutes before NSB opened the front door. Lois, Wes and Jacklyn went in when the door opened and I went to our car to put away something that Wes gave me.

We like to surprise musicians that we’re friendly with when they play out of town (and therefore have no expectation of seeing us there). That didn’t work out last night. As I was closing the car door, I heard my name shouted out. I looked around and saw Ian in the passenger seat of their car, driving down the side street next to NSB. Oh well, cover blown early. Winking smile

We got to spend over two hours getting to know Jacklyn (a bit). We love her and completely understand why Wes has been raving about her for so long. We swapped life stories over beer (well, Lois had club soda, which looked like clear beer).

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The food at NSB is excellent. I believe it was the owner who told us that he convinced the chef to join him when he (the chef) got tired of working at 4-star restaurants (with all that entails).

This is the opposite. The kitchen is tiny (I was led to believe that it’s a solo effort by the chef). The food comes out slowly (as their FAQ states!), because it’s all freshly prepared, by one person, in a tiny space. But, the man is truly a master, so get there early, enjoy the company of your friends (like we did!) and then enjoy some great cooking.

Don’t be frightened by the next photo. This is not available on the menu, so no one will force you to eat a portion this size. This plate was sitting in front of the owner. Lois took the photo from a few tables away (which is why it’s fuzzy). He explained to us that one of the perks of convincing the chef to come over was getting this kind of treatment for whatever special dish the chef chooses to make for him each day. Smile

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The draft beer selection was large. I had Tiger Beer (highly aromatic with a citrus smell and taste). Aside from draft Smithwick’s (pronounced Smiddicks) in Ireland, this is probably my favorite beer (they’re so different, let’s just call it a tie!). Between 5-7pm each day, beer is 1/2 price. What a deal, you can’t go wrong there.

The bartender, waiter and presumed owner (presumed by me) were all funny, helpful and good at their jobs. Even though it’s a standing only venue for the show (we sat for dinner), we would return to NSB in a heartbeat to see another show. If we lived in Philly, we’d hang out there for drinks and dinner regardless of the show.

Like I said, a perfect day! Now to create another one today (my goal for every day!)…