June, 2011:

Backscratch XIV at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve only been to one Backscratch before, but we’ll do our best to never miss one going forward. Last night was #14, but I decided to show off my mad Roman Numeral skills in the title. Winking smile This one was back at Rockwood Music Hall (not the original venue). I covered the last one and explained the concept thusly:

Here’s the concept: gather a bunch of musicians. Each plays three songs. Traditionally (or so the legend goes) each played one original song, one well-known cover and one cover of another of the evening’s musicians, which they were each assigned at random! Now, it’s often two originals followed by the backscratch.

Backscratch was conceived by Martin Rivas and Craig Meyer, the same geniuses that brought Campfires to the world. Since Martin is touring in the UK and Europe at the moment, and Craig is probably on the road with Rachel Platten, neither was there. No matter, the MC duties were performed by Christina Morelli of NYC Art Scene fame.

We would have gone even if none of the musicians was known to us. That wasn’t the case last night, as only two of the nine performers were strangers to us. A number of them are counted among our favorites!

Jeff Litman opened the show because his band’s equipment was already on stage from his birthday set. He performed the more traditional 3-song set. He opened with a solo acoustic cover, Never Going Back Again, by Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. What a way to kick off Backscratch XIV!

JeffLitman

Jeff’s band (Bryan Dunn, Matt Basile and Elliot Jacobson) joined him for the next two numbers. The first was his original, Everything You’re Not (from his current CD, Postscript). Jeff closed his trio with a cover of Valerie Mize (his backscratch), Promises, from her Auspices EP.

I’m not going to be able to name every song from every artist, since I do this from memory (and I don’t know all of their songs well enough anyway). Where I think I know/remember, I’ll say so.

Jesse Terry was up next, solo with an acoustic guitar. Jesse is one of our favorites, so we knew we’d enjoy his numbers. I was more curious to hear what his backscratch would be (they are assigned randomly). Jesse opened with Pearl Diver, a very new song (which we’ve heard before, since we do our best to show up whenever and wherever Jesse performs). Next up was Scared of Nothing, another Jesse original. His voice was incredible on both numbers.

JesseTerry

For his backscratch, Jesse drew Live Society. If you read anything I write, you likely know how much I love Live Society. Given how amazing Jesse’s voice is, and how well he handles the guitar, I admit to being extremely excited about this. He performed No One, which isn’t on their current EP. It was fantastic (both the song, and Jesse’s interpretation), so I’m seriously hoping it will be on Live Society’s forthcoming CD!

I played a critical role during the performance (which you might someday get to see on YouTube, since the entire evening was filmed by Sam Teichman). There was quite a breeze inside Rockwood and the sheet music (most of the backscratchers require some cheat sheet) was flapping off the music stand. I bravely reached up and held the corner of Jesse’s sheet for the entire song, saving the day! Winking smile

Please allow me a digression here (or skip ahead, I might not even be able to tell). I used the word interpretation above for a few reasons. First, there’s the obvious one (in this case), where Jesse is a solo artist trying to reproduce a song performed by a band that crushes three-part harmony, and is accompanied by guitar, keyboards, bass and drums (usually).

Second, the backscratch is often a song that was learned quickly, at times even on the day of the show, so it’s not likely to be a studied copy. But the most important thing is that it’s often a true artistic interpretation, in the sense of paying homage to the original artist by delivering it to them in your style (for most cases, the original artist is hearing it live then and there).

Jesse delivered No One in his own style. I absolutely would have believed it was one of his songs if he had introduced it as such. After singing it, he met Live Society for the first time. How cool is that, practically and conceptually?

LiveSocietyJesseTerry

Unfortunately, Jesse had to leave shortly after performing. He had an early trip this morning, heading to Greenland, just shy of the North Pole (of all places). He’ll be serenading our troops there for the next week or so. He didn’t get to hear the backscratch that covered him (we’ll get to that later).

Valerie Mize was up next. She performed two originals with her band (Antar Goodwin on electric bass and Tomo Kanno on drums). She opened with Downtown Train. She followed that with a new number. She played electric guitar on both, finger picking (beautifully) for the most part, and strumming without a pick the rest of the time. She has a beautiful voice.

ValerieMizeSinging

We’ve seen Valerie only once before, at the Soul Benefit where she sang backup. Here’s what I wrote about her performance that night:

For most numbers, there were three or four backup singers on stage. All but one sang lead as well, so I’ll mention them in a second. The only backup singer who didn’t sing lead on at least one song was Valerie Mize. She did a wonderful job. I’m sure if there was more time, she too would have taken a turn at the center mic and wow’ed us.

I’d never seen Antar or Tomo before. Both did a very good job and are well-matched with Valerie.

AntarGoodwinTomoKonno

For her backscratch, Valerie dismissed the band and moved to the grand piano. She sang Ophelia by John Schmitt. He too is one of our favorites, as is that specific song (title cut from his current CD). Valerie played the piano beautifully and sang a very soulful version of Ophelia.

ValerieMizePiano

Patrick Firth was up next. We’ve seen Patrick many times, but last night was a first on two scores. We’d never seen him perform an original and we’d never seen him play anything other than keyboards. Instead of heading for the grand piano in the corner, Patrick (his friends seem to call him Pat, but that feels presumptuous on my part) sat on a stool, center stage, and sang an original accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. Very nicely done!

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I already knew he had a nice voice (you can read about it in this post). Now I know that he can write and sing his own stuff (that night was covers) and play the guitar as well.

Patrick then moved to the piano and performed a brand new song that he wrote over the post three days (finishing it yesterday!). He plays with the Big Apple Circus and wrote it while in CT, on breaks, between shows.

PatrickFirthPiano

For his backscratch, Patrick played Grow by Nick Howard. What a fantastic job. We had just seen Nick perform a full set earlier that night (with a full band), next door at Rockwood 2 (covered here). He played that song with the full band. Patrick’s rendition was very different and equally beautiful.

Unfortunately, Nick hadn’t made it over to Rockwood 1 yet, so he missed hearing Patrick nail his song.

John Schmitt was up next. That alone would be reason enough for celebration. But, in a complete surprise for me, John brought up Greg Mayo to play guitar with him. John opened with Two Souls.

JohnSchmitt

Greg played some amazing guitar solos (surprise!) and sang a few words (way too few) of harmony (very nicely). He played Patrick Firth’s guitar.

GregMayo

Next John played Going Back (a fantastic new song of his, that isn’t on the Ophelia CD). Typically, he has a female voice singing harmony with him. Greg basically filled that role with guitar leads. Holy moly, it was awesome.

John is currently raising money to record that song professionally. We contributed early. Even though we did (quite happily), we noted to each other that the raw version John has up on his donation page is quite beautiful. We worried (privately) whether people would wonder why he needs/wants another version. Having heard how different it can sound by just adding another guitar (admittedly, one played by Greg Mayo!), made us just contribute a second time. We no longer doubt John Schmitt’s wisdom. Smile

Greg then left the stage and tried to take Patrick’s guitar with him. John kept it, asking Patrick if he could use it for his backscratch (John had broken a string earlier, and had to use a different one in its place. I’ll spare you the groaners about a broken G-string.) Winking smile

Patrick agreed to let John use the guitar, until John admitted that his backscratch was none other than Patrick. At that point Patrick said: “Then NO!”. Of course, he was kidding, but it was funny nonetheless.

I don’t know the name of the song, but it was great. So, Patrick can indeed write, and we already knew that John can deliver. A great combo!

Lara Ewen was up next, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. I had never heard of Lara, so I didn’t recognize the two originals that she played. They were both nice and I like her voice.

LaraEwen

For her backscratch, she drew Jesse Terry. She was quite funny in pointing out that most people give excuses like “I had to miss your performance because I was at the North Pole, but that in Jesse’s case, it was the truth!”. Winking smile She added that she was happy about that, because she was reasonably sure she was going to butcher his number.

She chose The Runner (the title cut from Jesse’s CD). She was correct in knowing that she hadn’t quite nailed the song, but I certainly wouldn’t say she butchered it, just that certain parts caused her some grief. Winking smile

Benjamin Wagner was up next, also accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Benjamin was the only other performer I hadn’t heard of before. In this case, it turned out to be a little less mysterious. He has a full-time job and a one-year-old, which has slowed down his live performances dramatically.

BenjaminWagner

Of all the performers, he was the chattiest. While I found his style entertaining and the content interesting and well-delivered, he was also the only one who cursed (and quite a bit at that). I’m no prude, but it was still jarring in contrast to the rest of the show.

He has a very good voice and plays the guitar well enough. That said, neither of his two originals (Giving Up the Ghost and Dear Elizabeth) grabbed me.

He inserted his backscratch in between them. He drew Lara Ewen and chose One Day. Wow, I really liked it a lot, both the song and his performance of it. So, I know Lara is capable of writing songs that will grab me, and I know that Benjamin is capable of delivering a song in a manner that will engage me as well. Neither pulled that off with their own originals, but the sample size was two in each case, so let’s toss that out and start again, the next time I see either of them.

Benjamin blogs regularly and he posted his thoughts about last night’s show.

Nick Howard was up next (and had arrived by then). He played solo acoustic, quite a contrast to his earlier full-band set at Rockwood 2. One of the two originals that he played was Grow, which he had performed in the earlier set. It’s the same song that Patrick Firth had covered for his backscratch, but Nick was unaware, since he hadn’t made it in yet.

NickHoward

That made three performances of Grow in one night for us. All were quite different from each other (even though Nick himself performed two of them!). All three were very well done.

Nick’s other original was Falling for You, which he had also performed with the full band in the earlier set. Once again, his solo performance was different and beautiful. As I noted in the earlier post, he had to work harder to get his voice heard over the full band. In the solo set, his voice was just right.

For his backscratch, Nick drew Benjamin Wagner. I don’t recall the song, but I remember thinking it was nice and that Nick did a good job with it.

Last, but certainly not least, was Live Society. They were without their guitarist (John Kaiteris), keyboard player (varies) and drummer (Erik Perez). The three singers, Brian Collazo, Jason Vargas and Kevin Collazo were joined by their regular bass player, Anthony Candullo. Anthony also played acoustic guitar on one number.

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Two special guests joined them: Patrick Firth on grand piano and Greg Mayo on acoustic guitar.

Live Society reverted to the classic format, one famous cover, one original and one backscratch, mirroring the opener (Jeff Litman) as the only acts who did that last night. That was more than fitting, as they asked the crowd if any of us had done the calculus to guess who their backscratch was? Even you who weren’t there should be able to figure it out. I’ll give you a minute while I get to their other two songs.

GregMayoLiveSociety

They opened with their original Better Man. Gorgeous! They followed that with I Second that Emotion by Smokey Robinson. Jason Vargas took the lead for a good portion of the song. It was fantastic.

JasonVargas

For their backscratch, they drew Jeff Litman (please don’t tell me you haven’t figured it out yet). They performed Open Arms. Frist, the bottom line: Wow! Now, some details.

Jeff’s version is wonderful, but it’s straight up power Pop. Live Society owned their version, which was about as Mowtown/R&B as you could hope and it couldn’t have worked better.

All three of them traded singing lead. Yes, you read that correctly. If you’ve followed my other ravings about Live Society, then you know that I have started a campaign to get them to have Kevin sing some lead. He did, and he was terrific! I had to tease him/them after the show, pointing out that it took a backscratch to get Kevin to take a lead. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a trend. All three of them can sing, including Kevin!

KevinCollazo

What a way to end a spectacular evening.

Backscratch was listed as 9-11pm on the Rockwood schedule. Before the show started, the sound guy told Christina that the previous show had run over and he would appreciate her trying to keep it moving at a rapid pace. Ha!

Last night’s show ran over by only an hour. No one dawdled. Let’s do the math: nine artists each performing three songs, averaging four minutes = 108 minutes. That’s nearly the full two hours, without accounting for time between songs, banter, and oh yeah, changeover between acts (sometimes including moving equipment around). The fact that it’s not scheduled for three hours is the joke, not that it ran over.

Update: A number of people commented to me via email and Twitter that the site correctly listed it as three hours, albeit confusingly. That’s correct, in the sense that there was no artist listed at 11pm. But, the show was listed as 9-11pm, which was explained to me as meaning that 11pm was considered a continuing start time. Wow, not the clearest communication. Anyway, I’ll still knock Rockwood for not making that part clear, but Christina Morelli did indeed deliver an on-time performance! 🙂

It was late, obviously, but I can’t imagine having missed it. Smile

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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On their birthday, most people wait (patiently or otherwise) to see what their friends and family will do for them. Musicians? Not so much. A number of them book shows on their birthday, effectively throwing a party for their friends, family and fans. Yesterday was Jeff Litman’s birthday and that’s exactly what he did, booking a show at 8pm at Rockwood Music Hall.

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We planned to attend this and the show immediately afterward (covered in my next post). We also ended up attending an earlier show next door (covered in this post). When Nick’s set was over, we made the grueling 3-foot walk from Rockwood 2’s front door to Rockwood 1. Whew.

We saw Jeff perform at Arlene’s Grocery on May 20th (covered in this post). Last night he was supported by the same band, with one guest star joining them late in the set.

Jeff played the electric guitar for most of the set (very well). He played acoustic on a few and added harmonica on Maine. He played the grand piano on one number.

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If you read the above-linked post, you know that I particularly raved about Jeff’s song Maine. I ended my rave with:

I’ll never get tired of this song, I promise! Smile

Here we are, more than a month later, and not only am I not tired of it, I warmed up for last night’s show by listening to Maine while exercising the day before. So, I was grateful to Jeff that he didn’t torture me by saving it for the end of the set (he likely knew he couldn’t get out of Rockwood without playing it). As you can see, it was third on the set list. That allowed me to relax and enjoy the entire set without the anxiety of wondering when I’d get to hear Maine. Smile

SetList

The entire set was excellent, with the exception of the fact that as I’ve noted a number of times recently, Rockwood 1 probably isn’t best suited to full-on Rock. It wasn’t too loud last night, but it was loud enough to slightly wash out Jeff’s voice at times. It’s a dilemma, because in general, Rockwood is such a great experience.

JeffLitmanSinging

Having the intimacy of Rock right in your face is awesome, but not controlling the sound (because amps are a few feet away, uncontrolled by the sound engineer) is deflating. It’s not purely an overall volume issue (to repeat, last night wasn’t that bad), it’s a blend problem that doesn’t seem easily controllable from the main sound board. It’s also possible that it’s not as bad in the corners of the room, but we’re always up front, so we always feel the problem.

A quick tour of the band followed by the guest:

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars along with harmony. Repeating myself, Bryan is excellent, pure and simple. Excellent guitarist, excellent voice. I like his original music as well as his side-man performances. Looking forward to his new CD later this year.

BryanDunn

Matt Basile on electric bass. I enjoyed his play at Arlene’s, but he was often hidden from sight. Last night he was a few feet away from me and I could see all of his fingerwork up close and personal. The sound might have been just as good, but the experience was greatly enhanced (for me) by the visual.

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Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is a machine (I suspect, literally). He’s so fast, so steady, so hard hitting, that after the show, both Lois and I asked him how it is that his arms don’t fall off while he’s playing. He said “Glue”. Winking smile More than likely, it’s constant practice and general exercise. I noted that it was more likely his Guns (the boy has biceps). No matter, whatever his secret regime, it translates well on stage.

ElliotJacobson

Jason Wexler joined for the last few numbers on the grand piano. Impressive. I’ll need to keep an eye out for him at future shows.

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The best singing of the night occurred when Bryan Dunn led the rest of us in singing Happy Birthday to Jeff (who stubbornly refused to join in!). Winking smile

JeffLitmanRefusingToSingHappyBirthdayToHimself

The next post will cover the next set at Rockwood. Jeff Litman happened to open that show as well. Happy Birthday to us! Smile

Nick Howard at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We’ve seen Nick Howard perform once before, as part of his side project with Rachel Platten called Chasing Violet. I really enjoyed that set and was looking forward to hearing Nick do his own stuff at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

Nick had a full band backing him. He’s British, lives in NYC and is a star in Europe (Germany in particular). His new CD is already out in Germany (where he just completed a radio promotion tour). We’re still waiting for the release in the States.

Nick is a really good songwriter. Clever lyrics and excellent song structure (melody, rhythm, harmonies, arrangements). He sings well. As I mentioned in the post about Chasing Violet, Nick speaks normally (whatever that means), but typically sings in a higher register than he speaks. It’s a sweet sound, but still catches me a bit by surprise.

NickHowardSinging

Nick played acoustic guitar on all but one number, when he broke out a ukulele. Nicely done all around.

NickHowardUkulele

Unfortunately, having a full band, and a higher voice, isn’t the greatest blend. Nicks vocals were a bit strained. I could hear every word, but he sounded better with Rachel (and later last night, which I will cover two posts from now).

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

Dave Sherman on electronic keyboards (couldn’t find a good link). Dave was mostly blocked from my view by the guitarist, but I could see his hands on either end of the keyboards. I could also hear him reasonably well. He had an L-shaped setup, with a big keyboard in front of him and a smaller one to his left.

DaveSherman

He played funkier sounds on the smaller one and split the larger one between organ and piano sounds. Both were very good, but the piano parts were much easier to distinguish from the electric guitar.

Michael Reid on electric guitar and harmony. Nick introduced him as Mike, but his page is full of “Michael”s, so I will stick with that. His guitar play was very nice. His vocals were excellent (all harmony, no lead). I would have been happy with even more vocals, but no complaints.

MichaelReidGuitarMichaelReidSinging

Spencer Cohen on drums and light harmony. I’ve seen Spencer twice, both times on cajon and percussion supporting Chelsea Lee. I enjoyed both of those sets (including Spencer’s play), so I was pleased to have a chance to discover his full drum set play. Score! I enjoyed every bit of his drumming. He also added a bit of harmony a few times, joining Nick and Michael.

SpencerCohen

Malcolm Gold on electric bass and shakers. Malcolm did a good job. Early on, he had a problem with a cable and stopped playing (for roughly 1/2 a song). The band continued to sound good without him. However, when he started playing again, the sound got much fuller. While he wasn’t flashy, he was definitely a welcome addition.

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In addition to having a good repertoire of songs (and performing them well), Nick has a delightful stage presence. He has a winning smile, self-deprecating humor and quick wit in responding to the crowd or commenting on something he spots in the audience.

NickHowardSmiling

Here’s the set list:

NickHowardSetList

Even though this was to be a very long night of music (known in advance), I’m extremely glad we decided to start it off earlier than originally planned when I found out that Nick was going to be at Stage 2 (7pm).

Busy Weekend Without Music

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When I tell you we had a busy weekend, you assume you will be reading about a ton of musical events. Not this time.

We have good friends who live in VA, parents with three kids, ages 13, 10 and 5. We’ve known them since the 13-year-old was 18 months old (they lived in NYC then). In what has become an annual outing, the family comes up to celebrate the 13-year-old’s birthday with a baseball game (the first year was a Mets game, the last three years Yankees, his favorite team).

OurFriends

They arrived on Friday just in time for a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole. There are a lot of great burger places in NYC, but I probably think of Jackson Hole first when someone mentions burgers. Everyone agreed our adventure started off perfectly. When we stepped out of the restaurant, we split up.

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The parents got a rare break from being absolutely incredible parents, who have raised kids we love to spend time with. They went on an extended walk around Manhattan (or so they said!). Winking smile

We took the three kids to see Cars 2 in IMAX 3D (I didn’t even know our local AMC Theatre had an IMAX in it, let alone with 3D). We had seen the original Cars with them as well (in fact, every animated movie we’ve seen in the theater has been with these boys). This is the first time we’ve taken the 5-year-old (the only girl in the bunch) with us. She didn’t make a peep during the movie, so it likely won’t be the last time she joins us. Smile

I’m thankful that I didn’t see how poorly the movie was reviewed. I would have gone anyway, but I might have tried to find the bad spots. I don’t know what people expect from these movies, but I found it completely delightful. The boys both rated it higher than the original Cars, which they enjoyed (as did I). Cars was perhaps a little sappy (in a good way). While Cars 2 is definitely a message movie, they went for a bit more excitement and a bit less sap. I thought they found the right balance.

It was also very funny, in a completely corny way. I’m a sucker for corny, but to be honest, if the humor is too sophisticated, it will lose the kids quickly. This kept my interest and had the kids howling a number of times.

We had about an hour to wind down and hook up with the parents before it was time to head out to the Yankee game. This was going to be the first night game with the boys. The mom and the daughter stayed home, so Lois was the only female in our group of five. We took the train at the height of rush hour and were packed like sardines all the way to the stadium. Thankfully, since it’s a super express, the entire trip is barely over 20 minutes from Grand Central.

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Since this was a night game, I wasn’t worried about picking seats in the shade. I changed up the section we sat in the past two years and picked the first row near the foul pole in left field, up one level (section 231 for you die-hard fans). All five of us were thrilled with the seats, though I would probably avoid them on a very sunny day, where we would have broiled.

YankeeStadiumSeats

The bigger risk was that rain was called for throughout the day and night. It misted and even rained a bit during the 90 minutes leading up to game time, but there were no delays and the tarp never came out. It misted a bit very briefly during the game as well.

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Exactly a week earlier, our godson and his wife were supposed to come visit. Their flight was canceled. In the post about that weekend, I shared a photo of a rainbow that coincided with the birth of our friends’ daughter. While we were sitting at the game, Rebecca (our godson’s wife) texted me this photo of a rainbow in Birmingham, AL. We took it as another sign that we were going to have a great weekend.

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Unfortunately, the Yankees lost 4-2, in a very sloppy game. There were a few extremely close calls (two on steals at second base). All of the close calls went against the Yankees, and none were shown on replay. They replayed plenty of other ones, none of which were even marginally close. The people behind us said that this was normal for Yankee Stadium, no replays of close calls. Ridiculous! Sad smile

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We had another quick ride back into Manhattan and after a few minutes of wind-down watching TV, everyone collapsed for a long, excellent sleep.

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Saturday morning started with a hearty breakfast made by Lois. Everyone but me then headed out to a local park for some baseball (both boys made the All-Star league this year!), basketball and general running around. I stayed back to clean off a laptop that our goddaughter was giving to the family for the kids to use. Just as I finished, Lois called to say they were all ready for lunch. Perfect timing!

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We tried a place we had never been to before, Gemini Diner. Again, everyone really enjoyed their meal. I would happily go there again, but we have a diner we love that is a whopping two blocks closer to us (one of which is an Avenue block), so we’re not likely to get over there too often.

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Once again we split up after eating. This time the parents took the girl with them. They went on a really long walk along the East River, south, all the way past the Brooklyn Bridge.

We took the boys back to the movies, this time, for another one that was poorly reviewed. This time we were all aware of the reviews in advance, but the boys really wanted to see it anyway. The Green Lantern was showing in both regular and 3D, but showtimes had us at the 2D viewing (which is probably way better for Lois than having to wear the 3D glasses anyway).

We got there just as the showing before us was letting out. The 10-year-old and Lois each asked a number of people what they thought, and everyone, roughly 1/2 a dozen people, all said they enjoyed it. One woman was nice enough to tell us to make sure to stay through the credits, as there was a short but important extra scene near the end of the credits. She was correct. Thanks! Smile

While waiting for the theater to be cleaned in between showings, the 10-year-old decided to spontaneously do a trust exercise. He fell backwards toward me, and I caught him, every time. One of his attempts came just as a few final people walked out of the theater. I caught him a little later than those folks thought I would (or rather should have), and a very big guy let out a noticeable sigh of relief when I finally did catch him. Whew! Winking smile

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All four of us concurred with the people who gave us the thumbs up. We really liked the movie a lot. I guess I don’t know what people are complaining about. I admit to not being a comic book aficionado, so I don’t know if it wasn’t true enough to the original comic, or too true (and therefore predictable), etc. All I know is that it was thoroughly entertaining, moved along quickly, had amazing graphics (even in 2D, can you believe it?), was funny (both for the kids and the adults), well acted, with a self-consistent story.

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We returned to the apartment and had a bit more downtime. Then Lois and the boys headed over to the hotel where the parents and the girl were staying (two blocks away). They headed up to the rooftop bar, which we’d heard was amazing. Lois confirms that it is and that I have to join her there in the near future.

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I met them at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant) for another fantastic meal. When it was over, we headed our separate ways. We ended our evening watching Ocean’s 12 with the boys (well, Lois slept through most of it). The movie was a bit slow for the boys. Each of them nearly gave up before the big surprise finish, but in the end, they stuck it out. We all slept late again, exhausted from another chock-full day.

This morning we had another great breakfast courtesy of Lois, then they hit the road at around 10am for the long trip back to VA.

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The title of this post reveals that this weekend hasn’t had any live music. Of course, the weekend isn’t done. Barring some unforeseen issue, we will be at the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza tonight at 8pm, to see Ian Axel perform a few songs on a outdoor piano. It should be the perfect way to cap an already perfect weekend. Smile

Martin Rivas Solo Campfire at Slane

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We’ve only been to one NYC Campfire before. That one was missing Martin Rivas, one of the co-founders of Campfire. Last night Martin was back hosting Campfire, this time at the original site of the Campfires, Slane (link is currently broken). Martin’s partner-in-music (crime?), Craig Meyer, was on the road and didn’t attend last night. It was the last Campfire until late August and we didn’t intend to miss it.

Campfire is held in a bar, so it’s not a traditional show. It’s mostly covers, though the artists will occasionally sneak in one of their originals (or as was the case last night, they might be forced to play some originals when someone requests it).

Martin kicked it off solo. It was our first time at Slane and I was impressed with the sound quality coming out of the portable PA/amp that Martin dragged out of the back room himself. Slane is a very nice bar.

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After Martin played a song of his choosing, he just started going in order in the audience asking people to pick songs. Ryan Vaughn sat closest to Martin and he chose first (a Police song). Ryan later joined Martin on percussion. I’ve seen Ryan a number of times, usually on percussion with Martin. Very recently, we saw Ryan on a full drum set twice, the first time supporting Robbie Gil and the second with John Schmitt.

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Last night, Ryan played the cajon (along with other percussive instruments like shakers and a tambourine). I am in love with cajons, and Ryan was masterful on his. I believe that someone (I know who, I’m just not naming them!) told me recently that Ryan was one of the first to play (and master) a cajon in the local scene and that he’s famous for it. Now I know why!

RyanVaughnCajon

Lois was second on the request parade. She chose Me and Julio, which Martin nailed (of course). It would have been my turn next, but Martin asked if it would be alright for him to play another Paul Simon song. You don’t think anyone objected, do you? Winking smile

While Martin was playing Me and Julio, Greg Mayo walked into Slane with a guitar case. Martin had tweeted that he might have a guest or two, but he didn’t name them. I was thrilled to be there just to see Martin, but how can the President of the Greg Mayo Fan Club (that’s me, in case you’re wondering) not be extra-thrilled that the object of the fan club was about to join the merriment?

By the middle of Me and Julio, Greg was set up and playing his patented awesome guitar leads. He was also singing harmony (fantastically) with Martin, but he wasn’t mic’ed. Thankfully, we were so close it was really easy to hear him.

GregMayoGuitar

It was finally my turn, and I noted that since we were in the Village, he should play at least one Dylan song. He said he’d have to break out the laptop for the lyrics. After the laptop was turned on, he proceeded to play an oldie that wasn’t even close to a Dylan song. I guess Martin was in the mood to tease me. After that, he did play a Dylan song, Positively 4th Street (great choice).

MartinRivasSingingDylanAidedByLaptop

But, in classic Martin style, he turned it into a full-blown Soul number. It was 100% recognizable, but only from the lyrics. Otherwise, you would have thought it could have been from the catalog of any of the top Soul/R&B groups of the 60’s! Nicely done.

The person sitting next to me chose Cecelia (it turns out it’s her middle name!), and of course, Martin (and Greg) obliged.

In the meantime, Slane kept filling up, both with people who specifically came for Campfire and with a typical bar crowd. I was impressed that the people at the bar seemed to be enjoying the performance as much as we who came specifically for it were.

Brian Killeen was one of the people who came in that wave. He sat down to enjoy the music, but a few songs in, he was coaxed to come up and play the electric bass. It was at the same time that Ryan Vaughn jumped in on percussion. Greg took a break and joined the audience.

BrianKilleen

Brian was fantastic, with a number of long leads on the bass. He also sang “I’m gonna add some bottom, so that the dancers just won’t hide” during Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music”.

If you need proof that our deceased loved ones can directly affect our world, in order to reach out and let us know they’re watching over us, here you go…

Brian had a margarita. I missed it, but somehow, it got spilled. After successfully soaking his shirt, the rest landed on the floor in front of the band. Lauren (I only know her first name) sprang into action, got a towel from the bar and cleaned it up lickity split. In the meantime, Brian got up and asked Greg Mayo to take over the bass duties for the next song.

GregMayoBass

Just as Greg took over the electric bass, someone (I actually think it was the same Lauren who took care of the cleanup on aisle 3) requested Sara Smile by Hall and Oates. Now for the proof part: Bob Mayo, Greg’s dad (sadly taken from us way too early!), toured for roughly 10 years with Hall and Oates!

A drink gets spilled, causing a change of bass players, followed by a request for a song by a band that the replacement bass player’s dad toured with? Coincidence? I think not. Smile

Martin passed the mic to Greg who sang a few verses. He hit the high notes perfectly (more thrills and more evidence!). Smile This was my first time seeing Greg on the electric bass. Can you believe that even though it has two fewer strings, and they’re way thicker, that he’s still as buttery smooth and his sensibilities are just as awesome as his guitar play? I knew you wouldn’t argue with me on that.

I think Brian took the bass back on the very next number. Final piece of evidence. Smile

It was Lois’ turn again. She picked Into the Mystic by Van Morrison. Martin complied, wonderfully! Rachel, who sat across the table from me, was intending to request Sara Smile when it was her turn, but she was scooped by Lauren. Then she was going to request Moondance by Van Morrison. She told Iris both of those before they were called out, so she had a witness. All that proves is that we in the audience have similar (wonderful) taste in music. I guess that explains why we all like to hang out at these shows together.

A few songs later (nearly two hours in), Martin announced that they would take a short break, then play one more short set. At first we intended to stay, but a few minutes into the break and our eyes were getting droopy (it was 11:05pm). We called it a night.

On our way out, I spotted two of my favorite people coming in, Brian Collazo and Jason Vargas of Live Society. I bet they sang a bit with Martin after we left. That’s a little soul-crushing for me (get the double-entendre?), but the sleep was so welcome (we slept later than we have in a very long time), so missing them (assuming they sang) was a price that had to be paid.

Martin is opening one of the biggest concerts of the year in NYC tonight (7pm, River to River show). Unfortunately, we’ll be missing that. Then he’s off for a concert tour in the UK and Europe the very next day! Knock ‘em dead Martin, we know you (Chrissi Poland and Alex Berger) will indeed do so!

Chris Ayer at a House Concert

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This was a weekend extravaganza hosting our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca). In addition to seeing Wicked earlier in the day (covered in this post), we wanted to take them to see some live music in NYC. Our core group consisted of 10 people, which could present logistical problems with finding the right show to accommodate us and still allow for the socializing before/after the show that we desired.

It occurred to me that even though we are loath to put on a house concert in general (logistics, weather, etc.), since we could constrain the group to be reasonably small, we might try to pull off a little miracle this time around. I was hoping for a solo, guitar-wielding singer/songwriter, so that we could easily move it indoors if the weather turned nasty (we planned this a month ago).

We love a lot of singer/songwriters that are based in NYC. With no offense to any others, Chris Ayer was at the top of our list. He’s the first one we asked, and the last, since he said he was available. Smile

Let me (now) apologize to all of our friends, especially those who are also huge Chris Ayer fans, for not inviting you. Since this weekend was about our godson, and his sister (our goddaughter, Laura) lives in the same building as we do, we restricted the guest list to their friends only (and us, of course). There were 16 audience members.

Since the evening was about socializing as well (David and Rebecca live in Birmingham, so none of us gets to see them as often as we’d like), we invited people to come at 6pm, with music slated to begin a little after 8pm. The original invitation said “Sushi” for dinner, but we knew that a few people don’t eat Sushi. A couple of diligent husbands pointed out that their pregnant wives couldn’t eat Sushi either. One of those pregnant wives delivered the night before (and stood us up for the show, can you believe it?)!

Congratulations to Laura and Jason! Smile

The day before, Wes, Jacklyn and I walked to see Super 8 (I might be one of only three people in America to think the movie is entertaining, but really stupid). On our way over, it poured so hard that we (and roughly 50 other people) had to stop (even though we had umbrellas) under some construction scaffolding for nearly 10 minutes, to avoid the feeling of taking a full bath in our clothes.

When we arrived back at the apartment, I noticed a giant rainbow and Lois snagged these photos (the rainbow disappeared within a few minutes!). It turns out that the rainbow appeared nearly coincident with the birth of Laura and Jason’s daughter. How awesome is that?

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Don’t worry about us, we still had two remaining pregnant women in attendance, so I think our quota was still met. Winking smile

There was plenty of other food to eat, and general merriment took place from 6pm onward.

SchmoozingOnTheDeck

We were thankful that Chris arrived early enough to taste some of the Sushi as well. I also cornered him and fired off a bunch of my imponderable questions about music, including asking him whether he buys lefty guitars, or plays upside-down, etc. Thanks for being a good sport Chris and answering all of my questions patiently. Smile

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Shortly after 8pm, we pushed one of the tables out of the way (yes, our deck is a veritable furniture store) to make a nice spot for Chris to play in.

ChrisAyerPerformingAtHouseConcert

Chris had his traditional set list written out on his arm (and my traditional photos showing you his and our views):

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

After Chris played a few numbers, he asked whether anyone had requests. Lois fired off a few (including some older ones). He agreed to play one of her current favorites (she has dozens), Snake Skin Heart. After playing a second request from her, my competitive juices were flowing and I weighed in with Hiding Places (a new one that we love) and Stranded (which was on his set list already).

When I introduced Chris (before the music started), I mentioned that I think of him as a modern-day James Taylor whereas Lois thinks of him as a modern-day Paul Simon. At one point, Chris asked if anyone wanted to hear any covers. Naturally, some Paul Simon songs were called out. He played The Boxer (beautifully!), then Kathy’s Song (wow!). Again, my competitive juices could not be controlled. I called out for any James Taylor song. He performed Fire and Rain (perfect choice!).

After the show, one of Laura’s friends (who I met for the first time last night) came up to me and said: “Chris’ James Taylor cover was spectacular, but I have to side with Lois in comparing him more to Paul Simon. I wonder whether we won’t soon all be calling him our modern-day Paul Simon!”. OK, uncle! Smile

When Chris returned to playing his own numbers, both Lois and I were about to ask for Say What You Mean (independently, we only found that out after the show when comparing notes). Before we could get it out, Chris started introducing it. It’s about his Grandfather, which we knew, but the story that inspired it was new to us and incredibly touching.

While introducing it, he mentioned that his grandfather was in the Navy at Pearl Harbor. The person sitting closest to Chris during the show was Laura’s husband, also named Chris. Our Chris was in the Navy for six years and it didn’t seem accidental to me that he ended up being serenaded to that closely on this song (and obviously the rest of the songs).

Lois had asked (at least three times) whether Chris was going to do Roy G. Biv. He answered yes every time. I guess she wanted to make sure he wouldn’t forget. Winking smile He didn’t. He closed with an absolutely fantastic rendition of it. He introduced it, and nearly every song last night with some background or context about the song (I love that part of live shows!). Even though we’ve seen Chris many times, most of the backgrounds we heard last night were new to us, and I enjoyed every single one.

After the show we opened it up to questions of Chris and there were some really good ones. A few examples: co-writing vs writing alone, how long it takes to write a typical song, which comes first, melody or lyrics, etc.

Most of the people (including Chris) hung around to chat afterward, eating some dessert and the most incredible fresh fruit you can imagine (I’m still in a bit of a fruit coma over how good it was). We did allow the pregnant ladies to head out and get off their feet. We’re nice like that (sometimes). Winking smile

I’d be lying to you if I said I could adequately describe how incredible the entire evening was, music, conversation, food, fellowship.

I’ll finish by throwing in bonus coverage from today. Winking smile

If you know David, you know that his entire life revolves around Meatballs (ha, those of you who don’t know him think I’m exaggerating for effect). Winking smile How could we have him up to NYC and not take him to The Meatball Shop? We couldn’t and we didn’t! The core 10 of us headed down there shortly after it opened at noon today. We took over the tiny corner at the end of the bar (with most of us standing) and had an absolutely amazing lunch, including the obligatory ice-cream cookie sandwiches for dessert.

The kids went on for a very long walk, heading from the Lower East Side to the new Highline Park. Us old folk returned to the apartment, which is how I found the time to finish today’s posts. Smile

Our Tenth Wicked is still the Charm

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Our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca) were coming up to spend their first weekend with us as a married couple. They were to arrive on Friday night when the festivities were to begin. Unfortunately, the Wicked witch was in control on Friday, and after hearing every excuse in the book, their flight was canceled.

The Good witch took over (you can’t reverse a spell) and got them out the next morning (yesterday), but since the evil spell had been cast, they were forced to wake up at 3am to catch a 5:30 flight. It all went well and after an amazing lunch at the Palm West, we headed over to see Wicked across the street (their choice).

LunchAtThePalmWest

The last time we saw Wicked, I ended my post with the following:

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’ll hit double digits. It was roughly 11 months since the last time we saw Wicked, so it might not be right around the corner, but it’s coming, I can feel it. :-)

We wanted to make sure that David and Rebecca didn’t pick Wicked thinking we weren’t willing to see anything else, but they insisted that they were really interested, so no further arm twisting was necessary. We saw it with our mutual friends Wes and Jacklyn who came up from Philly for the weekend. We bought the tickets about a month ago, so we couldn’t get six together. Each couple sat together but we were clustered close enough to each other.

The last time we saw Wicked, Katie Rose Clarke played Glinda. She was in yesterday’s show again and was as spectacular this time as last. There was no letdown in the last number either, so this was actually a better performance (her comedy is still a touch over-the-top, but it really works, so perhaps I’ll stop saying that if we see her again). Smile

Teal Wicks as Elphaba. We made the mistake of watching a YouTube video of her singing Defying Gravity, on Broadway, from a February 2011 show. It was awful. Thankfully, that’s not the way she came across yesterday. I can easily quibble with a few things, particularly in her first number, The Wizard and I, but they were so minor and the rest of her performance was fantastic.

She hits the highest notes in Defying Gravity so crisply, cleanly and powerfully, it’s a thing to behold (and hear). My last quibble is that she’s not as forceful in a number of her duets, where it feels like she’s holding back in order to be generous to her co-star (both Glinda and Fiyero), but her voice gets a bit lost at those moments.

Nevertheless, I’d happily go see Teal again. She delivered the spoken parts of the show perfectly (including her acting).

Tom McGowan was The Wizard. I’m a big fan of his TV work. He was in 42 episodes of Frasier and 17 of Everybody Loves Raymond (and I’ve seen every one of them, probably at least twice). He did a marvelous job yesterday, including his singing.

Kathy Fitzgerald played Madame Morrible. Excellent!

The Governor of Munchkinland was the same actor we’ve seen all 10 times. That’s over a 4-year period and impresses the heck out of me. He’s great every single time.

Almost everyone in the ensemble has been the same (I can’t even believe how familiar they are to me, but I guess 10 times shouldn’t have me so surprised).

The rousing standing ovation from the sold-out crowd for the leads seemed to overwhelm them (in the positive sense), but then again, they’re both fine actresses, so who knows. Winking smile

WickedCastStandingOvationWickedCastBowing

Lois scooted home in a cab to prepare for the continuing weekend festivities, while the five of us walked back leisurely (the weather was spectacular) and arrived just as all the food was being delivered. Perfect timing. The rest of the evening will be covered in the next post.

Rachel Platten, Bess Rogers and Bethany and the Guitar at Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse

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We’re nearing the middle of a two week hiatus from NYC music. We’ve already missed some very special shows and will be missing a few more before we get back on the horse.

None of that mattered, because I thought I was going to see a night of Musical Mud Wrestling starring two amazing female singer/songwriters, Rachel Platten and Bess Rogers at Ebenezers Coffeehouse:

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OK, you’d think it was billed as a topless boxing match from the above poster (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but I chose to believe they wanted to leave the image of them mud wrestling to the imagination. Note that in typical female fashion, the poster doesn’t include their weight (click on it for a larger version!). Bess only fueled the image with this tweet:

June tour with Rachel Platten! Come watch us fight to the finish!!http://fburls.com/46-mnKKwbgC

Before you head out to see them on this tour, let me assure you, it was all a lie. The only thing you’ll see/hear if you attend one of their shows is awesome music (and you might laugh a bunch as well, but that’s it!). Seriously, I could have stayed in NYC for that instead of driving to DC to catch this show. Winking smile

In my typical fashion, I’ll cover the acts (there were three) in reverse order.

Rachel Platten was up last. She very recently released a CD called Be Here. Get it, listen to it, fall in love with it.

RachelPlattenSinging

Rachel performed at least six of the songs from the CD last night and one or two songs I never heard before (always a treat). Rachel always delivers the goods live, in whatever configuration she chooses. She played one song solo, the rest with her band, and a few also had Bess Rogers singing harmony with her.

Bringing Bess up led to a number of funny lines, including the only thing that could be confused for delivering what the Poster (and tour name) promised! Rachel also sang harmony with Bess on a few numbers during Bess’ set. When Rachel took the stage, she commented that it’s much easier to think of things to say to the audience when it’s your own set and how you just look and sound goofy (not the word she used) when it’s someone else’s set.

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Of course, she said that exactly as Bess was settling in behind her mic. Everyone erupted in laughter (including Bess and Rachel), since it seemed like she was challenging Bess to say something clever, right then and there.

RachelPlattenBessRogersLaughing

In addition to having a great voice and writing great songs, Rachel is also superb on the keyboards. Last night she intro’ed one song with an incredible solo (mostly classical style, with fingers flying the length of the keyboard). She had a number of mini-solos, all filled with razzle-dazzle.

RachelPlattenFingersFlying

Backing her up on all but one number were:

Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and vocals. I was surprised that Martin played and sang. I expected him to be the referee for the fight. Oh well, we had to suffer his wonderful voice and guitar playing instead. Perhaps next time! Smile

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Craig Meyer on drums/percussion. Craig always does an amazing job, whether he’s playing with a full drum set or hitting his leg with brush sticks (yes, he did that last night during one song!). Rachel highlighted him giving Craig an intense solo, but to be honest, Craig generally is a highlight reel (in the best sense), whether he takes a solo or not, at each show.

CraigMeyerCraigMeyerDrums

Behind Craig was a full drum set, in one of those glass cages you often see at a giant show (MSG, etc.). It would have been interesting to see him wail on that for a bit. That too will have to wait for another time.

MartinRivasCraigMeyer

I include the set list here, but Rachel didn’t follow this to a T, even though it was sitting on the floor next to her. Specifically, she opened the show with Nothing Ever Happens, which appears second on this list:

RachelPlattenSetList

Bess Rogers had a similar setup to Rachel. She played one song solo (on acoustic guitar). For the rest, she was accompanied by Martin and Craig. She performed most of them on acoustic guitar, but switched to ukulele for a few. Rachel sang harmony on a few numbers and played a bit of keyboards on one.

BessRogersSingingBessRogersUkulele

Not to be mistaken for a cool person, Bess paired a glockenspiel on one of the numbers that she also played uke on (the one Rachel played keys on). Bess pointed out that if you’re going to be a Nerd (and she considers herself one), then by all means, pair two nerdy instruments in the same song. Winking smile

BessRogersUkuleleGlockenspiel

To be honest, I felt a bit cheated on another score. Bess bought (and apparently mastered!) a new Omnichord. I was hoping she would break it out at this show. Alas, she did not…

Bess has an exceptional voice, with incredible control to boot. It was evident on every number except the very first one. We couldn’t tell why the sound engineer wasn’t boosting her mic during the opening number. We also weren’t sure whether Bess even knew she was sounding soft to us (since her monitor might have been fine).

RachelPlattenHarmonizingWithBessRogers

Thankfully, the minute the song was over she switched mic’s with Rachel, saying that for whatever reason, the one she had was simply too soft-sounding. Whew. Everything was perfect (sound-wise and voice-wise) after that!

Bess played a few from her latest EP (released in 2010), including the opener, Come Home and Favorite Day. In introducing Favorite Day (a song about her now-husband, who was only a boyfriend back then), Bess made someone named Courtney (in the audience) promise not to tell Chris Kuffner (her husband) that she shared the back-story/motivation for the song. Since I didn’t sign any legal documents and Bess didn’t admonish me personally, I’m mentioning it here. Winking smile

Bess played an older one (from her first CD, released in 2007) with an updated arrangement. I’m mentioning these because we didn’t snag a set list for Bess (not that I noticed one on stage). She also played a couple of new ones that will be on an upcoming CD that was funded (extremely successfully!) on Kickstarter. Congrats Bess, we’re waiting (semi-patiently) until we all get to enjoy it!

While Martin played normal guitar and sang harmony with Bess (wonderfully), he also played the acoustic guitar as if it was a bass on a couple of numbers, to excellent effect. Nicely done Martin!

There was an opening act for the evening, someone we never heard of before. While some opening acts don’t suit the headliners well, we’re reasonably open to finding out if they do, considering that some of our favorite bands/people were discovered that way. I suspect that last night’s opener will make that list (perhaps they already did?).

Bethany and the Guitar is a five-person group, but basically, the core is Bethany Parks and her brother, Kurtis Parks. Since Kurtis played the guitar on stage, I’m gonna guess that Kurtis == the Guitar. Smile The bio on their site implies that they co-write most of the songs. Either way, both are clearly extremely talented.

BethanyAndTheGuitar

Bethany sings beautifully and plays the ukulele on most songs. The first few numbers they performed reminded me of The Weepies. On others, she gave me more of the feel of Rosi Golan. In both cases, I describe it as ethereal/dreamy Pop, but with interesting lyrics, so it’s not just about the sound (though if that’s all that grabs you, it’s more than enough!).

BethanyParksSingingBethanyParksUkulele

Kurtis sings harmony a fair amount (very nicely, or I could never have likened them to The Weepies!) and plays guitar quite nicely on all the numbers. He sang lead on a verse or two as well. From his site (linked above), he has (and has had) his own bands as well.

KurtisParks

They performed two songs last night that Bethany didn’t write (or co-write). One was a cover, the other was co-written by Kurtis and a Nashville songwriter.

Bethany sang a new song (not on the CD) that she wrote for a NYC-based charity called Buy Her Bag Not Her Body. The bags were also for sale at the merch table. This charity saves women from the sex slave trade and gives them a skill (in this case making hand bags) to support themselves.

Rachel announced during her set that her birthday was upcoming and that Martin bought her one of the bags during intermission. Martin scores a double, for being a good friend and doing a good deed at the same time!

The rest of the band, left-to-right on stage:

Eric Montgomery on electric bass. Very nice job throughout the set. He also helped Bess, Rachel, Martin and Craig with the monitor volumes and cabling during their sets. From the photo on Kurtis’ site, I see he is/was also part of Kurtis’ band (Kurits Parks and the Anthem). He’s on the right. The guy on the left was in the audience.

EricMontgomery

Sarah Parks vocals and clapping. Sarah is married to Kurtis. She has a lovely voice. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem comfortable enough on stage to want to use it forcefully. She often sang a little further back from the mic than would have been ideal. What I heard was really good though. I also listened to their CD and it’s easier to pick out Sarah’s voice there.

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Speaking of the CD, we bought two copies. Thankfully, it holds up as well as I could have hoped given last night’s performance. I’ve listened to it twice today (after ripping it, not once per physical CD). The last track on the CD is labeled “World Famous (Bonus)”. They played it last night as well, I think closing the show with it. On that track Sarah sings the final verse on the lead (the only verse she sang lead on last night).

Kurtis produced the CD, so he’s talented beyond just singing, musicianship and songwriting abilities.

Nick Welsh on cajon. Nick did an extremely good job. I haven’t seen too many cajon players, but I’ve liked the instrument every time. Nick had more of a snare sound to his (which was new to me).

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During one song where there was clapping (note that I listed “clapping” as one of the things that Sarah did a number of times), Nick seemed to get the cajon to sound like multiple people clapping along with Sarah.

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Both Nick and Bethany joined Rachel for her last song, each with a tambourine in hand with Nick adding a shaker (after all, he’s a professional percussionist!). Smile

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When Bethany was done performing, she told the crowd to stick around for two of her favorite artists, Bess and Rachel. We’ve heard many opening acts praise the headliners. Often it’s sincere (Bethany certainly appeared so), but sometimes it’s obviously meant to curry favor (points for the future perhaps).

During one song in Rachel’s set, I noticed that Bethany was singing along word for word. Obviously, Bethany didn’t only seem sincere, she’s really a fan. Nice, as it was clear from Rachel and Bess’ praise of Bethany on stage (multiple times) that if they weren’t fans before, they certainly became fans of Bethany last night. As did we!

The Ramblers at The Living Room Again

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Last night posed a significant problem. We had seen only three songs of a special set by The Ramblers at The Living Room on January 29th, 2011. Here’s part of what I wrote about that set:

Then they started playing. Excellent. Definitely my kind of music. Actually, since they had so many guests, I don’t know how I would react to a normal The Ramblers set, but I’m willing to find out.

This was our next opportunity to find out, since they were playing without any guests. We had committed to coming out and were happy with that decision, until we (accidentally) started watching a 2-hour set at Rockwood Music Hall at 9pm. It was so good that leaving was a little painful. I’ve changed plans mid-stream before (that’s how we discovered Ian Axel!), but my gut told me to stick with the plan this time.

I am grateful that my instincts please me more often than they fail me, and last night was another case of making the right choice. Not because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the second hour of Richard Julian’s set, but rather because it would have taken me that much longer (perhaps months) to discover how much I like The Ramblers! Now I know that I need to see both groups. That’s just fine with me. Smile

With the guests (two fiddles and a mandolin), The Ramblers struck me as a big-sounding bluegrass band. I assumed I’d have a more stripped down experience, but similar in style, without the guests. Wrong!

While there is a hint of rootsiness (is that a word?), The Ramblers are way more Rock ‘N Roll than bluegrass. In fact, all I could think about throughout their set (every single number) was that I was hearing a modern version of The Band. Imagine my surprise when I just now read that they actually opened for Levon Helm.

There are a few reasons they remind me of The Band (sound-wise, clearly, they are not a cover band!). At the top of the list is the fact that keyboards and guitar are both central, and there are two male lead vocalist (who also harmonize with each other).

The set was fantastic from start to finish. Each member of The Ramblers deserves a shout out. Left-to-right on the stage (excuse the photos, our angle of the stage was severe):

Scott Stein on keyboards (electronic and organ) and vocals. Scott was amazing on the keyboards. On his own electronic ones, he played close to a piano sound. He would swing back and forth between that and the organ that is a permanent fixture at The Living Room. He’s one of the main reasons they sound so much like The Band.

ScottStein

Scott sings well (both lead and harmony).

Jeremiah Birnbaum on electric guitar and vocals. Jeremiah stands center stage, giving the impression that he’s the front man. To an extent, that’s likely true, but Scott certainly comes across as a partner on this journey, equal or otherwise.

JeremiahBirnbaum

Jeremiah plays the electric guitar really well (with and without the slide). He sings really well, and has a relaxed style on stage.

Shanna Zell on vocals and tambourine. Shanna sang beautifully on every number (except the two that she stepped off stage for, when she sat at our table!). She sang lead on one song and harmony on the rest. Her voice blends really well with Jeremiah’s and Scott’s.

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In the back row, behind Jeremiah and Shanna:

Steve Purcell on drums. We had just seen three excellent drummers (the fourth set didn’t have one). Steve was equal to the task of ensuring that our night didn’t have a second’s disappointment in the drumming category. If you think The Band, and recall that I mentioned Levon Helm above, you’ll understand how critical the drums are to this kind of sound. Steve nailed every song.

StevePurcell

He looks like he could be 15, so card him before you buy him a drink. Winking smile But, if he’s over 21, by all means, let’s everyone buy him a drink, because the boy can wield those sticks with the best of them!

Shawn Setaro on electric bass. We were 4 for 4 on previous bass players last night. Now, make that 5 for 5. Shawn was excellent on every number. While all four were excellent, the last guy (Tim Luntzel) blew me away. Shawn could have disappointed me just in comparison, even if he did a superb job. Nope, he impressed throughout the set.

ShawnSetaro

I’m so happy I made it to see The Ramblers. It could have worked out much differently, because that was our last NYC musical event for the next two weeks. If it hadn’t been as good as it was, I could have been licking my musical wounds for too long. Instead, I’m already looking forward to catching them again! Smile

Here’s their set list:

SetList

They had five copies left of their Getting There CD from the first pressing. We purchased one and I listened to it twice while writing the blogs tonight. I got to savor some of last night’s moments again. Nice!

Richard Julian at Rockwood Music Hall

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We started the day planning to attend three sets (7 and 8pm at Rockwood Music Hall, and 10pm at The Living Room). We ended up attending the 6pm set at Rockwood as well. We had an hour to fill at 9pm. We could have stayed at Rockwood or caught the 9pm at The Living Room.

I listened to both artists and thought I would have enjoyed either set. I liked the Rockwood person more. My only hesitation was that it was listed as a 2-hour set (rare at Rockwood 1), and I didn’t want to have to bolt mid-set. Still, I was intrigued as to how good he might be knowing they were giving him the full two hours.

Richard Julian sings really well, plays the guitar beautifully and is accompanied by an amazing band. He played mostly originals along with some covers. He has a mellow but engaging stage presence. He also has a loyal fan base, the place was packed and as respectfully quiet as you cold hope for.

RichardJulian

It’s a mostly jazz style, but the songs varied quite a bit to hold our interest on every single number.

RichardJulianSinging

His band, left-to-right on stage:

J. Walter Hawkes on trombone. He was great on every number. I don’t typically think of Lois as someone who would rave about a trombone player (I have no idea why that’s true, but it is), and yet, when we left, she couldn’t stop raving about J. Walter (or do I know him well enough to call him J. yet?). Smile

JWalterHawkes

Tim Luntzel on electric bass. Tim was beyond amazing (bamazing?)! He sat on his amp and just crushed the bass, appearing to not even break a sweat. One of the great things about most jazz sets is that the volume is down, but balanced so well that you can actually easily pick out every note on every instrument. Watching Tim’s fingers fly on the bass was also a treat.

TimLuntzel

One of the things I like about blogging about every single show, coupled with the fact that we see so many shows is that every once in a while, I find a nugget in my own posts that either brings back a wonderful memory, or gives me a new perspective on an old one (that I often didn’t recall until I searched my own site!).

I didn’t remember Tim Luntzel’s name when I typed it above. But, my blog-writing software (Microsoft Live Writer) did, and immediately created a link. That meant I’ve blogged about Tim before. I couldn’t believe that someone who blew me away faded from my memory. I looked it up and saw that Tim supported Greg Tannen at Hiro Ballroom. Here’s what I said about him that night:

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

Ah, “not highlighted much”. Too bad! I could have known then that this is a guy I needed to follow (yes, I just started following him on Twitter a minute ago!). You can rest assured I won’t be forgetting his name going forward (I knew you were worried!). Winking smile

Dan Rieser on drums. That link isn’t to Dan’s site (I couldn’t find one), but rather to someone who wrote a blog post about Dan, raving about him. Please allow me to bow to that person, who clearly knows way more about drums than I do, for doing a better job of explaining to you how excellent Dan’s drumming is.

DanRieser

On one song he did something I’ve never seen. He had two drum sticks in each hand, split into reasonably tight V’s. I can’t say that I heard anything particularly different than just a normal pair of sticks hitting the drums and cymbals, but it certainly was visually interesting.

The real key here is that Richard Julian surrounds himself with great musicians, which enhances the experience of seeing him perform dramatically.

I can’t tell you how ambivalent I was about leaving early (recall, Richard had a 2-hour set, but we were committed to another show half way through). I didn’t really know the other group, but I knew that staying at Rockwood for another hour would be blissful.

My next post will reveal whether leaving was a huge mistake or not. Either way, Richard Julian, J. Walter Hawkes, Tim Luntzel and Dan Rieser are all on my make sure you see them list! That made staying at Rockwood absolutely the correct decision!