July, 2011:

Jesse Terry with Greg Mayo at The Bitter End

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I rarely post the night of a show. Since we got home early and we’re swamped tomorrow, I’m happy to get my thoughts down while they’re fresh.

There are a growing number of musicians whose shows we do anything we can to catch.

Jesse Terry has been on that list since the first time we saw him, September 5th, 2010. We’ve seen him six times since then, plus tonight, makes eight in total. Each of those shows has been a solo effort on Jesse’s part. For the most part, others were on the same bill, performing in the round or separate sets. Occasionally, one of the others would sing with Jesse on a song.

JesseTerrySinging

He’s great solo, and he works well harmonizing with others.

When Jesse announced the show at The Bitter End and listed Greg Mayo would be accompanying him on the entire set, those of you who know me have to realize that my heart skipped a few beats. Independent of Jesse, Greg Mayo is firmly on the above list of people I go out of my way to see as often as possible. Read to the end to see the next two (really three) times I’m sure I’ll be seeing him! Smile

Let’s cover the set list first, then the collaboration. Jesse travels a lot (he’s a road warrior touring musician). He recently returned from a week of entertaining the troops in Greenland and got closer to the North Pole than most of us will. Time at home is precious for two reasons: 1) He’s been married for just under eight months, so time with his wonderful wife is a priority and 2) He gets to write.

JessTerry

He’s been on a tear lately and it showed in his set tonight. He played two songs (Scenic Route and Bitterroot Valley) that were written in the past week (or two?). He played other very recent songs (e.g., Pearl Diver). In fact, while one of his staples was on the set list, it’s the only song on it that he didn’t play, Noise (do yourself a favor and check it out!).

SetList

So, in addition to adding a full-time sideman in Greg, Jesse was stretching his wings and breaking out super fresh material in public (likely for the first time in a number of cases). If he, or any of you are wondering whether he needs to take them back to the drawing board, wonder no more, they came off really well!

JesseTerryGuitar

If anyone has to ask what I think of Greg Mayo, then it’s a certainty that this is your first visit to this blog. Welcome! Smile

Greg has so many things going for him that it would be unfair to list them all here (if I could even articulate everything) given that this was Jesse’s set and songs. For this purpose, there are four things to note (which is why Jesse picked him):

  • He’s an amazing guitar player
  • He’s incredible on keyboards
  • He sings extremely well (harmony and lead)
  • His sensibility as a sideman is up there with the best

Greg played on every song with Jesse. He sang some harmony, not on every song. He played roughly half the numbers on the piano (guess what percentage he played on the guitar?). Winking smile

GregMayoPiano1GregMayoPiano2GregMayoGuitar

The collaboration worked extremely well. I checked with the judges (me) and they scored an 8.5 (out of a possible 10). The Russian judge penalized them (probably out of jealously). Winking smile

GregMayoJesseTerry

Seriously, as good as they were, if they ever play together again, I personally guarantee it will be better, even if they do nothing different. Here’s why:

  • They played it a bit safe (IMHO). Those of you in the audience who saw Greg for the first time have no idea (literally) how good a guitarist Greg is. His play tonight complemented Jesse wonderfully, so I don’t have the slightest quibble with what he played, but neither of them wanted to take a chance on opening up Greg’s play the first time out (again, my opinion, neither of them said anything to me!).
  • Greg was a bit more open (aggressive, in the positive sense) on the piano, but not on every song.
  • There were way too few harmonies, because the ones they did, were wonderful.

How do I know they don’t need to work hard to improve, just play together again? Two reasons:

  • They’re both so professional, they now already intuit exactly what the other will do, and more importantly can do, and they will trust each other more, without even needing to plan it in advance!
  • The last two songs on the set were by far their best collaboration (Only a Pawn and The Runner). On both, Greg sang more harmony and with more power. Both had Greg on the piano, highlighted more. I believe that it’s proof of my previous point. Even within this first set, their comfort and confidence with each other grew rapidly.

Let’s put the 8.5 in perspective. Each of these guys can bring it half speed and be better than most other performers. Neither did that and Jesse delivered his usual A game. The collaboration brought it up a notch. There are a few more notches to crank up further.

I’m already anticipating the next time. In the meantime, you can join me in appreciating everything that Greg Mayo has to offer when he’s front and center.

This coming Friday, August 5th, 11pm, Rockwood Music Hall is a Greg Mayo show. The very next night, August 6th, 11:15pm, next door at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, is a new group called The Crab Apple Singers (a rejiggering of The Big Apple Singers). Greg will be playing lead guitar and singing a bunch at that show, along with a phenomenal band.

If that’s not enough Greg Mayo for you (it’s not enough for me!), then you can come earlier on Friday. Same place, Rockwood Music Hall, 9pm, the amazing Rebecca Haviland is performing (what a voice, playing terrific songs). Greg plays the keyboards in Rebecca’s band. Nice bonus, since we’d show up for Rebecca even if Greg wasn’t there. Smile

John Schmitt Birthday Show at The Living Room

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I seem to be saying this a lot lately: Musicians tend to play on or near their birthday, throwing a party for their fans, even though it’s work for them. That trend continued last night.

John Schmitt celebrated his birthday (and noted that two members of his band/guests had birthdays one day on either side of the show) by playing at The Living Room. He had a full band and some special guests.

JohnSchmitt

We don’t need an excuse (like a mere birthday) to come see John Schmitt. If we can make it, we’ll be there. In fact, during the show, he announced that he’s playing Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, this coming Thursday, at 7pm (also a full-band show). It’s his first time at Rockwood 2, and we’re already committed to being there (you should come too!).

Let’s review why we go see John as often as we can:

  • fantastic voice
  • excellent guitar player
  • terrific band (though he’s superb solo)
  • wonderful songwriter
  • as nice a human being as you could want to meet!

All of the above were there in spades last night.

One of the major differences was no paper set list. John splurged on a new iPad. He had it sitting on a music stand. Since we couldn’t walk away with a set list (I was a little offended that John wouldn’t hand over his iPad for us to take home!), Winking smile we insisted on taking a picture of the iPad with the set list open:

iPadSetList

That’s not the complete list, it’s the songs the band played on. John played at least two songs solo, mid-set, one of them being Ave Regina (more on that later). The other was about his grandfather, called Me and the Chief.

Since all of the song titles above are abbreviated (except the last one), you’ll have to work a bit (or already be a John Schmitt fan!) to figure out the full titles.

I’ll spare you the trouble on the second to last one, listed as Val. That’s actually a song called Valerie. Amy Winehouse covered that song, apparently one of her more famous covers. John wanted to play it as a tribute to Amy, trying to be true to her version.

Let’s mention the band first, then the special guests. Left-to-right on the stage:

Mike Sutton on drums. Here’s what I wrote the only other time I’ve seen Mike play:

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.

OK, now that I’ve seen him twice, I can safely say he’s a very good drummer. Toward the end of the set John highlighted him a bit, calling: “Mike, take them to Church!”. Winking smile

MikeSutton

Pasquale Chieffalo on electric bass. Excellent all around bass play (both times that we’ve seen him).

PasqualeChieffalo

John’s regular keyboard player is Greg Barbone. I really like him. He was out-of-town, and recommended a friend of his who recently moved here from LA (or was just visiting, if I misunderstood).

Eddie Wiernik on grand piano. He was superb throughout the set (I bet he had very little rehearsal time, he’s clearly a pro!). John highlighted him a number of times (showing a lot of faith in the new guy). Even when he wasn’t highlighted, he was solidly supporting and enhancing the sound.

EddieWiernik

John sings a few of his songs with fabulous harmonies, often supplied by a number of female vocalists. Last night he brought up someone who was new to us.

Jessica Norland is a singer, actress and dancer (Lois got her business card after the performance, that’s how I know about her other talents). She has an excellent voice and equally impressive stage presence. She sang harmony and lead on Two Souls. We’re both looking forward to seeing/hearing Jessica again.

JessicaNorlandJessicaNorlandJohnSchmitt

Barnaby Bright is an incredible group (duo), comprised of a married couple. We’ve seen them once before, at Jammin’ Java, in a show that also featured John Schmitt, headlined by Chris Ayer. I have been kicking myself ever since that our schedule has collided with the many times that Barnaby Bright have performed.

Becky Bliss (1/2 of Barnaby Bright) came up to sing Going Back. She sang lead on one verse and harmony throughout. I already told you how badly I want to see Barnaby Bright again, so I shouldn’t have to tell you how good Becky sounded, but I will. She was great. Smile

BeckyBlissBeckyBlissJohnSchmitt

Speaking of Going Back, John is raising money to professionally record that song. He needs your help. If you’re already a fan, donating $5 will get you a digital copy of the new song when it’s released. But, if you don’t own John’s CD, Ophelia, you should consider donating $15, which will get you downloads of that CD plus the new song when it’s recorded. Just do it!

Nathan Bliss (the other 1/2 of Barnaby Bright) joined on that song as well. He played the banjo and was given a couple of leads. Nathan is an outstanding musician (with an excellent voice, that he didn’t use last night), but I admit that the banjo (an instrument I love) felt out of place on that song. I’m publicly voting that John not employ it on his recording of Going Back.

NathanBlissBanjo

Later, John invited Nathan back on stage to play the saxophone (I believe on the final number, Musical). Nathan blew everyone away. I told you he’s an outstanding musician. He played sax with John at Jammin’ Java, but it was only the two of them on stage. He was great then, but with the full band behind him he could really open it up (without overwhelming John alone). I loved catching the looks on the faces of those around me. Priceless!

NathanBlissSaxophone

An incredible set, thanks John.

MikeSuttonPasqualeChieffaloEddieWiernikJohnSchmitt

Above, I mentioned that I would have more to say about Ave Regina. At Jammin’ Java, Becky joined John to sing harmony on that song. It was extraordinary. I fell in love with the song on the spot (and I love it even when John sings it solo, like he did last night). But, since Becky was obviously there, I couldn’t help asking John why she didn’t sing it with him.

He said that they didn’t have time to rehearse it (it’s been a while since the Jammin’ Java show). Man, I can’t believe that these artists are such perfectionists and feel the need to rehearse before playing for us. Winking smile Oh well, next time! Smile

If you already forgot my calls-to-action above, you have two tasks:

  1. Donate to John’s Going Back project
  2. Come see John perform this Thursday (8/4/2011) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 7pm

Now go enjoy the rest of your day. If you want to enjoy it even more, come join us tonight at 7pm at The Bitter End, to see the wonderful Jesse Terry, supported by the extraordinary Greg Mayo.

Chris Ayer at Rockwood Music Hall

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Chris Ayer just returned from touring the UK and Europe. We missed him while he was gone, though it might sound protectionist if I publicly admit that we didn’t want to share him with the rest of the world. Winking smile

Matt Simons, one of Chris’ partners-in-crime toured with him, but wasn’t in town last night, so Chris played the set solo.

Most of the set consisted of new (and new-ish) songs. It doesn’t matter. Chris is such a great songwriter, that his old stuff holds up (don’t ask him to agree to my opinion!) and his new stuff is amazing.

ChrisAyerTuning

A few days ago, a friend asked us what we were doing Friday night. We told him that we’d be at Rockwood Music Hall at 8pm to see Chris. We told him he was welcome to join. His parents were visiting for the weekend and we told him they were welcome too. We decided to have dinner together beforehand.

Over dinner, the three of them asked us about Chris. I described him as:

  • amazing songwriter
  • excellent guitar player
  • wonderful singer
  • complete package, whether he’s playing solo or with a full band, both experiences are worth catching

Whenever we praise someone like that, no matter how heartfelt, I worry that it will be taken as hype by the listener. Even worse, I then get nervous if we’re all about to see that person perform, because I end up listening more critically, worrying whether the others will agree with my description.

No need to worry. Chris was awesome as always. In addition to the five of us, another two friends joined, with one of them bringing her friend as well. There were eight of us, four of whom had never seen Chris perform. They were all transformed into new, instant fans, within two songs.

Our friend’s dad turned to me and said “He’s as good as you said he would be!”. Whew! Smile

Our friend said to Lois: “Chris is a poet!”. Ha! I’ve written that exact phrase a couple of times in blogs. Here is how I defined poet in a post about Chris in May:

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.

Chris writes his set list out on his arm. In our traditional fashion, I show it to you from our perspective (upside-down) and his (so that he actually knows what he’s going to play):

ChrisAyerSetLlistChrisAyerSetLlistFlipped

He might have to start writing past his elbow (on his biceps), because last night he had to ask the audience for a song to play in addition to the full set list. Someone called out Snakeskin Heart and he obliged, beautifully.

Chris delivered exactly the experience we described he would. We didn’t doubt it in advance, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get a twinge when we’ve given the hard sell to newcomers.

Circling back to dinner. After a wonderful meal, we headed out to catch two cabs, only to be stopped by an apocalyptic rainstorm. We waited in the doorway to the restaurant for 25 minutes. When it slowed to a hard drizzle, we walked an avenue block and were lucky enough to catch two cabs within five minutes.

Chris must have been nervous whether the rain would keep people away. Here’s what he tweeted shortly before the show began:

Dear show-goers this evening; think of rockwood as an ark, that will carry us from flooded peril! Bring your twin.

There was a very nice-size crowd there, but I don’t think I saw any twins. Perhaps the other halves were (foolishly) at Rockwood 2 (next door). Winking smile

The dad and I walked in at 7:57pm. Good timing. Smile

Scott Chasolen at The Living Room

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We’ve seen Scott Chasolen twice now, both very briefly. The first was at Backscratch 13 when he performed three songs (two originals) with his trio. The second was when he played piano on one number supporting his very talented wife, Mighty Kate (Katy Pfaffl). That was enough to put him on my list.

He played The Living Room last night, with a starting time listed at 11pm. I’m not sure we would have gone that late, but we were already going to see John Schmitt for the 10pm set there, so I was sure we’d stay. John’s set started 30 minutes late, pushing Scott’s back as well.

Scott is a wonderful piano player. He played both grand piano and organ/synth. He has an excellent voice. He played old and new songs as well as at least one cover. They ranged from slow ballads to synth-infused up-tempo jazz. At the core, Scott’s trio is a modern jazz sound.

ScottChasolen

Supporting Scott were the same people that were at Backscratch 13 with him.

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and harmony. Adam is an excellent bass player and has a nice voice, complementing Scott. Adam also sings lead on his own sets, but they rarely start before midnight, so we haven’t had the pleasure of catching him yet.

AdamMinkoff

Josh Giunta on drums. Josh is really fantastic. I thought so the only other time I saw him (at Backscratch). Here’s what I said that night:

Josh Giunta on drums. Excellent. A lot of eyes were on Josh during a fair amount of Scott’s set. No good photo of Josh, sorry.

The was meant to imply that his drumming was that good, but perhaps some people were staring at him for his good looks. Winking smile

JoshGiunta

Seriously, check him out. One of the things that I kept (foolishly) thinking was that he has an advantage because he’s so tall. His arms are so long that he appears to require less effort to reach the cymbals, etc.

Mark Marshall joined for one song on electric guitar. Scott joked that it would be interesting to see Mark play a song he’s never heard before (implying that they hadn’t rehearsed together). It took Mark a while to join in, so perhaps Scott wasn’t kidding. Once Mark got a feel for the song, he took a couple of very sweet leads, and complemented some of Scott’s great piano play with short bursts of guitar play as well. Very well done!

MarkMarshall

Here’s Scott’s set list (which he deviated from slightly):

SetList

Even though our eyes were drooping, we hung in there until the end. Got home around 12:40am, but didn’t get to bed until 2am. Will be dragging a bit today…

Five For Fighting, Ian Axel and Blip Blip Bleep at Alive at Five in Stamford

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If you wound up here looking to read about Five For Fighting, skip to the bottom, or read about the openers first, followed by why I chose to cover them last (not my usual order).

While we were very excited to see Five For Fighting, we primarily showed up to see Ian Axel. Ian is a star in the making. At some point, he’ll be less accessible (just the nature of the business and the world), so we try to see him whenever and wherever we can, especially in places where fans can easily connect with him. If the music business wasn’t as mired in the old (broken) ways, while simultaneously (blindly) feeling it’s way through to the (eventual) new ways, I believe that Ian would already have broken through (as they say).

IanAxel

Ian, along with his songwriting and performing partner Chad Vaccarino, create songs that connect instantly, but will be timeless as well (I have little doubt). The range (slow ballads, with Ian playing/singing solo) to feverish full-band numbers with Ian and Chad singing together (e.g., their hit single, This is the New Year) is impressive for people of their age. They have a lot to say and they find interesting ways to say it.

IanAxelSingingPassionately

Ian plays the keyboards and ukulele. He is an incredible pianist. He has a wonderful voice that displays a number of characteristics. One of those is his easy way of slipping into a falsetto to hit high notes. In a not-so-small irony, that’s one of John Ondrasik’s most notable vocal features (he is Five For Fighting, for the one person reading this who didn’t know that).

IanAxelKeyboards

Chad Vaccarino has a voice that moves every single crowd I’ve seen him perform in front of. There’s a soul to it that you can’t escape and it’s just darn beautiful independent of his emotion. He’s an amazing songwriter, proving that in collaborations with people other than Ian (I’m particularly thinking of a number of songs he’s co-written with Mike Campbell).

ChadVaccarinoSinging

Chad plays keyboards (double decker) in an organ-like accompaniment to Ian’s spectacular piano play. During one song last night, he used the lower keyboard to simulate bells. He plays the trumpet on a couple of songs as well.

ChadVaccarinoTrumpet

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris always nails the bass lines no matter who he supports, but he gets significantly more animated when he plays with Ian. It’s a fantastic thing to see how much joy he derives from playing Ian’s songs (fitting, since he embodies the joy we feel listening to those songs!).

ChrisAnderson

He led the crowd in the fun clapping part during It’s Not Easy. He was instrumental in leading us in the call/answer parts of Girl I Got a Thing for You as well. Too much light behind Chris for good shots, but this one in the shadows, of his leading the clapping, was nice:

ChrisAndersonLeadingTheClapping

Ian was new to the majority of the crowd last night (I’m willing to bet on that). So, the fact that he and the band were so impressive was amusing (and a bit of a relief) to me. I’ll tell you at the end how I know that he impressed the newcomers. First, why was I amused/relieved?

Ian’s electric guitar player was unable to make the show at the last minute (way too late to replace him). So, they simply played without a guitar. Did it make a difference? Not in the least! I’ve said a number of times that in this particular band, the guitar isn’t highlighted anyway. Last night proved me correct, once and for all.

Ian’s regular drummer is one of my favorites, Adam Christgau. Adam is currently touring with Sia, selling out venues all over the place. Last night, he was committed to playing in Washington, DC. That tour was set before Ian was invited to Stamford, so Ian had time to find a replacement drummer.

Zach Jones on drums and vocals on one song. We just saw Zach for the first time last week (not with Ian) and I was very impressed with him. That lessened any nervousness I had about how well he might substitute for Adam. After the fact, I feel foolish that I worried.

ZachJones

While I won’t be disappointed when Adam rejoins Ian (he’s touring with Ian on both coasts starting in a few weeks) I’m not afraid to admit that there’s a qualitative difference between Adam and Zach. Adam can blow your mind at any moment (he’s got mad skills). So can Zach. But, Zach seems more disciplined and consistent. I’ll always love and appreciate Adam, but I think last night was the best drumming I’ve seen at an Ian Axel show.

Rockstar is one of Ian and Chad’s newest songs (still unrecorded). If you’re not falling in love with it during Ian’s piano intro, and head-over-heels halfway through the first verse, you don’t like Pop/Rock music (the gauntlet has been thrown). Given the name, Rockstar, you can imagine that there is a big finish.

In an absolutely unscriptable moment, when Zach Jones hit the cymbal on the very last note, he hit it so hard (Rockstar, right?) that it flew into the air and landed on the stage! His face (and the rest of the band’s when they realized what happened) was priceless. I was feeling what they were looking like.

Ian and Chad added a twist to Rockstar that took us by surprise. Toward the end of the song, they morphed into a mini-cover of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. Excellent, since many people (myself included) think that one of the people that Ian is reminiscent of is Elton John!). Just when you think he’s going to play the entire song, he morphs back in to finish off Rockstar (including the big finish I described above).

In my post about the show that Zach was in last week, I wrote the following about him:

The link from his name above is to a group he is in with Emily Long called The Stone Lonesome. They have an album out that Zach sings a bunch on as well and I am really impressed with his voice (listen to the second song, Bridge to Nowhere). I’m sure we’ll be hearing about him a lot and hopefully seeing him a lot as well.

I mention his voice above because he got to use it once last night. Pacific Sun is the only song that Ian played ukulele on last night (but not the only song he performs on the uke). When we first saw Ian play it, it was almost always a solo effort. He then worked Chad into it, including having Chad sing the second verse solo. On tour, he often plays it as a trio (with Mike Campbell, Julia Nunes, etc.)

IanAxelUkulele

Last night, it was back to a duo with Chad, mostly. Zach got up from the drums and joined Chris Anderson at his microphone. Chris put down his bass. During the chorus, they sang four-part harmony. More, please?

ZachJonesChrisAnderson

What can I say? It was totally worth sitting in the insane traffic on I95 to get to Stamford. In a word, awesome!

Ian was the middle act. Before moving to the first act, I’ll deliver on explaining how I know that newcomers were enamored by Ian.

We stood for all three acts (nearly four hours including the breaks). Standing and sitting near us was an extended family. Grandparents, their children and grandchildren. The grandchildren ranged from two to upper teens. The oldest is an aspiring musician (his grandfather told me he’s recorded a number of songs already).

All of them raved about Ian after the set. The Grandfather said to me “He has clear sailing ahead of him!”. The aspiring musician really wanted to meet Ian. Lois took him over and introduced him. He bought Ian’s CD (you should too!). Remember, above I said that the artists are accessible at these shows. Ian certainly met a ton of people last night. He here is meeting a young fan:

IanMeetingFans

Blip Blip Bleep opened the show. I hadn’t heard of them before, even though they’re Brooklyn-based. I guess I don’t get out enough. Winking smile (that former comment was meant to entertain the people who wonder how we don’t collapse from all of our music outings.)

I’ve heard the term Electronica Dance/Pop many times. When I heard Blip Blip Bleep start playing, I instantly felt that this is what that must mean. Turns out, I was correct. Here’s their own description, straight from their bio:

Founded by New York native Sean Han (guitar/synth/vocals/Ableton Live), Brooklyn-based electro-pop outfit Blip Blip Bleep (BBB) has made a name for itself by consistently delivering catchy hooks, intelligent songwriting and for making audiences dance. Over time the group has grown to include Kayce McGehee (synth/vocals) and Jojo Schwarz (drums) who contribute immense talent and intensify all aspects of the project.

Sure, they call it electro-pop, but add making audiences dance, so I declare myself correct.

Sean Han sings well, plays synth/keyboards and wailed on the electric guitar on roughly 1/2 the songs. He was self-deprecating in his stage presence and made me chuckle a number of times.

SeanHanSeanHanGuitar

Kayce McGehee on electronic keyboards, synth and vocals. Kayce did an excellent job. She sang harmony with Sean on most numbers and provided the primary keyboard play. She switched positions with Sean on one number, coming to center stage to play the synth and sing lead. Sean took over the keyboards.

KayceMcGeheeKayceMcGeheeJojoSchwarzSeanHan

On that number, a cover of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, she absolutely nailed it. Since covers are more familiar to a crowd that doesn’t know your band, this was a great way to highlight Kayce, since everyone instantly tuned into the song.

Jojo Schwarz on drums (and I think vocal background on one song). Dance/Pop (or is it Dance-Pop?) drumming is quite demanding. This is all about fast beats, constantly. Jojo was working it throughout the set. I was impressed. That said, I’ll point back to my comparison between Zach and Adam above. For a few seconds here and there, Jojo seemed to get a bit sloppy (lost focus), but quickly recovered. The last few numbers were his best, so he has stamina and skills.

JojoSchwarz

I thoroughly enjoyed their entire set, but this is the type of music that I would more likely listen to while exercising (I don’t dance) than for pure musical pleasure. At a live show, it was engaging.

OK, one last bit before we get to the main act. The MC for the night was a very entertaining guy. I didn’t catch his name, but I’m guessing he’s from the local TV station (probably an NBC affiliate, since NBC Universal was one of the many sponsors). He was joined by someone from the local FM Radio station (another sponsor).

MCs

After Ian’s set, he came out with a box full of T-Shirts and Hats. They were mostly Jerry Springer merch, but there were a few Maury Povich ones as well (making for some groaner quality jokes). They tossed T-Shirts and Hats into the crowd. People scrambled to get them.

Who doesn’t like free stuff? Well, I’ll tell you who!

On the left-hand (facing the stage) there was a gated VIP section without roughly 20 people in it. One of the Jerry Springer hats was tossed into that section. It was caught by a boy. Without hesitation, he turned and tossed the hat into the large crowd behind him. The cheers were deafening, which seemed to catch him by surprise. He turned bright red and couldn’t stop laughing. The MC on stage remarked: “Obviously, not a Jerry Springer fan.” Winking smile

I only found out half-way through the Five For Fighting set that the boy was John Odrasik’s son, somewhere between 11 and 12-years-old. The VIP section included his wife, parents, mother-in-law and the Brooklyn-based family of his bass player (perhaps others as well).

Finally, the headliner. The reason I’m covering them last is a policy decision of this blog. It’s one that rarely needs to be enforced! When a headliner doesn’t even acknowledge, let alone mention the opener(s), I relegate them to the bottom of the post, trying to reverse the injustice. At some point, you (mister superstar, whoever you are) were an opener, and hungered for recognition from the headliner.

Why is it important? Because many people don’t show up until the headliner is on stage. They have no idea who was on earlier. A shout-out from their idol, no matter how off-hand (though, how great is it when it appears to be heartfelt?), might stick with the crowd and they might check out the opener later on.

Phone it in if you have to. Say something as trite as “How about those openers?” or “Let’s have another hand for the openers.” Crank it up a notch and jot their names down, even if you didn’t listen to them.

Now you know. Onward.

Lois often needs to hear a single song to know that she loves an artist (sometimes, a single verse!). She’s rarely wrong, meaning, that artist will usually make it big (or already is and we didn’t know them). Such was the case with her first hearing of Five For Fighting (over 10 years ago). She came home and told me that I had to listen to them!

Of course, I instantly fell in love with their (really his) music. That said, over the years, I stopped listening to them other than the three biggies: Superman, 100 Years and America Town. We own both albums (America Town and The Battle for Everything). We also own the album Two Lights. I’d be lying if I said I listened to it more than once or twice.

I think John Ondrasik is a great songwriter. I think he’s a great vocalist. I think he’s excellent on piano and very good on acoustic guitar. But, his songwriting has two levels. Awesome to the point of super-human skills, and really good. More of his stuff falls into the really good category (for my taste) and there’s enough stuff I enjoy more than I don’t gravitate to it.

JohnOndrasikPiano

He has thrilled us in many ways beyond his own CDs. Check out his mind-bogglingly long list of accomplishments as a songwriter for film and TV.

We hadn’t seen him live, so we were quite excited, independent of our desire to see Ian and regardless of my comments about his catalog above.

John is an exceptional performer and his band is top-notch. The experience was very entertaining. The craft of the performance was worth watching and studying. The very large crowd seemed totally mesmerized by him/them (as it should be with true fans).

JohnOndrasikJennOberle

For me, while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t mesmerized, with the exception of 100 Years (which he closed the show with, before returning for an encore). I felt a bit detached, which is why I described it as studying the performance.

I’d be hard-pressed to defend my feelings, especially given the professional level of their performance. He was passionate (not phoning it in). He talked to the crowd a lot (he’s excellent in his story delivery!). In other words, he seemed to really connect and care about the fans. I’ll bet they felt that he was perfect (which is great!).

For me, I felt that he was somewhat floating above it all, not really connecting. To repeat, I couldn’t give you an example even if I was forced to.

He gave a three-song encore, replete with long, entertaining introductions. Again, he wasn’t phoning it in.

John played the entire show barefoot. For the last number in the encore, he announced that the thought it was about time that the crowd have something to dance to. It’s the only song that he didn’t play an instrument on. At first, he pranced on the stage with a microphone (with a very long cord).

At one point, he jumped off the stage. There were gates between him and all audience members, so while he was only a few feet from the crowd (Lois was roughly one foot from him!), the security people panicked. Literally. They obviously had no idea he was going to do that. So, four huge guys surrounded him, and as he tried to move left, right or forward, they moved in unison with him.

JohnOndrasikNearTheCrowdJohnOndrasikSecurity

It only took him 20 seconds or so to realize that his idea wasn’t going to work. He climbed back on stage and finished up the number, at one point standing on the piano bench to the roar of the crowd.

One last comment before moving on to his band. Many big bands get tired of playing their hits over-and-over. They want to grow artistically. Conceptually, I understand it. Unfortunately, music is also a business. Fans pay to buy the music, they pay to attend shows, they pay for merch. Many (I would bet most), want to hear the song played the way they know it (fell in love with it), even if it bores you.

It’s worse when you factor in songs that the artist invites the crowd to sing along to (or knows they will, invited or not). When you choose to jazz-it-up by dropping instead of going up on a famous line (not because you’re harmonizing with the crowd, but because you’re trying to keep it interesting for yourself), you’re doing no one any favors. Keep your art to new songs, or change everything in the hit (creating a unique cover). Monkeying with parts of the song but keeping the rest the same feels wrong to me. John did that on Superman…

Greg Suran on electric guitar and vocals. Greg was excellent on both. On a few numbers he got very long and tasty leads. One of them employed a slide. His harmony with John was spot on. I kept thinking to myself that he looks exactly like someone, but who? Then as John was introducing him, it hit me, Brad Pitt!

GregSuranTuning

After the show, I mentioned to a friend that he looked exactly like Brad Pitt (from my vantage point). She didn’t see it. An hour later, driving home, Lois says to me “Didn’t you think Greg looked exactly like Brad Pitt?”. Ha, great minds think alike!

So, above I said that John introduced Greg. Well, he didn’t. He started to, telling the crowd that his guitarist was excellent, single, into the Chicago Cubs, etc. But, when he mentioned the Cubs, he (John) distracted himself and started polling the audience as to whether they were Red Sox, Mets or Yankees fans (overwhelmingly Yankees, if you care). He never mentioned Greg’s name!

What’s worse, I had such a hard time finding it. It doesn’t appear on the Five For Fighting website, and very few links in Google mention him either. That’s another pet peeve of mine, when stars don’t make it easy to discover the hard-working, super talented people who support them (known as “sidemen” and I suppose “sidewomen” or “sidepeople”).

Randy Cooke on drums (and vocals on one song I think). Randy was perched on a tall platform way at the back of the stage, in a typical Rock Star drum setup (glass cage included). He did a superb job throughout the set, including acrobatics with the drumsticks quite a number of times (finger twirls and tosses). Obscured all night, and super dark in this photo, sorry:

RandyCoooke

Jenn Oberle on electric bass. John introduced Jenn as the newest member of Five For Fighting. She did an excellent job on every number. It was an extremely solid (if unflashy) performance. Her family (she was born and raised in Brooklyn) was in the VIP section with John’s, and they were cheering their hearts out for her. Smile

JennOberleJennOberle2

Alex Wong and Ximena at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Alex Wong had a show listed at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 as: “Alex Wong and Special Guest”. A number of days ago the title changed to “Alex Wong and Ximena”. We didn’t need any extra incentive to attend the show, but if Alex was worried that we were getting tired of seeing him as often as we do, revealing that Ximena would be there would certainly have pushed us (and many others) over the edge.

The last time we saw Alex, Ximena was there as well, but she was only supporting Alex with harmony and piano. Well, they also played a song they co-wrote in a day as part of Dubway Days. This time, the show was a real collaboration. They alternated singing their own songs.

Alex opened the show with what seems to be his new signature opener: Always Something Better. Ximena sang harmony.

AlexWongPiano

Chris Benelli joined on the drums. We’ve seen Chris twice before and I really like his drumming. This was particularly interesting. Every other time I’ve seen Alex play Always Something Better, he starts by looping his own percussion, tapping the body of his acoustic guitar and rubbing the strings, before moving to the piano to perform the song.

ChrisBenelli

It’s very cool (very!), but hearing a professional drummer give a fuller, more dynamic bottom, brought more life to the song. It only made me want to hear Alex’s new CD sooner (he said it should be out in Feb 2012).

Jeff Kerestes played the electric bass. He was quite good.

Jeff Kerestes

Chris Benelli didn’t return after the first song, but Jeff joined for one additional number later in the set and played in a style I don’t often see. He spent much of the song sliding one hand or the other, up and down the frets, very slowly. It produced a gorgeous sound in accompaniment of a slower, more soulful song.

Ximena took the piano next, with Alex taking over the drums to support her. She sang Love Again. It’s off her upcoming CD (I believe it will be released next week), her first English one.

XimenaSarinanaPiano

Pete Lalish joined Ximena playing electric guitar (with lots of effects) on all but her last two numbers.

PeteLalish

Sebastian Sarinana (Ximena’s brother) joined on a few as well, crouching throughout each song. He wielded an electronic gizmo that produced organ-like sounds, but also seemed to be able to add effects (reverb, distortion, etc.) to what he and Ximena were playing. He sang harmony with Ximena on most of the numbers.

SebastianSarinanaCrouchingSebastianSarinanaPeteLalishSebastianSarinana

A last reminder that Alex and Ximena alternated singing lead. I don’t have a set list from last night (I stood behind the tables for the entire set, so I wasn’t close enough to the stage to grab one). Rather than cover each song and tell you which order they were played in, I’ll just mention some of the highlights.

When Alex came back to the piano he brought up another very special guest, Dave Eggar. If you’ve never read my posts before, then you won’t know how exciting that was for me. That doesn’t mean that you won’t know Dave. He’s a world-class cello player (and that’s a bit of an understatement).

DaveEggar

For the first number that he was on stage, he didn’t play the cello in a traditional style (which in itself is not unusual for Dave). Alex mentioned that when rehearsals take place at a drummers house (Alex is a top percussionist), people tend to hit lots of things. Throughout the first song, Dave literally just hit the cello strings with a short baton-like stick. Cool!

DaveEggarBaton

Later in the set, Dave played more traditional cello bits, enhancing one of my favorite Alex Wong songs quite a bit.

That was Alex’s closing number, his now necessary to play: Are You Listening (or as my friends know, the one I call the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah song). I say necessary, because if he left the stage without playing it, he wouldn’t be able to make it out of the place without being hassled.

I think that’s the song Jeff did the hand-sliding on the electric bass as well. Ximena slipped off stage before the song started (she sang harmony on all/most of Alex’s other songs). But, Alex invited her up to lead us in the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah chorus, a task for which she is perfectly suited.

DaveEggar and JeffKerestesXimenaSarinana

Repeating: I told you what I call Are You Listening. Ximena introduced a song saying that she and her brother used to do covers occasionally, but rarely do now. They were in the mood to work up a new one and decided to play it last night. They did a song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Ha. Seemed fitting.

When she finished she said goodnight, but the chanting began immediately. I don’t know if they chanted for a specific song, or whether they were chanting “encore” in Spanish. Either way, she came back for one last solo song.

Ximena chose Mediocre, the title cut of her Spanish CD. She was extraordinary (no surprise), but I was extremely impressed by how different a feel a song can have based on venue and fan perception. Here’s what I wrote about this song the last time we saw her perform it. That was at Bowery Ballroom, in front of 400+ people, at 1am:

Ximena dismissed the band for her last number. She played the title track off her original CD, Mediocre, solo. When she introduced the song, the crowd was feverish, knowing what was coming. With a microphone and electronic keyboards and no other support, she blew away a crowd of hundreds of people, most of whom had been standing for over four hours already.

Her voice and skills at live performances are that good. Again, the crowd sang every word with her. They were good (hitting the notes as far as I could tell), but this song builds, and Ximena pours some amazing power into it, so she was always easily recognizable above the audience’s singing.

Last night, even though a good portion of the audience were Ximena’s fans (you can’t miss them, they love her to pieces and video every second of the show), people mouthed the song with her, but didn’t sing out loud. Who would want to break the incredible mood that Ximena was creating alone?

It’s quite possible that I screwed up the order above. Mediocre might have been the closing solo number, followed by a solo encore, also from the original CD. Sorry if I messed that up.

In what felt a bit herculean to me, Ximena had played a set earlier that night at Webster Hall. She opened for Sia, performing before a sold-out crowd of 1,400 people! That is an emotionally (if not physically) draining thing. Running over to Rockwood and giving us her all, was much appreciated. I tried to buy tickets to the Webster Hall show two weeks ago, but it was already sold out.

Tonight, Ximena plays another sold-out show at Webster Hall, again opening for Sia.

Delta Rae at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Delta Rae bring the heat, on stage, and outdoors. 11 months ago, we saw them play at Arlene’s Grocery. We cut a trip short to have dinner with our friends from Thailand and came home a bit earlier to catch Delta Rae. The temperature on our car thermometer that day (August 31, 2010) was 105 degrees!

This week we cut a business trip short to have dinner with the same friends from Thailand. We also caught Delta Rae at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. Yesterday’s NYC temperature hit 104. Coincidence? I think not!

DeltaRae

Seven weeks ago we saw Delta Rae at the same venue. Last night’s set list substituted three songs, but the basic description of the band and the experience was quite similar (in other words, awesome). So, I urge you to read my last post to get the bigger picture. I will spend the rest of this post highlighting some differences and talking about a more important event in Delta Rae’s life.

Assuming you’ve read the post linked above, I’ll skip telling you about Eric Holljes, Brittany Holljes, Elizabeth Hopkins and Ian Holljes. I’ll repeat that Mike McKee did a great job on the drums, again.

EricHolljesPianoBrittanyHolljes

ElizabethHopkinsSingingIanHolljesGuitar

MikeMcKeeSettingUpMikeMcKeeDrums

The biggest news is that I totally messed up in my last post (just corrected a few minutes ago!). At Arlene’s Grocery, the bass played was Mark McKee, Mike’s brother. He did a fine job. I assumed (I get in trouble every time I do that!) that he was also the bassist at the last show. I mentioned that he had improved multiple levels, so I noticed a difference but missed the biggest change.

Grant Emerson replaced Mark as the primary bass played in Delta Rae. Mark is good, Grant is better. Last night Eric introduced Grant, which made me go back and check the photos in the last blog. Sure enough, it was Grant that night too. If Eric introduced him them, I missed it. Sorry Grant, you deserved a shout-out both times, which you now formally have!

GrantEmersonIanHolljesGrantEmerson

Eric didn’t play guitar (he had in all three previous shows). Ian played a song we hadn’t heard before, Country House. They played All of the Lights, their cover of a Kanye West song. It has over 25K views on YouTube (at the moment).

EricHolljesSinging

Last time, the place was packed. But, as I mentioned at the end of my post, it filled up late. People were still filing in as Delta Rae was setting up. Last night was even more mobbed and people got there early. We caught the last two songs of the set before. He noted that people were streaming in, indicating that Delta Rae must be pretty special. Yes indeed, good observation! Smile

Here’s last night’s set list:

SetList

Here’s the bigger news. Delta Rae is raising money to record their first full-length studio CD. If you’re a fan of the band, this is extremely exciting news. It’s awesome to see them live, but that doesn’t happen often enough, no matter where you live. We own their EP (and love it), and can obviously watch YouTube videos of some of the newer songs, but the audio quality of live recordings doesn’t match the magic that can be created in a studio.

They’re well on their way, but I urge you to push them over the top soon by contributing to their effort. You can reap some pretty cool rewards for helping out as well.

Visit their Kickstarter page and donate away! We had the honor of being the very first donors. Smile

Brian Killeen Birthday Bash at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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What do you do after driving 5.5 hours to return home from a 10-day business trip? If you’re most people, you catch up with what happened while you were on the road, then collapse for an evening of relaxation. If you’re crazy kids like us, you do that, add a catnap and after relaxing, head out to an 11pm show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

What could get us out at that hour on such a day? A number of the musicians in NYC celebrate their birthdays with shows. Last night was Brian Killeen’s turn. Considering that he’s a sought-after bass player who plays with a number of bands, there were quite a number of musicians that wanted to play with him. When I saw the tweet-stream of names that would be appearing, it was a combination of my local all-star list, coupled with a few new people I’ve been wanting to check out for a while. Perfect!

Apologies for the quality of a number of photos (and the lack of some others completely). The lighting was all over the map and many shots just came out poorly. Sad smile

Brian played on every song and sang harmony on a bunch. In a new twist (for me), Brian played the lead guitar on one song (later in the set) and did a very nice job! He also sang lead on that number (co-lead actually), which has become less of a novelty more recently.

BrianKilleen

Greg Mayo was on stage for all but two songs, earning him a close second in the Iron Man competition with Brian. Greg opened the show on the keyboards (grand piano and electronic). He switched to the electric guitar on the next song. On both he sang lead (very strongly), getting the large crowd completely riled up on Born on the Bayou (complete set list posted at the bottom). On the one song that Brian played lead guitar (Greg’s), Greg played Brian’s electric bass (it only seemed fitting).

GregMayoPiano

John Schmitt took center stage with his acoustic guitar. His voice was incredible (it always is) in belting out his two numbers. I’m always impressed when someone can handle solo singer/songwriter mellow (John is masterful) and can just as easily stand up to a full rock band and sound as good.

Late in the set John ended up sitting at our table. A few of the people behind me gushed uncontrollably “You are awesome!”. They are/were correct, he is/was. I told them that he has his own Birthday set next Friday (7/29) at 10pm at The Living Room. Come test the veracity of my statement and celebrate with John.

JohnSchmittAmyRivard

Dorie Colangelo sang and played John Schmitt’s acoustic guitar. I’ve never seen Dorie before, but Lois caught the last song of her set seven months ago. Here’s what I wrote in the post about that night:

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

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

Oops! I wish I had re-read that post before last night. Of course, I forgot that I wanted to give Dorie some extra money. Next time (and this time I mean it).

DorieColangelo

As for last night, Dorie’s voice was wonderful. Her guitar-playing was fine. Unfortunately, the songs were way slower than the rest of the set and the shift didn’t feel natural to me. Ironically, I did like her really slow (earthy/sexy) version of I’m So Excited. Still, it seemed to break a mood (just a bit). I’m still as interested in catching Dorie doing her own stuff as I was before last night (perhaps more).

Since she was playing John’s guitar, the strap was way too loose for her comfort. Between her two songs, John came to the stage to adjust the strap, which worked out much better for Dorie during I’m So Excited.

Patrick Firth left his normal spot at the grand piano (he played a ton of electronic keyboards as well) and took center stage with his acoustic guitar. He sang the first original of the night, a song off his upcoming album called Boomerang (that’s the song title, I don’t know what the CD will be called).

Update: Read the comment below from Brian Killeen himself. I got it totally wrong! Every performer did an original. You can see my response about Greg’s opening number below Brian’s comment. Thanks again Brian, I like to be accurate when possible. 🙂

PatrickFirthGuitar

Martin Rivas came on stage to support Patrick Firth the song before and stayed to perform a couple as well. He kicked it off with his own North. Not only was it superbly delivered, but I felt like it was my birthday as well. After Greg Mayo took a short but very sweet guitar solo, Martin turned to him and motioned that he should continue. He took a much longer, killer solo. Thanks Martin for making Greg give me an early birthday present too. Smile

MartinRivasGregMayoGuitar

Wes Hutchinson was up next, singing and playing acoustic guitar. While he was standing off stage, I mentioned to Lois that he looked so familiar that I was sure we’ve seen him before, but the name was escaping me. Ha! When he got on stage he mentioned that he had just chopped off his hair. That’s it! I’ve seen him twice recently, both times in support of Chelsea Lee, and both times I was extremely impressed with Wes.

WesHutchinson

Last night Wes was excellent again, this time singing lead (our first time experiencing that). There will be more Wes in our lives, I’m sure (as there was a bit later in the show as well).

Emily Zuzik sang and played electric guitar. Emily was high on my list of people to see. I nearly got to see her a couple of Friday’s ago. I already know I can’t make her next two NYC shows, so this was such a big bonus that she was part of this celebration. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, since Brian Killeen is part of her band. The other members of her band were all part of this show (independent of Emily), so it was preordained that she be there too.

EmilyZuzik

She opened with Want to Go Out Tonight, the first cut on her new CD, The Wild Joys of Living. Wonderful delivery of a fun, upbeat song. Emily has a great voice. Wes Hutchinson moved over to electric guitar (he too borrowed Mayo’s, making Emily’s two songs the only ones that Greg wasn’t on stage).

EmilyZuzikBrianKilleenWesHutchinson

For her second number, Emily performed a gutty version of Psycho Killer. Her voice was completely different, showing that she controls it, rather than the other way around. A total blast.

After the show, I introduced myself to Emily. She told me that she couldn’t hear herself sing. I assured her that it sounded awesome in the audience and I assure those of you who weren’t there as well. Smile

When you see the set list below, you’ll see that the next performer is listed as Me! If you’re not paying attention, the Me! is Brian Killeen. He actually wasn’t formally introduced as being the next lead performer. Instead, Josh Dion was brought up and began the song as if he were leading it.

This is the song that I previously noted Brian took over lead guitar duties on as well as singing lead. Josh did a bunch of lead singing on the song as well, so it was really co-leads. Brian did a terrific job.

BrianKilleenSingingElectricGuitar

Josh killed it on both of his numbers. The second was an original called Feel. I might be one of the few people in the audience who hadn’t heard it before. Even though Josh plays a lot, it’s interesting to me that he’s also a legend in this community for his previous band, The Josh Dion Band. I know a number of musicians who I respect who speak about Josh Dion Band shows in awe, claiming that to this day, they are still the best live shows they’ve seen.

JoshDion

Here’s a YouTube video of Josh performing Feel in 2007. He looks nothing like that now, but he sounds just as good, singing and playing the drums (and he’s excellent on the keyboards as well). Brian Killeen is in the video, as is Patrick Firth on the keyboards, so you’re getting some of the experience I had last night.

Josh Dion performing Feel

Robbie Gil was up to close the show. He sang two numbers, playing acoustic guitar on the first and just singing on the second. Saying just singing with regard to Robbie is probably a crime in 37 states. The man has a passion that will pull you onto to the stage with him and he certainly left us energized, even though it was after 1am.

RobbieGil

Don’t believe everything you read. The set list shows Robbie’s second song as Baba O’Riley. It was The Who’s Teenage Wasteland. Awesome! Smile Patrick Firth on the keys was spectacular as was Zach Jones on the drums (I introduce Zach below!). Robbie also wailed on the harmonica during this song.

PatrickFirthPiano

The Set List:

SetList

As I got up to leave, Martin Rivas returned to the stage and said that we couldn’t let it end this way. While we had sung a wishy washy Happy Birthday to Brian mid-set (I think when Wes was up), Martin wanted a more proper version. He, Robbie, Greg Mayo, Patrick Firth and Zach Jones sang an awesome rendition of Happy Birthday by The Beatles. Martin was right, a much more fitting way to end the night!

Don’t run away just yet. There were a few more core band members that deserve mentions, including two people we’d never seen before.

Ryan Vaughn performed much of the drumming for the night. He was superb throughout.

RyanVaughnSettingUp

Andy Stack played electric guitar during the first two songs (Greg Mayo’s numbers). He was really good. He was the primary lead guitarist on the first number when Greg was on keyboards. But in Born on the Bayou, he traded leads with Greg in classic Rock fashion (wonderfully) and they teamed up for simultaneous leads after the duel. I did mention up above that Greg got the crowd completely riled up during this song. Andy was part of the reason. Andy also sang harmony on both numbers.

AndyStackB

Zach Jones played drums for Greg Mayo, Robbie Gil, and I think one other, making it seven songs in total. He also played some percussion on another song. He sang into the mic on both of Greg’s songs, and mouthed a lot of the other lyrics. I was very impressed with his drumming. I’ll be seeing him again next week and I’m already looking forward to that show (for many other reasons as well).

ZachJones

The link from his name above is to a group he is in with Emily Long called The Stone Lonesome. They have an album out that Zach sings a bunch on as well and I am really impressed with his voice (listen to the second song, Bridge to Nowhere). I’m sure we’ll be hearing about him a lot and hopefully seeing him a lot as well.

We went to bed at 2am, certainly not something we want to get used to, but it was worth it (at least last night it was!). Smile

Installing CrashPlan on a PogoPlug Pro

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There are critical updates embedded in this post, added on 9/3/2011, all preceded with Update:. You can apply those instructions separately if you’ve already completed the rest of this installation. Updates will be marked with End Update to allow for multi-paragraph updates. I will strike-through the parts that were replaced, so that you can safely ignore them if you’re going through this guide for the first time.

PogoPlug Pro is an amazing device (coupled with an amazing service). CrashPlan is an amazing piece of software (and also provides a fee-based amazing service). I’ve had both for a while and think very highly of them.

To solve a number of my own problems (not caused by either service!), I decided to investigate marrying them (the PogoPlug device, with the CrashPlan software). To be slightly more accurate, I wanted the device to perform an additional function (beyond backups). I wanted it to be my primary DLNA server.

Caution: none of what follows is supported by either company. You will be voiding your PogoPlug warranty and CrashPlan does not support this configuration of their Linux software. Proceed at your own risk!

My primary reason for installing CrashPlan on this device is to compensate for the pathetic upload speed provided by Time Warner, all of 485Kbps, shared with my wife, for normal Internet use, VoIP calls and backups. In other words, not really a useful real-time backup solution. Since we are often at other, very high-speed locations, I still believe that paying for the CrashPlan online backup service is the way to go (and gives me great comfort), but when I’m home, I wanted a local solution (that didn’t involve plugging in a hard drive to my laptop).

Since I was able to do this, successfully, the instructions can be found on the Net. Since it took me way longer to find the various pieces, let alone get them to work, than I felt it should have, I’m writing this (for myself, as well as for others who might give up more easily than I did). None of the credit goes to me, I’m just collecting the wisdom of others in one place, hopefully an easy one to find.

Update: All sections marked Update: that apply to Java and udev were courtesy of Ankit Mohan. Ankit used this guide to get CrashPlan running on his PogoPlug, then dug in a lot more than I did to solve the problems I described. I am indebted to him. End Update.

There are a number of Linux distributions available for the PogoPlug Pro (an ARM-based device). I chose Arch Linux because it was the most prominent one I found and because it has a very good reputation independent of the PogoPlug. The specific ARM implementation has it’s own site, which is where I started my odyssey.

After reading the overview on that page, I clicked on the Installation tab. The instructions there are extremely clear. The first time I followed them, the formatting of my external drive failed. I ended up formatting the drive while it was connected to a laptop running Linux, but all of the other instructions on that page worked. I will repeat them here, so that anyone who doesn’t want to link off of this page can simply follow all the way through.

You have to register your PogoPlug at my.pogoplug.com. This is required, even though we will shortly be disabling the service, since this is the only way to get SSH access to the device. You will be able to reverse the process, returning the device to a full PogoPlug in the future, should you desire that, but it’s not a dual-boot situation where you decide which version you want it to be.

Once you’ve enabled SSH on the device, you can set your own password. The username will be root. The default password for a PogoPlug Pro is ceadmin (as noted, you can change it via the website, or once you log in, with the passwd command. Change it!

One of the steps that they don’t cover is discovering the IP address of your PogoPlug, so that you can SSH to it. In a home environment, this is relatively easy (for the geeks among us). You login to your router, look at the list of attached devices and easily spot it.

I’m installing the software on a second device as I type along. I’m in an office environment and don’t have access to the router. There are hundreds of devices in the office. I had to write down the MAC address of the PogoPlug, go over to a system administrator and ask him to search the DHCP log files for that MAC address. He did and I found out the address that was assigned to it. Whew.

I successfully logged into the device, just to make sure it worked, while it was still an official PogoPlug. That step was optional, but comforting. Since the next step is to power down the device (which you can safely do by just pulling the power cord, especially if you have no hard drives attached yet), since I’m logged in as root, I typed /sbin/halt instead, to be a little safer. Wait 60 seconds (for added safety), then pull the power cord.

We’re going to install Arch Linux on an external drive. The only thing that will be changed on the PogoPlug itself is the boot sector, which will now point to the external drive (that’s what would need to be reversed to restore the PogoPlug functionality).

With the PogoPlug powered down, attach only the drive that you intend to install Arch Linux on. This way there will be no confusion or errors. Later on, if you want multiple drives attached (for backups and/or media files) it will be easy to add them. I am using a 2TB Fantom Drives to do my install.

Once the drive is attached (and turned on), plug the power cord back into the PogoPlug and wait for it to boot. Then SSH back on to it (the root password will be what you set it to, or ceadmin if you didn’t change it). The box is still running the PogoPlug software, with your drive attached to it.

Type: killall hbwd

That will stop the PogoPlug software from running on the box. We don’t want it to interfere with the installation of Arch Linux. You might have to wait a bit for the service to stop. If you want to check, type the following:

ps | grep hb

The only result should your grep process. Then, you can type:

/sbin/fdisk –l

The last line of output should start with /dev/sda1. That means your disk drive was found and has a partition on it (it’s likely formatted already). We are about to erase everything on the disk, so be absolutely sure that you want to continue with this adventure before doing that! If you’re ready, type:

/sbin/fdisk /dev/sda

That will bring up the fdisk program on the entire drive (sda as opposed to sda1 which is the first partition). You will now have a prompt that is directly from the fdisk program. We will type a number of one character commands. Right after you type the character and press enter, fdisk will go off and do what you asked it to.

Type: o

That will clear the partition table so that the disk will become unusable (for the moment). As you can see from the messages, nothing has been committed in stone as yet (very soon). This has modified an in-memory copy of the partition table.

Type: p (to verify the above, that there are now no partitions)

Type: n (press Enter, this will create a new partition)

Type: p (to make it a Primary partition. At this point, I’ll stop saying “Press Enter”, but you still have to!)

Type: 1 (to make this partition #1)

At the next two prompts (First and Last cylinders), just Press Enter to accept the defaults (you are making the entire disk available as the first and only partition).

Now comes the destructive part. This will actually wipe out any data you had on the disk (but still doesn’t modify the PogoPlug in any way!).

Type: w (this writes the partition table back out to the disk)

You are now back at the command line. If you’re a paranoid type (or just careful), you can verify that things worked by repeating the fdisk command and listing out the partition table, all in one shot:

/sbin/fdisk –l

This is the output on my system:

Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks  Id System
/dev/sda1               1      243201  1953512001  83 Linux

2TB, in one partition, marked for use by a Linux system. Now we need to actually create the filesystem, which in our case will be an ext3 one. This will require downloading some commands that will need to be executed. Here are the steps:

Type: sync (to flush any filesystem changes)

Type: cd /tmp (to change to a temporary, writable working directory)

Type: wget http://archlinuxarm.org/os/pogoplug/mke2fs (to retrieve the program mke2fs)

Type: chmod 755 mke2fs (to make it executable)

Type: ./mke2fs -j /dev/sda1 (the leading dot is critical. This will format the partition to an ext3 filesystem)

The above command can take quite a while, depending on the size of your external drive. This is the command that failed for me on my first PogoPlug, so I ended up having to detach the drive, connect it to a Linux laptop, perform the same exact command as above (which was already available, I didn’t need the wget part) and then reattach the drive to the PogoPlug.

Note: it failed for me again. I was able to format it using the built-in /sbin/mkfs.ext2 command (passing in the “-j” flag), but I didn’t trust that it was building a true ext3 filesystem (ext2 + journal). So, I disconnected the drive from the PogoPlug, attached it to a VirtualBox VM on my Win7 laptop, and formatted it there as a real ext3. Took forever, but it worked.

Whether the mke2fs command worked for you or whether you had to format the drive separately, like I had to on two separate installations, you’re now ready to install Arch Linux on the external drive. You should already (still) be in /tmp, but to make sure, feel free to type: cd /tmp

Type: wget http://archlinuxarm.org/os/oxnas/oxnas-install.sh (that retrieves the install script)

Type: chmod 755 oxnas-install.sh (this makes the script executable)

Type: ./oxnas-install.sh (this starts the script, which will send lots of messages to your terminal window. It also downloads the root filesystem image, which is roughly 129MB, so it can take a while if you don’t have a fast network connection.)

When it’s finally done (took between 5-10 minutes on a very high speed connection in the office), the output should look like this if it succeeded (at the very end):

#############################
## Looks good!
# Sync …
# Unmount
# Reboot to enter into Arch Linux ARM

Note the looks good! and then the instructions to reboot. That’s what we’re going to do next.

Type: /sbin/reboot (cross fingers!) Winking smile

This will immediately disconnect you from the terminal window you were in. You need to wait a few minutes for the orderly shutdown of the PogoPlug, followed by the booting up of Arch Linux ARM. You can watch the lights on your external drive to see when there is activity on it, indicating that the booting has begun. When the light settles down, the boot is complete.

We’re ready to log back in (this time to the new operating system), and the password has been changed to a new default one. The user is still root, but now so is the password (root), which you should change right away with the passwd command. It’s quite possible that the IP address of the box has changed during the reboot, so please verify the new (or existing) one, before SSH’ing back on.

If the IP address did not change, then you might have to remove the old key associated with it, or ssh might refuse to connect, thinking it’s a security violation. If you get the same IP address again, you may need to run the following command first (on your local machine, the one you are SSH’ing from):

Type: ssh-keygen -R 192.168.1.123 # (using your device’s IP, which won’t likely be 192.168.1.123)

The following First Steps page on the Arch Linux ARM Wiki explains the above, and gives you a number of other useful tips. I followed them religiously the first time through, but I changed the order a bit this time around and it saved a bit of typing (or I think it did).

Instead of going through the above, this time I updated all of the packages right away. I believe that it installed openntpd and updated the /etc/rc.conf file (one of the first steps that I performed manually the last time). You can do what I did, then check if openntpd is installed and running.

Type: pacman –Scc (clear out old packages. I said YES to the first, and NO to remove unused repositories)

Type: pacman –Syu (this will do a large update, first syncing the repositories, then updating all packages)

Now comes a crazy part. I say crazy because by the time you read this, perhaps the maintainers of Arch Linux ARM will have updated the repositories and this will no longer be necessary. Then people will think I’m an idiot, so be it, I’m putting it in here because it can’t hurt!

Type: pacman –Sy udev-compat (to fix a problem with udev + syslog-ng taking up 100% of your CPU)

The 100% cpu problem might be happening as you read this (if you’ve done the previous steps already). It might be filling up your disk in /var/log as well. We can check that in a minute (here’s the thread that helped me: there’s a typo in that thread, “sleep3” should be “sleep 3”), but first, let’s do a few more things and then reboot.

Update: Type pacman -Sfy udev-oxnas udev-automount (this fixes the udev problem noted above, now struck-through. I added the f option to pacman to force the removal of the bad udev, or udev-compat that you installed if you’ve already completed these instructions. You will have to say Y to the prompt to remove udev, which defaults to N.) End Update.

Let’s create a swapfile:

Type: dd if=/dev/zero of=/swapfile.img bs=1M count=1024 #for a 512MB swapfile, use count=512

Type: mkswap /swapfile.img (to turn the file we just created into a valid swapfile)

Type: swapon /swapfile.img (to see whether you get any errors, you shouldn’t)

Now we’ll edit /etc/rc.local (use your favorite editor, I use “vi”, you might prefer “nano”) to add exactly four one lines after the comments:

swapon /swapfile.img
kill $(pidof udevd)
sleep 3
udevd &

The first line turns the swap on after each reboot. The next three lines kill the bad udev (even after updating the udev-compat the process sometimes misbehaves at boot), then sleeps for three seconds and restarts udev, which makes it seem to behave correctly so far.

OK, time to reboot and see if we have a stable system:

Type: sync (flushes the memory to disk)

Type: reboot (you should lose your ssh connection right away)

Wait until the disk activity settles down a bit, then ssh back in.

Type: top (to see what processes are running. If udev and/or syslog-ng are at the top, something isn’t good)

Type: q (to exit top, whenever you’re done looking around)

You can follow any of the additional instructions for setting up a user, adding sudo, changing TimeZone settings, etc. All are linked from the First Steps above.

Since the reason I did this was to install DLNA, I’ll cover that first (it’s really short), then we’ll move on to the heavier CrashPlan setup. Skip the next few lines if you have no interest in DLNA.

Type: pacman -Sy minidlna jack (this names two packages, but will install something closer to 44, with dependencies)

You should edit the file /etc/minidlna.conf and change any variables (where the files are stored, where to store the DB, what you want to call your DLNA server, etc.). You can read the Wiki page (linked above) to see the more important entries.

Then add the word minidlna at the end of the DAEMONS= line, which should be at the bottom of the /etc/rc.conf file. This will auto-start the DLNA server every time the PogoPlug is booted. To start it right now, type: /etc/rc.d/minidlna start

Update: I discovered two things. 1) Many devices, e.g. Google TV and Sony Bravia TV, don’t show any of the files with a filetype of FLV. It turns out that if you simply rename the filetype to AVI (probably others), the files play fine (assuming they were encoded with H.264). 2) After you populate your media directory, run the following command and wait patiently: minidlna -R to force a build of the database. You probably want to kill all minidlna processes when this is done and start it again (minidlna alone on the command line is good enough). You can tail the minidlna.log file (in your database directory) to know when the database rebuild is done. End Update.

Whew. Finally ready for the very tricky and long installation of CrashPlan. This is not for the faint of heart, nor is it in any way supported by CrashPlan. It works for me (and obviously others), but you’ll have to be the judge as to whether the hassle is worth it for you.

Let’s start with crediting the place that got me unstuck, the CrashPlan support forums! Kudos to CrashPlan for allowing this type of discussion on their forums, even though they don’t support this configuration. Here’s the thread, but all of the interesting bits are in the long comment by Torbjorn. It was really hard for me to find, because I was searching for the word PogoPlug. This solved the problem for Sheeva (the baseline of the Pogo), but it’s not quite identical.

Type: pacman –Sy openjdk6 cpio (we need to get a working Java installed and CrashPlan will require the cpio package separately)

The next step (according to Torbjorn) is to download an ancient (2005) libjtux source package, apply a patch and compile it. He supplies a pointer to the source (amazingly, still available) and the patch file is available as an attachment to his comment. You can grab both from the the thread linked above. If you do, you will likely have to download a bunch of development packages (using pacman), starting with gcc.

Instead, I will attach the completed libjtux.so that I built (following those instructions), to save you time, effort and potential errors. I also just grabbed it from my first build and applied it to my second, for the same reasons.

Now we need to install CrashPlan itself by heading to the download page for Linux. I right-clicked on the download button (currently version 3.0.3, but the software auto-updates after the first install). I copied the link location. Back on the PogoPlug:

Type: wget http://download.crashplan.com/installs/linux/install/CrashPlan/CrashPlan_3.0.3_Linux.tgz (that should work, but starting at the http part, just paste in the link you copied if it’s newer than 3.0.3)

Type: cd /tmp

Type: tar –xzf WHEREVER_YOU_DOWNLOADED_THE_CRASHPLAN_FILE (which could be /tmp to simplify matters)

Type: cd CrashPlan-install

Type: ./install.sh (all of the defaults seem reasonable to me, though I did put my archives in another directory. You will need to page through the license file with the space bar and accept that as well. The init scripts on Arch are in /etc/rc.d, which is the other thing I changed from the default.)

When this is done, it will report that it has successfully started the CrashPlan service. It did not. That’s because we haven’t yet replaced the libjtux.so that comes with CrashPlan. The problem is that it was compiled with an Intel i386 architecture.

Type: cd /usr/local/crashplan

Type: mv libjtux.so libjtux.so-ORIGINAL (no real need to save it, other than to memorialize the changes we’re making)

Type: cp WHERE_YOU_DOWNLOADED/libjtux.so . (this copies my version from wherever you downloaded it, or you can right click my link above, and wget directly from my website to this directory)

Torjborn mentions editing a file to add jna.jar to it. I didn’t need to do that, and the directory he references doesn’t exist. I think it’s from a different installation of Java (for the original Sheeva) and not necessary when using the openjdk6 package.

Update: This next part solves the timing delays, apparently among a number of other issues that I wasn’t even aware of! Once again, thanks to Ankit for figuring this all out.

You will need the nss package installed. Mine was there after the major update above. If you don’t have it installed, type: pacman -Sy nss

The file that’s missing from openjdk, which is causing all of the problems with CrashPlan, is libjnidispatch.so. It’s part of the jna package (Java Native Access). You’ll have to download a Debian package and extract the file.

Select a location near you from this link: http://packages.debian.org/sid/armel/libjna-java/download. In the US, I chose this link directly: http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/pool/main/libj/libjna-java/libjna-java_3.2.7-4_armel.deb

Assuming you downloaded that file to /tmp, here are the commands to extract the file we’re interested in:

Type: cd /tmp

Type: ar vx libjna-java_3.2.7-4_armel.deb (this will extract three files, one of which contains the file we’re interested in)

Type: tar -xzf data.tar.gz (this will unpack the tar file, creating a series of directories in /tmp/usr)

First we need to create the target directory for this. Since mkdirs (make nested directories) doesn’t exist by default, we’ll execute a number of consecutive mkdir commands. Hint: you can hit up-arrow after each command and just append the next directory name in the series of mkdir commands.

Type: cd /usr/local/crashplan/lib

Type: mkdir com

Type: mkdir com/sun

Type: mkdir com/sun/jna

Type: mkdir com/sun/jna/linux-arm

Type: cp /tmp/usr/lib/jni/libjnidispatch.so com/sun/jna/linux-arm/ (now we have the file in the correct directory)

Type: cp -p jna-3.2.5.jar jna-3.2.5.jar-ORIGINAL (this isn’t strictly necessary. Aside from documenting our change, it allows us to recover from errors more easily)

Type: jar uf jna-3.2.5.jar com/sun/jna/linux-arm/libjnidispatch.so (this is the critical step, inserting the library into the jar file that CrashPlan uses. I’m not sure the com/sun/jna/linux-arm directory creation is necessary, but better safe than sorry)

It seems that in addition to solving the timing issues (long delays in starting up), this actually dispatches (duh) maintenance tasks like pruning, synchronizing, etc. It’s all good, but there is a side-effect (well worth it!) that the Java process now takes up a significant amount of CPU, even when backups aren’t active, since it appears to actively maintain the system. Previously, Java would consume 0% of the cpu when it wasn’t backing up.

End Update.

We’re ready to start CrashPlan (at least to see if it comes up and stays up). We can do it by hand, but I am going to add it to the DAEMONS list at the end of /etc/rc.conf (like we did with minidlna) and reboot the machine to ensure that it comes up on it’s own. The daemon name to add right after minidlna is crashplan (lower case).

Type: /sbin/reboot

If you did everything above correctly, when you log back in, there should be a java process running, with CrashPlan as the application. It can a few minutes to completely initialize. In that case, we’re done, right? Wrong! CrashPlan is indeed sitting there, waiting to go to work, but it needs to be configured to allow your machine(s) to start backing up to it. Under normal circumstances, this would be trivial to do, but since the PogoPlug is a headless server, we have to jump through a few final hoops.

Once again, CrashPlan support to the rescue (again, for a completely unsupported feature). If you want to understand the details, or are enough of a techy to prefer the theory, I urge you to just read the CrashPlan document and skip to the final section of this post. If you want fewer steps (and warnings) to follow, I’ll give you the bare necessary steps here.

They key is that on every machine that has CrashPlan installed, there are two programs: 1) the server that does all the work and 2) the GUI (graphical user interface) that connects to the server when launched, and allows you to configure and monitor the server process. On the PogoPlug, we only have #1. The good news is that the GUI speaks to the server over the network. By default, that network is local to the machine that the server is running on, but with some ssh magic (and a little editing of a configuration file), we can make that a remote connection.

All of the work is going to be done on your desktop or laptop, where you already (presumably) have CrashPlan running. This is likely the machine that you want to backup to the PogoPlug. Let’s just call it laptop so that it’s obvious it isn’t the PogoPlug.

On laptop, make sure that the CrashPlan GUI isn’t running. If it is, exit the application. Find the conf directory associated with CrashPlan on your system. On my Windows 7 x64 machine, it’s this directory: “c:\Program Files\CrashPlan\conf”. In that directory is a file called ui.properties. Edit that file. The following line is in that file: “#serviecPort=4243”. This line is commented (#), because 4243 is the default value. You can leave that line commented and add a line below it:

servicePort=4200

(You could also remove the comment and replace 4243 with 4200, but I recommend adding a new line.)

Save the file to disk. While still on laptop, open a terminal window and execute the following SSH command (if you’re using Putty to do this on Windows, rather than cygwin, I recommend reading the post back on the CrashPlan site).

ssh -L 4200:localhost:4243 user@192.168.5.71

In the above command, substitute your username (or root) where I put in “user” and the IP address of your PogoPlug where I put in the “192.168.5.71”. This command makes port 4200 on laptop magically redirect to port 4243 on the PogoPlug, which is where the CrashPlan server is listening by default already.

Now launch the CrashPlan GUI on laptop by double-clicking the icon (on Windows, it’s probably in your system tray). You should see a request to create a new CrashPlan account (free) or log in to an existing one. Since I already have one (and presumably you do too), just put in your email address and password. It took quite a while for it to log in and download the configuration, but it worked. I think when I first tried it on my first PogoPlug it actually timed out, but worked the second time.

Once that’s done, you can exit the GUI, as all of the defaults are exactly what we want/need. The only exception to that is if you want to let others (that aren’t part of your account) backup to your PogoPlug. Then you will need to write down the CODE to enable that (it’s toward the bottom of the front page on the GUI and also on a Settings tab).

You can now exit from the ssh session that was started above (Type: exit or hit Ctrl-d in that terminal window).

Once the GUI is shut down, edit the ui.properties file again and delete the extra line we added with “servicePort=4200” (or place the comment “#” back in front of it). Save the file.

Launch the GUI again. This time it will connect to the local CrashPlan server on laptop. Now click on Destinations (bottom left entry on the left-hand navigation). Then click on the icon labeled Computers in the center (the PogoPlug is a real computer!). Whatever you called your device should be in your list, no code necessary, since you should have used the same account on both machines. If you didn’t name your device, then Arch Linux ARM defaults your host name to alarm (get it? ArchLinuxARM?).

Now you’re truly done. If you have a large amount to backup, it could take a couple of days to complete the first backup, even though it’s on a LAN. It will also alternate between the various backup locations (including CrashPlan Central), which is one of the reasons it will be somewhat slowed down.

For reasons I can’t explain, it can take a very long time to start the initial backup, even if you pause the other locations. The GUI correctly communicates with the server instantly, since I can see the correct directory created on the PogoPlug, but the destination still shows up as unavailable for some period of time. Eventually, it gets going, and appears to be quite reliable from that point on.

Update: I struck out the previous paragraph since I’m hopeful that with the addition of libjnidispatch.so to the jna jar file, you won’t experience the long startup delay.

cp -p jna-3.2.5.jar jna-3.2.5.jar-ORIGINAL

Dave Eggar, Deoro and Many Special Guests at Barge Music

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Dave Eggar is an extraordinary musician. We’ve only seen him play the cello, but I hear rumors that he plays other instruments as well (no surprise) and I bet he’s pretty darn good on those too. Every time we’ve seen Dave, it was in support of another artist (Ian Axel, Rachael Sage, ambeR Rubarth, Joey Ryan).

After the Ian Axel show (March 2010!), I bumped into him. Here’s what I wrote in that post:

After the show, I accidentally crossed paths with Dave Eggar as he was leaving. I got to say the following to him (100% heartfelt!): “You are perhaps the greatest musician I’ve seen live, on any instrument!”. The fact that his instrument is a cello astounds even me, and I said it! Obviously, that’s a wildly subjective statement, but I’ll let it stand.

In the past 17 months, we’ve continued to see live music at a frantic pace. This has included some phenoms (e.g., likely the best finger picking guitarist I’ve seen, just this week).  None of that changes my feelings about my statement above.

DaveEggar

While I follow Dave on Twitter (@daveeggar), his tweet about this series (we only saw one of three nights, all different themes and musicians) flew by me, because I had never heard of Barge Music and didn’t understand that this was a public concert.

All that changed when Alex Wong announced that he was one of the guests who would be appearing last night. When I realized I could get one more taste of Alex this week (last night was our third in a row seeing Alex perform), but more importantly, finally catch a full show headlined by Dave Eggar, our other plans fell by the wayside (I was really looking forward to seeing Emily Zuzik for the first time).

I dropped Emily a note apologizing. She told me that Dave organized and played much of the strings on her 2006 CD, You Had Me at Goodbye! She asked me to say hi for her. Since I didn’t chat with Dave last night, I’m passing that along publicly, here. Smile

Barge Music is music, played on a barge (literally). Doh. It’s parked right under the Brooklyn Bridge (on the Brooklyn side). I’ll say some things about the logistics of that at the bottom of the post. Suffice it to say that it’s typically classical music, delivered in a gorgeous room, with excellent acoustics. I have no doubt I’ll be back there for another show.

The program last night was eclectic. Each guest brought something unique and the pieces were very different. Dave explained that in the beginning, noting (correctly) that it was highly unlikely that at least one of the performances wouldn’t appeal to every individual in the audience.

Before describing each piece and sharing how I felt it about it, I’m issuing the following blanket statement:

Every single musician was spectacular in their ability and technique!

In other words, even if I didn’t appreciate a particular composition, it’s not because it was delivered poorly. On the contrary, even pieces I would never listen to on my own, had enough elements of mastery to make them worth paying close attention to (at least once).

Given Dave’s talents, it’s clear that anyone he would invite to join him would be at the top of their game.

Apologies for the quality of the photos, and in some cases, the lack of one for a particular artist. We weren’t in a good position.

Dave sat center stage throughout, with the others coming and going depending on the piece. All of the guest composers were listed on the site. The supporting musicians were all introduced (a couple of times), but it was hard to hear their names (we were much further back than usual) and since I don’t take notes would have been impossible to remember. My heartfelt thanks to Tony Maceli (one of those musicians!), who responded to my email this morning to fill in the huge gaps in my memory/hearing.

John Patitucci was up first, playing upright bass. I didn’t recognize the name. It’s only in recent years that I pay attention (and homage!) to the names of sidemen (I always appreciated their work). It turns out that he’s played with so many greats, many of whose albums I own, so I do indeed know his play and now his name! The first composition of the night was written by John (I think specifically for Dave Eggar!).

JohnPatitucci

Before all of the musicians joined in, John and Dave kicked off a jazz improv on bass and cello. That morphed into John’s composition. Joining John and Dave were four cellists (making five playing simultaneously!): Jeff Law, Diane Barere, Peter Sachon and Sachi Patitucci (yes, John’s wife). After the cello’s were in full swing, David Budway joined all of them on the grand piano. Later on it morphed again into a jazz trio with John/Dave/David.

FiveCellosBassPiano

PeterSachonSachiPatitucciJeffLawDianeBarere

DavidBudway

I love Jazz, but I’m a luddite, preferring Smooth Jazz over the more traditional full-on improv. I enjoyed this piece (and the improvs around it), but it’s not the kind of music I would typically seek out.

Next was Dave’s own group, Deoro. Deoro is Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer (drums/percussion). If I understand correctly, they often perform with at least a bass player. Last night (and on their recent tour), it was Tony Maceli, one of our favorite bass players. Tony was on electric bass and Chuck played the cajon.

TonyMaceli

They were amazing. Tony’s bass play was so subtle, but perfect. I was impressed by the restraint he had to show, both in tempo and volume, but it worked to enhance the piece(s) just right. Chuck played the cajon in a more free-wheeling jazz style than I’ve heard it played before (though it was tuned to sound very much like a snare). He did an excellent job for the most part.

ChuckPalmerCajon

That said, Dave Eggar was so spectacular on the cello (I should be institutionalized if I try to describe it, so I won’t) that a number of times I felt Chuck was interfering with my pure enjoyment of Dave’s play. I am sure that’s not how Dave felt. He seemed to be feeding off of Chuck’s play. They clearly have a close musical rapport.

Elliot Sharp was up next. As with most aspects of life, technology has greatly affected (if not revolutionized) music. Dave, and to a much greater extent Elliot, introduced the piece by describing how music can be broken down and represented/visualized. They showed the audience a variety of printouts of what they were about to play. Here are some feeble photos of it, but last night, there were many oohs and aahs when they were held up.

ElliotSharpMusicPrintout1ElliotSharpMusicPrintout2

Basically, the hard part would be reproducing these micro bursts of music on the various instruments, synchronizing them all together. Elliot played the bass clarinet. Joining him were: John Patitucci on bass, Dave Eggar on cello, Chuck Palmer on cajon, Victoria Paterson on violin and Alex Wong on marimba.

This piece didn’t do it for me. It felt technically difficult. Playing a hundred micro-bursts of music, at high speed, and matching them with the others has to be a feat, but that doesn’t make it pleasant to my ears. In an irony, the most pleasant sounding instrument was the marimba, which had nothing to do with the fact that Alex Wong was playing it.

I was impressed with Victoria Paterson’s violin play. Click on her name above and read the scrolling list of her credits. Have patience, it goes on (and on…). We’ve likely heard her more than a few times on Broadway (possibly elsewhere).

VictoriaPaterson

Alex Wong was a big change of pace. He performed two songs, both at the grand piano. These are both songs that we’ve heard before, though one of them perhaps only once. The big difference for us was more instrumentation. The big difference for the audience last night was the addition of vocals and lyrics.

AlexWongPiano

Dave introduced Alex and explained that things were still in flux even a few hours before the show (in terms of the arrangements). He said that Alex was still working them out while he was in the cab on his way to the barge. Alex added that he brought a printer with him in the cab, so that when he finally finished scoring the various strings, he could print out the sheet music for each instrument on the barge.

Sounds nerve-wracking to me, but hey, I’m not a professional musician and producer. Perhaps this is the way it’s always done (and been done, except for the printer-in-the-cab part!). Before beginning, Alex apologized for feeling queasy due to the conditions on the barge (I’ll explain in greater detail at the end). In addition to apologizing to the audience and his fellow musicians, he directly apologized to the gorgeous Steinway he was about to play, considering what he was afraid might happen. Winking smile

The first song Alex played was so new it didn’t have a title yet. He was taking requests from the audience. In keeping with the classical theme, he offered up “Untitled”. Then added “Untitled #7”. Then quickly added “Untitled #7, Beige”. I will refuse to recognize the actual title he purports to call it by on his CD later this year. I will always call it “Untitled #7, Beige”.

He then played the song I’ve been obsessing about in my past few blogs about Alex, Are You Listening (otherwise known, by me only, as the “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” song). It’s always gorgeous, but with the strings added, even more so.

Accompanying Alex were Dave Eggar on cello, John Patitucci on upright bass and two of the four cellists mentioned above (Jeff Law and Peter Sachon).

John Patitucci played another number that he composed, this time on electric bass, accompanied by Dave, Victoria Paterson on violin and others (not sure exactly who).

After the song, John made a reference to the word apogee, explaining that it was furthest point in the orbit of a satellite. Dave repeated the word apogee and asked someone who appeared to be an audience member whether that definition was correct.

The reply was yes, but it applies not just to satellites, but anything that orbits another thing. That person ended up being Dr. Dan Gareau. It turns out that he should know. Shortly after confirming Dave’s question, Dan (or should that be Dr. Dan) was invited up to rap a science song, all about DNA. I think it was called Double J Helix. It was a blast!

Dan explained that he’s a Laser guy, working on non-invasive ways to diagnose melanomas. He did a great job, so I think I can understand what he’s doing, but I’m not quite at the point of competing with him. He’s also very into music. You can see his own personal music page, or his MySpace Page (which is called LaserManDan!).

Dina Fanai sang two songs. Absolutely beautiful voice. Every note she sang made me feel like it was (or should have been) featured in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In other words, reminiscent of Into the West by Annie Lennox (more the voice than the songs). Very dreamy.

DinaFanai

She was accompanied by the biggest group of the evening, flawlessly. Dave Eggar on cello, with all four cellists joining as well. Tony Maceli on electric bass. Chuck Palmer on drums and cajon. Bob Kinkel played the piano and sang some light harmony with Dina.

Dave told a story about his admission into the Julliard School of Music. On the entry form, there was a blank for your primary instrument. Dave knew that the proper name for the cello is violoncello (I didn’t, but he did). He didn’t know how to properly spell it though, so on the form, he filled in violincello. One of the professors (or the headmaster) embarrassed him by publicly stating that one of the students didn’t know how to spell the name of his instrument. He then made Dave sight-read a difficult piece in front of the class.

Dave didn’t tell us how that part went, but I’ll bet no one made fun of him ever again. Winking smile

Dave introduced the next person, Mari Kimura as a violinist, but also as a scientist. She has pioneered a technique on the violin called subharmonics. The NY Times wrote an article about her (and it) two months ago. If you clicked through, you see a glove on her right hand that is connected wirelessly to a computer. That glove registers every movement (including the speed) of her bowing hand. That project is profiled in the current issue of Scientific American.

MariKimura

Dave further explained (while Mari set up the complex equipment on stage) that the gloves (he wore one too!) interact with each other, sending information from one musician to the other, allowing them (or prompting them?) to change their play to match the other. I have no idea whether that’s true, or how it would/could work, but it sounds pretty cool.

Since the setup was long and complex, and the song they were going to play was not an original, Dave took the opportunity to play it for us the way it was originally written. Mari kept setting up, while Dave, Chuck and John performed the song. Now they were ready to unveil Mari’s interpretation, gloves and computer included.

The introduction was fascinating. I couldn’t wait to hear the piece, and possibly see one of their arms move involuntarily as a result of a signal sent by a different glove. Unfortunately, the piece itself wasn’t to my taste, even though the virtuosity was as obvious as it was on every other number.

Joining Mari and Dave were Chuck on percussion and Elliot Sharp, this time on acoustic guitar. Elliot heavily employed a slide, in addition to also hammering on the frets on occasion. It was interesting that Elliot joined on this number, as this was similarly staccato-like (micro bursts of music) as was his piece. A number of times I could see his left hand flying up and down the frets. I have a strong feeling that he will blow me away if I ever hear him play a more normal guitar piece.

Medicine Woman (or more accurately, a current subset of the group) was up next. Liz Hanley sang and played the violin, both extremely well. Domenica Fossati sang and played flute, both extremely well. They were accompanied by Peter Matson on guitar. Of course, Dave played along with a few others.

LizHanleyDomenicaFossati

Liz Hanley sang lead on Devil’s Paintbrush Road, a song I love by The Wailin’ Jennys. I really liked her voice, and violin play, but their version of the song doesn’t quite hold up to The Jennys version in my opinion. Domenica then introduced a song by telling us about her grandmother. Domenica translated a song into Italian and set it to a tune that sounded like a classical Italian folk song (you could almost hear the hand-held accordion). She sang it in what she described as her grandmother’s Italian accent. It was wonderful.

Deoro was back in business for the finale, written and sung by Chuck, Follow Me to the Sun. You can listen to it on his MySpace page, linked above to Chuck’s name. It’s not a lyrical masterpiece, but it’s a wonderful musical one. Dina returned to the stage to sing harmony with Chuck and to use a shaker for additional percussion. Dave joined in the singing a couple of times to create three-part harmony.

Before the song, Dave joked that he can’t play the drums and sing at the same time. I feel that way every time I see a drummer do it too.

A little over two hours of awesomeness, even the pieces I wouldn’t choose to listen to again. I am grateful to have experienced it. I’m also sorry to have missed Deoro the night before, and Dave doing pure classical trios tonight. There will be more Dave Eggar in our future, you can count on it! Smile

A little bit about the barge experience to close out this post. Since it’s real, it moves with the waves. They realize that some people don’t handle that well (it was obvious yesterday), so they supply a bucket of Dramamine pills for anyone who wants/needs some.

I feel very badly for those that are affected by it in general. Last night couldn’t have been a good night. Given the rain all day (and generally stormy conditions), it wasn’t a quiet river. For those of us who are (at least relatively) unaffected by it, the experience can be pretty cool in and of itself.

First, there’s the motion. When things are calm, the barge moves left-to-right (pulling itself away from the dock) until the restraints snap it back toward the dock. Then it moves right-to-left. All of this is very gentle and slow. It seemed that when the water was calm, this motion didn’t get to people unless they are super-sensitive.

The stage is at the front of the boat, with a very large glass window behind the performers, overlooking the Manhattan skyline (as you can see in many of the photos above). The view is stunning, but even when the barge is moving incredible slowly, the scenery behind the musicians is still moving in the opposite direction to the boat.

NYSkyline

When the water gets a bit choppier (as it was for a reasonable portion of the evening yesterday), the movement of the NY skyline has to be as distressing to the motion-sickness prone people as the movement of the boat. To me, it was an enhancement to the show.

The most troubling motion, which occurred a number of times last night (thankfully not too often) is when the boat moves up and down, front-to-back. In other words, when a wave comes straight at the boat, and it first lifts up, then descends the wave, finally rising again in the front to even out. I can only assume that this is the most unsettling feeling for the sensitive. For me, it produced the most unusual visuals, as the skyline starts to shrink, before coming into view, then disappearing in the other direction (you’re now looking at the lower floors of the buildings), before realigning.

Anyway, be forewarned, if you’re not good on boats, don’t assume that because this one is docked, it will be any different. On non-stormy days, I imagine it’s better than last night, but there are no guarantees, only Dramamine…