August, 2011:

Dickey Betts at City Winery with Kristy Lee Opening

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Sometimes dreams do come true. Sometimes they don’t live up to expectations, but even then, the dream coming true is often enough reward. Such was the case last night, for me.

I grew up listening to what many people now call Classic Rock. There were so many great bands that I always feel stupid (rather just silly) saying So-and-so was the best, etc. Still, I often find myself using terms like favorite. A more accurate description would be one of my favorites, of which there were many.

Near the top of my list of bands (not necessarily in this order) were: The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, Santana, The Who, Yes, The Beatles.

As many great guitarists as they were/are (who can possibly count), back then, my three favorite rock guitarists were Carlos Santana, Steve Howe and Dickey Betts. This is as much for their individual skill and style as for my love of the songs that they branded on my heart/soul/mind.

The greatest concert I ever attended was on June 10th, 1973 at RFK Stadium. 12 hours, mostly music (the intermissions were refreshingly short). The New Riders of the Purple Sage opened the show from 12-2pm. The Grateful Dead played from 2-7pm. The Allman Brothers Band played from 7pm-midnight!

I’ve never seen Dickey Betts perform live since then (heck, what’s 38 years between friends). I’ve seen the new incarnation of the Allman Brothers twice at the Beacon Theater (more on that at the bottom). I’ve missed a few opportunities to catch Dickey Betts and Great Southern over the past years and was glad to finally snag three great seats for last night’s show at City Winery.

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I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know whether it would be mostly new music written by Dickey and/or his band members (Great Southern), sprinkled with a few classics. I was blown away to find out that it was mostly Allman Brothers songs, many written by Dickey himself.

The good: awesome set selection, great individual performances, nostalgia heaven.

The disappointing: somewhat faded skills (still better than most guitarists), classic leads were often simplified (or not executed that well), vocals were nowhere near up to snuff (timing, hitting notes and some lost words).

To repeat, Dickey was great, but he’s lost a step or two. He’s a bit more hesitant and not quite as smooth, though on occasion, the full-blown magic is there to enjoy. He kept the peddle that he pressed to switch from rhythm yo lead about 4’ away from him. It seemed to be a chore whenever he wanted to switch, and often caused him to start the leads a few notes later than he might have liked.

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I know it’s obvious to blame the change on age, but Dickey is not much older than Dave Mason, who in my opinion is as brilliant on the guitar today as he ever was. Dave’s voice is still the same too. Good genes, clean living, or both, who knows.

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

Andy Aledort on electric guitar. Andy took quite a number of the leads (I’d guess roughly equal to the number Dickey took). He split them between normal and slide. He performed the dual leads with Dickey that are a signature of many Allman Brothers Band songs and did an excellent job.

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I have no qualms with his guitar play, other than he took took many liberties (for my taste) from some of the original leads. I know people believe that artists should be able to grow, or do whatever they feel, but Andy doesn’t have the excuse of being bored playing these numbers for 40 years, so I would have preferred to hear them played the way they were recorded originally.

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Duane Betts on electric guitar. I can’t find a good individual link to Duane (though his name pops up a lot, including YouTube videos of him). He’s Dickey’s son. I didn’t know that (like I said, I had no idea what to expect). Dickey never introduced the band, so I only found out this morning. That said, Dickey was very generous in pointing to every member of the band when they did something exceptional, giving the crowd the go-ahead to show their appreciation. Still, I’m a big fan of introductions!

Duane provided a third guitar for some of the classic dual leads, making them triples. Those were extremely sweet! He also took center stage as the main lead guitarist at least four times, with two of them being pretty long leads. He’s clearly a very talented guitarist, though I didn’t feel like I was watching a young Dickey Betts. He too suffered from getting to the pedal a few seconds late when it was his turn to take a lead.

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Pedro Arevalo on electric bass. Fast, clean, tasty, excellent. When the band returned after a long drum solo, Pedro and Dickey sparred a bit on the guitar and bass, which gave Pedro a great opportunity to show his stuff.

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Mike Kach on keyboards (organ and electronic) and vocals. Mike was superb on the keyboards (he used mostly a piano sound on the electronic keys, and either switched occasionally to an organ sound, or had an real organ keyboard below it, out of my sight). He was also the primary lead vocalist, a job he didn’t handle as well to my taste. He sang harmony on the numbers that Dickey sang lead.

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Mike had a Greg Allman look to him, adding a touch of mock authenticity to the Allman Brothers sound. Winking smile

Sitting behind these guys (and perhaps more importantly, behind their wall of amps!), were two drummers. Each had a full drum kit. In between them, higher up on the stage, was a full bongo-style set.

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Frankie Lombardi on drums, the bongo set (a bit) and harmony. Frankie was exceptional on the drums. So fast, so interesting. He took an incredibly long solo that was absolutely mesmerizing. He only played the bongo set a few times, but when he was there, he also sang some harmony while Dickey sang lead, making it 3-part with Mike.

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James Varnado on drums. James was exceptional as well and was incredibly well-matched with Frankie. He too took a very long solo and killed it. Their solos couldn’t have been more different, which was also a treat, since they came back-to-back. James had a masterful touch of very soft/subtle (but really fast) build-ups.

JamesVarnado

Before they took their individual solos, they played a long duo. They played together perfectly, but also often created a stereo effect of starting a drum riff on one end of the stage, and as the drummer made his way to the other side of his kit, the other one picked it up (flawlessly) and continued across his set. Beautiful!

That duo followed by the solos occurred toward the end of my favorite Allman Brothers Band song, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. The band walked off the stage leaving only the drummers. When the solos were over, Dickey and Pedro returned (mentioned above) followed by Andy, Duane and Mike. They then finished the song to rousing cheers.

I was blown away that they did In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. As much as I enjoyed it, it was the biggest disappointment in terms of living up to my expectations. I have listened to that song so many times over the past 40 years on the Live at the Filmore East album (one of the greatest albums of all time). Any note that’s out of place is jarring to me. Last night’s rendition wasn’t even close, though it was obviously recognizable as the same song.

That leads me to one final thing about the drums. The Allman Brothers Band has three full-time drummers/percussionists on stage at all times (and they typically add a fourth guest for some numbers). It’s such an integral part of their sound, giving such a huge bottom.

As extraordinary as last night’s drummers were, it wasn’t as obvious (or true to the ABB sound) during the songs. I’m guessing it’s because their kick drums were hidden behind a wall of Marshall amps. The drum play was slick, but the bottom just wasn’t there like at an ABB show.

I said up top that I would mention my recent ABB experiences. Those shows were great, but even though Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are amazing guitarists, they try to avoid being copycats of Duane and Dickey. That’s the part I don’t like. The drummers are still worth showing up for, and the bass player is one of the best.

After walking off the stage, the band returned for an encore. They played Rambling Man. A great choice to end the evening.

Lois went up to the stage to try and grab the set list. It was behind the monitors, taped to the floor. I couldn’t tell whether she couldn’t reach it, or whether she didn’t want to risk ripping it. She took a photo of it (upside down) just in case she couldn’t get the actual papers (two sheets).

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Standing off to the right of the stage was a man who was equally anxious to get his hands on it. He asked James Varnado whether he could have it, and James said no and kept walking.

Lois asked Andy Aledort if she could have it. He hesitated and said he wasn’t sure, but then walked off.

Lois left the stage area and found the band tech (the back of his T-Shirt said “Tour Staff”). He was the guitar tech and coordinated pretty much everything that happened on the stage before and during the show. Lois asked him for the set list, and he obliged, after apologizing for having to do something for his brother first.

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He delivered! Below is what I believe to be a master set list. They didn’t play all the songs on this list, but I think they were prepared to play any of them. They picked roughly 1/2 the songs on the list. There was a late show that night (because the Sunday show was canceled due to Hurricane Irene). Perhaps they played a very different set after we left.

DickeyBettsSetListPick

From memory, the one’s I’m sure they played last night (not in order): Les Brers in A Minor, Statesboro Blues, Blue Sky, One Way Out, Seven Turns, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Jessica, Rambling Man (probably a few more, though each song was pretty long).

In addition to giving Lois the set list, he also gave her a Dickey Betts guitar pick. Cool! Memorabilia is one thing we really like. Thanks again “Tour Staff” guy, we are forever in your debt! Smile

DickeyBettsPick

Kristy Lee opened the show. She’s a singer/songwriter from Mobile, AL. The people who showed up early enough (1/3 of the eventual crowd) were largely rude and talked quite loud. Thankfully, Kristy has a very powerful voice (speaking and singing) and as annoyed as I was at the talkers, I could hear every word Kristy spoke and sang.

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She accompanied herself on acoustic guitar (mostly strumming, but very nicely). I liked everything about her: voice, songs, stage presence.

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Jimbo Kurisko accompanied her on acoustic guitar. No good individual link, but you can easily find YouTube videos of him and Kristy. Jimbo was absolutely outstanding! His leads were fast (mostly finger picked) and he and Kristy have a great rapport. She highlighted him on every song (usually twice). She would throw it to him by saying “Sing it Jimbo”. Singing it, in this case, meant make the guitar sing, baby! He did! Smile

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We got to City winery 75 minutes before Kristy went on. We and a friend of ours enjoyed a wonderful meal, good conversation, and most importantly, an amazing carafe of City Winery’s own Zinfandel. Incredibly delicious (the wine, that is).

Backscratch XV at Rockwood Music Hall

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Last night was the 15th Backscratch show, hence the fancy XV in the title. We missed the first 12 (I blame all of you!) and caught the last two (three including XV). Backscratch is the brainchild of Martin Rivas and Craig Meyer. Six or Nine performers, depending on whether they can book two or three hours (last night was at Rockwood Music Hall). Each performer sings three songs. Traditionally, one original, one cover, and one backscratch, a cover of one of the other performers from that evening, randomly assigned to them in secret (in other words, no one knows who will be covering whom).

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Recent performances have included two originals plus the backscratch. Both ways work well. The evening moves very quickly, even the three-hour shows. The banter is usually worth coming out for, independent of the music. Most of all, the camaraderie. While there are a lot of musicians in the audience (by definition), the fans are not made to feel like outsiders. It’s a beautiful thing and if you come, you’ll feel like family, right away.

The idea is spreading. There will be a Backscratch I (1) in the UK next month! I think there was one already in Boston (if not, it’s coming soon). If you don’t live in NYC, look for one in your town, or better yet, clamor for one! Smile

Last night was six performers, from 9-11pm. First up was the only rookie Backscratcher.

Sarah Nisch sang two originals accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. For her backscratch she did a Patryk Larney number (pretty well in my opinion). She has a lovely voice.

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Her name sounded familiar to me, but I didn’t think we’d ever seen her before and I admit she didn’t look all that familiar. Everything is contextual. It’s true that we never saw her as part of the LES (Lower East Side) scene. Two years ago (7/27/2009 to be exact!) we saw her perform at the equivalent of an organized open mic show called The Set NYC.

I had mostly flattering things to say. I concluded with:

Still, she’s a talented singer/songwriter, and I’m sure Lois and I would be happy to catch her again at one of these shows.

I’m glad to see that she’s persevered and gotten into this circle and places like Rockwood.

Kate Branagh sang an original, a cover, and her backscratch, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. I could go on and on praising Kate, but let me list the highlights:

  • Fantastic voice. I felt like I was listening to a real Nashville pro, like Kathy Mattea
  • Good accompaniment on acoustic guitar
  • Excellent songwriting (lyrics, structure, melodies)
  • Quirky but superb stage presence
  • Unbelievably funny (NSFW or kids, not just the words, but the subject matter was often crude)

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She covered Caleb Hawley for her backscratch, rightfully noting how difficult it would be. She did a very nice job.

One example of her humor. She just released a CD she’s been working on for six years. It’s called Minutia. She has a CD Release Show at The Living Room on September 9th, 2011 at 9pm. She asked the crowd who knew what Minutia means? (She didn’t spell it, and I admit to thinking it was a made up word, spelled: Manusha). In any event, no one volunteered.

Kate said: Obviously, I’m a lot smarter than the rest of you (as she went on to define Minutia). But, she reminded us that we were lucky to be seeing her perform, so that she could share her knowledge with the rest of us. Smile

I’m a fan of dry, sarcastic humor, and Kate’s delivery is excellent!

After her set, Lois bought the CD. It’s really good, so get it. Better yet, get to the show next Friday (we can’t make it, unfortunately) and get yourself one directly from Kate!

On the negative side, Kate’s site (linked to her name) is way out of date. Hopefully, in conjunction with this CD Release, she’ll find the time and energy to update it. In the meantime, here’s a link to her MySpace page, to listen to a few of her songs.

Caleb Hawley sang two originals and his backscratch accompanied on his brand new guitar. I’ve written about Caleb a number of times. He’s an unreal talent (in the sense that he’s so good at so many aspects of writing and performing that it’s hard to wrap your head around it all!).

CalebHawley

He writes great songs. He is an exceptional guitar player, in particular for accompanying his singing (though I could listen to him play for hours even if he didn’t open his mouth). He has an excellent voice. He’s funny and engaging on stage. His warmth is contagious (avert your eyes if he smiles in your direction, or you’ll be forced to follow him anywhere).

So, why did I bother to mention that he was playing a new guitar? Because he just recently won it, by capturing the Song Competition at this year’s Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. This netted him the guitar and an appearance on the Main Stage next year!

Caleb’s backscratch was a Kate Branagh song, so they ended up playing each other’s numbers. He chose Dandelion Lovers (the first cut on her new CD) and did a beautiful job. I listened to the CD version this morning (with full band) and it’s stellar.

Next up was our fearless leader, Martin Rivas. This evening was very difficult for Martin. I want to explain why, but I will fist mention his incredible performance, especially in the face of what I will describe afterward.

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Martin Rivas sang an original, his backscratch and a cover, accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar. All three were excellent performances. His original is a new song which will be on his upcoming CD (released in 2012). His backscratch turned into a little behind the scenes look at how backscratch works.

Typically, each performer submits a list of their songs that they might play at the show, so that whoever gets them for the backscratch portion won’t duplicate a song they intend to play. Since Sarah Nisch was new to backscratch, or for any other reason that I am unaware of, some signals got crossed.

She opened her set with the song Paper Bag Heart. That’s the same song that Martin had picked for his backscratch. Martin joked that at least we’d have an A/B comparison. Both were well done, so no harm, no foul. In fact, since the song was new to me, hearing it twice in one night wasn’t a bad thing at all.

Martin closed his set with a cover from one of his songwriting heroes, Nick Ashford, who passed away last week. Martin played Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. The entire audience sang along to each chorus, it was gorgeous and moving. Of course, for Martin, it had an even deeper meaning (as you’ll see next).

On to more somber matters. Martin spends a lot of time in Middleburgh, NY, Schoharie Country. While many NYC folks escaped serious damage by Hurricane Irene (we have to remember that’s not true for all NYC residents!), the devastation in upstate NY (and many other places north and south of NYC) is not getting enough attention.

Martin was having a hard time being in the moment at Rockwood last night, as his heart was breaking from all the pictures and video that was coming in from Schoharie County. Amazingly, it didn’t affect the quality of his performance. I was going to post a before and after photo of the valley (it’s mind-boggling how a valley can turn into a giant river/lake overnight). Instead, I see that Christina Morelli of NYC Arts Scene has written an article which includes that photo in it.

I urge you all to read that article and help in any way that you can!

Patryk Larney sang two originals and his backscratch, accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. He also invited up Ben Morgan to play piano on all three numbers. Ben sang light harmony as well (very nicely). Patryk (and Ben) did an excellent job. I was particularly impressed by his backscratch of Bri Arden’s song, Sink Down Under. Bri is a tough act to reproduce. Kudos to Patryk.

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I’ve only seen Patryk do one cover before last night (at a Benefit Concert). He continues to impress. I’m going to catch a full set of his music tomorrow night (Wednesday, 8/31/2011) at Rockwood 1, 9pm. Come join me and see if you agree with my assessment of his talent.

After the show I walked over to Ben to ask him his last name. When he said “Morgan”, I said, oh, I just saw you on video. It turns out that he was accompanying The Vanity Belles when they were interviewed and performed on MNN (Channel 56 on Time Warner Cable in NYC) on Sunday night. We watched the show (and enjoyed every second of it, including Ben’s keyboard play). Patryk played on one song as well. He produced the Vanity Belles current album. They will be singing a bit with Patryk tomorrow night. Just a little extra incentive to come see Patryk’s show!

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Last, but certainly not least, Bri Arden.

I’ve seen Bri a number of times. She has impressed each and every time (last night included). The performances have ranged from acoustic (Bri singing, accompanied by a single acoustic guitarist) to nine people on stage (full band plus two backup singers). In all those shows, Bri sang without playing any instruments.

She teased me last time, playing the piano during sound check (at the acoustic show). Last night, she finally played the piano for real, during her two originals. She was very self-deprecating about her ability, joking that she was prepared to declare herself the best piano player of the show, until Ben Morgan was invited up by Patryk. Smile

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Bri played very nicely indeed and I’m sure she will continue to improve the more she chooses to play in public.

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That said, it was her backscratch that was the highlight of the show (to me, and I presume to many others). Keep in mind that she chose it before any of us knew what was (or would be) happening in Schoharie Country!

Bri came out from behind the piano to sing a cappella. Everyone knew she was going to cover Martin (the math was no longer hard at that point). She chose one of his iconic numbers, North.

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North was actually written with Schoharie County in mind, with happy thoughts of a destination that Martin loved to go to. When your heart swells so much with joy, the heartbreak is equally unimaginable when that place is laid to waste. You can listen to the song and read the lyrics at Martin’s Bandcamp Page. You can buy the download there as well.

Bri was awesome. The audience sang large swaths of the song with her, since we all know it so well. For the finale, Caleb Hawley and Patryk Larney came up and kept the chorus going while Bri sang in and around them. Stunning. Of course, Martin was triply moved. There was a long hug and private words exchanged between Martin and Bri on stage when she was done.

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Another successful Backscratch show. There’s a special magic to them. Come find out for yourself at the next one, Monday, October 24th, 2011 at Rockwood Music Hall.

Different than most shows at Rockwood, there was no tip jar passed around for the performers. Instead, Rockwood Music Hall makes a donation and all of the musicians donate their time. Last night’s donation will be made to help the people of Schoharie County.

Thanks to everyone at Rockwood Music Hall for this very generous act!

Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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If you read this space, you know how often we see Greg Mayo perform. Even so, it’s not nearly enough, but we take what we can get. One of the reasons we see Greg so often is that he plays with a number of different bands (and a number of configurations under his personal moniker).

One of those bands is the Greg Mayo Band. Amazingly, it’s been a little over six months since we last saw them play. That’s just crazy, given how good they are. Of all the bands we see in NYC, Greg likes this one to dress up. Given that nearly everyone on stage played or guested on an earlier set that evening, it was fun to see them change from jeans to suits and ties from one minute to the next.

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All Greg Mayo Band shows are really events, with last night being no exception. There was a rowdy crowd (in the good sense) rocking out (you don’t say souling out, right?) from 11:15pm to nearly 12:30am (on a pre-hurricane Thursday night!?!). Even though every show is an event, last night was sure to be even more special (and indeed it was). Earlier in the day, Greg tweeted the following:

Happy 60th, dad. Tonight is for you. Enjoy the show http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Mayo

The link above is to the mobile version of the page, if you’re reading this on big screen, here’s a better link to study up on how amazing Bob Mayo was.

During the show last night (well into it, so I’m telling this out of order), Greg stopped playing for a minute to mention that it would have been his dad’s 60th birthday. He played a song that he said was the first one his dad taught him to play on the piano (I think he said he was in 7th grade).

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That Bob Mayo inspired and/or taught his son to follow in his footsteps (Greg is an amazing guitarist and pianist, just like Bob was) is yet another gift Bob gave to us all!

Greg played the keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and sang lead. He was outstanding. I would say he was inspired, but the truth is that he never gives a sub-par performance, so I’m not sure how to measure his inspiration. Smile

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There were a few substitutions from the normal band configuration (or at least from the last few times we’ve seen them). Everyone was excellent, so no suffering of quality for the changes.

Left-to-right on stage:

Rebecca Haviland on vocals and tambourine. Another in a long string of wow performances. I feel like a broken record, since I wrote about Rebecca in my two previous posts. That said, on those she was a special guest. Here, she is a full-fledged member of the Greg Mayo Band, so she got to sing a lot more.

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Kenny Shaw on drums. Another exceptional performance. Kenny was great on every number (these are very high-energy songs), but was phenomenal on one number in particular, Paul Simon’s Late in the Evening. It was by no means the only highlight. Greg gave Kenny a couple of shout-outs turning over the focus to Kenny.

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This was my third consecutive set seeing Kenny last night. All were amazing, but this one topped the others, even though he had been playing for two hours before this one even began.

John Liotta on baritone saxophone. Another excellent performance by John. He took a couple of leads and nailed each one.

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Josh Reed on trumpet. This was our first time seeing Josh. He was great. He was the first of the brass section to take a long lead (I think in the very first song) and he blew everyone in the large crowd away!

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Dan Voss on saxophone. Another stellar performance. He really let loose with an amazing lead late in the show.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. One of our favorite bass players, didn’t disappoint (has he ever?). He was hidden from my view most of the set, but he was never hidden from my ears. Chris’ bass lines were crisp and interesting and very easy to pick out.

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Erik White on electric guitar and vocals. Erik was the founding guitar player in the Greg Mayo Band, but left the group a while ago. Paul Maddison (the current guitarist) was away, and given that Erik was playing with Brothers McCann two sets earlier, he was the perfect choice to sit in.

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Erik was superb on the guitar (it would be hard to imagine Greg having an ordinary guitarist in the band, given his personal skills). He also sang lead (and harmony). He was the guitar and vocal force on Paul Simon’s Late in the Evening (mentioned above when I praised Kenny’s drum play). Everyone made that song incredible, but Erik and Kenny in particular.

Martin Rivas and Brothers McCann were called up (twice, but I think the Brothers were a no-show the second time) to sing. Fantastic. (Note: Greg did not make them change into suits.) Winking smile

The crowd kept cheering after Greg said goodnight, so he was forced to stick around for an encore. Smile Here’s the set list:

SetList

A truly amazing night. Given that I was up from 4am, on four hours of sleep, it would have been a miracle just to stay awake that late, except that this music is so energizing, I had no trouble. Of course, I crashed when I got back to the apartment, but it was worth it.

Martin Rivas at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We see Martin Rivas whenever we can. One of the reasons is that he always finds a way to shake things up, even when he’s performing with the same (awesome) band. Recently that has meant Martin introducing a slew of new songs (he’s prepping to record a new CD with the incredible Alex Wong producing, later this year).

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In addition to new songs, Martin often themes his shows somehow (not always announcing the theme, you just quickly figure it out). Last night he picked a cool one. We’ll get to that shortly.

We really like his new material. Coupled with our love of Alex Wong as a producer, the anticipation for the new CD is building. We’ll have to tamp it down a bit. Martin announced that he likely won’t be recording until late this year or early next year, which means the CD won’t be out until Spring (my guess, not Martin’s words).

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Martin started out with the full band (I’ll cover them shortly). After a couple of numbers, he called up Rebecca Haviland to sing with him. I just highlighted how well Rebecca handles soul vocals in the post before this one (where she guested with Brothers McCann). This was an extraordinary continuation.

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For those of you who don’t know, Rebecca is a songwriter and headliner in her own right. She’s in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to record a full-length CD. I have the EP with four of those songs and I can’t wait to get the full album. So, folks, help Rebecca, yourselves, and of course most of all, me, by contributing here. Smile

When Rebecca left the stage, so did the band. Martin morphed into the surprise theme of the night. He played four songs in a row duet-style, each with one member of the band. So fresh, so cool, each song so well done. On the set list, you can see the initials of each band member next to the song they performed with Martin (if you don’t immediately know who they are, you will when I cover each individually).

SetList

Those songs were all on the mellower side. When the four duets were over, the band came back and kept raising the temperature. I Need a Riff was raucous and had the crowd hopping.

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

Patrick Firth on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and vocals. Patrick was his usual outstanding self. Excellent piano play!

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Kenny Shaw on drums. This was the second of three consecutive sets that I saw Kenny play last night (all absolutely awesome!). I am not sure whether he was stalking me, or I was stalking him, but either way, it worked for me! Smile

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Brian Killeen on electric bass and vocals. Another stellar performance by Brian, highlighted on his duet, Meet Your Father.

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Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. Always a treat to see Greg on the guitar. While all of his leads were tasty, he saved the real magic until the last few numbers, starting with North, where he just killed it.

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Prior to seeing this photo, I didn’t know that Greg was also a master voguer. Winking smile

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John Liotta played saxophone on Get Yourself Together.

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It had been three months since Martin headlined Rockwood 2. Way too long. Welcome back Martin, welcome back!

Brothers McCann at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Brothers McCann played Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, last night at 9pm. I missed that show. I don’t usually post about shows I miss, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. As we did earlier this month, Lois and I split up (just temporarily, calm down folks!). I went to see Derek James at Rockwood 1 at 9pm and Lois went to see Brothers McCann next door (neither of us had seen them before).

Lois was so impressed that she wanted me to include a section on them in one of my other posts from last night (we each saw three sets). I chose to make this shorter post all about them for two reasons:

  1. I caught the last two full songs in their set (Derek’s set ended a bit earlier)
  2. Lois bought their CD and I listened to it this morning (it’s really good!)

When I walked in, Lois told me how she scooped me again, because Greg Mayo produced their CD and was playing a bit with them as well. She knows that I’m the (unofficial, self-appointed) President of the Greg Mayo Fan Club, so she was trying to get under my skin for missing this (competitive much, Lois?). Winking smile

The universe looks out for me. In order to soften the blow, Brothers McCann called up none other than Rebecca Haviland to sing with them. I have gushed about Rebecca often, and will do so again in the next two posts from the sets following this one. Her voice fits most genres and Brothers McCann flavor of soul is most definitely one of them.

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It didn’t need to get better, but it did…

As if to further appease me, to close the show, Brothers McCann called Greg up to play electronic keyboards, with Pat McCann still playing the grand piano (Greg stood to the right of Pat). Of course, Greg was amazing, but more importantly, so was the song, the Brothers and their entire band!

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I’ve added Brothers McCann to my must see list. Add them to yours as well! Here are photos that Lois took while I was next door:

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Derek James at Rockwood Music Hall

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Derek James has magical powers (at least over me). I am a very happy person, nearly 100% of the time. So, lifting my spirits seems like a silly thing to say, since they’re always pretty high (metaphorically speaking). Yet, every time I see Derek James perform (last night, at Rockwood Music Hall, was the fifth time), he does indeed lift my spirits even higher (and I was coming in with a wonderful frozen margarita high, so he had some work to do!). Winking smile

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Derek’s band is called The Lovely Fools. Sometimes shows are billed as Derek James and sometimes as Derek James and The Lovely Fools. As I noted in my last post, The Lovely Fools aren’t always the same set of folks, though I associate the canonical version of The Lovely Fools as Roy Gurel on guitar and Assaf Spector on bass. Both were at the last show, but neither was there last night.

Last night was a fantastic set, full of toe-tapping, head-bobbing, foot stomping and feel-gooding (Jr.?). Winking smile So, these Lovely Fools are very lovely too (I’ll note the differences below when I tell you who they were). First, the set list:

SetList

The biggest highlight between the shows was that the volume levels on all instruments (including the drums) was perfect. In the last post I lamented that perhaps Rockwood 1 shouldn’t host these types of shows. I noted exceptions to that (so it can be done) and it was awesome to have Derek himself reverse the feeling I previously had.

The biggest disappointment was once again having Derek’s voice be way too low to hear the words. I was right up at the stage, so I probably had the worst of it, sitting under the speakers. I hope the people further back got to enjoy his vocals (and hear the words clearly).

Most guitarists don’t plan for disasters. They foolishly bring guitars with six strings. When one breaks, there are certain notes they simply can’t play. Derek James is a genius. He brought a guitar that had a whopping 12 strings on it. When one of them broke during the set, he was able to play with nearly twice as many strings as those other guitarists do, and still hit every note. Winking smile

Even if all of his strings broke, he could have seamlessly moved over to full-time Kazoo playing. Smile

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Last night marked the beginning of a month-long, weekly (every Thursday) residency at Rockwood. The first three at Rockwood 1, the last at Rockwood 2, a ticketed CD Release show. Check him (them) out!

The minute I walked into Rockwood, I saw Jerry Fuentes on stage. I asked him whether he just played the set before Derek. He said he was playing with Derek. Sweet, I really enjoyed Jerry’s guitar play when we caught his headlining set back in January.

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Roy Gurel (the normal guitar-playing-fool) is really amazing. The one disappointing show featured a very skilled guitarist. Unfortunately, playing with Derek James requires a lot more than skill, it requires style. Seriously, there is so much fun (much of it delivered in a nuanced way), that if you’re going to share the stage with him, you better both be infected by the mood and also be capable of spreading it (like a virulent virus).

Jerry Fuentes has the skills (I already knew that), but thankfully, he totally has the style. His leads were fun and tasty. He can Fool me any time he wants.

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Mike Tuccillo on electric bass. Filling Assaf’s (Assie) shoes is no small feat, on the bass in general, and specifically as a Fool. I’ve seen Mike play twice before (at the Soul Revue Benefit and as part of Jerry’s band in the set linked to above), so I wasn’t worried about his bass play. Like Jerry above, Mike fit in really well with the sound.

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Kenny Shaw was on drums again (like he was the last time we saw Derek). He was fantastic. The beats in Derek’s songs are so integral to the irresistible desire to shake-your-thang, that the drummer’s role is critical. Every time he hits it, he’s tapping on something deep in your psyche (if he’s doing it correctly). Thanks Kenny (my psyche thanks you too!).

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After the show, Kenny asked me if he was too loud (I was sitting with my back directly in front of the kick drum). I was thrilled to answer No. It really was perfect.

So, with Jerry and Mike doing such a good job, are they perfect replacements for Roy and Assie? No, but I have zero complaints. It’s not so much a difference in skill levels, but rather than Roy and Assie can perform these numbers in their sleep. It’s most noticeable in the reduced harmonies (Jerry sang more than Mike did). Roy and Assie also move in unison (with and without Derek), again, almost unconsciously.

If Jerry and Mike continue to be the main Lovelies, they might get there, but even if they don’t, I promise to never be disappointed if they are the ones on stage when I show up to see Derek perform!

The Crab Apple Singers at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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If you ask who the Crab Apple Singers are, I won’t fault you for not knowing, since last night was their first-ever performance. It’s a spinoff of a group called The Big Apple Singers. The founder of TBAS, Evan Watson is on an extended tour with Def Leppard. The rest of the group was itching to play, and I’m certainly not the only audience member that was itching to hear them.

Here is my post on the last TBAS show. Since Evan Watson plays electric guitar for TBAS, some changes were required to constitute The Crab Apple Singers (TCAS).

Greg Mayo moved from keyboards to electric guitar.

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Patrick Firth replaced Evan, but really he replaced Greg at the keyboards (grand piano and electronic).

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Chris Anderson was slated to play electric bass (he’s the primary bass player in TBAS, and therefore in TCAS as well). He had a late conflict and he too was replaced.

Brian Killeen played electric bass. As good as Chris is, there’s no drop-off with Brian, so we’ll call that an even trade.

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Josh Dion is the only member of TBAS who fulfilled the same role, drummer, in TCAS.

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All four members sang lead and harmony. All four did that as well as you could hope.

My friends, if you weren’t there, you missed a heck of a set. Every one of them was on fire on their instrument (guitar, keyboards, bass and drums). The leads were sizzling and the drums were mind-boggling.

People literally got out of their seats and started to dance. Once they started, they didn’t stop. Many cameras switched their focus to capture the joy of the dancers, but all ears were on the band.

I’ve been praising Greg Mayo and Patrick Firth a bunch this week, so let me just tell you that there was no letdown from their previously praise-worthy performances. They were both absolutely amazing.

Brian Killeen traded his bass for Greg’s guitar on one song. Brian sang lead on Cinnamon Girl (with Josh Dion singing co-lead). He took a wailing lead late in the song, showing that he’s no slouch on the electric guitar. Very nicely done Brian!

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Greg tore it up on the bass, so the switch didn’t cost the audience enjoyment on either instrument.

I love drummers. There are good ones, great ones, and exciting ones. Josh is in the exciting category. Keep in mind that this category subsumes the great category as well, the excitement doesn’t come at the cost of greatness. That Josh’s singing produces the same type of excitement, separate from his drumming, is even more mind-boggling.

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Looking at the faces in the crowd while Josh is ripping up the drums made me feel like I was in an old-time revival meeting. People were seeing the light.

Robbie Gil came up to close he show. He sang Feeling Alright and the band killed it supporting him. Dave Mason closes every one of his shows with his money song, and he’d have been proud to hear Robbie sing it with TCAS backing him up. What a way to end an epic (nearly six hour!) night of music.

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Here’s the set list, but there were changes. At least you can get a good sense of the type of songs they select:

SetList

I missed most of Robbie Gil’s set, the one immediately before TCAS, because I was next door seeing Bri Arden. Lois stayed and watched Robbie’s set. She had a mutual friend text me that Greg Mayo was playing guitar on Robbie’s set. I replied that I knew, but was happily committed to seeing Bri nonetheless.

Then she told me (and showed me a photo) that Greg played the lap steel guitar during one number in Robbie’s set. That was the only (momentary) twinge I had about my decision. Oh well, I’ll just have to keep showing up at Greg’s sets until he whips out the lap steel again. Smile

GregMayoLapSteelGuitar

Bri Arden Acoustic at Rockwood Music Hall

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I typically check the Rockwood Music Hall website whenever we’re home and map out upcoming shows for a number of weeks. I put them on the calendar so that when people ask when we’re available, I know whether I’m likely to be at Rockwood instead. Winking smile

Last night we had mapped out being at Rockwood 2 all night (7pm – 12:30am). Then Nate Campany announced a 9pm show at Rockwood 1, and Lois and I split up our watching. I just wrote about Nate’s set.

A week ago, Bri Arden tweeted the following:

The two stripped down shows are August 5th- Buffstock and August 6th- Rockwood 10pm. These are not to be missed! 🙂

I did a double take, because I was sure someone else was listed at 10pm at Rockwood 1. I tweeted back and Bri responded with:

@hadarvc JUST booked 🙂

Yup, Bri got the call to fill in for someone who obviously was canceling a week in advance. Sweet, except that I really like Robbie Gil who was at Rockwood 2 at 10pm. Still, like with Nate, I had no hesitation. This was Bri doing an acoustic show, something I hadn’t experienced. Lois held down the fort at Robbie’s show, and I stayed in my seat for Bri after Nate’s set was over.

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The last time I saw Bri at Rockwood, she had as many as nine people on stage at the same time. It was a very big sound. Last night, Bri sang with one person accompanying her (we’ll get to him shortly).

During sound check, Bri warmed up at the grand piano, so I was looking forward to hearing her sing and play. Unfortunately, she must have changed her mind during the set, because she didn’t return to the piano.

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Bri has an absolutely extraordinary voice. That’s true even when eight other people (with instruments and backup singers) are on stage. But, holy cow, when it’s basically Bri’s voice with little else, it’s a different kind of amazing. She’s got every kind of soul you could ever want (even if the song itself might not qualify as a Soul number). I kept feeling like this was an Aretha Franklin kind of voice, scrunched up into someone 1/4 of Aretha’s size.

Bri is a wonderful songwriter too, so she’s putting that voice to use to tell stories that come from her heart (and experience). We’re all taking a journey with her, not just listening to an instrument (not that there’s any wrong with that!). Winking smile

Supporting Bri on every number was the extremely talented Justin Goldner. Previously, I raved about Justin’s electric bass play. I also praised his voice and piano play. Here’s what I wrote about him the first time I saw him:

Justin Goldner sang Home Again (1st time). Justin did a very nice job singing and playing the piano on this number. That said, for the majority of the evening, he was one of three primary bass players. He was truly awesome on the bass. I noticed how good he was on the very first song. But when Bri sang Smackwater Jack, Justin was so good that I recall thinking I never realized how sophisticated some of the bass lines were (or could be) in Folk/Pop tunes of yesteryear.

Last night he played the acoustic guitar on all but one number, when he played the piano. So, let’s add acoustic guitar to his talents, though he wasn’t called upon to do too much in this type of set, so I don’t really know how strong he is on guitar.

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He also sang some harmony (nicely) with Bri on a few numbers, but that too wasn’t a particular highlight. Basically, this was Bri doing what she does best!

She got the crowd singing a couple of times, at one point putting the microphone in front of Ashley Lehmann who represented the audience better than most of us could have!

OK, you’ve seen the dress that Bri wore last night. To prove to you that the universe tells me whether the decisions I make are right or wrong, I’ll relate what happened to me today.

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This post (and three others) are going out way later than usual. Today, I had a mini reunion with three other elementary school buddies! We met in New Haven at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria (big spenders!). I took the train up with one of the guys who lives in Thailand (we were taking advantage of today being his last day in the US before he returns home).

Walking to Grand Central Station at 11:45am, I passed a woman on the street who was wearing the exact same dress as Bri. If I had not switched from Robbie Gil to Bri’s show, I would never have known that I was being told I made a mistake, since the dress would have been eye-catching, but otherwise meaningless. But, I know for certain that I was being rewarded instead. Thanks Universe! Smile

Nate Campany at Rockwood Music Hall

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I’ve wanted to see Nate Campany perform a set for a very long time now. When he listed a show at Rockwood Music Hall at 9pm (last night), I was excited, until I checked my calendar. I had 5.5 straight hours booked right next door at Stage 2. At 9pm, Kyle Patrick was up so I had to choose between them.

As much as I wanted to see Kyle Patrick (he was on my list as well!), I admit that it wasn’t that tough a choice for me (check the title, I went to see Nate!). Winking smile

I’ve only seen Nate perform a few songs. My desire to see him wasn’t because he blew me away during those songs. Rather, he is an extraordinary songwriter. Nearly every performer that I love has co-written at least one song with Nate, often one of my favorite songs by each artist.

Watching Nate on stage was like hanging out with a friend who happened to be standing up while I was sitting down. In other words, rather than listening to a performance, I felt like I was wrapped in the warmth of a circle of friends passing around a guitar (which just so happened to wind up in Nate’s hands every time). Smile

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After practically each song (including right after the first one), Nate paused and said “At this point in the set, are there any questions?”. Apparently (recall, I haven’t seen him perform a full set), he’s a real history buff, and it’s known that he encourages people to show up and ask questions about history, or Cleveland, or Rockwood, etc.

A quick aside for some context. Before seeing Nate, I attended two sets next door. The first was Karly Jurgensen (covered here), followed by Jesse Ruben (covered here). There were a few Swedes in the audience enjoying Karly’s set (while she hails from Nebraska, Karly is probably of Swedish descent). Two of them moved over to Rockwood 1 (like I did), to catch Nate’s set. That’s likely because Nate is a star in Sweden as well, co-writing a number of hits for stars over there.

Back to our story. When Nate asked questions, one of the Swedes said something and Nate broke out a number of phrases in Swedish, to the delight of the Swedes, and the amazement of the rest of us. During the last (and longest), he rubbed his beard. He looked at the rest of us and said “I’m not sure I said that correctly”. Before he got to translate, one of the Swedes called out:

Would you like to rub my beard?

Of course, everyone laughed. The mood remained as light the rest of the set and the banter with the Swedes continued for a bit, without ever feeling tiresome.

Twice, Nate called up Luke White, lead singer of the white-hot rock band Atomic Tom. He sang harmony with Nate.

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During one solo number, Nate lost the words. He told us that he was so caught up in the moment. I believe him, there were many such moments. What was interesting to me is that the woman to my right (which was really behind me since I turned toward the stage) was singing along with Nate, super quietly, but perfectly. It’s almost like she was trying to get him back on track, without anyone (including Nate!) knowing it (sending good thoughts). I might have been the only one close enough to know she was singing.

A little later in the set, Nate coaxed her to join him on the stage. It took a lot of coaxing, but she eventually went up.

Jennifer Dees (Jenn) is Nate’s wife (I didn’t know that until I looked it up). They sang together (beautifully) and of course, it made sense that she would know the words to every one of Nate’s songs.

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A bit later, during another opportunity to ask Nate a question, I leaned over to her and asked if she knew if he sang “Are You Listening” at home. She didn’t know but she encouraged me to ask, so I did.

Here was the ensuing dialog:

Me: Do you practice Are You Listening enough to play it?

Nate: I don’t know that song.

Me: You co-wrote it!

Nate: Really?

Me: With Alex Wong.

Nate: Ah, I don’t know it by that name.

Me: Right, you probably called it the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah song!

Nate: We did, until we found out that (he names a specific artist) has a song by that name.

Nate: Well, I can’t play it anyway.

It will be on Alex Wong’s upcoming solo CD, and I am completely obsessed with the song. Just another example of Nate’s magic sauce/touch when co-writing with others. In fact, we were sitting next to a singer/songwriter at Rockwood 2 during the earlier sets. When I told her that I was going to miss Kyle for Nate, she said “Nate co-wrote one of the songs on my CD”. Like I told you, he’s everywhere!

A number of times during the set, Nate told us that Kyle is one of his best friends and how strange it was that they were scheduled opposite each other. At one point, someone yelled out “Play a more upbeat song!”. Nate replied “You’re in the wrong place. If you want upbeat, go next door to hear Kyle Patrick’s set!”.

Toward the end of Nate’s set, his phone buzzed (it was sitting on the piano behind him). He answered it. It was Kyle Patrick calling from next door. Nate held the phone close enough to the microphone for us to basically hear what was going on. Each of the crowds shouted out to the other, which could easily be heard through the phones and mic’s.

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Then Kyle told Nate he was about to play Good as Gold, a big hit that Nate wrote (co-wrote? I don’t know). Nate looked at us and said “Hey, that’s going to be a lot better than whatever I would play over here. Let’s all go next door and check out Kyle! I’m serious!”

He walked off the stage and out the door, and most of our audience followed him. About 2/3’s of them made it in, but Rockwood 2 was near capacity and some from our side got turned away. I was against the far wall (furthest spot from the door), so I never got up.

Even though I didn’t get up, I had eyes and ears over at Rockwood 2. For the first time ever, Lois and I split up. She remained in Rockwood 2 all night, which included Kyle’s set, so she experienced the other side of the phone call, and the march of the Rockwood 1 folks into Rockwood 2. She caught a shot of Nate standing immediately behind her chair. Kyle apparently stood on the table in front of her, serenading Nate. She was right between them. Smile

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Eventually, Nate and the others returned. He got back on stage and said Goodnight. The crowd chanted for one more song. I honestly don’t remember if he gave it to them or not. I do remember that he was hysterical in noting that when he picked up the guitar, they stopped chanting, so he put it back down, causing the chanting to begin again. In the end, I think he did grace us with one final song.

Lois enjoyed Kyle’s set, so I know I missed a show I too would have enjoyed, but I made the right choice for me. Thanks Nate (and Jenn) for leaving me with no regrets!

Jesse Ruben at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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I’ve seen Jesse Ruben do a full set at Rockwood Music Hall once before. Lois was sick that night. I had nothing but compliments for Jesse and you can read about it in the second half of this post. Last night he played Stage 2 and had a full band.

Everything I said about Jesse in the above-linked post was true last night, but it was a significantly better set. The full band was a nice enhancement and the set was more energetic (either because of the band or because of Jesse’s choice of songs). His stage presence was exceptional (as it was the first time).

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What impressed me most was his songwriting. I said that the last time too, but I’m sure I heard new songs and if the older ones held up on second listen, that’s impressive too.

For the most part, Jesse played rhythm because he had a high-quality band behind him. On one song, he called up two special guests and sang with them without the band. He finger-picked beautifully, so he can play the guitar nicely as well!

The guests were Kyle Patrick and Karly Jurgensen. It was convenient to call them up, since Karly had the set before Jesse’s (covered here) and Kyle had the set afterward. They sang gorgeous harmony (no surprise), but Jesse was the huge star in the song, called Advice (I believe). It’s an amazing song, his guitar play was excellent, and he sang most of it without harmony either.

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Twice he put down the guitar and sang his heart out at the mic. The first time was a cover of Joe Cocker’s The Letter. Really well done. Here’s Jesse singing with more than a bit of passion:

JesseRubenSinging

Supporting Jesse, left-to-right on the stage:

Greg Barbone on grand piano. We’ve seen Greg on a couple of sets, both on the same night. We were highly impressed with his play. That was true again last night on Jesse’s set.

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Nicky D’Agostino on drums. We’ve seen Nicky once before as well, and he was excellent last night, as he was the first time, supporting Carley Tanchon.

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Kyle McCammon on electric bass. Kyle played the set before with Karly, which was much more jazz oriented. He was really good on this set too, showing versatility in genre and style. He was also significantly more animated on stage during this high-energy pop/rock set. Jesse said that this was the first time Kyle played with him. That might be true, but I admit to thinking he was joking.

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Will Hensley on electric guitar. We just saw Will for the first time on July 31st at the Blues Brothers Benefit. He sounded good, but I noted that he was covered up (visually) and I couldn’t easily match what I thought was the guitar lead to Will’s hands. Last night, playing for Jesse, Will totally blew me away. He was amazing on traditional leads, and excellent with the slide as well.

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I will be thrilled to see Will play with anyone, just for his skill, until I find out he is willing to play with a dud headliner. Winking smile

Likewise, I’ll be very happy to see Jesse Ruben again.