November, 2011:

Rebecca Haviland at Arelene’s Grocery

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We missed a bunch of great shows last week due to the extended holiday weekend and the wonderful company that was up from Richmond to spend it with us.

Rebecca Haviland was appearing at Rockwood Music Hall on Friday night, and that’s the only show we had planned to abandon our company to go see. Unfortunately, our goddaughter baked one of her world-famous apple pies and got permission from Lois for me to have a slice (the answer is often hit-or-miss). Couple that with their latte machine (cherry, or cherry chocolate that night, amazing!) plus an awesome bottle of port, and well, somehow, we didn’t make it to Rockwood…

The saving grace is that we knew Rebecca was playing again, last night, at Arlene’s Grocery. While I prefer Rockwood over Arlene’s for most shows, I admit that I was more excited to see Rebecca at Arlene’s this time around. She’s a rocker, and Arlene’s is well-suited for rock shows (much more so than Rockwood 1).

RebeccaHavilandSinging

Even if we had seen her at Rockwood, it would have been worth coming out again, for the contrast in venues and the swap of two band members.

We never worry about whether Rebecca’s sets will be good, they always are, last night too. If there’s ever a concern, it’s about the sound. Arlene’s has a very good sound guy (Howard), but on occasion, it can get too loud. Last night the volumes were all balanced perfectly. In fact, Chris’ vocals were at a better level than any other show. More on Howard the sound guy a bit later.

In addition to Rebecca’s voice being extremely tasty throughout, on one number Howard cranked the reverb but had a long delay on it (unless Rebecca was controlling that through her pedal). It sounded like Rebecca had a background vocalist singing with her (rather than a trail or echo). It was an extremely cool sound, hearing Rebecca twice.

When Rebecca got to If You (possibly my favorite song of hers, but there’s no shortage of songs to love), she called out that if the audience didn’t know when to sing, they should follow me. Ha! Indeed, good advice, since I belt it out whenever I can (even at home, without the CD on, seriously!). Sorry Krista, I hope I wasn’t too loud, sitting right next to you. Winking smile

Let’s cover the band, right-to-left this time (not my normal direction), then return to Howard the sound guy:

Chris Anderson on electric bass (two of them, one an 8-string) and vocals. Another excellent performance on the bass, in particular, on Money, when Chris was wailing fantastic bass lines while Todd was ripping up the keyboards. More importantly, as mentioned above, Chris’ vocals were leveled perfectly and he sounded great singing with Rebecca on every number.

ChrisAndersonTuning

Chris asked for less of Rebecca’s vocals in his monitor, and Rebecca asked for more of Chris in hers. Chris was particularly impish last night (in general), and after that exchange, hilarity ensued.

Kenny Shaw on drums. Kenny wasn’t able to make Friday’s show, even though he’s Rebecca’s normal drummer. Always a treat to see him. Many of the numbers last night called for slower, but deeply rhythmical (jungle/swing) drumming. Absolutely wonderful.

KennyShawToddCaldwellKennyShaw

Todd Caldwell on electronic keyboards. (The site linked to his name isn’t fully active yet, but hopefully it will be in the near future.) I’d never seen Todd before, and I’m very glad to have corrected that oversight. An incredible keyboard player who took a number of wonderful leads throughout the set. I already mentioned above that he ripped it up on Money.

ToddCaldwell

In 2007, Stephen Stills selected Todd to tour with him. In addition to holding on to that role, he was also invited to play with Crosby, Stills and Nash, another continuing role. Need I say more? I didn’t think so!

ToddCaldwellRebeccaHaviland

I’ve noted in other posts that Howard (the sound guy) is one of the hardest working people I’ve seen. His dedication is impressive. After working the stage to set everyone up, he comes out of the booth during the show to stand in the audience to hear it like we do. During one number, he thought that the electric guitar was a bit too bright. He left the room and came on stage from a side door. He moved a mic that was in front of the amp about four inches further away. That solved the problem perfectly.

He’s also a fan of Rebecca (which means he has good taste too). When her set was over, he asked them to play one more. Folks, it’s highly unusual for a sound guy to do that. They often allow the extra number, but rarely insist on it, like Howard did. Rebecca noted that it was almost time for the next band to go on, but Howard told her to play on!

Then he said something into his mic that cracked me up: “Don’t worry, once you start playing, I’ll turn off the sound.” Winking smile

So, the impromptu encore is not listed on the set list:

SetList

We were both pooped and a bit under the weather, so we bagged another show we were planning on seeing at Rockwood and most unfortunately a special birthday party that we had hoped to attend as well.

The Book of Mormon on Broadway

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I’m a Scorpio, in practically every way. The most important way is that my birthday just recently passed. I love comedy in nearly every form. When we watch sitcoms on TV, and I laugh at everything truly groan-worthy, Lois always says: “You’re so easy!” It’s true, I am.

I don’t live under a rock (at least not any longer). I am aware that The Book of Mormon is the hottest ticket on Broadway (even hotter than my beloved Wicked). I was aware that it was by the creators of South Park. I was sure that it would be hysterical, irreverent and over-the-top (in particular in its use of foul language). I wanted to see it.

I knew that Lois couldn’t make it through the performance, so I never bothered to get tickets. Then Lois told me that I should get tickets for my birthday and take friends rather than her. Well, if I must (apparently, I must’ed, so I did). Winking smile

Three of us went last night. I went with an open mind, with no doubt that I would love it even more, without the guilt of thinking about Lois squirming in her seat next to me.

I was wrong. Not about everything. It is very funny (though not even close to hysterical or even consistent in the level of humor). It’s extremely irreverent, though not in the let’s poke fun at everything (but rather, let’s ridicule a group that isn’t likely to do/say anything in response). It’s over-the-top, but in making light of things that simply can’t be made light of (the very real, ongoing female genital mutilation in Africa is a non-stop riot in their opinion).

People laugh their heads off, even at those images. It feels to me like it’s more the shock value than an actual joke. When you see people around you laughing, and you’re at the hottest comedy for which you paid a small ransom to attend, you laugh too (or at least most people in the audience did).

To me, there were two separate shows (seamlessly integrated into one spectacle):

  1. A (very raw) comedy ridiculing every aspect of Mormonism. As a side dish, the plight of the poorest, most oppressed, AIDS stricken Ugandans is served up for our delight.
  2. A sendup (parody/skewering) of Broadway Musicals.

Let’s start with #2. I think The Book of Mormon nails it perfectly, in a funny way. Every single actor/singer is fantastic. The music is fine (nothing that I can remember even the next day, but it was all pleasant and professional throughout). The lyrics are often sophomoric, but they’re meant to be (or at least completely feel like that’s intentional). The dancers are very good and all of the exaggerated movements are precisely meant to parody the genre.

The sets are minimalistic on some level, but extremely creative. The transitions from one scene to another are simplistic, but work very well. In other words, the team that put this show together are incredible pros.

The female lead (character of Nabulungi) was a substitute last night (played by Asmeret Ghebremichael). She was amazing! That’s all the more impressive when I found out that the person she was subbing for, Nikki M. James, won the Tony for this role. If Nikki is better than Asmeret (and perhaps that’s true), I can only imagine how good she is!

The two male leads were perfect. Andrew Rannells reminded me of Jim Carrey at his best (physically as well as performance skills). Josh Gad was phenomenal.

To summarize, if #2 was the total target, then The Book of Mormon was as good as it gets.

The problem is that it was paired with #1. When I described it to Lois last night, she asked why they didn’t make up a religion, sprinkle in parts of every major belief system (including Mormonism)? Bingo (once again, Lois is typically more insightful than I am, even about things I’ve seen and she hasn’t!).

I’ve already said (twice) that the entire lighthearted treatment of the Ugandan people borders on the absurd (wow, Hadar, you finally get it, it’s supposed to be exaggerated to absurdity). Unfortunately, there’s no exaggeration, it’s happening, today, and it’s simply not funny.

How about Mormonism? Surely that’s fair game, right? Well, anything is fair game to the authors and that’s fine. They are equal opportunity skewerers. For that, I do applaud them (seriously), they’ve taken on some groups (at South Park) that got them heavily censored as well, so they don’t shy away from one group and only target another.

My problem is with the audiences (not just mine, but the ones who make this a runaway hit). First, let’s stipulate something that I had to check (I was not and obviously still am not an authority on Mormon doctrine). I looked on the official site of the Mormon Church where they describe the Book of Mormon on a single page. There is nothing in the show that contradicts what is on the official page.

In other words, the creators choose to present the material in a satirical manner, but from my perspective, they do not distort the teachings as far as I can tell. They deliver the words with a classic tongue-in-cheek and wink-wink nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean know-what-I-mean manner.

Does some of it sound unbelievable? Of course (to me!). But then are there any major religions that don’t have ample amount of hard-to-swallow stories that can’t be proven beyond the faith of their believers? If you’re not a disciple of the Judeo/Christian bible, do you really think the Garden of Eden existed and played out literally as the bible tells us? If you’re not a Muslim, do you believe that Muhammad memorized the Quran as told to him by an angel and then dictated to his followers from memory?

If you believe all of those things (or more importantly, any of those things), is the tale of Joseph Smith really so absurd? Yet, people have no trouble equating the beliefs of honest Mormons with raucous comedy. In fact, I would posit that in general Christians (of any ilk) are considered to be a fair target for any treatment in this country (unfairly and incorrectly, IMHO).

I further posit that if everything about this show were held constant, with the exception of swapping Mormonism for Islam, few (if any) would laugh at a single line, even devout atheists who think all religions are absurd. In fact, the show wouldn’t be made. On the off chance that I’m wrong about that, I’m sure it would close pretty quickly. In the end, some things aren’t funny (or aren’t allowed to be in our Politically Correct environment).

Thankfully, Mormons are a peaceful bunch who aren’t even likely to sue (unlike, say, Scientologists, when they are made fun of). So hey, let’s all take our best shot at Mormons, they’re obviously good sports!

It’s a funny thing about strongly held beliefs. Over time, they can change, either because they’re proven to be wrong, or because something else makes us rethink aspects of them.

The earth was flat, then it wasn’t (perhaps someday it will be again). Nothing can go faster than the speed of light, even in theory (except for warp speed in Star Trek). Oops, some neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light (man was Einstein a moron). Let’s not get started on our Food Pyramid (which minute of the day is it now, so I know which Pyramid to refer to?).

I started this out by mentioning that I’m a Scorpio. Well, am I? According to this article in Time Magazine (the most respected publication on our planet, can I get an amen?), I am no longer a Scorpio. In fact, Scorpio is now exactly a week-long phenomenon, and not a single person who was a Scorpio before is one now.

What? Is nothing sacred anymore? When you can’t trust your Zodiac Sign, it’s clearly an indication of end days, no?

I’ll finish this off by stating that it’s extremely rare that I agree with a review in The New York Times. Typically, when they love a show, I hate it. When they hate it, I at least enjoyed it, often loved it.

Ben Brantley wrote a very long and detailed review of The Book of Mormon in March 2011. I encourage you to read it fully. I think it’s actually very fair (at least 80% of it is), even though he’s clearly over-the-moon about the show. We don’t really differ in our description of most of it. We differ in the why of some parts (he loves it, and I believe that not everything that can be done should be done).

I still can’t wrap my head around some of his conclusions though:

Now you should probably know that this collaboration between the creators of television’s “South Park” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and the composer of “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez) is also blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak. But trust me when I tell you that its heart is as pure as that of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.

That last line, really? Really? He spends way too much time trying to prove the connection (to the Sound of Music and the King and I). When you can point out to me in either of those how Rodgers and Hammerstein work in anything even remotely pure of heart as repeating a single line that starts with F U, dozens of times in a row, I’ll stand corrected.

He ends another string of paragraphs that I felt like quoting in their entirety with this line:

And it uses this vocabulary with a mixture of reverence and ridicule in which, I would say, reverence has the upper hand.

If you saw this show and thought that reverence had the upper hand, then I want to shake your hand for having the sunniest disposition of anyone I can imagine. To be fair, since most of you who have seen the show (and read the review) will want to pinpoint Brantley’s comment as referring purely to their reverence of the Broadway Musical Genre, and not to their reverence of Mormonism, a true quibble/debate is possible on that.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll conclude with what happened after the show. Like with Friday night’s performance of Wicked, we’re still in the Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (to repeat, twice a year, possibly lasting the entire year between the two times). The character of the shows comes through in the way they appeal for donations.

Wicked was represented by Glinda, who was charming in every way in making her appeal. The Book of Mormon was represented by Josh Gad, who was very funny, but at times downright vicious in his humor in trying to get people to donate. Aside from the mandatory F-bombs that he was required to throw (in particular at audience members who left while he was talking), he had to throw in the optional D-Bags to describe anyone who might not put money in the buckets. Nice!

I put money in the bucket last night as well, but I put four times more in the Wicked bucket. I’ll give Josh this. I might have put in zero, if he hadn’t pre-shamed me with the D-Bag comment, so mission accomplished Josh!

For the record, both of my friends loved the show, unconditionally. For the record, I love both of my friends just as much today as I did before I found that out. Winking smile

Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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What’s a Saturday night in NYC without a taste of Greg Mayo? Empty! Thankfully, NYC was full last night. Greg often plays with others on a Saturday, but it was his turn to shine in the spotlight with The Greg Mayo Band.

GregMayo

Given the time of year, it was no surprise that there were some substitutions. While we will welcome the regulars back with open arms (they are all exceptional), last night’s replacements were no slouches and the show was up there with the best we’ve seen!

The only missing piece was female vocals (Rebecca Haviland was performing in MD). That said, while Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 often gets the sound right (or at least really good), I can’t recall it ever being better than last night.

Greg is always an excellent vocalist, but last night was perhaps his best effort (possibly due entirely to the sound engineer getting everyone’s levels perfect).

GregMayoSinging

Greg was as masterful as ever on the grand piano and electronic keyboards. We typically sit/stand on that side of the stage for a Greg Mayo Band show, but last night we stood very close at a better angle to watch Greg play. Wow!

GregMayoKeyboard

I wondered whether there would be a good crowd, because Greg’s set was sandwiched between two paid shows. Logistically, that can be a headache. No worries, it was a large and very energetic/enthusiastic crowd.

It was impossible to stand still. Foot tapping, head bobbing, body swaying, full-on dancing. If you weren’t doing at least one of those, you weren’t at the same show.

Let’s get to the amazing band, left-to-right on stage:

Jeff Richardi on baritone sax. Jeff was filling in for John Liotta, very ably. Jeff took a couple of leads, one was very long and tasty. He also kicked off a number of the songs with a funky bottom.

JeffRichardi

Josh Reed on trumpet. Josh tore it up on one long solo and was consistently excellent on the remaining fills, as always.

JoshReed

Jon Irabagon on tenor sax. Jon was filling in for Matt Simons. I am in love with Matt Simons sax play, but I still feel a bit silly labeling Jon as filling in. Here’s part of the first line of Jon’s bio:

winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition

Yes folks, we had a superstar in our midst. That’s what can happen at any time at a place like Rockwood. Jon hasn’t forgotten his friends as he’s moved up the ladder and when given an opportunity to sit in, happily took it. Happily for us as well!

JonIrabagon

Kenny Shaw on drums. It’s been nearly a month since we’ve seen Kenny hit the skins. Something was probably askew with the universe, as we’ve seen Kenny more often this year than any other drummer. He was on fire last night, so I guess he felt he had to make it up to us. OK Kenny, we’re back to even again. Until next time! (which I hope will be this Friday, 8pm, Rockwood 1, for Rebecca Haviland’s show) Smile

KennyShawKennyShawDrums

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris always delivers on the bass. He also sings background on every Greg Mayo Band show, but without Rebecca’s voice last night, Chris was way more prominent on the harmony with Greg. Given how good the sound levels were, he was crystal clear and really did a great job. Way to belt it out Chris!

ChrisAndersonChrisAndersonSinging

Paul Maddison on electric guitar and vocals. Paul was excellent throughout on both. During one number, Greg seemed to finish the song abruptly. A few people clapped, but it didn’t feel like the song was actually over. In fact, they took the few seconds of silence to morph it into a song by a band that Paul Maddison and Kenny Shaw are in, which Greg Mayo produces.

PaulMaddisonSinging

Paul sang two verses of Lipstick on My Booty, a staple of The Thang Band. I’ve seen one Thang Band show, and have been waiting (impatiently and excitedly) for another opportunity.

To prove that the original song wasn’t over, after singing the second verse of Lipstick, they morphed back into the original song and Greg finished it up big. A nice tease for The Thang Band.

Paul also sang a lot of background vocals on the other numbers, often with Chris Anderson as well.

Robbie Gil was called up as a special guest star on two numbers. One in the middle of the set and again for the encore. Robbie has a very powerful voice, which reminds me of Joe Cocker. He fit in perfectly with Greg’s sound, and sang a verse on lead in each number, along with background for the rest of the song.

RobbieGilChrisAndersonPaulMaddisonRobbieGilSinging

Here’s the set list:

SetList

At one point, Greg introduced himself. After saying that he was Greg Mayo, he added: “Or when my mom is in the room, like now, Gregory is OK as well”. Smile

The audiences at Rockwood definitely like the human interest side of their artists (we certainly do), so everyone started looking around immediately. At first Greg said “Perhaps she doesn’t want attention called to her”. That didn’t stop people from trying to figure out who it was. So, eventually, he said “Mom, raise your hand”. She did and we were all satisfied and allowed Greg to back to singing. Smile

A great show which definitely made going out on a chilly Saturday night the right decision. I think Greg mentioned that the next Greg Mayo Band show was on December 17th, also at Rockwood 2, but the website doesn’t go out that far yet, so double check.

Some shots of the brass section and the rest of the band (can’t see Kenny or Greg in these angles). Last shot is of the encore, with Robbie Gil back on stage:

BrassSectionCloseupJeffRichardiJoshReedChrisAndersonJonIrabagonPaulMaddison

GregMayoBandEncore

Wicked Continues to Rule

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On the 11th month, of the 11th year, (7 days after the 11th day), there is but one thing to do: See Wicked for the 11th time! Smile

We had friends in from out of town. We’ve been targeting one of them for three years now to see Wicked with us and we finally made it happen last night.

I’ve written about each other performance, so I won’t go into specific show details. Feel free to search for “Wicked” up top and find the other 10 write-ups.

Instead, I’ll just briefly review the performances of the main characters and explain an insight I had last night.

I always worry about the two leads (usually, unnecessarily). I typically check them out before buying tickets. Since we didn’t have leeway this time, I just bought without looking them up.

Both were new to us, which is exciting and frightening at the same time.

Jackie Burns as Elphaba. Jackie was nearly flawless. You can’t expect, nor even hope for flawless, so I was completely happy/satisfied with her performance.

Jackie’s acting was fantastic. I noticed a few nuances that I had either missed in earlier performances, or that Jackie brought a fresh take on. Her voice is extraordinary.

My nits were in a few of the harmonies and a tiny amount of styling (singing a song reasonably different than the original cast album version).

Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda. Chandra was fantastic, though a bit less flawless than Jackie. I was still completely happy with the performance.

Chandra’s acting was equal to Jackie’s. Her comedic timing and physical gestures were up there with the best Glinda’s we’ve seen, while never being too over-the-top (they’re supposed be somewhat over-the-top, by design).

She has a stunning voice, but it’s not completely consistent across all ranges. For the most part, the harmonies with Jackie were great, but there were a few notable exceptions, which I also counted against Jackie (in my mind).

In particular, the big finale with both of them, For Good, caused them a bit of a problem (probably unrecognizable to a first-timer). This song often seems to cause a problem. I don’t know if it’s trickier than the rest or whether they’re exhausted and it’s difficult to keep up the concentration and energy by then.

To be clear, it was still excellent, but with meaningfully noticeable issues.

They are paired well and I’d happily seem them again.

The rest of the cast was excellent with one very minor exception. Fiyero was a substitute last night (Constantine Rousouli). He was delightful throughout. The exception was in the forest scene with Elphaba where they sing together sitting on the stage. He struggled a bit when he was singing his solo parts and a bit when he sang harmony with Jackie.

Now my insight. I know that practically everyone who knows me thinks I’m crazy to have seen Wicked as often as I have. I would bet that the people that have seen it with me, even the ones who loved it, think that the most (meaning, they can’t imagine wanting to see it 11 times).

That wasn’t the insight. Winking smile

The insight is that the more often I see it, the easier it is to soak in the total majesty (and occasionally notice new things, which happens every time), because I know every note and every word. The point is that I don’t have to sit on the edge of my seat hoping to catch the next clever line (spoken or sung). I enjoy them (like they’re second nature), but can concentrate on anything else I want without missing the joke, the melody, the harmony, etc.

The first time around, you have to really pay attention to the dialog and the singing, so closely, or you will miss a key piece of the story, or a hysterical pun/joke.

OK, so it’s not deep, but it’s still accurate.

After the bows (to a standing ovation when Chandra and Jackie came out), the entire cast stayed on stage.

WickedStandingOvation

Chandra came forward and announced that this was one of the two times a year that all of Broadway raises money for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS.

ChandraLeeSchwartzAIDSAnnouncementWickedCastBroadwayCares

I gave money (as I always do) when we walked out. Our schedule must be predicable, because this is at least the 6th time in our 11 trips that it’s been one of the two times a year. I’m now suspicious that the two times are the first 180 days, and the second 180 days, or the two times are whenever Hadar is in the theater. Winking smile

Before the show, five of us ate at Bar Americain which is just two blocks from the theater. Everything about our meal was great. The food (appetizers, entrees and desserts), the company and the service. In fact, the banter and helpful recommendations from our waitress were a key part of the enjoyment.

That said, I’m not sure if I can explain why it wouldn’t be at the top of my list to return to (I don’t have a single complaint about any aspect of the evening!). Just a feeling that some other places that I’ve been to leave me more excited to return. Plus, there are the thousands of places I’ve never tried before either…

Delta Rae at Sullivan Hall

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Delta Rae opened for Carbon Leaf at Sullivan Hall last night. We went because of Delta Rae. Discovering Carbon Leaf (who we had heard of, but had never seen or listened to) was a nice bonus.

DeltaRaeSingingBotR

The last few times we saw Delta Rae were at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. Those shows were all excellent (covered here, here and here, in reverse order).

When Delta Rae comes to town, you can be sure of one of two things:

  1. It will be over 100 degrees out
  2. It will be pouring

It wasn’t going to be 100 degrees yesterday, so that meant that weeks back (when the show was announced), you could be sure that it would rain in NYC on November 17th, 2011. So, seeing this tweet from Elizabeth Hopkins of Delta Rae, yesterday morning, should have come as no surprise to any NYC-based Delta Rae fan:

BatSparkles Liz Hopkins

raining in NYC again . #RockingInAnyWeather again!! ;) looking forward to seeing Miss @alexandra_watts this fine evening@SullivanHallNYC

If I could make money with this information, I would! If only I were a farmer and could bet on the weather… Winking smile They’ll be back in January (Mercury Lounge, date not yet listed). Once the date is listed, start making bets about rain (or possibly snow) that day in NYC!

As awesome as the shows at Rockwood have been (all three), the stage is very cramped when Delta Rae is on, largely because of the Grand Piano. The sound there has been great too, but Delta Rae goes big (they never go home), and Rockwood might be a tad too small for their sound.

Sullivan Hall is a more classic rock venue like The Studio at Webster Hall, Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery, etc., with larger stages and wide-open, standing-only venues. It’s longer than it is wider (this was our first time there), but it’s not a railroad car (meaning, it’s not too skinny). The stage is reasonably wide and very deep. Delta Rae was easily able to spread out, move around and the ladies were able to dance a bit more freely.

BrittanyHolljesElizabethHopkinsElizabethHopkinsIanHolljes

With a notable exception (below), the sound was very good, even though we were smack in the middle in front of the stage, not the ideal listening place since we’re standing between the two main speakers on either side of the stage.

EricHolljesEricHolljesSinging

The show itself was one of the best we’ve seen. The crowd was at near capacity (Sullivan Hall holds 345) and the energy in the room was fantastic. While nearly everyone in the crowd (perhaps other than us?) was clearly a Carbon Leaf fan, everyone standing near the stage (meaning everyone around us) were clearly Delta Rae fans too (knowing every song).

IanHolljes

While they didn’t abide to a strict rotation, the first four songs were lead by a different member of the band. Each did a fantastic job. And of course, when they sing together (in pairs or all four), make sure you take your heart medicine (OK, I’m older than most of their fans). Winking smile

BrittanyHolljesMikeMcKeeElizabethHopkinsIanHolljes

Ian Holljes popped a string on his acoustic and switched to an electric for a few numbers.

IanHolljesElectricGuitar

The lighting person has a very different idea of how to light a show than I do. Often, the entire stage was nearly dark, or back-lit with bright lights shining on us, casting everyone on stage in shadows. Sometimes it took him a full verse to put a light on the person singing lead. At times, that made for cool looking effects (which perhaps is exactly what he was looking to accomplish), but it felt random to me, more like he didn’t know how to find the singer (whack a mole?).

Backlighting

The one sound complaint was that Grant Emerson’s amp (for his electric bass) was cranked too high. The same problem existed in spades for the Carbon Leaf set. It seemed a drop better for Delta Rae for two reasons: 1) Four extremely strong voices seemed to soar above even a loud bass and 2) I’m so familiar with the songs that (even unconsciously) I could have been filling in sounds I was sure I was hearing.

GrantEmersonUprightElectricBassBow

That said, every note of Grant’s play could be made out (which wasn’t true for Carbon Leaf). In fact, I was mesmerized by his play during the finale, Fire, where he tore up the bass lines (since he was a focal point, it was OK that he was louder than the rest in that instance).

GrantEmersonElectricBass

If you want to know more details about them in general, please read the posts linked above. For now, I’ll end with the set list from last night, and more photos.

SetListBrittanyHolljesSingingFire

BrittanyHolljesBacklitBrittanyHolljesSinging

ElizabethHopkinsSingingMikeMcKee

Carbon Leaf at Sullivan Hall

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Last night was our first time at Sullivan Hall. It was also our first time seeing Carbon Leaf. Both of those are thanks to our love of Delta Rae, who opened for Carbon Leaf.

I hadn’t listened to any of their music before the show, so I truly had no idea what to expect, other than a number of people told me that they’re really great. Having seen them, I don’t doubt it, but there was one reason (and one reason only!) that I don’t think last night’s show was an ideal one to be introduced to them. I’ll get to that below.

My categorization of them would be Celtic-tinged Rock. They reminded me (sonically) of The Proclaimers, a number of times (yes, I know they are Scottish, not Irish). Note the modifier tinged. Not every song has a Celtic feel to it.

They are all very talented and they’re tight as a group. Regardless of the music, it was a fun and interesting place to be. Sullivan Hall was packed. Capacity is listed at 345. I would guess they were a few short of a sellout, but not by much. Carbon Leaf has devoted fans who were singing along to every song, every word. At first, it surprised me, because I looked on stage and saw only one person singing, but I heard multiple voices. Then I looked around and everyone near me was singing along. Cool.

The band connects with the audience deeply. They love being on stage and playing for their fans. If they don’t, they should be Hollywood stars! Winking smile

After playing an electrified set for nearly 90 minutes, they brought out a single high-end acoustic mic to center stage. All five members gathered around the mic and played an acoustic number. That was a homage to their current CD, a 2-Disc Live Acoustic offering, with a bonus DVD (a bonus you pay for, as Barry joked: You get three for the price of three!). Smile

CarbonLeafAcoustic1CarbonLeafAcoustic2

Carter then switched from mandolin to banjo and they did another song with the same setup.

CarbonLeafAcoustic3CarbonLeafAcoustic4

Both acoustic songs were absolutely gorgeous. It overcame the problem (that I haven’t described yet) and made me truly realize their talent. They followed that with another rock number (electrified) to close out the set. Of course they were called back for an encore.

They returned without the acoustic mic but all gathered center stage again. This time they sang completely unplugged and un-mic’ed. The reason? They sang a song that the fans sang with them, out loud, so it didn’t matter whether you heard Barry singing lead. We might have been the only two people in the audience who didn’t sing (since we didn’t know the song).

In a could-have-been-uncomfortable moment, we happened to be standing dead center, at the stage (surprise!), so we were staring right into Barry’s eyes, meaning, he knew we weren’t singing. Hopefully, he didn’t take it personally. Winking smile

I have been streaming Carbon Leaf since I started writing, directly from their site (right at the top, just click to start). In an incredible twist (to me at least), the minute I started writing about the first song in the encore (the one I just described), it came on in the rotation, so now I can tell you the name: One Prairie Outpost. Another winner!

In fact, I haven’t heard a song I don’t like yet, which makes me feel much better about my second paragraph up top.

They followed that with another electrified number to close the show (like they closed the set before the encore).

I’ll mention each band member (as I always do), just not in my typical left-to-right order. I’ll finish with the problem.

Barry Privett on lead vocals, penny whistle and recorders, tambourine and shakers. Barry is the classic front man. He has a very nice voice, though it didn’t do anything special for me. There’s something that feels spiritual about him on stage. He acts out some of the lyrics and moves in a somewhat ethereal manner. At times, it seems like he’s in a bit of a trance. It all works (at least it did for me).

BarryPrivettSingingBarryPrivettMetalRecorder

PennyWhistleBarryPrivettPennyWhistle

Carter Gravatt on most things that have strings. Carter played multiple acoustic and electric guitars. He played a cello-like instrument that I’ve never seen before. He played a lot of mandolin (amplified and unplugged) and bouzouki (or a derivative). His banjo play in the unplugged segment was beautiful. Here’s his setup:

CarterGravattSetup

Here he is playing most of those instruments:

CarterGravattAcousticGuitarCarterGravattCello

Carter took a couple of seriously long leads on electric guitar, extremely tasty. Basically, he’s masterful on all of the instruments that he plays. He had a pedal steel guitar set up on stage, but I don’t think he played it. He also sang background vocals quite a bit.

CarterGravattElectricGuitarCarterGravattSinging

CarterGravattBouzoukiCarterGravattMandolin

Terry Clark on acoustic and electric guitars and the most prominent harmonies with Barry. Terry was quite good (a real crowd favorite), but for the most part, his guitar play takes a back seat to Carter’s leads (by design). In the two unplugged songs, he took some extremely tasty leads on the acoustic guitar (when Carter played mandolin and banjo respectively), so he showed off his chops.

TerryClarkAcousticTerryClarkElectricGuitar

Jason Neal on drums and background vocals. Jason did a terrific job throughout the set. His drums were energetic and interesting. On both unplugged numbers, he came out with a drum strapped around his neck and played with brushes to great effect.

JasonNealJasonNealDrums

JasonNealBrushesJasonNealSinging

Jon Markel on electric and upright bass and background vocals. John is an excellent bassist. I know that largely because of the two unplugged numbers. I also know it because on one number I watched him very closely on the upright, and his fingers were flying up and down the neck while his right hand was plucking the strings at a crazy-fast rate.

JonMarkelBlueElectricBassJonMarkelBlondElectricBass

That said, he was the problem last night. I can’t properly describe or explain how poorly (loudly) amp’ed the bass was. Practically every stroke of a bass string sounded like the kick drum (yes, I know the difference). It pounded me in the chest, shook the floor so that my feet and legs rattled.

Basically, it was a thump/buzz that deadened most of the other sounds. If I wasn’t as close to the stage, I might have missed some of Carter’s amazing leads. For me, being able to see a guitarist’s fingers really helps me pick out the guitar sound from rest, which I was able to do last night, barely.

The problem was twice as bad on the upright. I have never experienced an upright bass mic’ed louder than an electric. It was practically impossible to pick out separate notes. Every time Jon plucked a bass string (on the upright), it was the same as any other string on any other fret (I know there aren’t physical frets). It was just another strike of a kick drum. At least on the electric, I could often make out a specific note.

JonMarkelUprightBassJonMarkelUprightBassBow

To repeat, this has nothing to do with Jon’s skill, which was evident when he unplugged. This was a setup problem. The sound engineer probably had no control over it, but he could have still gotten word to the band that it was overwhelming so they could turn down the amp.

Of course, fans didn’t seem to mind (or even notice) and I totally get that. They knew every word (and every note), so they could hear things, because their brains filled in the parts that weren’t easy to hear separately. That’s why I said this wasn’t an ideal show to be introduced to Carbon Leaf.

In a miraculous saving grace, Carbon Leaf uses in-ear monitors, like our beloved Girlyman. Because of that, the sound engineer came out and flipped around the two center stage monitors (that had been used by Delta Rae), and pointed them directly at us (remember, we were standing at the stage, dead center). He told us that we would appreciate having the monitors facing us, so that we could hear the vocals better.

He was correct! I can assure you that I wouldn’t have heard Barry even for a second over the bass if not for this incredibly serendipitous turn of events.

I’ve now been listening for quite a while to Carbon Leaf streaming, and I continue to be impressed. Independent of my complaint about the bass, I enjoyed the show and am glad that we stayed, even though we were both exhausted. Here’s the set list from last night, many of those songs are available for free streaming on the Carbon Leaf site!

SetList

Sierra Noble at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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I can’t tell you how happy I was to see Sierra Noble at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. We try to plan our musical calendar out at least a month in advance. While things come up occasionally, causing us to shift plans (not including health issues), we try hard to stick to our schedule.

SierraNobleGuitar

We returned to the city last Thursday with plans to have dinner with a couple we see often (at these shows), but had never had any quiet time with. Then I found out that Sierra had a show at The Living Room. I felt badly that I would miss it, but I wasn’t willing/interested in moving our dinner. Knowing that we already had the Rockwood show on the calendar for one week later made the decision a bit easier.

Yes, it’s true that we just saw Sierra three weeks ago at The Bitter End. Yes it’s true that we saw her two additional times in October before that. So I’ll allow myself to voice a question many of you may have? Why do we see some artists as often as we can?

Believe it or not, some artists actually ask me that directly, showing their humility (and normal insecurities). Let me begin answering with a set of related questions: are there CD’s that you play more than once? often? on repeat?

If you answered yes to the above (in particular to the last one), then I probably don’t need to explain anything to you. If you answer no, especially to the first, then you probably don’t go to live music much either.

If you do listen to CDs multiple times, as much pleasure as you derive from it, the music is identical, each and every time. Obviously, your mood might be different, other circumstances/ambience as well, making the experience different, but for the most part, you’re looking to enjoy something again, that you already know you enjoy.

In a live show, even with identical set lists and performers, no two shows are ever identical. Many aren’t even really similar (though reading about them and looking at the set list might make it seem so).

Here’s last night’s set list (note: Sierra didn’t get to the last song):

SetList

The overlap is significant with other recent shows (that’s not unusual). First, given how much we love the songs, that’s welcome. Second, even the addition of one song changes the flow. In this case, that song was Misty Morning, a Louisiana Fiddle Tune. Sierra’s play was wonderful, but the song also highlighted the rest of the band.

We attend live shows to connect with the artists on a level deeper than just the music. As many times as we’ve seen Sierra perform Possibility (a mere fraction of the times I hope/expect to see her play it!), and as many times as she’s introduced it (often with a slight addition/variation), last night Sierra told an even deeper truth about how the song came to be. I won’t repeat it, so you better come to a show if you want to know. Suffice it to say that I would have been happy to come to the show just for the additional background. Smile

Sierra also fiddled from a sitting position for the first time in our experience, during the first song:

SierraNobleSittingFiddling

Supporting Sierra, left-to-right on stage:

Greg Mayo on acoustic and electric guitar and harmony. Another stellar performance by the ever-wonderful Mr. Mayo. Greg and Sierra shared a single acoustic guitar (when she played it, Greg played electric, when she fiddled, he played the acoustic). Sierra mentioned that they usually have three acoustics on stage between them.

GregMayoAcousticGuitar

I asked whether the guitar that broke at the Bitter End was still broken. It turns out that it is. What I learned was that it was Bob Mayo’s guitar (Greg’s dad). Noting that, Sierra said that it could take all the time it needs to heal. True, but let’s hope it has a speedy recovery and Greg continues to make magic with it asap.

Seth Faulk on drums, percussion and harmony. We’ve seen Seth drum at a few of Sam Teichman’s benefit concerts. We’ve heard him sing on stage on one number with Alex Wong (recently) and I’ve heard him sing harmony from the audience a couple of times. So, I know how talented he is.

SethFaulk

That said, last night was the first time I’ve actually seen Seth play an entire set. He was excellent, playing the drums with sticks, brushes, mallets and adding shakers on the softer numbers. On a couple of songs, he was nearly whisper quiet with the brushes and mallets (totally appropriate). I already knew he has a wonderful voice and he proved that again on two numbers.

Chris Anderson on upright bass and harmony. I mentioned above that Sierra highlighted the band on Misty Morning. That applied the most to Chris, who lit up the upright during this number. He sang a lot, in particular on Human After All.

ChrisAndersonUprightBass

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. Rebecca came up as a special guest on three or four songs, singing harmony with Sierra, and often at least with one of the three guys (sometimes two of them). Rebecca is a star on her own and the ladies sing wonderfully together.

RebeccaHavilandSierraNobleChrisAndersonRebeccaHaviland

Another reason we love going out is getting to share these experiences with the many friends we’ve made who enjoy the music as much as we do. We got to sit with a couple of them last night.

HadarKristenSamTeichmanGregMayoKristen

We won’t be seeing Sierra again until 2012, hopefully that means January!

Girlyman at Joe’s Pub

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Girlyman played Joe’s Pub last night. Let’s the get the statistics portion of the post out of the way. This was our 21st time seeing Girlyman perform (give or take some arbitrary number, likely zero). We hadn’t seen Girlyman at Joe’s Pub since April 2009 (31 months!). We hadn’t seen any show at Joe’s Pub since March 2010! Joe’s Pub was completely renovated over the summer, re-opening roughly six weeks ago.

It seemed fitting that our return to Joe’s Pub (post renovation and long absence) would be to see Girlyman. Our original, accidental discovery of Girlyman occurred August 21st, 2007, at Joe’s Pub, purely because Joe’s Pub was our favorite venue. Before describing the evening, let me just say Bravo to the new Joe’s Pub. The exterior is still a full-on construction zone, but inside, they have built a gorgeous listening room.

Girlyman

We saw Girlyman just 10 days earlier in VA, at The Barns at Wolf Trap. How things change in 10 days. The most striking difference? Nate was clean shaven after having a beard (for the first time) at The Barns. Man, you just never know what you’ll experience at a live show. Winking smile

Seriously, there were qualitative differences and even some musical surprises. First, no two venues are (exactly) alike and The Barns and Joe’s couldn’t be more different. Second, while Girlyman calls Atlanta home, they were formed in NYC (first scheduled rehearsal was on 9/11/2001, obviously canceled). Their NYC shows (not just at Joe’s, but for us, particularly at Joe’s) have an extra sprinkling of magic dust.

It comes somewhat from within them (NYC is still home, even though they no longer have to pay local income taxes), but mostly from the indescribable bond that the NYC audiences have with Girlyman (if you were there last night, you’re nodding your head in recognition/agreement right now).

What makes Girlyman special? Phenomenal songwriting, delivered in luscious three-part harmony. Completely independent, non-stop laughter between numbers, seamlessly gluing the songs into a fun-filled event. In other words, never a dull moment. You’re either listening to a great song, or a funny bit, often created on the spot based on something that just happened or was mentioned on stage. A few examples below.

Girlyman is producing a new CD. It will be out sometime next year (hopefully in Q1, unless they want their fans to get the shakes). That means that shows on this tour (last night was the last show) have been filled with spanking brand new songs. Of course, no Girlyman show leaves their long-time fans without multiple tastes of their favorites, going all the way back to album #1 (Remember Who I Am).

The new CD is called Supernova, and you can pre-order it now (do it). Buy multiple pre-orders, get a couple of bonuses.

The show last night was magical, as most Girlyman shows are. Everything flowed, musically and comically. While Girlyman often has wonderful openers in other venues, they never have an opener at Joe’s because the set time is constrained (Joe’s had another show after this one). I prefer the purity of a Girlyman-only show, even though one could argue that the value in having a high-quality opener is better.

They played roughly six songs from the new CD (including the opener). One of them (later in the set) was a song they had never played in public, a very personal song by Doris about her year-long battle with Leukemia (thankfully, now in full remission!). A gorgeous song. They said that the live arrangement is different than the one on the upcoming CD. I really look forward to hearing the fully produced version!

DorisMuramatsu

For those who can’t wait any longer, here’s the set list:

SetList

I mentioned above that there were musical surprises in saying that there were differences from just a week earlier. In my previous post I noted that Everything’s Easy, performed with Coyote Grace, was spectacular, as each (normally) solo part was sung in harmony with a paired member of Coyote Grace.

Girlyman decided to reproduce that feeling without any outside help. For the first time in my experience, rather than each of them singing their verse solo, Nate’s verse had Ty singing harmony with him. Ty’s verse had Doris singing harmony with her and Doris’ verse had Nate singing harmony. Then they of course all sang their separate verses simultaneously, which was the only time they couldn’t fully reproduce the magic that Coyote Grace added. Awesome!

There were two requests and two encores not listed that I’ll add momentarily. Joe’s has always had black acoustical padding lining the walls of the stage. The renovated Joe’s has that too, but the design is slightly different (even more prominent). JJ Jones is a very active drummer. Nate pointed out that Joe’s is perfect for JJ as the padding protects her from injuring herself as she bounces off the walls. A number of times during the show, JJ did indeed show off that technique. Winking smile

This is just JJ sitting at the drums, not showing off the technique (which would have looked like a blur, even if Lois had captured it):

JJJones

Speaking of JJ, since she was wearing black and sitting way back on stage, she blended with the padded walls. Some of the shots Lois took last night make JJ appear to be a projection. Here’s one example:

JJJonesProjected

While Doris and Ty were tuning, a young girl walked up to the stage (accompanied by her mother, don’t worry folks) and handed Nate a note. He read it and noted that it was a specific request. He told them that there was an upcoming request section so he would have to ignore it for now.

But, the ladies continued to tune and Nate decided that he probably had enough time to sneak in this request. Before I tell you what it is, let me say that often, Girlyman asks the audience to vote for one of three (or four) songs, by simply describing each with a single word. Long-time fans know which song is tied to which word, but newcomers have no idea. That has never happened at a Joe’s Pub performance in all the times we’ve seen them there (meaning, they never offer this particular choice).

One of those four words is German. I always scream my head off for that choice. While I’ve seen them perform it three or four times, usually, I lose (at least in the past two years). It turns out that the note that was passed to Nate specifically asked for that song, Rock Me Amadeus by Falco. I would embarrass myself if I told you how excited I was (and that I paid that kid a lot of money to pass that note). Winking smile

We all get to sing along (not to the German lyrics, which Nate nails).

NateBorofsky

For the formal request section, they settled on Reva (a song about Nate’s grandmother). Settling is always difficult, since nearly every song Girlyman ever wrote is called for at every show during the request section. People brought hand-written signs to hold up because they knew they were too far from the stage to be heard.

For the first encore, they played Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, to honor Doris’ journey. After leaving the stage for the second time, they were forced back out for a second encore. They knew what they were going to play, but someone called out for Doris to play the banjo (Ty had played it, but Doris hadn’t touched it as yet). Doris pointed to it (standing quietly next to her) and said “There it is”. Smile

Ty and Nate encouraged her to pick it up, changing whatever they intended to play. They performed Kittery Tide (at a much faster clip than usual), but still nailed the tricky guitar and banjo leads. Well done ladies!

Coming back to one last humorous example. At one point Nate said “Who needs therapy?”. There was dead silence. Nate followed with “We’re in NYC, everyone in the audience is probably a therapist!”. Then he added that they lived in Atlanta. He said that if the show were in Atlanta, the equivalent question would have been “Who has a chicken?”, to which the answer would have been “Most of the audience.”.

After a few more cracks about NY Times articles on many 30-somethings now buying/raising chickens, Nate started up a classic Girlyman Tuning Song about therapists and chickens. As they often do, the girls chimed in with harmony along the way, only this time, they clucked the harmony (literally, it was hysterical).

At the end of the song, Nate finished with a line “Six of one, half a dozen of the other”. Other hadn’t been rhymed yet, but he was clearly done. Without missing a beat, surprising Nate (and the rest of us completely), Ty finished it off with something like (this is a complete paraphrase, I can’t remember her truly clever words!):

What issues did you have with your mother?

Bringing it all back to the therapist line that started everything out. It was (yet another) hysterical moment, showing how clever and quick all of them are.

TyGreenstein

We shared the evening (and a table) with two friends who were new to Girlyman. We continued our 4+ year streak of constantly introducing as many new fans as we can. Last night’s mission: accomplished. Mirroring our seats on the other side of the stage were Kevin and Edith. They were very sneaky. We can’t thank them enough, but they better start worrying about our escalating retaliation. Winking smile

RachelRebeccaHavilandKevinEdith

We were the first two people on line (in line for the Brits amongst my readership). Shock, surprise, mock horror. Smile We got to say hi to Genevieve, Girlyman’s manager, both before and after the show. Here she is pictured with Ty, and Ty’s dad, Ron Greenstein (a wonderful musician in his own right, currently performing with The Chad Mitchell Trio!).

GenevieveTyGreensteinRonGreenstein

One of Girlyman’s songs, Easy Bake Ovens (co-written by Ty and Nate), is a conglomeration of Ty’s earliest childhood memories. It ends with:

Dad took a picture on August the nine
Of us with the newspaper and the headline
‘Ford Steps Up; Nixon Resigns’

It turns out, this is literal. Here’s a blog post by Ty that shows her as a baby, with that newspaper headline! Last night, Ron Greenstein showed me the same photo on his little flip phone. So cool. It’s historic(al) on a number of levels. Smile

I’ll finish with a photo that Lois accidentally hijacked (don’t worry, they got plenty of other good ones). She noticed that Girlyman was lined up nicely for a shot with some fans. She was willing to get an off angle shot of them. JJ noticed Lois and pointed to her, which made Doris turn as well. Smile

GirlymanPhotoHijacked

Already counting the days until we see them again!

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company at Baryshnikov Arts Center

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Lar Lubovitch Dance Company just completed the first few days of a 12 day run at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. We rarely see dance programs. When we do, it’s typically because we know someone who is accompanying them musically. That was true yesterday as well.

Dance confounds me. If it’s not too experimental (whatever that means to each person), there’s no doubt it’s beautiful. That said, I don’t often feel enveloped by it, as I do by a musical performance. I am an observer, often wondering what it is I am observing?

If you want to read what a professional thought of the three pieces we saw yesterday, it was reviewed in the NY Times. If you want to know why I’m confounded, here are a few choice sentences from that review:

But she couldn’t bring any character to the rest of the duet, which, like the alternating ensemble segments, too much resembles the effects of a wave machine in a bubble bath.

OK, I get the bubble bath description (though I thought I was watching a herd of gazelles, seriously). But, what does “couldn’t bring any character” mean? Seriously, what does it mean?!?

But the dance as a whole remains picturesque.

The But here is clearly meant to be derogatory (read the prior sentence to assure yourself). So, a picturesque dance is a bad thing? I guess so…

Yet in expanding upon the mysterious potential of the earlier duet, the new one disenchants.

That earlier duet is the same one he painted with the “couldn’t bring any character” to, so I’m not sure whether the earlier duet “enchants” or whether this one disenchants more. I guess the key is in the mysterious potential of the earlier duet (clearly, not achieved in the reviewer’s opinion).

Basically, he was underwhelmed. What I want to know is, was that a matter of taste, or were there specific things that could have been done to charm that reviewer?

I don’t have the training or understanding to give a serious review. I can only tell you how everything struck me. There were three pieces.

The first was The Legend of Ten set to a Brahms Quintet. The music was gorgeous, but piped in (recorded) over less-than-stellar speakers. It added a sterile quality to the performance that I haven’t experienced before, as nearly every other dance piece I’ve ever seen has had live accompaniment.

I already mentioned that I felt like I was watching a herd of gazelle’s dancing around on stage. There appeared to be a couple that were falling in love, with the herd alternatingly accepting and rejecting them (her). Am I correct in my interpretation? Who knows. There is no hint in the program of what the dance represents. More on that in a minute.

The second piece, Crisis Variations, was a world premiere on two fronts. The dance (choreography) was debuting, as was the musical accompaniment, a piece written by Yevgeniy Sharlat. This was the only piece with live music and was the reason we attended.

We’ve met Jim Johnston  (he’s known as James Johnston professionally) a number of times now, all in social situations. We have been interested in hearing him play (he’s a pianist) and have been unable to schedule it until yesterday.

HadarJimJohnston

Jim was excellent, playing on an electronic keyboard. That was necessary not only because of the space constraints but because he produced many different sounds, beginning with a harpsichord and including piano and organ sounds as well.

All five musicians were excellent, including Jennifer Grim on flute and piccolo. We saw Jennifer at The Morgan Library with Jim a few weeks back (covered here). The ensemble is called Le Train Bleu.

That said, the piece alternated between being very interesting and very dissonant for my taste. It had a statement to make, for sure, but I prefer my music to be more consistently melodic. Here’s what the NY Times reviewer said:

“Crisis Variations,” the season’s premiere, benefits from live music, excellently played by Le Train Bleu. Though Yevgeniy Sharlat’s score has an antic quality that might suggest silent comedy, the duet around which Mr. Lubovitch constructs his dance is floppy but not funny.

I guess what I called dissonant (in a very staccato manner), he calls antic quality. Le Train Bleu was formed and conducted by Ransom Wilson. We rode up in the elevator with him (without knowing who he was). He was charming and sociable, a person I’m sure we’d enjoy spending time with.

On to the dance part. The dissonant part of the music actually matched the dance very well. Perhaps more correctly put, Lar Lubovitch choreographed the piece to fit the dissonance extremely well.

I enjoyed this dance more than the other two pieces. Part of the reason is that I was sure I understood it. To me, I saw all of the dancers as marionettes, being controlled by an invisible puppeteer with invisible strings. Their movements perfectly mimicked what I would guess real marionettes would look like. The skill (to me) was exceptional.

Again, there were no hints in the program as to whether my interpretation was correct. Lois felt like she was watching scenes of domestic violence, to give you a sense of how radically different our perceptions were.

After the show we chatted for a minute with someone who said they thought it was supposed to convey the image of a van going over the side of a bridge, with the passengers being tossed to and fro as the van hurtled toward the water. Interesting that Lois’ interpretation might be considered closer to that, but marionettes, who can’t control their own movement isn’t so far off either.

I guess that people who love all art for art’s sake would say “Ah ha!”, Hadar, you finally get it. It doesn’t matter what the artist meant. It’s what you bring to the experience. Obviously, that’s true, but I always wonder why I sometimes can’t even see the remotest connection after the fact, if/when the original intent is explained to me. In other words, too abstract for me, like the all-white painting in the Met, which I’m supposed to be stopped in my tracks by.

The final piece was performed to a Dvorak Serenade (it appears to be unnamed, unless, of course, the name of the piece is Dvorak Serenade, which is likely the case). Again the music was piped in. Again the music was fantastic, except for the plastic sound through the speakers.

The dancers were dressed in night clothes (or that’s what it appeared like to me). That made me feel that the entire piece was meant to be a dream sequence. To me, the female dancer in the lead duet (Leigh Lijoi) appeared to be the dreamer.

All of the movements were lovely and fluid, and I probably preferred it to the first piece, but it wasn’t particularly interesting (like the middle one was).

There are no pictures of the performance in this post (highly unusual for us). Not only did they announce that there was no photography of any kind permitted, they actually said that it was prohibited by law. Obviously a laughable statement. Prohibited by policy of either the venue or the performers, fine, but by law? Hahaha. Still, we complied.

Of course, if you want to see a photo of what I thought were the marionettes, all you need to do is look at the NY Times review. I guess the law doesn’t apply to them.

Bottom line: I found the middle piece interesting enough to have made it worth my while to attend (though the prices for these shows are insane relative to seeing the absolutely extraordinary live music that we attend more regularly). I’m thankful that it was the reason that I attended in the first place.

Even though it was worth my while, I am sure that I will ignore all notices of dance companies in the future, until a musician that we love happens to be accompanying them again…

Girlyman and Coyote Grace at The Barns at Wolf Trap

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It’s been a little over six months since we’ve seen Girlyman in concert. Any longer than that and I start to twitch. Those of you who know me know I am unabashed in saying that they are my favorite group. For me, that’s quite a statement given how much live music we see (and love!) and how long they’ve held first place (4.25 years and counting!).

Seeing them perform at The Barns at Wolf Trap is always a joy. The place is gorgeous, the acoustics wonderful and the 400-seat venue is always full of people who love them as much as I do (many are more vocal at the performance than I am, so you might mistakenly believe that they love them more). Winking smile

Here are shots of each (so that you know who’s who) taken after the show:

DorisMuramatsuNateBorofskyTyGreenstein

NateBorofskyHadarTyGreenstein

We didn’t spot JJ after the show, but here’s a photo of her on stage:

JJJones

So, why are they so special?

  • All three songwriters (I’m unaware of whether JJ Jones, the drummer, writes any songs), Ty, Doris and Nate are amazing on their own. They often collaborate (probably after one has gotten a song a certain distance) and produce even better efforts (one example is Easy Bake Ovens).
  • Collectively, their body of work is quite large for a group that’s only been together for 10 years (five CDs and counting, with the sixth already in pre-order). I think one of the reasons is that they all write great songs, so they have three times the output that a group might have when they have a lead creative.
  • They produce exquisite albums that can be listened to non-stop on repeat. I have no doubt that this will be true of the new one, Supernova, when it comes out in a few months. You can pre-order yours now (we did, come join us).
    PreorderSupernova
  • Their harmonies are mind-bogglingly beautiful. This actually has little to do with their voices (more on that below) and everything to do with their genius at arranging songs, in particular harmonies. They even teach classes on harmony (sounds like a Master Class to me!).
  • Their live shows are a treat, for their humanity, personality and laugh-out-loud extemporaneous humor. Of course it’s about the live music as well, often because you get to hear brand new songs that will be on forthcoming albums (not necessarily the next one!).

Here’s the set list. It’s sprinkled with brand new songs (a couple we had never heard before, plus two world debuts that no one had heard before!), new-ish songs (which will be on Supernova), old favorites (including the first song off the first album!), requests, etc. It’s one of the highlights of any Girlyman show, knowing in advance that they will surprise you, given the size of their catalog (the two-song encore is not listed):

GirlymanSetList

It also included Hold It All at Bay, my favorite Girlyman song for at least three years running. On some levels, it’s probably still my favorite, but I’m also obsessed with Could Have Guessed (which they didn’t play last night).

TyGreensteinNateBorofsky

Coyote Grace opened the show (you’ll have to read way down to get to that section). I mention them here because they spent a considerable amount of time on stage with Girlyman, individually and collectively. Here’s a shot of Doris, with Ingrid playing the bass (she’s excellent) behind her:

DorisMuramatsuIngridElizabeth

The most notable song (for me) was Everything’s Easy.

It’s an amazing song on a number of levels. As gorgeous as the production is on their latest CD (of the same title), I was much more used to the faster version that I’d heard live many times, which was recorded live, on Somewhere Different Now. So, I love the CD version for it’s quality, but still long to hear it sped up a bit.

Last night they did the slow version, but with a huge twist. Each of the three Coyote Grace people paired up with the Girlyman singers (JJ is reasonably silent during the shows, her drums speak for themselves!). Ingrid shared a mic with Nate, Michael with Ty and Joe with Doris.

The parts that Nate, Ty and Doris do solo (always), were now done in harmony (with the corresponding member of Coyote Grace at the same mic). That was beautiful enough. But, this song builds to two-part, then three-part harmony, with each part singing entirely different words/melodies.

Keep that last part, but add in that each different set of lyrics/melodies is itself being sung in harmony, having six voices sing three different parts, and you have something that I feel feeble in trying to describe. In this case, the slow version was (perhaps more) appropriate, since it made it much easier to shift focus between the three parts and the six different voices.

If you don’t want to read anything negative (even a hint), please stop now, the above should (hopefully) satisfy you.

For those that are reading on, but don’t know me, I’ll give my standard disclaimer that I blog to capture how I felt about each performance. At my age, memory fades fast, and this allows me to recall each show with clarity. I am not a music critic (even a bit, nor do I pretend to be). If others discover music that I love and also enjoy it, that’s a bonus.

We see a lot of shows in NY and VA. In VA, it’s often easier to organize larger groups to see shows together. That’s what happens when we see Girlyman, as I’ve been on a mission to spread their gospel since I first saw them in August 2007. Last night, we had a group of 10 at the Barns. Four of those had never seen Girlyman before.

Last night was our 20th time (give or take one) seeing Girlyman live. I’ve written one negative review, when both Ty and Nate were extremely sick and simply couldn’t deliver their typical performance. The other four in our group last night had all been to that one off show (for two of them, their only Girlyman experience).

Without being overly negative, here’s the difference between most Girlyman shows and last night: most Girlyman shows are magic, start-to-finish. Last night (and a very few others) have numerous magical moments, interspersed with too much thinking (referring to me, not being lost in the moment).

Part of my personal problem comes from the fact that we’re constantly introducing new people to the group. That makes me try to hear each show with new ears (ooh, how Zen of me!). Winking smile I try to anticipate how a newcomer would react, so that I don’t get defensive if they don’t understand instantly how awesome Girlyman is.

The problem is that given the heavy toll that the past year has taken on them (Doris was diagnosed with Leukemia almost exactly a year ago), it’s understandable that they don’t always deliver a peak performance, on every song (like they used to). For non-fans, Doris has responded extraordinarily well to the medicine (which she has to take daily) and is now in remission (or for you medical nerds, in full molecular response). That’s awesome. Still, the toll (on all of them!) has been exacted and it will likely take time to get (somewhat) beyond it.

For me, the manifestation comes in the harmonies (and even some solo leads) not being delivered as cleanly as they are on the albums (or were in most previous live shows). At other times it’s the rhythm of the show itself. Even though they were hysterical last night, there were only two tuning songs. If you’re a fan, you know what that means to us.

I’ll digress for a second and say that they opened the encore with a very funny bit, which culminated in the girls cajoling Nate into singing a parody song. The title: Undeterred. The homophone of that (not in the strictest sense, since it’s actually two words): Undy turd. Suffice it to say that it is a silly song filled with normal conversational words that all aim to project the image of the homophone, rather than the previously spelled out version.

I was wiping tears away during the song, I was laughing so hard. It was literally uncontrollable (bordering on embarrassing).

Not to belabor the original point, but rather to put it to bed, their delivery isn’t always perfect. No real fan of Girlyman cares. I bet many don’t notice (because they’re enraptured), but when I pull myself out of the moment to analyze the sound, I recognize the difference.

Do I care? No! I can’t wait to see them again on November 13th, at Joe’s Pub, where it all began for me in August 2007!

Finally, on to the opener. We’d heard amazing things about Coyote Grace. They’ve opened for Girlyman on a number of tours now, but the two shows that we saw in April were the only ones where Coyote Grace didn’t appear (Birchmere and The Southern Café).

Coyote Grace began as a duo (Joe Stevens and Ingrid Elizabeth, I only know that from their website). Michael Connolly joined them to form the current incarnation.

All three are extremely talented, vocally and instrumentally. They’re also all very comfy on stage and are often funny.

Unfortunately, even though it’s exactly my type of music, I didn’t really connect with them in any meaningful way. The sound of nearly every song was lovely, so they can certainly perform to a high level. But, the lyrics often felt forced to me.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about a singer/songwriter who I felt suffered from writing too directly about her personal feelings/experiences. We’ve all had those feelings, but her lyrics were so direct that I felt disconnected from them. A number of times, I felt the same thing about Coyote Grace.

I love song introductions. Often, it makes me appreciate a gorgeous lyric which could be interpreted a number of ways (which is one of the things that makes it a great lyric) in a very specific way (allowing me to connect specifically with the artist, independent of the song). The reverse was true last night a couple of times.

Coyote Grace introduced some songs in a very personal way (so far so good), but then sang lyrics that were laser-like targets of the intro. In other words, I couldn’t have easily misunderstood the lyrics in that context only. So, the songs themselves were not generically moving (to me).

The only other issue I had was that while Joe has a very nice voice (reasonably distinct characteristics), he doesn’t sing with much power. Ingrid has an amazing voice (truly), and can sing with power, but when she sings with Joe (which is way more often than the few times that Michael joins in), she tones it down to match Joe. That’s cool, except that in a 400-person venue, a little more power is called for (IMO).

JoeStevensIngridElizabeth

They are all talented multi-instrumentalists, but Michael Connolly tops the list. He played mandolin, fiddle, accordion, piano, upright bass and probably a few more that I am just forgetting. All extremely well! He sings well too.

MichaelConnolly

Still, that’s not what I will remember most about him. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that he’s the spitting image of Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld). That Michael was very funny, facial expressions as well as some lines, only reinforced that for me.

Coyote Grace kicked off the show by having JJ drum for them (wonderfully!). They later invited Ty up to play the cajon (first time I recall seeing Ty play one). Then they brought them all out for at least two numbers, including a spiritual (written by their friends, Ma Muse) which they mostly snap to (and clap to in the faster parts), in a more a cappella feel. Stunning.

Here are all of them (except for JJ) in one shot, singing a different song:

GirlymanJoinsCoyoteGrace

I listened to the streaming music on the Coyote Grace site today, for more than 30 minutes. I liked the sound a lot, but I was easily able to work on other things (meaning, again, the lyrics didn’t pull me in). Listen for yourself, you’ll likely feel very differently.

Here’s their set list along with a page from the program with last night’s entry:

CoyoteGraceSetList

During intermission, I stood at my seat just to stretch. When I looked toward the back, I instantly recognized someone I’ve only seen once in my life. Five rows behind us was Owen Danoff, who we saw perform in NYC a few weeks back. He was there with a friend, celebrating his birthday. Here’s what I wrote about him. As you can see, I’m a big fan, including being able to pick him out in a crowd. Smile

HadarOwenDanoffFriend

In a much smaller world story, when Lois slipped past me (also during intermission), she stopped in her tracks and looked at the person two to my right in our own row and said: “Are you?” and he replied “Yes.” Smile

It was another Girlyman fan, John Dickerson. I briefly met John at two other Girlyman shows, but had spoken to him on the phone before ever meeting him. John wrote a series of articles on risk taking. One of those was about Girlyman, and the risks of being an indie music group in our times. John interviewed me for that article. His wife sat between us. It made me feel like our group of 10 was really 12. Winking smile

Before heading to the Barns, eight of us had an amazing meal at P.F. Chang’s in McLean. We made Stacey pose with our server. Winking smile

StaceyPFChangs

Here are the rest of us right before the show. The ghost is taking the picture, which is why there are only nine of us visible.

AllOfUs