Dining

Chris Ayer, Rebecca Haviland and Chris Anderson at a House Concert

Send to Kindle

Two weeks ago I announced that we were no longer involved with Zope Corporation. That was supposed to mean not driving up and down I95 every month. Apparently, our love of music and friends didn’t get the message. Winking smile

Lindsie Davis runs regular house concerts. We’ve been lucky to have attended three of them (including last night). In addition to loving every one of the shows, we’ve become good friends with Lindsie, which in the long run (even the short run) is more valuable to us.

Update: Lindsie just forwarded three photos that she took. We’re in two of them. I’ll post the first here, then the others down below.

LindsieLoisRebeccaHaviland

Before we knew we’d be out of Zope, we were discussing coming to Lindsie’s next show, which she was trying to put together but hadn’t set a date yet. By the time the date was set, we were already out, but we decided to make the trip, and turn it into a going away party as well. I’ll cover the party aspect briefly after capturing my thoughts about the show itself.

Rebecca Haviland and Chris Anderson opened the show. They have now named their group Rebecca Haviland and Whiskey Heart (I guess that makes Chris’ name: Whiskey Heart). It works for me, but I’m probably just going to call him Whiskey from now on. Winking smile

RebeccaHavilandAndWhiskeyHeart

We see them perform a bunch, recently in a variety of configurations, but I have to admit that I was still taken by surprise last night (a most pleasant surprise). On March 21st, we saw them perform as a duo (for the first time) at Watercolor Café. The big difference last night was no vocal microphones.

Rebecca and Chris each had their instruments (electric guitar and electric bass respectively) plugged into amps. But, they had them dialed softly (perfectly). That Rebecca’s amazing voice could easily be heard above the amps was not a surprise. That Chris sang loud enough to be so perfectly balanced with Rebecca was the giant surprise. They sounded better together vocally than at any previous show. That means that Chris will have to sing louder, or the sound guy will need to crank him more, at future full band shows.

ChrisAnderson

The acoustics were perfect and every song was fantastic. After missing If You at the last show, they performed it last night. Even though it was new to probably 95% of the people in the room (it was a very well attended show!), this was the best crowd participation in singing the Oh, oh oh oh oh part (along with me, of course). Really great!

RebeccaHaviland

Whenever Rebecca was tuning, she was quite funny telling us stories and informing us that this was her first-ever house concert performance! I’m willing to bet that it won’t be her last. I have a strong suspicion that she had every bit the blast that we in the audience did. Chris Anderson is an old pro at this. In fact, he was at all of the previous house concerts that we attended at Lindsie’s.

ChrisAndersonRebeccaHaviland

After their set, Lindsie announced that there would be a 10-minute break to eat the amazing desserts and stretch the legs. Those rarely last only 10 minutes, so I was impressed that this one was officially ended (with blinking lights) at the 14-minute mark. Well done running a tight ship Lindsie!

PartOfTheZopeGang

Chris Ayer took to the stage (OK, the front of the room) and captivated everyone with his incredible songs, voice and guitar play.

ChrisAyer

Chris always gets a ton of requests for particular songs (many of them long out of his regular rotation). He told us about one guy in Europe who took to the Interwebz to hammer Chris when he didn’t get his desired song. That dude needs to chill (see, I’m still young at heart). Winking smile

Last night, Chris decided to finally perform two songs he’s been promising someone for a while now (two different people, if I understood, both of whom were at the show). One was Opening and the other was Warmer. Bravo! It’s such a treat to hear great songs that rarely get played live nowadays.

As with Rebecca, whenever Chris was tuning, he had us cracking up. Aside from his typical tuning, he complained that the capo the guy at The Guitar Center talked him into was a bad choice. I noticed it once, it doesn’t put equal pressure across the fret, so Chris had to play with it to tighten it, but also compensated by retuning the string it wouldn’t catch. That gave him plenty of time to make us laugh.

ChrisAyerTuning

While I could recite Rebecca’s set list by heart (but won’t), Chris provided his official set list for Lois to photograph:

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

Our host with the performers:

RebeccaHavilandChrisAndersonChrisAyerLindsie

Our host with us and Chris Anderson:

ChrisAndersonLoisHadarLindsie

It was a great show, well worth the long drive down (unreal traffic once we got into Friday afternoon Washington rush hour). Afterward, we headed to our friends’ house in Leesburg, where we spent the night (and where I’m now typing this). Shortly I’ll be off to watch the older son play baseball (he’ll be the starting pitcher) and then after lunch, the long trek home.

OurGreetingParty

Back to the party aspect of last night. We reached out to a bunch of current and former Zope employees and their families. 15 of us met for dinner at Portabellos in Arlington. Wow, such a great meal, excellent company and everyone in the restaurant was nice and treated us very well.

PortabellosDinnerParty

After the meal, 13 of us headed to the house concert. So, Zope was very well represented at the show. In a nice twist, one of the current Zope employees (Satchit) won the merch raffle, so he walked away with two of Chris Ayer’s CDs and two of Rebecca’s. Score!

SatchitRebeccaHavilandChrisAyerSatchit

An absolutely fantastic night, beginning to end. So glad we never hesitated to make this long drive to implant those memories.

AnneDonFamilyMembers

Rebecca Haviland at Watercolor Cafe

Send to Kindle

Rebecca Haviland headlined a set at Watercolor Café. She also joined the openers, The Vanity Belles, playing piano to open and close their set.

RebeccaHaviland

As with the set before, this was a test of how well a group we love sounds stripped down. In this case, stripped down even further than The Vanity Belles were.

Rebecca dropped the keyboards and drums (and occasional lead electric guitar). She played rhythm electric guitar and switched to finger-picking the electric for a song or two. She was accompanied by an electric bass and nothing else.

I can’t say that I didn’t miss the drums, which really enrich the haunting beats in most of Rebecca’s songs, but otherwise, Rebecca and Chris knocked it out of the park all by themselves.

Rebecca is getting really close to releasing a new CD, one that we can’t wait to get our hands on. That she and Chris can faithfully reproduce the richness of the feel of this music, with just the two of them, is a testament to the songs themselves, not requiring the masking of a large and loud band.

Of course Rebecca’s voice had all of the rocker-chick goodness happening throughout, and the sound system at Watercooler is perfectly suited to such an intimate venue.

RebeccaHavilandSinging

Chris Anderson is Rebecca’s writing partner on most of the songs (all?) and played electric bass and sang a ton of harmony as well. Because Rebecca was mostly playing rhythm guitar, Chris was really driving the melodic part of the instruments, and he was more than up to the task.

ChrisAndersonRebeccaHavilandChrisAnderson

Both Chris and Rebecca played on the earlier set. I held this photo back for this post, of the Belles with Rebecca and Chris:

CarrieWellingRebeccaHavilandJessiRaeWaltzChrisAnderson

In case you didn’t read my previous post, I’ll repeat my observation about Watercooler Café here:

As if amazing music delivered by incredible musicians wouldn’t have been enough, this was our first trip to Watercooler Café and there’s no way it will be our last. The food was fantastic. I had the Baked Eggplant with a Three Cheese Spinach and Mushroom stuffing for an appetizer (OMG) and Wasabi-Sesame Crusted Tuna for the main dish (holy moly).

That we also got to spend it with two other couples, that we weren’t sure would be there, turned it into a festive and interesting evening, independent of the music.

One of those couples was Chris Anderson’s parents, who we really look forward to seeing at these shows. Rebecca’s parents were there too (though we didn’t sit with them). Here are the moms:

RobinSharon

And Chris with his Dad:

ChrisAndersonDad

The Vanity Belles at Watercolor Cafe

Send to Kindle

The Vanity Belles opened for Rebecca Haviland at Watercolor Café in Larchmont last night. Rebecca Haviland plays at Watercooler regularly, but we’ve not been able to make any of her previous shows. That we were finally able to get there on a night when The Vanity Belles (TVB) were opening was doubly delicious.

TheVanityBelles

We’ve seen two full sets by TVB (plus a number of guest appearances). Both sets were at Arlene’s Grocery, with a full band. Both were more rock in terms of the overall sound, even though TVB never lose their country roots. Here’s the post covering the most recent show.

Last night was amazing, because it was a dramatically stripped down set. No electronic keyboards, no drums, no electric guitar. I never doubted whether their voices would hold up, but the songs themselves would obviously be judged differently.

CarrieWellingSingingCameronMitchellJessiRaeWaltz

I am thrilled (but not surprised) to report that when you write great songs, and deliver them through two incredible, angelic voices, you don’t really need much else. That they were supported by top musicians playing on acoustic instruments was icing on the cake. They probably could have thrilled me a cappella as well.

CarrieWellingCameronMitchellJessiRaeWaltz

The bottom line, TVB can play arenas with the full band and keep the place rocking, or they can play the most intimate club, with a small ensemble (or just themselves!), and have that audience realize that nothing was sacrificed in stripping down the sound.

On one song, Bottle, Jessi Rae Waltz (1/2 of TVB) took to the upright piano and Carrie Welling (the other 1/2) played the acoustic guitar. The other two members of the band didn’t join in until the song was well underway. That’s the reason I say that they could perform just themselves, a cappella or accompanied by the piano and guitar.

CarrieWellingCameronMitchellJessiRaeWaltzPiano

Speaking of the band, let’s name them, left-to-right:

Cameron Mitchell on acoustic guitar. Cameron was really good at both previous shows, but a bit overshadowed by the rest of the band on his acoustic (he also played some electric). Last night, his acoustic guitar was easily heard on every note and amazingly, he hit all of the right ones. Smile The guitar was a perfect accompaniment to the ladies vocals. Cameron also co-wrote at least one of the songs performed last night.

CameronMitchell

We also got to spend some time with Cameron (Cam) after the show and I can assure you he’s one of the nicest people you could have the pleasure of meeting.

Chris Anderson on upright bass. Unless you’re a newcomer here, I don’t need to tell you how great Chris is in general, on every set. Any set that has fewer instruments makes the bass pop even more, easily differentiating the greats from the goods. Chris is great and really enhanced TVB’s sound.

ChrisAnderson

Rebecca Haviland was a special guest on the first two numbers, then the last few as well, playing the upright piano. As much as I love Rebecca’s own songs (more on that in the next post), I don’t really get enough of her keyboard play, which is actually the first instrument I ever saw her play. So, this was a real treat to hear her on a real piano, in such an intimate place. Thanks TVB for having Rebecca join you!

You can see Rebecca’s back in a photo above. For good photos of Rebecca, look in my next post about her set. Smile

As if amazing music delivered by incredible musicians wouldn’t have been enough, this was our first trip to Watercooler Café and there’s no way it will be our last. The food was fantastic. I had the Baked Eggplant with a Three Cheese Spinach and Mushroom stuffing for an appetizer (OMG) and Wasabi-Sesame Crusted Tuna for the main dish (holy moly).

That we also got to spend it with two other couples, that we weren’t sure would be there, turned it into a festive and interesting evening, independent of the music.

CarrieWellingEdithKevinHadarEdith

The staff at Watercooler were all delightful and funny, making us feel completely at home.

A Wicked Christmas Weekend

Send to Kindle

We love so many people that we consider family. However, there are a few full families that are truly our extended family in every possible way. One of those families lives in Leesburg, VA. They (parents plus three children) were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with us in NYC. Unfortunately, life intervened and they had more urgent business to attend. Thankfully, we were able to reschedule to get them up for Christmas.

OurExtendedFamily

On Friday (when they arrived), after having a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole (probably still our favorite burger place in NYC, though there are so many spectacular ones), we did something unusual for us (and them as well). We split up completely!

AtJacksonHole

The parents took the 5-year-old girl to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. They reported that it was fantastic and the girl was mesmerized throughout!

Lois took the 13-year-old to see the new Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Neither was too enamored with the movie. If a 13-year-old boy doesn’t come back raving about such a movie, that’s all I need to know about it. Winking smile

I took the 11-year-old to see Blue Man Group. It was my third time, his first. It’s been quite a while since I last saw it, so I was quite excited to go again. I was really pleased to see that while the basic show was the same, they created a few new acts, replacing some others, while keeping some real crowd pleasers. In other words, even I got to enjoy some new things (I enjoyed the original material as well).

Needless to say, the 11-year-old was thrilled and had many mind-blowing guffaws during the show. The toilet paper part (a staple) will probably live with him forever. Smile

All seven of us met up at our favorite NYC restaurant for dinner: The Peking Duck House. The parents had been there twice before, but this was a first for all three kids. The meal was a huge success (it never isn’t, but I feel compelled to report on it nonetheless). Even though everyone professed to be stuffed to the gills, when offered ice cream for dessert, amazingly, everyone found an extra spot to stick it in. Smile

TheKidsAtThePekingDuckHouse

Not to slight any other activity, because the weekend was 100% incredible, but the main event (and hence the title) was all seven of us going to see Wicked on Saturday afternoon. It was our (Lois and my) 12th time. It was a first for everyone else. I will admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the kids would like it.

PreparingForWickedChristmasFinest

AtWicked

When we looked at our programs and saw that the two leads were the same ones we saw last time: Jackie Burns and Chandra Lee Schwartz, Lois and I knew that at a minimum, we would be enthralled. Thankfully, all seven of us loved the show.

WickedStandingOvation

To be honest, the two ladies were even better this time than last time (and they were amazing last time). The only weakness in either of their performances came in the the last big number, For Good, which they had trouble with the previous time as well. This time it was better. Each had trouble with their solo, but they came together beautifully for their harmonies (not so last time). Otherwise, their acting and singing were pretty much flawless.

There were two other changes in significant characters. Madame Morrible was played by someone we hadn’t seen before. Neither Lois nor I liked her performance. In fact, Lois thought her acting threw Jackie Burns off a time or two (I think she might be right). She wasn’t bad, and if it was my first time I probably wouldn’t have known better. Still, practically every other Madame Morrible we’ve seen was better, including the last one, who we particularly liked.

Fiyero was new to us as well. I think that last time we saw an understudy for this one. I found his acting not quite as loose as some of the others (including the last one), but his singing was good. In particular, he nailed the difficult duet with Elphaba in the woods (As Long As You’re Mine). So much so, that Jackie Burns nailed her part. I dinged her a bit on that number the last time out.

The Wizard (Tom McGowan) was as wonderful as he has been each time we’ve seen him.

So, a huge success (like I said, every activity was, except for possibly Mission Impossible).

TheTimeDragonClock

We walked to the theater, having lunch at Z Deli around the corner. Afterward we walked back and headed straight to The Capital Grille. I like a lot of steak houses, The Capital Grille among them. While I’ve been there many times, this might have been my best meal there. It would be hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend time with family on Christmas Eve!

LoveIsInTheAirClassingUpTheJointSharingASecret

AtTheCapitalGrille

AfterDinner

After dinner I watched The Matrix with the boys (their first time). We paused a bunch of times early on to discuss the mind-bending plot. Once the real martial arts scenes kicked in, they were done discussing and were more intrigued by the acrobatics. Smile

We got to spend more quality time with everyone on Christmas morning, then they hit the road back to Leesburg. As sad as we were to see them go, our hearts were full from a literally perfect weekend with loved ones.

Rather than collapse, we continued the weekend festivities by meeting another good friend for lunch. I can’t speak for the ladies (each of whom ordered eggs), but my tuna melt was as good as it gets. So was our conversation, which we lingered over long after the meal was done.

P.S. The 11-year-old was enamored with my toy (my You Rock Guitar). He couldn’t put it down the entire weekend. Smile

YouRockGuitarYouRockGuitarContinued

Wicked Continues to Rule

Send to Kindle

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…

Girlyman and Coyote Grace at The Barns at Wolf Trap

Send to Kindle

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

War Horse at the Vivian Beaumont Theater

Send to Kindle

I didn’t particularly have an interest in seeing War Horse, even after it won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play. We ended up seeing it last night (how that came to be, below), with extraordinary seats, in the second row.

I don’t go to the theater often enough for anyone to take my opinions to heart. When we make it out to Broadway, it’s more often for a musical than a play. Even then, often for the same musical (we’ve seen Wicked 10 times, already heave tickets for our 11th). Clearly, War Horse is a runaway winner, not just with critics/awards, but with audiences (tickets are very hard to come by).

With that out of the way, here is my opinion of the show, with no spoilers (not that there’s much to spoil to begin with).

The good:

  • The Puppetry is beyond brilliant. I like puppetry (I posted about a puppet show in Atlanta that we loved). This takes it to another level (more likely an order of magnitude).
  • Basically, it doesn’t take much suspension of disbelief to accept that you’re watching real horses on stage. This is a testament to both the puppets (and puppet makers) and to the puppeteers (3+ per horse!). The fact that you can ignore the puppeteers that you see working the horses is mind-boggling (yes, this is a continuation of the first point).
  • There is very little singing/music in the show, but what’s there is very well done.
  • Much of the acting is top notch, including a few exceptional performances (perhaps my favorite was Alyssa Bresnahan as the mother)
  • The staging is clever, in a very austere setting (more is done with less)
  • The second half (in particular the first 10-15 minutes) is filled with solid laughs. During the rest of the play, most of the laughs come from marveling at various puppets, not from clever lines.
  • The theater is beautiful and comfortable. Even though we had amazing seats, I imagine that the worst seat is pretty darn good.

The bad:

  • The story is actually trite. It’s a child’s story, drawn out in a series of ridiculous circumstances. The last scene was cringe-worthy for me (the writing and the acting).
  • The dialog is rarely engaging, bouncing back-and-forth between attempts at humor and overly serious philosophizing.
  • A small number of the actors overact so badly it’s almost laughable. Unfortunately, a few are in critical roles. I couldn’t tell whether they were poorly directed (and therefore possibly fine actors) or poorly cast. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

You can see more good than bad bullets above, and that’s ultimately how I felt about the show. I enjoyed it, and on a few levels am glad I went, but that this won the Tony Award for Best Play makes me sad to think about the state of Plays on Broadway. Perhaps there are too few to choose from to begin with.

To me, this should have won for the puppetry, in the same way that movies win Special Effects Oscars, without even being considered for Best Movie.

PlaybillTheaterReview

The cast received a standing ovation (from me too). Many of them deserved it (especially the puppeteers), so I didn’t feel silly standing. The real point is that for probably most everyone else in the theater, they were standing because they loved the show in every respect.

PlaybillCast

How we got there, which is one of the levels that I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

On July 6th, 2011, we met three young men who are attending the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary. They were up on a business trip and we all had dinner together followed by seeing two sets at Rockwood Music Hall. The first set (and a paragraph about the dinner) was covered in this post, which includes a photo of everyone who attended the dinner at the bottom.

One of those men is someone we’ll call John (because that’s his actual name). Winking smile John and I stayed in touch mostly through Twitter and he exchanged a few emails with Lois over the following months. John is in the Army, having served multiple tours in Iraq. In a recent email exchange, he told us that he was coming to NYC for a weekend with his wife, Alicia.

He mentioned that they were considering seeing War Horse. He has the obvious connection of being a soldier. Alicia is a horsewoman (a serious one at that), so she had independent reasons for wanting to see the show. I had a curiosity that came more from the musical side (I’ll conclude with that) so we suggested that the four of us see it together.

We also arranged to meet for dinner a few blocks away at Rosa Mexicano. Early yesterday morning we found out that in a couple of days, John will be promoted to Major. John was surprised that we knew when we congratulated him at dinner. We heard the news from our friend who introduced us back in July. We toasted his accomplishment and shared an incredible meal (well, at least mine was incredible). Smile

AliciaJohn

Both John and Alicia raved about the show afterward. I think that bringing their own perspectives to the performance made them connect more deeply with it than I did. For example, one of the things that John talked about the second the show was over was how well they captured the feeling that individual soldiers on each side experience nearly identical feelings.

Alicia being a horsewoman, explained how every nuance of a real horse’s movements was captured to perfection by the puppeteers. I’ve been around thousands of horses in my life (you don’t want to know how much time I’ve spent at the racetrack, both thoroughbred and harness), so I wholeheartedly agree.

When the show was over, we tried to catch a cab together. Given the freak October snowstorm in NYC that day, it wasn’t going to happen. We parted ways and Lois and I walked a number of blocks over to Central Park West. We ended up sharing a cab with a couple who was in town from San Diego for the weekend. They too had just seen War Horse (and loved it!). We dropped them at their hotel and continued to our apartment.

Circling back to one of my personal curiosities about War Horse. On May 23rd, I saw two sets at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

Mighty Kate (Katy Pfaffl) was the first one (covered second in this post). While she was on stage, War Horse was winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play! She had a special guest star join her to sing a duet, Matt Doyle, who is also in the show.

So, I had a personal interest in seeing each of them.

Katy is listed in the Playbill as Kate Pfaffl. She is the primary singing voice throughout the show, in a visible/background/narrator way. In other words, she’s not part of the scenes, but she’s often somewhere on stage, singing while the play is going on.

She has a gorgeous voice. She sings in a Scottish accent throughout (an interesting surprise for me). It’s hard to concentrate on the lyrics, because quite often, there is action happening on stage, even dialog (which is independent of not being used to hearing a Scottish accent in song).

In addition to singing, Kate also plays the violin (one of her multi-instrumental talents) a number of times.

There is a male singer, Liam Robinson, who is on stage a bit less than Kate. Most of the time that he’s on, they are singing together. They sounded fantastic. He played accordion and harmonica.

What of Matt Doyle? He has CDs out and clearly has a wonderful voice (from the show we saw in May). To my surprise, he doesn’t sing a lick. He’s one of the lead actors in War Horse, playing Billy Narracott. He was one of the strongest performers.

So, both Kate and Matt impressed (if I added mightily, which was my instinct, we would have come full circle back to Mighty Kate).

Rock Talk with Ian Axel at Feinstein’s Hosted by Phil Lipof

Send to Kindle

Another Monday, another excruciatingly difficult choice of shows to see. There were four can’t miss ones all going on at the same time. This week’s calculus was radically different than last, but after crunching the numbers, we ended up selecting the same group of performers.

Ian Axel appeared on Rock Talk, hosted by ABC’s Phil Lipof. The event (it’s not just a show) was held at Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency Hotel. We selected this over the other shows because of the format. Rock Talk is a mix of interviews and performance. Phil Lipof interviews the performers about the specific songs, their writing process, motivations, experiences, etc.

ChadVaccarinoPhilLipofIanAxel

Given that Phil is an award winning Anchor and Reporter, the concept intrigued us. Phil was masterful (no surprise).

PhilLipof

Phil started by introducing Ian and asking a few questions. Then Ian played Waltz. The evening was sponsored by Gibson Guitar Corp., makers of Gibson Guitars and Baldwin Pianos. Ian sat behind a gorgeous looking and sounding Baldwin Grand Piano.

PhilLipofIanAxel

My guess is that most of the people in the room were familiar with Ian’s music. Some may never have seen him perform live before. Phil was among the latter, familiar with the music, watched the videos, but was finally experiencing it first hand. Waltz, on a grand piano, with a good sound system, in an intimate room, is a perfect way to be introduced to Ian.

IanAxel

The expression on Phil’s face when Ian’s hands were flying up and down the keyboard was priceless. When the song was over, Phil told us that he wished there was an overhead camera so that we could all see what he was seeing. Typically, the piano is turned sideways (parallel to the stage) so half the audience can see the keyboard. Last night, it was perpendicular, so only Phil could see the keyboard.

That made for a number of amusing moments (to me). When Ian plays solos (meaning, when he’s not singing), he often tilts his head to one side or the other, getting lost in the music. Last night, given the angle of the piano, that meant that Ian completely disappeared from view, creating the impression that we were watching a player piano. At those moments, watching Phil’s face gave you a sense of the magic happening just out of sight.

Phil continued interviewing Ian, telling us that we were about to hear a song that was very different from Waltz. He was right, Say Something is different in every way. Ian talked about the inspiration for the song, how long it took to write, how and why it was started on piano (the writing) but finished on the ukulele.

He then played it for us. Phil summed it up by saying that even though he hadn’t gone through the same experience Ian did, his heart was breaking nonetheless while listening to Ian sing. I agree (though I have experienced exactly what Ian was singing about, long ago).

He then switched gears again, introducing Gone and explaining what he (Phil) found out during his research watching YouTube videos and reading the comments. He mentioned he had heard Ian’s Mom didn’t particularly care for that song. He then called out to ask whether she still felt that way. A second later Ian’s Mom called back “It’s not my favorite!”. That got a huge chuckle.

Ian’s family was well represented, including his Grandfather and Grandmother who drove up from Florida. I so enjoyed meeting them before the show and getting to chat a bit.

IanAxelGrandfather

Switching gears again, Phil talked about the fact that many people compare Ian to a young Elton John. After asking Ian some questions about that, he mentioned that Elton John has had a lifelong writing partner in Bernie Taupin. Phil asked Ian a lot of questions about his writing partner, Chad Vaccarino.

He asked him how they met and Ian told a funny story, which culminated in Chad buying Ian a singing lesson, starting Ian down the road that we’re all lucky to be a part of. When Phil brought Chad up on stage, the first thing he asked was whether Chad remembers it the same way Ian does. Chad burst out laughing saying “Yes, that’s exactly how it happened, even though it sounds unbelievable.” Smile

ChadVaccarinoPhilLipof

Musically, the gears shifted again, dramatically. Ian and Chad performed Rockstar. Such an awesome song, performed to perfection.

More interviewing (you get the format by now, right?), with both Ian and Chad. Followed by more gear shifting. During this round of interviews, they talked about another friend/singer/songwriter who they met in college (NYU), Mike Campbell. Chad was in a band with Mike before either of them met Ian.

Chad has written a number of great songs with Mike. Lately, Mike has been joining Ian and Chad from some writing sessions. They’ve already played a couple of those on stage (most recently, Amory), proving that this triumvirate will continue writing great songs.

Mike was called up to play a song with them. Given that this event was sponsored by Gibson, Mike didn’t have to provide his own guitar (though I’m pretty sure he had it there just in case). Gibson had a guitar all tuned and ready to go for Mike.

MikeCampbellGibsonGuitar

They played Shorty Don’t Wait (a song that Mike didn’t co-write with them, but plays often, always creating an extra bit of magic when he does). This is the only song that Ian left the Baldwin for, picking up us ukulele. Something was wrong with the electronics and Ian couldn’t get the uke to be amplified.

Rather than waste time figuring it out, he asked Chad and Mike, and the rest of us, if we’d be OK doing it completely acoustic. Everyone agreed. Mike unplugged the Gibson, and they pushed the microphones out of the way so that the vocals were acoustic as well.

IanAxelMikeCampbellChadVaccarino

The result? Awesome.

When Mike left the stage, the house lights signaled Phil that the show was nearing an end. He asked whether we wanted one more song before shutting down. Ha! Ian selected You’ll Be OK, and he and Chad killed it. It took a long time for the applause to die down (that was true after every song).

It was also clear that people wanted at least one more song. Phil seemed willing to push the venue for one more and no one in the audience wanted to leave. With some reluctance (I’m not sure why), Ian agreed to sing their newest song (as yet untitled, I continue to lobby for The More We Love). Who did Ian agree with? Let’s just say someone called it out repeatedly, enthusiastically, from the audience, using a different working title: Homeward Bound (no, not the Simon and Garfunkel one).

What a spectacular way to end an incredible evening. The applause lasted even longer, because even many of Ian’s die-hard fans haven’t seen this song yet (Ian joked that it was still being written while they were performing it!). I should mention that this last round of applause came in the form of a long standing ovation.

ChadVaccarinoPhilLipofIanAxelStandingOvation

Many people milled about for quite a while after the show was over, the glow was still too warm to want to let go. Right before we headed out we went over to say a quick goodbye to Ian. He was standing with a good friend of his, Philip Ettinger.

PhilipEttingerIanAxel

Lois got there before I did. When I made my way there, I burst out with: “I bet Lois just told you that we saw you on TV!”. Indeed, that’s what Lois had just done. Smile

Just this week we watched Phil as the special guest star on CBS’ Blue Bloods (we love that show). Phil was outstanding in a very dark role as the evil perp (oops, too late to say spoiler alert). I teased Ian that this blog would likely be all about Phil. Winking smile

After the show, Mike told me that the Gibson guitar was great. Lois tracked down their representative (Suzanne) to tell her how much we appreciated their sponsorship.

SuzanneFromGibsonGuitarsSponsoredByGibsonGuitarsBaldwinPianos

I’m sure we missed three other amazing shows, but at least we didn’t regret the choice we made!

In addition to the great show/interviews, we got there really early to enjoy a meal with many of our friends. For anyone considering going to Feinstein’s for a meal (whether that includes a show or not), let me say that the food was fantastic, as was the service. It’s not cheap (OK, it’s actually on the expensive side), but the quality was so good that I don’t have any complaint, just letting you know what to expect.

We got there a few minutes after the doors opened at 6pm. The show wasn’t scheduled to begin until 8:30. I admit to being a little worried about lingering over a meal for 2.5 hours, including wondering whether our friends would show up early or late.

Nearly everyone showed up early and more than 10 of us enjoyed the meal, drinks and non-stop conversations until the second the show started (right on time). The evening would have been a phenomenal success if we had stopped after the meal. Thankfully, it only got better from there.

(Apologies for the grainy photos, which were taken without flash)

EdithKevinLindsieMikeCampbellRachelChadVaccarino

JasonRachelLindsieMikeCampbellIanAxel

NonStopConversationRebeccaAndFriends

LindsieChadVaccarinoShannonJasonLindsieKevinTwice

IanAxelHadar

Informal Vacations

Send to Kindle

The last formal vacation that Lois and I took was in 1995, our only trip to Hawaii. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun times in amazing places, but nearly every one of them was on an international business trip for me. I consider our current vacations informal. They typically consist of very long drives south to visit my parents and our godson and his wife. Lois works non-stop, in the car, in the hotels and in the homes of the people we visit. I loaf and enjoy myself thoroughly, so it’s more of a vacation for me.

We just completed one and this is a brief documentation of it.

First stop was visiting my folks in Florida. 95 degrees and broiling every day, right after the heat broke up north, was a bit of a shock. It was nice to put on shorts and sandals again, but it would’ve been even nicer if the air conditioner in our car actually worked when it was hot outside. For the record, our car is 11 years old and has 225,000 miles on it (did I mention we drive long distances on all of our informal vacations?).

DadMomHadarDadHadar

I hope I have my Dad’s appetite when I’m 85!

DadEatingCake

From Florida, we drove to Atlanta. We visited three sets of friends, all centered around wonderful meals. We got in late-ish and wandered out of our hotel in search of frozen yogurt. The person at the front desk didn’t think there were any within walking distance so we just headed out. One block away was a Ted’s Montana Grill (not exactly frozen yogurt), but we had a great meal at one in NYC when our goddaughter and her husband took us there. We decided to take serendipitous advantage and have a much bigger meal than planned, just the two of us.

The next day, first of our three social meals, lunch with a friend who worked with Lois before I met her, so while I know her for nearly 30 years, Lois knows her even longer. Three of her four children were able to join us too (children, as in adults!). The fact that the fourth couldn’t make it was OK, as she is a twin, so we just looked at the other twin twice as long to pretend that the missing kid was there too. Winking smile

HadarBeckyLizTeresaPaul

We ate at 5 Seasons Brewing Company. We had a delicious, leisurely lunch, served by one of the nicest waiters (we prodded one of the girls to consider dating him afterward, but he doesn’t know that). Such a great time catching up and swapping stories. We’ve seen the girls a couple of times in the past few years (in NYC), but we haven’t seen the boy (man!) in much longer, so that was a very special treat. After lunch they all had to run back to work. We miss them all already!

That night we had dinner with a couple who insisted on cooking. We had our first taste of Portobello mushroom burgers. OMG, one of the best things I’ve eaten, including toasted buns and I believe a home-made aioli sauce (it was definitely home-made, possibly not aioli). I can’t believe Lois missed taking a photo of the burgers.

It was our first time at their house. In addition to being completely inviting in every way, it’s absolutely gorgeous (often a hard combination to achieve). We ate outdoors, in a screen-enclosed, covered porch. The steady rain was welcome rather than a nuisance (until we had to walk back to our car).

The next morning we met another couple for brunch at Sun in My Belly. We had eaten there once before, so we knew how much we’d like the food (we were correct). The more important part was meeting our friends. We hadn’t seen them since April and that meeting was all too brief. Great conversation, great food, more time (but always too little). Perfect way to cap off our brief stop in Atlanta.

We headed to Birmingham directly from Sun in My Belly. Our godson was married in March (this year) and we were going to pick up a portrait of his wife from the wedding photographer to hang in our apartment. We had a little adventure meeting him at a McDonald’s, don’t ask. Thankfully, the portrait is so gorgeous that it was worth the Keystone Cops coordination.

After checking into the hotel and catching up on some business, we headed over to their house to hang out with Rebecca a bit. David was working in the hospital. When he was done he called and we agreed to meet at Davenport’s Pizza Palace for dinner (halfway for each of us).

DavidRebecca

I have never had pizza served like that, cut into small rectangles all the way through the very large pie, so that it was easy to handle every bite (most pieces were two or three bites worth). That it was delicious as well was a big bonus. Winking smile

I tried to order seltzer/club soda (honestly, I have witnesses), but they didn’t have any, so I was forced to drink beer. Rebecca drove us there, and David drove me back, so it was a good time to be in a seltzer-less place.

After dinner we headed over to Yogurt Mountain for a refreshing dessert.

HadarRebeccaDavidYogurtMountain

On the drive back to their place, David and I had very manly discussions. I’m sure the girls had very girlie ones, so no gender stereotypes were harmed during the return trip. Winking smile

We just recently finished watching all five seasons of Friday Night Lights and totally loved the show. In a wild small-world story, one of the producers and directors of the show was my best friend in high school. We lost contact shortly after and his participation in the show had nothing to do with our watching it or our enjoyment of it. Still, I was proud of the job he did.

We gave the DVDs for all five seasons to David and Rebecca and after pizza watched the first two episodes with them (yes, we picked up nuances that we missed the first time around now that we knew where the stories were heading!). We then headed back to the hotel to crash.

The next morning we returned to their house. Rebecca’s parents, along with her brother and his girlfriend came over as well. The eight of us caravanned to Irondale, AL. The Irondale Café is the place known as The Whistle Stop in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. That’s where we ate lunch. Yes, we had the Fried Green Tomatoes! My meal was excellent. Thanks to the parents for treating all of us!

FriedOkraFriedGreenTomatoesAshleyTim

HadarRebeccaHadarCharlie

Since Lois is constantly taking photos, Charlie decided to duel with her when he noticed her lining up a shot:

DuelingPhotographers

It also happened to be The Whistle Stop Festival that weekend, so we spent the next two hours wandering around the various tents/booths on a gorgeous day. Lois and I spent a good amount of time listening to a trio called The Tame Dogs, an acoustic subset of The Rescue Dogs Band (their domain just expired, so I linked to their Reverb Nation page instead). They were very good.

TheTameDogs

HadarRebeccaDavid

There was also a classic car exhibit:

ClassicCarsTimDavidHadarRollsRoyce

ClassicBentley

We said our (temporary) goodbyes and headed back to David and Rebecca’s for some more Friday Night Lights and the Alabama/Arkansas game (Roll Tide Roll). I rooted David’s Incredible 2 and put on a custom ROM. David has been on Android for nearly two years, but this is the first time he’s had root and a custom ROM. We’ll see how he likes it.

The day before, we were told firmly (but nicely) by Rebecca that dinner on Saturday was on them (no ifs ands or buts). In order to guarantee that, she wouldn’t even tell us where we were going, so that Lois (being the sneaky person she is) wouldn’t be able to call in advance and arrange to pay (secretly).

We met Rebecca’s parents at The Veranda on Highland. It felt like it was mostly a seafood restaurant, but for whatever reason, I was in the mood for the Filet Mignon. It was one of the most incredible steaks I’ve had (and I’ve had many). Melted in my mouth and the mashed potatoes were equally delicious. Everyone else raved about theirs (scallops, shrimp and grits and fish of the day).

David paid and we didn’t interfere. Thanks David and Rebecca! This was the first time I experienced table-side credit card swiping (not Square, a real portable swiper). David was able to press a button to select a pre-defined tip percentage, and he signed on the reader as well. A built-in printer spat out the receipt. A very efficient system, where your credit card is never out of your sight. Slick.

CharlieRebeccaCarolynDavid

After picking up my computer we headed back to the hotel for another crash. The next morning Lois went to Church with David and Rebecca while I stayed in their house. They called when they were done and I met them for an exceptional lunch at Genghis Grill. Pick out your own stuff, season it yourself, have a professional stir-fry it for you. Fresh and delicious.

Next door is a brand new Red Mango (frozen yogurt), so we had to repeat the refreshing dessert ritual from Friday night. Smile

DavidRebeccaRedMango

We spent roughly 1/2 an hour back at their house sharing some new music with them and then hit the road mid-afternoon. Of course, we miss them already!

I’m sitting at my desk working (OK, I’m blogging, but I’ll be working again shortly). Another informal vacation in the books. Another winning one (they all are!).

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at Jammin Java

Send to Kindle

Another night, another stop on the Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. It wasn’t originally meant to be, but when the Universe (and Beyond!) wants something, it makes it happen.

Two years ago, Richmond CenterStage opened with a big gala celebration. I covered one of the nights. Last night was a big anniversary celebration, with Patti LaBelle as the headliner. We had tickets and were committed to attending a very long time ago.

On June 30th, I saw the following tweet:

JamnJavaDoorGal
I know what can make a few smile, especially @linds047 – 9/10 -Ian Axel + Bess Rogers + Allie Moss http://bit.ly/kE5gyC

So, even though we knew about this show 10 weeks out, we also knew there was no way we could attend. A few weeks ago, my friend told me that I’d have to wear a suit to attend the Patti LaBelle show. If you know me, you can probably guess what my body language involuntarily portrayed. I was going to do it, but I didn’t need to be happy about it.

Earlier this week, he called me (we were still in NY) and said that he knew some people who would really appreciate getting their hands on our tickets. Obviously, he would be delighted if we really wanted to attend, but essentially, he was letting me off the hook (he knows me for 29.5 years, so the suit reaction wasn’t a surprise to him). It took us all of two minutes to conclude that the tickets were better used by the local Richmonders.

Suddenly, going to Jammin’ Java to see another round of the Intergalactic Tour was a reality. If you’re wondering whether we had even one second’s hesitation about seeing them for a fourth time in five days, you’ve never met us or read my tiny corner of the Internet.

As with all shows, there’s enough of a twist to make them worth showing up to. That was true last night too, even though two of the twists weren’t so positive. The overall show/experience was great, so I am not (really) complaining.

There was a late show scheduled for 10pm (different group) so the start time for this show was moved up to 7pm (that part, us old folks like, especially since we had a 2.5 hour round-trip drive to get to/from the venue). I assumed our folks would play until at least 9pm, and then the hustle would begin to clear the place.

I was wrong. They were told that they had to be off the stage by 8:30pm sharp! There wasn’t even a chance to cajole an encore. The second the set was over, the lights came on and the house music started playing.

On the flip side (a very positive flip side at that!), the crowd got to line-up and connect with the artists for quite a long time (so people were not hustled out at 8:30). I haven’t seen that long a line at a merch table in quite a while (separate from the long line of people waiting to hi, or get some of that merch signed!). Lindsie (of yesterday’s post’s fame) was working the merch table. A very valiant effort!

The other positive flip side is that there were no breaks between the the sets of the three performers. Each took exactly 30 minutes. While that probably cut roughly 10-15 minutes off what each has been doing on this tour, saving the 10-15 minutes between sets was actually quite pleasant (to me at least). The fact that we were back in the hotel room shortly after 10pm was a very pleasant side-effect of the early ending.

Allie Moss kicked it off, with the full band, playing Passerby, which included everyone singing at the end (everyone = Bess Rogers, Ian Axel, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson). Ian then left the stage, returning once more to play with Allie with the others taking a beak. They played Prisoner of Hope. I think that was the first time they played it where we were in attendance (though I haven’t grabbed set lists this week, so I could be remembering it incorrectly).

IanAxelAllieMoss

With the exception of another solo song (or two?), Bess sang harmony with Allie (perfectly) and Adam and Chris did their always amazing jobs on the drums and electric bass respectively.

AdamChristgauChrisAnderson

Allie seemed dramatically healthier than the night before, thank goodness. Otherwise, she took great pains to avoid talking about feeling poorly.

When her 30 minutes was up, she and Bess simply traded spots. Bess introduced herself by saying: “You may remember me from earlier in the night when I was standing over there.” Smile

BessRogersAllieMoss

Bess had Allie sing harmony on most of her songs too (again, perfectly). Adam and Chris were on each of those numbers as well. She also played some solo numbers, including In My Life on the ukulele.

She finished up her set by inviting Ian to join the rest of them in performing Anchor (the single from her upcoming CD, where In My Life is the B Side).

After about 10 seconds of confusion as to whether they would take a break before Ian started, they decided against a break. Good decision!

Ian sat down (he was already on stage) and started playing Leave Me Alone! He played the same set from the night before, but had to toss a few songs due to the time constraint. So, no Amory. He played Say Something on the keyboards (reverting from the previous night’s ukulele version). It was awesome, so even though I (slightly) prefer the ukulele version, I’ll take it any way Ian wants to deliver it.

IanAxel

Chad Vaccarino came out for the second half of Ian’s set to very loud cheers and applause. He was joined on the first number by Allie Moss. They sang Shorty Don’t Wait, with Ian on the ukulele (the only song Ian played on the uke, as opposed to three consecutive numbers the night before). Adam played acoustic guitar on Shorty.

AdamChristgauAllieMossChadVaccarinoIanAxelChrisAnderson

Of course they nailed it. When Chad sang, the whoops were exactly as you hear them in NYC. In other places, I am 100% sure that people feel the urge, but they probably think it’s impolite (and in general/theory, it is), but when it’s Chad, it’s such a natural reaction, and so expected in NYC (and now in DC as well), that you just have to let out the joy (otherwise, it would be like a holding in a sneeze, i.e., not good for you). Smile

ChadVaccarino

Allie does a fantastic job singing the second verse on the lead, bringing a similar style/emotion to the song that Chad does. The chorus and ending are three-part harmony (with Ian joining Chad and Allie) that simply forces a smile on your face.

Ian and Chad also played Rockstar (such a great song) and closed it out with This is the New Year.

We got to say hi/goodbye to everyone except for Chris Anderson (who I think was loading the equipment onto the van) and Allie (I simply didn’t see her in the dark). We will not be seeing them again on this tour (a single tear streaked down my cheek as I typed that).

ChrisAyerAdamChristgauChadVaccarino

Thanks to all of them: Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino, Bess Rogers, Allie Moss, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson for making this week unbelievably special for us. We’ll never forget it! Smile

Now for the second negative. The sound guy just couldn’t get the vocal levels right. For much of the night, they were too bright/loud. Eventually, I either got used to it, or he woke up a bit and toned it down. The sound booth was roughly 10 rows directly behind me, so I can’t imagine he was hearing it much differently than I was. It’s one of the mysteries of live show engineering that feels destined to elude my understanding forever…

We normally eat at Jammin’ Java when we see a show there. The food is excellent and we look forward to it. Last night we were having dinner with a friend and we were interested in something more leisurely, quiet, with a bit more choice. I did a search nearby in Google and found a dozen restaurants listed within 1000 feet of Jammin’ Java (apparently, that little strip mall is restaurant heaven).

I chose Café Renaissance, which is around the corner of the same block of stores that Jammin’ Java is in. The first few reviews I read were some of the most praise-worthy I had ever seen, describing the service as unparalleled and food excellent. Then I read some real slams as well. Then I read some people slamming the slammers. So, it didn’t seem to be a slam dunk, but we decided to try it anyway.

OurTableCafeRenaissance

I’m officially slamming the slammers as well. We had a great meal and were treated like kings (and a queen). I could complain that they were a bit over-solicitous, but that would only be true because we were time-constrained to make it to Jammin’ Java by showtime. Otherwise, their attention and conversation were delightful and welcome.

PorkChopSpecialWithFigs

It’s not cheap (if you go for the full treatment, which we did, of appetizer and wine), but I thought it was more than worth the price. I am absolutely sure that we will dine there again. We did buy two large lattes and one large coffee at Jammin’ Java. Partially out of guilt about not spending the money for dinner there, but mostly because they live up to having Java in their name! Smile