Valerie Mize at Rockwood Music Hall

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On Sunday, I started the post about Sierra Noble as follows:

In what is obviously becoming a regular occurrence, we discover new musicians in the following cycle: 1) they perform side-person duties with someone we regularly see, 2) we see some mini-set where they headline a portion, 3) we see them perform a full set of their own, falling madly in love with them directly.

Since every word applies to Valerie Mize equally (including the falling madly in love part), I’ll plagiarize myself out of pure laziness. Winking smile We first saw Valerie singing backup at the Soul Revue Benefit. Then we saw her perform a 3-song set at Backscratch XIV. We’ve seen her singing backup twice since, which made us want to see her perform a full set last night at Rockwood Music Hall.

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In the Backscratch post I mentioned that Valerie has a beautiful voice and plays the guitar very well. Let me underscore both points and add a new one: she writes songs that both Lois and I love! Her lyrics flow smoothly with many interesting phrases. The songs are structured really well and are executed wonderfully.

We picked up a copy of her Auspices EP at Backscratch. We like it so much that we bought another copy last night for three reasons: 1) We wanted a signed copy, 2) We like to support the artists we love, 3) Some lucky friend of ours will get the unsigned copy that we currently have.

Since I underscored the old comments, let me explain a bit. Valerie’s voice has tremendous range and different tonality when appropriate. She can do a throaty soul type number, as well as soaring laser-like notes when singing above the audience on Downtown Train. She ended the show with the latter, crushing the highs.

Valerie finger picks the electric guitar beautifully, but she took it to levels that didn’t come through at Backscratch (for lack of time). Her guitar play on Tell Me Why (the first song on the EP) is fantastic. It’s gorgeous on the EP too, but live, it’s actually mesmerizing. Easy to miss how good the rest of the song is while your eyes are glued to her fingers.

Enough about Valerie already. Winking smile Actually, sorry, I do need to say one more thing. Valerie is one of the most natural on-stage performers. She is quick witted and appears completely comfortable (regardless of whatever nerves might be going on under the covers). When she flubbed the beginning guitar part to a song late in the set, she restarted twice. After the second error, she noted that this was as much a comedy set as a music one. Folks, if she wanted to, she likely could be a good comedian (or do you prefer comedienne?).

On to the band. Left-to-right on the stage:

Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times. He was terrific every single time. Last night as well, but it was also a bit special. I was sitting 12 inches from the cello. If Ward had worse aim with the bow, he could have poked my eye out. Winking smile On one song it was mostly Ward and Valerie alone. Absolutely gorgeous. Ward plucked a bunch in addition to the more traditional bowing. It had been a while since we’d last seen Ward, so this was a wonderful surprise!

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Bri Arden on background vocals. I recently covered Bri’s full set. Since Valerie sang backup at that set, Bri returned the favor here. The same comments apply. Having a legitimate lead singer sing background is a treat, because they understand their job well, knowing what works for them when they are in the lead. Needless to say, Bri did a great job.

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Antar Goodwin on electric bass. I am extremely impressed with Antar’s play. What was fascinating to me last night was that he was blocked from my view for nearly the entire set, except for his left hand, which I could see dancing up and down the frets (body-less). Since I could also hear the bass perfectly, it was like watching a finger ballet matching the sound.

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Here’s a shot of what Antar looked like to me:

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Tomo Kanno on drums. Tomo was excellent throughout the set as well. The core trio (Valerie, Antar and Tomo) are extremely tight and well-matched.

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Perhaps the most surprising (and welcome) thing was the absolutely perfect volume level on every instrument and both voices. Given that the guitar and bass were electric and that I was three feet from the guitar amp and six from the bass amp, I would typically have been blown out in a Rockwood 1 set. Kudos to the band for finding the right amp levels and allowing Drew on sound to level everything else to match (voices and cello).

Here’s the set list. Valerie played all five songs from the EP, plus five more (excellent) songs. We both particularly liked Cinderella:

SetList

So, when does Valerie play again? Winking smile

Steff Leal at Rockwood Music Hall

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We were going to see the 8pm set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. We often check out the set before, to raise our chances of getting seats. This time, the artist we were going to see at 8pm was promoting the 7pm and 9pm sets. That raised my hopes that the 7pm would be good. I was wrong.

Steff Leal had quite a large crowd who cheered and clapped loudly after each song. So, my/our taste was different than the vast majority in the room.

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Steff played a solo set accompanying herself on the grand piano. She has a nice voice (very pleasant). She plays the piano well enough. Her songs are basically pleasant as well. So, what’s the problem?

It’s a compounding of things more than any one thing. Because of that, the order I list the problems in is less important than the fact that they are all happening at the same time (often).

  • The vast majority of her piano play is staccato in nature. To exaggerate for effect (in other words, to make my point a bit too starkly), I felt like she’s often playing a more complicated version of chopsticks. Rarely is either hand playing an actual melody or complex chord.
  • While she hits every note pleasantly, her voice isn’t rich. That might not be an issue at all, except that the piano isn’t filling in any sustained sounds (see above), so her voice is often the only thing hanging in the air, and it doesn’t hang thickly enough.
  • Everyone makes mistakes when performing live (everyone). I wouldn’t mention it, except that she made multiple mistakes in practically every one of her original songs.
  • She played four covers. Perhaps she doesn’t have enough originals (which would be fine). Unfortunately, her choice of covers didn’t seem suited to her. She played Cee Lo’s infamous Forget You. That song requires a bit more chutzpah than Steff musters (IMHO). She played one rock cover (which escapes me as I type). Again, a poor choice for a solo piano player. Her Dylan cover was closest to being natural for her.

When she performed her own songs, I often thought “That’s an interesting concept or lyric” and felt that I would be drawn in any moment. Unfortunately, with one or two exceptions, most of those songs drifted off course both lyrically and melodically. The lyrics stopped flowing and felt forced and the melodies (or bridge) tried to include too many fancy things.

So, the difference in our opinion and the rest of the crowd can easily be chalked up to different taste. It’s also possible that it was largely a friendly crowd, meaning friends/family that came specifically to hear/support Steff. At least it felt like that to me.

I have suggestions to fix the above problems:

  • Find a writing partner. It can even be someone who comes in after the song is finished, to edit/polish the rough parts. Many of the seeds in the songs intrigued me. They can be fleshed out better.
  • Add at least one more instrument (it could be as simple as a bass player who will keep the underlying melody going when the piano is quiet).
  • Perhaps hire a vocal coach (I’m less sure of this one, but it’s possible that this could obviate the need for more instruments).
  • Practice significantly more, to lessen the obvious mistakes during the live sets.
  • Work on filling out the piano parts, no matter how much effort that entails.

In other words, I think Steff has the ingredients to do a good job. She just needs a better recipe to follow.

Another Amazing Weekend

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This was our third consecutive weekend hosting out-of-town visitors. Since the last two were fantastic, the bar was set high for this one. Don’t worry, we cleared it.

When our friends (parents of our godchildren and our closest friends for nearly 30 years!) asked whether this weekend would be a good one for them to come up from VA, the automatic answer was of course! The only (minor) complication was our unmovable commitment to attending four sets of music on Saturday night.

I’ve already written about the music separately, but since this is a post about the entire weekend, I’ll link them here again. Rebecca Haviland: covered here. Matt Simons: covered here. Sierra Noble: covered here. Chris Ayer: covered here.

We had a small scare before everything got rolling. Our friends called from the airport to say that there was a mechanical problem on the plane. While it was (theoretically) simple to fix, they didn’t know how long it would take the mechanic to show up. There was a chance that they wouldn’t even get out that night (Friday, July 1st).

That’s exactly how the first of these three weekends began, with David and Rebecca (their son and daughter-in-law) not getting out until the next morning! This case turned out differently. Not 15 minutes later they called back to say they were boarding. I’m guessing the mechanic was on a smoke break. Winking smile

Shortly after they arrived at the apartment, nine of us (counting a 2-year-old as a full person) Winking smile walked up to the Peking Duck House for dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve been there (a minor crime against humanity). We had been talking about our need to correct that for the past two weeks, so this worked out perfectly.

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The meal was perfect. I never doubted it would be, but I report it here for the record.

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Given our music-filled night, we decided that Saturday would be a day of rest for us (conserving our energy). The parents, their daughter and son-in-law went to the Doughnut Plant (the site currently lists a Lower East Side address only, but there is one at 220 W. 23rd St. as well, which is where they went). Afterward, they walked the Highline Park.

They headed over to Broadway to see How to Succeed in Business. All four of them said it was terrific and they were sure both of us would love it. Something to add to the list. Smile

The six of us had a wonderful dinner at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant). In a complete shock, we bumped into a few good friends who were dining there outside. We were seated inside (our choice) on the other side of the window from them. Even though our chats with them were brief (before our meal and after theirs), it was a special delight.

After nearly falling asleep (due to the amazing frozen margaritas), I somehow gathered myself for the epic night of music and easily made it all the way through! I don’t know what the others did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they didn’t fight the feeling of sleep and succumbed to it. Winking smile

On Sunday morning the four of them attended Church services at Redeemer. They spent some time at the Cooper Hewitt Museum then returned to the apartment to relax a bit. This week is both our and Laura and Chris’ anniversaries. We decided to celebrate at the Old Homestead steakhouse. All six of us couldn’t stop raving about the meal afterward. At least three (perhaps as many as five) counted this meal (and therefore this restaurant) as their favorite steakhouse meal (that includes Lois saying that her Lobster was the best she’s ever had).

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I loved my meal (thoroughly), but I admitted (out loud) that The Palm is still my favorite. I promise not to complain or hesitate to return to the Old Homestead though, should anyone suggest it again. Smile

After dinner, we all wanted (and needed) to walk off the calories (please don’t make me estimate the full damage). We walked the super-long block from the restaurant to the 14th Street entrance to the Highline Park. This was my first time seeing it in person. We walked from 14th St. until the end, currently 30th St. It’s spectacular. I highly recommend making the effort to get there, whether you’re a New Yorker or an out-of-towner here on a visit.

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We collapsed when we got back to the apartment (well, at least Lois and I collapsed, the others may have gone dancing for all I know).

On Monday morning (the venerable July 4th), Chris and I went for a long walk. When we’re in the city, I typically take long walks for exercise. For me, that means somewhere between five and eight miles, depending on my mood and my schedule. I do it 2-3 times a week, if I have the time. Amazingly, blogging is often the cause of me not having the time to walk. The things we do for our readers… Winking smile

Few of you who read this know Chris. He served six years in the Navy and remains in amazing shape by regularly working out. My only hesitation in walking with him, ever, is that he can keep up a grueling pace forever. He can walk backward, faster than I walk forward, and keep it up seemingly forever as well. I negotiated through an intermediary (Laura) that he would drop the drill-sergeant routine this time.

When we got to the Brooklyn Bridge (typically as far as I’d walk), that marked the 3.9 mile point. That would be just under an eight mile walk if we turned around. Chris looked at me and asked if I’d walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him it had been over 30 years since I’d done that, but I was game. Instead, he suggested we just keep trucking further from the apartment. It had been a year since I’d done the loop I knew we were now committing to, but I (happily) agreed.

We continued south, past the Seaport, on to the Staten Island Ferry, where we headed north up the west side. At 34th Street we started the long trek over to the east side. When we arrived at the apartment, Chris was fresh as a daisy. I was a puddle of sweat who dreamt only of removing my sneakers from my feet. Total distance: 11.36 miles (I wear a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch that they all bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago). Total time was 3:14, but that included a stop in the World Financial Center to check out the progress at Ground Zero.

After a nice lunch out (Euro Diner if you’re keeping score) we veg’ed out all afternoon (I might have even slept a bit, shhh). All of that was to prepare for attending a July 4th party.

Up until three years ago, we used to host an annual 4th of July party on our deck. We had pretty good views of the Macy’s Fireworks when they had them on East River. This is the third year in a row that they were on the Hudson instead and we had no plans to fight the crowds to try and see them.

On Friday, we received an invitation to a party that claimed to have a spectacular view of the fireworks. Under normal circumstances, we would have said yes in a heartbeat, but we would have been adding four strangers to the party list, which felt wrong on our part. I politely declined, explaining why.

In a I’m not taking No for an answer reply, our host told us to bring our guests along. I only had one No in me, so this time I said Yes! We negotiated on what we could bring and settled on Sushi.

What a great plan, until we found out that our go-to Sushi restaurant was closed all weekend. Our backup Sushi place (also exceptional) was going to be closed on Monday as well. In a twist of fate (actually two twists), the first place was clearly marked as being closed all weekend. The backup place hadn’t updated their sign, so when Lois went in, she thought they’d be open on Monday.

Hiroshi Sushi is across the street from our apartment. I filled in our order before Lois walked over. When she started to say what time she wanted the order ready by, she found out that they were closed on Monday. As she was turning to leave, the person she was talking to called her back.

He told her that he remembered us from years earlier when we used to come in all the time with Lois’ mother to their former Japanese Restaurant (a few doors down, now closed for probably eight years!). He was our waiter many of those times. He asked Lois if he could call the owner (and head chef), who was also involved in the other restaurant, to ask if he’d come in just to prepare this order.

20 minutes later he called us and said that the owner would happily do this for us. Wow, we were so grateful. The order was ready to be picked up at exactly 5pm (as promised) and was fantastic (as evidenced by the oohs and aahs of the partiers). I couldn’t resist trying something called “peanut and avocado roll”. Yummy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We also brought a white pizza (for those who might not like Sushi). I had the first two slices (and didn’t notice if anyone else did). Man, that was really good too. Finally, we brought a gigantic fresh fruit salad that was seemingly bottomless, but it got completely devoured (or so I heard), so it apparently had a bottom after all. That too was a big hit.

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On to the actual party (I have a tough time not talking or thinking about food though). Winking smile

When we first arrived at our friend’s apartment we were blown away by the view. But, he lives in a one bedroom (very high up) and we wondered how everyone would get to enjoy the fireworks while being crowded like sardines in the living room. Ah, I’m so naïve at times. That was never the plan.

There was a friend of our friend, who lived 15 floors down (still quite high!). He has a much larger apartment, but more importantly, a massive deck, facing the Hudson River. The two of them decided to combine their parties. In an additional act of generosity, the second host (the friend of our friend), allowed an entire party of his next door neighbors to attend the viewing of the fireworks on his deck, when they were done with their meal (and drinking) on their adjacent (but not facing the river!) deck.

I don’t need to describe the view or the fireworks to you. All of the photos above were taken by Lois, on her compact camera. She took a ton of photos last night too, but I don’t need to share them.

Our friend (Bob) from VA is a semi-professional photographer (with professional equipment). He set up his Nikon on a tripod and captured stunning photos. His daughter (Laura) is following in his footsteps. A few of her shots are included with his. Here’s a representative sample (I’m not compressing these photos, for those of you who want the full effect).

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Followed by the calm after the storm:

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Our friend (let’s call him Host #1) made two pitchers of exotic drinks. The first was green, looked like slime, and was called Key Lime Martini. The second was blue (and frothy) and had Blue Curacao, some coconut stuff and other secret ingredients. I tried the Key Lime first. It was amazing, but one sip was nearly lethal. I am putting my name on a list for when it’s time for me to go, this is the way I’d like to end it all. While I know at least two people who loved it, but purposely didn’t finish theirs (for fear of expiring), I was brave and downed my entire glass.

I later moved on to the Blue mixture. It tasted even better. So much so that I had a second glass (don’t tell Lois!). It didn’t feel as lethal, but for all I know, that’s part of it’s secret. I heard many people raving about this concoction (actually both). Our Host #1 can definitely fall back on Mixologist if his primary profession hits a brick wall. Wow!

Host #2 is a fascinating person who couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (as noted above). In fact, we met many friends of Host #1, each one was a complete delight to converse with. Without a doubt, we’ll be following up with a number of them!

We had to walk a number of blocks before finding the first of the two cabs that got us home and a bit further for the second one.

An absolutely incredible ending to an incredible weekend. I’m no longer annoyed that the fireworks have moved to the west side. I’ll need to be nice to Host #1 for the entire year, just in case Macy’s decides to do it there again next year. It will be hard to keep up the façade, but I’ll do my best. Winking smile

Thank you for including all six of us. It’s a night we’ll never forget!

Chris Ayer at The Living Room

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Topping off an extraordinary night of music was one of our favorites, Chris Ayer. For those of you who are new here, you might require proof that Chris is one of our favorites. Luckily, I can provide that.

Two weeks ago we hosted our first house concert. We wanted a solo, guitar slinging singer/songwriter. Without hesitation, both Lois and I agreed that we should approach Chris first. He said yes, and this was the result. Lois and I share a lot of musical taste in common, but we differ a bunch as well, especially at the extremes. So, agreeing on Chris so easily tells you everything you need to know about how we feel about him.

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Back to last night. We had gotten delicious doses of Chris during both Matt Simons’ and Sierra Noble’s sets. You can read about those sets here and here respectively. You can also get a flavor of the band that supported all three sets.

Let’s start with the traditional photos of Chris’ set list, first from our perspective, then his. The twist is that this time, we’ll throw in a bonus of a bit of his guitar as well (no extra charge!):

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He kicked the set off solo, starting with two very new songs. Great start. Both were good, new material feeds the brain, old (great) material feeds the soul/heart.

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Then Chris brought the band up. A quick rundown (probably repetitious for the stauncher readers out there):

Chris Anderson on electric and upright bass plus vocals. Chris switched back to electric for most of the set, but threw in some upright to keep me on my toes, making Sierra’s set the only one that he exclusively played the upright on.

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Once again, superb.

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. Since I can never say enough good things about Greg, I feel badly (for me!) to make this one so short. Here goes: he was his usual (awesome) self.

Matt Simons on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and heavy vocals. As I mentioned in the post about Matt, when Chris and Matt sing together, it’s magic, no matter whose song it is or which one is singing lead. No exception on Chris’ set, Matt was perfect.

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Here’s a group shot (where Matt was out of the picture).

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After a couple of songs with the band, Chris brought up Sierra Noble to sing harmony and play some violin. He gave the band (excluding Matt) a break. When Sierra and Matt sang three-part harmony with Chris, everything got cranked up another level (which only made me mad that Chris clearly was holding something back on the earlier stuff!). Winking smile

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Sierra remained on stage when the band returned.

If you know Chris Ayer’s music, then you know from the set list above what a great choice he made last night. He mixed it up with completely new stuff, great older stuff and very recent stuff. He mixed it up with solo, full band, three-part harmony (without the band), etc. If there’s anything in particular that is your favorite thing about Chris, you were sure to have at least a healthy dose of it last night. If you’re like us and love it all, it was a buffet.

In what has become a bit of a tradition at Chris’ shows, he ended the evening with a descent into the crowd to perform Roy G Biv. As he did the last time he played The Living Room, the entire band descended with him. Well, they all did except for Ryan Vaughn who remained at the drums.

Chris (and everyone else) would have none of that. Since the most critical thing Ryan would be playing during Roy G Biv is the cowbell (look up the lyrics if you don’t know why), they teased him about the fact that cowbells are notoriously portable. He didn’t protest too much. He too came into the audience with a few percussion goodies in hand.

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Once Ryan was in, the party could begin. Chris actually kept turning (slowly) in a full 360, to make sure everyone got serenaded head on.

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The rest might be a bit hard to pick out, but here’s one shot that has Sierra in the background and Greg Mayo playing guitar. The highlight of the picture are Matt Simon’s hands, leading the audience in keeping the beat by clapping.

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A fantastic, energetic end to one of our best nights out. From 8pm until nearly midnight, without a single disappointing song, surrounded by friends who enjoyed it every bit as much as we did. It doesn’t get much better than this, but I promise, we’ll keep trying to disprove that! Smile

Sierra Noble at The Living Room

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In what is obviously becoming a regular occurrence, we discover new musicians in the following cycle: 1) they perform side-person duties with someone we regularly see, 2) we see some mini-set where they headline a portion, 3) we see them perform a full set of their own, falling madly in love with them directly.

Sierra Noble fits that cycle perfectly, but amazingly, I was indifferent after that first side-person performance (nothing negative). Then we saw her at Backscratch 13. Here’s what I wrote about Sierra that night:

Sierra Noble on vocals, acoustic guitar and violin. We’ve seen Sierra Noble backing up both Rachel Platten and Martin Rivas (back-to-back sets on the same night). I am aware of how much her fellow musicians respect and love her, but that night, while she did a fine job, I didn’t see the light. Last night, headlining the three-song set, I got it. She has an incredible voice. She writes beautiful songs.

Ha! I thought I got it, seriously, I really thought so. Last night, she hit me over the head with a sledgehammer (in the nicest way that one human being can do that to another). Here’s the point: at Backscratch, I realized she wrote beautiful songs. Last night (and now, listening to her CDs) I realize that she’s a phenomenal songwriter, consistently. In other words, she doesn’t just write beautiful songs, they pour out of her!

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At the same time, she has a great voice and style. I don’t feel that it’s necessary to compare any artist to another, but on the other hand, it’s sometimes helpful to get people interested in listening to someone new if they have a frame of reference. For me, Sierra’s voice evokes a mixture of Alison Krauss and Ruth Moody (of The Wailin’ Jennys).

The fact that Sierra and Alison both play fiddle has nothing to do with my comparison, it’s more about their voices. The fact that Sierra and Ruth both hail from Winnipeg may have more to do with the water they drink up there (the three days a year that it isn’t frozen). Winking smile

Sierra played acoustic guitar and the violin/fiddle on most songs and sang without instruments, backed by a full band on the remaining songs.

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Sierra was backed by the same band that played with Matt Simons the set before and with Chris Ayer the next set. I’ll just mention them briefly here, then continue with a few more of the highlights of Sierra’s set.

Left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Anderson on upright bass and light vocals. On the two earlier sets Chris played electric bass. He played the upright exclusively during this set. He’s masterful on both.

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Ryan Vaughn on drums. Excellent (again).

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Greg Mayo on acoustic and electric guitar and vocals. In my last post, I inadvertently said that Greg played both electric and acoustic (already corrected). He didn’t play acoustic during Matt’s set, but did play both on Sierra’s. On the acoustic he did some heavy finger picking (always a treat to see Greg perform varied styles!).

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Sierra also highlighted Greg on the song Bring an Angel, which they co-wrote.

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Sierra brought up Chris Ayer for two songs. The first was her amazing song Human After All, co-written with Michael Logen. We’ve seen Michael perform it twice (both times solo) and now Sierra perform it twice (both times with a male harmonizer). It’s a great song performed both ways, but give me a choice, and I’ll take the harmony every time. Make it Sierra and Chris and my heart will skip a few beats as well. Martin Rivas did an amazing job when he sang it with Sierra at Backscratch 13!

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The second song that Chris sang with Sierra was a song they co-wrote (recently) called Keep it With You. Wonderful, both the song and their performance. Chris added the acoustic guitar during this number.

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In keeping with the title Human After All, Sierra honored a friend and mentor who passed away three years ago today, July 3rd, 2008. She introduced the song saying that in most shows, she plays an upbeat fiddle medley. Instead, in memory of her friend, she would play a song he wrote for her.

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Oliver Schroer sounds like an extraordinary person (and a great musician as well). Sierra performed the instrumental, True Hearts Waltz. I’m impressed that she got through it. Clearly, this was an emotional undertaking for her. Our connection with Sierra grew immeasurably at that moment.

I started the above by relating it to Human After All. That’s what we are folks, whether we like it or not. All too often, we forget loved ones when they’re gone. Perhaps worse (though only on a few levels) is when we don’t have gratitude and love in our heart for people that help and inspire us along the way (noone makes their way through life on their own).

Witnessing Sierra Noble honor Oliver, and much more importantly, do her part in keeping his legacy alive by sharing with it people who didn’t have the privilege of knowing him, made both Lois and me very happy. That Sierra can feel and articulate this kind of human understanding at the tender age of 21 (did I fail to mention her age before?!?!?) is simply extraordinary.

Whew, back to the set. Here is the set list, though I think she might have played an additional song or two after the ones listed here:

SetList

Sierra announced that she has an EP available for purchase at iTunes and that she’s working on a new full-length CD. Given a choice, I will always purchase from Amazon.com over iTunes. Thankfully, Sierra’s EP, Possibilities, is available on Amazon. Not only did I buy it (it’s incredible), but I also discovered that she has a full-length CD from 2005 (she was 15!). I bought that too, Spirit of the Strings. It too is gorgeous.

That wasn’t enough. When I visited Sierra’s Bandcamp Page, I saw that she had a smaller version of the Possibilities EP available for full streaming (and purchase). While it only has four songs vs Amazon’s six, there is a bonus track on Bandcamp that isn’t on the Amazon version. It’s a song she played last night: Coming Home to Say Goodbye (second song on the set list). I love the song, so I had to buy this one track separately as well.

OK, now you all go out and do what I did. Let’s make sure this youngster continues to make music for a very long time!

Matt Simons at The Living Room

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We’ve seen quite a bit of Matt Simons in the past few months, but they’ve all been in his exceptional role as sideman for a number of other artists who we follow. It’s been four months since we’ve seen him headline a set. Thankfully, that drought ended last night at The Living Room.

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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist with an excellent voice. When he headlines he always plays the keyboards (piano and electronic). I guess trying to sing and play the saxophone (he’s awesome) presents some logistical challenges (if anyone can solve that problem, I have faith in Matt). Winking smile

Matt opened the show solo with a powerful song (Miss You More) that had everyone stone silent. I laugh at my internal dialog at these kind of moments. I think “who needs a band at all?” Then the band joins, and I think “why ever play solo?”, etc. The real point is that both solo and with a band, Matt (and many others!) get it just right.

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Proving my point, right after Miss You More, Matt invited the band up. This is the same core band that played for the next two sets as well. Two of them played with Rebecca Haviland in an earlier set at Rockwood Music Hall (covered here). In other words, they played for the better part of four hours. Yeomen indeed!

I didn’t spy a set list, which indicates one of three things: 1) there wasn’t one, and Matt just winged it, 2) Matt had one on the piano and purposely hid it from me, or 3) it was written with invisible ink on invisible paper (again, probably to thwart me). Therefore, I can’t easily share with you the titles to all of his songs, though he played a number of them that I love.

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

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris also sang light backup vocals. Chris is one of our favorite bass players. Check out my previous post (linked above in “covered here”) for more on Chris, including his singing and songwriting chops.

ChrisAndersonElectricBass

Ryan Vaughn on drums. I’ve been writing a lot about Ryan lately, as he’s been drumming more often with the people that we consistently go out to see. Our previous sightings always came when Ryan played percussion (not the drum kit) on Martin Rivas’ sets. Ryan is great and exhibited many different styles across the three consecutive sets last night.

RyanVaughn

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and light vocals. I mentioned in the last post about my mind control abilities. On the first song that Greg appeared, he took a fantastic lead (I think he’s patented them, so if don’t want to go to jail, don’t try and copy them!). Before explaining the mind control aspect, I need to digress.

GregMayoElectricGuitar

Having true, committed fans, is one of the hallmarks of the music business. We (yes, we count ourselves as true, committed fans) will do an awful lot to support the musicians we love. Yesterday I tweeted an article that implores musicians to find a way to connect their fans with each other. Here’s a real-world example of the result of that advice.

We attended a fantastic house concert in VA hosted by Lindsie. That night featured Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell. We met Lindsie that night, due to our mutual love of Ian, Chad and Mike. Since then, Lindsie (being a true fan!) came up to see Ian Axel headline Bowery Ballroom and we hung out in front of the stage with her throughout the show. Last night, she came up again to catch these three consecutive sets and again, we sat together. Her friend Ashley (sp?) joined her this time.

HadarLindsie

A number of last night’s artists were new to Lindsie, including Greg Mayo. Before Greg took the stage, I turned to Lindsie and told her that Greg is my favorite local guitar player and that she was about to have her mind blown. Finally, back on track, immediately after his lead in the first song, I turned toward Lindsie and rolled my eyes in disbelief at how quickly he proved me correct! Smile

But, while Greg was perfect in his support of Matt on the remaining songs, he didn’t take a real lead again (no complaints). Just as they started Matt’s last song of the set, that thought came to me front and center. Of course, given my mind control powers, Greg took another great lead. Damn. I should have remembered that I probably could have called up as many leads as I wanted throughout the set. Oh well, next time! Smile

Matt called up Chris Ayer to sing and play acoustic guitar a number of times (Chris headlined the 11pm set). The two of them sings so beautifully together, whether it’s Chris supporting Matt on his songs, or vice versa (as happened a bunch in the last set).

On one number, Matt came out from behind the piano and sang, with Chris accompanying him on vocals and acoustic guitar. Gorgeous!

MattSimonsChrisAyer

Matt called up Sierra Noble to sing harmony with Chris Ayer as well. That role has traditionally been filled by Morgan Holland. Since Morgan is returning to CA for a Master’s degree, she won’t be available to sing with Matt and Chris. While Sierra is a star in her own right (and therefore won’t be available often to sing with them), having her join them last night was a real treat.

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For the second to last song, both Chris and Sierra returned (after someone having to go out and find them!). This time Sierra added her violin to the mix!

SierraNobleChrisAyer

I’m a big fan of Matt and always enjoy his sets. But, I’ll definitively claim last night’s set to be the best we’ve seen so far, though doubtlessly it will be topped in the future!

Matt and Chris Ayer both leave tomorrow for a tour of the UK and Holland. Some of the dates/venues can be seen on Matt’s Facebook Page. You can also stream some of his songs there (or on MySpace linked at the top). But, to listen to Matt, I recommend you visit his Bandcamp page. There, you can hear a lot of his songs in their entirety, for free. Then you can buy all of them, or the ones you like best, etc. I love the model where you aren’t buying blind, or off an unrepresentative sample of the song.

Referring back to the “connect your fans” section above, a number of our friends were there last night (which is typical). Let me know if you prefer Kelly or Sam to wear the hat when their picture is taken. Winking smile

KellySamTeichmanKellySamTeichmanHat

Rachel

Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall

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We attended a Leave a Lasting Mark benefit show on Thursday. Rebecca Haviland was one of the many performers that night. She performed a version of Carolina On My Mind that captivated the audience. You can read about it here.

Even though we had a jam-packed 48 hours in between, I admit that I was still distracted a number of times, anticipating Rebecca performing a full set at Rockwood Music Hall.

RebeccaHavilandSinging

This was only the second full set that we’ve seen by Rebecca. The first one was five weeks ago. In that post I mis-identified one of her new songs as “Sing”. Looking more closely at the set list (and having Rebecca correct me), it’s called Sins. She didn’t play it last night, so I don’t know why I felt the need to correct that here. Winking smile

Rebecca is in the midst of a writing spree. We all are the beneficiaries of that. Well, all of us who see her perform live. Later today she should be launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new CD (I’ll update this post with the link once I get it). Once that gets funded (and it will!), the rest of you who don’t live in NYC or don’t come out for live music, can hear what I’m talking about.

While Rebecca sings a variety of styles (all equally well), at heart, she’s a blues rocker, and a darn good one. Last night’s set was mostly originals (I love every one of them) plus a few extraordinary covers. One of my favorites (it grabbed me the first time I heard it) is If You. The chorus has a recurring “Oh, oh oh oh oh”. At times Rebecca is singing that too, at other times she’s singing over that.

The last time we saw her, she invited the crowd to sing the “Oh, oh oh oh oh” part with her and we all did. Last night, without thinking about it, I started singing it (out loud) with her. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the audience singing (as we weren’t explicitly invited this time). Even though I was self-conscious for a second, I admit to continuing to sing it each time the chorus repeated. Ha, that’s how I roll (occasionally, OK, rarely). Winking smile

We didn’t snag the set list (I’ll have to talk to my minions about that oversight!), so I can’t share all the song titles with you. In addition to If You, I’m sure Rebecca played Collide With Me and Direction (also new, unreleased) along with at least two other brand new ones.

The two other covers were her signature version of Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog and another Zeppelin number that she morphed into (and back out of) mid-song.

After singing two songs with the band, Rebecca dismissed them and fulfilled my secret wish. She played Carolina On My Mind. For those of us who had seen her perform it Thursday, there was a deep satisfaction in not having had to wait too long to hear it again. For the newbies, I can only assume that their minds were sufficiently blown. In my next post (there will be four today!) you’ll see that I need to use my extraordinary powers of mind control more often (I promise to use my powers for good only).

RebeccaHavilandSolo

Before bringing the band back, Rebecca brought back Chris Anderson. In addition to being Rebecca’s bass player (electric bass last night), Chris is also Rebecca’s primary writing partner on her current project. He’s also been singing background vocals a lot more, thanks to Rebecca prodding him. In addition to singing a lot of harmony last night, Chris also sang lead on one number, kicking off the first verse on his own.

ChrisAndersonSinging

We got to meet Chris’ parents, who came to hear him serenade his fans:

ChrisAndersonParents

After one (or possibly two) numbers performed by Rebecca and Chris alone, the rest of the band rejoined.

Greg Mayo on keyboards and background vocals. Fantastic, as always. I’ll have more to say about Greg in the next three posts.

GregMayo

Kenny Shaw on drums. After seeing Kenny perform five times in one week, he decided to hide from us. Exactly one month later, we picked up his trail again. He was his usual solid self, complementing Rebecca really well. In particular, when Rebecca morphed into her second Zeppelin cover, Kenny was instrumental in supporting her.

KennyShaw

Sierra Noble was called up as a special guest to play the violin/fiddle on one number, taking a long solo. The sound complemented Rebecca perfectly (though a good violin solo complements a variety of music beautifully). My third post of the night will be about Sierra Noble’s own set, but the other two will mention her as well. Last night was a big ol’ party. Smile

RebeccaHavilandSierraNobleChrisAnderson

Before Thursday’s benefit, we reached out to Rebecca and asked her to bring all of her previous CDs for us to purchase. We got two of them at the show (a full CD: Three Thousand Miles and an EP: What I’m Sayin’). As I noted at the top, we had a very busy 48 hours, so I haven’t gotten to listen to either yet (hopefully later today).

Last night, Rebecca brought us the earliest one, Taking Advice From Strangers (from 2003-2004). I’m listening to that one now while typing this. Gorgeous. A bitt Jazzier than much of her current stuff, with as perfect a voice as you could hope for. Lovely lyrics, I’m drifting… a.w..a…y….

Here’s a suggestion for Rebecca: make one of your levels on Kickstarter include all of your past CDs (I suggest $50) so that your more recent fans can find out that your talent is deep, broad, wide, and consistent, for at least eight years, probably more! (Disclaimer: this advice is free, I am not a paid endorser.) Winking smile

Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall

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Prior to seeing this show we attended a benefit concert at The Bitter End. I wrote about it here, which included a section on Bri Arden (the subject of this post). After it was over, Lois couldn’t keep her eyes open, so she grabbed a cab and headed home. Unfortunately, she took her camera with her. I took five shots with my (original) Droid. All were so bad that I won’t insult anyone who was on stage by posting them, so there will be no photos.

I walked from The Bitter End to see Bri and her band perform at Rockwood Music Hall. For those that care, including waiting at a few lights, it took 18 minutes.

I’ve seen Bri sing lead on two songs, at two different Leave a Lasting Mark benefits (both at The Bitter End). She was spectacular both times. I was very interested in seeing her headline her own set.

In addition to being a singer/songwriter, Bri is also a student at Columbia University. This year she entered the Battle of the College Bands. She won in the NY region! Yet another reason to go see her. The place was mobbed, so I wasn’t the only genius with the idea to do this.

Bri has a fantastic voice. She brings a passion to her singing that’s infectious. For the first time, I was hearing songs that she wrote (or co-wrote). They were all good in terms of being catchy. Given how much was happening on stage, I can’t say that I heard all of the lyrics (or could pay close attention to them), so I’ll save heavier comments about that aspect for a future post. What I heard, I liked, so I don’t mean to imply anything negative.

This was a show, not just a singer/songwriter performance. For starters, this was the most people that I’ve ever seen on the Rockwood 1 stage at the same time, nine for two songs, eight for most of the rest. In addition to a full band, there were two full-time backup singers (without instruments).

I kept thinking that this group of 8+ people could easily fill the sound of a much larger place (by much larger, I mean 1000+ seat places!).

Not counting Bri, five of the eight people on stage were part of the earlier benefit show, so you can click on the link in the first sentence on top to see what I had to say about each of them. I’ll be extremely brief here.

Backup singers: Kate Ferber and Valerie Mize. Each is a legitimate lead singer in their own right (not a theoretical comment, they each are lead singers). That gives them a sensibility and a voice to complement Bri perfectly.

Justin Goldner on electric bass. Simply an awesome bass player (or, as they add in the show Wicked, “Well, not so simply!”).

Jake Cohen on drums. Excellent. I was particularly impressed that he was not too loud, even though he was supporting eight other people. In Rockwood 1, it’s unbelievable easy (and therefore common) for a drummer to be crazy loud when there are electric instruments.

Ian Schaefer on trumpet. Ian was excellent, as he was earlier at the benefit.

Two additional musicians joined Bri for most of the songs:

Oscar Bautista on electric guitar. I’ve seen Oscan once before, at the Soul Revue Benefit. He was excellent that night, but less highlighted, by necessity. Last night, as part of a much smaller ensemble, Oscar was a main component of Bri’s sound. He was more obviously excellent. Smile

Jason Wexler on grand piano and electronic keyboards. I just saw Jason support Jeff Litman on a few numbers this past Monday at the same piano. He was excellent then, as he was last night.

Craig Wilson joined Bri on three numbers, two on acoustic guitar (which made it nine on stage) and once at the piano (when he replaced Jason during that song). Bri introduced him as one of her main writing partners, so presumably Craig co-wrote all three of the songs. He didn’t sing when he was playing guitar and I couldn’t see him on the piano (but I could hear him play very well).

All in all, a very exciting show delivered with extremely high energy. The crowd would not let Bri off the stage without an encore and Rockwood obliged, even though Bri’s set started a bit late and therefore had run a bit over as well.

I’m glad I made the effort and I will happily do it again.

Leave a Lasting Mark Benefit at The Bitter End

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Sam Teichman produces a monthly benefit concert. Each show benefits a specific charity. Each show has a specific theme and is epic in terms of the number of artists and their individual and combined talents. You can follow Sam on Twitter to get alerts about each show.

SamTeichman

Last night’s show benefitted Sean Casey Animal Rescue. The theme was the songs of James Taylor and Carole King. We’ll get to the myriad performers in a minute.

Poster

You should come to these shows for any one of the following reasons:

  • You are doing a good deed by supporting a variety of good causes (one per show)
  • You will hear great music because the themes are built around well-known artists
  • You will see/hear amazing performances by incredibly talented local musicians
  • Come more than once and see how quickly you feel like you’re part of a community
  • Discover talented musicians who you will want to follow in their own career
  • Marvel at the spectacle of shuffling as many as 15 performers on/off stage on each song, quickly and efficiently

In addition to coordinating (producing) the entire show, Sam is also the MC for the evening. He introduces every act and every performer (multiple times). He tirelessly promotes them and the recipient of the donations. It’s important to know that the musicians donate 100% of their time (including rehearsals). Every penny raised goes directly to the charity.

Sam has a crew of volunteers that film each show and the clips eventually make their way on to YouTube. You can see clips from past shows (among other shows that Sam has filmed) at his YouTube Channel. Sam also produces CDs of the shows. He solicits additional donations for a performance by offering free copies of CDs from past shows. You aren’t buying the CDs, you are being rewarded for your generosity by being able to take the CDs home for your enjoyment. Smile

There were some minor changes in the order of a few songs (to accommodate artists who were late or had to leave a bit early), but for the most part, these Set Lists are accurate (every image in every post can be clicked on for a larger version):

SetList1SetList2SetList3

For my sanity (and hopefully yours), I will cover only the main singers, in the order they appeared, then add all the amazing side-people (so as not to have to mention each multiple times). You can refer back to the set lists above to see which side-person supported which lead singer. It should be noted that nearly every side-person sang lead on one song as well, which will cut down on the extra side-people needed to be covered at the end.

I’ll add a (1st time) to any artists who we’ve never seen before.

Valerie Mize sang I Feel the Earth Move. We just saw Valerie perform at Backscratch XIV this past Monday. It was our first time hearing her sing lead and I knew it wouldn’t be our last. I didn’t know our next one would be this close, but I’m glad it was. Valerie opened the show with a bang! I Feel the Earth Move is a rich, earthy song. Valerie’s rich, earthy voice is perfectly suited for it.

ValerieMizeSethFaulk

Bri Arden sang Smackwater Jack. The first time I heard Bri was at our first Leave a Lasting Mark show, a Soul Revue Benefit. She blew me (and the rest of the audience) away with her rendition of Proud Mary, Tina Turner style. She was equally good on Smackwater Jack, but the song itself doesn’t call for the same heart palpitations that Proud Mary does.

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My next post will be all about Bri. She headlined a show at Rockwood Music Hall shortly after this benefit was over. She, and her amazing band, were all troopers for doing this benefit and then running over to do their own show. Bravo!

Keith Paine sang Mexico (1st time). He did a very nice job, so it likely won’t be our last time seeing him. This was the first time that the horn section showed up, which added to the vibe quite nicely. I’ll cover them at the bottom of the post.

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Jenna Marotta sang It’s Too Late (1st time). Sam introduced Jenna with a nice story. Jenna attended a previous benefit show to see a friend of hers perform. After the show, Jenna contacted Sam and asked for an opportunity to sing at one herself. Ask and ye shall receive. Jenna did a nice job. It took her a bit longer to warm up to the mic than the others. She has a lovely voice when she lets it out.

JennaMarotta

Rebecca Haviland sang Carolina On My Mind. Rebecca was the first to perform a song solo. She accompanied herself on electric guitar. I’ve written about Rebecca a number of times (all glowingly). One of her (many) talents is her absolutely extraordinary voice. While we’ve heard her voice soar (clearly) above a crowded stage of loud instruments, seeing her sing solo, accompanied by a quiet guitar, was a magical thing to behold.

RebeccaHaviland

Before singing, Rebecca mentioned that she was nervous to sing her take on such a classic song. I was expecting something wildly different than the original given Rebecca’s incredible take on Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog (nowhere similar to the original, other than sharing the same lyrics). While Rebecca’s Carolina On My Mind was definitely more soulful, it wasn’t a radical departure from the original. It was stunning, nonetheless.

Shira Goldberg was up next. Before I get to her performance, two digressions. Lois captured this photo of Rebecca and Shira before the show started. They were letting the crowd know that they had (fraternal) twin guitars:

RebeccaHavilandShiraGoldbergSisterGuitars

Before she sang, Shira wryly thanked Sam for placing her immediately after Rebecca. Winking smile It was a self-deprecating (and classy) way for Shira to pay a lovely compliment to Rebecca’s performance.

Shira sang Some Kind of Wonderful. She was, indeed, some kind of wonderful herself. We’d seen Shira only once before, at a Livestrong benefit (in 2009!). That night, she joked that she only knew depressing songs. Even though she didn’t feel it was appropriate to sing a depressing song at a cancer survivor’s benefit, she had no choice. Last night she joked that she should sing happier songs. At least she could pick one by someone else this time. Smile

ShiraGoldberg

Scott Stein sang Way Over Yonder. Sam had mentioned earlier that they weren’t pigeon-holing any of the performers into sticking to the appropriate gender (males singing James Taylor, etc.). As much as I enjoyed Scott’s singing with his group, The Ramblers (my most recent post about them can be read here), I’m not sure he was well-suited to this song, vocally.

ScottStein

No matter. Not only did Scott destroy on the piano, he was the primary piano sideman on most of the numbers. He was crazy amazing on every one. I wasn’t surprised, as he was unreal at The Ramblers show as well, but many of the songs last night have natural piano runs that are gorgeous (think: Carole King), so Scott got to constantly show his wares.

David Kantor sang Something in the Way She Moves (no good individual link, but read to the bottom to get a band link!, and 1st time). He did a fine job singing, but to me, it wasn’t really about his singing. In addition to singing lead on this song and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, David was the primary acoustic guitar sideman for the evening. Much of his play was phenomenal finger-picking that I could have listened to with no voices or other instruments, all night long!

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Later in the show, in what appeared to be a complete ad-lib, David put down his acoustic guitar mid-song, walked over to the electric bass (which was un-manned), signaled to the bassists on the sideline (asking permission to pick up one of their basses) and finished the song on the bass.

DavidKantorBass

When David was done, I did something I have never done before. I called Sam over and told him that the far left microphone (used by the backup singers) was way too low (it had been since the first song). Sam told Chris who was working the sound booth. Chris corrected the problem perfectly. Thanks Sam and Chris, it became critical just two songs later!

Jake Cohen sang How Sweet It Is (1st time). Jake was one of three primary drummers throughout the night. He was excellent on the drums and he did an excellent job on the vocals as well. He also had four background vocalists and a full band, making this a very rich sounding song.

JakeCohen

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

JustinGoldnerKateFerberJustinGoldnerBass

Kate Ferber sang Natural Woman (1st time). I need to back up before I cover Kate’s performance on this song. Kate was singing backup with David Kantor. I could barely hear her, which is what prompted me to call Sam over after that song (I couldn’t hear Bri singing with Valerie, or Valerie singing with Bri either, on that mic). Kate is pictured above, singing backup with Justin. She is holding the same mic that I couldn’t hear earlier, but after Chris upped the volume.

That was very important, because even though Kate was singing background, for a good part of the song, it was more like a duet than just some light harmony. Her voice was excellent and it would have been a real shame to have lost it (again).

Kate came to center stage to sing Natural Woman. She was fantastic. Great voice, warmth and stage presence. All around excellent delivery of a great song.

KateFerber

Abby Bernstein sang Steamroller (1st time). When Sam introduced Abby, he said she was fresh off of opening for Bare Naked Ladies in front of 14,000 people. Abby corrected him that he was off by a zero, that it was actually 1,400. A few seconds later, she added “I meant 14,000,000!”. Good start. Quick wit is one of the most welcome traits in a stage performer. Smile

AbbyBernstein

Thankfully, humor is not Abby’s only weapon. She has an excellent voice along with excellent stage presence. She too delivered a fine performance.

Paul Tabachneck sang Will You Love Me Tomorrow (1st time). Wow. Great voice, great delivery, nice job on the acoustic guitar. He (or rather Sam) introduced this as Paul’s interpretation of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. I place it in the same category as Rebecca’s interpretation of Carolina On My Mind, meaning, not as far afield from the original as the introduction would have you believe.

PaulTabachneck

Andy Mac sang Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. We’ve seen Andy once before and he was very good, so I wasn’t surprised that he delivered again last night.

AndyMac

Kaylin Lee Clinton sang So Far Away (1st time). This was the first departure from the set lists shown above, due to a late arrival. Kaylin sang backup earlier (beautifully) so I was excited to see her step up to center stage. No disappointment! Kaylin delivered So Far Away (another great song), wonderfully. Excellent voice, great stage presence.

KaylinLeeClinton

Kaylin sang backup a few times. Here’s a shot of her with Shira (there’s another one below with Seth).

KaylinLeeClintonShiraGoldberg

Patryk Larney sang Sweet Baby James (1st time). I’ve seen so many tweets over the last year about Patryk that I felt like I almost knew him. Of course, I had absolutely no idea what he would sound like. Now I do and I’m a big fan. Excellent voice, good guitar play.

PatrykLarney

Jeremiah Birnbaum sang You’ve Got a Friend. I’m already a huge fan of Jeremiah’s (he’s Scott Stein’s partner-in-crime in The Ramblers). Jeremiah was the primary electric guitarist on most songs last night, but for You’ve Got a Friend, he dropped the guitar and took center stage with just a mic in hand. What an incredible delivery of an all-time great song. Excellent voice, but he also created an emotional atmosphere that sucked me in.

JeremiahBirnbaum

Chris Kelly sang Jelly Man Kelly (no good link, and 1st time). Chris was one of three primary bass players for the night. He did a fine job on the bass whenever he was up. For this song he took center stage and accompanied himself on the electric bass. Highly unusual to see a solo bass player singing. He pulled off this fun song that James Taylor played on Sesame Street!

ChristopherKelly

I can’t take it any longer. I have to admit that I lied when I said Chris(topher) performed solo. Off in the corner of the stage, at the grand piano, Sam Teichman accompanied Chris on the tambourine. Yes, our own Sam showed his musical/percussion chops. I guess the old saying “It’s good to be the boss” is certainly true! Winking smile

Caleb Hawley sang Fire and Rain. Caleb was late, necessitating the earlier shifts, but he made it in plenty of time. He was in a suit, so perhaps he came from an interview on Celebrity Apprentice. Winking smile

CalebHawley

Caleb is one of our favorites. He has a wonderful voice, plays guitar so well, in a style I’m not accustomed to hearing and in general, he’s just a ton of fun on stage. He performed one of my favorite songs as well. That said, he wasn’t himself last night. Perhaps rushing in threw him off, perhaps whatever kept him stopped him from rehearsing properly.

To be clear, Caleb at his worst is better than many solid performers’ best, but it’s a far cry from his own best.

In an understandable irony, Caleb was considered one of the bigger draws of the show. He was the only lead singer to be given two songs. The second was no better than the first. Oh well, there’s no way this affects my opinion of Caleb, nor stops me from jumping through hoops to see him again! Smile

Jeff Litman sang Country Road. Jeff did a great job on a great song. Still, Jeff and I need to stop meeting like this. This was the third set that Jeff sang in that we attended, just this week. The first was his own birthday bash. He then kicked off Backscratch XIV. In addition to singing lead and playing acoustic guitar on this number, Jeff was the third of the primary bass players last night. The first time we ever saw Jeff was when he played bass at the Soul Revue, so this seemed fitting to see him tear up the bass again.

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Give a person a finger and they demand a hand. As you can see in the picture above, Sam Teichman moved from the far corner (near the piano) to the middle of the stage, to continue showing off his tambourine mastery. Next time, center stage, singing lead. Got it Sam? Smile

Jeff’s song fittingly closed the show, with highlights by Chris Kelly on bass and Jeremiah Birnbaum on electric guitar.

JeffLitmanChristopherKellyJeremiahBirnbaum

That said, all of the side-people were excellent on every number, so let’s name the few that didn’t sing lead and add some photos for those that sang lead, but played larger roles supporting the others throughout the set.

Seth Faulk on drums, percussion and background vocals. Seth was great on all three. I’ve noted in another post that Seth sang harmony one night from the audience, standing right behind me and that his voice was really good. That was true last night again, but this time it was on stage at a microphone. I’d like to hear him sing lead as well.

SethFaulkDrumsSethFaulkJakeCohen

KaylinLeeClintonSethFaulkValerieMizeBriArdenKateFerberSethFaulk

Robert LaFalce on grand piano. Robert was a real trooper. One of the pianists that was scheduled to play is Matt Simons. Unfortunately, his car was broken into the night before (we keep hearing about traveling musicians getting their equipment stolen, it’s heart-breaking). Robbie filled in at the last minute and performed his parts perfectly. He was also charming the few times he opened his mouth. Smile

RobbieLaFalce

We saw Robbie only once before, at the Soul Revue, but he only played percussion that night. Another local multi-instrumentalist (they seem to be everywhere you look nowadays!). Winking smile

Matt Arbeiter on drums and percussion (no good link, and 1st time). Matt handled his drumming and percussion duties excellently.

MattArbeiterDrumsMattArbeiterPercussion

Ian Schaefer on trumpet. Ian was superb. Not quite as highlighted as the other member of the horn section, but integral nonetheless.

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Jonathan Kantor on saxophone. Jonathan was excellent on every number that he appeared in (which was many). He was highlighted a bit more than Ian (as noted above).

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Sam tried to calm the crowd down when he saw people rubbing their eyes. It turns out that David and Jonathan are twins and Sam assured people that they were not seeing double! Winking smile

I could tell the difference between them in two ways: 1) Their shirt colors were different and 2) They played different instruments! Smile

DavidKantorJonathanKantor

Jonathan’s fiancée was in the audience. Big deal, right? Wrong! They are getting married this Sunday. He needed permission to play last night (naturally!). She said yes (by my count, that makes at least twice!). Winking smile

When we left, we bumped into the Kantor twins on the corner. First Lois shook each of their hands individually as she told them how awesome they were. Then I reached my hand out as both of them did, and we ended up in a perfectly natural three-handed shake, with my hand around both of theirs. Twins indeed! Smile

Congratulations Jonathan, best of luck on Sunday and the rest of your lives together.

In searching for David Kantor (and not finding a good individual link), I came across a band that both brothers are in, as are Kate Ferber and Justin Goldner (among others). The band is called Grand Central Sound. The very first YouTube video that I stumbled across made me realize what a connection we have to the twins (even though they don’t know it yet!).

Ten days ago I wrote about a Campfire event at Slane. During that set, Lois requested Into the Mystic by Van Morrison. Martin played it for her. Here’s a video of Grand Central Sound performing the same song (much richer sound due to the full band), with David Kantor singing lead (and giving me way more of a sense of his singing chops than he did last night!):

Grand Central Sound, featuring David Kantor singing Into the Mystic

Backscratch XIV at Rockwood Music Hall

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

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

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

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

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

JeffLitman

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

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

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

JesseTerry

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

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

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

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

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

LiveSocietyJesseTerry

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

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

ValerieMizeSinging

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

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

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

AntarGoodwinTomoKonno

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

ValerieMizePiano

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

PatrickFirthGuitar

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

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

PatrickFirthPiano

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

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

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

JohnSchmitt

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

GregMayo

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaraEwen

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

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

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

BenjaminWagner

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

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

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

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

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

NickHoward

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

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

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

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

BrianCollazoGuitarAnthonyCandulloGuitar

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

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

GregMayoLiveSociety

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

JasonVargas

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

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

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

KevinCollazo

What a way to end a spectacular evening.

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

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

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

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