This was our second house concert on the upper west side of NYC. It’s a series called Music On 4 run by a wonderful couple who create a perfect atmosphere to enjoy live music.
amber Rubarth is no stranger to us or to readers of this blog. I’ve written about her and The Paper Raincoat (her project with the amazing Alex Wong) dozens of times. We’ve seen ambeR perform in a wide-variety of venues. Highline Ballroom (which seats 400+), down to NAU (a clothing store where she set up in the back). I’ve written about each one if you have the inclination to read for a few days.
We’ve seen ambeR play solo, with a trio and with a large band (strings, oboes, the works!). She excels and adapts in all of those situations. There was no way ambeR could surprise me last night. Musically, that was true. Emotionally, it wasn’t. There was an intimacy (roughly 60 people attended, which is a sell-out at Music On 4) that was new.
ambeR introduced a few songs with backgrounds that I hadn’t heard before, even though I know the songs well. She chose a perfect set list for the setting, complemented by three requests from the audience that were all good choices. The entire evening (including the opener) was un-mic’ed (both vocals and acoustic guitars). She finger-picked beautifully and her voice was the perfect volume for the room.
What makes ambeR so special? She’s an incredible songwriter. Don’t take my word for it. She just won the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest for 2010! (If you’re reading this a year from now, the link might no longer be highlighting ambeR.) Still not convinced? She co-wrote Washing Day with Adam Levy. It too won an award:
Amber Rubarth’s song Washing Day (co-written with Adam Levy) won 1st Place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition in the ‘Lyrics only’ category, judged by Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Robert Smith
ambeR writes about universal experiences in a way that captures the deepest feelings succinctly and honestly. Along the way, there is enough disarming humor (both outright funny and bittersweet introspection) to keep the mood just right. Her imagery is vivid and insightful.
She’s off for a European tour today. I miss her already!
Ed Romanoff opened for ambeR. He’s joining her on the European tour as well. We’ve seen Ed a few times before and enjoyed his sets. Last night was no exception, but I don’t feel that he’s as suited to an un-mic’ed house concert as ambeR is. For a big guy, Ed tends to sing reasonably softly. When he’s mic’ed correctly, that’s fine. When he isn’t, at times his guitar overwhelms his voice.
Even so, he was a good choice to open for ambeR. He is a very good story-teller (this was particularly true when we last saw him at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2) so he had the audience totally warmed up by the time his set was done.
Ed and ambeR closed the show with a duet, performing Hold On by Tom Waits.
As with many shows, not everything always goes according to plan. Ed and ambeR had a bit of trouble getting there, arriving roughly 20 minutes after they were supposed to appear. Unlike a commercial venue, house concerts can deal with this situation more creatively.
One member of the audience came up to the stage area (not raised) and led everyone in singing the first verse of Amazing Grace! Then another member came up and sang a song he wrote. A third member stood up and sang another song (not written by her) right from her seat. All were a cappella since there were no instruments in the apartment. Just as the third song was finished, ambeR and Ed walked in. A very warm experience shared by and between audience members only.
Another night of great music shared with a wonderful group of people!