Caleb Hawley at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Caleb Hawley headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. Ever since we saw Caleb play a house concert in VA, I’ve wanted to see him as often as I can. That hasn’t worked out as well as I had hoped, so when he returned to NYC for last night’s show, I wasn’t going to miss him again.

CalebHawley

When I first see someone, I tend to write a longer, more detailed (in the excruciating, please stop sense) post. That’s what I did for the house concert, but it was back in the days when I wrote a single post about the opener and the headliner together, something I rarely do now. Caleb was detailed lower down in the post, since we originally showed up primarily for the opener, Rachel Platten. If you want to know why I fell in love with Caleb Hawley, read that post.

We’ve seen Caleb a couple of times since then, never doing a full set of his own material. That’s a shame, because in addition to being an excellent performer, he’s an excellent songwriter.

One of the most impressive things about Caleb is how comfortable/natural he appears in front of any crowd. He might be quivering underneath, but there’s no hint of that. I’ve seen him take his shirt off (at another show) and unashamedly shake his less-than-six-pack-abs belly for our amusement. The more typical thing is his disarming smile and style, which just makes you want to keep your eyes on him.

That’s good, because while you’re keeping your eyes on him, you’re hearing an incredible voice and watching an absolutely exceptional guitar player.

CalebHawleyGuitar

Last night was a joyously fun set, complete with very talented people supporting Caleb. It also featured Caleb playing electronic keyboards on the first few numbers, something he claimed he was nervous about (see above for why I don’t believe Caleb ever gets nervous). Winking smile

Let me praise the band, then circle back to some additional comments about Caleb. Left-to-right on stage:

Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and heavy background vocals. Patrick is a perennial favorite of ours on the keyboards. We were seated a couple of feet from him, so we got to watch him work his magic directly. He also sang harmony on practically every number (perhaps every one), wonderfully.

PatrickFirthPatrickFirthKeyboards

PatrickFirthEvanWatsonSinging

Evan Watson performed double duty. For half the set, he manned the drums (that was a first for me, seeing him play the drums). He was good enough to support Caleb, but he’d have to work hard to match most of the other local drummers. For the other half of the set, he was well into his comfort zone, lead electric guitar. Totally sweet! Occasionally, he leaned over to share (or take over) the mic in front of the bass player, to sing some background vocals. He also sang a bit when he was at the drums.

EvanWatsonDrumsEvanWatsonGuitar

EvanWatsonSlideGuitar

Brian Killeen on electric bass and background vocals. Brian is always wonderful, but Caleb gave him a couple of long-ish leads, which Brian nailed, to the delight of the crowd. He also sang quite of bit of background vocals with Caleb and Patrick. Another winning performance.

BrianKilleenBrianKilleenBassSoloCalebHawleyBrianKilleenSinging

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Considering the name of the opening song, it was entirely appropriate that the entire band donned sunglasses to try and remain incognito while entertaining us:

CalebHawleyBrianKilleenEvanWatson

Back to Caleb. I already said how much I enjoyed the set, but he still hasn’t recaptured the feeling (for me) that I had the first time I saw him. For most artists that I see, if they do both full band and solo shows, I typically prefer the full band ones. That’s even true when they are amazing solo performers.

Caleb is an exception to that rule, so far (but not the only exception). His full band show was fun and engaging throughout, but his personal artistry and wizardry is lost (or rather, watered down) in the fullness. He’s so good on the guitar, which is so much more obvious when no other instrument is playing (or when he has only a light-touch drummer supporting him, e.g., Craig Meyer). He has a great voice, which is also more obvious when there aren’t other instruments wailing. He is a great songwriter and it’s easier to concentrate on the lyrics when it’s just him.

I can imagine that with a different set list and a different arrangement, I could feel the same way about a full band show (certainly, there’s no issue with who he picks to support him!). Basically, I guess it boils down to Caleb being too generous with wanting everyone to be (nearly) equal in a full band show. In my opinion, his sets need to be about Caleb, first and foremost, with everyone else being the super professional musicians that they always are, and just support him.

I’ll be seeing Caleb again this coming Monday, 7-9pm, next door (Rockwood 1), when he is the MC for The CEO Artist showcase (put on by Christina Morelli). I imagine he’s quite the MC, given what I told you above about his stage presence.

Caleb is a celebrity in NYC (independent of his run on American Idol last year), so we always get to see many friends at any show that he is part of. We could have spent the entire evening chatting and catching up. Instead, after a few quick hugs and hellos, Lois just took photos of our friends. Winking smile

TerryIrisKellyRachelSamTeichman

Bri Arden will be one of the performers at Monday’s showcase with Christina Morelli (and Chrissi Poland, hidden from view, who will also be performing on Monday):

BriArdenChrstinaMorelliChrissiPolandSamTeichmanBriArdenHadar

Apollo Run at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Apollo Run headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. I’ve heard about Apollo Run from a number of people, including a band that we love who has opened for them on more than one tour. All of them told me I’d love them.

ApolloRun

They might end up being right, I certainly understand the excitement, but last night’s set didn’t do it for me. On the other hand, the crowd, made up of their fans, went nuts (in the good sense) on every song, so I was in the teeny tiniest minority.

Every element of why I would normally love them was there, in spades, which is why I allow for the fact that I could (easily) get there, eventually. Given that, I’ll cover only the positive things first, allowing any of their fans to shake their heads in agreement first, then they can split when I turn to the negatives, or they can shake their heads in pity at my lack of understanding.

The good:

Each of the three members of Apollo Run is incredibly talented in multiple ways. The whole is greater than the sum of their individual parts. I’ll describe each first, then talk about the group, their sound and how you can easily check them out (which we did before we decided to go).

John McGrew is the lead singer. Last night he mostly played the electronic keyboards. He tossed in a cool trumpet part in the middle of one song (then tucked the trumpet between his legs to finish the song on the keyboards). He played the electric guitar on the final (stage) number, but also played a bit of keyboards in that.

JohnMcGrewGuitarJohnMcGrewTrumpet

He was good on the keyboards, but he was great on vocals. He has a very crisp voice that can hit very high notes without going falsetto. There’s something very compelling about his voice. He’s extremely passionate in everything he does on stage (including dropping to his knees to wail on the electric guitar during the finale). His fans went wild whenever he took it up a notch.

JohnMcGrew

Graham Fisk on drums and vocals. Graham is an exceptional drummer. He’s the primary harmony vocalist as well, singing roughly 50% of the time that John is singing lead. Their voices blend so well. Apollo Run’s songs are mostly filled with very driving rhythms/beats and Graham is an integral (perhaps actually critical) part of that sound.

GrahamFiskGrahamFiskSinging

Jeff Kerestes on electric bass, ukulele and vocals. Jeff is one of the most inventive (and talented) bass players I’ve seen. Since there wasn’t a lead guitar in the set, and John played more chords than lead on the keyboards, Jeff was often playing fast and sophisticated leads on the bass. He also played with both hands on the frets a couple of times, creating a superfast sound (like the top acoustic guitarists do). Wildly impressive.

JeffKerestesJeffKerestesBass

Jeff also sings really well, creating a gorgeous three-part harmony with John and Graham. I estimate that he sang roughly 20% of the time. For you math-heads out there, that means he sang roughly 40% of the time that Graham did. Winking smile

Jeff played the ukulele on two songs, one of which was a song they wrote last year, during Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, where they put Charlie’s actual words to music. Smile

JeffKerestesUkulele

Jeff is the only one that I’ve seen before. He played a few numbers in support of Alex Liang Wong, also at Rockwood 2. I was impressed that night as well, writing the following:

He was quite good.

Jeff joined for one additional number later in the set and played in a style I don’t often see. He spent much of the song sliding one hand or the other, up and down the frets, very slowly. It produced a gorgeous sound in accompaniment of a slower, more soulful song.

The three-part harmonies are awesome. Unreal power, not subtle stuff, except when there are few or no instruments accompanying them, in which case they can totally control their voices to get more mellow, but still beautiful.

We listened to one song (and watched the clever YouTube video). We loved the song so we were very excited to go see them. If you are prone to epileptic seizures, don’t watch the video, just listen to the song. I think it’s angelic. Parts of it would certainly be appropriate for welcoming people to heaven:

Apollo Run – Stars – Official Video

One more video, of a live performance at Rockwood 2, of the song where John plays the trumpet in the middle. Good shots of each of them, so you can get a sense of the experience, specifically at Rockwood 2:

Apollo Run – Fireman – Live at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

They closed the show by jumping off the stage and going into the heart of the crowd. They sang “All in Good Time”, a cappella, a gospel revival type song. The crowd joined in the clapping and foot stomping in a big way, producing a huge sound.

AllInGoodTimeInTheCrowd

Here’s a tiny clip (part of their promo for their second EP, released last year). It will give you a good idea of what All in Good Time felt/sounded like last night. I tried to queue it up to the 1 minute 47 second mark, where that part starts. I couldn’t get it to work for this embedded video, so feel free to skip to 1m47s:

Promo for Here Be Dragons Vol II by Apollo Run

On the home page of their site (first link in this post), you can exchange your email for a free download of City Lights, which you can also stream on the left side first. It’s beautiful.

So, this was all pretty awesome stuff, how is it even possible that you didn’t like the set, Hadar?

We’ll get to that in one second (so please tune out if you only wanted to read glowing stuff about Apollo Run).

Here’s the set list:

SetList

The bad:

While everything I said above was evident last night, the glowing descriptions come more from my listening to them all morning, both on their site and on John’s site (where it starts streaming the minute you click on it, which isn’t so cool, but the music is!).

Last night, rather than enjoying the sound, I felt assaulted by the sound. Three things caused that, all cumulative (making it worse):

1) The volume was cranked up way too high. It was balanced to some extent, so it wasn’t just one piercing thing, but it ended up washing out the otherwise extraordinary vocals. In fact, hearing lyrics (for someone unfamiliar with their songs) was nearly impossible. All of the recordings I listened to today were clean, even when they were infused with the same energy that last night was meant to deliver. I’m a drum fanatic (freak is a more accurate description), but even though Graham is fantastic (on every level), the drums were way too loud last night.

2) As amazing as Jeff is on the bass (truly), he turned on a bunch of effects throughout the set. At times he sounded like an organ, at others like a fuzz box. I guess there’s music where that would enhance the sound/mood, but to me, it was a huge distraction, especially at the volume he was playing (see above).

3) Because of the volume, the vocals felt like they were being screamed at me, even though they hit every note, cleanly. I’m not sure I can explain it well, but essentially, the vocals should feel somewhat louder than the instruments (for such a harmony-driven group), without feeling that they are too loud, or that the singers are working too hard to overcome the instruments.

So, while I could concentrate on picking out any sound I wanted (hence my description of the sound being balanced), it was all a wall of sound coming at me, rather than highlighted things (like the harmony, or a bass lead, etc.) floating appropriately above the background.

Now for a word from opposite world. I’ve already mentioned that their fans are in love with them. There was dancing, tons of swaying and head bobbing, and generally a feel of getting lost in the music (all good things). And yet, on every single quiet passage (of which there are a reasonable number, during intros, endings and some bridges), dozens of people were talking so loudly that I wanted to cry for John, who was singing so softly, sweetly and soulfully, over very few other sounds.

Aside from the rudeness, I just felt that the fans want the assault of sound. They’re not interested in the artistry and the individual skills that can best be sampled at really quiet volumes. They want to lose themselves in the energy. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to everyone in the room, many of whom were likely really annoyed at the talkers. But, this wasn’t one loud person or couple (which is more often the case), this was a meaningful percentage of their fans.

It might not bug Apollo Run at all, because they might just love the party atmosphere that defined the overall set, but it bothered me a ton, largely because those were the most beautiful parts of the set.

So, I have the dilemma of whether to go out and see them again. My guess is I will, likely when it’s convenient to an adjacent set I’m going to see anyway. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll just buy their music and listen to it without all of the distractions I felt last night.

Adam Minkoff Randomonium 9 at Rockwood Music Hall

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Adam Minkoff has a regular gig at Rockwood Music Hall, called Randomonium. It’s typically (always?) on a Wednesday night, starting at midnight.

We’ve been fans of Adam’s for a while (mostly for his bass work, but we’ve also seen him do wonders on electric guitar, a floor tom and sing up a storm as well). We had no idea what to expect at a Randomonium, but we had an interest in finding out. We missed the last two, just because we couldn’t stay up that late on those particular nights.

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Last night was an epic night on a number of levels, and we weren’t going to let a little something like a midnight start get in the way of continuing the epicness. Before Randomonium, we attended back-to-back sets in Westchester, then drove to NYC and caught back-to-back sets at Rockwood 2, then headed over to catch Randomonium at Rockwood 1, already in full swing when we walked in at 12:15am.

Whatever I saw last night, I can’t be sure is worth describing for past shows or future ones. After all, Randomonium is the name for a reason!

If I had to guess (extrapolate), I’d say it’s a chance for Adam to gather as many talented people as he can on a given night, pick a bunch of songs that might have no relation to each other, then perform them, with a lot of jamming to show off the individual skills. Toss in a commercial jingle or two, done over and over throughout the set to give you the sense that it was being sponsored (last night was the Mentos theme, complete with an actual roll of Mentos!).

Adam wailed on the bass throughout the set and sang a ton. He’s great. He also had an infectiously good time up there.

AdamMinkoffSinging

Last night’s collection of musicians, left-to-right on stage:

Michael Eaton on saxophone. He ripped it up multiple times.

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Jackie Coleman on trumpet. She didn’t play quite as much as Michael did, but when she played, she was excellent. When the two played together, they were like a full brass section. I was standing three feet from them, so I got the full treatment (in the best sense).

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Mark Marshall on electric guitar. Mark was one of two lead guitarists. Mark was also one of the few people on the stage that I’ve seen a few times before. I’ve noted that he’s excellent on the guitar, and not conventional at all.

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Yuval Semo on grand piano and electronic keyboards. He was fantastic! At one point, Adam teased him to play some Bach, in honor of his birthday. Yuval said no, but then started playing some variations, sounding awesome. Then Adam challenged him to play it in different styles, one after another. One of the styles was “Billy Joel”. Yuval was up to the task each time Adam commanded a new style.

YuvalSemo

Nick Oddy on electric guitar and vocals. Nick shared the lead guitar duties with Mark, but Nick was more prominent on stage because he was heavily involved in the vocals. He was also the Mentos spokesperson, singing the jingle and offering up the actual Mentos’ to anyone who wanted them. He was also excellent on the guitar!

NickOddy

Abby Ahmad on vocals and tambourine. I’m a big fan of Abby and her voice. This was hard-core rock and Abby is more than capable of belting it out, even over seven musicians who are wailing as hard and loud as they can. Abby also played the electric guitar on one number.

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Adam Christgau on drums. There was a time, in 2009 and 2010 that I used to write about Adam at least once a week. Then he started touring outside of NYC and now it’s the rarest of times that we get to see him. We were committed to attending this Randomonium anyway, but I admit to having more than a little sense of excitement when I saw this tweet:

Adam Christgau ? @adamchristgau

First gig back in NYC since December. Playin w/ Adam Minkoff’s Randomonium at Rockwood 1. Midnight! Free! Come out freaks!

Yes, it’s been a while (six months) since we’ve seen Adam perform a full set. Last night, he was on fire. He had to be, to keep up with the insanity going on in that room. Whew!

AdamChristgau

Xenia Rubinos came up to sing one song taking Abby Ahamad’s place in center stage. She sang her heart out, keeping up with everyone else.

XeniaRubinos

Marco Buccelli replaced Adam Christgau at the drums for the same song that Xenia sang. He too was incredible on the drums (all of the songs were super fast).

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At 12:53am, Adam announced that they had one song left. I admit to being really happy to hear that. I had been standing since we arrived at Rockwood 2 at 10:38pm and this was my fifth consecutive set (and it was louder than the previous four combined!).

Little did I know that the last song at a Randomonium can easily last 1/2 an hour! I guess I should be thankful that this one only lasted 20 minutes. Each person gets to take a long solo (there were typically eight people on stage at a time). It was an epic ending to an epic night, but I was glad when it was really over and I could rush home to crash.

No music tonight, just a fabulous dinner catching up with an out-of-town friend of 30 years! Tomorrow night we crank it up again. Smile

Abby Payne at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Abby Payne headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. It was her first headlining set at Stage 2 and I’m willing to bet it won’t be her last!

AbbyPayne

I’ve seen Abby perform two full sets (among some other appearances). The first time, with a full band at Rockwood 1, I had a hard time overcoming the volume.

Last time, Abby was incredible in every possible respect, performing a much quieter set with a trio, also at Rockwood 1. So, I was excited to see her play last night, but I admit to a little trepidation considering that this was going to be a full band set again.

Not to worry! Partially due to Stage 2 being much more expansive (allowing volumes to go higher with fewer problems), and partially due to everyone just playing at an appropriate volume, the set was fantastic.

The first full-band show, Abby played on the electronic keyboards and someone else played the grand piano. Last night they flipped, with Abby spending the entire set at the piano. She’s excellent, and I typically prefer the sound of the piano over the keyboards, so that was a nice surprise as well.

Abby performed a number of the same songs that she did with the trio, but they really took on a dramatically different character. Most of the set (with the obvious exception of the one song Abby performed solo) was power pop. Driving rhythms, soaring vocals, excellent musicianship. The trio had a broad range of genres, but it was really mellow, get lost in the music, not the energy kind of stuff.

Great to know that Abby’s material holds up both ways.

Supporting Abby, left-to-right on stage:

JP Schlegelmilch on electronic keyboards and vocals. I already noted that last time, he was on the piano when she was on the keys. JP was excellent last night, playing a more organ like sound, complementing Abby’s piano play.

JPSchlegelmilch

Stephen Chopek on drums. Stephen was filling in for Abby’s normal drummer, Kenny Shaw. Considering that we see Kenny more than any other drummer, I think he was hiding from us (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!). Not to worry, we both love Stephen’s play. In fact, this was a real treat because most of the other sets that we’ve seen him play have been more folk oriented where he’s impressed with his subtlety.

StephenChopek

Last night’s power pop gave Stephen a chance to open it up quite a bit. I didn’t doubt for a second that he’s comfortable with that style, since I know that he toured with John Meyer for a year. Smile We haven’t seen Stephen perform in 10 months. That’s just way too long, but he’s on the road non-stop, so we’ll take what we can get!

Here’s Stephen, levitating a cymbal. Quite impressive! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist…)

StephenChopekLevitatingCymbal

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. This was our third set of the night watching Chris play. All three sets were radically different from one another. No matter, Chris delights in all genres.

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Wil Farr on electric guitar and vocals. Wil is excellent on the guitar. I knew this from the first time I saw him play with Abby, though that night it was primarily his amp which caused my issues with the volume. No such problems last night, so Wil’s play came shining through. He was also a bit more primary on the backup vocals with Abby than the others.

WilFarr

OK, I’m ready for the next one, trio or full band. Let’s get it going!

JPSchlegelmilchWilFarrChrisAndersonStephenChopek

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Bri Arden headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. We missed her last appearance at Stage 2, her EP Release show. I heard that it was absolutely incredible, and based on all of the times I’ve seen Bri, and having listened to her EP many times, I have no reason to doubt that.

It’s been 3.5 months since we last saw Bri perform. As I noted in that post, you never really know what to expect (lineup wise, hairstyle, guests, etc.). We were actually up in Westchester to catch two full sets (and an amazing meal!) at Watercolor Café earlier, and we dashed out after the second set, dropped some folks off and made it to Rockwood a few minutes late.

We were immediately bathed in Bri’s amazing voice, nice way to walk into a joint.

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Bri had a full band, always a treat. The only change that seems somewhat permanent (or at least it’s been a while), is that Bri no longer employs a duo of female backup singers. The sets are great without them, but I’ll happily admit that they were a fantastic addition (the default ladies were Valerie Mize, now based in Nashville and Kate Ferber, though others have filled in as well).

Bri mixed it up. While most of the show was full band, Bri also played one song solo on the acoustic guitar. She performed another one solo at the grand piano.

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She had a special guest come up for another, but I’ll mention that after I let you know about the amazing band, left-to-right on stage:

Jason Wexler on grand piano and electronic keyboards. We see Jason supporting a number of our favorite artists, including Bri. He’s a superb keyboard player, and if I understood another musician friend correctly, a talented producer too.

JasonWexlerJasonWexlerKeyboards

Jake Cohen (Jacob Colin Cohen) on drums. Jake always does a great job on Bri’s sets. Glad to hear him again after 3.5 months. Sorry about the poor photo:

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Justin Goldner on electric bass and vocals. Like Jake, Justin always impresses. When there’s a full band, he’s the bass player. When Bri gets acoustic, he plays the guitar. In other words, he’s an integral part of Bri’s sound, including background vocals.

JustinGoldner

Oscar Bautista on electric guitar. Oscar is simply amazing, always, not just when supporting Bri. Unlike Jake and Justin, we’ve seen Oscar a number of times since, with his own Police tribute cover band and with The Vanity Belles. He’s awesome.

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Ian Schaefer (Ian Carleton Schaefer) on trumpet. I don’t know if Ian was in the opening songs which we missed. He was called up for the final two numbers and was great. As I noted to him when we stood next to each other for the following set, he helped Bri close out the show with a bang. Leave ‘em hanging, wanting more, in no small part due to the energy that the trumpet brought to those closing numbers.

IanCarltonSchaeferIanCarltonSchaeferTrumpet

Jeremiah Birnbaum on acoustic guitar. Jeremiah has filled in on bass a couple of times for Bri. Last night he joined Ian on the final two numbers to play acoustic guitar. I can’t really say that I could make out the acoustic guitar, but I can say that I really like Jeremiah, especially when he fronts his own group, The Ramblers.

JeremiahBirnbaum

I mentioned one special guest above. There was another, who replaced Jason at the piano, but the rest of the band played as well.

Craig Wilson played the piano on Scars Do Fade, a number he co-wrote with Bri. It’s one of a few songs they’ve co-written, all of which have impressed me, so they should continue collaborating.

CraigWilson

Anna Krantz joined for a number that they co-wrote very recently. Anna played the grand piano (gorgeously!) and sang harmony just a drop. Bri was spectacular on the song, with only the piano accompanying her (one of the three songs where the band got to rest).

AnnaKrantz

Here’s the set list, but I’m reasonably sure that not every number toward the bottom was played. Specifically, The Best Is Yet to Come wasn’t, at least I don’t remember it. Scars Do Fade and Good in Goodbye were likely the last two numbers, among my favorites!

SetList

We got to say a quick hello and take some photos with Bri afterward. Thanks to some strong-arming by Sam Teichman, The Ghost was actually caught on film! Winking smile

BriArdenHadarLoisBriArdenHadar

Rebecca Haviland at Watercolor Cafe

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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

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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.

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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.

Aoife O’Donovan at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Aoife O’Donovan headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. Just as with the set before, I have been hearing about Aoife from my friend Kevin for a very long time now. Unlike the previous set, Kevin is not the only person to tell me that I had to see Aoife. Just yesterday morning I received an email from my friend Jamie in MN telling me that if he were in NYC, he’d be going to see last night’s show.

Before telling you why, I will say that I too am now firmly on the Aoife O’Donovan bandwagon. If you consider me a friend (as I do Kevin and Jamie), then you can mark today as the day I started bugging you to get to an Aoife show!

I had to say that first, because undoubtedly, I will never do justice to how I felt watching the set, so I’m asking you to trust me and experience it for yourself, rather than judge my words to decide whether you think you’ll like it. Onward.

Aoife O’Donovan has a gorgeous voice. At least in last night’s set, it fell squarely in the camp of singers like Alison Krauss and Ruth Moody (two of my favorites). In other words, there’s an ethereal quality to their voices, and it tends to sound a bit soprano, even when it’s not.

AoifeODonovanSinging

She is a superb songwriter, lyrics and melodies. In fact, one of the songs she wrote, Lay My Burden Down, was covered by Alison Krauss and Union Station on their latest CD, Paper Airplane. Alison’s version is so faithful to Aoife’s, it’s another compliment to Aoife’s skill that her arrangement didn’t need to be embellished.

She is in a group called Crooked Still (which is how I first heard about her) that is currently on hiatus (giving her time to perform her own music and tour with others).

In addition to performing her own music, she has performed with Goat Rodeo Sessions. That project features Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan. I saw them perform on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where Aoife and Chris Thile sang harmony throughout the number. Gorgeous!

Last night she opened the show finger-picking an electric guitar. She was great, and I was marginally surprised when she announced that it was the first time she’s played the electric guitar in public. After the second song, she switched to her trusty Martin acoustic, and continued to finger-pick a storm. She returned to the electric late in the set. She’s a very good guitar player.

AoifeODonovanElectricGuitarAoifeODonovanAcousticGuitar

All that’s left is to describe the music itself. It’s a little hard to do in general, but harder without having mentioned the amazing band yet. Still, I’m going to do my best, followed by noting each band member.

The overwhelming feel I had was bluegrass and country meet jam band. When Aoife sings, it’s a dream-like bluegrass/country sound (depending on the song), often having very similar qualities to some of Alison Krauss’ best work. When she stops singing and the band takes over (they’re playing incredible stuff even while she’s singing), it turns into a quintessential jam band feel, with everyone showing off their virtuosity, but never straying from the basic structure of the song (like I feel a lot of classic jazz does, but what do I know).

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To summarize, when Aoife is singing, the lyrics are fantastic, her voice is fantastic and the band behind her is incredible. When she stops singing, the band (including her, still finger-picking) kick it into a gear where you don’t wonder when the singing will start up again, and you (specifically I) could get lost in the music forever. Then she starts singing again, and you welcome that part back with open arms.

It’s largely minor-key progressions that they are jamming to, giving it some of the dream-like qualities. It’s in the music in between the singing that makes Aoife’s music quite different from Alison Krauss’.

The band, left-to-right on stage:

Ryan Scott on electric guitar and vocals. Ryan was extraordinary on the electric guitar. He was a large component of what gave the music the jam band feel, as he’s able to progressively build guitar leads that get fuller and richer with every measure, climbing the scale and getting your heart pumping faster along the way. He sang a bit of harmony (nicely) as well.

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Robin MacMillan on drums. Robin impressed me in the previous set, but he cranked it up a couple of notches here, with the freedom of the jam band feel. Seriously, he fit in perfectly with some very serious musicianship. He’s firmly on my list of drummers to keep seeing.

RobinMacMillan

Jacob Silver on electric bass. Jacob (Jake) floored me the previous set, and did nothing but add to that in this set. He’s a mind-bogglingly good bass player, with a sensibility (and the speed) to deliver constant melodies rather than straightforward bass lines (not that there’s anything wrong with straightforward). Not to beat a dead horse, but when you’re jamming, having a bass player who is essentially harmonizing with a top lead guitarist, is a thing to behold.

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Charlie Rose on pedal steel guitar. I love pedal steel guitar, and I rarely get to see it. Thank you Charlie for coming down from Boston and giving me more than a taste. In addition to taking some wonderful leads, Charlie was the glue that gave the band a true bluegrass feel. During a number of the jam sessions, he complemented or traded leads with Ryan on the guitar.

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Aoife invited up the headliner from the previous set, along with her guitar player, to sing harmony on one number with her.

Kristin Andreassen and Chris Eldridge joined for some 3-part harmony goodness. Lovely in every respect.

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Whew. I was taken by every single number. It’s rare that I don’t want a set to end (even if I love it). I didn’t want this one to end (even though we badly needed to leave when it was over).

On the way out, I bought Aoife’s 5-song EP, called The Peachstone EP. I absolutely love it, but it’s not identical sounding to the live show, even though all five songs were performed last night, and a few of them have exactly the same musicians on the tracks.

One difference is the vocals. On track 1, Glowing Heart, Aoife is singing stunning harmony with herself. On the other hand, there’s not very much of the jam band feel between verses. It’s gorgeous, just much more structured and moving quickly from verse to verse. The jam band feel would have made it more like a live album.

Not to be inconsistent, I’ll call out the fact that it’s quite unusual these days to charge $10 for a 5-song EP. I have no regrets that I purchased it, but since I’ve called out others for this kind of pricing, I think it’s fair to note it here as well.

Aoife announced that she’ll be at Joe’s Pub on April 29th (9:30pm show). We will be there too, so should you.

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Kristin Andreassen at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Kristin Andreassen headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. I’ve heard about Kristin from my friend Kevin for quite a while and was glad to finally make it to a show.

KristinAndreassen

Kristin has a lovely voice and played the acoustic guitar beautifully. I would characterize the set as a blend of bluegrass (without the fiddle or mandolin), traditional country (not today’s rock/pop country) and country gospel. I liked it all, thoroughly.

For the most part, Kristin sang very softly. That worked well considering the audience in Rockwood was very respectful. It was particularly suited to the gospel numbers that came across a bit more worshipful in the hushed tones.

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Kristin was accompanied by an amazing band. Left-to-right on stage:

Chris Eldridge on acoustic guitar and vocals. Chris is the guitar player in The Punch Brothers. If you know them, or their fearless leader, Chris Thile, then you already know how good Chris Eldridge is. If you don’t, then take my word for it instead, Chris is exceptional on the guitar and he sings beautifully too.

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He sang harmony with Kristin on every number (or practically every one). His flat-picking leads were gorgeous and blended well with Kristin’s finger-picking and rhythm guitar. On at least two numbers (the more gospel ones I believe), it was only Kristin and Chris, with the others taking a momentary break.

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Robin MacMillan on drums. Robin was excellent. The set was mostly on the very mellow, quiet side, so his play supported that appropriately (lots of mallet instead of sticks, hitting cymbals on the rim with the side of the stick, etc.). Very well done.

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I don’t know if you’ll agree with me when looking at his photo, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much Robin resembled a young Billy Bob Thornton. All I could think about was “Man, Billy Bob could play the drums when he was young!” Winking smile

Jacob Silver on electric bass, very light vocals and whistling. He was mostly called Jake, but web-based references are mostly to Jacob. His bass play was amazing. In fact, he rarely played traditional bass lines. Most of the time he was playing sophisticated (and fast) lines that were more like harmonies to whatever Kristin was singing, or Chris was playing on the acoustic guitar. Outstanding.

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During the intro to one song, he whistled into the mic, which along with Chris’ guitar play, made the song feel like it belonged in a spaghetti western. Smile He also sang very light harmony on one or two numbers.

Kristin played one song she started long ago, but just recently finished. It wasn’t the new song she had originally intended to play, but regardless of how good that one would have been, this one was a huge hit with the crowd.

Butts Afire is a story born from cold nights in a house where the only heat was supplied by a wood burning stove that Kristin used to sit on to try and warm up more quickly. The song is about an entire extended family who end up with their butts afire. Fantastic fun, delivered with the appropriate tongue-in-cheek and upbeat quality one would expect from such a song. Smile

Kristin was worried about wrapping up early, to give time to the next headliner to set up. In a semi-related issue, she happened to be calling up the next headliner to sing harmony with her on the next number.

Aoife O’Donovan sang harmony (gorgeously), along with Chris. I’ll have much more to say about her in my next post, which covers her set.

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After finishing the song, Aoife encouraged Kristin to do another, and not worry about how much time was left before her set. Very generous!

Kristin then called up another guest, who was also slated to appear with Aoife in the next set.

Ryan Scott played electric guitar on the final number. He was great, but like Aoife, more about him in the next post.

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It turns out that I saw Ryan play acoustic guitar once, in July 2010, when he played a couple of songs supporting Christina Courtin at the Gulf Coast Benefit at City Winery. I had nice things to say about him that night as well.

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Mercy Bell at Rockwood Music Hall

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Mercy Bell headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. It’s been a very long time coming for me to finally see her perform.

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In fact, I’ve been aware of Mercy Bell for two years and this was the first time I saw her live. In March 2010, Mercy Bell invited me to see her perform at The Living Room, with Julie Peel and Alexa Wilkinson. We hadn’t met (and I hadn’t heard about her). She told me that whenever she Googled her friends, my blog kept coming up.

I agreed to attend and was really looking forward to it. The day before, I got really sick. I tweeted my apologies to Mercy and she tweeted back something like: “Dude, your health comes first, there will be other shows!”. She was right, but who knew other shows meant two years from now… (to be clear, that’s when our schedules aligned, not that she hasn’t played in NYC since.)

Since then, I’ve been following Mercy on Twitter, and I like everything about her as a person. Last night was finally the time to find out about the music. Smile

Mercy performed the beginning of the set solo, accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar. It was as classically a singer/songwriter folk set as you could imagine. That’s one of my favorite genres, so far so good.

Not always, but for much of the set, I felt that Mercy’s voice was eerily reminiscent of early Joan Baez (that’s a very good thing, in case you’re wondering). When we left Rockwood, Lois said to me “Don’t you think a bunch of times she sounded like Joan Baez?”. Cool, I wasn’t crazy! Winking smile

She accompanied herself on the guitar well enough to be a solo act, but I personally preferred the few numbers that she finger-picked on, to the slightly choppier rhythm ones.

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In the end, in addition to her lovely voice, it’s all about the songs. I was definitely drawn in repeatedly to her lyrics, which ultimately (at least for me), define a good folk set. The melodies were engaging as well.

Mercy displayed a wide range of volumes (sometimes within the same song). Considering how attentive and quiet the Rockwood crowd was, I personally preferred the quieter singing, which drew me toward her.

Halfway through the set, Mercy invited up a guest.

Liz Burke (on the web, she’s more easily found as Elizabeth Burke) sang harmony on a few numbers, very sweetly! I don’t think she performs on a regular basis on her own, so I’ve linked her name to her LinkedIn page. Update: Liz was kind enough to leave a comment below with a website that does indeed showcase her musical talent!

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After singing another song or two solo, Mercy invited up another guest, one who does perform on her own. Mercy said that they just finished co-writing a song which they were about to debut.

Maryanna Sokol sang some very light harmony. In fact, if I wasn’t the closest audience member to Maryanna, I would have sworn that she didn’t sing at all during the first song. I’m chalking it up to the fact that this was a spanking brand new song. In fact, here was a tweet from Mercy from just before the show:

Mercy Bell ? @mercybell

Mmmmm @MaryannaSokol and I just collaborated on our first song 🙂

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Maryanna stayed up for another song, which she sang a bit more on, but still not that much. Then Mercy invited Liz back up to sing at the same microphone with Maryanna and they closed out the show with more serious three-part harmony.

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Nicely done all around.

If Mercy hadn’t been mobbed after the show I would have taken a minute to introduce myself. Instead, we scooted home, since it was nearly 11pm.

Our relationship will now continue on Twitter, until the next actual sighting. Smile