Andrew Nemr

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Alex Berger lives in London. That’s sad enough (for us, not necessarily for him), but the really sad part is that we get to see him perform rather infrequently. When he’s in town, and schedules a show, it’s a must-see event. Last night was the night!

From the first time we saw Alex perform (9/21/2009), I considered him to be an excellent songwriter, a great piano player and a constantly improving (and interesting!) guitar player. Add to those basics his absolutely amazing voice (last night showed off a multi-octave range) and his warm/funny/engaging/relaxed stage presence, and you can be sure we’ll be coming to see him for years to come.

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In addition to playing the title cut from his previous (still current) CD, Snow Globe (a multi award-winning number), Alex mostly played songs from his upcoming (as yet unrecorded) CD. I really love every song that I’ve heard. In addition to being great songs in general, Alex seems to have found a niche (for my taste) in making people laugh out loud at his lyrics.

In other words, he’s translated the easy warmth/humor in his stage banter to fantastic lyrics/images in song. What makes them more special is his delivery. Comedy has two necessary components: the actual material (the thing that makes our brains recognize the twist) and the delivery (which is most often accentuated by comedic timing). Alex has crafted funny songs, but his timing/pacing in delivering those lines is impeccable.

I can’t wait for this CD to be made. I have helped make that a reality, and if you want to do me (and yourself) a personal favor, you’ll help too! Alex is raising money to have it produced (again, like his previous award-winning effort, by the equally amazing Alex Wong). You can click on this link to contribute.

This new CD is full of songs that Alex co-wrote with other talented singer/songwriters. Three of them guest-starred to sing and play the songs with Alex. He also had some special musical guests and even a dancer (yes, it was a spectacle). So, let’s get to it.

Ward Williams joined Alex to open the show. In addition to setting up his cello, Ward pulled over one of the mics from center stage. He noted that he needed it for the big surprise finish. That surprise? Ward singing gorgeous harmony with Alex at the very end of the song. Needless to say, Ward’s cello play was outstanding, complementing Alex’s equally amazing piano play.

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Adam Levy joined Alex to accompany him on their song, A Kiss is as Sweet. Alex sang, Adam sweetly finger-picked the electric guitar, including taking a very long and wonderful solo in the middle.

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Ari Hest joined to sing harmony and finger-pick an acoustic guitar on their co-written number. The interplay with the piano and guitar was beautiful, and Ari’s voice is always wonderful, solo or singing harmony (with pretty much anyone!). Smile

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Andrew Nemr joined to add percussion to the next song. Well, it was a bit more complicated that that, as the percussion was actually delivered via tap dancing. Andrew is a top dancer.

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He danced on two numbers. On the first, Alex played the guitar (wonderfully!). On the second, Alex sang The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), almost a cappella. There was an amazing bass player who provided the only accompaniment (described next). At one point, it was just Andrew dancing and the bass player, with Alex watching in amazement.

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Gregory Jones was the bass player, on the upright. He was wonderful on Alex’s song, but really came to life when he was the sole instrument (if you don’t include the sound made by tap shoes) on The Christmas Song. Very well done!

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Jay Stolar came up to sing and play acoustic guitar on their co-written number, Last Night in Tokyo (one of the ones that slays me). They asked Martin Rivas to join them so they could amp up the three-part harmony. An absolutely perfect way to end an exceptional set!

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We got to say hi to so many people before the show (some that we see all the time, and some that only come out for special occasions, of which Alex Berger is obviously one). More photos were taken as we were leaving (after the next set, covered separately), so here are only a few of the ones that were taken before Alex’s set:

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Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Alex Berger headlined a special show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. Special, because we Americans rarely get an opportunity to see him since he abandoned us 20 months ago to return to his native England. His last show in NYC was also at Rockwood 2, 11 months ago (covered here).

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Alex is like a giant English magnet. In addition to hearing great music, performed wonderfully, it was like being in a friend’s living room (a very large, crowded one), given how many of the people we love we bumped into, hugged, waved to, chatted with, etc. (Photos at the bottom of a small sample of said people.)

Right before Alex returned to England, he put out his debut album, Snow Globe. It has since won two International awards. He has amassed enough new material to record his second CD, which he’ll be doing in a few months, produced by Alex Wong (who also produced Snow Globe).

Alex opened the show solo at the grand piano. He captivated the audience with his silky voice and exceptional piano play. From that point on, most of the songs had at least one special guest (often more). This morning I read a tweet, which I couldn’t agree with more:

martinrivas Martin Rivas

So impressed with how @BergerAlex so effortlessly carries a room by himself. What a show!

Alex switched back-and-forth between the piano and an electric guitar. In a not-so-small irony, that guitar (which sounded amazing) was borrowed from his good friend Adam Levy. Adam just happened to be headlining a set on the other side of the wall at Rockwood 1. Each would likely have happily guested on the other’s set, if it were not for the bad luck scheduling.

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In addition to sporting Adam’s guitar, Alex used it to play a song they co-wrote, which will be on the upcoming CD, A Kiss is as Sweet as it Gets.

Alex played a number of songs that he co-wrote with other top NYC-based songwriters. I believe that every one of them will be on the new CD. Two of them were guest stars who got to sing the song with Alex.

The first was Jay Stolar who came up with an acoustic guitar. That song was not the song Jay co-wrote with Alex. He sang Ari Hest’s part in a song Ari co-wrote with Alex.

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Alex Wong joined Alex Berger, along with Martin Rivas (who played Adam Levy’s guitar, beautifully!), to sing their co-written The Fighter. That song will be on each of their upcoming CD’s. Let the battle begin to see which one does it better. Keep in mind that Wong is producing both CDs, so Berger better be careful of sabotage if winning the title is important to Wong. Winking smile

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Jay Stolar returned late in the set (second-to-last song?) with Martin Rivas and Chrissi Poland to sing the song he co-wrote with Alex. The introduction was but one example of how relaxed and entertaining Alex is in talking to the audience (I’d almost say caressing the audience). He noted that this was a very upbeat song about the End of the World. Winking smile

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The four of them proceeded to make us laugh while singing their hearts out.

Speaking of laughing, perhaps my favorite song of the evening was one Alex co-wrote with Bess Rogers (who is on tour and couldn’t be there). This song is about reading too much into every situation. It’s hysterical, but so melodic and lyrical. Alex was awesome on the guitar as well, making his lush picking and strumming seem effortless. It was a joy, with everyone laughing at practically every line.

This photo doesn’t quite capture the ease with which Alex delivers his banter, but it will at least remind us of it. Smile

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For completeness sake, another song Alex performed was co-written with Allie Moss (who also couldn’t attend last night). In other words, Alex has very good taste in who to write with, as do each of the people who were wise enough to write with him. Smile

I can’t give you the titles to any of these songs, as I didn’t notice a set list on stage to grab.

Ezra Gale on upright bass accompanied Alex on roughly half the songs. He was terrific on every number.

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Andrew Nemr joined Alex to dance on two numbers. He tapped beautifully (and mostly subtly), adding the only percussion of the performance. He was originally scheduled to do one number, but everyone encouraged him to stay on stage for the next one as well.

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I mentioned above that Snow Globe won two awards. One was by a panel that included Tom Waits, one of Alex’s inspirations. Even though Alex had a ton of new (original) material he would never have the time to get through in this set, he wanted to honor Tom’s influence on him (and the selection of Snow Globe as Best Story Song!), so he played one Tom Waits song on the piano.

The guest performers obviously enjoyed the set even when they weren’t on stage!

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Great music, performed wonderfully, surrounded by friends in a warm environment. Alex Berger better not make us wait another 11 months before he plays in NYC again!

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