Becky Bliss

Barnaby Bright at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Barnaby Bright played Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. We’ve only seen Barnaby Bright (BB) once (just over a year ago), though we’ve seen Nathan and Becky Bliss (the husband and wife team that comprise BB) individually support John Schmitt and Allie Moss.

Nathan and Becky are each so talented on their own. Together, their talent is multiplied, not added.

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Becky sings the leads. Last night she played the harmonium, grand piano and baritone ukulele, all very well. She also writes (or co-writes) a number of their songs. But if I have to highlight one thing, it’s Becky’s voice. Here’s what I wrote about her the first time we saw them:

Becky Bliss sang. Hmmm, that doesn’t do it justice either. Let me embarrass myself by sharing with you how I fumbled for words when I spoke to Becky after the show. Instead of saying something coherent, I said: “Your voice is frighteningly beautiful!”. Huh? Come on Hadar, you weren’t frightened even for a second, you were completely enveloped and mesmerized. Yeah, that’s what I should have said…

Let me say it correctly now, by repeating that last bit: Becky’s voice completely enveloped and mesmerized me, on every single number.

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Nathan’s talent is almost other-worldly. He’s an amazing guitarist, playing many styles. I don’t mean “genres” (of music), but rather guitar styles. He opened the show with a super-fast picking style that was very flamenco like, but the song wasn’t even close to flamenco. His fingers kept up the pace throughout, while Becky enchanted with her vocals and piano play.

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On others, he played the two-hands-on-the-frets style (like Kaki King, Andy McKee and many others have perfected). He also plays more traditional styles, wonderfully. He’s the first person I ever noticed playing a Porchboard (last year) and he played it again last night.

He didn’t touch them last night, but he’s masterful on the sax and clarinet as well. I’m sure he plays other instruments that I haven’t seen him on just yet.

He also sings very well, in particular when he harmonizes with Becky. Oh yeah, he writes most of their songs too. Sheesh, watching Nathan makes me feel both untalented and unproductive. I’m not bitter, just awed.

They are a few months from releasing their next CD. We are proud to have been a part of their successful Kickstarter project and can’t wait to hear the new material produced (they played a number of the new songs last night!).

Either one of them could captivate us on their own. As I said above, their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. They chose to sprinkle even more fairy dust on top of their goodness, by inviting a talented band to join them (they were bandless when we first saw them).

Joining them, left-to-right on stage:

Sean Dixon on drums. It’s easy to find mentions of Sean Dixon on Google, but this is the third time we’ve seen him, and therefore the third time I’ve searched, and I’ve yet to find a good individual link to him, apologies. We first saw Sean supporting Andy Mac. Then we saw him supporting Abby Ahmad and now Barnaby Bright. He was excellent in all three performances, no two of which were similar.

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Craig Akin on acoustic bass. Craig did a wonderful job of filling in the bottom. I didn’t have a good view of him, so I’m guessing when I say that he played on roughly half of the numbers.

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Brian Sanders on cello. Brian played on roughly 2/3’s of the numbers, all exceptionally. He was highlighted a few times, in particular on a number that was mostly just Becky (vocals and piano) and Brian. He was spectacular in that number. Becky introduced another song saying that they rarely play it, because it really needs the strings. Brian to the rescue, allowing them to perform it last night!

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Here’s the set list. They had troubles parking the van and started a few minutes late, so there’s at least one song toward the bottom that didn’t get played:

SetList

Now the backstory on how we nearly missed this amazing set!

The minute I heard about the show (over a month ago) it went on the calendar. I thought it would be immutable. Then our friends from Thailand called to say they’d be in town and could we do dinner at 8pm on Thursday. Exactly the time that Barnaby Bright was scheduled. I’ve been friends with the husband for nearly 50 years (later this year!), so I had no hesitation saying yes (though I did have regrets to miss BB yet again).

Late in the afternoon I spoke to my friend and found out that they could also get together on Saturday (I had assumed Thursday was their only free spot). We moved dinner and freed up our evening to drench ourselves in music, starting with BB. Smile

When I say drench, I mean it. We overdosed, staying at Rockwood (both stages) for five consecutive sets, getting home just before 1:30am. Each set will have its own post. Each set was amazing in its own way. Still basking…

Allie Moss at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last night was Bess Rogers CD Release Party for Out of the Ocean. It was a three-hour, three-act show. I’m going to post about each act separately.

Allie Moss opened the show. Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 was jammed. When Allie took the stage, people were still socializing, loudly (it’s a bar, after all). It took a very few super mellow notes of Late Bloomer (the title track of Allie’s fantastic CD) to create a whisper-quiet stillness. It was a thing of beauty, given the general noise level in most Rockwood 2 shows, even paid ones.

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After Allie’s solo beginning of Late Bloomer, she was joined mid-song by Ian Axel who accompanied her throughout her set on the grand piano. Ian also sang a bit of harmony with Allie on a number of songs.

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Allie has a gorgeous voice. We’ve seen her perform three full sets in the past month when she toured with Bess and Ian on their Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. During that tour when Allie had someone singing harmony with her it was Bess (absolutely beautifully). Since this was Bess’ show, Allie chose to sing her harmonies with a special guest, saving Bess for her own set.

Becky Bliss (of Barnaby Bright) joined Allie on Melancholy Astronautic Man and sang harmony on most of the remaining numbers. Becky has an amazing voice as well and the two sounded great together.

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Allie told us that in the spirit of the CD Release she was going to play some new songs. Both Tiny Shards and Broken Lines were excellent, but I think Broken Lines particularly got to our little group of four.

Chris Kuffner joined on Corner, playing electric bass and singing. It’s so rare that I get to see Chris play bass, so even though it was a purposefully mellow line, it was a treat for me. That I happen to love the song didn’t hurt either.

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Sitting to my left was our friend Kevin (one of the many friends we’ve made through this vibrant indie music scene in NYC). He’s a major Allie Moss fan and he sang along to Corner (quite loudly) in my left ear. I turned to him afterward and told him that he did an awesome job and therefore would be called out for it in the blog, whether he liked it or not. Smile

Allie closed her set with a fantastic rendition of Dig With Me, getting the majority of the audience to sing along at the end.

That the crowd was so respectful throughout is a tribute to Allie’s hold over us, with her voice, songwriting and performance.

I’ve seen Ian Axel perform so many times I can no longer count. I’ve also seen him support others on keyboards on occasion (including on the Intergalactic tour). Still, last night was a real eye-opener for me to see him in a pure sideman role.

Playing the grand piano for Allie’s entire set, with a lighter touch and superb timing (usually coming in part of the way into each song) was a delight. He was a perfect complement to Allie’s voice and guitar.

Here’s the set list:

SetList

When Allie walked off the stage, Ian started his set with no break whatsoever. If you’re interested in my opinion of it, you’ll have to read the next post.

John Schmitt Birthday Show at The Living Room

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I seem to be saying this a lot lately: Musicians tend to play on or near their birthday, throwing a party for their fans, even though it’s work for them. That trend continued last night.

John Schmitt celebrated his birthday (and noted that two members of his band/guests had birthdays one day on either side of the show) by playing at The Living Room. He had a full band and some special guests.

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We don’t need an excuse (like a mere birthday) to come see John Schmitt. If we can make it, we’ll be there. In fact, during the show, he announced that he’s playing Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, this coming Thursday, at 7pm (also a full-band show). It’s his first time at Rockwood 2, and we’re already committed to being there (you should come too!).

Let’s review why we go see John as often as we can:

  • fantastic voice
  • excellent guitar player
  • terrific band (though he’s superb solo)
  • wonderful songwriter
  • as nice a human being as you could want to meet!

All of the above were there in spades last night.

One of the major differences was no paper set list. John splurged on a new iPad. He had it sitting on a music stand. Since we couldn’t walk away with a set list (I was a little offended that John wouldn’t hand over his iPad for us to take home!), Winking smile we insisted on taking a picture of the iPad with the set list open:

iPadSetList

That’s not the complete list, it’s the songs the band played on. John played at least two songs solo, mid-set, one of them being Ave Regina (more on that later). The other was about his grandfather, called Me and the Chief.

Since all of the song titles above are abbreviated (except the last one), you’ll have to work a bit (or already be a John Schmitt fan!) to figure out the full titles.

I’ll spare you the trouble on the second to last one, listed as Val. That’s actually a song called Valerie. Amy Winehouse covered that song, apparently one of her more famous covers. John wanted to play it as a tribute to Amy, trying to be true to her version.

Let’s mention the band first, then the special guests. Left-to-right on the stage:

Mike Sutton on drums. Here’s what I wrote the only other time I’ve seen Mike play:

Mike Sutton on drums (sorry, couldn’t find a good individual link to Mike). Recall what I said above, that I was expecting Stephen Chopek on drums. I was impressed with Mike’s play, but I need to hear more to form a better opinion.

OK, now that I’ve seen him twice, I can safely say he’s a very good drummer. Toward the end of the set John highlighted him a bit, calling: “Mike, take them to Church!”. Winking smile

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Pasquale Chieffalo on electric bass. Excellent all around bass play (both times that we’ve seen him).

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John’s regular keyboard player is Greg Barbone. I really like him. He was out-of-town, and recommended a friend of his who recently moved here from LA (or was just visiting, if I misunderstood).

Eddie Wiernik on grand piano. He was superb throughout the set (I bet he had very little rehearsal time, he’s clearly a pro!). John highlighted him a number of times (showing a lot of faith in the new guy). Even when he wasn’t highlighted, he was solidly supporting and enhancing the sound.

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John sings a few of his songs with fabulous harmonies, often supplied by a number of female vocalists. Last night he brought up someone who was new to us.

Jessica Norland is a singer, actress and dancer (Lois got her business card after the performance, that’s how I know about her other talents). She has an excellent voice and equally impressive stage presence. She sang harmony and lead on Two Souls. We’re both looking forward to seeing/hearing Jessica again.

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Barnaby Bright is an incredible group (duo), comprised of a married couple. We’ve seen them once before, at Jammin’ Java, in a show that also featured John Schmitt, headlined by Chris Ayer. I have been kicking myself ever since that our schedule has collided with the many times that Barnaby Bright have performed.

Becky Bliss (1/2 of Barnaby Bright) came up to sing Going Back. She sang lead on one verse and harmony throughout. I already told you how badly I want to see Barnaby Bright again, so I shouldn’t have to tell you how good Becky sounded, but I will. She was great. Smile

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Speaking of Going Back, John is raising money to professionally record that song. He needs your help. If you’re already a fan, donating $5 will get you a digital copy of the new song when it’s released. But, if you don’t own John’s CD, Ophelia, you should consider donating $15, which will get you downloads of that CD plus the new song when it’s recorded. Just do it!

Nathan Bliss (the other 1/2 of Barnaby Bright) joined on that song as well. He played the banjo and was given a couple of leads. Nathan is an outstanding musician (with an excellent voice, that he didn’t use last night), but I admit that the banjo (an instrument I love) felt out of place on that song. I’m publicly voting that John not employ it on his recording of Going Back.

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Later, John invited Nathan back on stage to play the saxophone (I believe on the final number, Musical). Nathan blew everyone away. I told you he’s an outstanding musician. He played sax with John at Jammin’ Java, but it was only the two of them on stage. He was great then, but with the full band behind him he could really open it up (without overwhelming John alone). I loved catching the looks on the faces of those around me. Priceless!

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An incredible set, thanks John.

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Above, I mentioned that I would have more to say about Ave Regina. At Jammin’ Java, Becky joined John to sing harmony on that song. It was extraordinary. I fell in love with the song on the spot (and I love it even when John sings it solo, like he did last night). But, since Becky was obviously there, I couldn’t help asking John why she didn’t sing it with him.

He said that they didn’t have time to rehearse it (it’s been a while since the Jammin’ Java show). Man, I can’t believe that these artists are such perfectionists and feel the need to rehearse before playing for us. Winking smile Oh well, next time! Smile

If you already forgot my calls-to-action above, you have two tasks:

  1. Donate to John’s Going Back project
  2. Come see John perform this Thursday (8/4/2011) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 7pm

Now go enjoy the rest of your day. If you want to enjoy it even more, come join us tonight at 7pm at The Bitter End, to see the wonderful Jesse Terry, supported by the extraordinary Greg Mayo.