We saw Nisha Asnani sing backup once (for Mighty Kate) but didn’t appreciate what a talent she is that night. Then David Fallo told us about Nisha’s show at the 92Y Tribeca and we left dumbfounded, literally in awe of her. The entire evening that night wasn’t quite magical, but Nisha more than made up for it. You can read my thoughts about that show.
Please read that post, to get a better sense of Nisha than I will be able to give you in this post. Last night she headlined Caffe Vivaldi.
This will be one of the tougher posts for me to write. Not because I don’t know what to say, but rather because I have too much to say, and weaving a coherent story around all my thoughts will be nearly impossible. I could break them into five separate (long) posts, but I don’t have the energy (nor the desire) to do that. While I type this sentence, I truly don’t know which direction I’m going to take…
There’s one thing I have to say before anything else, especially for the benefit of those that didn’t click through to the last post and will click away shortly from this one:
Nisha Asnani is one of the most extraordinarily talented people I’ve ever witnessed!
We often wonder why certain people who we think are amazing haven’t made it (yet) when many way less talented people have (in our opinion). That wondering isn’t an honest head-scratching. We realize that making it in the music business involves a wild combination of luck/talent/connections/guerilla marketing/placement and a host of other uncontrollable factors.
Yet, when we got in the cab after the show last night, wondering why Nisha isn’t performing to a national audience every night, and selling millions of records, was very real. There must be a story there, which we’d love to know, ‘cause she needs to be discovered.
Let’s get her performance out of the way, because most of this blog won’t be about that. It was exceptional. Surprise!
Her numbers included an a cappella duet, singing a duet accompanied by an electric guitar, singing and playing the piano solo, with a duet partner sitting at the piano bench with her, at the piano accompanied by a solo cello, another accompanied by a solo viola, accompanied by a string quartet and accompanied by a string quartet, a cajon, an electric guitar and backup singers. Every combination you could imagine, all amazing.
I’ll sprinkle photos of everyone who performed last night throughout the post (they’ll all be named shortly). Given our closeness, some of the photos aren’t so great (angles, lighting, etc.).
Gears are shifting in 3… 2… 1!
As with the 92Y show, we knew about this one due to an email from David Fallo. I ended my section about Nisha’s last show with the following:
I can assure you that if it’s possible, Nisha’s future shows will be “can’t miss” for me. That she’s accessible at a place as beautiful and intimate as the 92Y Tribeca is both a blessing and a travesty all at the same time.
So, if the main stage at the 92Y Tribeca is accessible, I was wildly excited about seeing her at Caffe Vivaldi, which is 20% of the size. Since we attended all of the sets that night, we had the two best seats, a few feet from the stage area (it’s not raised).
The Caffe Vivaldi site listed Nisha Asanani’s name alone. I knew there would many people supporting her, both from David’s email and from Nisha’s tweet:
nishaasnani Nisha Asnani
Tomorrow night, I will be playing my last show of the year. I am incredibly lucky to be sharing the stage with… fb.me/TLHd0X3b
Clicking through to the FB link yields the following:
Tomorrow night, I will be playing my last show of the year. I am incredibly lucky to be sharing the stage with friends and artists I love including Ande Alvarez, Joseph P. Murray, Pauline Pisano, Hale Appleman, Singh Birdsong, Sam Paul Sherman, Mario Spinetti, Gaston Blanchet, Angela Cook and a full string quartet comprised of David Fallo on viola, Amanda Lo and Yuiko Kamamari on violin, and Caleigh Drane on Cello.
If you are in town, come by and share in the love at Cafe Vivaldi (Jones and Bleecker). The (free) show starts at 9:30pm, but we’ll all be there around 9.
I reproduced the above mostly so that I can easily list out all of the people who performed. There was another cellist who played one number with Nisha, the one I mentioned above where the only accompaniment to Nisha’s piano and voice was the cello. That was Allison Seidner.
Allison literally dashed over from her regular job, playing cello at The Addams Family on Broadway!
So, I can’t feign ignorance over how many people were going to perform. Thirteen mentioned in Nisha’s announcement (not counting her!), plus Allison Seidner, who David mentioned in his email. 15 in total. What wasn’t clear, given that the set was listed for 75 minutes, was how it would be structured.
Time to take a step back. If you read my last post about Nisha, then you know that I glossed over the opening acts. Here’s the key paragraph:
The crowd was reasonably enthusiastic about each. Perhaps they really liked them, perhaps they were being polite. When I applauded, it was mostly politeness. Two of the acts were a bit painful to sit through (even though they were short!). One was OK, and one was talented/pleasant, but did nothing for me.
The two painful openers from that night were not there last night. Whew! The others were. The OK one was again OK. Her voice was actually amazing, but the material wasn’t. The talented one was again talented, and in fact was wonderful doing I’ll Be Home For Christmas. If you were there, you know who they were. I’d prefer not to single them out otherwise.
At the 92Y, in a paid show, in a large space, with a very large stage, it made sense to have a bunch of openers, regardless of whether I appreciated them or not. Unfortunately, at Caffe Vivladi, repeating that concept, with more openers (significantly more!), was disastrous (to me, for a number of reasons).
The place is tiny. None of the openers could even unpack their instruments in advance. That meant that with every changeover (and there were obviously lots of them), there were big breaks in the action, while people had to inhale (and hold their breath) to let someone else contort past them, unpack their instrument, get a quick sound check, before beginning.
Not only did it create breaks in the flow, it encouraged the already overcrowded place to devolve into a cocktail party atmosphere where people just yell their conversations at each other. Reigning that in was essentially impossible.
Most of the openers were quite good, a few were even stellar. If you were more than three feet behind us (recall, we were practically sitting in the performers’ laps!), you probably didn’t notice, as the conversations were so loud and rude as to be hurtful. Unfortunately, at times, that even included Nisha, who was chatting up a storm (loudly), seconds after giving someone the most heartfelt introduction.
Given how small Vivaldi is, having 15 performers means that the ratio of performers to audience is already a little whacky. It also means that this felt way more like an insider’s living room party than a show meant for fans. Perhaps that was the intention. If so, then mission accomplished, as it was more of a party that happened to have some amazing live music, than an actual show.
That could have been made clearer by labeling the show: “Private party, public invited!”.
It’s possible that we were the only outsiders, and that everyone else thought this was the most incredible party/night of their lives. There certainly was merriment.
So, what’s my problem? If this was a party filled with really good friends, then those friends were being wildly rude to nearly every opener (very few exceptions). Two of the women delivered heart wrenching songs (written by them), beautifully, with tears welling up in their eyes, while people laughed and screamed and ignored them. I wanted to cry about that, independent of the moving lyrics.
If it wasn’t a party filled with friends, then on some levels it was even worse, and confirms my feelings that the structure of the evening was the mistake. Meaning, if people came out thinking they were going to see 75 minutes of Nisha, supported by others (or, from Caffe Vivaldi’s listing, solo!), then they were simply rude to the openers who they didn’t care to give a chance to woo them.
In a not-so-small irony, the openers were weak-to-awful at the 92Y, but the much larger audience was quiet, respectful, and enthusiastic in their applause and attention. Last night, the openers were pretty awesome across the board, and yet a much smaller audience (can’t hide from your neighbors) were incredibly rude.
Most of the duets were covers, unrehearsed and unpolished. For many, someone held an iPhone with the lyrics up for the performers. During those numbers, there were brilliant moments, followed by amateur-hour ones. Again, more of a hostess-being-cajoled-into-singing type of party, rather than a professional show.
I’d like to call out two exceptional performances, but don’t assume that if I don’t mention someone, they didn’t deserve to be called out. This is a space and energy issue, and one where I prefer to highlight the best of the best.
Hale Appleman sang a song accompanied on the piano by Mario Spinetti. His voice was amazing, his pacing (it was a reasonably slow song) was extraordinary and Mario’s piano play was subtle and gorgeous. Then Hale did a duet with Nisha, both sitting at the piano, sharing a mic with Nisha playing. When they were good, they were awesome, but the classic cover had it’s moments of amateurism (playfulness, not by choice) as well.
When the string quartet accompanied Nisha (two numbers, once with a number of other musicians, once just the quartet), it was heavenly. David Fallo accompanied Nisha on one number on the viola, alone. Along with the cello performance by Allison, it again proved that Nisha’s sound is unbelievably enhanced by a good string arrangement.
Back to Mario Spinetti for a minute. In addition to playing piano accompanying a couple of performers, he handled the sound for the majority of the show (Nisha actually took over at least once when Mario was at the piano).
In the middle of the show, while Mario was at the sound board, David Fallo passed us a hand-written note:
In case you have trouble reading it, it says: “The guy behind the piano is Mario Spinetti. Works w/Ian Axel a lot.”
What a small world. It turns out that Mario produced Ian’s first EP! If I have to marvel at another artist who should be playing on a national stage every night, it’s Ian Axel (and his co-writing, performing partner, Chad Vaccarino). In fact, it might happen for them sooner than it will for Nisha. On December 9th, 2011, there is a movie opening called New Year’s Eve. Ian and Chad’s song, This is the New Year is the title track of the movie and the accompanying soundtrack CD (which includes Bon Jovi numbers!).
At around 11:40pm (40 minutes beyond the listed end time), Nisha declared the set officially over. But, she immediately invited everyone to hang around and sing Christmas songs. We were tired, and having sat in the same chairs for 4 hours and 40 minutes by then, needed to stand up, get home and go to sleep. Much as I would have liked to continue listening to her sing, it wasn’t an option.
At 12:17am, I received an email (I was still awake) from David, telling me that Mario was singing up a storm. Sorry we missed that (since he didn’t sing while we were there), but we still made the right decision leaving when we did. I have no idea how long it went on, but 9:50pm until well past midnight, was certainly amazing, even with the above-noted issues.