Since we accidentally discovered them in August 2007, they have had no trouble holding on to the top spot on my favorite band list. Coming up on our five year anniversary. I guess we’ll be exchanging something made of Wood in a few months.
One of the amazing things about Girlyman is that they are both the same and extremely different than they were then. They continue to grow and experiment (quite successfully) while retaining the same core qualities that ensnared me in my first 30-second listen of Joyful Sign (the song) on their MySpace page, all those years ago (yes, MySpace, for realz).
One measure that they stand the test of time is that I’m equally happy if they play their newest song or their oldest. At most shows you get a healthy mix. Because they are getting really close to releasing their latest CD (we already have it, since we were geniuses and pre-ordered it when they first announced it) last night was weighted toward the newest stuff (Supernova), but they would never leave their fans completely devoid of their classic numbers.
Supernova has 13 songs on it. They played 10 of them last night. You might think that wouldn’t leave time for anything else. If you thought that, you’ve never been to a Girlyman show. They play long sets and find a way to please almost everyone, even those of us who don’t get our request played. Including two encores, they played eight numbers that are not on Supernova (95 minutes on stage). For your convenience, each of the songs that were not on Supernova happened to be starred (have a leading asterisk) on the set list. The Request song ended up being Amaze Me. I’ll get to the two encores later.
I mentioned above that Girlyman has grown/changed through the years. The biggest change occurred 2.5 years ago, when JJ Jones started playing drums with them (first when she was part of their opening band, then when she joined Girlyman full time). This tour marks another significant shift.
It’s the first show I’ve been at where they retired two beloved instruments: Ty no longer has the djembe on stage and Nate didn’t have his baritone guitar. As wonderful as the djembe sound is (and Ty has a great feel/touch on it), JJ satisfies every desire for percussive sounds. The baritone guitar has been replaced by two instruments: 1) an electric bass which is passed around between Doris, Ty and Nate (plus a special guest) and 2) an electronic keyboard that is now Nate’s primary instrument.
You can judge how wonderful the set list was for yourself, but if you weren’t there, you need me to tell you that they sounded equally good. For certain shows, City Winery can be less-than-ideal, because audience cross-talk can really interfere with the listening experience. Girlyman fans are awesome (everywhere we’ve seen them, in multiple states), so there was no talking and the sound washed over us.
Of course there were tuning songs. It’s really good to know that the loss of the baritone guitar did not mean the loss of tuning songs. Nate did at least one on the bass, but most were on the keyboards. I won’t spoil any, since I suspect that one of the better ones may become a theme on the remainder of this tour.
Beside the tuning songs, all of their banter was funny, with Nate in particular tickling my funny bone (often with near-whispered comments that were spot on).
While the addition of JJ was a biggie, the new songs on Supernova were arranged with drums as a first-class citizen. At previous shows, as much praise as I heaped on JJ, the song I found myself always calling out was Young James Dean (which they closed the show with last night). She’s awesome on that number. But, I now have to call out practically every one of the 10 songs from Supernova that they played last night, as the drums is now very integral to the sound of each (on the CD as well as live).
Girlyman rotated three special guests throughout the set, at times even having all three on stage at the same time.
Julia Biber on cello. Julia played the cello on Supernova as well, so it was a real treat to see her perform a number of songs live. She bowed and plucked (during the finale, she was forced to pluck because her bow went missing). She was also the subject of a running joke throughout the set as both Nate and Ty kept pronouncing her last name in a British accent (they didn’t go quite so far as to say: “Biber, Julia Biber”, as in “Bond, James Bond”).
Ingrid Elizabeth (of Coyote Grace) played electric bass and danced (yes, danced!). First, let’s get the bass playing taken care of. We’ve seen Coyote Grace once, when they opened for Girlyman at The Barns at Wolf Trap. Ingrid plays both electric and upright bass magnificently, so having her play the electric with Girlyman was delicious.
When Girlyman played Kittery Tide they cleared the cello area (far left of the stage, which is how the bow got misplaced). Ingrid came out in tap shoes and danced (impressively IMHO) to the very upbeat number. I was particularly amazed at her perfectly timed high jumps, which coincided with JJ’s biggest drum strikes.
Not to keep it too serious, in the middle of the song Ingrid danced across the stage, behind every member of Girlyman, with grand hand and arm gestures as her body was obscured by each of them. It was funny, entertaining and yet could still be considered very good dancing!
The final special guest was the opener, who sang on at least four numbers (you can see her name on three of them in the set list, but she also sang during the first encore). She complemented them well, but I’ll save her name for when I get to her set, just after describing the encores.
The first encore consisted of their now regular rendition of Staying Alive, to thank all that is holy for Doris’ recovery from Leukemia. It’s always a fun number, but having all three guests on stage (this is where Julia was forced to pluck) enriched the sound even further. It was a big finish, except that the crowd wouldn’t stop clapping and they were forced to return for a second encore.
They asked for requests. It was obvious which song was called out the most. Nate just said “Yes, I heard you, Easy!”. It might have been clear, but it started a humorous debate that they now needed to pick a song of theirs that had Easy in the title. In seconds, they rattled off three different songs: 1) Everything’s Easy, 2) Easy Bake Ovens and 3) Easy Pearls. Of course, they knew/heard that the request was for Everything’s Easy, which they performed beautifully.
Edie Carey opened the show. She started out talking for longer than I expected, and within seconds, had everyone (or at least me) eating out of her hand. She was charming, disarming, candid and interesting. That continued throughout the set, with long introductions that were at least as entertaining as the songs.
I think she either had a slight cold or was suffering from allergies, because her voice sounded a touch nasally to me. It worked really well anyway (didn’t affect her ability to hit any notes), but I think it’s typically a little clearer.
She accompanied herself very well on an acoustic guitar. Like Girlyman, she rotated a number of guests.
Elana Arian played the violin (fiddle) on every number. I think she also sang a bit of harmony, but don’t quote me (or hate me) in case I am making that up. Her violin play was excellent and I thought it complemented Edie’s vocals and guitar extremely well. I found out after the fact that she’s a singer/songwriter as well, so you can check out her original music by clicking on her name.
Edie brought up Doris and JJ to join her a couple of songs into the set. Doris played the electric bass and JJ the drums (duh). Lovely, as the sound kept getting fuller.
Then Nate joined on the electronic keyboards and vocals.
Finally, Ty came out for two numbers (I believe). Ingrid Elizabeth joined for one of those as well. So, it started out with an acoustic guitar and violin, with solo vocals, and eventually built up to a full band with rich harmony. Very well done!
Edie was an incredibly well-matched opener for Girlyman. That’s no surprise, as she’s opened for them on at least one previous tour, so it was no accident that they selected her again.
Ary does the sound, setup and teardown at all of Girlyman’s shows. She does an incredible job and deserves a huge shoutout:
Circling back to our Party. We invited a mix of people to join us. That included four NYC-based singer/songwriters (none of whom were familiar with Girlyman): Bri Arden, Jeff Litman, Matt Simons and John Schmitt. Unfortunately, John was performing at a house concert in NJ earlier in the day, and due to the monsoon, ended up not being able to make it to the show. We missed him, and he missed a great show (which he’ll know, when he reads this).
Our party also included a family who traveled from MN specifically to see this show!
The rest were our music loving friends with whom we enjoy so many shows together. Of those, two had never seen Girlyman before, so that was a treat to introduce them to their music.
One of those was sporting a stunning diamond ring, having just accepted the proposal of another of our amazing singer/songwriter friends.
We enjoyed a lovely meal and some wine made right on the premises (yummy if you ask me). It was a perfect evening. The only thing that tried to dampen our joy was the rain (get it, dampen?).
OK, when does Girlyman return to NYC? I have to get it on the calendar and grab a bunch of seats together, so we can plan the reprise.