Girlyman

Angel Band at Joe’s Pub

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If you’re one of the few people who reads the comments to these posts, then you probably know how we spent last night. Angel Band performed at Joe’s Pub. It also happened to be the official release party for their brand new CD With Roots & Wings. It’s also available as a download from Amazon.com.

We’ve seen Angel Band twice before, at BB King when they opened for David Bromberg (Nancy Josephson’s husband, and a long-time favorite performer of mine!) and when they opened for David at Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY. In both shows they were wonderful (as reported here and here) and we bought their one CD, Beautiful Noise, and have listened to it many times since.

Last night it was all about them (though David Bromberg’s band backs them, so he was on the stage the entire time). It was their show, their party. More to say about that after the review of the set itself.

Regular readers know that Joe’s Pub is our favorite place to see live music. Angel Band came out at exactly 7:30pm (the announced show time). The three ladies, Nancy Josephson, Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber were joined by David Bromberg (guitars), Bobby Tangrea (mandolin and fiddle), Bob Taylor (bass) and Nate Grower (fiddle). Here they all are on stage:

Angel Band

After getting their positions set on the stage, the ladies erupted with an a cappella rendition of Hey Papa Legba, the first cut from the new CD. The acoustics at Joe’s Pub are among the best, when the person working the sound board knows what they are doing. Last night, the person working the sound board was nearly perfect! (Bromberg’s guitar had terrible feedback for five seconds, and at the end of one song, Nancy’s microphone nearly exploded, otherwise, one of the best blended sounds ever!)

One of the things that distinguishes Angel Band from a number of other vocal groups that we love (Girlyman, The Wailin’ Jennys, The Weepies, etc.) is the raw power that each of Nancy, Jen and Kathleen produce. And yet, even though they are belting it out (with all of the emotion that connotes), their blended sound is perfect and never overwhelms. I can’t explain the acoustics behind that (other than to credit their sound person again!), because it feels like you should be knocked out of your chair by their individual and collective power.

You are, sort of, by the beauty of their sound, not by being overpowered by it.

They performed at least seven of the 13 songs on the new CD (perhaps one or two more). They were all fantastic. On the first CD, few (if any, sorry, I’m not sure) of the numbers were written by Angel Band. I’ve reported in the past that Lois is drawn more to music written by artists that perform their own creations. I never cared, but am more sensitized to it after 26 years with Lois. ;-)

The new CD has a number of songs written by Nancy, Bobby Tangrea or the two collaborating together. It still has covers, including Angel of the Morning, which is the one duplicated song from Beautiful Noise, though the version on the previous CD is nearly one minute longer. They performed that last night as well, amazingly, with Nancy holding a note at the end for so long that she received an ovation that lasted through the normal end-of-song ovation. She had a good joke about it too, which I’ll keep secret, so that you have another reason (aside from their singing talent) to see them live.

So now, I have four versions of Angel of the Morning in iTunes. Two by Angel Band, one by Juice Newton, and one by Girlyman on their new Live CD. Guess which one I like best? ;-) Seriously, I love them all, and I’ve been listening to Juice Newton’s version for the longest time (and have never tired of it!), but Girlyman’s is the mellowest, and most soulful rendition of the four.

In an irony (for me, since I was unaware of it), Nancy explained that the author of Angel of the Morning, Chip Taylor, also wrote Wild Thing. The irony is that one of Girlyman’s funniest bits on stage is their rendition of Thing Wild, singing Wild Thing backwards. So, they cover two different Chip Taylor songs, one forwards, and one backwards. ;-)

After saying goodnight, they returned to the stage for a one-song encore. It’s one of their signature numbers, One Voice, written by Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys. I’m nuts about this song, and Angel Band does it wonderfully, each and every time.

They were on stage for exactly one hour (including the encore). I’ll have more to say about that in a minute. When the show was over, we sprinted to the back, where they were selling the new CD. We were first on line, and I also got to finally meet Nancy.

Nancy Josephson

We have traded a few emails since I bought Beautiful Noise directly from her nearly two years ago! It was nice that she remembered my name (not that it’s all that common). ;-) Of course, we got the CD signed by all three of them, thanks Angel Band!

The CD is gorgeous, and I recommend it highly! The cover shot for the CD was taken before last night, because you’d have trouble recognizing both Jen and Kathleen from that photo. Kathleen cut her hair to just below ear length, and Jen chopped it all off in a complete buzz cut. :-)

Here are close-ups of Jen and Kathleen, so you can see the difference:

Jen SchonwaldKathleen Weber

Here are individual shots of the rest of the band:

David BrombergBobby TangreaBob TaylorNate Grower

Now the back story to last night. Having seen Angel Band twice before, both times opening for David Bromberg, we were used to seeing them for exactly one hour (which for an opening group, is actually on the generous side nowadays!). We were really looking forward to seeing them at Joe’s Pub for two reasons:

  1. It’s our favorite place, regardless of the band
  2. We expected a longer show than usual

Unfortunately, when I saw that the start time was 7:30pm, not the more typical 7pm, I knew the show couldn’t be more than 75 minutes long (with encore), given that there was a 9:30 show as well.

They are also playing tonight, at BB King, a place we also like a lot, opening for David Bromberg. So, we could have had the same length show, and the enjoyment of a full David Bromberg set as well, by going to BB King. Of course, I prefer Joe’s Pub, and an early night, so I had a real dilemma.

I started this post by mentioning that you might have known we were going. That’s because the Angel Band publicist commented on this blog a few weeks back, pointing out the upcoming CD Release and the Joe’s Pub date.

I wrote to him asking about the short show. He contacted a member of the band (my guess is Nancy, but I have no way of knowing), and he replied with the following direct quote:

…we’ll give ‘em everything we got and leave ‘em lying in the aisles

OK, it was only an hour, but I will heartily admit, she (whichever of the Angels it was), was right. We left thoroughly satisfied with the performance, other than always wanting more from any artist we really like. They really do give every show their all, and the fans completely appreciate it!

Last night was unusual for another reason. The majority of the audience was related to at least one member of the band. The release party was more of a family get-together. It was pretty cool. We walked in right behind a group of them, which included David’s brother Charney. He sat immediately in front of us. Nancy spent an hour before the show making the rounds with various family members. A number of the cousins had never met before, and we were smack in the middle of all of the introductions.

This kind of scene was right up Lois’ alley, and even if the show wasn’t good (which you now know wasn’t the case), she might have called the evening a success just for the people watching. :-)

So, the concert was a complete success. Unfortunately, the aftermath wasn’t. We intended to head up to the house last night. We boarded a bus heading to the apartment. The air conditioning was blasting (a good thing for Lois). After a stop or two (perhaps the bus driver overheard one woman complain when she got on), he shut off the air conditioning.

Lois doesn’t do well (in general) with motion, in particular fits and starts, and when you add stale warm air to the mix, she gets sick instantly. She also doesn’t recover for long periods of time. By the time we got to the apartment, she was violently ill (nauseous and dizzy). I suggested we spend the night in the city instead of going to the house. She insisted. As silly as that was, I have learned (the hard way) not to argue (at least not too much).

We made great time going home, but it did nothing to help her get better. She’s totally out of it today as well, having recovered not even a bit, no doubt made worse by being in a car immediately after the bus ride. Hopefully, she’ll be back to normal tomorrow! :-(

Doofus Music

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For those of you who know that my favorite group is called Girlyman, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t judge a group by their name. ;-)

In this post (ironically about Girlyman!) near the bottom, I mentioned that I had lunch with a good friend who I used to work with for years at UBS. I didn’t mention his last name, but unfortunately, I need to out him in this post, whether he likes it or not.

During that lunch, I mentioned that we were going to see Girlyman that night, and we got to talking about the type of music we listen to. He told me that his parents were both musicians, playing a number of genres, but definitely fitting into the Bluegrass/Folk on a broad scale. Of course, I love that kind of music.

So, what’s the name of their group? Currently, Doofus. Doofus consists of four people, two married couples, Neal and Coleen Walters and John and Heidi Cerrigione. Prior to Doofus (and possibly parallel as well, I haven’t checked), Neal and Coleen Walters also produce music under their names, and have also been in the Mill Run Dulcimer Band.

I checked out some of the sample streams and instantly loved the music. Neal and Coleen are the parents of my friend Chris, so now you can guess his last name. ;-)

Chris encouraged me to contact his folks to ask about purchasing some of their CDs. After doing that, I decided that I really want to own them all, rather than fall in love with a few and go back to the well again. So I ordered all 13 CDs, one of which is a three CD set of Autoharp music.

The CDs arrived while we were away celebrating the graduations (oh yeah, and working at Zope). I ripped them and loaded them on my iPod the minute I got my sweaty little hands on them. A total of 278 (or 279) tracks on the various CDs (four by Doofus, two by Neal and Coleen Walters, six by Mill Run Dulcimer Band and the three CD set of Autoharp music).

So far, I’ve listened to all four Doofus CDs. I love them all. It’s a mixture of mesmerizing instrumentals and gorgeous vocals always backed by fantastic musicianship. I’ve only listened to two Mill Run Dulcimer tracks so far and they are exceptional as well. I am truly looking forward to enjoying the remaining CDs over the coming week.

I am also very excited that Neal and Coleen (and Doofus too) perform live, mostly on the East Coast (lucky for us), so one of these days, I will definitely be making it our business to go and see them. It will surely be a treat!

Tonight we’re seeing the David Grisman Experience (he’s an incredible mandolin player) at BB King. First concert in three weeks, so we’re salivating. I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Girlyman Mini-Contest

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OK, we just concluded the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. The results were just posted.

As you can see in that post, there were two CDs left un-won. In keeping with the spirit of the original contest, trying to have some fun in promoting this fantastic group, Lois and I are now running a mini-contest to give away the final two CDs.

The rules are similar, but different enough. Basically, tell us (and hopefully the world!) why you deserve one of these CDs. The difference comes in that there is no time limit on this contest, and the first two entries that move us or tickle us in any way will win (on the spot!).

So, this time, speed matters. But, this time, simply saying “I want one” won’t do, whereas if two additional people had simply said that last time, they would have won!

You can review the original rules in the original contest post. Basically, tell us why you should win a CD in a comment to this post. Even better if you tell the world somewhere else (your blog, YouTube, etc.) and put the link to that in a comment here.

That’s it! They could both be gone today, or still here a year from now. It’s up to (two of) you! :-)

Girlyman Live CD Contest Winners

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OK, the Girlyman Live CD contest is officially over. Picking the winners turned out to be easy, somewhat unfortunately. There were only eight entries, so they all win! It just so happens that all eight entries were really good, but it would have been nice to see even more like these.

Given that there’s no need to rank any of them, I’ll list them in the order that they were entered. Later today, I’ll be contacting all of the winners via email to get their shipping addresses. I think that we’ll be able to get the CDs out in the mail to all of you sometime next week.

Without further ado:

#1: Frank and Suzy

very cool idea!

My wife and I felt the same – more people need to feel the Girly-Love! after introducing many of our friends to the band’s recorded music, we felt our friends (and us) needed more. We had traveled from Oklahoma to Nebraska to see them and then Oklahoma to Missouri when we figured, for the $$$ we are spending on the road, maybe we can talk them into coming here! So we found a space with a stage at a brand new music school in town (Norman Institute for the Performing Arts) and convinced their booking agent that we could pull off a show even though we don’t really do this kind of thing.

We had a great show with over 100 people and sold tons of merch. We made enough to cover our costs and give some to NIPA who had graciously offered their place for free.

We are now in the beginning stages of helping some friends in New Orleans (who came up for our show) do the same thing.

As far as the CD giveaway, I’ve already ordered one for us and a second to give away. If we ended up with yet another, we’d just pass it along to someone new!

~frank & suzy

#2: Laura

Hi!

Thanks so much for putting this together. I’m excited to read everyone’s stories. I, too, am a huge Girly-fan and am trying to introduce them to anyone who will listen. Let’s just say that several people are getting Somewhere Different Now as a birthday present this spring!

Another small attempt of mine was to make a music video for my current favorite Girlyman song, Everything’s Easy. Let me know what you think:

#3: krpmomma

My husband, daughter, and I are all HUGE fans of Girlyman! We would really love to get the Somewhere Different Now live CD so we can relive the one time (SO FAR!) that we have seen Girlyman in concert. My daughter was excited when she heard about the contest and we put together a little music video entry. Watch out Hadar- she may rival you for the #1 fan title!

Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF3aL3jledk

#4: David

Top four reasons why I want a Girlyman CD!

1) If it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t be a Girlyman CD contest! (OR maybe there would be but y’all would’ve had to see them for the first time another time).

2) Girlyman has already written a song for me, and from what I can tell–Ty still likes me.

3) Memories are precious…”Tomorrow may bring us thunder or sun…I’d do it all again, I’d do it by the ton.”

4) I’m a Girlyman fan!

#5: Laura M

So I would like to officially enter the contest and point attention towards my facebook profile :-)

PS: my main impressive reason for winning (besides liking the group, of course :-) ) is that I’ve listened to the tracks 242 times according to my itunes play count!

And that only counts times its played on my computer!

I have to stop here for a second and make a comment. When Laura M originally entered, I went to her Facebook profile and commented that I couldn’t find the part about Girlyman. Obviously, something was wrong with me that day. I just went and checked again, and I found it, and I was very impressed by it, though like I said on the contest page, the P.S. would have been good enough. ;-)

#6: Wes

I am officially entering “The Contest” There are many reasons why I think I could win one…but here are my upper-echelon ones:

1) I was at Joe’s Pub the same night Hadar/Lois (and David) first saw Girlyman. In fact, I could (perhaps) make a similar argument as David :)

2) I was just as enthralled that night…and became an instant fan

3) Since returning from that initial concert, I have mentioned Girlyman to anyone I think might be remotely interested in discovering them

4) A live CD would be incredible (and bring back good memories of the first time I saw them, and the great friends I was with)

5) About 5 months ago, I discovered the owner of this blog had broken a rule of his when he posted a music write-up…and failed to mention Girlyman (that was a good eye!) I was making sure they were consistently represented per the blog’s norms

6) I am planning on seeing them in July in Durham, NC

7) A live CD will help me better promote them in my “neck of the woods” (and this is NC, so it is “the woods”)

8) My Facebook status update now mentions Girlyman

9) I don’t want to resort to begging…

Ok…I think those are good ones!

#7: Margaret

While I have no incredible stories to tell, I just thought I’d tell the plain and simple truth, for what it’s worth.

My deep abiding love for Girlyman was renewed this summer when my dad and I spontaneously went to a gig while visiting family in Virginia. We’d seen them at Falcon Ridge several years ago and remembered being really impressed with them, and we were not disappointed! Since then I have listened to their CDs excessively and obsessively, introduced a bunch of my friends to them, and brought a couple of those friends to a show in my native habitat – New York State. I even attempted to sing one of their songs solo to audition for my school’s musical, and while even a far better singer than I could not hope to do justice to their music alone, I had a fantastic time with that and got the people running the auditions interested in Girlyman. I wear my Girlyman shirt often, and take advantage of the quizzical stares as a brilliant opportunity to spread the word.

I will get my hands on that live CD somehow but I figured I’d take a stab at it this way. I’m counting down the days until a New York gig appears on the upcoming shows page…

#8: girlyman

Well, I haven’t made a youtube movie nor have I hired an airplane to write “GO SEE GIRLYMAN” in the skies over 49 out of 52 states. Awesome though that would be. I first saw Girlyman a mere three weeks ago but since then trust me I have been busy spreading the word the old fashioned way! To date I have converted: 6 fellow Smithies via “put these headphones on and just listen!” My entire scenic design class by playing Joyful Sign and Little Star during drafting sessions, 3 more college students on the west coast (one of whom was in El Salvidor at the time. Yes I called long distance to El Salvidor to get one more person to the Girlyman concert in Monterey.) Add to the list my father who is a stickler about all things music, 1 Northeaster student who is a composer in her own right ( I have heard since then that all of her friends are now addicted as well.) That’s 17 new Girlyfans in three weeks not counting however many my friend at Northeaster has created. I also just played a few tracks at work this afternoon in the theater and, while time has not yet shown how serious the addiction will become, there are now 4 theater electricians wandering around humming “Through to Sunrise.”

in only three weeks I have created over 17 new Girlyfans and I am nowhere near done. So long as my ipod has a charge and there are people around who have yet to gotten drunk off of the harmony I will keep spreading the good news of Girlyman!

I deserve a CD because it will help me spread the word of Girlyman to more people! I live between three different places: Santa Cruz California, Northmapton Mass, and rural: corner of No and Where Vermont. so when I say that I am spreading the word of Girlyman far and wide I mean FAR and WIDE.

I forgot to mention I have spread the word WITHOUT MAKING ANY BOOTLEGGED CDs! I flat out refuse and insist that everyone buy the music legitimately so that the support the bad as well as their new addiction.

Congratulations to all of the winners, you were well deserving!

We still have two signed CDs left, and I will have a mini-continuation-contest announced shortly, with ever-so-slightly different rules. ;-)

Update: Here’s a link to the new post about the new mini-contest.

The Proclaimers at BB King

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Last night marked the end of our mini-streak of concerts (six in seven nights, including the last three in a row at BB King). We saw The Proclaimers.

In 1998 The Proclaimers released their second studio CD, Sunshine On Leith. The first two songs on the album really grabbed Lois: I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and Cap In Hand. We nearly burned out those two tracks on the CD playing them practically every time we got in the car, for years.

For whatever reason, we rarely listened to the rest of the CD. I truly can’t recall whether it bored me or not, but for sure, it didn’t grab Lois, and she always controls the music in the car, so it never got played.

When I finally got an MP3 player, I was stingy both on the disk space I was willing to give up on the laptop (the disks are much bigger now) as well as worrying about filling up the smaller disks on the original MP3 players (my first was a Creative Zen, not an iPod). So, when choosing which of my music to rip back then, I was overly judicious (I regret that to an extent nowadays). When ripping Sunshine of Leith, I only ripped those two tracks, and have never revisited the CD since then.

That background will become important momentarily, to set the appropriate expectations in terms of our knowledge (or complete lack thereof) with regard to the range of The Proclaimers music. With that in mind, my most humble apologies to their legion of fans!

A lot of what I have to say about last night’s show is more tied to the venue and the experience, but in keeping with the new style here, I’ll describe the show from my perspective first, then the venue, which may or may not clarify some of my feelings about the show itself. I’ll also cover the opening act, Jeremy Fisher afterwards as well in between this and the venue section.

The Proclaimers came on exactly 9pm. The crowd went nuts (literally). They have a big band sound with six people on the stage. From left-to-right, Zac Ware on lead guitar, Charlie Reid on vocals, tambourine and penny whistle, Craig Reid on vocals and acoustic guitar, Clive Jenner on drums (mostly hidden from our view behind Craig Reid), Garry John Kane on bass and Stevie Christie on keyboards.

The Proclaimers

Another shot of them:

The Proclaimers 2

Charlie and Craig Reid are The Proclaimers, Scottish twins. Charlie primarily sings lead, occasionally playing the tambourine. He played the penny whistle on a single song. No need for him to play it on any others, as he plays it simplistically, but not badly. Craig sings harmonies with Charlie, and lead on a number of songs. He plays purely rhythm guitar on all of the numbers.

They sing beautiful harmonies and both have very good voices, but it wasn’t as special as I had hoped. On a few numbers (thankfully not many), they (but in particular Craig) were really just screaming into the microphone rather than singing.

Charlie Reid:

Charlie Reid

Craig Reid:

Craig Reid

Zac Ware was fine on the guitar, but only took perhaps four leads the entire show, the longest of which was under 30 seconds. He basically played background leads, softly, in support of the group.

Zac Ware

Garry John Kane played a solid if unspectacular bass throughout the show.

Garry John Kane

I can’t tell you anything about Stevie Christie, as it was very hard to make out the keyboards on most of the numbers.

Stevie Christie

Clive Jenner kept a good beat all night, but we really couldn’t see him at all from our seats. We stood at the door for the encore and I had a better vantage point. I was also able to concentrate a bit more on his playing (specifically listening to the drums) and I was reasonably impressed. Here is a five minute drum solo by Clive (accompanied just by a bass) on YouTube if you want to judge for yourself.

This photo of Clive Jenner comes off of the Big Screen at BB King, since he was hidden from our view the entire night by Craig Reid:

Clive Jenner

Together, they produce a very pleasant sound, but absolutely zero musical virtuosity. It’s basically all just a driving beat to support their singing.

That obviously brings us to the songs. As stated earlier, we were really only familiar with two songs. Thankfully, they played both of those (closing the show, pre-encore, with 500 Miles). While the crowd loved nearly every song beyond description, we found most of them too similar to each other. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t listen much to the rest of our CD, but I honestly can’t recall.

Given that I really like the words (message) in both Cap In Hand and 500 Miles, it’s possible that if I really knew the words well to the rest of the songs, I too would have enjoyed it more. While I was able to understand a fair bit of them last night (the sound level was good and clean), I doubt it. They played their big smash hit Letter From America (which sent the crowd into a tizzy, literally), but I found the song quite repetitious, even though it was pleasant.

They played for 73 minutes before saying goodnight. After a minute or two they came back out for a three-song encore. The encore was pleasant but not even as good as the main show. They did play an obvious crowd favorite, King Of The Road (a 1960 hit by Roger Miller). I know and like the song, but I don’t see what makes their version special in any way. Oh well, I guess I just didn’t get it last night.

They were off the stage at exactly 10:30pm (90 minutes including encore). That’s a reasonably typical length for these types of shows, so I wasn’t disappointed by that (in fact, we were glad it didn’t drag on). That said, when I describe the crowd and setup in the venue section, you’ll see what I mean when I say this was a show that should have played a reasonable amount longer.

We both used the exact same word to describe the show afterwards: boring. Boring can have multiple meanings. At one extreme being bored out of one’s mind (wanting to bore a hole in your head, just for amusement or relief) and at the other extreme, just passing time, mindlessly. This was definitely the latter.

There wasn’t a single unpleasant moment or note in the entire performance. It was pleasant (the best word I can find to describe my feelings), but I wouldn’t have been disappointed if it ended after the first number (other than that I was curious to hear Cap In Hand and 500 Miles, live). Both of those songs were fine as well, and I was certainly tapping my foot, but neither moved me in any way either (which they still do when I listen on the iPod!).

Again, apologies to their fans, who will find the above impossible to believe or understand. :-(

The opening act was Jeremy Fisher, someone I’d never heard of. He came on at exactly 8pm with two people accompanying him. Isaac Carpenter on drums and Peter Fusco on bass (I’m pretty sure I got the bass player right).

The three of them produce a fresh, driving sound. I couldn’t catch all of the words, but the ones I did seemed pretty good. Here’s a YouTube video of him doing one song, Cigarette, that I did catch the words to. The video is cleverly animated (in my opinion) so if you’re interested in learning about Jeremy, this might be a good intro.

Both Isaac and Peter sang harmony with Jeremy, with Isaac doing more than Peter. Isaac really hooked me, instantly, as a drummer. A very clean, driving beat throughout. He also played glockenspiel and shakers. He sings well too. Peter played a solid bass and sang well too.

They were on stage for exactly 35 minutes.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed their set and I’d likely go see Jeremy again if the opportunity arose. He has a MySpace page as well as a number of YouTube videos around, so checking him out is pretty easy.

As for Isaac Carpenter, if you have an interest, you can get a peek into his personality (dry humor), in this amusing YouTube video (not hysterical, just amusing). The bit at the very end may also give you a glimpse into his drumming capabilities, but not the tiny bits in the beginning of the video. ;-)

It’s a tad sad when the warm up group tickles me significantly more than the main attraction. Oh well, at least they did. It would have been worse if Jeremy was a flop…

On to the venue. We’ve been to BB King many times. In the past year, perhaps a dozen times. As stated in the intro, last night was our third night in a row at BB’s. Each night brought a wildly different experience, not just because of the music, but because the club was reconfigured for each show. That’s something we had no clue ever happened before Tuesday’s Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo show.

As reported here, at the Pat Benatar show, they removed the last row of tables, creating a much larger area for people to stand near the bar. It seemed to make sense, and clearly the sold more tickets than they otherwise would. From the website, it was also clear that this was not going to be a normal night at BB King. As an aside, something I didn’t report on for that night, the Pat Benatar tickets were the most expensive that we’ve ever experienced at BB King. There might be many shows that are even more expensive, but not for the artists that we track or have seen there.

Things were back to normal the night before for Jerry Douglas, reinforcing my illusion that the Pat Benatar configuration was a one-time aberration. At least for Pat Benatar, we had some kind of warning, seeing the website claim that seating was extremely limited (which wasn’t actually all that true, as they only removed roughly 100 seats).

It’s possible that last night’s show had a similar, or even more severe warning, but I have no idea, because we bought our tickets for all three shows this week at one time, at the box office, never visiting the web site for the specific performances. The only reason I saw the Pat Benatar warning was because I went back to pick up an extra ticket for our friend for that show.

When we walked in last night, we were truly shocked. The entire lower level, in front of the stage, had zero tables or chairs. It looked like a dance floor. Lois asked the ticket-taker at the door whether it was meant for dancing, and he said “Would you like to dance? Please do!”. Oh oh…

Here’s a shot of the stage showing the empty floor (at least part of it):

Empty Floor

Since the above photo is a little dark, I edited it to wash it out a bit, lightening it in the process of losing some of the colors, so you can get a better sense of the emptiness:

Empty Floor Washed Out

The row of tables that was removed for Pat Benatar was back and we ended up sitting in the right-most one (closest to the entrance) at the head two seats. Those were the exact seats we had for Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby, and across the aisle from the seats we had for the Jefferson Starship. It took us a while to absorb the fact that this show was going to be radically different than our previous experiences here, and there was no excitement associated with that thought.

We ordered dinner, but third time was not the charm for the special crab cake, as it was no longer available. I tried the blackened catfish for the first time. Most delicious, highly recommended.

The crowd was coming in pretty steadily, but it wasn’t a crush. Pat Benatar seemed to fill up earlier (there were more seats available though). At about 7:50pm people started to gather in the lower level (standing, obviously) in front of the stage. By 8pm when Jeremy came on, space on the floor was still quite open (see photo below). I then looked around and noticed that the small area between our row of tables and the bar was full to the brim.

Jeremy Fisher Appears on Stage

The noise level was pretty high, and like with Pat Benatar, the music during the dinner hours was louder and more rock oriented than the previous night. This time (as opposed to for the The Wrights the night before) the house lights did indeed go out when Jeremy came out. Most people paid attention to him, and he certainly got rousing applause after each number, but the number of people who conversed at the top of their lungs was shocking.

It wasn’t as annoying as it could have been because Jeremy’s music is very up-beat, and loud enough (without being too loud) to allow me to enjoy his show (as noted above) without being too distracted. I still can’t believe how rude people are. I get that most people came to see The Proclaimers, but give the new guy a break, even if he isn’t that good, which in this case wasn’t true, as he was quite good!

Here’s a shot of how crowded the floor got by the time Jeremy was tearing down his equipment!

Full Floor After Jeremy Fisher

That brings me to the crowd in general. Surprisingly, tons of Scottish people. I only say surprisingly because I don’t notice tons of Scottish people coming to the numerous shows we attend. I had to wonder whether Scottish people follow The Proclaimers around, making vacation time to visit places like NYC whenever they show up here. It was interesting.

There’s always a reasonable (and by reasonable, I really mean an unreasonable) amount of drinking going on at these shows. Last night was no exception (except for the fact that they likely drank substantially more than a reasonable amount!). ;-) Don’t know if was the Scotts (or is it Scotch?) influencing the rest of the crowd, but wow, BB’s must have raked in the liquor take last night. Lots of non-stop trips back-and-forth to the rest rooms all night long, no surprise. Hard to imagine how some of these people made it home.

When The Proclaimers came on, the place was packed to the gills. There had to be more people in there than for Pat Benatar (which was roughly 700). Don’t know how many more though. While the crowd was paying significantly more attention to the music, it was still remarkable to me how many people insisted on screaming to their friends in conversation (so that not only their friends could hear them, but so could anyone within a reasonable distance). The fact that they could be heard over the loud music is truly amazing, and of course, as rude as could be to their idols (The Proclaimers).

There are numerous examples of rude and selfish behavior, but let me limit my tales just a few, all involving one particular person, who I had the wonderful fortune to be sitting back-to-back with. An attractive blond Scottish woman, likely in her upper 20′s, but could have been lower 30′s. She was at a table for eight, all Scotts, all friends.

She/they talked non-stop during Jeremy Fisher’s set, of course. When The Proclaimers hit the stage she lost her mind (in the positive sense). ;-)

Her arms were flailing wildly in all directions, mostly pointing out toward the stage, in violent motions. What you don’t know is that both of us were seated (sideways) right on a very busy (and tiny) aisle, so that every time she flung her arm out she risked poking out an eye, knocking a drink off a waiter’s tray, etc.

Then she got up and started dancing in the aisle. As people tried to make their way by her (recall, aside from the wait staff constantly going back-and-forth, everyone else was making bathroom runs every 30 seconds to make room for the next drink!), she was annoyed that they were interfering with her enjoyment of the show.

Never mind that there was an entire open area right in front of the stage, meant exactly for this kind of enjoyment. She wanted to stay near her friends, none of whom stood up (except to go to the bathroom) even once. In fact, her really good friend (they hugged a hundred times) tried to pull her back into her seat multiple times (I can only imagine how mortified she was to be associated with her friend last night). Of course, each time she was pulled back, she jumped up again.

On certain songs, she video taped the band on her camera. Of course, to make sure she had things centered and focused, she extended her arms straight out from her body, blocking the entire aisle. In one of the more unbelievable moments of my life, she refused to move her arms when a group of four people tried to pass her. With her head, she motioned to them to duck (bend) under her arms (in a near limbo-like manner). Incredibly, each one of them obliged her! The last guy hesitated a long time, but decided he needed to get to the bathroom badly enough (I guess) that he finally relented and bent (to her will) as well.

At some point, even she realized that she had made a complete a** of herself. Rather than tone it down, she cranked it up. She walked over to a complete stranger (while his girlfriend was in the bathroom!) and put her arms around his neck, and whispered (probably shouted) in his ear, for a good three minutes. Later, she put her arms around two older men (in their 60′s likely), and when they showed discomfort, she insisted (trust me, I’m sure about this!) that they put their arms around her too. After a minute of her insisting, they too relented and put their arms around her.

OK, so she’s a super fan (and probably pretty lubed up as well, right?). What’s wrong with that, and having a little fun? Aside from the fact that it’s not her personal show, she’s not quite the super fan that she’d like to believe herself to be. On two of the slower songs, she obviously got bored with her own act (and with the band as well!), and instead turned her attention back to her friends, and talked non-stop at the top of her lungs throughout both songs, never once looking at the band. Wow, a real fan indeed. Of course, talking over the slower songs makes her voice carry even louder and further…

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re firmly in the center of the me generation. Let’s hope we’re near the peak, though I fear we’re not even close…

I’m sorry, I know I went on a long time about that, but this is my own best personal therapy, getting it out in this manner. :-)

One more thought about last night. I truly have no idea how this business works, from any angle. I would love a lesson, considering how many times we go to see live shows. If someone wants to write a long comment, feel free, or email me directly, or blog about it and post a link here, etc. Here are some of my observations, which have zero foundation in fact.

I assume (but again, have no idea) that a majority of the ticket price goes to the artist (in the dinner theater setups), and that 100% of the meal and drink revenues go to the club (plus the lovely fees that get tacked on to each ticket). I realize that even if that’s largely correct, that there have to be exceptions (certain groups not getting all the ticket revenue, and possibly big groups even getting a percentage of the house revenue).

True or not, the setting of ticket prices often confuses me. I realize that bigger acts can easily command more money, but does the band set/demand a certain price, or does the venue try to help them maximize the price by trying to come close to selling out even if it means lowering the price.

Last night was a particularly curious example of my confusion. As mentioned above, Pat Benatar was the most expensive seat we’ve ever paid for at BB’s (we’ve spent more on every show we’ve seen at Madison Square Garden and a few at Radio City Music Hall and The Beacon Theater as well). In retrospect, that didn’t seem unreasonable, as Pat sold more tickets than anyone else we’ve ever seen at BB’s, so why not crank the ticket price if there is no resistance and you still sell out.

I already reported that The Proclaimers likely sold more tickets last night. But, last night was the cheapest ticket we’ve ever bought for a show at BB’s. By a long shot! If the band sets the price, then I can understand it. They’ve made it, and perhaps they truly want to share with their fans, making it easy for everyone to afford the show, and ensure the maximum amount of tickets by insisting that BB’s oversell, and remove tables to make room, etc. If BB’s sets the price, or has a heavy say, I simply don’t get it. Not only could they have sold out at a much higher price, they could have sold many more dinners with tables and chairs.

OK, ending on an up-beat note, five days left in the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. If you’re procrastinating, stop now! Enter to win a signed CD by this amazing band, Girlyman!

Jerry Douglas at BB King

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Last night we saw Jerry Douglas (and band) at BB King. Opening for them were The Wrights. I’ll cover The Wrights after I review Jerry Douglas, and then finish up with my usual venue summary.

We’ve seen Jerry Douglas before at the Beacon Theater, August 2nd, 2007, when he played with Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas. I covered that night in this post. That show was incredible, as was Jerry specifically. I also love listening to every note he plays on the many Alison Krauss and Union Station CDs that we own.

In 2008, Alison took a break from touring with Union Station to tour with Robert Plant. That left Union Station on their own. I would have thought (and enjoyed it if) they would have toured as a group. Instead, they decided to form separate efforts. I’ve already covered (twice, here and here) our wonderful experiences with the Dan Tyminski Band (one of the members is Barry Bales, the incredible bass player from Union Station).

Jerry Douglas set out on the road (and recorded a new CD called Glide, due out in July) with his own band. For those of you who don’t know, Jerry Douglas primarily plays the Dobro. He also plays a lap steel guitar, and probably other instruments, but mostly, it’s the Dobro.

Jerry Douglas

That said, it’s not accurate to simply say he plays the Dobro. Many people (perhaps even everyone) consider Jerry to be the world’s greatest dobro player. Read his bio if you want to be awed by his accomplishments, independent of being awed by the actual music! For the lazy among you, here’s a one paragraph highlight:

His transcendent technique and his passionate musicality have helped him net twelve Grammy Awards and numerous International Bluegrass Music Association awards. Douglas holds the distinction of being named Musician of the Year by The Country Music Association (2002, 2005, 2007), The Academy of Country Music (ten times), and The Americana Music Association (2002, 2003). In June 2004, the National Endowment for The Arts honored Douglas with a National Heritage Fellowship, recognizing his artistic excellence and contribution to the nation’s traditional arts.

I bolded the mind-boggling stats above. :-)

It’s not really possible to describe to you how he plays, but here’s my feeble attempt nonetheless. On his right hand, he has picks on every finger. All of his fingers are moving faster than is humanly possible, simultaneously. In his left hand he holds a slide bar, and he presses it on the strings and slides it back and forth. He produces sounds that would seem to require having all five fingers at different fret locations on the neck, but he does it all (magically, mysteriously), by just moving his left hand faster than the eye can see. Whew.

All of the technical wizardry would be interesting, but meaningless, if it wasn’t for the fact the the sound he produces is heavenly!

So, he could come on stage by himself, and captivate any audience, no other musicians need apply. I have no doubt of that. Is that what he does? Of course not. Given his enormous talent, any musician would jump at the opportunity to play with Jerry. He has a band that proves that point, and each of them is worth their own mention. I’ll cover them in the order that they appeared on stage (left-to-right), but you can also read the band bios at your convenience (also linked at the top of this post, yes, they’re good enough to earn two links). Here’s a photo of all of them together on stage:

Jerry Douglas Band

Guthrie Trapp played the guitar (two different electric guitars and an acoustic one as well). He’s a noted Mandolin player, but didn’t play it last night. It would be hard to describe how absolutely awesome Guthrie is. He’s so fast, so smooth, plays in a variety of styles, and nails every single one of them.

One of the most impressive things is when he and Jerry are playing some fast licks together, and he keeps up with his end of the bargain, something not too many guitarists could do with Jerry being the other half of the duet!

I could go on an on, and you still wouldn’t get the sense. Here’s a YouTube video of him playing with a small band doing a bluegrass number, on an electric guitar. If you’re intrigued, just Google Guthrie Trapp and you can find a bunch more videos, both on YouTube and on MySpace. Guthrie melted the crowd into a puddle every time he took a solo!

Guthrie TrappGuthrie Trapp Acoustic

Doug Belote played the drums. A total pro who entertained the entire evening, in an understated (but superb) jazz-style the entire show. He’s not as flashy as some of the drummers we’ve seen recently, but he’s every bit as solid.

Doug Belote

Todd Parks played the upright bass. In addition to playing a solid bass line all night, he took a few exceptional solos, demonstrating a real feel for the music, rather than just banging on the strings to show technical prowess. Well done!

Todd Parks

Luke Bulla played the fiddle most of the night, and the acoustic guitar on one number. He also sang the only two songs that had vocals. He has an excellent voice. As a fiddle player, he’s one of the fastest and cleanest I’ve ever seen/heard. That should come as no surprise for two separate (but obviously related) reasons. First, he has played with (and therefore was chosen by) some of the greatest musicians around, including Ricky Skaggs, Chris Thile and of course, now, Jerry Douglas.

The second reason is his mind-boggling accomplishments. In case you didn’t bother to click over to his extensive bio, here’s a relevant paragraph:

Touring with and singing in his family band from age four, Luke took up the fiddle at seven. Over the course of the next few years, he won the National Fiddle Contest (in Weiser, Idaho) six times in his respective age categories. His seventh win came in the Grand Champion division at age sixteen, making him the youngest to have earned the title at the time.

Wow! He’s nothing short of amazing, and given what I’m about to say next, I need to make you realize that I really mean that! That said, while he’s technically brilliant, for me personally, he doesn’t move me on the fiddle. I mention it only because I’ve covered a number of fiddle players in this space, including a number that totally get to me, and I wanted to draw the distinction. If you care, just search for fiddle in the box on the top right of the page.

To put a fine point on it (and show a small world angle as well), while Luke was playing, I kept thinking that he sounded very much like Jean Luc Ponty. That’s a compliment, not an insult. New Country (on Ponty’s Imaginary Voyage CD) is still one of my all-time favorite fiddle tunes. When I was reading Guthrie’s bio today, he mentions a very wide variety of musical influences. Included among them is Jean Luc Ponty, which gave me a hearty chuckle, given that I couldn’t get Ponty’s name out of my mind last night whenever Luke played!

To be clear, there were many people in the crowd last night that went nuts every single time Luke took a solo, deservedly so.

Luke Bulla Singing

Wrapping it all up, they played a number of songs from the upcoming CD, Glide, expected to be released this July. They played some old favorites as well, including perhaps my personal favorite Jerry Douglas number: Choctaw Hayride. Here’s a YouTube video of Jerry doing it with Alison Krauss and Union Station. In this video, Alison Krauss plays the part of Luke Bulla, Dan Tyminski plays the part of Guthrie Trapp, Barry Bales plays the part of Todd Parks, and Ron Block plays the banjo (beautifully!), an instrument not seen in last night’s amazing performance of this incredible song.

Quite a number of the pieces (including the opening number) were significantly more Jazz than Country or Bluegrass. They were awesome too (as I love Jazz). The majority were more straight-up Country, with some Bluegrass thrown in for good measure.

Toward the end of the show, Jerry introduced a song called Patrick Meets the Brickbats which he wrote for his son, Patrick. He said “this is a slow number”. You can judge for yourself how slow it is on this awesome version on YouTube.

All in all, Jerry is funny, nice, and simply one of the most amazing musicians alive. He was also kind enough to sign our brand new CD of his (American Master Series – Best of the Sugar Hill Years). He had to go backstage to find a Sharpie, but he did, and we appreciate it! :-)

Including a two-song encore, they were on stage for 100 minutes. Generous enough, but made even better by the fact that they didn’t use the excuse of having The Wrights open for them to cut their show short. That made for a much longer night than usual at BB King, but every person in the audience appreciated it to the very last drop!

OK, enough, there were more people deserving of praise, and it’s finally time to get to them as well! :-)

The Wrights (this time, I linked to their MySpace page, above was their own website) opened the show at 8:01pm. They are a married couple. Adam plays the electric guitar and Shannon plays the acoustic guitar. Both are excellent musicians. If you want a taste of Adam’s guitar skills, you can listen to the instrumental Tire B Flat on the above-linked MySpace page. He won’t be confused for the likes of Guthrie, but he’s really good, and totally a pleasure to listen to.

Here they are tuning their guitars:

The Wrights Tuning

However, that’s not what makes The Wrights special, and indeed, special they are! Lois has been following them for a while now, and we already owned their debut album Down This Road. It’s great! They wrote all of the songs on it, and as you know from these pages, nothing impresses Lois more than a great songwriter, made even more special when they also happen to be fantastic performers of their own music!

Both of them write, and both of them sing lead (extremely well!) generally alternating songs between them. All along, they sing with rich and beautiful harmonies (and you all know, we’re suckers for great harmonies!).

Their songs are varied, but many of them have a fantastic sense of humor in them, while conveying real life in a deep and effective manner. We loved hearing On The Rocks (from the Down This Road CD) live. It’s fun (and true for most newlyweds) and they did it to perfection last night.

Both of them have a very warm style on stage and were instantly a hit with the crowd. Adam is so self-deprecating, but in a way that is warming and continually funny. One of their more beautiful songs (the last one on the Down This Road CD) is called You Get The Thorns. They did it wonderfully last night.

They were on stage for 40 minutes, every single one of those minutes thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance! This was the first time they performed in NYC. They acquitted themselves perfectly! :-)

Here are each of them individually:

Adam WrightShannon Wright

There is an overwhelming gentleness about both of them, on stage and off. Watching them was almost zen-like it the calmness that it produced in me. They are also really nice! Lois bought their new CD (The Wrights) and wanted it signed by them. She got to tell that to Adam while he was unplugging his guitar after his set.

She couldn’t find him between sets, and asked the person working the door to let The Wrights know she was looking for them. He did, and they bothered to come look for her, and after Jerry’s set we were able to say hi, get the CD signed, and get a picture of Lois with them! Thanks Adam and Shannon, we can’t wait to see you again!

Lois and The Wrights

Some words about the venue. The night before, we were also at BB King to see Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo (reviewed here). That night was crazy crowded with roughly 700 people crammed into BB King, the most I’ve ever seen there.

Last night was not sold out, though there was an extremely healthy-sized crowd, all of whom loved the show. If I had to guess, there were between 300-350 people there (normally, BB King can seat 450). We got to sit one table to the left (dead center this time) of our exact two seats from the night before. This time, no one sat in the middle seats of our six-seat table, and a very nice couple sat at the remaining two seats.

Because the place wasn’t as crowded, and because the music wasn’t going to be loud rock, BB King’s matched the mood (as they usually do) with more folk music (much softer as well) before the show started. Between The Wrights and Jerry Douglas, they played Dylan exclusively. Because the volume of the music was so much lower, conversing was much more enjoyable last night.

Unfortunately, it was the night before when we had company that we really wanted to talk to (we talk enough to each other) ;-) and the fact that they were warming up the capacity crowd on Tuesday with blaring rock made me (and probably others) hoarse trying to scream over the music. I’ll take last night’s version of a more mellow warm up any day!

The amazing crab cake that I had the night before was offered again as a special (by the same waiter we had the night before) and I couldn’t resist it again. It did not disappoint. I am convinced the chef is using some magic fairy dust to bind the crab to the other goodies he’s putting in there.

Everything went great last night at BB King, including the staff being wonderful (as usual), with one notable exception. When The Wrights came on the stage, the house lights never went off. Often, this kind of gaffe can be an unwitting signal to the crowd to be rude and ignore the warm up group. Thankfully, while the house lights never went down the entire time The Wrights were on the stage, the crowd was totally in to their performance, and there were no distractions to everyone enjoying the show. Whew!

We didn’t get out of there until 10:55pm, and walked home leisurely, stopping in Grand Central on the way. A lovely evening indeed. We’re hoping to duplicate it again tonight, when we’re back at BB King (third night in a row) to see The Proclaimers!

OK, to finish off, you know the drill. Just one week left in the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Win a signed CD, free, of this amazing band, Girlyman.

Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at BB King

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A few months ago, I saw that Pat Benatar was playing at BB King with Neil Giraldo. I only own one Pat Benatar CD (Crimes of Passion) and it’s absolutely awesome. I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard the name Neil Giraldo, since he’s been her husband for 26 years, and her lead guitarist for longer than that.

The site linked to above is the official Pat Benatar site, but it’s at best an embarrassment. If you want to find out anything useful, including tour dates (for example), I urge you to visit the fan site instead.

We weren’t sure about our schedule and didn’t end up buying two tickets until a few weeks back. There’s a back story to last night, but it will come after the review of the show itself.

As is typical of BB KIng (a fact that makes us like going to BB King a lot!), the group came on at exactly 8pm as advertised! At first, only the drummer (Chris Ralles) and bass player (Mick Mahan) were on the stage. You could hear a guitar playing as well, but there was no guitarist on stage at the time.

Here’s a photo of Chris standing alongside his drums. Since there was a plexiglass cage around the drums, all photos of Chris while he was playing were fuzzy at best:

Chris Ralles

Here’s Mick Mahan:

Mick Mahan

A minute later, Pat comes on to the stage to wild applause (and a few standing ovationers as well). A few seconds later, Neil Giraldo comes out as well, with striped pants and a green guitar.

This is Neil with an acoustic guitar (later on there are two photos with one of the green guitars). I’m putting it here to prove to you that he wore psychedelic pants. ;-)

Neil Giraldo Acoustic

BB King normally seats 450, and when sold out, sells as many as 150 additional tickets for standing at the bar in the rear. Last night, they removed an entire row of tables at the back, reducing the seating to roughly 350, but they increased the number of standing room only tickets substantially, selling as many as 700 tickets in total. I have never seen that many people stuffed into BB King’s in the many times we’ve been there.

This was all the more impressive given that they played BB King’s just two nights before, on Sunday April 20th. So, clearly, they can fill and then refill a 700 person place two out of three nights.

In addition to taking out an entire row of tables, they also took out some center tables from the row in front of that (in the bar area) to accommodate a very large sound board. This is more typical of the size you’d see at Radio City Music Hall or even Madison Square Garden, so clearly, Pat and Neil don’t do these shows on a shoestring!

Sound Board

The overwhelming majority of the crowd were die-hard Benatar fans, singing (or mouthing) along every word of every song she sang. We’ve recently had a similar experience when we saw Dave Mason at Blend Bar (smaller venue, big rock star). There was a difference between them though. While the music/show was perfect for Dave, and the energy level high, it’s hard to describe the elevation of energy for last night’s show.

Pat’s voice is still terrific, and they played many of their big hits, so there was nothing to disappoint in that. What I didn’t know, but 95% of the crowd obviously did, was how spectacular a guitar player Neil Giraldo is. He also played some keyboards (quite well), but for the most part, he just played crazy (as in good, meaning insanely great) guitar, all night long.

Here’s Neil in front of the keyboards, when he played the intro to the song, holding the guitar on his lap, which he continued the rest of the song on (twice). He also played one entire song just on the keyboards:

Neil Giraldo Keyboards Guitar

I’m nuts about Pat’s voice, and I love her songs (in particular, she did Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Heartbreaker, etc.), but I would have been happy to just listen to Neil play the electric guitar (correction, guitars, as he had at least three different electric guitars, plus an acoustic one for two songs as well) all night long. My head is still spinning thinking about how good he is, and that I didn’t know his name.

Here’s Neil (two photos of one of the green guitars) finishing up a solo that destroyed the crowd on every level!

Neil Giraldo Solo 1Neil Giraldo Solo 2

Since he’s played on all of her CDs, I obviously have heard him before (specifically, on the CD that I own and have listened to many times), but I should have known who to credit as well…

What makes it more impressive was that he had a big bandage on his left pinky, and it appeared to be bothering him. In addition, between most songs he was violently shaking his left hand, leading a member of our group to comment that he likely had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as well!

He certainly didn’t let any of that get in the way of delivering his A-game to the wildly appreciative crowd.

Including the encore (a nice two-song set), they were on the stage exactly 90 minutes. Not long enough (by some measures), but as Lois commented to me after the show, such an intensely high energy performance, that we’re sure that they were drained, and the crowd was probably a bit drained as well (though we could have taken more). ;-)

Can’t wrap this up with some photos of Pat. Here are two:

Pat BenatarPat Benatar 1

The show was fantastic and I’m thrilled that we went. I still much prefer the more mellow (or differently energetic) Folk and Bluegrass shows we go to more frequently, but this kind of experience should be in everyone’s repertoire as well!

On to the back story.

We were driving in from the house to the city on Monday morning when I got a call from our good (and until recently long-lost) friend. I covered our reconnection with her and her husband in this post. After chatting with her for a while I handed the phone to Lois to say hi.

During their conversation, Lois asked her if they could make it in to the city the following night (Tuesday) to join us for the Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo show. She said she’d check with her husband and call back. When she called later, she told us that her husband was swamped (he’s sprinting to the finish line of his year-long fellowship at Princeton) but that she could make it. Yippee!

We told her that we’d check to make sure that the show wasn’t sold out, and pick up an extra ticket if it wasn’t. I went on to the site and saw that it wasn’t sold out, but I also saw (for the first time ever) the warning about extremely limited seating and the word oversold. Huh? We’re too old to stand for this type of show, especially if we have to get there really early and stand for hours before the show starts as well!

Lois called. They said that there would be normal seating, but that they were selling many more standing room only tickets, so that getting there super early would be prudent. I walked over (on Monday) and picked up another ticket for our friend.

Normally we show up at around 5:45 for an 8pm show. They open the doors at 6pm (more typically 6:15pm, but now I know why!) and we go in and have a leisurely dinner. Yesterday, we intended to show up at around 5pm, to be safe, and we told our friend (who was taking the train in from Princeton) to meet us on line no later than 5:45pm.

A quick diversion: We had a special lunch out yesterday with a brand new friend. She suggested we meet at Mesa Grill. We had never been there before, but we like Bobby Flay (from the Food Channel) so we were intrigued and excited to check it out. Everything about Mesa Grill is wonderful. Decor, ambiance, service (both wait staff and management) and most importantly, the food was exquisite! Sadly, our brand new friend is moving away from New York City in less than a week, so future lunches won’t be quite as easy to arrange. That said, we promise not to lose touch and to have many such wonderful experiences together in the future!

Back to our main story. :-)

We were sitting in the apartment when our other friend (the one who came in from Princeton) called to say she was at the head of the line outside of BB King! It was 4:25pm and Lois was a tad annoyed at me that we hadn’t beaten her there. We logged off and jumped in a cab and were at BB King’s 15-20 minutes later. Our friend had chatted with the person working the door, and when we arrived, he let the three of us go down to Lucille’s (the bar next door to the club downstairs at BB King) to wait inside for the show.

We were given a numbered ticket and told that we’d be called in to the main show room in the order of our ticket numbers. There’s a price to pay for this convenience, namely ordering something at Lucille’s while you wait. A small price indeed, since we wanted to catch up with our friend anyway! So, we each ordered a drink (non-alcoholic), and chatted away merrily for 75 minutes.

Normally, I wouldn’t post a photo of me looking so drugged out, but Lois captured me talking to our friend while Bob Dylan was showing on the big screen behind me. Being associated with one of my first musical idols bears accepting myself looking like this. ;-)

Hadar and Dylan

They then started calling out the numbers. That’s why the doors don’t always open at exactly 6pm upstairs. They are first filling in from Lucille’s, all of the people that showed up even earlier and gave them some extra business. A very smart thing for them to do.

We got excellent seats, nearly dead center, three tables from the stage (which given their configuration is the rough equivalent of the 9th row in a typical theater style setting). We enjoyed a wonderful (and relaxed) meal and continued chatting for another two hours. BB King rarely announces any specials (at least not to us). Lat night the waiter mentioned a number of specials and I ordered one, the crab cakes (well, it should have been called crab cake, as in singular!).

Sorry Bob, but I believe that it was the best crab cake I’ve ever had. Too bad it’s not always on the menu.

In the small world story camp, when our friend told her kids (she has three of them) that she was going to see Pat Benatar, one of her daughters told her that she had just recently downloaded a few Pat Benatar songs to her iPod. Cool! :-)

We walked our friend half way back to Penn Station, and then made a sharp left back to the apartment. It’s safe to say that a great time was had by all!

OK, you know the drill, time to espouse the wonders of Girlyman again, and entreat you to enter the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter now before you forget to do it and the contest comes to a screeching halt! ;-)

Cherish The Ladies at Towne Crier Cafe

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Lois and I are very big fans of traditional Irish music. This should come as no surprise to those who know us (or regularly read this space), not because I write about Irish music a lot, but because we really love tons of roots music and there is a lot of Irish roots in that. ;-)

Six weeks ago I stumbled upon a notice that an all-female group called Cherish The Ladies was going to be playing at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling, NY. I had never heard of Cherish The Ladies (a major shame on me). I had also never been to Pawling, but at least I knew where it was. ;-)

I hopped on to YouTube and checked out a dozen videos of Cherish The Ladies. Each was better than the one before, I was instantly hooked, and after checking with Lois, I grabbed two tickets including dinner reservations. Last night finally came and we drove the 45 minutes from the house to Towne Crier Cafe. As is the current custom, I’ll review the show first, then circle back and describe the venue.

The Ladies came on stage at 9:11pm (11 minutes late). The crowd went completely nuts. Joanie Madden (one of the two founding members of the group) asked the crowd how many had seen the Ladies before and roughly 75% indicated yes.

Joanie plays all types of flutes and whistles. She came on stage with a cloth (canvas?) tube rolled up. She unrolled it on the table, and there were individual tube-like pockets, each housing a whistle or a flute of different types and lengths. I’d guess on the order of 20! It was like watching a master surgeon unroll their package of specialized scalpels.

I can assure you that she plays every single one of them with the same precision, cutting through to your soul with every breath and movement of her fingers. Awesome would be too mild a word to describe her musical talent.

Joanie Madden

Mary Coogan is the other co-founder. Last night she exclusively played the guitar (beautifully!), but I can see from her CDs (I’ll mention what we bought later on) that she also plays the banjo and mandolin.

Mary Coogan

Joanie and Mary formed Cherish The Ladies 23 years ago! That’s why I said shame on me for not having heard about them until now!

Roisin Dillon sat in the middle, playing a fiddle that was breathtaking the entire evening. I kid you not when I say that every time Roisin took a solo, the crowd burst into rhythmic clapping, keeping time with her amazing solos.

Roisin Dillon

Mirella Murray was next in line on the stage, playing the accordion. She too is awesome! In addition to winning the All-Ireland competition a number of years back, she teaches accordion and has had a number of her students win the competition. Either she’s a great talent scout or a great teacher. Most likely, both! :-)

Mirella Murray

Michelle Burke was spanking brand new to the group (hence no link). Amazingly enough, they only met Michelle two days earlier when they played in Cleveland. I don’t know whether Michelle sang with them that night, but she definitely sang with them the night before we saw them, in Buffalo, NY. She sent them a CD of her work, and clearly they liked what they heard.

Michelle Burke

Michelle sang lead (no instruments) on five or six songs. She was fantastic on every single one of them. Joanie sang harmony (all too briefly) on most of the songs, as she harmonizes beautifully with Michelle. Here’s hoping that now that they’ve met, they’ll get a chance to actually work up more harmonies together. :-)

Kathleen Boyle, sitting behind that row of five women, with her back to the crowd most of the night, played the piano, phenomenally. She’s not listed on the Cherish The Ladies web site, so I don’t know if she’s a regular with the group. Her MySpace page (linked to her name) has two gorgeous songs on it, but neither of them is her playing the piano. Last night she played a song from her new CD, about her parents returning home to Scotland, which was stunningly beautiful.

Kathleen Boyle

Last night was Kathleen’s (K.T.) birthday, and Joanie had a cake delivered on stage and we all sang Happy Birthday to her. :-)

Kathleen Boyle Birthday Cake

OK, on to the music. Cherish The Ladies are simply fantastic. Not a moment of boredom to be found all night. Their selection (very wide ranging!) was wonderful and while each of them is an incredible solo artist, together, they gel on every song.

Cherish The Ladies

In addition to playing very traditional songs (does a 400-year-old song count?) ;-) they also play quite a number of newer (yet traditional sounding) numbers, many written by Joanie (she’s an extraordinary song-writer!). You can hear some of their stuff on their MySpace page. While I recommend that, seeing them live is a much bigger treat.

Perhaps you can get a touch of that flavor with the following YouTube Video of them. The video is long (12.5 minutes), but it also shows a nice range and solos from Joanie, Roisin and Mirella. It also ends with some step dancing, which we missed last night due to the very small stage at Towne Crier Cafe.

You can also hear more of Joanie’s stuff on her MySpace page.

If you were there last night, and didn’t clap along, or stomp your foot, or at least tap your toes or fingers, check your pulse! :-)

In addition to the awesome music, Joanie is masterful at working the crowd. She’s a bundle of energy and it emanates from her every action and word. She’s hysterical and a wonderful story teller as well. Every year, she and Mary host a week-long musical tour of Ireland. I truly hope that Lois and I can make the time in the very near future. This year it’s May 20-27th, and we definitely can’t make it. Perhaps next year!

During the second set Joanie brought her father up on the stage. He’s a life-long musician as well, and had a big band years ago. He plays the accordion. He wailed with them on at least three numbers. He was great, and everyone enjoyed having him up there, including the Ladies themselves. :-)

Joe Madden

They took a 25 minute break (announced as a 15 minute break, but they actually mingled in the crowd, and weren’t released to get back on stage). With a one-song encore (after a rousing standing ovation) that involved not leaving the stage (thankfully, since it’s so small it would have been a waste of time!), their total on-stage time was 2 hours (not including the intermission!). Very generous (if a little late for us old fogies).

Cherish The Ladies Standing Ovation

A very magical evening indeed!

On to the background and venue. I already mentioned that finding Cherish The Ladies and Towne Crier Cafe was accidental. Even though I made the reservations happily, as time passes, the normal discomfort sets in. What will the venue be like? Will the group disappoint? Will the show simply be too late for us?

You already know the answer to the second two questions. ;-)

You get to pick a wide range of dinner reservation times at Towne Crier. We’re quick eaters (too quick) so picking an early time is attractive to us only to secure better seats. The show was scheduled for 9pm, so I picked 7pm (way too early eating wise, but I hoped very good for seating). I could have picked 6pm, but that seemed crazy (at least I hoped so).

Leaving some extra time (having never been to Pawling) we ended up arriving at 6:40pm. The place was easy to find and the parking lot had plenty of spaces that early. It’s basically an upscale Mexican / Southwestern style restaurant (exactly the kind of food we like). The attitude of the staff was very warm and we felt very welcome immediately. We were seated nearly dead center in the room, very nice seats.

Towne Crier Cafe Logo

The dining room is a very open rectangle on two levels (the upper level is just a single step up). Most of the room is filled with dining tables. At the very back (on the upper level) there aren’t any table cloths, so it’s more of a bar seating area, but it’s still waiter service, no actual bar back there.

As opposed to other places where you eat dinner at a table and then watch the show, Towne Crier orients the majority of their tables on a diagonal (the stage is in the far left corner of the room) so that most seats have a decent view of the stage no matter which side of the table of you are on. In many other venues, one side of the table has to twist and contort to get a good view.

The room holds roughly 150 people seated. The food was fantastic. Service was good to begin with, but as the people kept pouring in, it got a little hectic. Never an attitude, but even though it seemed that they had enough staff, we were left unattended for a reasonably long period. It didn’t bug me, but I know people who it would bother, so I mention it as a potential warning.

Even though we sat down at 6:45pm, we didn’t finish dinner until nearly 8:20pm. The pacing is (or at least last night was) extremely slow. That’s fantastic for people who prefer very leisurely meals. We get a little fidgety in situations like that, but it worked out well given how early we showed up.

They bring out chips and spicy salsa for each table. They also include a few pieces of spicy cornbread. The salsa is extremely spicy, but also extremely tasty. I definitely ate too many chips, just to have something to scoop up some more of the salsa. The cornbread was heavenly.

When the show was over we rushed to the entrance where they were going to use a long counter (where the desserts were originally laid out) as the merch table. We were first on line, a line that grew reasonably long. The Ladies didn’t leave us hanging more than a minute or two (very welcome at 11:35pm!). We bought five CDs. Two of Cherish The Ladies, two of Mary Coogan, one with her Dad (now unfortunately deceased) and one with Kathy Ludlow performing Children’s music, and one solo CD of Joanie Madden.

We only made them sign one of them, The Best of Cherish The Ladies. Thanks to all of you, we promise to cherish it. :-)

Lois meant to buy their new CD as well, but didn’t grab it, and we were feeling guilty about holding up the line with a hand-written credit card order. We’ll be buying more of their stuff online, including the latest CD.

To repeat, a very magical evening (venue included!). We already have tickets to go back to Towne Crier on June 15th to see my favorite Jazz group, Acoustic Alchemy. If you can’t make it to Pawling that night, they are also playing the next night, June 16th at BB King in NYC.

Don’t forget (how could you?) that there are still 11 days left to win a free copy of a signed Girlyman Live CD! Enter the contest now and do your best to win the CD and spread the Girlyman love! :-)

Joan Baez at Paramount Theater

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Last night Lois and I drove 30 minutes to Peekskill, NY to see Joan Baez at the Paramount Theater. How we came to see this show is itself a long story, delivered later in this post.

One of the biggest influences in my teen years was Bob Dylan. Not just the music, but more specifically, the lyrics. They were burned in my mind, even at the age of 13. I learned to play the guitar because of him. Of course, if you were a Dylan fan back then, the odds were pretty high that you were a fan of Joan Baez as well. Not only was I a fan, I was a very big fan!

Lois was preoccupied with extremely challenging life events during those years and didn’t pay attention to either Dylan or Baez beyond general awareness.

The last time I saw Joan Baez live before last night was on November 22nd, 1975 at Brandeis University when she appeared with Dylan as part of The Rolling Thunder Review tour. One of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, including Joan’s amazing performance.

I remembered the year, but had to look up the actual date. ;-)

The audience last night was full of people who adore, even revere Joan. You could feel the excitement and anticipation long before she came on stage. When she came out the place erupted with applause. She announced that she would be playing new songs as well as the songs you came to hear. :-) She didn’t disappoint in that, playing beautiful new songs that will be on her upcoming album, as well as some of her fantastic hits.

For roughly half the show she was accompanied by her band.

Erik Della Penna played a variety of string instruments, all very well. He also sang harmony with Joan on some of the numbers. It took me a while to warm up to his playing, but in the end, I decided that he was just making sure to defer to Joan and not steal the spotlight. He’s quite accomplished and soulful.

Erik Della Penna

In addition to playing guitar, lap steel guitar and dobro, he also played a square guitar, roughly the size of a mandolin, that I’ve never seen before. Joan called it a Cigar Box Guitar, which I thought was a joke, but there’s a site for them, so it must be true. ;-)

Here is a picture of the Cigar Box Guitar, and one of Erik on the Lap Steel Guitar:

Cigar Box GuitarErik Della Penna Lap Steel Guitar

Dean Sharenow played the drums. While he kept perfect rhythm, he was obviously understated (purposely) for this kind of music. I have little doubt that he’s an accomplished drummer, but last night was not the type of show to bring out his talent. He sang vocals on a few numbers as well. Dean and Erik have their own band, separate from their work with Joan, called Kill Henry Sugar.

Dean Sharenow

Michael Duclos played bass. I have recently complained that as much as I have enjoyed numerous bass players over the past year, almost every time, they are simply too loud and overwhelm the rest of the band. Not so last night. Just as with Erik and Dean, both Michael and the sound engineer correctly chose to emphasize Joan, so Michael’s bass was solid the entire night, but significantly in the background, where it belonged.

Michael Duclos

During the first third of the show, when they were all on the stage together, they played most of the new stuff, sprinkled with recent stuff and perhaps two old favorites. She sang Christmas in Washington (from her Bowery Songs CD, released in 2005) written by Steve Earle. Steve is producing her new CD, and has written many of the songs on it. I’ll have more to say about Steve (and Joan) in my other section (now a regular feature in these posts), but for now, here’s a link to a YouTube video of Christmas in Washington with Joan and Steve performing together.

The second (or third) song of the evening was one of the old ones, With God On Our Side (by Bob Dylan). Quite a number of the songs Joan sang last night had God in them (perhaps 50%). Many are cynical about God (the Dylan song for example), but some are deeply spiritual (Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Amazing Grace). It’s an interesting mix, and I’m not clear if she’s attempting to communicate a specific message or not.

After this part of the show was over, the band left the stage leaving Joan on her own. She went into a lot more of her traditional songs here, mostly accompanying herself on the guitar, but with an occasional a cappella song thrown in as well. As good as the parts with the band were, it was more special, magical, to see her perform on her own. She certainly held the crowd in the palm of her hand throughout her solo set.

Among the favorites, she performed her ultra-famous Diamonds In Rust. I already mentioned one of the a cappella numbers above in a different context, Swing Low Sweet Chariot. She encouraged the audience to sing along during various verses of that, and they willingly obliged (I can’t explain it, but I didn’t sing along at all last night, even to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, one of my favorites…).

She played solo for roughly half of the show. The band then returned for a few more numbers, including Dylan’s Love Is Just A Four Letter Word. After saying goodnight, and taking their bows (in a group hug), they returned for a three song encore. After the first two songs, the band left the stage again, and Joan finished the evening with her signature a cappella Amazing Grace, which the crowd belted out with her.

She received a standing ovation before they left the stage the first time, and again at the end of the encore, including the entire audience standing throughout Amazing Grace. Like I said in the intro, she was adored and revered, and the crowd wanted to make sure she knew it. Here’s a photo of everyone singing Amazing Grace with Joan, all the while standing:

Joan Baez Amazing Grace

She was on the stage for a total of 100 minutes including the encore. While we all could have listened to her for hours longer, the show was an appropriate and appreciated length.

Here are a few photos of Joan, with and without guitar. One of the reasons that I’m including a number of similar shots is that the background lighting at the Paramount Theater is very nicely done to set various moods. If you look at some of the other photos included here, you’ll see a variety of scenes and colors, with many more that I am not posting:

Joan BaezJoan Baez 2Joan Baez GuitarJoan Baez Guitar 2

That’s the end of the general review of the evening. As always, I have lots more to say (I know, I have too much to say, always). Some of this is on the negative side, some on the more nostalgic side, and some mere speculation. So, if you don’t know me, or don’t care about my opinions, this is an excellent time to click away…

I recently wrote about a spate of concert cancellations due to illness. In that post, I forgot to mention another cancellation that I had previously written about. We had tickets to see The Mammals at Tarrytown Music Hall (last October I think) and they too canceled a week before the show, but not due to illness I believe.

In the above post, I mentioned that the only cancellation that we did not have tickets to was Joan Baez. There were a number of reasons why we didn’t end up buying tickets in advance to that show, but the primary one was that we were scheduled to be at Zope that week (March 31st). If you read this space regularly, you know that we ran back that weekend to see Girlyman at Joe’s Pub on the 30th, but we did indeed return to VA the very next morning.

We were supposed to be at Zope from last Wed through this week as well, but for the first time in a very long time ended up canceling our own trip (also not due to illness). Once the trip was canceled, I decided to check out the status of Joan’s rescheduled show (exactly two weeks after the postponed one), and lo and behold, there were a reasonable number of tickets left. The original show was sold out, so clearly, some people simply couldn’t make the new date and returned their tickets for a refund.

Lucky for us, unlucky for the original ticket buyers. We got two seats in the 10th row, left orchestra, aisle and one in. Superb seats. The show was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. We’ve been to the Paramount Theater once before, to see David Bromberg and the Angel Band so we knew the lay of the land, and how long it would take to get there from the house (roughly 30 minutes).

We left at 6:35pm and got to the theater at 7:05pm. The police had the entire block of the theater cordoned off (from every approach). This was quite surprising. I realize Joan Baez is a big star, but David Bromberg also sold out the place (as I’m sure many others do), and he didn’t get similar treatment. Who knows the reasoning, but it wasn’t a good sign.

It turns out that the town (Peekskill) isn’t all that friendly to visitors (tourists). It’s a quaint river town, which should be in the business of attracting tourists and making them feel welcome, but just try to park in any of the dozens of empty spots on the street. Oops, don’t, unless you want a ticket. Signs all over the place saying that you need a permit to park on the street. You’d think that on a night when someone like Joan Baez is in town, they’d put up signs waiving that, but alas, no.

Even the municipal garage has two tiers of parking, one requiring permits, the other meters. Who knew I needed to show up with tons of change in my pocket to attend a local concert. We weren’t thrilled with the entire ordeal, but still made it in plenty of time to pick up our tickets at Will Call and get seated.

At 7:20pm (when we were in our seats), it was obvious that the show would not start on time. The main reason is that the hall was still half empty, with tons of people still hanging around outside. At 7:31 they made the usual announcements, so they were trying to get the show back on schedule, but the house lights were still on, and perhaps 20% of the hall was still unfilled.

At 7:40pm the house lights went off, the crowd went nuts, and Joan came on the stage. There were still quite a number of seats empty, and people were still trickling in, but at least we weren’t waiting for the last person to show up before beginning. Across the aisle from us, in the 10th row center orchestra, there were five empty seats in a row. This fact will become important (to us) shortly.

After each song, the ushers would quickly guide a few more people to their seats. After the third or fourth song (past 7:50pm) the two people who had the seats immediately to Lois’ left squeezed by us. The man proceeded to whip out his Treo, and sat there for at least 10 full minutes with the light shining brightly, working the phone (email, sms, who knows?).

It was annoying the hell out of us. Lois asked if we could move across the aisle. I hate doing that, because I would hate having to move back (in shame, as if we were trying to get away with anything), but it seemed safe at nearly 8pm. It worked out fine, as we darted across the aisle between songs, and weren’t bothered the rest of the night. Why come to a show 20 minutes late, not pay any attention and annoy everyone seated near you? Stay home and use your full computer. We’ll all be happier for it…

I mentioned earlier that I was a huge Joan Baez fan while Lois was less familiar with her stuff. As such, Lois enjoyed the show last night tremendously, having no previous reference point. I thoroughly enjoyed the show as well, but less for musical reasons. There was a tremendous sense of history for me, not just in experiencing Joan live again, but in hearing her tell some very moving stories (she told a few about Martin Luther King, someone she actively marched with and supported in a number of ways!).

Musically, her voice is still excellent, perhaps even better than most touring artists, but it’s really a shadow of what it once was. It’s likely that this is a temporary anomaly, caused by her recent illness (forcing the previous cancellation), as she specifically said that she had lost her voice, regained part of it, then regained some more. She didn’t put a timeline on that though, so it might have had nothing to do with the illness, and she might not be regaining any more, even if she gets healthier.

The good news is that she’s well aware of the changes in her voice, and even joked about it (in the middle of a song!). She no longer tries to hit certain notes, simplifying the vocal arrangement of some of the more challenging songs. I have no problem with that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a little sad and disappointing. She also lost her place a number of times on the lyrics, laughed it off and continued on very professionally in each case. She joked about that too, quite cleverly, so last night clearly wasn’t the first time that’s happened to her.

I’m truly hoping (for her sake, and for her fans’ sake) that her voice will get stronger as she gets better (assuming she hasn’t fully recovered). The most striking thing to me is not that her voice isn’t clear, or gorgeous (it is!), but rather that she seems apprehensive about pushing her voice, even though at times during the night, when she did, she was able to hit the note, or deliver the power that she was looking for.

Joan is 67 years old. To me, she looks much older, and seems a bit on the frail side. If you look at the YouTube video that I linked above, of Christmas in Washington, which was filmed less than four years ago, she looked 20 years younger (to me). While she is as graceful and lovely as you could wish, I couldn’t help feeling badly that age (or health) is catching up with her more quickly than her young years deserve.

Of course, you can listen to her CDs to hear the difference in the strength and range of her voice. Still, it’s possible that even that is due to the wonders of a recording studio rather than the rawness of a live performance. So, through the magic of the Internet, if you’re interested, you can hear Joan do a number of songs (most of which she performed last night!) from the last concert from The Rolling Thunder Review, taped at Madison Square Garden on December 8th, 1975!

You have to register to hear it, but it’s free, and the sound quality is excellent! Her voice back then, in a live performance, is not even comparable to her voice last night, even though it was delightful to listen to her last night as well! Here’s the link to the 1975 concert. Click on PLAY THIS CONCERT under the image of the ticket stub to start the stream.

Here’s a cute story, and one which is relevant to our Girlyman experiences as well. If you listened to the above concert, you may have noticed that Joan complains (in a British accent!) that she needed help tuning her guitar! Last night, she joked that she used to have trouble tuning her guitar, but now they have these devices that help you tune them. So now she has trouble tuning her guitars, with the help of the new devices. ;-)

Until recently, I didn’t have a clue as to why all of the guitarists looked down at the stage while they tuned. More interesting was that I didn’t understand how they could hear what they were tuning, as there was often other stuff going on at the time (If you’ve ever seen Nate in action while the Girlyman ladies tune, you’d understand). ;-) Well, the device must show red and green lights for each string in tune or not (my guess, but I’d be surprised if I were way off).

Anyway, here’s a picture of her tuning last night. :-)

Joan Baez Tuning

I can’t resist sharing this photo. To me, Joan seems to be channeling Hillary Clinton:

Joan Baez Channels Hillary Clinton

Finally, politics. If you read this space, you know how I feel about politics mixing with entertainment. Perhaps that was an unconscious reason why I didn’t rush to buy tickets the first time around. There was no doubt in my mind that Joan (being a life-long activist) would definitely be political during the show. In the end, I decided that I was willing to sit through it for any number of reasons, including that she’s such a spiritually deep and caring woman, that it would unlikely be a hate-filled lecture. I was right, sort-of.

As for speech making, she only made two politically-oriented ones during the evening. The first was to say that George Bush was her personal PR machine. With him in the White House, her kind of music was in demand (not necessarily her exact words, but pretty close). If true, I wonder whether her career will come to a grinding halt if/when Obama takes the White House.

The second was a rousing endorsement of Obama himself. Her exact words were “Wait until we have a statesman back in the White House!” Okey dokey then, I guess we’ll see… Like I said above, it didn’t annoy me (though it could have, had I not anticipated it completely). As opposed to the anger with which most entertainers deliver their anti-Bush rhetoric, Joan is soft-spoken, gentle, and just trying to make a point…

That brings me to the music itself. Certainly, Dylan’s music had it’s fair share of anti-war songs (including the one she played early on). However, since she teamed up with Steve Earle years ago, she has plenty more fodder for that now. Steve is a wonderful songwriter, both lyrics and music, but he’s a very angry liberal at heart. Listen carefully to the words of Christmas in Washington in the video, or read the words here.

It’s a Bush hater’s anthem. That said, it’s delivered in a soft song, with beautiful music, and powerful lyrics (whether misguided or not!). I much prefer to get my political drubbing that way. At least it comes without the crowd whooping it up during the message and is thought provoking. So thought provoking that I am choosing to propagate his message so that you can decide for yourself whether you agree or not.

Here’s another song that’s beautiful, message laden, but a tad too vague or complicated for me (message-wise). It’s called Jerusalem, and is also by Steve Earle. Here’s a YouTube video of Joan singing it (with Erik Dell Penna) in Austria in 2007. You can read the lyrics here. It’s possible (I really hope even likely!) that this is a generic plea for peace on all sides of the Middle East conflict, or even all war in general (after all, lots of us are descendants of Abraham, not just Jews).

Unfortunately, I fear that this isn’t the true intent of the song, and he certainly doesn’t make any attempt to communicate more clearly. To me, it comes across like Jews/Israelis are the only aggressors in this ongoing conflict, and if only they could learn to lay down their swords, we’d all be better off. I realize that this is a defensive reaction, and I realize that many people have no sympathy for any Jew, and tons of sympathy for every Palestinian, but to blame this all on the Israelis/Jews is at best naive, and at worst disingenuous.

I know I’m not alone in my reaction/interpretation, as the current first comment on the video linked above (might not be the first one when you click on it!) is:

Ah Joan, I love this song. Let’s hope that Israel will be able to lay down its swords forever when that country feels safe from attacks on all surrounding Arab countries.

All-in-all, a very enjoyable as well as thought provoking evening. I reiterate my hope that Joan is still recovering and will get stronger soon. We’d see her again, I’m sure, at least to have a better sense of her well being.

Girlyman was already mentioned in a roundabout context above. Here is a very direct one! In 2003, Girlyman won the folk/singer-songwriter category in the 3rd Annual Independent Music Awards. One of the judges in that competition was none other than Joan Baez! :-)

So, having mentioned Girlyman in a real context now, let’s jump to a different context. You know what’s coming, but this is even more important for those of you who don’t know! We’re half-way through the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter now to win a free signed copy of the new Girlyman Live CD!

The Wailin’ Jennys at Joe’s Pub

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Last night finally came, our third time seeing The Wailin’ Jennys live, but our first time seeing them at our favorite place, Joe’s Pub. The last time we saw them was their last show of 2007, at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA, covered in this post.

The Wailin\' Jennys

Unfortunately, there were quite a number of frustrations last night (though nothing really horrible). I’ll save those for the end.

Last night, the Jennys voices were as awesome as always. Their harmonies are so tight and gorgeous. All of them are excellent musicians and were on last night as well. Jeremy Penner (the one boy Jenny) is an amazing fiddler (I’ve written about him a number of times already) as well as a wonderful mandolin player (though last night I believe he only played the mandolin on one number, possibly two).

Jeremy Penner

They were funny and personable (as always) and even had a few new tales (which was refreshing). There’s something very pure about all four of their faces, and there’s a spirit in them (which shines through) and mirrors their songs / philosophy on life. Simply put, they are a joy to be around!

Their sound engineer has a terrific ear. The balance is perfect, and you can easily concentrate on any one of their voices or instruments, and pick it out clearly. No one sound overwhelms any others, and no one sound gets lost in the whole of the others. It doesn’t hurt that Joe’s has wonderful acoustics in general, but we’ve also been there were the sound was messed up (due to the sound board person, not the venue).

The crowd couldn’t have been more loving and appreciative of the show and the clapping was thunderous and long after every single number. On the songs we were encouraged to sing along, many did, and did it well. :-)

They sang a few of our favorites (not nearly all!) including Glory Bound. They saved One Voice for the one-song encore, and the crowd sang the last verse with them. Gorgeous!

Here are some more individual shots:

Ruth MoodyNicky MehtaHeather Masse

I could praise them more, but it would be repetitious from the above and previous posts. Instead, I’ll switch gears to some of the frustrations with the evening (including some with the Jennys themselves, heaven forbid!).

If you are the type of fan who believes that other fans should never criticize the artist, you will definitely want to click away this very second, seriously!

I went into last night ranking the Jennys as my second favorite group behind Girlyman. This has been my consistent feeling since the first time I saw the Jennys live at Tarrytown Music Hall on September 29th, 2007, covered in this post. I came out of last night with them firmly entrenched in #2, so nothing that I’m about to say on the negative side affected that.

First, a very high percentage of the early shows at Joe’s start at 7pm. Some start at 6:30 and some start at 7:30. I didn’t pay attention before we got on line (we were third and fourth person on line last night, just like for Tim O’Brien the week before), but it turned out that the Jennys had a 7:30pm start time last night.

That’s already a black mark (but I don’t know who to apply that mark to, the Jennys or Joe’s!). Why? Because 99% of the time, there is a 9:30pm show, no matter what time the earlier show starts, so there is a hard stop for the early show at roughly 8:45pm, including the encore. So, while waiting on line at 5:45pm, we already knew that at most, including encore and banter, the ladies and Jeremy would only be on stage for a max of 75 minutes. :-(

It’s possible that Joe’s asked them to start later, but I can’t think of a reason why, since they still opened the doors at 6pm (well, actually 6:10 last night), so they had to staff the place, etc. as if the show started earlier.

They came out at 7:33pm. OK, only three minutes late, who could possibly complain? Me. ;-) I know it’s only three minutes, but it was a scheduled late start anyway, with a hard deadline on the back end, so at least give us every possible second of bliss when it’s under your control.

The encore ended at 8:47pm, so 74 minutes in total. Unfortunately, as is often the case, stuff happens during a live performance. During the second song, Heather’s bass amplification went dead. She realized it right away, as did most of the people sitting near us (and therefore I assume most of the people in the audience did as well). She was a pro, and kept strumming her heart out, though no one could hear a note.

When the song was over, lots of fiddling around with the electronics ensued, including Jeremy coming over to help, and the sound engineer coming down as well. One of the marks of a good live show is the performer’s ability to handle these kinds of situations with class and humor (listen to Postcards from Mexico on the new Girlyman Live CD for a perfect example!). The Jennys qualified last night, as the mood remained lighthearted with Ruth and Nicky bantering with the crowd while the work was ongoing.

Here are two shots of the fiddling around. The first is a little blurry, but you can see Ruth entertaining the crowd while the rest of them try to fix the problem. The second doesn’t include Ruth, but is a little clearer view of the fixit crew. ;-)

Fixing Heather Masse\'s Sound ProblemsMore Fixing Heather Masse\'s Sound Problems

My only point in mentioning it (though it was no one’s fault!) was that it stole another few precious moments from listening to them perform. That one goes in the frustration category, not the don’t do that again one.

This next set of complaints is ultimately my biggest one (as a single grouping). The context needs to be set, or I will most definitely annoy every other fan (I’ll likely annoy them anyway, but perhaps I can blunt the counter-attacks slightly). What I am about to complain about is a relative complaint. On an absolute basis, even these complaints are about an otherwise nearly blissful exprerience compared to most other music!

Please re-read that before you chop my head off (but feel free to comment here and take a whack at me anyway). I believe that at their worst, the Jennys are near blissful! Got it? Good!

So, what does it mean to say at their worst? Essentially, it means playing songs that are relatively uninteresting (as songs in and of themselves), when they have a repertoire that has so many more richly deserving songs. To be fair, even the most boring song that they play is absolutely, stunningly beautifully delivered. In those instances, their voices just become phenomenal instruments, because the words are completely boring and can easily be tuned out (unfortunately).

Another unfortunate thing in this exact vein is that it isn’t one single song. It’s also not one single show. We’ve seen them three times now, on two different tours, and every time, they’ve played Bring Me Little Water Sylvie. To repeat, their harmonies are stunning on the song. Even their facial expressions while they sing it are wonderful (they get lost in the song). But, in the end, the song itself is just one long repetition of boring words. This is one example, there are more.

I know that many bands (including our beloved Girlyman!) love to do covers that are meaningful to them. Some try to be ultra-true to the original, some like to show how they arranged a favorite to make it their own. So, I’m not generically complaining that the Jennys choose to play any covers rather than just their material, but rather that they aren’t picking the right covers. In my opinion.

Also, only in particular to last night, when you know you’re going to be on for significantly less time than usual, ditch the covers (or at least most of them), and play your bigger hits for your fans.

I have a theory as to why they do the Bring Me Water Sylvie like numbers. I could be wrong, obviously, but I think it’s because they want to highlight the amazing talent that Heather Masse has (and she most definitely has it, in spades). A very noble ideal, indeed. Unfortunately, while the talent shows through, in all of them, even in those songs, there’s no reason not to shine the talent on more interesting songs.

So, why not allow Heather to fill in for Annabelle, and sing the lead on songs like Firecracker and Apocalypse Lullaby, which suit her voice perfectly?

OK, I’ve gone on enough on that topic. Let me wrap that up by saying that the crowd (and we too!) absolutely loved the show, and we heartily gave them a standing ovation before and after the encore, so read the above with that in mind. I want the Jennys to connect even better than they already do (which sounds harder than it is).

On the high crimes and misdemeanors front, this is the first time that we’ve seen them that Ruth didn’t sing Heaven When We’re Home. It’s one of the greatest songs in history, so yes, I rank it as a crime not to get to see her do it again (and again, and again…).

On to a frustration with Joe’s. I complained last week that they made Tim O’Brien and Caroline Herring sell their own CDs in the tiny entranceway in the front after their show, rather than at the typical full-blown merch table in the back. I assumed that it was something special going on that night only.

Last night, it happened again. Worse, at least Tim and Caroline were out there selling and signing their own CDs. The Jennys had other people selling the CDs, and I doubt all four of them could have fit in the space to sign anyway. Very disappointing.

This is made worse by the fact that the Jennys over-price their CDs at the shows. They charge $20 for each of their full CDs (Firecracker and 40 Days). They are cheaper online. There are two reasons to pay the $20 and not complain: you get their signature, you support the group.

If they aren’t going to sign (perhaps not their fault, if Joe’s has a new policy), then paying the premium is purely a support the group thing. We chose to do that, but I can’t say it left a good taste. We own both CDs already (obviously), and have bought five more copies (three Firecracker and two 40 Days) as gifts for others in the past.

Last night we brought both of our copies to get signed, with the intention of buying two more to give as gifts. Even though we couldn’t get ours signed, we still paid the premium for two more (obviously, also unsigned) to give as gifts, to support the band, and we also bought the solo CD by Ruth for ourselves. I’m happy to support them, but Girlyman used to sell Joyful Sign for $20 at live shows, and now sells it for $15, and the Jennys should follow suit. This week we’ll be buying yet another two copies online, as gifts as well.

To put it into perspective, the show itself cost $18 last night. That means that for a show, which lasted longer than the CD (which is already nearly two years old for the newer one), was cheaper than the CD. That just doesn’t feel right (though I’m not complaining about the price of the show). ;-)

OK, aside from the fact that I need to again plug the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest (enter early and often, and definitely check out the new entry from this morning, it’s hysterical!), I want to take this opportunity to do a small comparison of Girlyman to the Jennys.

The Jennys are awesome. Girlyman are awesome. No need to go further, except that I always end up ranking Girlyman higher than the Jennys. Why? For one, Girlyman has twice as much original material, so they are more prolific in their writing. The Jennys original stuff is fantastic, I just wish they wrote more new material.

Some of the Jennys original stuff is thin in content. The songs are beautifully arranged and sung, but at times it feels like the lyrics are built around a single clever line, which just repeats. It’s not egregious, and there’s probably a Girlyman song or two that this could be said of, but in general, there’s more of a consistent depth to the Girlyman lyrics.

Also, while Girlyman does covers in their live shows, it’s rarely more than three in a show. The Jennys have less original content, but they play a smaller percentage of it anyway, choosing to do a significant number of covers. I don’t get that part (that’s independent of my critique of the particular covers noted above!). One of the points is that a Jennys show is more predictable than a Girlyman one.

There’s no doubt that the predictability of a Jennys show is predictably wonderful, but still, very little variation in the three times we’ve seen them (except for this one leaving out stuff due to time constraints).

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for, the food part. Once again, I had the extraordinary Tuna steak, and it lived up to my previous ravings. Unfortunately, as I noted in my Candy Dulfer review, I skipped the fries and the chocolate martini again (Lois was proud of me, so I guess it was somewhat worth it) ;-) so I continue to be (temporarily) virtuous.