Jason Wexler

Jay Stolar EP Release at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Jay Stolar released a new EP (The Acoustic EP). Numbered CDs were available for sale at his headlining show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

JayStolarSingingGuitar

If you read my last post about Jay then you know that we weren’t going to miss this show (and there was strong competition for our attention down in Philly!). We made the correct decision, as I can summarize the show/performance in one word: Wow!

Seriously, among the many things Jay has going for him, the top three are:

  1. Extraordinary voice
  2. Unreal stage presence
  3. A band that can keep up with him (at every position!)

I couldn’t help thinking how lucky we are (were) to experience them (Jay and the band) in such an intimate (yet mobbed!) spot like Rockwood 2. I have no doubt that Jay has the energy to fill Madison Square Garden to every fan’s satisfaction. I hope to get the chance to verify that claim some day.

In addition to playing all four of the EP songs, Jay mixed up his classic Soul/Rock/Pop genres to keep every song fresh throughout the set.

I’ve mentioned before that Jay could thrill on his own. He likely couldn’t do that at MSG though. He certainly could with his 4-part harmony and kick-a** band. Left-to-right on stage:

Jason Wexler on grand piano and vocals. We’re big fans of Jason’s and our fandom grows each time we see him (we had seen him guest with Jeff Litman the night before). He was atypical last night in playing only the grand (no electronic keyboards) with such a big sounding band. That’s perfectly fine with me, his piano skills are exceptional.

JasonWexlerPiano

In addition to singing a ton of background vocals throughout, Jay gave Jason a really long lead during When I’m Acting Crazy. Holy moly Batman, Jason slayed it (and everyone in the room).

Jay took over the piano duties on one number and Jason stepped to center stage and played the accordion.

JayStolarJasonWexler

Grace McLean on vocals. Fantastic, but no surprise (other than I didn’t know Grace would be singing with him). I recently saw her for the first time at one of Sam Teichman’s Leave a Lasting Mark benefits and was instantly taken with her voice (and performance). I may as well repeat what I said about her that night:

Grace McLean was the final newcomer to us. Grace performed perhaps the second most famous song (to me at least), Chain of Fools. Let’s see if I can be succinct in describing her: Wow! (OK, that was succinct, but not sufficient, how about: Holy Wow, Unreal!, yes, that’s better).

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In a small-world story, Grace’s upcoming EP was mastered by my good friend (and expert Masterer) Larry Lachmann. I discovered that just days after seeing Grace for the first time.

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Seth Faulk on drums, percussion and vocals. Seth completed the vocal superfecta. In addition to adding his wonderful voice to the mix, Seth was one of two drummers/percussionists, another touch that makes Jay’s shows so special (I think 10 drummers might be too many, but less than that is all a plus for me, as long as they’re good, and these guys are more than good!).

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Here’s Seth as part of the 4-part power harmonies:

PowerVocals

Kenny Shaw on drums. Kenny is always great. Having him coordinate with Seth cranks it up a notch and is a sonic joy. Kenny and Seth are a large component of why I feel that Jay could fill MSG with sound. Let’s get on that one folks, please!

KennyShawKennyShawDrums

Rob Pawlings on electric bass. I’ve written about Rob a number of times lately and they’ve all been raves. No difference last night, another amazing performance.

RobPawlings

Paul Maddison on electric guitar. When I last saw Paul, on May 12th, I wrote that I would finally introduce myself to him at the next show. I can’t say I totally followed through, but we did shake hands, so I’m making progress. He’s getting married on Sunday (tomorrow), so I didn’t want to break his concentration. Winking smile

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On a more serious note, Paul is an excellent guitarist and Jay gave him one long lead with a bunch of other tasty licks. Wonderful!

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That takes care of the core band. There were three additional guests.

Wil Farr came up to sing with Jay on a song they co-wrote. Very well done. Wil was the front-man for the band that was up next, so I’ll be writing more about him shortly.

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Matt Simons joined for one song on the sax (I believe it was When I’m Acting Crazy). We had seen Matt perform a solo set on the grand piano right before this one. Now he switched to the sax and when he was let loose, he destroyed the room. That he ended up taking such a great solo in the same song that Jason did on the piano, made a great song all the more amazing.

MattSimons

Jim Perry on drums/percussion. Jim joined for two of the final numbers. I think I heard Jay say that Jim co-wrote one of those songs with him, but don’t hold me to that. For the first number, Seth gave up his kit (Seth stood and played a tambourine and shakers while singing). On the second number, Jim took over Kenny’s kit and Kenny played the tambourine between Seth and Jim. Jim did an excellent job in both spots.

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SethFaulkSinging

Here’s the set list:

SetList

An absolutely incredible show. When do we all get together to do it again? Smile

AlexBergerAyelet

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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Jeff Litman headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. It was an early set, which we always appreciate and prefer. On the other hand, it coincided with a near-monsoon, so we got soaked coming and going.

It’s hard to believe that this was only our second night of music in May. Breaking the ice with a Jeff Litman show is a good way to go.

JeffLitmanSinging

Jeff played the majority of the show on the acoustic guitar (obviously, he sang on every number as well). He kicked it off with the harmonica as well, on my favorite song of his, Maine. In fact, I think he’s caught on that if he puts Maine first on the set list, it will guarantee that I will have to be there on time (we were!). Winking smile

JeffLitmanHarmonica

In the middle of the set, Jeff took over the piano duties for two numbers, the second of which he performed solo.

JeffLitmanPiano

Prior to the show, Jeff announced that he would be joined by two guests. We would have gone to see Jeff solo, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Winking smile

Maddy Wyatt sang harmony, played the flute (beautifully, on What Hasn’t Happened Yet) and the tambourine. Great job on all!

MaddyWyattJeffLitmanMaddyWyattFlute

Joe Brent on fiddle and mandolin. Joe has been great every time we’ve seen him. That he can replace the awesome guitar solo on Maine with his fiddle play, and keep me just as mesmerized, is a testament to his skills. Joe has a show in Brooklyn next Thursday (which we can’t make), then he hits the road with GangstaGrass for a while.

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When we walked in, we both spotted Jason Wexler at the bar. We asked if he was just an audience member, or whether he was an unannounced guest performer. Jeff felt that it would be a waste to have Jason sitting in the audience, so he called him up on three numbers to play the grand piano.

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Of course, he didn’t have those three songs consecutively on the set list, so Jason had to expend a bunch of energy going up and coming down from the stage before/after each song. Thankfully, his fingers weren’t affected and his piano play was as good as it always is. Smile

Speaking of set lists, here’s the one from last night, though I’m not sure Jeff got through every one.

SetList

Jeff closed the show solo on the guitar. He started with a long instrumental solo of Some Day My Prince Will Come which he morphed into his closing number. His guitar play was gorgeous. Nice way to end the set.

JeffLitmanGuitar

Be careful making any jokes at these shows. Right before the set started I noted (out loud) that there was an iPhone case attached to a small tripod. There was no phone inside the case. I joked that it must be a special case that could film the show without the camera inside.

Jeff thanked me for reminding him and popped his iPhone into the case. I then felt compelled to operate the camera, making sure that everyone on stage got at least some screen time. So, if Jeff posts any video from the set, I am 100% to blame (I wasn’t very smooth in my transitions) for any issues in the quality.

We’ll be out again tonight for a number of sets, but then it will more than a week before we get to see another show. Perhaps our lives are changing more than expected, I guess we’ll see how it evolves…

Jay Stolar at Rockwood Music Hall

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Jay Stolar headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall. That, in itself, is not news. Jay headlines there every Thursday, but, at 1am, which we have yet to keep ourselves awake for. Yesterday, he kicked off the evening with the first set, at 6pm. For us, that’s as good as it gets.

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For most people it’s not. Typically, even when someone awesome plays a 6pm show, the place is relatively empty. Not so for Jay. It was the best (biggest) crowd we’ve seen for an early show.

This was our first full set seeing Jay. Now that we’ve experienced it, I want to hit rewind and catch every one of his previous sets (including staying up for the 1am ones!). I don’t mean to sound surprised by Jay’s performance. We’ve seen him sing (at least one song) five times before, either at a benefit or as a guest. The longest stretch was at a Backscratch, where he sang three songs.

Here’s what I wrote when I saw him for the first time, in January 2011:

Jay Stolar (lead singer for Julius C) was up next, and he shared the stage with Chrissi Poland. He was also incredible. What a voice and what passion and energy on stage (very theatrical, in the best sense). I shouldn’t be surprised. For the past month, every time I ask a question of a friend in an audience (like: “Who’s that guitar player”?), the answer often comes back: “Oh, he’s in Julius C, you really need to check them out!”. Indeed, I do!

Ignore the Julius C part, they no longer exist. Since then, Jay was known as Jay and the Birds. I no longer see him use that moniker either. Now it’s just Jay Stolar, or Jay Stolar and Friends (for the 1am shows). No matter, Jay has enough talent to shorten it even further, to just J. Winking smile

JayStolarGuitar

So, it’s obvious that I knew before last night that Jay has an incredible voice. That’s been evident at every show. We also got a few tastes of his guitar play, so that wasn’t a surprise. Last night we found out two additional things. 1) He writes great songs and 2) he plays the piano quite nicely.

JayStolarSingingJayStolarPiano

I have absolutely no doubt that we would have loved the set if Jay came out solo, accompanying himself on the guitar and piano. Jay had more epicness in mind though. He had more than a full band supporting him, left-to-right on stage:

Catherine Brookman on vocals. She was fantastic on every number. Very powerful and crisp voice. She never sang lead on a full verse, but she took the lead on a number of bridges/choruses, where Jay was playing around (amazing us) with his voice, dancing around Catherine (and the others). Catherine has been on Broadway in the revival of Hair (and possible some others). I can definitely see her in that kind of role.

CatherinBrookmanSingingCatherinBrookmanJayStolarCatherinBrookmanPaulMaddisonJayStolar

Paul Maddison on electric guitar. I’ve always been impressed by Paul, but most of the times that I’ve seen him, the guitar hasn’t been highlighted (The Thang Band was one exception). Last night, Jay let Paul rip it a few times, and even when he wasn’t soloing, the lead guitar was an integral part of the sound. Excellent!

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Jason Wexler on grand piano, accordion and vocals. Wow. I’ve only had glowing praise for Jason on every show we’ve seen him (which is eight times including last night). Toward the end of the set, Jay stepped aside to let Jason take a long lead on the piano. Holy moly, it was so fast, so clean, so interesting. Basically, mind-boggling. When Jay took to the piano, Jason came center stage and played the accordion. He also sang harmony on practically every number. An all-around wow (to repeat myself).

JasonWexlerPianoJasonWexlerJayStolar

Rob Pawlings on electric bass. This was my third time seeing Rob. Last night’s performance was super solid, but not flashy. Obviously, he plays what’s most appropriate to the specific set. Here’s what I said about him the last time I saw him, when he supported Abby Payne:

Rob Pawlings on electric bass. Rob was absolutely incredible. I’ve seen Rob once before, as part of The Thang Band, where I also had only superlatives for his performance. Given that this was a trio, Rob carried a lot of weight and he never spilled a drop of water all the way up the hill. He sang a bit, but mostly too far from the mic to really be heard. I heard him sing with The Thang Band and praised him that night, so he should bother to step up to the mic next time he sings with Abby as well.

RobPawlingsRobPawlingsBassJayStolarRobPawlings

Seth Faulk on partial drum kit, cajon, percussion and vocals. Of course Seth was great on the drums, percussion and cajon, but I’ll admit publicly, that the biggest thrill was getting to hear him sing harmony on every song. I’ve written many times about how good Seth’s voice is, but it’s usually a taste here, a sip there. Last night it was every single song. It was almost always 4-part harmony (Jay, Catherine, Jason and Seth), but Seth’s voice was so easy to pick out and enjoy.

SethFaulkSinging

That Jay, who is such a great vocalist, shares the vocals with three others, is a thing to behold. Kudos to all four of them. In fact, there were a number of a cappella moments (or very near a cappella, with a very soft guitar, or extremely light touch drums) where the singing was a nearly religious experience.

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Kenny Shaw on drums. One of Kenny’s floor toms was split off for Seth, who sat to Kenny’s right. On Monday, I noted that it was unusual that we had gone two weeks without seeing Kenny play. Last night was only two days later, so things were back to normal. Whew. Winking smile

KennyShaw

I often write about my fantasy of having multiple drummers on stage at Rockwood. It’s happened occasionally (closer to rarely), so last night (in particular at Rockwood 1), it was a surprise and a major treat. Even though we were so close to the drum kit, even with two them hitting at the same time, not a single strike was too loud. Fantastic.

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Jay’s songs vary in feel and genre, keeping the set interesting throughout. Rock/Pop/Soul/R&B, even a bit of Gospel feel. Quiet, loud, full band, a cappella and everything in between.

When he was done, the crowd would have none of it. Practically everyone in the place was chanting for more. It wasn’t obvious to me that he would give in, but eventually he did. He gave the audience a choice of a new song, or a favorite that a number of people called out. The overwhelming response was for the new song.

Wow, what a finish and what a great song. It’s obviously not on the set list, since he really didn’t expect to be forced to sing it. Smile

SetList

Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Bri Arden headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. We missed her last appearance at Stage 2, her EP Release show. I heard that it was absolutely incredible, and based on all of the times I’ve seen Bri, and having listened to her EP many times, I have no reason to doubt that.

It’s been 3.5 months since we last saw Bri perform. As I noted in that post, you never really know what to expect (lineup wise, hairstyle, guests, etc.). We were actually up in Westchester to catch two full sets (and an amazing meal!) at Watercolor Café earlier, and we dashed out after the second set, dropped some folks off and made it to Rockwood a few minutes late.

We were immediately bathed in Bri’s amazing voice, nice way to walk into a joint.

BriArdenSinging

Bri had a full band, always a treat. The only change that seems somewhat permanent (or at least it’s been a while), is that Bri no longer employs a duo of female backup singers. The sets are great without them, but I’ll happily admit that they were a fantastic addition (the default ladies were Valerie Mize, now based in Nashville and Kate Ferber, though others have filled in as well).

Bri mixed it up. While most of the show was full band, Bri also played one song solo on the acoustic guitar. She performed another one solo at the grand piano.

BriArdenGuitarBriArdenPiano

She had a special guest come up for another, but I’ll mention that after I let you know about the amazing band, left-to-right on stage:

Jason Wexler on grand piano and electronic keyboards. We see Jason supporting a number of our favorite artists, including Bri. He’s a superb keyboard player, and if I understood another musician friend correctly, a talented producer too.

JasonWexlerJasonWexlerKeyboards

Jake Cohen (Jacob Colin Cohen) on drums. Jake always does a great job on Bri’s sets. Glad to hear him again after 3.5 months. Sorry about the poor photo:

JakeCohen

Justin Goldner on electric bass and vocals. Like Jake, Justin always impresses. When there’s a full band, he’s the bass player. When Bri gets acoustic, he plays the guitar. In other words, he’s an integral part of Bri’s sound, including background vocals.

JustinGoldner

Oscar Bautista on electric guitar. Oscar is simply amazing, always, not just when supporting Bri. Unlike Jake and Justin, we’ve seen Oscar a number of times since, with his own Police tribute cover band and with The Vanity Belles. He’s awesome.

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Ian Schaefer (Ian Carleton Schaefer) on trumpet. I don’t know if Ian was in the opening songs which we missed. He was called up for the final two numbers and was great. As I noted to him when we stood next to each other for the following set, he helped Bri close out the show with a bang. Leave ‘em hanging, wanting more, in no small part due to the energy that the trumpet brought to those closing numbers.

IanCarltonSchaeferIanCarltonSchaeferTrumpet

Jeremiah Birnbaum on acoustic guitar. Jeremiah has filled in on bass a couple of times for Bri. Last night he joined Ian on the final two numbers to play acoustic guitar. I can’t really say that I could make out the acoustic guitar, but I can say that I really like Jeremiah, especially when he fronts his own group, The Ramblers.

JeremiahBirnbaum

I mentioned one special guest above. There was another, who replaced Jason at the piano, but the rest of the band played as well.

Craig Wilson played the piano on Scars Do Fade, a number he co-wrote with Bri. It’s one of a few songs they’ve co-written, all of which have impressed me, so they should continue collaborating.

CraigWilson

Anna Krantz joined for a number that they co-wrote very recently. Anna played the grand piano (gorgeously!) and sang harmony just a drop. Bri was spectacular on the song, with only the piano accompanying her (one of the three songs where the band got to rest).

AnnaKrantz

Here’s the set list, but I’m reasonably sure that not every number toward the bottom was played. Specifically, The Best Is Yet to Come wasn’t, at least I don’t remember it. Scars Do Fade and Good in Goodbye were likely the last two numbers, among my favorites!

SetList

We got to say a quick hello and take some photos with Bri afterward. Thanks to some strong-arming by Sam Teichman, The Ghost was actually caught on film! Winking smile

BriArdenHadarLoisBriArdenHadar

Backscratch XVII at Rockwood Music Hall

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Last night we attended the early show at Joe’s Pub. Under normal circumstances, we would have run home after the show. These were not normal circumstances. Over at Rockwood Music Hall, timed perfectly for us, was Backscratch XVII. That would have been more than enough to get us to stay out for another few hours.

More poignantly, and most unfortunately, this was also billed as the last NYC-based Backscratch. Folks, that’s simply a tragedy (of reasonably large proportions). The concept of Backscratch was originated by Martin Rivas (and I think Craig Meyer). It will live on in London, run by Alex Berger, but unless I can find a way to blackmail Martin (or twist his arm really hard), it’s going to be very expensive to catch one of these shows in the future.

MartinRivas

In addition to just wanting to catch any Backscratch show, the lineup for last night was particularly tasty. Every performer was particularly sharp (they understood the stakes), so it ended up being an extra-special night all around.

Quick recap of what a Backscratch is: 6-9 performers. Each does three numbers. One has to be a cover of one of the other performers. They get drawn randomly and no one knows in advance who is doing their song. For the other two numbers, deep tradition has the artist performing one of their originals plus a well-known cover. More recently, many artists perform two originals.

Stephanie White and the Philth Harmonic were up first. The Philth Harmonic is Robbie LaFalce (considering that Stephanie’s name appears separately and there are only two of them). Let’s start with Stephanie. We’ve seen her sing one song, at one of Sam Techman’s Leave a Lasting Mark benefit shows. She was extraordinary then, and again last night. The woman can sing, pure and simple.

RobbieLaFalceStephanieWhite

We’ve seen Robbie LaFalce three times, all at Sam Teichman benefits. At the first, he drummed. The second, he played piano. The third, he drummed, played piano, and sang. Last night, he played the electric guitar on all three numbers. Beautiful play, subtly, but interestingly supporting Stephanie.

RobbieLaFalce

This was the first time that we saw them play together, as the Philth Harmonic.

Unlike most Backscratch performers, they chose to do their cover as the middle number (there are no hard-and-fast rules). They drew The Vanity Belles. I am not familiar enough with the VB version to tell you how much Stephanie morphed it, but I can tell you that Stephanie was exceptional in performing her version.

On one of the numbers, Robbie added a percussion loop and some looping of him clapping and playing guitar. It created a much bigger sound than the two of them would otherwise have.

Morgan Karr was up next. I had never seen him before. He kicked it off on the grand piano, playing beautifully, but really, showing off a great voice. For the next number, he came to center stage and just sang (he had accompaniment) without playing any instrument. Again, his voice really shone and I really liked his songs as well.

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For his backscratch, he sang accompanied by only an upright bass. He drew Jay Stolar. Again, I wasn’t familiar with Jay’s song, but Morgan nailed his rendition of it, hitting some high notes spectacularly.

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Morgan was accompanied by two top-notch musicians:

Justin Goldner on acoustic guitar. I’ve seen Justin a number of times, mostly playing bass for Bri Arden and Sam’s benefits. I also saw him play acoustic guitar for a very intimate performance of Bri’s. He blows me away on the bass, but hadn’t on the acoustic guitar that one time. Last night, supporting Morgan, he showed a lot more skill on the acoustic guitar.

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Lorenzo Wolff on upright bass. Very good on the first two numbers. On the backscratch, he was the sole accompaniment (Justin sat that one out and Morgan sang). Hearing just a bass with a great vocalist really highlights how good (or not) the bass player is. Lorenzo is really good! Smile

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Abby Ahmad was up next. Another first for me. Great voice, very interesting guitar play. I really liked her songs as well. In other words, someone I intend to go see doing a full set soon (she’s playing Rockwood on Thursday at 11pm, but that might be too late for me that night).

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For her backscratch, she drew Morgan Karr. Another winner (both the song and her rendition).

Abb

Abby was accompanied by two extremely talented people:

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and floor tom. On Abby’s first number, Adam took the floor tom from the drum kit and brought it up on stage. He and the drummer (up next) played together, mostly on the rims first (in unison) and then separately, creating an extraordinary jungle rhythm for Abby to sing to.

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For the next two numbers, Adam switched to his more usual electric bass, and of course, was his usual excellent self.

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Sean Dixon on drums (again, no good link for him). This was my second time seeing Sean, and again he was excellent. In addition to playing the drum kit (minus the floor tom which Adam swiped, he also played the djembe on one number, beautifully. In fact, he put the djembe where the floor tom would have been. Not sure where else he could have placed it otherwise. Smile

SeanDixon

Jay Stolar was up next. We’ve never seen Jay do his own stuff, but have seen him sing a song here and there (as a guest, and at a benefit concert). He has a superb voice which was in full effect last night and played the acoustic guitar. I really enjoyed his two songs.

JayStolar

He drew Derek James for his backscratch. He chose Mama Said (it helps that I’m Derek James’ biggest fan, self-declared, so that I at least know which song Jay was covering). He played it so much slower than Derek does, but it totally worked. I’ll still take Derek’s version, but huge Kudos to Jay for creative arrangement and execution!

Jason Wexler accompanied Jay Stolar on his two numbers, sitting out the backscratch. Jason was superb on the grand piano. It started off in a funny manner. Jay began by picking on one or two notes, repeatedly, in a slow rhythmic manner, alone, no singing and no piano accompaniment. After a minute, Jay turned to Jason and said “Feel free to join in any time!”. Winking smile

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Jason laughed and immediately launched into a fantastic series of piano leads. Satisfied, Jay started singing. Smile

Derek James was up next. This was the first time I’ve seen Derek solo. I loved both of his numbers, which he dedicated to Terry. He kicked it off with What’s That Sound from his first CD, Stray. In a small-world story, I didn’t have that CD (though I’ve seen Derek perform the song a number of times), but Lois had secretly arranged with Derek in advance to purchase the CD last night, so I have it now! Smile

DerekJames

I was totally satisfied with Derek’s solo performance, but I admit that with the full band, there’s a swagger that was missing last night.

Derek drew Stephanie and the Philth Harmonic for his backscratch and did a beautiful job. Another example of me not knowing the original, so I can’t compare the versions.

The final act to close down the NYC-based backscratches (unless I have my way with Martin!) were The Vanity Belles. I’ve mentioned how much I love them a number of times, even though the first time I’ve ever seen them perform live, as themselves, was just this past Wednesday at a benefit show.

They were stripped down last night, the two Belles, Carrie Welling and Jessi Rae Waltz, accompanied by the amazing Oscar Bautista on acoustic guitar (they typically have a full band).

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They opened with a brand new song that so blew me away I can’t find the words to describe it. I happened to be standing next to their manager, Patryk Larney, and I couldn’t contain myself after the song. I turned to him and said: “Holy cow, that was absolutely extraordinary!”.

He said that he agreed, and they just finished it and rushed to get it on the new CD (of which I am a very proud Kickstarter contributor). I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that I will soon own this song.

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Their next song had Jessi move to the grand piano. It too was absolutely breathtaking.

They finished with their backscratch, drawing Abby Ahmad. Another mind-blowing performance, and I really loved the song too (credit for that to Abby, obviously, though I have no idea how her original version sounds).

Folks, if The Vanity Belles don’t make it, the world is very broken.

They closed the show by awarding Martin Rivas with an actual backscratcher, dated and signed by everyone who appeared last night. A very nice gesture indeed!

MartinRivasBackscratcher

Here a pic of Alex Berger, currently the only Backscratch Master, with Jay Stolar. Alex has a show in 3 hours at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, so hurry up and get over there! Smile

AlexBergerJayStolar

Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall

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Bri Arden headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. This was a full-band show, but with some changes from Bri’s normal lineup. It’s one of the things that makes seeing the same artist many times interesting, you never know quite what to expect, even though you know you’ll likely enjoy whatever they throw at you.

The biggest change was that neither of Bri’s female backup singers (Valerie Mize and Kate Ferber) were able to make the show. That alone guaranteed to change the character of the show. What I didn’t know was that Bri would force two of her boys to sing with her, so there were still three voices in many of the expected parts, just at a different timbre.

Bri Arden is a singer/songwriter with an extraordinary voice. She sings with a passion that is infectious. She surrounds herself with top musicians. The energy emanating from the stage knocks you back a bit, but the music is good enough to make you fight to hold your position.

BriArdenSinging

In addition to singing her heart out last night, Bri introduced a number of her songs (something we love) and had an attempt at humor as well. Rather than describe that attempt, I’ll reproduce Bri’s Tumblr account of it:

Thank you everyone for being such an amazing audience tonight and putting up with my failed attempts at humor. As someone pointed out to me after the show “You set the joke up really well, the only glitch was you forgot the punch line.” Working on it!!! XO B

Most importantly, Bri’s personality (extremely joyful) came out in the attempt. She made herself laugh, which made us laugh, regardless of the joke.

BriArden

In the introduction to Aha Moment, Bri explained how her parents met. Fate will find a way. Smile

The band, left-to-right on stage:

Oscar Bautista on electric guitar. Oscar is one of the best guitarists on the local scene and I look forward to every show that he’s a part of. Last night was another example of why I do.

OscarBautista

Jason Wexler on keyboards (grand piano and electronic). Jason did a great job on both. At one point I heard some cool sounds that I thought were being made by Oscar (who was hidden from my view behind Bri). When I leaned to my left, I saw that it was Jason on the electronic keyboards. Very nicely done!

JasonWexler

Ian Schaefer on trumpets and shaker (yes, trumpets, plural). Ian is always great on the trumpet, but last night was different. Ian often plays with a cup (or whatever the technical term is for what you shove in the big hole at the end of the trumpet to mute it and morph the sound). I think he does it because the trumpet could (theoretically) overwhelm the vocals.

IanCarltonSchaefer

Last night, after testing with the cup first, he removed it quickly and let the sound loose. But that wasn’t the big qualitative difference. I don’t know if I missed it before, or if he doesn’t do it when Valerie and Kate are singing, but a number of times Ian actually used the trumpet to harmonize with Bri’s voice. It was fantastic.

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For one song, Ian put down the trumpet and picked up a much smaller trumpet. For a minute, I wondered what would happen if in each succeeding song, he would pull out an even smaller trumpet, which made me think of the trumpet version of a Matryoshka Doll. Winking smile

For another song Ian put down all trumpets and played a shaker. Basically, he wasn’t getting off the stage last night. Do you think he was into playing the shaker? Winking smile

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Justin Goldner on electric bass and vocals. Justin is an excellent bass player. I’m sure he sings a bit on many sets, but last night he was pressed into full backup singer mode. Well done!

JustinGoldnerSinging

Jake Cohen (I should really say Jake Colin Cohen) on drums and vocals. Excellent job on the drums, with the sole exception that they were a bit too loud (a typical Rockwood 1 problem). That had the side-effect of slightly washing out some of Bri’s amazing vocals. Jake joined Justin as the other male backup singer, doing a fine job as well.

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Craig Wilson on acoustic guitar and vocals. Craig was on stage for the opening number only. He co-wrote it. Bri called is name out again later in the set giving him credit for another co-write, even though he didn’t come up to sing it with her.

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Do you think they were having fun on stage?

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We certainly had fun in the audience. Thanks Bri and gang.

Here’s last night’s set list:

SetList

Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall

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Prior to seeing this show we attended a benefit concert at The Bitter End. I wrote about it here, which included a section on Bri Arden (the subject of this post). After it was over, Lois couldn’t keep her eyes open, so she grabbed a cab and headed home. Unfortunately, she took her camera with her. I took five shots with my (original) Droid. All were so bad that I won’t insult anyone who was on stage by posting them, so there will be no photos.

I walked from The Bitter End to see Bri and her band perform at Rockwood Music Hall. For those that care, including waiting at a few lights, it took 18 minutes.

I’ve seen Bri sing lead on two songs, at two different Leave a Lasting Mark benefits (both at The Bitter End). She was spectacular both times. I was very interested in seeing her headline her own set.

In addition to being a singer/songwriter, Bri is also a student at Columbia University. This year she entered the Battle of the College Bands. She won in the NY region! Yet another reason to go see her. The place was mobbed, so I wasn’t the only genius with the idea to do this.

Bri has a fantastic voice. She brings a passion to her singing that’s infectious. For the first time, I was hearing songs that she wrote (or co-wrote). They were all good in terms of being catchy. Given how much was happening on stage, I can’t say that I heard all of the lyrics (or could pay close attention to them), so I’ll save heavier comments about that aspect for a future post. What I heard, I liked, so I don’t mean to imply anything negative.

This was a show, not just a singer/songwriter performance. For starters, this was the most people that I’ve ever seen on the Rockwood 1 stage at the same time, nine for two songs, eight for most of the rest. In addition to a full band, there were two full-time backup singers (without instruments).

I kept thinking that this group of 8+ people could easily fill the sound of a much larger place (by much larger, I mean 1000+ seat places!).

Not counting Bri, five of the eight people on stage were part of the earlier benefit show, so you can click on the link in the first sentence on top to see what I had to say about each of them. I’ll be extremely brief here.

Backup singers: Kate Ferber and Valerie Mize. Each is a legitimate lead singer in their own right (not a theoretical comment, they each are lead singers). That gives them a sensibility and a voice to complement Bri perfectly.

Justin Goldner on electric bass. Simply an awesome bass player (or, as they add in the show Wicked, “Well, not so simply!”).

Jake Cohen on drums. Excellent. I was particularly impressed that he was not too loud, even though he was supporting eight other people. In Rockwood 1, it’s unbelievable easy (and therefore common) for a drummer to be crazy loud when there are electric instruments.

Ian Schaefer on trumpet. Ian was excellent, as he was earlier at the benefit.

Two additional musicians joined Bri for most of the songs:

Oscar Bautista on electric guitar. I’ve seen Oscan once before, at the Soul Revue Benefit. He was excellent that night, but less highlighted, by necessity. Last night, as part of a much smaller ensemble, Oscar was a main component of Bri’s sound. He was more obviously excellent. Smile

Jason Wexler on grand piano and electronic keyboards. I just saw Jason support Jeff Litman on a few numbers this past Monday at the same piano. He was excellent then, as he was last night.

Craig Wilson joined Bri on three numbers, two on acoustic guitar (which made it nine on stage) and once at the piano (when he replaced Jason during that song). Bri introduced him as one of her main writing partners, so presumably Craig co-wrote all three of the songs. He didn’t sing when he was playing guitar and I couldn’t see him on the piano (but I could hear him play very well).

All in all, a very exciting show delivered with extremely high energy. The crowd would not let Bri off the stage without an encore and Rockwood obliged, even though Bri’s set started a bit late and therefore had run a bit over as well.

I’m glad I made the effort and I will happily do it again.

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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On their birthday, most people wait (patiently or otherwise) to see what their friends and family will do for them. Musicians? Not so much. A number of them book shows on their birthday, effectively throwing a party for their friends, family and fans. Yesterday was Jeff Litman’s birthday and that’s exactly what he did, booking a show at 8pm at Rockwood Music Hall.

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We planned to attend this and the show immediately afterward (covered in my next post). We also ended up attending an earlier show next door (covered in this post). When Nick’s set was over, we made the grueling 3-foot walk from Rockwood 2’s front door to Rockwood 1. Whew.

We saw Jeff perform at Arlene’s Grocery on May 20th (covered in this post). Last night he was supported by the same band, with one guest star joining them late in the set.

Jeff played the electric guitar for most of the set (very well). He played acoustic on a few and added harmonica on Maine. He played the grand piano on one number.

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If you read the above-linked post, you know that I particularly raved about Jeff’s song Maine. I ended my rave with:

I’ll never get tired of this song, I promise! Smile

Here we are, more than a month later, and not only am I not tired of it, I warmed up for last night’s show by listening to Maine while exercising the day before. So, I was grateful to Jeff that he didn’t torture me by saving it for the end of the set (he likely knew he couldn’t get out of Rockwood without playing it). As you can see, it was third on the set list. That allowed me to relax and enjoy the entire set without the anxiety of wondering when I’d get to hear Maine. Smile

SetList

The entire set was excellent, with the exception of the fact that as I’ve noted a number of times recently, Rockwood 1 probably isn’t best suited to full-on Rock. It wasn’t too loud last night, but it was loud enough to slightly wash out Jeff’s voice at times. It’s a dilemma, because in general, Rockwood is such a great experience.

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Having the intimacy of Rock right in your face is awesome, but not controlling the sound (because amps are a few feet away, uncontrolled by the sound engineer) is deflating. It’s not purely an overall volume issue (to repeat, last night wasn’t that bad), it’s a blend problem that doesn’t seem easily controllable from the main sound board. It’s also possible that it’s not as bad in the corners of the room, but we’re always up front, so we always feel the problem.

A quick tour of the band followed by the guest:

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars along with harmony. Repeating myself, Bryan is excellent, pure and simple. Excellent guitarist, excellent voice. I like his original music as well as his side-man performances. Looking forward to his new CD later this year.

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Matt Basile on electric bass. I enjoyed his play at Arlene’s, but he was often hidden from sight. Last night he was a few feet away from me and I could see all of his fingerwork up close and personal. The sound might have been just as good, but the experience was greatly enhanced (for me) by the visual.

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Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is a machine (I suspect, literally). He’s so fast, so steady, so hard hitting, that after the show, both Lois and I asked him how it is that his arms don’t fall off while he’s playing. He said “Glue”. Winking smile More than likely, it’s constant practice and general exercise. I noted that it was more likely his Guns (the boy has biceps). No matter, whatever his secret regime, it translates well on stage.

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Jason Wexler joined for the last few numbers on the grand piano. Impressive. I’ll need to keep an eye out for him at future shows.

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The best singing of the night occurred when Bryan Dunn led the rest of us in singing Happy Birthday to Jeff (who stubbornly refused to join in!). Winking smile

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The next post will cover the next set at Rockwood. Jeff Litman happened to open that show as well. Happy Birthday to us! Smile