The Wailin’ Jennys

Girlyman at Gravity Lounge

Send to Kindle

Last night we (finally) saw Girlyman again (fifth time for us). It was a long dry spell, lasting exactly 200 days in between shows. During that time, we saw 27 other live shows (all blogged about). If you are a complete masochist, you can see all of those, including a few other music-related but not live-show related posts, at this link.

While the vast majority of the past 27 live shows were awesome, in every respect, there’s something more magical about an evening spent with Girlyman. You have to experience it to understand that, even if you love their CDs.

Not only was last night no exception, it was particularly special, because the venue (Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville, VA) is a very special place to see this kind of group. We’ve been there once before to see The Wailin’ Jennys, and that evening was magical as well.

Gravity Lounge is ultra-intimate. The stage is raised roughly a foot off the seating area, so you’re not craning your neck to look up at the performers. The worst seat in the house isn’t bad, and 80% of the seats are fantastic.

Girlyman has a large repertoire of songs, and we love nearly every one of them, so going to a show will always yield surprises and some (extremely minor) disappointments, given that they simply can’t play everything we’d want to hear. In addition, they are continually writing new songs (all fantastic) and arranging new covers, so the pool of available numbers keeps growing.

They recently started a video blog (low-res version available on YouTube, hi-res version available on Vimeo). You can also video podcast them at iTunes. In those video blogs, you can hear snippets of two new songs and one complete new cover. Last night, they performed the full version of all three.

Easy Bake Ovens hooked me even in the video (as short as it was, from the first video blog). The song is perfect for their soaring harmonies, and the lyrics are fun and insightful as well. They performed it flawlessly last night. They performed Tell Me The Reason (which Doris lip-sync’s on the most recent clip, labeled Video Blog, Part 2). Gorgeous!

Sandwiched in between Part 1 and Part 2, is a video labeled Islands In The Stream, their new cover. The song was made famous by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, but was actually written by the Bee Gees (Lois and I were quite surprised at that, but Wikipedia confirms it). We’ve always liked the song, and there’s nothing wrong with Girlyman’s arrangement, but in my opinion, it was the weakest song of the night (not weak, just weaker than any of the others), and I would personally have preferred them to substitute any of their other songs.

At the very end of the show, they played another new one by Nate. Unfortunately, it isn’t in a video yet, and wasn’t on the printed set list (which we snagged), and I don’t recall the title. Another big winner though, so we (and the rest of you) will need to be on the lookout for the name. :-)

Speaking of the set list, there was only one song that they planned to play that they didn’t (James Dean). In addition to playing two requests, they also played at least two additional songs that weren’t on the set list. A very generous show indeed!

Of course, they also played many crowd favorites (Joyful Sign, Through To Sunrise, Kittery Tide, Postcards From Mexico, Somwhere Different Now, Storms Were Mine, and quite a number of others!). Speaking of the audience, the overwhelming majority of them were clearly super Girlyfans. The energy in the room was electric and the rapport between Girlyman and the audience was seamless and relaxed.

Ty added a snare drum to her customary djembe. Two of us (I was one of them) simultaneously teased her about not bringing along her collander highhat. You’ll have to watch the first video blog to understand the reference…

After a standing ovation, they returned for their signature encore: Girlyman Benediction and Son Of A Preacher Man. Wonderful! They were on stage for roughly 105 minutes. Given that they had an opening act, the show was long, and satisfying.

Here’s the only picture Lois snapped of them together on the stage. Given that we were in the front row, center, and they were spread out, all other shots have only one or two of them together:

Girlyman

Girlyman

Speaking of opening acts, Nervous But Excited opened for Girlyman last night. The group consists of Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver. Both talented singer/songwriters who harmonize well together (though not as often as they could). They performed five or six numbers. All were good, but they don’t produce the kind of sound Girlyman does, so there was anticipation of the real show, even though they were good.

They ended with Smaller Taller. You can hear that (and a bunch of other tracks from their live CD) here. It was the coolest/best of their stuff, but to repeat, all of their stuff was pretty good. On this last song, Girlyman joined them on the stage. Musically, it was an unecessary addition since they had the audience sing the chorus with them, canceling out the wonderful Girlyman harmonies. But, Nate performed special duties during the song, so it was a blast from that perspective, but you had to be there to appreciate it, so I won’t even describe it. ;-)

They were on for exactly 30 enjoyable minutes.

As you may know, I’m on a personal mission to increase awareness of this simply amazing group (this == Girlyman). One way to do that is to make sure that people actually see them live (the fastest way to fall in love with them). Toward that end, Lois and I invited 10 Richmond based friends to join us (we were coming from Zope in Fredericksburg). The place only seats about 150 (max), so we would be roughly 10% of the crowd, all by ourselves. ;-)

Of the 10 friends that we invited, two had seen them before (with us) at the Barns at Wolftrap. That made eight newbies, though half of them have received a Girlyman CD from us in advance well.

We arrived at 5:50pm, thinking that the doors would open at 6pm (which is what they did for the Jennys). When we got there, the door was open, with no one on line, so we walked right in. Girlyman was in the middle of their sound check, and no patrons were there yet. That was a very cool experience for us because the sound checks are off limits to customers, nearly 100% of the time. 10 minutes later, six more people from our group arrived, and with all of the hugging and catching up, the owner of Gravity Lounge realized he should never have left the door open, and he kicked us out. Oh well, at least we were still first in line.

Here’s a shot of them during the sound check. You can also get a good sense of the setup of the room, given that it was empty:

Girlyman Sound Check

Girlyman Sound Check

At 6:30 he opened the door and we went back in and snagged seats in the front and second rows. Lois and I sat front and center, and couldn’t have loved our seats or the show any more! We ordered dinner at the club as well. The food took forever to come out of the kitchen, but was superb and very value priced. The chef came out to apologize to Lois (her food came out dead last, by a long measure). It turns out it was her first night working there. So, she’s not fast, but she’s really good.

Because we were so early, we got to schmooze a bit with each of the Girlypeople, separately. That was a real treat. One of the innovations at this show (and apparently all of them on this tour) is that they record the entire show, and offer the CD for sale afterwards. I have written about this before, when we purchased the CD for a live show of California Guitar Trio at BB King. This is slightly different. Girlyman doesn’t burn the CDs on the spot (like CGT did), but mails them to you later. We trust them, and are looking forward to our CD in a few weeks.

Here’s a shot of Doris and me, proving the above schmoozing claim: ;-)

Doris and Hadar

Doris and Hadar

After saying our goodbyes (to our friends, and later to Girlyman), we didn’t need to feel badly about how long it would take us to see them again. We’re heading in exactly the opposite direction from Fredericksburg tonight, to Alexandria, VA, to see them at the Birchmere. Tonight, we’re bringing 13 people with us (total of 15), and again only two of those have seen them before (with us). So, we continue to do our part in spreading the word.

Now, the rest of you, get on the stick and spread the word!!! :-)

The Duhks at Joe’s Pub

Send to Kindle

We first discovered Joe’s Pub because of The Duhks. The Duhks were an automated recommendation for me from Amazon.com, based on the fact that I had purchased Nickel Creek CDs from them. I listened, I liked, a lot.

After that, I bought both Duhks CDs, and checked where they were touring. I noticed they were coming to NYC to Joe’s Pub. We had never heard of Joe’s, but went to see them there. We loved the show, thoroughly, and bought their third CD at the show. That was roughly two years ago. We’ve been to Joe’s dozens of times since, and it’s our favorite place to see live music.

Shortly after we saw them (measured in months) Jessee Havey (their lead singer) left the band. She was replaced by Sarah Dugas, announced as an interim selection, until the band made a longer-term choice. Sarah ended up staying for the long term, and the percussionist, Scott Senior was replaced by Sarah’s brother, Christian Dugas, a drummer with a complete drum set.

We knew that they released a new CD a month ago, but we decided to buy it at the show to more directly support the band.

We knew we loved their music (Lois had a handful of songs she played over-and-over in the car, and I like a broader selection of their stuff from all three CDs), and we wanted to share that experience with others, so we bought four tickets to the show. That’s often a risk, because while music is universal, each person’s taste is hardly universal.

Since Joe’s serves really good food, we figured that it would at least be a nice social outing. Sparing you the crazy details of how we ended up with our specific guests, two of our married male friends came, with each of their wives having previous commitments.

The tickets had the show starting at 7:30pm, but the outside sign said 7pm. It turned out that they had a special guest star opening the show for them at 7pm, but I’ll cover him later. He ran over (knowingly), and after resetting the stage, The Duhks came on at 7:45pm.

Normally, Joe’s Pub gets the acoustics down pat. On occasion (unfortunately, not infrequently enough, as I’ve now written about this a few times), they screw it up, pretty badly at times. Last night was one of those times, but The Duhks have changed in a number of ways, and that change didn’t help out with the poor sound management.

The first obvious change was from a percussionist (Scott Senior), to a full drum kit (Christian Dugas). Christian is a fantastic drummer, from every perspective. Unfortunately, a full drum kit overwhelms the roots sounds and instruments that characterize The Duhks. That means that everyone else in the band needs to amp up more, causing more problems for the sound engineer, etc. When the sound system isn’t perfect, the problems accelerate quickly, to the point of no return.

We had an inkling of what was to come before the show even started. One of the founders of the band, Leonard Podolak was out on the stage helping the opening act pack up, and he was squatting on the stage about 12 inches from Lois. Lois told him how much we love them, and asked whether they were going to play her favorite songs (she mentioned them by name, she didn’t assume he knew which ones were our favorites). ;-)

Leonard told her that they don’t play those songs any longer, now that Sarah is in the band. Given that Sarah’s voice is quite similar (earthy, husky, full-bodied, etc.) to Jessee, neither of us understood the comment. After the fact, I worried that perhaps this was another Wailin’ Jennys moment, where they no longer perform live any songs written by Annabelle Chvostek. Who knows?

In any event, Leonard didn’t lie. They mostly played songs from the new CD (we bought a copy before the show started, and I’ve listened to it today) plus a few from their old albums (none of our favorites), plus a few new covers.

The show was awful, on a number of levels. First, the sound was horrible. The guitarist, Jordan McConnell is normally amazing. He’s probably got the fastest right hand I’ve ever seen, and he plays a mixture of the best rhythm guitar, with fantastic leads. Last night, the only thing you could hear out of his guitar was pure bass. It almost sounded like pure feedback. No strumming or leads. It was a crushing disappointment.

Partially, it was due to our placement right up against the stage, where the drum was blaring in our ears. That doesn’t explain it entirely though. The fiddle player, Tania Elizabeth is brilliant. She’s in my top five favorite fiddle players, and we’ve seen a ton of great fiddle players in the past two years. She also sings harmony on a number of songs (really well).

Last night, it was hit or miss whether you could make out the fiddle. On some numbers, clear as a bell (and Tania hasn’t lost a step), on others, muddled sound or no sound. Quite a few times Tania had to gesture desperately up at the sound board, pointing at her fiddle and raising her thumb up, indicating that she needed more volume.

Leonard Podolak played the banjo extremely well, and ironically, you could make out most of the notes he played all night long. Still, they were in the distant background, but at least audible. One of our guests noted after the show that it was a very weird feeling to be sitting two feet from the banjo, but only hearing the banjo sound coming from the far corner of the stage. It was disorienting. I agree.

Sarah had her voice on, but also had to complain to the sound person that her mic was not reliable. She conjectured that the cable was loose, and was making the mic cut in and out. On one song that Leonard sang lead on, he had to switch positions on stage with Sarah, because he too felt that his mic was garbling his sound. Ugh…

So, you’d think that all of the problems last night could be summed up as sound related, either with physical equipment problems, a poor sound engineer, or a mixture of the two. Alas, that wouldn’t be correct, at least not for our taste.

Basically, this band bears little resemblance to The Duhks that we knew and loved. Sure, they are absolutely exceptional musicians (not that you could hear Jordan to be sure, but trust me, he’s spectacular!). Somehow, adding Sarah and Christian Dugas has changed the soul of this band.

I’m sure that they will find many new fans, but they will also leave some old ones behind, including us. Basically, they want to be more of a Rock band, in Roots clothing. That’s fine, but it’s not our style. They’re too loud (regardless of the sound problems) for that particular mix of instruments, as well as for our taste. To give a concrete example, they closed with a rock cover, including mixing in some Whole Lotta Love there. Sorry folks, this is the wrong configuration of instruments and musicians to pull that off.

Sarah has the pipes to sing that stuff, and clearly she’s pulling the band to play that, but the fit is so bad as to be laughable. It’s a true shame.

All that said, I listened to the entire CD today, and it’s not bad. Clearly, it’s mixed way more professionally than last night’s show was, and I was in control of the volume, so I could listen at pleasant levels. I’m not sorry that we bought the CD, but I doubt Lois will ever listen to it, she was so turned off by the performance.

On to the opening act. Leonard Podolak went to high school with Luke Doucet. Luke is an incredible Rock guitarist. He was accompanied by his wife, Melissa McLelland (singing and playing rhythm electric guitar), Catherine Popper (playing electric bass) and Rob Heath on the drums (Luke had never played with Rob before).

We didn’t come prepared to hear loud Rock music, thinking that The Duhks would have a more similar sound for their opening group. Of course, we didn’t know that The Duhks were morphing more toward this sound, nor that they were promoting a friend more than trying to match the crowd’s taste in music.

That said, Luke is incredibly talented. His amlifier was three feet away from us, so we had no trouble hearing his fantastic leads. In fact, two people in our party put in ear plugs when he started playing, that’s how little trouble we had hearing him. That said, the microphones for his voice and Melissa’s, were too soft in comparison. I could make out most of the words, but partially because I could see his lips move.

He’s a good songwriter as well, and I enjoyed the lyrics that I was able to make out. I liked their harmonies as well, though they were definitely overshadowed if not drowned out.

Luke said that he was given 25 minutes to complete his set. He took 35. That was 10 minutes less for the headliner, his friends, so who knows how they worked that out…

Last night was the first time that I left Joe’s Pub with a ringing in my ears, and a generally unpleasant feeling due to the loudness and poor sound quality. :-(

Anyway, even though we didn’t get to talk about it until after the show, I knew that Lois was cringing during most of The Duhks performance (as was I) over the fact that we picked this show to bring our friends to (we see most concerts alone). We had a lovely time with them, and enjoyed an excellent meal and drinks before the show, and we always love every opportunity to see them, but still, it would have been nicer if the music was special too.

Still, we have a lot to thank The Duhks for. If not for The Duhks, we might never have discovered Joe’s Pub in the first place. If we had never discovered Joe’s Pub, we would definitely never have discovered our favorite band, Girlyman. Girlyman is a band that we’ve never seen alone. In the four times that we’ve seen them so far, we took two people three times, and three people once.

We’re about to see them three times in close proximity. We’re bringing 12 people to one show, 14 to another the next night, and two weeks later four people (all of the above includes us in the count, with no other duplicates among the three shows!). We aren’t worried in the least that anyone we bring to a Girlyman show will be disappointed. We know we won’t be either.

Finally, some positive news from last night. When we go to Joe’s, 70% of the time we take a bus, 30% a cab. Last night, the second we got to the corner, we saw the bus waiting at a red light. We didn’t have to run, but we had to hustle a bit. When we boarded the bus, I noticed that there was a piece of paper sticking out of the slot where I would have inserted my MetroCard. Clearly, the box was broken, and the ride was about to be free, even though the driver never waved anyone on, they all just figured it out.

It’s not the savings of the $4 (though I’m not complaining about that), it’s actually more the fact that I deferred having to buy a new MetroCard by two rides. It also sped the ride up a bit, because no one had to fumble to get the MetroCard into the reader in the correct orientation.

The biggest joy about it was watching everyone’s expression as they realized they didn’t have to pay (I include myself as well!). There was an uncontrollable smile that overtook each and every person’s face. I kid you not. They felt that they were getting away with something. Something that they knew they secretly deserved to get away with.

It’s not possible to describe how different an experience it is to ride on a NYC bus, with 100 other people, and see most of them smiling at least at one point during the ride. I’m not sure it’s ever happened before, and it may never happen again. :-)

Angel Band at Joe’s Pub

Send to Kindle

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! :-(

The Wailin’ Jennys at Joe’s Pub

Send to Kindle

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.

Candy Dulfer at BB King

Send to Kindle

I’ve known for a few weeks that Candy Dulfer would be playing last night at BB King. As much as I like her music, I didn’t purchase tickets in advance for two reasons: I thought we might be up at the house over the weekend and Lois isn’t that big of a Jazz fan (yet).

When we went to see Dave Mason this past Friday at BB King and the show was canceled, we already knew we’d be in town over the weekend (all of this previously reported here and here). I asked Lois how she felt about coming back to see Candy and she was fine with that, so we bought two tickets on Friday.

I own each of Candy’s first two studio CDs, Saxuality (released in 1990) and Sax-a-Go-Go (released in 1993). I got each of them when they first came out, so I’ve been a fan for a very long time. One of the reasons I don’t own more of her stuff, and don’t listen to either of those two CDs all that often, is that in addition to being a brilliant smooth jazz artist (which is my favorite form of jazz), she’s also a world-class funky jazz artist (words and music), which is more of a mix of hip hop and rock.

Even on those early CDs, there’s a mix, and I’m nuts about the smooth jazz pieces, but I found (in the past) the funky stuff a little too repetitive (not bad, just not as creative).

True to form, last night, Candy and band played both smooth jazz and funk. They were literally amazing at both. Seeing the funk done live is dramatically different than listening to it on a CD. It’s fun (ahhhh, perhaps that’s where the term funky comes from) ;-) and more visual when you see them play with the song. For the record, I still much prefer the smooth jazz stuff.

She played a bunch of stuff from her new CD (released in 2007) Candy Store. Late in the show, she started what appeared to be an impromptu discussion with the audience about requests, without actually ever using the word request. Lots of stuff was shouted out, but Candy said that she was surprised not to have heard the “L” song, and the crowd went nuts, knowing she was talking about her early hit Lily Was Here.

She played it right then (how could she not after that reaction?). Here’s a YouTube Video of her playing it with Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) a long time ago. The version on the video is classic smooth jazz. While last night’s version was awesome, it was much more funk/rock, including the lead guitar being hard electric, not the acoustic version played by Dave Stewart in the video.

Her band is amazing.

Regular keyboardist and vocalist, Chance Howard. Actually, Candy’s band had two keyboardists last night, and Chance plays more of a synthesizer (to my ears). The first time he played a solo, it sounded more like a flute than a piano. He sings well, and the two of them harmonize during the show.

Chance Howard

Kirk Johnson is the drummer. He also sings backup vocals (Chance also sings lead). He is incredible! In addition to just keeping a tremendous beat the entire night, with all of the appropriate smooth jazz rolls and symbol play, he took one solo very early on that was stupendous. One thing you can never experience on a CD are the visual tricks which always delight the crowd. I described some pretty incredible ones performed by Kentric Morris, Najee’s drummer in this post.

Kirk did two things (one of which I hadn’t seen before). During his solo, he kept flipping one of the drumsticks in the air, of course never missing a single beat in a fast-paced romp. I’ve seen it before, but it’s cool nonetheless. Then he lifted his right leg up in the air, and put it straight out over the drums, and continued playing at a frantic pace, without missing a beat. The crowd ate it up.

Kevin Walker on bass, was new to the band, only with them for a week! I didn’t know that until the end of the show when Candy mentioned it. It would have been hard to guess, as he was flawless the entire night. She also gave him two solos that rocked the house. He’s fast and interesting. My only complaint about nearly all bass players in these lives shows is that their instrument overwhelms the others. It literally shakes the house on every note in every song (as does the bass drum). Still, he’s amazing.

Kevin Walker

The other keyboard player is Thomas Bank. He’s also excellent, but to be fair, unless he was taking a solo (only two or three last night), he can barely be heard over the rest of the instruments. He had a Macbook Pro sitting next to him, so perhaps I didn’t hear him because he was checking email rather than playing out loud. ;-)

Thomas Bank

Finally, the lead guitarist Ulco Bed. He’s excellent as well, playing mellow smooth jazz really well, and then taking some super full-blown rock leads that were awesome.

Ulco Bed and Candy Dulfer

Candy Dulfer was mind-bogglingly good on the sax, but there was no surprise in that. She also sang a bunch more than I expected. The other day I noted that Tim O’Brien played fiddle while singing (solo) and that it looked funny (but sounded great). Candy couldn’t sing and play the sax at the same time, proving that she’s human after all. ;-)

Candy Dulfer SingingCandy Dulfer on the Sax

Lois totally disagrees with me, but Candy’s face is a dead ringer for Courtney Thorne-Smith to me. ;-)

Toward the end, she played the sax accompanied just by Kirk on the drums. It was long and stunning. She was perfect on the sax, but Kirk lit up the joint. She had her back to the audience facing Kirk the entire time, and the spotlight was on him. It was way more interesting than just a drum solo (even though I’m a sucker for a good drum solo), but there was little doubt that the focus of that long segment was the drums. Perfect!

Kirk Johnson and Candy Dulfer

Kevin’s face reminded me of Michael Jordan. ;-)

We had a fantastic time. The only downside of the evening was that the music was deafeningly loud. It was also balanced perfectly, and clean, so it was purely a volume problem, not a distortion one, etc. My ears weren’t really ringing, exactly, but there’s little doubt that there was a real effect.

Last November, we saw Girlyman at the Highline Ballroom. Opening for them was Garrison Starr, a solo performer who also plays too loud (in my opinion). That night, we brought a family as our guests, which included a 4-year-old girl (she loves Girlyman!). The person working the door saw her and offered us a pair of ear plugs, warning us that she might very well need them!

Lois loved the idea, and has since bought a bunch of pairs to take to shows just in case. Last night was the first time she felt the need to use them. Thankfully, she had them. I know (not just because she told me so) ;-) that she would have insisted that we leave if she didn’t have them! She loved the show, but was only able to tolerate it because she had the plugs in the entire night!

She might have needed them no matter where we sat, but last night we sat at the stage. Also, since we were on the far right side we were right in front of a bunch of the speakers and amplifiers, which didn’t help with the volume problem. Here’s a shot of me hugging the stage, looking at Candy play the sax.

Hadar watching Candy Dulfer

As I wrote on Saturday, I started my regular exercise routine this weekend. Yesterday included walking up and down 30 flights of stairs in our building. I prefer the long walks outside, but I didn’t have the time yesterday, and the stairs really cram a lot of sweat and elevated heart rate into a shorter workout.

We walked over the to show, and on the way, Lois made it clear that she would prefer (I’m being polite here) that I not have my usual Lucille (BB King’s version of a chocolate martini), and that I not have fries either. Bummer! I had club soda, and a Caesar Salad with Grilled Shrimp on it. Tasty, but not the same.

There are benefits to eating healthy. The meal cost much less. I had zero gastric distress. The liquor didn’t add to my usual exhaustion (because there was no liquor).

The downside is that I didn’t help prop up the economy, though I over-tipped our excellent waitress, partially out of guilt for what she would have gotten had I been eating my usual there. ;-)

We walked home and chatted about the show the entire way. We were both still feeling the energy.

Tonight we’re seeing The Wailin’ Jennys at Joe’s Pub. I have written about them many times in the past, and will most definitely write again tomorrow. You can’t imagine how excited I am to see them at Joe’s!

Finally, as always, here’s a link to the current month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter early and often, and win a signed copy of the new Live CD. It’s an awesome CD, and the contest is for a good cause, creating more awareness for this brilliant group! :-)

Girlyman at Wolftrap

Send to Kindle

Last night finally came, thankfully! We’ve been waiting (not so patiently!) since November 4th, 2007 to see Girlyman live again. That’s 143 days, in a row (if you can believe that). Somehow, we survived, but I’m not sure how!

Continuing with the new tradition, I’ll cover the concert first, then circle back and share lots more stuff from the day. That will allow people who only care about their Girlyman Fix to bail out after this part.

This was our first time at the Barns at Wolftrap. It won’t be our last. Not just because the place is simply fantastic, but we just so happen to have tickets for this coming Tuesday night (April 1st, 2008) to see Kathy Mattea (and of course, accompanying her, the amazing Bill Cooley!).

We had four seats in the fifth row, left center stage. Excellent! Opening for Girlyman was a group called We’re About 9. I have quite a bit to say about them, but I’ll save it for the section immediately following Girlyman, before the rest of my shtick, since this post is really about Girlyman.

Girlyman came on stage at exactly 9pm. It’s hard to describe the joy and excitement that was evident in the entire crowd. There might have been a reasonable number of newbies in the audience, but even the vast majority of those have either heard the band before (CD, streaming, etc.) or were there with friends who are die-hard groupies.

In fact, the two people we brought were seeing Girlyman for the first time live, but each have separate copies of Joyful Sign (gifts from us) even though they are a married couple. ;-)

The band feels the love immediately, and reflects it back. These are not jaded people who take the love for granted, even though they absolutely should expect it at this point! It’s heartwarming.

They open the show with the same song that they opened the Highline Ballroom show with (that was our last time, on November 4th, 2007), On The Air (the first cut on the Little Star CD). Unfortunately, for the first time ever (OK, we’ve only seen them live twice before) ;-) they actually take liberty with the song and do it somewhat differently than the CD version.

It was OK, but not as good. Sorry folks, I have to call it like I see it. Many might disagree (perhaps everyone except for me), but while very nice, it wasn’t as good. I was immediately nervous. If this was going to be a night of complete experimentation, I would probably be somewhat disappointed. Not the least of which is that one minute before they came on, I leaned over to my friend and said “Wait until they come out, it’s complete magic!”.

I’ve written about this before, in a different (but somewhat analogous) situation (about the lead performers in Wicked the Musical). I can understand how an artist can be bored doing the same thing every night for years on end. They want to grow, stretch, etc. In the case of Girlyman, for me (I realize this obviously isn’t true for them), it shouldn’t apply. Here’s why:

  • They actually don’t tour as much as other road bands (e.g., The Wailin’ Jennys)
  • They have more material than a single show, so they can mix it up
  • They have quite a lot of new material, so they are experimenting!
  • While they’ve been around a while (7+ years?), it’s hardly an eternity…

So, I say that their fans (a constantly expanding group, especially if I have anything to do about it!), are hardly sick of the current versions.

Whew. Onward. The fear passed quickly, as they only fooled around with one other song, more about that later.

While everything was beautiful, even from the beginning, to my ear, it took a while for their voices to warm up, get stronger, and gel together as wonderfully as we’ve come to expect. That’s not so much of a complaint as a surprising observation. They dazzled last year from the first note at both Joe’s Pub and the Highline, and the acoustics at the Barns were good.

Once they got rolling (not too long into the set), they were spectacular (you better not be surprised!). :-)

They always have an amazing stage presence, rapport with the crowd, and banter (between them, and separately aimed toward the audience). Last night took it to new heights. Seriously, they were so on, I’m not sure people would have stoned them if they didn’t play a single song! OK, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not as much as you might think.

When they talk to the crowd, you feel like you’re at a family reunion, sharing laughs and catching up with relatives, people who you deeply care about, and want to hear about, even though you have mostly separate lives the rest of the year!

They had a phenomenal mini-set of fun stuff. Sorry, but I don’t like to ruin these kinds of surprises for those that have tickets to see them on this tour. What’s really cool is that while the songs are fun, they still share all of the musical qualities that we’ve all come to expect from Girlyman, great musicianship, great voices, and impeccable harmonies. If you get that, and get to laugh out loud at the same time, who can complain? :-)

All three of them were on top of their game yesterday. Ty actually spent a bit more time on the guitar (she’s excellent!) than she has before. The new material is a real hit. They have a new Live CD coming out this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready last night. Thankfully, it will be available when we see them again this coming Sunday, in NYC. Yippee!

Time to pick one last bone with the band. Their politics are reasonably obvious. No problem, we all have our own politics (of some sort or another), whether we make it obvious or not. In the case of Girlyman, its often laudable. For example, I learned more about biodiesel (the good and the bad!) from Nate and Ty’s separate blog posts than I had previously known. I admire their effort and caring to do the right thing!

That said, I’ve written before that I don’t pay for musical entertainment with the expectation to be lectured to on politics (by either side!). Having seen Girlyman twice before, I had no reason to expect that to happen (as it hadn’t happened at Joe’s or Highline). It didn’t really happen last night either (meaning, no lecture, no speech, etc.).

But, during the intro to Through To Sunrise (Lois’ favorite song of theirs!), Ty couldn’t resist saying that she partially wrote the song looking forward to the end of the Bush Presidency. The crowd ate it up, giving her a rousing ovation. That’s all she said, hardly a lecture. Also, hardly necessary.

I’m not writing this in support of Bush, or the Presidency in general. I’m writing this because it’s odd, that a group that writes so deeply and passionately about love and other subjects, should find the need to take open slaps at anyone, including someone who they obviously disagree with politically.

I’d actually go further. I found it to be pandering (to the audience!). It’s a guaranteed laugh and clap getter, in most venues. To me, it’s a cheap laugh, especially given that one way or another, he’s out in less than a year. It’s no longer wishful thinking on the part of his detractors.

Sorry to drone on, but I need to put a fine point on it. Earlier in the show, in a more light-hearted romp on the current crop of candidates, Ty made it clear that she believes in Obama (at least it was clear to me). Until Obama got dragged into the mud relatively recently, his rhetoric lectured us on being united, not divided. No one with a public megaphone needs to take cheap shots at the opposition (though they all do…).

Sorry. It’s off my chest now. Do I love Girlyman (or Ty) any less? Not a single drop. It wasn’t egregious, didn’t show me a dark side I was previously unaware of. It was just unnecessary.

The other disappointing thing about Through To Sunrise is that it was the only other song last night that they heavily experimented with. It too was fine, but not even close to the standard that Lois and I are nuts about. Oh well.

Everything else was perfect! ;-) Including a one and a half song encore (with a fun surprise). Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes. Very nice!

We loved it, in every way, so the amount of words dedicated to the negative stuff shouldn’t be used to judge the overall effect of the evening. Our friends loved it as well!

We really wanted to hang around and finally say hello to the group, but our friends had a very early flight out of Dulles and we wanted to drop them off at their airport hotel as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we’ll rectify this on Sunday at Joe’s Pub.

OK, that’s the end of the Girlyman section, and you can safely stop reading if that’s the only reason you landed here. Next is We’re about 9.

Whenever I buy tickets to see a headliner that I’m in love with, I get a twinge when I see an opening act announced that I’ve never heard of. There are two reasons:

  1. The group might stink (which can affect the crowd too, possibly spilling into the headliner’s vibe)
  2. The headliner might simply play a short set (perhaps much shorter!) especially when the venue has hard time deadlines

When I saw that We’re About 9 was opening for Girlyman, I went to their music page and listened to the songs available there. I liked them instantly, so #1 could be scratched off the list. Just as Girlyman was complementary when opening for the Indigo Girls, We’re About 9 was going to be complementary to Girlyman.

I’ve already reported that Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes, so #2 turned out to be nothing to worry about this time either.

From their website, We’re About 9 has three members. When we were reading the program waiting for the show to start, we noticed that the full page ad showing the group, only had two people in the picture. The Bio on the next page talked about all three. We remarked that it seemed strange. They never mentioned the third person the entire night, even though only two of them performed last night (Brian Gundersdorf and Katie Graybeal).

It’s hard to describe them succinctly (of course, it’s hard for me to do anything succinctly). ;-)

They are old-style folk meisters, with very nice harmonies, and excellent musicianship. Brian is very good on the guitar, and Katie is excellent on the bass (and on the one song that she played the guitar). They both have good voices.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Bob Dylan, especially in my youth. Brian reminds me of him in some ways. There is a depth to most of their lyrics that can be insightful and instructive. His voice isn’t gravelly like Dylan, but it has an earthy quality, passion, and driving nature that is still reminiscent of Dylan.

On the other hand, some of their songs are incredibly playful (not that this wasn’t the case for Dylan as well!). But, even the playful songs are rich and complicated in their lyrics. At their heart, they are story tellers, sometimes with a deep message, sometimes a playful one, but almost always with a story.

Many of their lyrics are also sophisticated. By that, I meant that you have to listen very closely to get the meaning, as well as sometimes just to understand the actual words. Some of their songs cram so many words into a stanza of music, that you wonder not only how they can remember all the words, but how they can sing them in synchronized harmony without missing a note, breath or word. It’s extremely impressive!

I could go on, but I’ll end by simply saying that they were a hit with the four of us, and Lois went and bought two of their CDs during the intermission (signed, of course). :-) They have more CDs, and after I listened to both today (Engine and Paperdust::Stardust), I am sure I will be buying more of their music (I think they have six CDs out, but I’m not sure).

They are not playing with Girlyman this Sunday at Joe’s, but they are playing in a number of other future dates with them. There was a cool surprise during the We’re About 9 set, but I won’t ruin it, in case they repeat it in future shows.

They were on for 38 minutes. As much as I enjoyed it, it made me a little worried that Girlyman wouldn’t be on for as long as I would want them to be, but it all worked out (as reported above).

OK, if you came just for the music, leave now. The rest is about everything yesterday leading up to the concert. :-)

We bought last night’s tickets a long time ago. We bought four tickets, in the hopes of bringing our friends from Richmond, but knowing that if they couldn’t make it, we’d have no trouble enticing other people to discover the wonders of Girlyman.

Our Richmond friends committed right away, so we were set. The original plan was that they would drive to Fredericksburg (where we often work) and we’d drive up together to Vienna, VA. A week ago, those plans changed. They needed to fly out early this morning from Dulles to CA. They got to Fredericksburg via car service, and we drove them to the show, and as reported above, dropped them afterwards at an airport hotel.

In between, we had dinner in Vienna. We would have been happy to have sandwiches at the bar at the Barns. They don’t open their doors until an hour before show time (7pm last night), but we were in the neighborhood by 6pm. So, I asked the GPS to highlight nearby restaurants. It generated a large list, but we decided to go simple, and headed for a local TGI Friday’s.

When we arrived, we didn’t see it. We asked a group of people relaxing outside in the gorgeous 75 degree weather where it was. They laughed and said it was long gone. Oh well. Right there was another choice that the GPS had shown, Hunan Lion. We went in there instead.

Fantastic food, fantastic value (prices), fantastic atmosphere, great service, zero complaints! The only thing that made me feel bad (and always does) is that the place was relatively empty. The staff still went out of their way to enhance everyone’s experience by spreading out the guests widely in what is a very large restaurant. We appreciated the comfort and privacy, but it made the place feel even emptier than it really was.

Hunan Lion in Vienna, VA is highly recommended.

When we got to the Barns, at 7:05pm, we had coffee and cookies in the bar. Yummy, and bodes well for the sandwiches, which Lois and I will likely do for dinner this coming Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, someone I worked with for many years at UBS stopped by the office to visit. When he was at UBS, he worked in our London office (he relocated from VA just for the job). His family fell in love with the UK, and when the stint at UBS ended, they moved back to VA for a few years, but really missed the UK. Roughly five years ago, they moved back, and he runs his own software company there.

I hadn’t seen him since he moved, and we had a very leisurely lunch together, and had a great time catching up. Thanks for making the drive down Chris, it was great to see you! :-)

Tomorrow, we head back to NYC. We’ll be seeing Girlyman again on Sunday night at Joe’s Pub. We head back down on Monday, and have Kathy Mattea back at the Barns on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we’re back at Joe’s Pub to see Tim O’Brien, so we have an insane travel schedule ahead of us, but all for good and fun reasons, so we promise not to complain. :-)

Snarky Customer Service

Send to Kindle

As you all know, I’m a huge fan of Girlyman. I have an alert service that informs me whenever there is news about them (and The Wailin’ Jennys as wel). Today, I received an alert pointing me to a blog about Brooklyn. In this post, she writes about a Brooklyn-based group called Sweet Bitters. She lists their influences, which include Girlyman, hence my alert notification.

So, I listened to the four songs on their MySpace page (linked above), and liked their sound. They only have two upcoming live dates listed there, one being on April 5th, 2008 at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. I wouldn’t mind seeing them, and there’s a slight chance that we could make it there that night.

Sweet Bitters’ link to the venue makes it clear that the show is free. Since there is no place to purchase tickets, Pete’s is clear enough that tickets are free as well. They have a menu link, with five sandwiches listed and some cocktails, so one assumes that they make their money that way, but there’s no mention of a cover or minimum so who knows.

Utilizing the better safe than sorry theory, I sent an email to one of the addresses listed in their contact link (I think it rotates on reloads, because I saw another name appear at a different time).

If you read this space regularly you already know that the above italics aren’t rare for me. ;-) I will happily admit that I overdid the quote marks (to indicate the same emphasis I use italics for here). I thought I was helping highlight the underlying points. Here is my email in it’s entirety:

Hi. I’ve never been to Pete’s. I might be able to make it on 4/5 to see the 9pm show (Sweet Bitters), but I’m not sure yet.

Can you tell me how Pete’s “works”?

What time should we show up for the 9pm show to get good “seats”?

Are there tables or rows of chairs, etc.?

Obviously we’d like to give you “business”, so the above question is related to whether we show up early and order drinks and dinner, but whether we have to move afterwards or sit at the table and watch the show?

Do you “sell out” (we’d be coming from Manhattan, so it would be frustrating to show up and not get in)?

Thanks in advance, and I’m glad to have found out about your place today! :-)

P.S. I don’t know if it matters, but there would be two of us for sure, and possibly four…

OK, a little over-the-top, but reasonably clear, no? In particular, the part about my desire to want to support the venue given that the show is free?

Here is the entire unedited response, cutting out my original email from the bottom:

“all” pete’s shows are “free”. if you are worried about “it” being ” too full”, then “come early”. you do not have to “leave your seats” from one show to the next. i hope this “response” was “helpful”.

for more “info”, go to www.petescandystore.com.

“take care”

OK, let’s analyze. First and foremost, did he respond to my questions? Mostly, but not as accurately as one would hope. What does come early mean? 8pm, 7pm, 3pm? It would seem that he mistook my question about selling out to simply mean is it free. Otherwise, he might have said something like “on occasion, in particular on Saturdays, if you don’t get here by 8:45pm, there is no room left in the place”.

More importantly, is his response appropriate? I’m a potential customer. Could he be sure that I was savvy enough to take his sarcastic reply in the (hopefully amusing/entertaining) manner that he intended? Wasn’t it as likely that if I’m so clueless as to have put the quotes in to begin with, that I might be offended at being made fun of?

Let’s assume that he doesn’t care (that’s my assumption!). After all, they’re not charging for the concert. In any event, they must have some reason to open their doors, and perhaps I would never come there, not just that night. Perhaps I’d even blog about it, affecting other people. ;-)

Bottom line, I think his response was at best snarky, not necessarily out-and-out nasty, nor obviously meant simply to be humorous.

Is that the best way to get business? Who knows. I still don’t know whether I can make it or not, but I’d still like to. Whether I’m interested in giving them business is another matter, but we’ll see how that plays out as well.

I could have been indignant in my response, ignored it, or chosen something in between. Here’s the entire text of my response:

“thanks”, “cute answer” ;-)

Hope he doesn’t think I was insulting him. ;-)

Anyway, I really wrote this post to promote Sweet Bitters, even though I am also indirectly promoting Pete’s Candy Store. I just couldn’t resist telling the whole story behind it, because I have written about the lack of customer service in the past, and this is but one more example…

Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater

Send to Kindle

I’ve known about the Birchmere Theater for at least six months now, perhaps a little more. For the past seven years that we’ve been coming down regularly to Fredericksburg, VA, we weren’t paying attention to the live music scene here, spending all of our music time in NY. That all changed when we saw The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA on November 17th, 2007.

Ever since that event, I have at least paid a little attention to what’s going on in VA when we’re down here. Over time, I noticed that lots of artists that we truly love play the Birchmere. In reading about it, it sounded like a great place to see a show, and many famous artists claim their start at the Birchmere.

We nearly went there a few months ago, I think to see Ricky Skaggs (one of our favorites). One of our hesitations was that it was a general admission type of place. That can always be a risk. Many of our favorite places in NYC are general admission as well. While it can be annoying (and at times even painful), at least we know the drill at those places, and we play whatever game we need to in order to get good seats (most of the time). In the end, we decided not to risk it for Ricky, with other factors tipping the scale as well.

A while ago, I noticed that the Dan Tyminski Band was scheduled at the Birchmere on March 1, 2008 (last night). We love Dan Tyminski. He’s the primary guitar player in Union Station of Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas fame. He’s also the voice of George Clooney (well, the singing voice) ;-) in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

We saw Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Beacon Theater. Dan Tyminski was awesome that night, as were all of the members of Union Station. That included the bass player, Barry Bales, who is now the bass player for the Dan Tyminski Band as well. Not only is he an incredible bass player, he sings harmony on many numbers and his voice is fabulous!

We decided to take the plunge and get tickets. The night before we saw the Jennys at Gravity Lounge, we had dinner with two of the single employees at Zope Corporation. We asked them if they wanted to join us for the Jennys, but both had plans. They both indicated interest in being invited to a future event.

So, when we decided to see the Dan Tyminski Band, Lois send out a blind invitation to a number of the single people in the company that had expressed an interest in live music in the past. Two of them were available and interested, so we bought four tickets.

Because I didn’t know anything about the Birchmere, I made some assumptions, which (of course) turned out to be wrong. I gathered a list of 10 restaurants that were all very close to the theater, and sent links to three of them to the two guys. They both picked Lilians (which was likely my first choice as well). Here is how the one review (linked above) begins:

This place is rad. Imagine a squad of fine latin women dressed in short black skirts and revealing tops serving drinks and awesome Salvadoran and Mexican cuisine.

When I mentioned this to another friend of mine, he said “Sounds like a Spanish Hooters!” Indeed, I wonder why two single guys, roughly half my age, would have any interest in eating at Lilian’s? ;-)

Yesterday morning, I did something that I should have done before I asked them where they wanted to eat. I went to the Birchmere website, and read their FAQ. I immediately found out that this place is like most of the general admission places in NYC, meaning they serve dinner at the place. That’s one of the few positives about general admission. You have to show up very early, but at least you can relax, eat, drink and enjoy yourself without then rushing to make it to the show.

Unfortunately, we never got to experience the Spanish Hooters directly, but perhaps, some day. I love Mexican food, enjoyed the one Salvadoran meal I’ve ever had, and now feel the overwhelming need to report back to my loyal readers whether the rest of the review is accurate as well. ;-)

So, we picked up the two guys and headed north, early. My plan was to get there by 5pm when the ticket doors open, then perhaps wander around the neighborhood a bit, returning at 6pm when the theater doors open. The best laid plans…

I have a GPS (I’ve written about it before, when mentioning that it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given). I set the address and off we went. When I was coming up on the exit, I was telling a story. I heard the GPS telling me that I needed to make a left, but she’s often a little late with the voice prompts, and I was certainly late in following the directions. I missed the exit. No biggie, because the GPS always tells you what to do.

The only problem was that we ended up crossing the Potomac River into Washington, D.C, before she guided us back (yes, since the voice in the GPS is female, Lois and I believe that the GPS itself is a woman) so the detour was much longer than expected. We didn’t get to the theater until roughly 5:15pm. We received ticket number I11, and had no idea whether that was good or bad.

Different than all of the other general admission places that we’ve been to in NYC, there is a very large indoor space at the Birchmere, where you can comfortably wait until the 6pm doors open. There is a bar, but no pressure to buy any kind of drink. Lots of seats (tables and benches). What an incredibly nicer way to treat your early arrivers than in NYC, where we stand like idiots in a line on the sidewalks outside of our favorite clubs…

We relaxed and chatted. The 45 minutes passed quickly. At 5:57pm, they announced how the numbers (our I11) worked. They called out every single number, in order, so there was no reason to rush the door. Wow, exactly as the FAQ explained it, and on time like clockwork. Regular readers will know that my appreciation for this type of behavior is over the moon.

The Birchmere understands the two most critical rules of customer service:

  1. Communicate clearly with your customers and prospects (set expectations!)
  2. Deliver the exact experience that you communicated

Could it be any simpler than that? No, but it’s the rarest of companies that delivers even #1 (the easy one!), and you can count on one hand the number of companies that then deliver #2…

They started last night with H49. That meant that we would have a bit of a wait to be called, but it shouldn’t be too brutal. That was correct. H49-H99, then I00-I11. Roughly 15 minutes, I think. But, we were indoors, seated, and knew exactly when we would be called. More than acceptable.

When we got into the theater, we immediately liked what we saw. The layout was similar (with some very significant differences) to BB King in NYC. Lots of tables, most seating 12 people (some smaller tables as well). Nothing was left near the stage, but there was an empty table for 12 2/3′s of the way back on the left side of the stage, with what appeared to be a fantastic view of the stage. We grabbed the first two seats on either side of the table and settled in.

We ordered drinks and food (mostly comfort food, burgers, BBQ, chili, salads, etc.). Food was wonderful (I had the pulled pork BBQ sandwich with homemade chips and spicy coleslaw). Everyone liked their meal. Service was excellent.

I am pretty sure that the concert was sold out, but there was a seat or two empty, likely from people who ended up simply not showing up after buying their tickets. I tried to guess the number of people, and my guess was 600 tops, but definitely between 500-600. BB King seats 400, and this place seemed to seat more (not that it was larger, but BB King has the bar inside, where the space at the Birchmere was filled with tables).

The show started at exactly 7:30pm, as advertised. The band came out to wild applause, and began playing fairly quickly. They were instantly awesome. Five people on stage. I’ve covered two of them already (Dan and Barry Bales). From left-to-right, here were the remaining three players: Ron Stewart, Adam Steffey and Justin Moses.

Ron Stewart primarily played the banjo (amazingly), but also played a mean fiddle on a couple of tunes. Ron reminded me of poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, and I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a poker-playing banjo player. Ron talked a bit, but never sang a single note. Ron is one of the best banjo players I have ever seen/heard. Bela Fleck is perhaps considered the best, and we’ve seen him, and perhaps he’s better, but Ron is close. We’ve also seen Ricky Skagg’s banjo player, and he won banjo player of the year six times.

Adam Steffey played the mandolin, brilliantly. He was also incredibly funny, reminding both Lois and me of Bill Engvall. He only sang on one song (lead!). He was great, with a very deep voice, but perfectly pitched. It was surprising to me (after hearing him) that he didn’t participate more in the vocals. Adam is one of the greatest mandolin players I’ve ever heard/seen. He is so clean it’s amazing. He’s fast too.

Unlike the Ron Stewart vs Bela Fleck comparison above though, I think that Chris Thile is even more incredible than Adam. That’s not to take anything away from Adam. It’s like comparing Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson. Phil’s no slouch, and neither is Adam. :-)

Justin Moses played the fiddle (mostly), but also played the banjo and the dobro. He was masterful on all three, but in particular, was amazing on the fiddle. He sang harmony all night with Dan and Barry, and hit a lot of high notes perfectly.

Steffey, Bales and TyminskiRon Stewart and Justin Moses

The five of them are all amazing talents individually, who blend together to form a perfect bluegrass band. I should mention that Dan sang his heart out all night. He is also an extraordinary guitarist, but last night, he gave 99% of the solos to the rest of the band, and only played lead guitar in two or three numbers, and those were short licks. He anchored the music with great rhythm guitar all night, along with Barry’s amazing bass playing.

As amazing as Union Station are (and they are truly amazing), many of Alison Krauss’ songs are very slow, and sometimes quiet. Talented musicians can shine on those numbers as well, but more up-tempo numbers give them more opportunity to show their wares.

Last night, there wasn’t a slow song in the bunch. Every single song had a driving beat (with no drum in sight!), with energy that had every person tapping their feet or swaying their heads, that had them sweating their little hearts out on stage. It was simply fabulous.

The crowd erupted into a standing ovation at the end of the show, and they played one song for an encore without leaving the stage in between.

I went up to one of the staff after the show and asked what the seating capacity was. 500, so I was correct on my estimation of the range. :-)

After the show, Lois bought two DVDs (one by Ron Stewart and the other by Adam Steffey), and three CDs. None of these merch items are cheap, but it’s one of the most direct ways to support the artists, so we try to do it! Lois then stood in line (she was roughly 15th in a line that ended up getting very long!) and got all five of our goodies signed by the respective artist. Of course, since she’s so unselfish, she had each of them sign it To Hadar. Awwwwww, she’s so sweet. :-)

Signature Party at Birchmere Theater

We had a fantastic time. We would go see the Dan Tyminski band or any of the individual members again in a heartbeat. We will definitely go again to the Birchmere. It won’t be hard to find a reason to go there, since they have top act after top act. For example, one week ago, David Bromberg and the Angel Band played there. Al Jarreau was there on Feb 12th (two days before we saw him in NYC). Acoustic Alchemy was there in early February (one of my all-time favorite groups) but we were in NY and couldn’t make that show.

Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood at Madison Square Garden

Send to Kindle

Lois and I have never watched a complete episode of American Idol, and the only time we’ve even seen a reasonable portion of one was at our godson’s apartment, the night that Jordin Sparks won.

So, we didn’t know Carrie Underwood from that show (though, of course, we knew of her). We fell in love with her when she released her first CD, and have loved pretty much everything she has done since then as well.

When I saw that she was opening for Keith Urban at Madison Square Garden (MSG), I grabbed two tickets for us, a while ago. We aren’t all that familiar with Keith’s music (though we obviously hear his more popular stuff on the Country channel on XM Radio). We figured that at best, it would end up being a bonus like Kenny Chesney was (when we really went to see Pat Green and Sugarland!), and at worst, we’d know to avoid Keith in the future.

I wrote about that night here, and as you can see (or already know), we were blown away by Kenny’s performance. :-)

We were both marginally surprised that Carrie opens for Keith. She couldn’t be much bigger on her own, winning award after award, and selling CDs like crazy.

Last night’s show was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. As I’ve written a number of times before, MSG usually runs like an on-time train. It’s a pleasure to know in advance that you won’t be sitting around for hours wondering when the show is going to start.

Oh well, the best laid plans… Last night was a wild exception to the norm. At 7:35pm (already five minutes late, no biggie yet) they put up a very big screen, with a digital timer on it, counting down from five minutes. You could feel the excitement in the crowd, as people focused on the counter. So, the show would only be 10 minutes late, but, you had five minutes warning, so, not too bad.

When the clock hit 10 seconds left, people started to clap and get really excited. When it hit zero, the lights went out. Typically, the music would start (in the dark), almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, nothing, for more than 30 seconds. A few minutes later, some yellow lights above the stage came on, but were facing out toward the crowd. It was masking the stage, so perhaps this was part of the show.

Nope. A few seconds later, the normal background music (from the speakers, not the stage) started up. No way the show was about to start. A few minutes later, the rest of the house lights came back on. No announcement, which was very disappointing. Then the digital timer came back on with five minutes again. Much less excitement in the crowd this time, as most people ignored it.

This time, the crowd waited until the countdown was at five seconds before starting to clap and cheer. When the lights went off this time, indeed, the music started in the dark, a few seconds later. When the stage lights came on, Carrie wasn’t there yet. As you started to hear her voice, they started showing videos on the very large screen behind the stage. Intermixed with desert scenes (including snakes), were snippets of Carrie, looking like she was walking through the video onto the stage. It was strange, but sort-of cool too.

Instead of her magically appearing from the video screen, after a bit, she emerged front and center stage, rising slowly from underneath. The crowd ate it up.

Let’s get the mundane out of the way. Carrie Underwood is stunningly beautiful. Of course, if you didn’t know that already, then you don’t own a TV, have never glanced at the cover of a magazine even casually, or have very strange taste. ;-)

(As with all the photos in the this blog, click on any one of them to see a larger version):

Carrie Underwood on the RunwayCarrie Underwood on the Runway 2

Carrie has an exceptional voice (duh, that’s probably true of most Female Vocalist of the Year winners). Her songs are really good as well, and the selection last night was excellent. Her band is obviously top notch as well. All that said, with the lousy acoustics (in general) at MSG, she wasn’t the best fit for the arena. Don’t get me wrong, her talent was obvious to everyone there. In addition, Lois believes that Carrie was working through a cold (and I think she’s right).

One of the problems (acoustically) is that Carrie’s voice is loud, clear and she hits lots of very high notes as well (with lots of power!). At MSG, it was simply piercing. Not her fault, as hitting the notes is exactly what she’s supposed to do. Still, it was on the painful side at times, not just because of the volume.

She has great stage presence, but even though the crowd loved her, it wasn’t the same energy (not even close) that we’ve seen with other performers at MSG. I was very surprised.

One thing that was very different from all other opening acts that we’ve seen at MSG (and most other places), was the staging. Normally, the opening act does everything in as muted a fashion as possible, in order to avoid any upstaging of the main act. Since Carrie is a legitimate headliner (in my opinion at least), she had way more glitz than any other opening act we’ve seen before.

There were two floating screens on either side of the stage, tall and thin, that mostly showed her live, so that people sitting far away (like us) could see her up close and personal. Behind the stage, where the counter had been, was a large screen showing videos in the background. She also changed her outfit four times, making five separate outfits during her show.

To recap, she came on at 7:50pm and played for exactly one hour. She then came back for a very nice encore, going off the stage at exactly 9pm. So, she was on for 70 minutes in total, after the 20 minute delayed start.

There was a 30 minute intermission, while they prepared the stage for Keith Urban. For the first time ever (in our personal experience), the effort was entirely visible to the crowd. Usually, they hang a very large black cloth to cover up all of the activity.

While we were killing time, we were chatting about how great Carrie was, but how horrible it was to see her at MSG (she really belongs at Radio City Music Hall, which would complement her strength amazingly well!). Lois said “I’m done with MSG, this is the last time I want to see a concert here.” I completely understood her feelings, but felt bad that certain acts would be shut off to us (e.g., Rascal Flatts).

At exactly 9:30pm, the lights went off, and the mood in the crowd changed dramatically. The second the first note on the guitar was heard, a bunch of people starting standing and going crazy (that didn’t happen for Carrie at all), unfortunately, including the two women sitting in front of us…

I won’t be able to do justice to the slick way they used the giant video screen behind the stage to introduce the first song, but trust me, the effect was mesmerizing, creative, and very cool.

When they finally lit up the stage, and Keith (and the band) were all out there (rocking their hearts out!), the crowd was in a complete frenzy. I was pretty sure it would be just like the Kenny Chesney show, but I was wrong. ;-)

Kenny’s show is a party, and he’s the guest of honor. He loves his fans, and it couldn’t be clearer, but it’s not really about the music (at least, not the one show that I was at). The music that night was great, and his band is exceptional, but it still isn’t/wasn’t about the music (to me).

That’s different with Keith Urban. In addition to the reason I mentioned above, about wanting primarily to see Carrie, I was curious about Keith, because my godson saw him two years ago in Washington, DC, and told me that he puts on a great show, and that he’s an incredible guitarist. So, I was definitely curious.

Props to my godson, as he was correct on both scores. Without a doubt, Keith Urban is one of the greatest entertainers I have ever seen.

Let’s start with something I really can’t explain. He (and his band, obviously) pretty much overcame the horrible acoustics at MSG as best as can be expected. There’s something about their sound that works in that place. As nuts as we are for Rascal Flatts, they did not overcome the problems, but we loved them despite that. Some part of it has to be the emotional connection with Keith. You are so sucked in, you aren’t distracted by the acoustics.

Perhaps the most brilliant touch last night was the simplicity of the staging. Both Kenny and Rascal Flatts had amazing technical displays, and wonderful uses of them. Still, on some level, they are a distraction from the band, and the music.

Keith had a giant screen behind the stage. For all but two or three numbers, it showed the live action on the stage (of course, mostly Keith himself). For a venue like MSG, it made all the difference in the world. Now, no matter where you are sitting, you see him (or whomever else they are highlighting) larger than life, including every facial expression, and guitar lick. It was fantastic.

Keith Urban on the Big Screen

I mentioned facial expressions because there is such a warmth and sweetness about him that is completely infectious (in fact, that’s true of the majority of his band as well), and if you weren’t in the first few rows, you wouldn’t connect to that unless they projected it so clearly.

Most of the repertoire last night was driving hard rock. It probably qualified as Country (for the most part) because of the themes and harmonies, but from a musical point of view, hard rock it was. But, he’s a very talented and varied musician, and he switched gears a number of times, including a few acoustic guitar numbers, and at least two numbers with him playing piano!

He has an excellent voice (I hadn’t appreciated that as much before last night), which somehow, wasn’t ruined by MSG either.

Here’s another example of simplicity. As I mentioned in this post (and showed photos as well), Rascal Flatts did some cool numbers on a rotating center stage, that had a special bridge which was raised and lowered at various times to give them access. It was way cool. Last night, Keith had a circular center stage as well, but there was a permanent runway connecting the two, and he used the runway effortlessly, all night.

Keith Urban AloneKeith Urban on the Runway and Big Screen

During one set, the core members of the band (six I believe) were on the center stage, and it was a little mellower, closer to us, and amazing!

Keith Urban on the Circular Stage

While the entire band was superb, I feel the need to specifically call out the drummer, Chris McHugh. I had never heard the name before, but obviously, I’ve heard him before. If you look at the page I linked to, I own at least four of the albums he’s played on, and I saw the movie Cars as well. I don’t know how he finds the time to eat given how much studio work he puts in, but he’s so amazing, that I understand why all of these superstars want him!

Keith Urban with Chris McHugh

Two final examples of Keith connecting with the crowd. Toward the end of the show, he walked off the stage into the crowd. Not just a few feet, but way into the crowd, and then up into the stands! Of course, he was mobbed by back-slappers, etc., and yet never missed a beat of playing his guitar, or singing. (I’m not sure Nicole Kidman should see this next photo.) ;-)

Keith Urban in the Crowd

Then, when he was jamming with one particular group of people, he took off the guitar, took a marker from one of his helpers, signed the guitar, and gave it to a couple. Because of the giant screen, we could see every nuance of the gesture. The woman looked like she died and went to heaven. Keith continued to sing, ran back to the stage, grabbed another guitar, and rocked out the rest of the song on the runway.

The second example will have to wait so it can be delivered in the correct order. :-)

Keith played for 100 minutes before saying goodnight. That alone is longer than most acts play, especially when the opening act plays for 70 minutes! In addition, the energy level they all put out (but him in particular!) was so high, that keeping it up for that long can’t be easy. So, when the lights went out, Lois said: “Surely, he isn’t coming out for an encore, right?”

I laughed, and said: “No way he doesn’t come back out!”

He did, for a solo on the piano, in a beautifully moving song that he sang for his wife, as a Valentine’s Day tribute (she’s apparently back home in Australia at the moment). Then the entire band joined him, and they did at least three more numbers. The encore lasted 20 minutes (sweet!), so that he was on for a total of two hours, which put the end at 11:30pm!

Keith Urban on the Piano

Near the very end of the show, they set off a number of confetti canons simultaneously. Here’s a fuzzy shot (larger than the rest) to give you a sense of the mayhem. ;-)

Keith Urban Confetti

After the show, nearly every single one we’ve ever been to, the lights go out, and the artist is gone (after the encore that is). The house lights then quickly come up, indicating to the audience that they should get out! ;-)

Last night, when the encore was over, the lights never went off. After the band collected together in front of the stage to take a group bow, they all stuck around and kept thanking the crowd. Then, even when the rest of the band was long gone, Keith kept walking around the stage and the runway, and thanking every section that was still around. There was no way we could even consider leaving before him.

It was very moving for both of us. There was a humility to his actions that was overwhelming.

So, I have no idea whether we’ll ever be back at MSG for a concert or not, but we’re not likely to be able to duplicate this experience without seeing this type of crowd interaction, on this scale.

Did I love it? Absolutely! Am I a Keith Urban fan now? Yes, at least for his live performances. I’m not really sure I’ll run out and buy his CDs, but I might. Do I prefer him (specifically, this show!) to Girlyman or The Wailin’ Jennys? (not just another gratuitous plug) ;-) Definitively, no!

There is an intimacy that comes with seeing people like Girlyman and The Jennys in a small venue that can’t be described accurately to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Aside from that, I actually prefer (reasonably strongly) the music and lyrics that both of those groups create to the more general Country music songs (which I love as well, but not as much, and differently).

That said, I am still amazed/impressed by how close Keith got to creating a sense of intimacy in a cavernous place like MSG.

Canada Rocks

Send to Kindle

We love a number of Candian artists. They are producing very fresh sounds north of the border. At the top of our list is/are The Wailin’ Jennys. Some others include The Duhks, Celine Dion, Don Ross, Antoine Dufour, Barenaked Ladies, Chantal Kreviazuk, Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan and many others.

Today, I was alerted to the following short blog post. That post includes the following link to the Candian Broadcasting Corporation’s live concert archives, all available for streaming! It’s a very long list, so there’s lots of music to discover and listen to.

There is a concert by The Duhks, and one by the Jennys there as well, so you can’t go too wrong. :-)