Tim O’Brien at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we went to see Tim O’Brien perform at Joe’s Pub.

Before I get to the show, I need to correct one (possible) mis-statement in yesterday’s long post about Kathy Mattea. Near the end of that post, I said the following:

Kathy is playing at the Barns again tonight. Ironically, we’re headed (in a few minutes) back to Joe’s Pub, to see Tim O’Brien. Tim writes amazing songs, a number of them have become big hits for Kathy. So, we’ll continue to think about Kathy, Bill, Eamonn and David as we enjoy Tim tonight! :-)

Most of that is true, but I can’t verify this specific part:

a number of them have become big hits for Kathy.

Kathy spoke about Tim warmly, that she loves to sing harmonies with Tim and his sister Mollie, and she links to his site from hers. That said, I had assumed that because they sang Battle Hymn of Love together (and hit the charts with it) that he wrote it. Google searches seem to contradict that (though I found one site that listed him as the writer of the song).

Lois has been a (theoretical) fan of Tim’s ever since that song came out, but neither of us really knew his music (as a solo artist) at all. We had no idea what to expect last night. There was an opening act before him, but I’ll get to that after I cover Tim.

Tim came on the stage at 7:08pm. Before he stepped out, there were four instruments lined up on the stage (not unlike the photo I posted of Girlyman’s instruments sitting on the same stage three days earlier). There was a guitar, a banjo, a fiddle and a bouzouki (which looked exactly like a 12-string guitar to me). Both Lois and I assumed that he had a band with him.

Nope. Tim played all of the instruments during the course of the show (one at a time, of course). 😉

Here are four photos of him, one with each instrument. Sorry, but the quality of at least three of them is pretty bad. Lighting at Joe’s conspires against high quality photos in general, but last night’s came out worse:

Tim O\'Brien on GuitarTim O\'Brien on Bouzouki

Tim O\'Brien on FiddleTim O\'Brien on Banjo

He’s an extremely self-effacing character/performer, but yet is in complete control of the rhythm of the performance. He is extremely funny, without telling many jokes. Here’s one example (of many):

He was about to play a sad song, and mentioned that D-Minor was the saddest key of all, as proven by This Is Spinal Tap. Therefore, he was going to play this song in C-Minor, to make it a little less sad… 😉

Lois has never seen the movie This Is Spinal Tap, so she didn’t get the reference, but I laughed my head off (silently, of course). 😉

With the exception of a few whimsical songs (which we thoroughly enjoyed!), his lyrics show an incredible depth and intelligence, in helping the rest of us understand the human condition. They vary over a wide array of topics, with recurring themes about love. The love part is one of the reasons that I assumed he wrote Battle Hymn of Love.

He has an excellent voice with a wide range. He is an excellent musician as well, on all four of the aforementioned instruments (I’ve read that he plays the mandolin as well, but he didn’t last night). Of the four instruments, the one that he didn’t come across as strong on was the banjo (one of my favorite instruments), but he’s no slouch on that one either.

Early in the evening, he played something on the guitar that prompted Lois to lean over and ask me what I thought of his talent relative to Bill Cooley. I couldn’t control myself, and I started laughing (thankfully, not loud enough to disturb anyone, at least I hope not!). Seriously, at that point in the concert, Tim’s playing seemed fine to me, but to compare him to Bill was funny.

That said, over the course of the evening, he played a number of songs that stretched his guitar playing considerably, including switching to a variety of styles, and he really nailed them all. I don’t amend my laughter at the comparison at all (Bill’s in a league with very few others), but Tim isn’t just a journeyman guitarist, he’s really excellent!

His fiddle playing is quite strong as well. I find it funny (not in a bad way) to watch a solo artist sing a song and accompany themselves on the fiddle. There’s something simply odd about it. I think it’s my own misconception that to play the fiddle well you have to concentrate so hard that you probably couldn’t also sing at the same time. I’m obviously wrong, at least in Tim’s case. He only played one instrumental during the show, and that was on the fiddle.

There’s no doubt that my other statement in yesterdays blog is definitely true, that he’s an amazing songwriter. He’s also prolific. On his site, there are 14 CDs by him, three more with his sister, quite a number more with bands he likely played in (sorry, no time to research too deeply now). Clearly, he has lots to say, because these aren’t instrumentals. At the show, we bought the latest CD, Chameleon, of which many songs in the show were from.

He left the stage on what seemed a tad on the early side. The crowd was applauding wildly when he came back out for an encore. Instead of doing just one song, he did a four-song encore, which ended up making his total time on the stage reasonable at one hour and 24 minutes.

We really enjoyed the show, and would happily go see Tim again!

Opening for Tim was Caroline Herring. I knew from Joe’s site that she would be opening, and I listened to one clip of her in advance, and knew that we would enjoy her music. It was probably listed correctly and I didn’t pay attention, but she came on the stage at 6:30pm. I was putting a forkful of their fantastic Tuna steak in my mouth, when people started clapping (I was facing slightly away from the stage at the time).

I thought “Hey, they can’t be clapping for me taking yet another mouth-watering taste of this Tuna, can they?” 😉

I swung around and saw that Caroline just stepped onto the stage. I’m not happy about still having to eat while the performer is on stage, it’s at best a tad distracting only to the eater, and at worst distracting to others, including the performer! But, I love early shows (normally, we’re just old folk, but last night, we were also working on less than four hours of sleep), so I was quite happy about this surprise.

Caroline is good, and we enjoyed her solo act (she accompanies herself on the guitar). That said, we also didn’t find it to be anything particularly special, and I’m sure we wouldn’t rush out to see her again. If she was opening for someone else that we liked, we would be happy to see her again.

She definitely had some fans there who came to see her. One couple who was sitting one table up from us left after Caroline was done, so they were happy to pay the full freight for Tim O’Brien, just to see Caroline Herring. Good for her!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Joe’s Pub is our favorite concert venue. When we go just the two of us, we reserve the same table for two every time (and as reported before, only got bumped from that table once, after being told we had it). When we go with four people, we also reserve the same table for four each time, and have never been bumped from that table.

Last night, we had our usual table reserved. We were the third and fourth people through the door and they sent us to a different table. When we asked, we were told that even though they reserve a specific table, it’s not a guarantee. Well, we realize that, but exactly what makes them change it? Anyway, when he saw the disappointment on our face, and perhaps realized that we come pretty darn often, he told the hostess to take us to our table. Whew. It was marginally frustrating to begin with, but kudos to Joe’s for doing the right thing for incredibly loyal customers! 🙂

The food was great (as always). I know from past experience that there are two bartenders at Joe’s. They disagree on the proper ingredients in a Chocolate Martini. There are numerous variations on the theme, and all are correct (to my taste buds!) 😉 so they are both right. Still, they’re different. 95% of the time I (without requesting it) get the one who is more right (to my taste), because s/he puts in some Bailey’s Irish Creme to top off the martini. That makes it perfect, instead of just awesome. 😉

On Sunday, when we were there for Girlyman, I had the other bartender, because I got a dark chocolate martini. It was great, so I’m not complaining, even though I drew the short straw. Last night, all was right with the world again, since my drink showed up with the Bailey’s, right where it belonged. 🙂

In my post about Canal Room (where we saw the awesome Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea) I railed about the lack of common courtesy that some people exhibit when they insist on having a loud conversation during a performance. Last night was nowhere near as bad, but two people (I’m pretty sure one was a guy and the other a gal, but they were directly behind me so it was hard to see) insisted on speaking to each other at the top of their lungs (of course, the music was interfering with their conversation), at least five times.

Folks, I just don’t understand this. At Canal Room, I had the impression that they were more on a date than there for the music. Last night stumped me, as the same couple did something else that was slightly less annoying, but annoying nonetheless. On the songs where they didn’t scream at each other (lovingly) 😉 they clapped as loud as thunder, at inappropriate times, in the middle of the song. Perhaps they were just catching up with the clapping that they missed during their earlier conversations…

Even otherwise nice people, who are clearly fans, can get caught up in this lunacy! The table to our immediate right was a table for four. There were two couples seated there (boys on one side, girls on the other), and I’m 99% sure they had never met before. The couple immediately to my right (I was practically rubbing shoulders with the woman) were clearly big music fans (possibly Caroline and/or Tim fans specifically). They both clapped enthusiastically after each number, but the woman was a screamer (hey, settle down!).

At some point in the evening, the two couples started chatting a bit. I heard them discussing politics, but none of the individual comments. Now that they bonded, in the middle of one of Tim’s songs, the woman further away from me turned to the woman next to me and started chatting, loudly. Even though the woman next to me was a fan, I guess she didn’t want to be rude to her new friend, so she engaged in a song-long conversation, at quite a loud level. Thankfully, this only happened during one song. I still don’t get it…

We decided half way through the show that we were going to buy the new Chameleon CD. I handed Lois $20 (it cost $15) because she’s more nimble than me, and she was going to sprint to the merch table so we could get out quicker. I’d meet her there, but saunter over.

When the show was over, Lois was gone. The merch table is normally (heretofore always?!?) behind the stage, next to the coat check room. It’s in a fairly large and wide hallway, so even when a lot of fans line up, it’s usually not that hard to maneuver around there. Last night, as I was going through the narrow passageway that connects the show room to that back hallway, I saw Lois walking with and chatting with Tim O’Brien himself, carrying a small suitcase.

This seemed very odd to me. My first thought was that he was running outside to have a smoke before going back to sign CDs. I was wrong. For whatever reason, Joe’s didn’t want, or couldn’t accommodate the merch table in the back (perhaps the needs of the next act precluded having fans in the back). So, they made Tim and Caroline sell their own merch right at the front door. That’s one of the tiniest entrance ways I’ve ever seen, and many people just wanted to leave, so at best, it was confusing.

We also got the sense that they were (subtly or otherwise) trying to rush Tim and Caroline to get it over with, even though it hadn’t even started yet! In any event, it wasn’t a happy situation. Luckily for us, since Lois snagged Tim on the way to the front, she got to buy the first CD from him. I already told you that he’s a smart guy. Here’s one example. He had already removed the shrink-wrap off of all of the CDs, since most people want them signed, and therefore have to take the time to rip off the shrink-wrap anyway. Kudos Tim!

We were home by 8:55pm which was a real blessing given our state of exhaustion. Lois was zonked out 30 minutes later, and I finally called it quits by 10:15pm. Going to see Dave Mason tomorrow night, but tonight we get a break. Yippee! (or not…)

For the next month, I’ll conclude every post with the reminder that there’s still time to try and win a copy of the new Girlyman Live CD. I’m running a contest to win a signed copy all month!