The Narwhals at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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After back-to-back sets at Rockwood Music Hall stage 1 we headed the three feet next door to Rockwood 2 to see a (newly formed?) band called The Narwhals. That link is directly to Josh Dion’s own site (a hard to read one, I’m afraid). Don’t search for a band site by that name (at least not today), because on Facebook, there is another band by that same name…

The Narwhals is a band headed by Josh Dion. We just saw Josh for the first time on Monday night at the Soul Revue Benefit concert. Even though he only sang lead on one song, it was obvious that he is extremely talented (singing and drumming). I would have gone just to see Josh, but there were two other reasons to be more excited.

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The first is that someone told me that Greg Mayo was part of The Narwhals. ‘Nuff said on that score! The second is that scheduled to play after The Narwhals was Live Society, the band that opened the Soul Revue that I was also excited to see again.

Given that Josh is a drummer, I was expecting to see Greg on the piano. Ha, just show up and don’t assume anything. Smile

Josh took to the keyboards last night, grand piano and electronic. He also alternated singing lead with Greg on every other song. The two of them sang harmony (incredibly) on most songs. I know nothing about Josh Dion, so there’s really nothing that should surprise me about him. Now I know a little more.

Specifically, I know that he’s an amazing keyboards player (not something I usually associate with someone who’s made their mark as a drummer!). He was crazy good on both the piano and the electronic keyboards, which he played in a variety of funky organ sounds/styles.

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His voice is wonderful (and perfectly suited to the music they played). His energy is infectious, not just to the audience, but to the band as well. Given that this is a relatively new effort, there had to be an awful lot of looking at Josh for a cue by the other members. Trust me, get out to see Josh Dion do whatever he’s doing, whether it’s The Narwhals, or any other project he’s involved with.

They covered some of my favorite classic rock tunes. A few from Traffic, The Band and a number of others. I know there are some great cover bands out there. Many (most?) concentrate on a specific group. The better ones often aim to mimic the original exactly (that’s great if they pull it off). Often, it’s great for the nostalgia (obviously, we all know the tunes cold), but there’s a stiffness to it.

The Narwhals are so awesome as individual musicians, that their covers don’t lose any of that energy, creativity and relaxed delivery (tight as a group, relaxed as individuals!). And yet, the original tune is never lost in them trying to outdo that version. Hard to explain, but you can’t be a fan of the original versions and not get lost in these updated ones.

Let’s run through the rest of the band. Instead of left-to-right (my usual, egalitarian way), I’ll cover them in terms of their highlighting during last night’s show:

Greg Mayo on lead electric guitar. If you read this space, you know that I am in love with Greg Mayo’s guitar playing. But, you’ll also know that I’m in love with his singing, his piano playing, his energy. OK, I’m in love with everything Greg Mayo (there, I said it, I have a man-crush on him). Smile

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I noted above that I expected him to be playing the piano. Why? I have no idea, since I thought Josh would be playing the drums. At Rockwood 1, someone asked me if I was heading over to see The Narwhals and when I said yes, they said “Josh will be playing keyboards tonight, with Greg on the guitar.” I was enjoying the set at Rockwood 1 (as you can read in my previous post), but I have to admit that I was driven to distraction (momentarily) knowing what I was in for.

Even so, I was wrong again. Not about Greg playing guitar, but by how much more I would get to enjoy it than I had in the past.

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In my previous times seeing Greg play guitar, he was supporting Martin Rivas (quite a number of times). His leads were always amazing, but they were always appropriate in length (in a supporting role), so they always left me wanting more.

When you’re covering classic rock bands during a blizzard, in the middle of the night, it’s largely about the leads (guitar, keyboards and drums). Josh is very generous with making sure that Greg took at least one long lead in every song (typically a few!). My mind is still racing, just thinking about them.

I already mentioned Greg’s voice and the fact that Josh gave Greg the lead vocals in every other song. Wonderful!

Vinnie Sperrazza on the drums. There are a lot of great drummers in the group of people we follow. I have no choice but to add Vinnie to that list, pretty darned close to the top. I actually anticipated it. Given how well thought of Josh Dion is as a drummer, how could he ever choose a drummer that didn’t impress him when he plays another instrument?

Vinnie took one long drum solo. It was extremely impressive. Still, that wasn’t even close to the reason I put him so high on the list. It’s his amazing consistency on how integral his drumming is on each and every song. Even the slower bluesy southern rock numbers have a deceptively up-beat tempo (at least as far as the drums are concerned).

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Geoff Kraly on electric bass. Not highlighted with any bass solos, but a perfectly professional performance in every respect. When the guitar and keyboards take a lot of leads, the bass and drums (but to a certain extent the bass a bit more) need to keep the feel of the song going. In other words, there needs to be a glue that allows the lead to dance while never feeling that they changed the basic structure of what they started.

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A good bassist pulls off that job. Geoff is more than a good bassist, keeping the bottom full. He was never overwhelming, which is very easy to do (unfortunately) with an electric bass. Impressive.

I mentioned above that I was excited to see the next set by Live Society. When I sat down, while The Narwhals were setting up, I did a quick email and Twitter check. I noticed a tweet by Brian Collazo (lead singer of Live Society) that they had to cancel the show due to the blizzard (or, more aptly, snowpocalypse). I was sad, but also relieved that I might make it home a bit earlier than I expected.

Another example of my silliness in thinking that I could predict anything. Of course, with no set on after them, no one was rushing The Narwhals off the stage, least of which the audience! When they tried to call it a night (a little over an hour into the set), people starting yelling out requests.

All of the requests were good and Josh even agreed to one. Then a guy sitting at my table yelled out Whipping Post. Josh got really excited, looking at the guy and saying “Perfect choice!”. The rest of the band instantly agreed.

I can’t tell you how great it was (but I’m gonna try). Here’s what I said to Vinnie as he came off the stage:

The Allman Brothers have three drummers when they perform Whipping Post. You made me feel like all three of them were here on stage. You’re awesome!

Need I tell you how amazing Greg Mayo was on the lead guitar? The Allman Brothers have two lead guitarists. I didn’t miss the second one a bit. But, while I am still madly in love with my recordings of Dickey Betts and Duane Allman, I admit that Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes don’t do it for me when they appear as the Allman Brothers. Both are extraordinary guitarists (there’s no arguing that), but in my opinion, they don’t do justice to the original (no, I don’t require an exact clone). Greg did justice, and obviously, couldn’t have cloned two guys doing it!

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Of course, Josh took some incredible keyboard leads as well and both he and Greg sang their hearts out.

I went up to Greg after the show and told him: “I could listen to you play the guitar 24/7!” (and I meant every word!).

There wasn’t a face that didn’t have a big silly smile plastered on it when the set was over.

Josh and Greg will be back at Rockwood 2 this Saturday (Jan 29) as part of The Big Apple Singers (11:15pm). Lois and I will be there too. Clearly, this will be a different configuration. Evan Watson plays the guitar (I think), so I’m gonna guess that Josh will play the drums and Greg the keyboards. I no longer care. Whatever they want to do, I’m down with it. Smile

I have no quibble with any song The Narwhals chose. That doesn’t mean that my mind wasn’t racing with a ton of covers I’d love to hear them do. That said, I held my tongue last night. Perhaps next time, I’ll venture a shout or two myself.

Back to the blizzard. We walked out of Rockwood at 12:30am. It was sleeting a heavy, freezing snow. It had already piled up a ton and cars were either slipping or completely stuck. Cabs? Ha! Four of us waiting to get one, spreading out trying to catch them from separate strategic approaches.

Amazingly, after about 15 minutes, our friend used her magic powers to hear a cab door unlock. The cab’s lights were totally covered in snow, so there was no other way to know he was available. She yelled to us and we all slished and sloshed over to the cab. After a harrowing (but ultimately very successful ride), we walked in the door after 1am. Two consecutive very late nights out. Both ended in a blissful musical experience. Hard to complain, so I won’t! Smile

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