Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell at VA House Concert

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We’re missing some mind-bogglingly good music in NYC this week (and next). Is there a cure for that? Yes, catching Ian Axel on consecutive nights, in different settings.

Our two most recent Ian Axel concerts were both big stage, full band, crowded standing audience venues. We’ve seen Ian solo and acoustic before, but nothing like last night. Ian, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell appeared last night in Northern Virginia (NoVA) at a house concert organized by two of their many super fans (our heartfelt thanks go out to Lindsie and Sara for putting this together!).

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House concerts vary in so many ways (so far, we’ve loved every one we’ve been at). Last night had a big crowd (75 confirmed in advance). Consistent with the other ones, there was no amplification of anything other than Ian’s electronic keyboards (he debuted a new amp that was set at just the right volume). Vocals, guitar and ukulele were all au natural.

That was a huge difference. Even for a solo show at Rockwood, Ian/Chad/Mike are mic’ed for vocals and guitar. That introduces a number of things, including the skill and mood of the sound engineer that night, plus your physical placement from the speaker(s) (rather than from the performer). Last night we were six feet away from the actual mouths producing the sounds.

Ian kicked off his set with Leave Me Alone! Of course it was great, but it also set the tone for the rest of the set nicely. Sitting to my left were a mother/daughter. The daughter finished her Masters in NYC last summer and moved back to NoVA. She is (and was) a fan of Ian’s and saw many shows in NYC when she lived there. Right after Ian sings the first verse, there is a fun clapping part (both on the record and at all of his live shows).

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I badly wanted to clap, but admit to not doing it. Lisa (the daughter, two seats to my left) started clapping. I joined in instantly (and looked over to thank her for doing it!). I can’t imagine the tension that would have built up inside me if I didn’t get to clap along. Of course, everyone sang the ask/answer It’s Not Easy part (could even have been 100% participation, it certainly sounded like it).

The same song set the tone in another way as well. One of the lines is “Take all your sh*t, I’m over it”. Given that there were a few kids there, Ian switched it to “Take all your stuff” and of course, couldn’t rhyme it. We all laughed, as did Ian. Smile Next time, I suggest: “Take all your stuff, I’ve had enough!”. Winking smile

I am sure I could reconstruct the entire set list from memory, but I would probably get the order wrong, so I’ll just mention a few songs in context. I think the second/third songs were The Music that Haunts this Town morphing into Waltz. I mention it because of the long instrumental lead. You could have heard a pin drop people were so respectful of Ian’s incredible piano play (and likely mesmerized, since we could easily see his fingers fly up and down the keyboard).

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Ian introduced a number of the songs with his classic self-effacing style (privately we describe it as impish, but now I’ve outed us). He got big laughs a number of times, including his introduction to Gone. Of course, no laughter whatsoever during the playing of the very emotional Gone.

Ian played the equally heart-tugging Say Something (after another moving intro) to end the first solo-section of his set. He then called Chad Vaccarino up to join him. The two of them performed You’ll Be OK. We had already gotten more than just a taste of Chad’s magic earlier (I’ll get to that shortly), so it wasn’t a surprise to see them nail this.

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Ian invited Mike Campbell up. Ian came out from behind the keyboards and took out his ukulele. The three of them played Pacific Sun. They followed that up with a song we’d never heard before (something like “Down to the River”, but not exactly that). More gorgeous three-part harmony!

After that, back to some more solo Ian. He sang a song about his sister that he was worried he would mess up, since he rarely plays it. He needn’t have worried, beautiful! Since I’m mentioning most of the songs anyway, I’ll add that one of the solo numbers was Afterglow.

Then Ian called Chad back up and announced that they were about to play his single. Before he started, he said he wanted to dedicate it to the kids of our hostess. She replied that they just went up to bed, but that the little girl would be very upset if she missed this one. She asked Ian to wait a minute as she went up to get the kids. You could hear them running down the stairs with excitement, it was too cute for words.

I’m sure people would have been happy to show up just to hear this song. Smile

Ian called Mike back up again and the three of them closed the show with Shorty Don’t Wait. I could listen to them sing this song 100 times in a row and not get tired of it. Each of them does their part so well and when the three sing together (especially the last line a cappella) it’s magic.

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The feeling in the room was extraordinary. For a few minutes, no one wanted to get up from their seats because it would mean that the evening had ended. We had a one-hour drive back to the hotel so we finally did get up, say our thank yous and goodbyes and hit the road.

Mike Campbell opened the show solo. He performed five numbers accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. We’ve seen Mike perform solo before, but this too was special. Without a microphone or an amplified guitar, we got to appreciate him opening up his voice a bit more. He nailed each song and the crowd let him hear it (very sustained applause after each number, which of course, Ian got as well).

Apologies for how dark many of theses photos are:

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Mike invited Chad up and they sang Days Gone By (a song they wrote together). Wow. We’ve seen them perform it before with Mike singing the lead, last night they switched and Chad took the lead. Chad is a very emotive singer to begin with and I was curious what he would sound like un-mic’ed. Holy cow, he was perfect.

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They played a song we hadn’t heard before (another co-write) called something like Don’t Worry (but that’s not it exactly). Another winner. Then they called Ian up.

This created a Three Stooges like comedy moment. Mike and Chad were sitting on tall bar stools (as you can see from the above photos). Chad pulled out the small piano stool from behind the keyboard and placed it between the stools for Ian to sit on. Ian pointed out that he would be really short sitting there and offered to switch with Chad. Of course, Chad being the shortest of the three couldn’t readily accept the logic of that offer.

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After a bit more milling around, they agreed to all stand (as you can see). Smile

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They performed another song that Chad and Mike co-wrote, All the Love. Another wow. Ian and Chad write amazingly well together, but so do Chad and Mike.

In addition to organizing an amazing show, our lovely ladies (Lindsie and Sara) had a great spread to eat. Most notable were the special Ian Axel Fortune Cookies! Each fortune was a song lyric. Brilliant and totally appropriate as real fortunes!

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Tonight we get to repeat most of the joy (Mike won’t be joining them) at Jammin’ Java (again in NoVA). Can’t wait!

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