Martin Rivas was bringing his current Saturday Night residency at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 to a close last night (he’ll be touring Europe much of the summer). That would be reason enough to go see him (the last full-band show in NYC until late August or early September). But I’ll give you a better reason (even though you’re too late to act on it if you weren’t there), it was Martin’s Birthday!
In typical Martin style (his heart is bigger than any three of us mere mortals combined), he threw a party for the rest of us, rather than the other way around!
Martin performed a set full of his original crowd favorites plus a few covers. Let’s give him none of the credit for that though. One of his birthday surprises was the set list itself. Martin didn’t get to peek at it until nearly show time. His band decided what songs Martin would have to play. Extremely cool idea on their part, well executed by everyone (Martin included). Since they are big fans of Martin as well, they were effectively making this a fan-driven set list.
They had another surprise for him, which affected the entire set as well. They got him stinkin’ drunk (on top shelf hooch) before the show. I’ve never seen Martin wasted before, since he always has a long drive home after the shows. He announced (with another drink in hand!) that this was the first Rockwood show that he was going to be driven home from. Since his wife was in the audience, I presume that she was his designated driver. Perhaps the band also chipped in for a Limo (I can fantasize on Martin’s behalf, can’t I?).
Martin was in excellent voice (which was a relief, since he’s been sick recently).
His guitar play was spot on as well (including an extremely tasty lead on an acoustic guitar, late in the set). During one song he popped a string. He played through the rest of the song without missing a beat (I saw the string fly away from the guitar when it happened).
When the song was over, he bestowed the honor of restringing it to Greg Mayo. It turned into a little bit on stage though, as it was the G string that popped. If you’re not following me, and some of the ensuing guffaws in the audience, that’s fine, as this is a PG-13 rated blog.
A minute later, Greg emerged from the green room and informed Martin that he couldn’t repair it. I think I heard him say that the peg (the part that holds the string on the body of the guitar) came flying out as well. They took a quick look in front of Martin, didn’t spot it, and Martin decided to play the rest of the set without a guitar (no worries, there were two guitarists on stage with him throughout).
Greg being the clever guy that he is would have none of that. He returned a minute later with Robbie Gil’s guitar (Robbie headlined the set before, which I’ll cover later in this post). The tasty lead I mentioned above was performed on Robbie’s guitar, so thanks Greg for thinking of that, and Robbie for being willing to part with it (it was unbelievably worn/scratched, so it has to be one of Robbie’s favorites).
Martin got the crowd singing a few times (only once by asking us to). Even when people weren’t singing out loud, I saw so many people mouthing every word that Martin was singing. Most of his sets are like that, but there was definitely a special feeling in the air last night (I wonder why…).
Martin always has The Spirit in him. Since last night he also had the Spirits in him, he did something we often wish more performers would do on behalf of their fans/audience. He tried (with mixed success) a number of times to quiet the inevitable talkers. For the most part, he did it in the most loving way imaginable (seriously, he simply appealed to the talkers to listen quietly for one special song, then resume their talk about Stock Portfolios and Second Homes in the Hamptons!).
One particularly annoying woman in the far corner yelled out “Hey, it’s SATURDAY NIGHT” (at the top of her lungs). Martin had a different kind of spirited response for her. The cheers and applause let him know that he was speaking for all us (well, I guess most of us). Here’s a Twitter exchange from a few minutes ago (as I am writing this) between Tony Maceli and Martin:
@martinrivas do you recall asking a young lady at Rockwood to ‘be quiet’ in a very un-Martin like way, followed by rousing applause?
@whosthebass did I do that?! Awesome!!!!! Hope it wasn’t too rude
Ah, reliving that moment this morning was sweet. Thanks Tony and Martin for making that happen.
One last incident before we get back to the music (actually, the amazing band and guest!). Someone (I’d give them credit if I knew who) brought a lot of cupcakes (fancy ones from what I saw) to celebrate Martin’s birthday. One was passed to Martin on stage and we all sang Happy Birthday to him. Well, we started to, in a rag-tag disarrayed fashion. Martin made us all stop and said:
If you’re going to do this, then at least do it right. Ready? 1… 2… 3…
That’s all it took to get us all on the right page. Thanks for that as well Martin. But that’s not the incident, I needed to relate that part so that you’d know there were a lot of cupcakes in the room.
One moron (yes, I spent hours considering the exact right word to describe this person) thought it would be funny to toss a cupcake on the stage. Of course, it landed icing side down on top of the electronic keyboard (somehow finding the most damageable thing it could on stage). It took time and effort to clean it off before the next song could start. Well done moron (sorry, it deserved repeating).
The band was amazing musically, but they were also the driving force in lifting Martin’s spirit even higher than usual (who knew that was even possible?). In combination with Martin, they turned an awesome show in a giant party as well (who doesn’t like a party?).
Left-to-right on the stage, followed by a very special guest appearance:
Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and vocals. I’ve written about Patrick many times, but this was our third night in a row seeing him tickle the ivories brilliantly (each night with a different band!), so there’s a lot of ink about Patrick on the home page at the moment. It was his keyboards (the top one of the double-decker setup) that had the pleasure of hosting the upside-down cupcake.
Ryan Vaughn on percussion. Ryan did a fantastic job (as he does whenever he sits in on Martin’s full-band shows) banging on everything in sight. Not only did he play his own toys (cowbells, tambourine, shakers, etc.), but a couple of times he got up and shared the drumming duties (two drummers playing the same drum set at the same time). Awesome! Ryan was the person who diligently cleaned Patrick’s keyboard after the cupcake fiasco.
Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and vocals. Chris shared the leads with the other guitarist, Greg Mayo. In addition to each being excellent in their own right, they feed off of and complement each other. I’ll have a bit more to say about Chris’ vocals in a minute. This was also the second time we’ve seen Chris this week. He was part of Ian Axel’s band on Tuesday and rocked out that night as well.
Craig Meyer on drums. Craig is always superb on the drums. Last night was no exception. In fact, if it’s possible, he rose to the occasion of wanting/needing to make this night a bit more special. After all, he’s Martin’s Baby Brother (if you haven’t been to one of Martin’s show, don’t bother looking up which one of them changed their last name, it’s Martin’s homage to how much he loves and respects Craig as a person and as his primary drumming partner!). This was our second time seeing Craig at Rockwood 2 this week.
Brian Killeen on electric bass and vocals. Another excellent performance by Brian. As with Patrick Firth, this was our third consecutive night enjoying Brian’s play (they were in the same bands each night).
Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. Since we saw Greg headlining a set that ended just 22 hours before Martin hit the stage, I’ll point you to that post to read my thoughts on this extraordinary musician. For the people at my table last night (you know who you are!), the looks we exchanged every time Greg took a lead will remain etched in my memory forever! I’ll have something to add when I cover Robbie Gil, since Greg (along with Patrick Firth and Ryan Vaughn) also played in that set.
There weren’t any really slow songs last night, so it’s not surprising that this band kept such a steady level of energy that had practically everyone in the crowd swaying, dancing, bobbing, tapping, clapping, etc., throughout every song. The possible exception was the woman that Martin needed to slap down (sorry, I couldn’t resist one last cheap shot).
Bess Rogers was called up as a special guest. This is the song where Martin pleaded with people to be quiet (before his exchange with the woman, he was speaking to a different set of women at the bar). Martin knew why quiet would be necessary for the full enjoyment of what we were about to experience (we had no clue, or at least I didn’t).
Martin started singing, accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar, with Chris Kuffner playing the electric, softly. Both Bess and Chris sang soft harmonies, not even that often. I admit (why do I always bare my soul here?) that I wondered for a second why Martin bothered to call Bess up. It seemed like he was wasting an opportunity to share her talent with the crowd.
Then the moment came. Both Martin and Chris stopped playing their guitars. Martin, Bess and Chris continued a capella in stunning three-part harmony. It was so breath-taking, even the talkers stopped (like seeing the burning bush, even non-believers have to at least wonder). Suddenly, Bess’ role in celebrating Martin’s birthday became crystal clear. Thanks!
Bess and Martin are touring together (I assume with Chris as well). Folks, even if they just play this one three-minute song and leave the stage, get out to see them if/when they hit your town. With a little luck, they might stick around and dazzle you a bit more than that.
At one point late in the show, Seth Faulk jumped on stage to join in the percussion merriment. A little later, Adam Christgau followed his lead and turned the merriment into a bit more percussion mayhem.
Martin closed out the show with North. Such a soulful song to underscore the evening. He brought out a dancer (Whitney G-Bowley of GIG) to add a visual dimension to the song.
When I say “closed the show”, of course, I mean pre-encore. For the encore, Martin brought out two additional special guests, Robbie Gil and Casey Shea (who was headlining the next set). Along with the full band, they performed Stand By Me, which included having the crowd sing the chorus (with them and separately!) a number of times. The party atmosphere was at its height!
What a spectacular way to end the show (rather than close the show).
Since we were there for the set before Martin’s, I had time during the break between them to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, find and introduce myself to Christina Morelli. While she’s talented in many ways, I came to discover her through her passion for covering and promoting the NYC Art Scene. Subscribe there and follow her on Twitter.
Aside from her own excellent writing, she gives a voice, platform and exposure to many talented NYC-based artists. She also does interesting video interviews in collaboration with the effervescent Sam Teichman (whom you can also follow on Twitter). Want to know why you should follow Sam on Twitter? Consider this tweet from last night (sent during Martin’s set!):
Music is my religion. Rockwood Music Hall is my favorite place of worship. @martinrivas can be my spiritual leader anytime. So inspiring.
On to Robbie Gil! We’ve only seen Robbie perform one song, as a guest at a Big Apple Singers show. He was excellent. In fact, the song he led that night was the highlight of the set for me. Here’s an out-of-context quote from that post (but you can read the entire thing to really understand what I was saying):
Robbie kicked off another The Band song but insisted that each of the other band members sing at least one verse (that’s the song that Chris took a lead on). Robbie’s voice was wonderful as was his spirit on the stage. It’s the one exception I noted above to nearing the feeling I had on Wednesday.
We’ve missed Robbie Gil’s full sets three times now. The first one (mentioned in the above-linked post) was simply because I chose to see Derek James perform next door (and I’m choosing to see Derek James again this Wed, 8pm, Rockwood 1). The next two times I tried to see Robbie, the place was so crowded that the bouncer wouldn’t let me in. One of those nights was bitterly cold (and windy to boot), but I stood outside and suffered so that I could at least enjoy Martin’s set (they often follow each other). How could I not keep trying to see someone who was obviously so popular?
Well, I guess I have to thank New Yorkers need (or is it just desire?) to escape the city on holiday weekends. Third time’s the charm, as we got in to see Robbie. It was a large crowd, but not at capacity, like it was in my previous attempts.
Robbie is a soulful, gravelly-voiced singer (which is why he killed it when singing The Band song with The Big Apple Singers) that seems to drain every ounce of energy in his body on every song. Miraculously, he has some secret recharging source that gets him ready for the next song in the few seconds he has between them.
He played both grand piano (which he opened the show with) and acoustic guitar, very well. He also sang a bit without an instrument (but always with the band, with one exception I’ll note below).
Robbie performed a number of originals, mixed with covers, all well. Given the amount of passion he puts into every note, it’s sometimes hard to hear the words clearly, so I don’t have enough of a sense of him as a lyricist yet (with the same exception noted above).
What comes across most is his joy on stage, which he spreads like a warm blanket on a cold day over the audience. Pairing his sets with Martin’s is brilliant, both for the genre similarities (that will make an audience for one happily stick around for the other) and for the spiritual well-being projecting from the stage from each of them.
Robbie was accompanied by a full band on nearly every number. Three of the four band members played with Martin as well: Patrick Firth, Ryan Vaughn and Greg Mayo.
Patrick Firth played both electronic keyboards and grand piano (the grand piano was lifted off the stage for Martin’s set). As good as Patrick is on the electronic keyboards, I am even more taken by his play on the grand piano (it’s simply purer).
While singing one number, Robbie Gil stepped over to the far left corner of the stage and started playing four-handed piano with Patrick (he remained standing while playing!). We’ve seen this before (The Paper Raincoat’s Right Angles comes to mind), but with no disrespect to other piano players, this was the best I can recall. Awesome!
Ryan Vaughn played the full drum set. I’ve heard nothing but praise for his drumming from so many people, but previous to this set I’ve only seen him play percussion to Craig Meyer’s drums. I can now confirm that those rumors of his skill were not exaggerated. He’s a wonderful drummer! Sorry about the red eye in the photo.
I don’t have anything new to say about Greg Mayo’s guitar play (it was equally awesome in both sets), other than to note that he took much longer leads during Robbie’s set, partially because he wasn’t sharing the duties with Chris Kuffner.
I’ll note two critical things:
- Robbie kneeled down a number of times when Greg was taking a solo, so that people on the opposite side of the stage could enjoy it visually as well as aurally. This was precisely the same type of classy move I praised Evan Watson for (in the same post linked above where we first saw Robbie sing!).
- Robbie heaped so much praise on Greg (repeatedly), that I felt certain he was actively campaigning for my position as President of the Greg Mayo Fan Club. BACK OFF ROBBIE, the job is taken!
Lois ended up sitting right next to Robbie’s dad. Toward the end of the set Robbie gave him a shout out and the crowd enthusiastically gave him an ovation.
Nick Morrison on electric bass (the only additional band member, but I can’t find a good link to him). Very well done! Now I can finally get to the exception. Robbie dismissed all but Nick from the stage. He took to the piano and sang a new original number named I Believe. Nick accompanied him quietly and beautifully on the bass. Since it was a quiet song, we could hear the words clearly. Both Lois and I thought it was a really good song, so hearing more of his material is warranted.
Robbie called up Martin Rivas to close his set and they sang Feeling Alright by Dave Mason. Of course, as with Martin’s Stand By Me, the crowd joined in for much of the song, included a few choruses of just the audience singing.
Lois has a way of bending the universe to her will (if you know her, you know I’m not exaggerating!). The night before, when we were at Greg Mayo’s midnight set, Lois whispered to me “Ask Greg to play anything by Dave Mason!” (that’s the gospel truth!). I said: “While he’s doing covers tonight, they’re not requests, we’ll have to take whatever he gives us!”.
Obviously, Lois wasn’t satisfied with my answer, so she took matters into her own hands and found a way to force Robbie to satisfy her desire to hear a Dave Mason song performed live. Be afraid people, be very afraid…
What an absolutely spectacular night.
We had fully intended to stay for Casey Shea next, since so many people have told me I need to get to know his music. We did hear the first three songs (all good!), but we left for two reasons: 1) His set started 75 minutes later than expected (I was ready to collapse rather than get wound even tighter) and 2) The volume doubled the minute they started, to an uncomfortable level. We’ll catch a set of Casey’s soon enough, I’m sure.