Alex Wong had a show listed at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 as: “Alex Wong and Special Guest”. A number of days ago the title changed to “Alex Wong and Ximena”. We didn’t need any extra incentive to attend the show, but if Alex was worried that we were getting tired of seeing him as often as we do, revealing that Ximena would be there would certainly have pushed us (and many others) over the edge.
The last time we saw Alex, Ximena was there as well, but she was only supporting Alex with harmony and piano. Well, they also played a song they co-wrote in a day as part of Dubway Days. This time, the show was a real collaboration. They alternated singing their own songs.
Alex opened the show with what seems to be his new signature opener: Always Something Better. Ximena sang harmony.
Chris Benelli joined on the drums. We’ve seen Chris twice before and I really like his drumming. This was particularly interesting. Every other time I’ve seen Alex play Always Something Better, he starts by looping his own percussion, tapping the body of his acoustic guitar and rubbing the strings, before moving to the piano to perform the song.
It’s very cool (very!), but hearing a professional drummer give a fuller, more dynamic bottom, brought more life to the song. It only made me want to hear Alex’s new CD sooner (he said it should be out in Feb 2012).
Jeff Kerestes played the electric bass. He was quite good.
Chris Benelli didn’t return after the first song, but Jeff joined for one additional number later in the set and played in a style I don’t often see. He spent much of the song sliding one hand or the other, up and down the frets, very slowly. It produced a gorgeous sound in accompaniment of a slower, more soulful song.
Ximena took the piano next, with Alex taking over the drums to support her. She sang Love Again. It’s off her upcoming CD (I believe it will be released next week), her first English one.
Pete Lalish joined Ximena playing electric guitar (with lots of effects) on all but her last two numbers.
Sebastian Sarinana (Ximena’s brother) joined on a few as well, crouching throughout each song. He wielded an electronic gizmo that produced organ-like sounds, but also seemed to be able to add effects (reverb, distortion, etc.) to what he and Ximena were playing. He sang harmony with Ximena on most of the numbers.
A last reminder that Alex and Ximena alternated singing lead. I don’t have a set list from last night (I stood behind the tables for the entire set, so I wasn’t close enough to the stage to grab one). Rather than cover each song and tell you which order they were played in, I’ll just mention some of the highlights.
When Alex came back to the piano he brought up another very special guest, Dave Eggar. If you’ve never read my posts before, then you won’t know how exciting that was for me. That doesn’t mean that you won’t know Dave. He’s a world-class cello player (and that’s a bit of an understatement).
For the first number that he was on stage, he didn’t play the cello in a traditional style (which in itself is not unusual for Dave). Alex mentioned that when rehearsals take place at a drummers house (Alex is a top percussionist), people tend to hit lots of things. Throughout the first song, Dave literally just hit the cello strings with a short baton-like stick. Cool!
Later in the set, Dave played more traditional cello bits, enhancing one of my favorite Alex Wong songs quite a bit.
That was Alex’s closing number, his now necessary to play: Are You Listening (or as my friends know, the one I call the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah song). I say necessary, because if he left the stage without playing it, he wouldn’t be able to make it out of the place without being hassled.
I think that’s the song Jeff did the hand-sliding on the electric bass as well. Ximena slipped off stage before the song started (she sang harmony on all/most of Alex’s other songs). But, Alex invited her up to lead us in the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah chorus, a task for which she is perfectly suited.
Repeating: I told you what I call Are You Listening. Ximena introduced a song saying that she and her brother used to do covers occasionally, but rarely do now. They were in the mood to work up a new one and decided to play it last night. They did a song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Ha. Seemed fitting.
When she finished she said goodnight, but the chanting began immediately. I don’t know if they chanted for a specific song, or whether they were chanting “encore” in Spanish. Either way, she came back for one last solo song.
Ximena chose Mediocre, the title cut of her Spanish CD. She was extraordinary (no surprise), but I was extremely impressed by how different a feel a song can have based on venue and fan perception. Here’s what I wrote about this song the last time we saw her perform it. That was at Bowery Ballroom, in front of 400+ people, at 1am:
Ximena dismissed the band for her last number. She played the title track off her original CD, Mediocre, solo. When she introduced the song, the crowd was feverish, knowing what was coming. With a microphone and electronic keyboards and no other support, she blew away a crowd of hundreds of people, most of whom had been standing for over four hours already.
Her voice and skills at live performances are that good. Again, the crowd sang every word with her. They were good (hitting the notes as far as I could tell), but this song builds, and Ximena pours some amazing power into it, so she was always easily recognizable above the audience’s singing.
Last night, even though a good portion of the audience were Ximena’s fans (you can’t miss them, they love her to pieces and video every second of the show), people mouthed the song with her, but didn’t sing out loud. Who would want to break the incredible mood that Ximena was creating alone?
It’s quite possible that I screwed up the order above. Mediocre might have been the closing solo number, followed by a solo encore, also from the original CD. Sorry if I messed that up.
In what felt a bit herculean to me, Ximena had played a set earlier that night at Webster Hall. She opened for Sia, performing before a sold-out crowd of 1,400 people! That is an emotionally (if not physically) draining thing. Running over to Rockwood and giving us her all, was much appreciated. I tried to buy tickets to the Webster Hall show two weeks ago, but it was already sold out.
Tonight, Ximena plays another sold-out show at Webster Hall, again opening for Sia.