August, 2011:

Karly Jurgensen at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last night started off bittersweet. Sweet, because we finally got to see a full set of Karly Jurgensen (at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2). Bitter, because at the show, she announced that she’s moving back to Nebraska at the end of September.

KarlyJurgensen

I first saw Karly on November 4th, 2010, when Jesse Ruben called her up as a special guest to sing one of her own songs. This is what I wrote that night:

Karly Jurgensen toured with Kyle and Jesse all summer. Jesse invited her up to perform one of her songs, accompanied by Jesse and Kyle. Karly has a wonderful voice and plays the piano solidly. The song was beautiful, a slower bluesy number. Jesse and Kyle harmonized during the chorus. Very nicely done.

A month later (December 1st, 2010), we were at Rockwood 2, and I wrote the following:

The show was called for 7:30pm. We arrived at 7:10pm. I noticed that Karly Jurgensen was playing next door at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 from 7-8pm. I have seen her perform one song when I saw Jesse Ruben there and he called her up as a guest.

I was impressed with that number. Lois was sick that night so she missed Jesse and Karly. I suggested that Lois go next door to catch at least one Karly song before the Bess/Lelia show started. She did.

When she returned, she couldn’t stop raving about how great Karly’s voice is! Whew, I didn’t steer her wrong. Winking smile

You can listen to her on her MySpace page. We’ll be looking out for Karly’s upcoming shows!

So, nine months ago, each of us had heard exactly one song (probably different ones) and we were both promoting Karly to the other. We then saw Karly sing backup and lead at the Soul Revue Benefit (no piano that night), followed by some harmony with John Schmitt two months ago.

Last night we got to see her shine, and it was mighty bright! First, I feel absolutely silly having described her piano play as solid that first night. She’s fantastic, pure and simple. Her style is largely jazz oriented, which often calls for more sophisticated play than pop piano numbers. She’s completely up to the task.

KarlyJurgensenPiano

We already knew her voice was amazing, and that was true over the entire set. It has a laser-like cleanliness to it. She hits notes unwaveringly, and with as much power (or subtlety) as she wants, seemingly without straining (or even breathing deeply).

What we didn’t know, and pleasantly discovered, is that she’s an excellent songwriter as well.

While I described her style as being largely jazz, there is quite a bit of variety in her songs. She tackles various subject matter (lyrically) and her melodies and tempos vary nicely as well.

Karly was supported by two excellent musicians:

Matt Arbeiter on drums. We just saw Matt a week ago at the Blues Brothers Benefit. He continues to impress, last night playing a jazzier set. I think it was the first time Matt played with Karly, even though they are both from Omaha.

MattArbeiter

Kyle McCammon on electric bass. Karly joked that when she sent Matt a number of YouTube video links for him to get familiar with her music, the only constant in her band was Kyle. We’ve seen Kyle once before, but I didn’t remember that until I searched my blog. It was on December 18th, 2009, when he supported Greg Holden at the Canal Room.

KyleMcCammon

Since then, I’ve heard about him dozens of times, and he impressed in consecutive sets last night.

Karly was very charming throughout the set, though also in a bittersweet way. Her intros/stories were captivating, but they were delivered with a sadness (or so it seemed) over the fact that this was her last NY show for a while.

KarlyJurgensenSpeakingKarlyJurgensenSmiling

Of course, now we’re mad at Karly for opening our eyes just as she shuts off our access. Winking smile At least we bought her CD, Good Company, and her EP, Grace, at the show, and we’ll continue to look for any new projects she produces. I just listened to both Good Company and Grace. They are gorgeous. If you love female jazz singers, with gorgeous instrumentation, get both!

Lois passed a hand-written note to a friend of Karly’s during a subsequent set. She received a hand-written set list on the opposite side of the napkin. Here are photos of both sides:

LoisNoteSetList

Come back soon and often Karly!

Greg Mayo at Rockwood Music Hall

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In my last post, about Rebecca Haviland, I mentioned that we would never miss one of her shows at Rockwood Music Hall if we could physically make it. The same holds true for Greg Mayo. That each had sets on the same night, and played on each other’s set, was diabetic icing on the already sweet cake.

GregMayo

Greg plays in a number of bands, including the Greg Mayo Band. This was not that, even though it was Greg Mayo headlining. One of Greg’s incarnations is meant for jamming, to originals and covers, with people he enjoys jamming with. Last night, he affectionately labeled it “Greg Mayo’s Fun Times Band”.

It’s basically a musical party, in your ears, for your eyes, for your soul and to enjoy socially with other music lovers. Last night lived up to that description, as did the time before, as will the next time. Just show up, you’ll understand.

Greg played a couple of his own songs (fabulous). The covers were all fantastic, with Greg sharing the lead vocals with two of his band members.

If you read the post about Rebecca, then you know that Greg played keyboards on her set. During his set, he switched to electric guitar. I love all things Greg (guitar, keyboards, vocals, bass), but readers of this space know that if I were forced to choose, I’d pick his play on the guitar (probably electric, but if he quibbled and chose acoustic, I’d still be in heaven).

GregMayoGuitar

If you were there last night, then you wouldn’t ask me why, he was fully in his element. On the last number, he took such a long lead (not solo, the band was accompanying him), that it was dizzying in the most giddy sense of the word. It was past midnight, but my blood was pumping as if it was noon.

Rebecca came up to sing a few songs with Greg (singing a bit of lead, but mostly harmony). On one number she decided to come back up and just play the tambourine. Given the energy and speed that many of these numbers demand, and the length, that was no small task as she kept up her very energetic tambourine play throughout the song.

RebeccaHavilandGregMayoPatrickFirth

The rest of the stellar band, left-to-right on stage:

Patrick Firth on keyboards (grand piano and electronic). In addition to incredible keyboard play throughout (including some thrilling leads), Patrick opened the set singing lead vocals on Take Me to the Pilot. He sang a bunch of harmony and I think lead on one other song.

PatrickFirthSettingUpPatrickFirthSinging

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris killed it on the bass, letting loose many times (Greg’s set choices and his guitar play invite wide open bass playing). He sang lead on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and harmony on a bunch of others. Excellent!

ChrisAndersonChrisAndersonSinging

Kenny Shaw on drums. Like Chris, Kenny killed it.  I was less than two feet from the drums, and while this set was significantly louder than Rebecca’s (where I praised Kenny for not blowing my head off), it was still entirely within reason, so again, my thanks go out to Kenny for playing wonderfully, without making me deaf in my right ear. Smile

KennyShawSettingUp

Here’s a shot of Greg playing lead, while Patrick and Chris sing some background vocals:

GregMayoPatrickFirthChrisAnderson

Greg had a number of very good friends there who were more than a bit supportive. They added color to the set. Since this was a musical party, it was very welcome.

Here is last night’s set list, which they were using as a coaster for some whiskey glasses. Consider this an honest-to-goodness Rock-N-Roll set list, just for having the appropriate condensation stains:

SetList

If you’re in NYC tonight and want a different take on last night’s fun, come to Rockwood 2 at 11:15pm. You’ll experience a brand new incarnation called The Crab Apple Singers. Greg Mayo on guitar, Patrick Firth on keyboards, Chris Anderson on bass and Josh Dion on drums. In other words, swap the drummer and it will be the same lineup as last night.

But, the set list will be different (though I wouldn’t bet against The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down being on there!) and Josh Dion is reason enough to come on down!

Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall

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Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall? Count us in, whenever it’s physically possible. Last night it was and we were there. Smile

RebeccaHaviland

Rebecca has a spectacular voice. She writes great songs. She has an amazing band. Everything else I write will be mere details. You now know what you need to know!

RebeccaHavilandSinging

Rebecca loves Led Zeppelin. No small irony then that her voice would be perfect for singing lead with them. When they reconstitute the band, especially if Robert Plant won’t participate, they should consider replacing him with her. They might even want to consider working in her opening number from last night.

While Rebecca writes wonderful original material (more on that shortly), she does a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog that shares lyrics, but little else with the original. It’s a slow, bluesy rock number, that gets under your skin and refuses to leave (in the good sense). Led Zeppelin could open with that, and close the show with their version (also perfect), creating fitting bookends to their world-wide tour, featuring Rebecca Haviland. Smile

The rest of Rebecca’s set were originals, a number of them co-written with her bass player, Chris Anderson (one of our favorites!). Chris sings harmony on many of the new songs.

ChrisAnderson

Later in the set Rebecca introduced a brand new song (written a week ago), Vultures. We were drawn in instantly!

I love all her new material, but lately, I’m particularly obsessed with If You. I can’t help singing the chorus (Wo, wo oh oh oh) out loud, it just feels so right. Thankfully, Rebecca isn’t averse to the audience doing that. In fact, last night she asked the band not to play on that number, so that we (the audience) could hear ourselves sing. How cool was that? Totally cool, because I (and a lot of other people) sang our little hearts out. Smile

Greg Mayo plays the piano and electronic keyboards in Rebecca’s band. He sings harmony on some of the numbers too. On How Can I, Rebecca called out Greg’s vocals in advance and the two of them harmonized beautifully throughout the song. Of course, the keyboard play was terrific on all the numbers.

GregMayoSinging

Kenny Shaw played the drums, wonderfully. He didn’t blow me out, even though I was less than two feet from the kit. Thanks Kenny! Smile

KennyShawSettingUp

Most (all?) of the songs from last night’s set will be on an upcoming full-length CD. Rebecca is currently in the beginning stages of a Kickstarter campaign. She’s just over 50% raised (with only a single tweet that I recall seeing). Let’s get her over the top quickly, and even beyond her goal. I need to have this CD in my hands, so if you’re not going to do it for Rebecca, do it for me, please? Smile

The only positive outcome of a delay is that instead of being in the studio, Rebecca found the time to write Vultures. Now to ensure that it makes it onto the CD…

Here is the set list from last night:

SetList

Christine Hoberg at Rockwood Music Hall

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We were at Rockwood Music Hall last night to see the 9pm and 11pm sets. Chrstine Hoberg was listed at 10pm. I’ve heard the name a number of times but had no idea what her music was like. Given the convenience of not getting out of our chairs, I was happy to find out.

Christine has a very good voice and sang without playing an instrument on all but one song where she played a touch of glockenspiel. With the exception of two (or three?) covers, the set was all originals, including a couple that were hot off the presses.

ChristineHobergChristineHobergGlockenspiel

I would describe her style as giving me a modern jazz feel, tinged with rock. I can’t say that any of the songs particularly grabbed me (including the covers), but my ears didn’t latch on to the lyrics since I had no familiarity with them, so this first listen is not enough to judge. What I can say definitively is that it was a pleasant set with no songs that made me wish we were on to the next one right away.

BradWilliamsChristineHoberg

Christine was accompanied by a full band that complemented her sound and enhanced my enjoyment of the set dramatically. Left-to-right on the stage:

Brad Williams on electric guitar (I hope I found the correct Brad Williams). Really good guitar play, highlighted a lot during the set. The crowd went nuts a number of times when he played.

BradWilliams

Clay Schaub on upright bass. Clay was very good though I felt that he was heavy-handed a number of times when it didn’t seem necessary. He was feeling it (it seemed), which is a good thing, so who knows.

ClaySchaub

Jon Wert on drums. I was particularly impressed with Jon’s play. I had the pleasure of sitting 24” from the drums, so I got to watch and listen up close and personal. Given the jazzy feel of many of the numbers, there were a number of sophisticated drum fills, all of which Jon nailed.

JonWert

On two numbers, there was some very cool harmony (female voices) but there was no one else up on stage. Normally, I would have looked for looping equipment, but Christine certainly wasn’t controlling it (the second time, there is a chance that Brad was working a loop).

But, Christine was singing new words in harmony with others, which I don’t think can be done just by looping. I then thought that perhaps she had recorded the harmonies and was playing them back and singing lead over them. If so, it was a very impressive feat of timing everything out perfectly.

When I looked at Christine’s Facebook page today, I saw that she listed two women for last night’s show. I didn’t see either of them on stage, but perhaps they had mic’s in the audience and were singing with her. That would be the simplest explanation (and therefore probably wrong). Anyway, if it was them, nice job!

Kimi Lundie and Carolyn Goodman (probably not the Las Vegas Mayoral Candidate, but that makes it hard to find a good link for the correct Carolyn). Winking smile

All in all an enjoyable experience for me. Christine drew a large crowd who were attentive and loud after each song. She announced that she has a new CD coming out this fall.

John Schmitt at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last Friday, John Schmitt had a Birthday show at The Living Room. At that show he announced that his first show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 would be the following Thursday (last night). Of course, it immediately went on our calendar. Last night’s show was just as much fun as the Birthday one, with different guests (and one change in the band as well).

Since I’ve written about John many times, I’ll spare the regulars the intro, but I encourage all others to read the write-up on the Birthday show (linked above) and then continue here.

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In addition to playing a bunch of his beloved songs, John broke out a brand new one. The song was written for a documentary called The Green Horns. It was the fourth song in a row he sang with one of his guests.

Lissa Farquhar has been a regular singing partner with John for months now, but she was unable to attend the Birthday show. I really like Lissa’s voice, but I do have a complaint/suggestion.

LissaFarquhar

On the harmonies, Lissa put a reasonable amount of power to match John’s volume and the two of them sounded wonderful together. Last night, her leads were way more delicate. I couldn’t tell why she was holding back. At first I thought it was a stylistic choice. Then I thought she might have a cold. Then I thought perhaps she was being deferential to John. Either way, I preferred her pumping it up the way she did the first time we saw her.

Before singing the Green Horns song (Rise Today), they sang Ave Regina and Going Back (Lissa also sang on Ophelia, but there’s simply not enough harmony arranged on that song). Two fabulous songs that are greatly enhanced by the harmonies. On Friday, John sang Ave Regina solo. It was beautiful, no doubt, but I’ll take the duet if I have a choice, thank you very much. Smile

JohnScmittLissaFarquhar

Alec Gross was the other special guest. He played harmonica on two songs, extremely well. On Ave Regina, it was the only instrument besides John’s acoustic guitar (the band took only that one song off). He wailed on Day in the Life right before that.

AlecGross

Alec just had a CD release party on Saturday night (there is some video up on his YouTube channel).

The band, left-to-right on stage:

Eddie Wiernik on grand piano and electronic keyboards. Eddie was a fill-in on Friday. By my count, that makes two rehearsals and two shows now. I had only high praise for Eddie on Friday night. That said, it was crystal clear, seconds into the first song of the night, that Eddie was way more comfortable with the music and the band.

EddieWiernik

He opened up his play more and John highlighted him even more (he took a number of very tasty solos, both on the piano and the more organ-sounding electronic keyboards). It will interesting to see what John does if/when Greg Barbone becomes available again. Both Eddie and Greg are great, so John can’t lose, unless they both get mad at him. Winking smile

Mike Sutton on drums. I mentioned on Friday that my respect for Mike grew that night. Let’s call it a trend, since I was even more impressed last night. His play on Musical and Valerie (in particular) was great. Don’t slight the subtler play on numbers like Ophelia, where the drums are vital in creating the correct mood.

MikeSutton

Brian Killeen on electric bass. We love Brian and see him often. He was filling in for John’s regular bass player, Pasquale Chieffalo. Both are good fits for John’s music, so I didn’t feel a drop-off in having Brian sit in. At the end of Musical, they did a jazz jam, with Eddie leading on keys, but Brian was tearing it up on the bass and Mike was keeping up on the drums. It was a thing of beauty.

BrianKilleen

Here’s the complete set list:

SetList

Right before the show we met John’s girlfriend, Lucy. In addition to being nice and smart, independent of her real career, she’s also a talented designer. She created John’s business card:

JohnSchmittBusinessCardFrontJohnSchmittBusinessCardBack

We sat with her during the show and look forward to spending time with her (John can tag along if he wants) in the future. Smile

LucyJohnSchmitt

Matthew Morrison and Ian Axel at The Beacon Theatre

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Matthew Morrison headlined The Beacon Theatre last night. That’s a very big deal for a lot of people (I mean his fans). We wouldn’t have noticed, except for the opener, Ian Axel (listed as a Special Guest on the marquee). We don’t watch Glee, but I’m aware of how big a hit it is and how big a following it has and how beloved Matthew Morrison is to those fans.

BeaconTheatreMarqueeMatthewMorrisonIanAxel

I normally cover the headliner first. The exception is when the headliner doesn’t mention the opener. Since Matthew didn’t even acknowledge that there was an act before his, let alone repeat his name, I get to cover Ian first (which I am happy to do).

(Apologies for the dearth of photos and the awful quality of the few I’m posting. Lois uses a compact, and we were much further back than usual. It was effectively useless…)

This is the second time in less than a week that we’ve seen Ian Axel open for a very big headliner. The two shows couldn’t have been more different. Last Thursday was an outdoor, full-band show, with a possibly larger crowd (hard to tell, it was in a park), opening for Five For Fighting. Last night was mostly Ian (no band), acoustic.

One thing that was the same, fantastic sound systems and sound engineers at both shows, but the indoor acoustics at the Beacon wins hands down. We’ve seen Ian solo and with full band enough times that there were only a few surprises.

Ian opened the show with Waltz, which starts with a long-ish piano intro. Considering what an incredible pianist he is, it’s a great way to introduce newcomers to his skill. On the other hand, I imagine that some people might have been thinking that they would be listening to classical music until Matthew hit the stage.

IanAxelPiano

That feeling might have been exacerbated considering that Ian had a single musician accompanying him, the world-class cellist, Dave Eggar. I’ll come back to Dave in a minute.

DaveEggarIanAxel

I still think Ian picked an excellent song to open with. The lights went down at exactly 7:30pm (the announced show time), which is awesome, but catches way too many people scrambling for their seats. The piano intro gives people something to latch on to aurally and just when they sit, bam, the singing starts.

IanAxel

The vocals (for everyone, not just Ian) were so perfectly mic’ed with the volume set just right that on some level, it was like hearing Ian for the very first time (as in chills down the spine effect). Ian’s voice is highly nuanced and really portrays (captures?) the emotional content of his songs.

Ian can captivate with just a piano, no problem, but I still prefer the full band sound, partially because he has a great band. Dave Eggar is such a great cellist (no matter the musical format) that having him alone replace a full band was quite interesting. He’s not just playing mellow strings in the background. He creates percussive sounds (not quite mimicking a drum, but filling in that feeling), fills in bass lines, etc.

In other words, if you can’t bring a band, bring Dave Eggar! Smile

DaveEggar

Ian then introduced the next song, Gone, and calmed the crowd down (in advance), lest they misunderstand the purpose of the song. If you listen to it, you’ll understand why he feels the need. His intro worked, with the majority of the audience chuckling (appropriately). Dave accompanied Ian on Gone as well, then left the stage.

Ian switched gears and played Leave Me Alone! solo. Such a fun song, delivered perfectly. I was impressed that everyone seemed to be listening to the words (another advantage of great sound engineers and acoustics), because they laughed (hard) at the right places. It’s funny on the CD, but Ian’s live delivery adds a dimension that can’t be captured without the visuals.

Ian asked the audience if they would sing along to the call/answer section, It Ain’t Easy. Many did (I sang really loud, sorry to those around me who wished I didn’t). People also clapped to the rhythm. Ironically, there is a special clapping part in that song, but to a cool beat, not just straight clapping. I don’t blame those that came for Matthew for not knowing that, and I don’t blame Ian’s fans (me included) for not trying to confuse everyone by doing it right. Winking smile

Ian then introduced his writing and singing partner, Chad Vaccarino. The two of them performed a very special version of one their newest (unrecorded) songs, Rockstar. This is another song that works perfectly with and without the band. Chad’s voice is something that every music lover should experience, live, at least once. Now that I’ve heard him at the Beacon, I highly recommend that you hear him there. Smile

IanAxelChadVaccarino

Like they did in Stamford (for the first time), they morphed the song into Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. I might be mistaken (and probably am), but it seemed that they sang considerably more of the song last night, their voices blending beautifully together. Before finishing it, they morphed back into the end of Rockstar.

At this point I’ll mention the only niggle about Ian’s performance. He was playing on a baby grand. If I am correct, it was an electronic device, not an acoustic grand. Typically, Ian changes the pressure he applies on the keys (and pedals?) to create dramatic emotional shifts in the sound of the music, even when he plays alone.

Rockstar and Leave Me Alone! both have such shifts (typically). With a full band, the shifts are easier to create between the bass and drums, but Ian is very effective. Last night, either the nature of the “electronic” piano, or Ian’s change in style, or something regarding sound leveling, no such shifts occurred. The volume and feel of the piano was constant throughout each song.

Ian and Chad closed their set with their signature hit, This is the New Year. Perfect.

It was an absolute treat, short though it was, to see them in such a gorgeous venue, supported by excellent sound engineering, playing to an attentive and appreciative crowd, made up mostly of strangers to their music!

On to the headliner, Matthew Morrison.

I understand that we had as little sense of what to expect of Matthew’s set as most of the crowd had before Ian’s. I also understand the there are big themes in the show Glee, that his (and the show’s) fans would be disappointed if he didn’t reproduce, or find a way to pay homage to, on stage. The point of this defensive intro is to say that I understand that there was context to his performance, this wasn’t just a singer/songwriter coming on stage to share his music.

Ultimately though, Matthew Morrison is touring in support of a new, self-titled CD, that was released in May 2011. While it may instantly appeal to Glee fans, if he is to have real success in the music business, it better have much wider appeal than that.

The show started with a large screen dropping from the ceiling in the back of the stage. There was a short clip of Matthew driving a car, with Jane Lynch sitting in the passenger seat. The clip was extremely funny, well produced and delivered. I also happen to be a huge Jane Lynch fan (obviously having nothing to do with her role in Glee). That set a good tone for me.

When the lights came on, Matthew’s band was already on stage. He came out in a tux (complete with bow-tie).

MatthewMorrisonCenterStage

Before I describe the show (from my perspective, for his fans who will want to jump all over me), I’d like to list a few positive things (none of which I knew before):

  • Matthew Morrison has a fantastic voice. I was really impressed, across a wide range and many genres, it held up on every song.
  • He moves extremely well on stage (some would call it dancing, which he certainly did a bit of). He even did a split to end one number, so he’s certainly more limber than I ever was. Winking smile
  • He exudes warmth. I left with the impression that hanging out with him (as a person, not as a celebrity) would be a fun thing to do.
  • He’s a reasonably good songwriter (more on that later).
  • His new CD is pretty good (more on that later as well).
  • The show was entertaining (which is not the same as saying it was a good or great concert).
  • His band is exceptional, each and every one, including the three backup singers.

To summarize, he’s extremely talented. I didn’t know that he was a Broadway star before yesterday, but I totally get it. He has the voice, he has the extremely fluid moves and he is clearly an actor.

All of the above feels like it’s leading up to a but… It is, unfortunately.

But, the show felt like it belonged in Las Vegas. If he had sung Danke Shoen, the image would have been complete in everyone else’s mind as well. This was more of a production than a concert. That’s fine, many people (millions?) go to see these types of shows in Vegas (and elsewhere) all the time. But, he’s promoting a CD, including original music, and I admit feeling completely lost at trying to reconcile the two.

What made it Vegas to me?

  • More covers than originals
  • Many covers were actually medleys (often alternating rather than sequential)
  • Anachronistic dancing (Gene Kelly-like moves to a Rap/Hip-Hop number?!?)
  • Costume changes (OK, a weak one) Winking smile
  • He had a special guest (covered later), who also did a cover

There are probably more examples, but if the above don’t give you the sense, we’re just going to see it differently, which is fine with me (hopefully it’s fine with you too!).

That’s not the real problem I had with the show. I like entertainment for the sake of entertainment as well, even though, to repeat, Matthew is really pushing a CD, not a traveling show (I applaud touring in support of CD sales, so that’s a positive, not a negative for me!).

For me, given the production, and the nature of the arrangements (even though played by outstanding musicians and sung by someone with a great voice), made the covers feel stale for the most part (a very few notable exceptions). In my head, the words rounded corners (yes, an oxymoron) kept repeating.

He/they were reproducing the originals without the same excitement, nor were they interpreting them in any interesting way. Hence, stale.

On the other hand, he performed at least four originals (perhaps more, I didn’t know at least four songs). I really liked all of them, in particular the two singles, Summer Rain and Still Got Tonight! So, he can write songs that I like, but he chooses to play songs that don’t differentiate him from anyone else. Oh well…

The real point is that he delivers his own material freshly. It doesn’t feel manufactured. It’s coming from within him. I know, it’s fresh to me because I haven’t heard it before, but that’s not really it, it’s the actual delivery that I’m talking about. Actors (on Broadway) deliver the same lines every day, sometimes for years on end. The great ones make them fresh to each audience, even when members in the audience have seen the exact show many times.

Matthew has been touring with New Kids on the Block and The Backstreet Boys. After mentioning that, he said that of the boy bands, he preferred ‘N Sync. He started to sing one of their songs.

Halfway through, JC Chasez (of ‘N Sync) walks onto the stage, microphone in hand, singing along with Matthew (and taking some verses himself). The crowd went nuts (well, most did).

JCChasez

When the song was over, there was some loving exchanged between the two, then Matthew left the stage so that JC could sing a song without him. Above, I used the word manufactured. Here’s one example. The last thing Matthew Morrison said as he walked off the stage was: “When I return, I better see you all standing on your feet!” (or something like: “I’ll be surprised if you’re not all standing on your feet when I return!”). The point being, if you’re a fan of Matthew Morrison, you’re going to stand, whether you were moved to or not, or you’re letting your idol down.

JC gave a long (rambling) introduction before singing. He was self-deprecating (and got a really good laugh for it) when he interrupted himself and said: “This is why they don’t usually let me talk into the microphone.” Smile

Then he started singing Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. OK, great song (by any measure), and he and the band delivered it really well. But seriously, you get one song to sing, and you pick someone else’s? Also, this was hardly a Rock Show. But, instantly (and dutifully), nearly everyone in the place stood up (for the entire song). We didn’t, and for all I know, we might have been the only two people sitting during that (and one other) song.

Why did it feel odd to me, even though I love the song and thought they did a great job? Because there are a hundred Journey cover bands in the US (probably a dozen in NYC), most of whom can nail the sound (perhaps better than they did last night), and I can guarantee you that 80% of the people who stood and rocked out with JC last night, wouldn’t put $5 in a tip jar for those bands, and certainly wouldn’t stand throughout the song. They got to pay a heckuva lot more for the privilege of hearing covers last night.

OK, I could go on (an on), but I’ll shift gears and wrap up.

First, another shout-out to the band and backup singers, they were really top-notch pros.

Kiley Dean singing and dancing. She was excellent all night, but when Matthew was finishing up a Soul number, he took the opportunity to introduce each of the backup singers and give them a few seconds of lead to show off their stuff. All were really good, but Kiley killed it, hitting some super high notes amazingly for a finishing flourish.

Kamilah Marshall singing and dancing. Everything I said about Kiley applies here as well, with the exception that she didn’t quite push the mini-solo. She was otherwise completely outstanding throughout the set.

There was a male backup singer/dancer who also was excellent, though somewhat less highlighted than the ladies. I can’t easily find his name, though Matthew Morrison definitely introduced him (I don’t take notes, everything is from memory, augmented by searching the Net the next day).

BackupSingersPartialBand

Likewise, he introduced his band, but I assumed I’d have no trouble finding them online. I am giving up, so I’ll just briefly describe them without giving them the proper attribution. Left-to-right on the stage:

The bass player (electric) was fantastic. He also played a keyboard/synth on at least one number.

The drummer was incredible (playing a very large kit). For one of the medleys, he came to center stage and played the bongos. Everyone else left the stage and Matthew Sang with only the bongos accompanying him. I applaud the drummer’s play on those as well (Matthew asked the lighting person to shine a spotlight on his fingers, which were flying).

BassPlayerDrummer

Unfortunately, that was also the lowlight of the evening for me. Matthew sang a medley from West Side Story. His voice? Perfect. The bongos? Perfect. Singing a medley from West Side Story, solo, with just a bit of percussion? Borderline ridiculous. (Not even up to Vegas standards!)

MatthewMorrisonBongoPlayer

The keyboards player (L-shaped setup with an organ and electronic keyboards that sounded like a piano), was absolutely terrific and was highlighted on one number that he nailed.

Two guitar players. One alternated between an acoustic guitar on which he played rhythm and an electric on which he took a number of excellent leads. The other one played electric all night. He took a number of leads, but his volume was lower than the other guitar and it was a bit harder to pick out his skill level. Given how incredible everyone else was, I have little doubt that he’s that good too!

On to the final positive thing, followed by the biggest negative one.

The point of the tour is to promote the CD. If the tour can make a profit, all the better, I’m sure. At those ticket prices, I would guess they accomplished the latter, but did they accomplish the former?

Well, thanks to Spotify, I actually listened to entire CD this morning (that never would have happened if I didn’t see the show last night). Since Spotify pays royalties, I’ve already contributed an additional $.00000034 to Matthew Morrison beyond his take of the uber-expensive $180 (with fees) we paid for our two tickets to the show.

Here’s my take on the CD:

I like it! I don’t love it, and I’m unlikely to buy it, but I wouldn’t swear to that. If any Matthew Morrison fan were to promote it to me, I would not look at them funny, or think they were weird.

I said above that I liked his original music, and that holds true for the CD version as well, so it’s not a matter of only coming across well live. Two of the covers that he performed last night are also on the CD, but there they are actual collaborations with the original artists (Elton John and Sting). The songs came across stale/flat on stage, but are better (still not my choice of listening material) with Elton and Sting singing verses as well.

Last night he also sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow (one of our favorite songs). He did a nice job, nothing special. It’s not the original arrangement, but rather one that I associate with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, though perhaps he didn’t originate it either. On the CD, it’s a collaboration with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s fantastic. After listening to it, I took off the headphones and played it again out loud for Lois to enjoy with me. Smile

So, here’s what Matthew Morrison accomplished yesterday by having Ian Axel open for him:

  • He extracted $180 from my wallet, though he didn’t get every penny of it personally Winking smile
  • He impressed me with his incredible talents
  • He entertained (and annoyed) me
  • He got me to listen to his CD
  • He got me to promote his CD here
  • I will speak favorably about his CD to anyone who shows an interest
  • I will check out his future recordings, especially if they contain original music!

That’s not a bad night’s work if you ask me.

All of which brings me to a complaint that nearly everyone had (especially in the orchestra section), which had nothing to do with Matthew Morrison (though I’d like to believe that the headliner can and should affect these things!).

As with a number of other venues/shows, but worse last night than I’ve ever experienced, they continually shone bright lights directly into the audience. These were land airplanes in fog level brightness. Blind you level brightness. There is no reasonable explanation for doing this that I can dream up.

InsaneBrightLightsPointingAtTheAudience

Even if you aren’t sensitive, the light overwhelms (and therefore obscures) whatever section of the stage it’s coming from at the time (yes, they rotate from all angles!). At the extreme, I can imagine it triggered some migraines! The only thing that could have made it worse would have been to strobe them. That would have surely set off epileptic attacks.

I’m not alone in my feeling. Lots of people around us were shielding their eyes and grimacing. Even on Matthew Morrison’s site, there were comments this morning about how horrible the lighting was, questioning the purpose. Like I said, not his fault, unless they did it in rehearsals, in which case I can’t imagine they would have done it had he asked them not to.

The best part of everyone standing up for two entire songs? We had human shields to protect our eyes, however brief that was…

Leave a Lasting Mark Blues Brothers Tribute at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Every month, Sam Teichman produces a benefit concert. Proceeds go to different charities (one per show).

SamTeichman

Last night was for Ronald McDonald House of NY. If you want to get involved directly, with the NY chapter, here’s their contact info:

Ronald McDonald House in New York City
405 East 73rd Street
New York, NY 10021 USA
Phone: 212 639-0100
Fax: 212 472-0376

Each show has a theme. Last night it was a Tribute to the Blues Brothers. Sweet (both in theory, in advance, and in retrospect, now that we got to thoroughly enjoy it)!

The series is called Leave a Lasting Mark. The next one is on August 23rd at City Winery. It will be a different style, very special show. After that, they will return to the normal format, at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 (where last night’s show was), on September 25th. That show will be a 3-hour extravaganza, paying tribute to The Last Waltz by The Band!

24 musicians participated in last night’s show (not unusual!). I’ll mention every single one of them, but I will not attempt to enumerate the combinations or tell you which people were on which songs. I’ll simply describe the evening in a few generalities. Here is the set list, just to put you in the mood. Smile

SetList

Every performer donates their time to these shows. That doesn’t just include time on stage, but time rehearsing (except when they show up last minute, not having made the rehearsal, and still blow the audience away!). We gave them many ovations last night, but you can do so (in your head) as you read along…

Who doesn’t love the Blues Brothers? Who doesn’t love Soul music? Who doesn’t love brass sections? Who doesn’t love high-energy live performances by dozens of people? If you raised your hand to any of those, leave now! (In starker terms, no soup for you!) Winking smile

Every song last night was packed with energy, delivered by top-notch musicians, with a passion for entertaining (clearly, they loved the songs they were performing). In the audience, a lot of head bobbing, foot tapping (and stomping), clapping (during the songs, to the beat). Of course, wide smiles all around.

One guy took it up a level, participating in much of the show from his seat. When we were called on to get up and Shake Our Tail Feather, he did, very enthusiastically. It was fun to see him so in the spirit. Fun, with the exception that he sat opposite me at our table, and in getting up with so much gusto, spilled his wine all over my jeans and soaked the floor around my feet. Oh well, the price of joy isn’t cheap. Smile (My jeans are in the laundry as I type this, thanks for asking!) Winking smile

There were a number of band changes (shuffles, all done reasonably quickly/efficiently). There were also a number of troopers who played on all songs (perhaps taking a break on one or two, but never leaving the stage. Sam had trouble getting a full horn section, so those that showed up did yeoman’s duty and were on stage start-to-finish. Let’s cover them first, giving them the credit they’re due.

Here’s the horn section, left-to-right:

Matt Thomas on alto-saxophone. You have to go down the page to see Matt’s bio. Matt was far-left on (and off) the stage all night. He did a great job, including a few short solos. At the end (I think in the finale, if not, close to it), he was highlighted even more and tore it up.

MattThomas

Marcus Graf on trumpet. Marcus did a superb job, with a number of short-burst leads. I would have enjoyed hearing him highlighted a bit more. At the end, Sam said that Marcus was a last-minute addition (they met yesterday), when someone recommended someone who recommended Marcus. Good job with the chain of recommendations! Smile

MarcusGraf

Mitch Marcus on tenor saxophone. He took a couple of smoking leads and played wonderfully throughout. I had the sense that he was one of the leaders on stage, but that might have just been because of his central location.

MitchMarcus

Sitting behind the brass section and playing on all but one song was another late addition.

Dave Pollack (a.k.a Shaky Dave) texted Sam at midnight (so technically, the day of the show) that he could make it. He absolutely killed it on the harmonica on every number. He took long, tasty leads. I was surprised that he didn’t rub his lips off.

ShakyDave

Sam was upset that he couldn’t get a 5-piece brass section, including a trombone, but I’m impressed with the last-minute additions of Shaky Dave and Marcus Graf, who along with Matt Thomas and Mitch Marcus created a big sound!

HornSection

Everyone else, in no particular order. That said, I’ll contradict myself immediately and list the female vocalists who didn’t play any instruments first.

Stephanie White on lead vocals. Stephanie was extraordinary (so I lied a bit about the order, I wanted to mention her first). Winking smile Her voice was strong and clear. More impressively, as the song got more feverish, it was climbing the scales. Stephanie kept hitting higher and higher notes, with the same power and clarity. When she hit the last few, I was worried for the dogs in the neighborhood and was equally surprised that humans could hear such a high (and clear!) sound. Wow!

StephanieWhite

Above, I linked Stephanie’s name to her own MySpace page. She is also part of a duo called The Philth Harmonic (actually, called Stephanie White and The Filth Harmonic). I already had them on my list to see, solely due to previously being impressed by her duo partner. Since he was a big part of last night’s show, I’ll save talking about him for later.

Crystal Durant on lead and background vocals. She goes by the moniker DJ Crystal Clear6 (as you’ll see if you clicked through). Another exceptional voice. She’s the one that sang Shake Your Tail Feather, so I blame her for being good enough to get the guy across from me excited enough to actually shake it, spilling his wine on me in the process. Not cool Crystal, not cool! Winking smile

CrystalDurant

Charlene Kaye on lead vocals. Another serious winner! All three ladies (Charlene, Stephanie and Crystal) were new to me. All three impressed me to no end.

CharleneKaye

As Sam reminded us multiple times, everyone on stage is a creator of music, not just a musician. He encouraged us to check out each of them when they are performing their own stuff. I will Sam, I will! Smile

Ashley Lehmann on lead and background vocals. I’ve seen Ashley do background vocals before, but this was my first time seeing her take center stage. She also did more background vocals last night than the others. Like the first time I saw Ashley on background, she did a very good job. Unfortunately, she wasn’t well matched for the song she sang lead on. That said, the song itself was still great, with the band nailing it like they did on every other number.

AshleyLehmann

OK, I’ll continue with the male singers who didn’t play an instrument (hard to resist a theme).

Bryan Lazerus on lead vocals (no good individual music link). Another first for me. Great voice. I enjoyed his number immensely! I see from his personal profile that he’s a guitarist, so perhaps some day I’ll see a fuller picture of his talents.

BryanLazerusBryanLazerusSinging

Sean Lauder on lead vocals. A number of people came dressed (partially) in Blues Brothers style. Sean came the closest, wearing a black suit, skinny tie and sunglasses. I don’t know why he didn’t complete the look with the hat. Perhaps he’s a hair guy. Winking smile Anyway, he put on a helluva show, dancing and singing his heart out. The voice didn’t impress like some of the others.

SeanLauderSeanLauderDancing1SeanLauderDancing2

On to the lead singers who also played instruments. Thanks to a cheat-sheet from Sam, these will mostly be listed in the order in which they appeared, but keep in mind that the ones above were interspersed among these!

Jeremiah Birnbaum and Scott Stein opened the show, alternating verses singing lead. Each of them is amazing in their own right, and I think they have more than one collaborative project together, but I know them best (together) as two of the five people in The Ramblers.

Jeremiah sang first and played lead guitar (on that and a number of other songs). He also sang lead on Rawhide, filling in at the last minute. He didn’t play guitar on that number. In fact, he asked Sam to find a guitarist and Sam let that slip through the cracks. In real-time, another performer jumped up and did a great job without having known he’d be asked to do so (I’ll get to him shortly, and refer back to this).

a

I know I already said Jeremiah is amazing, but I wasn’t specific about last night. Great voice, great guitar playing, yes, last night too! Smile

JeremiahBirnbaumGuitar

Scott Stein is an incredible keyboards player. When he sings with the Ramblers, I really like his voice as well. I wasn’t as kind about a song he sang at the last benefit, but last night he was totally back on track. So, he has a really good voice, but it has to fit the material to really work. Last night, it did!

ScottStein

His keyboard play was exciting. When he took leads (a number of them), the horn section crouched down so people could see the magic more clearly (he was buried in the back of the stage).

Craig Greenberg sang lead and played keyboards and electric guitar. He was great on all three, with the latter (guitar) being the one on Rawhide Hey Bartender, filling in seconds before the song started. He had to sit while playing the guitar, because Jeremiah is so tall that the strap made the guitar hang down at Craig’s knees.

CraigGreenbergKeyboardsCraigGreenbergGuitar

Adam Minkoff on lead vocals (twice), electric bass and guitar. I just wrote about Adam on Saturday, after seeing him perform as part of Scott Chasolen’s trio on Friday night. I lamented in that post that I never get to see Adam sing lead, because his headlining sets typically start a midnight or later!

AdamMinkoffBass

What an absolute treat getting to see/hear him sing lead last night. He’s wonderful, and I will now need to nap on nights when he’s performing late, so I can stay up (at least once). I’ve already written a couple of times about how good he is on the bass. Last night was my first taste of him playing lead electric guitar.

Since he was singing, he started out mostly playing rhythm. But, when it came time for a solo, he was fast, clean and excellent. A multi-talented individual! I had never met Adam before, so I hung around an extra minute to find him and tell him how much I enjoyed his singing.

As if the above weren’t enough, he cracked us up a number of times with his extremely dry (and quick) humor, in response to some of Sam’s introductions. I won’t do justice to anything he said, so I won’t try.

Robbie LaFalce on lead vocals, drums and keyboards. I really enjoyed Robbie’s piano play at the last benefit. I really enjoyed his drumming at the one before that. So, when he played the drums last night, and kicked arse, I had nothing to complain about.

RobbieLaFalceDrums

Then he took it up from there. He sang lead while playing the drums (something I should stop being surprised at, but it’s still hard to wrap my head around it, even though I see it more often lately). Excellent voice. Later, he joined Scott Stein and they shared the keyboards. Beautiful!

RobbieLaFalceSinging

ScottSteinRobbieLaFalceKeyboardsScottSteinRobbieLaFalceKeyboardsCloseup

Robbie is the other half of The Philth Harmonic, and the reason they were on my list even before I knew who Stephanie White was. They will be playing an early show in Newark, NJ this Thursday (8/4/2011). If you’re in that neck of the woods, do yourself a favor and check them out.

Chris Kelly sang lead and played electric bass. This was our second time seeing Chris, both at these benefits. Again, Chris did a good job singing and an even better job on the bass.

ChrisKelly

There was one final singer, but I will save him for later (so be sure to stick around), because the finale requires a little section of its own.

Here are the rest of the musicians. Some sang background, some didn’t. In any event, the fact that they are listed after the singers means nothing. They were an integral part of the show, just like the horns were!

Jeff Litman on electric guitar. I’ve written about Jeff a number of times, always glowingly. Last night can be added to that list. Very tasty leads when he was on stage.

JeffLitmanJeffLitmanGuitar

Will Hensley on electric guitar. My first time seeing Will. He sounded good, but I couldn’t tell how much lead he was playing because he stepped back further than some of the other guitarists, so it was harder to follow him (visually).

WillHensley

Carlos Valdez on electric bass (couldn’t find a good link). Carlos was incredible on the bass. His strap was really short (obviously by choice), so the bass was up against his chest rather than his belly. Didn’t make a difference, his fingers were flying and creating beautiful bass lines! If you can’t tell, it was my first time seeing Carlos.

CarlosValdez

Megan Cox on keyboards. I didn’t recognize her even though we’ve seen her before. That was because she played violin (really well) at the Soul Revue Benefit. Let’s add talented keyboard player to her list of talents. I bet there are more gems awaiting my discovery!

MeganCoxKeyboardsMeganCoxSinging

Last, but absolutely certainly not least, the drummers! (I already told you how good Robbie LaFalce was!)

Dave Scalia on drums. Another first time, most definitely not a last time! I love drumming and good drummers (there, I said it). Lois can appreciate a good drummer too, but she’s not as obsessed as me. Occasionally she’ll turn to me and say “Wow, he’s good!”, and that will be that.

DaveScalia

Lois couldn’t stop raving about Dave. If Lois is raving about a drummer, you can bet I don’t need to pile on. Smile And, just in case you’re wondering, yes, she was correct in her assessment! Winking smile

Matt Arbeiter on drums (again, no good individual music link). Second time for us seeing Matt. Another excellent job, highlighted a bit more last night, so I was even more impressed.

MattArbeiter

Seth Faulk on drums. Seth wasn’t scheduled to play last night, though he’s participated in a number of these benefit shows. Since he was in the house, he was invited up. He played at least two songs (the last two I believe) and he was awesome.

SethFaulk

Time for the encore, but first, a word from our sponsors. Before the show started, we said Hi to a few of the performers. One of them is the only one that hasn’t been mentioned yet. I asked him what song he was singing and he said it would have to remain a mystery. Now I know why, he was the big finish, which included a surprise shout-out to me. Smile

For the finale, Sam invited everyone who performed during the evening to come up on stage. He remained there as well and picked up a tambourine, so we’ll count him as well (you’ll understand the point in a minute).

Bryan Dunn sang lead and played electric guitar. I really wanted to see Bryan’s set on Thursday and was reasonably sure I’d be back from Ian Axel’s show in CT in time. Unfortunately, we got back too late. Having Bryan close the show was therefore a very nice treat. He sings wonderfully, plays the guitar wonderfully and is an all-around nice-guy (and no, he won’t finish last! Hmmm, wait, he did finish last at this show…). Winking smile

BryanDunnSingingBryanDunnGuitar

For a while, there was a running joke on my blog. I would announce whenever a new record was set for number of performers on stage (at either Rockwood venue) at the same time. The record only counts when I’m there and only by my personal count, even if I count incorrectly. It may sound arbitrary to you, but I assure you, it’s completely scientific!

Sam has tried (in vain) to submit photographic evidence of more people on stage for shows that I’ve missed. But, I won’t be fooled. I know that agencies like the CIA and NSA routinely doctor photos, so it’s my eyes, or your effort simply didn’t happen/count.

Since Sam called everyone back up, and remained on stage himself, the number of people on stage should have been 25 (count up the names above and you’ll get 24, plus Sam). I am going to give full credit and call the record at 25! But, to be technically accurate, there were 22 people on stage. Matt Thomas was just off the stage to the left (though he wailed on the sax on this number, so he was an integral part of the song) with Matt Arbeiter and Bryan Lazerus just off the stage on the right. Safety first people, so I’m giving them the credit, for not doing something stupid just to achieve a bigger record!

The played an outrageously good and fun rendition of Sweet Home Chicago. Thanks Bryan (and your supporting cast of 24 others!) for closing out an already great show with a bang!

We attend a ton of shows (the proof is in this blog). One of the people that we see nearly every time is someone taking photographs with a much better camera than Lois uses.

Manish Gosalia is a professional photographer who takes extraordinary photographs of many of the musicians we love, both at live performances and at specific photo shoots. I’ll rectify having not introduced myself the next time we run into each other, but in the meantime, with his permission, I’m linking to a photo he took of the finale, from the balcony. Enjoy!

I have a feeling that the linked photo above may disappear (I had to use some tricks to grab the direct URL), so here’s the link to the original Flickr photo. You can click on LARGE to see the full version.