Last night was our third time in four days seeing Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss perform (no big deal, don’t be too jealous). The last two shows were part of the Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. All three shows were unique because the venues were so different, as were the audiences. Of course, there were changes in the banter and the set lists as well.
The first was at Bowery Ballroom, covered here. The second was at The Falcon, covered here. Allie and Bess were a key part of Rosi Golan’s set at Bowery Ballroom on the same night that Ian performed. That post is here. Whew.
Last night’s show was a house concert in Arlington, VA, hosted by the extraordinary Lindsie. We met Lindsie when she hosted an Ian Axel house concert six months ago. It was one of the best shows we’ve attended, so when we go the invitation to this one, we made sure to be in VA for it.
The Bowery Ballroom was show was great! The Falcon show was better, in that it was much more intimate, zero talking by the audience and more talking by the performers.
Last night was even better. So much more intimate, total silence during the songs, thunderous applause after each song and lots of mixing/chatting with the musicians before, between and after the sets. Oh, and there were homemade moonpies (among other yummy desserts)!
When we’re down in VA, we’re here to work at Zope Corporation. That gives us an opportunity to invite some of the music lovers in the company to attend shows with us. Last night, eight of us attended (one was a 7-year-old, not a slave-labor employee, the daughter of a slave-labor employee).
Bess Rogers opened the show. Before she came out, there was a microphone in the middle of the stage area (this is a home, there was no actual stage). Bess decided to have it removed and the rest of the singers sang without the aid of the microphone either. For the most part, that was fantastic. No effects, direct from their mouth to our ears. A few times, Bess sang softly, and her words were a bit swallowed up by the band. On balance, still excellent.
Bess played acoustic guitar and ukulele.
She played a few numbers solo (including her exceptional cover of In My Life by The Beatles). On the rest, she was accompanied by:
Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris sat on his amp, and played a very quiet, mellow bass, even though it was amplified. I commented to him after the show that he was able to get even quieter than he could have with an acoustic upright bass (he agreed). It was perfect (volume, as well as his always amazing play).
Adam Christgau on drums (and anything else you can hit!). A truly extraordinary performance by Adam. This was not the setting to plop a full drum set in and bang away. Aside from washing out the vocals, it would have overwhelmed the audience independently.
Adam had a single snare drum (no cymbals). For most of the evening, he had his shirt draped over it to mute it even further. On occasion he used a shaker. At other times a tambourine, all while using the other hand to continue hitting the snare. He used Bess’ guitar case as a kick drum (which sounded really good). That wasn’t enough. He often hit the top of the guitar case with a stick or mallet.
He also used brushes to great effect. And, when he wanted the sound of a cymbal, he hit the tambourine with a stick, or with his foot. Basically, he was inventive.
All of that was amazing, but the best part of Adam’s performance was his singing. He sang a lot with Bess. I knew he could sing, but his range was much greater than I had previously experienced. He sang some really high parts, wonderfully.
In my post about The Falcon, I mentioned that we bought Bess’ single of her upcoming CD, Anchor, with In My Life on the “B side”. I didn’t have a chance to listen to it until after I posted. Yesterday, before we headed up to the show I listened to it. Both songs are great, but I was blown away to hear In My Life, professionally produced, with harmony (Bess overdubs and harmonizes with herself). I was already excited for the new CD, but even more so now.
I also mentioned how funny/clever/quick Bess was at The Falcon. Ditto last night. It’s largely a self-deprecating humor, but nothing about is canned. One of the running gags last night involved the above-highlighted moonpies. Bess had one on a plate that she placed on Ian’s keyboard (so that she could keep an eye on it while she performed).
Way on the left edge of this photo, you can Bess still connecting with her moonpie.
She mentioned that she didn’t want to risk them all being gone by the end of her set. She kept eyeing it between songs and making a number of jokes about it. The second her set was done, she took a big bite, sharing her obvious satisfaction with us.
Allie Moss sang on two songs with Bess, playing glockenspiel. In the two days since we saw Allie at The Falcon, she got sick and nearly lost her voice. I think that’s why Adam filled in singing on songs that Allie otherwise would have sung with Bess. Still, her harmonies with Bess were beautiful.
Ian Axel joined for one song as well on the piano, the above-mentioned Anchor, one of the songs Allie was on as well. It was awesome, having everyone (yes, all five of them, including Adam and Chris) singing together.
In the car on the way back to Fredericksburg, one of the guys asked me whether Bess puts her music up on Bandcamp. I just checked, and yes indeed, it’s available for streaming (both Anchor and In My Life). Once you listen, spend the $1.98 to buy it so that Bess can afford her next moonpie!
Allie Moss was up next. It was clear that she wasn’t feeling well. She could have easily gotten away without performing, but she was a trooper and delivered a pretty incredible set. A very few times you could see an expression on her face that she thought she wouldn’t be able to hit the next note. She did, but it obviously took more concentration than it normally does.
Her guitar play wasn’t affected, it was very good. She sang a few solo and the rest with Adam and Chris supporting her.
Bess joined for at least two songs (one on the glockenspiel) and sang gorgeous harmony with her.
Allie was hysterical as well, but it was largely due to jokes about her illness and the effects of any medication she took (it seemed to kick in gradually during the course of her set). Trust me, she’s very funny when she’s healthy as well.
When she sang Passerby and reached the line “What if we’d shared a pint”, she leaned forward toward the 7-year-old and whispered “of ice cream”, without missing a beat. Did I tell you how quick and clever these ladies are?
Like with Bess’ Digital 45, I didn’t have a chance to listen to Allie’s CD, Late Bloomer when I last posted. That too was rectified before the show. Another winner. A beautiful CD from start to finish. These ladies are on a roll, with their individual careers as well as their roles in Ingrid Michaelson’s band.
Ian was up next, starting out with Leave Me Alone, accompanied by Adam and Chris. Since Ian’s keyboard had to be amplified, both Adam and Chris were able (needed) to crank it up a bit. Amazingly, Ian’s voice was strong and clear enough to be heard perfectly on every note throughout the set, even though he had a more difficult task than Bess and Allie.
Ian is always impish (at least at times) during every show, and the audience always responds to it. At a house concert, it’s so much easier to connect with that side of his personality, and it was in full force last night.
Lois told Ian before the show that the 7-year-old and her 2-year-old brother (who wasn’t at the show) are entranced whenever their mom puts on Waltz. They both play air piano trying to keep up with Ian (it’s not possible, but A for effort to the kids!).
After playing Gone, Ian played Waltz, looking at the 7-year-old and saying: “This one’s for you”.
There were some changes to the set list from the other shows. One biggie started with Ian coming out from behind the keyboard and picking up the ukulele. He said that he was getting sick of playing the song he was about to play and he hoped that playing it on the ukulele (rather than the keyboards) would make it fresher for him.
I knew immediately which song he was going to play, Say Something. It’s absolutely gorgeous on the piano, which is how he mostly plays it the past year, but it was originally written on the ukulele, which is how I heard it the first few times. I’m partial to the ukulele version, because it’s rawer, allowing the overwhelming emotion of the song (and Ian’s delivery!) to smack you in the face. That’s doubly true in such an intimate venue.
After the show, a few people told Ian that he had to continue to play the song, even if he’s sick of it, because it’s cathartic for them, or people they know. Lindsie was one of those people and she told us (and Ian) about a friend of hers who attended a show in LA a few weeks ago and was totally moved by the song due to current circumstances in his life.
Ian continued with two more numbers on the ukulele (I might not have the order correct). He asked Allie if she was up to singing with him and she was. She and Chad Vaccarino (Ian’s writing and performing partner) came up to sing Shorty (with Adam Christgau switching to acoustic guitar to accompany them).
We saw Chad, Allie and Ian (with Adam) do Shorty (one of my favorites) at Bowery and The Falcon, both amazingly well. Still, last night was even better. At the other shows, the leads were sung right into the microphone (perfectly), but all three (Chad, Allie and Ian) shared that same mic to sing the chorus. These mic’s are mostly directional, with short pickup ranges, so the harmonies could be heard (because it’s relatively quiet), but there’s really a lack of power.
Last night, no microphone, all three voices (even Allie’s sick one) came through flawlessly and at the right volume.
When Allie left, Ian, Chad and Adam played a song they debuted at Bowery but didn’t play at The Falcon, Amory. It was stunning at Bowery, but like Shorty, even better last night (for the same reasons). Three-part harmony for the win!
There were a couple of funny moments as Ian and Adam weren’t on the same page about a repeating section. That’s another major advantage of a house concert, the comfort level between the performers and the audience, where you can actually enjoy a flub, especially when you know you’re watching a great song being birthed.
Ian then announced that the ukulele portion of the evening was over.
Back at the keyboards, Ian and Chad (along with Adam and Chris) played Rockstar and killed it. They finished up with This is the New Year. Of course it was great, but I was blown away by how interesting Adam kept the drumming, with such a minimalist setup.
Speaking of Adam, one one song (of course I can’t remember which right now), Adam switched from the snare to his signature use of a Frisbee as a percussive instrument. Well done!
Of course, the eight of us bought a ton of merch! Here is a photo of Ian, with his T-Shirt Brigade. The Tour Poster (also in the photo) was designed by Kristine Thune:
Here’s Ian signing a CD for one our folks:
The only negative the entire evening was that the show started 50-minutes late. We were tempted to run out instantly when it was over (we had a 1-hour drive ahead of us), but the glow in the room was impossible to leave, so we ended up schmoozing and taking a ton of photos with everyone. It was worth it, but we didn’t get back to the hotel until midnight.
We drove up in two cars, boys in one, girls in the other. Before heading over to the show we had a lovely dinner at Sawatdee, a Thai restaurant in Arlington. Thanks for the recommendation Lindsie!