October, 2011:

Jenny Owen Youngs at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 CMJ

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In April 2009 we accidentally were pulled into the orbit of the NYC indie music scene (courtesy of The Paper Raincoat, comprised of Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth). Even though some of these artists are signed to labels, most of them still operate (and struggle) like indie musicians, with a one-inch leg up.

By December 2009, we had enlarged the circle of local musicians we follow a drop (it’s really big now). One of those was drummer Adam Christgau who posted a YouTube video of Jenny Owen Youngs. I really liked it and put Jenny on my list of shows to catch. Here’s the video:

Jenny Owen Youngs–Last Person

Amazingly, in the next two years, I never got to see Jenny. Once or twice I could have twisted myself into a pretzel, but I didn’t.

CMJ offers so many choices, but Jenny’s showcase at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 lined up so that I could finally scratch this one off the list.


Jenny delivered a non-stop energetic rock set. It was nearly impossible not to be moving (not swaying, rather tapping, stomping, bobbing, jumping, dancing, etc.) to all but perhaps one slightly mellower number.

Jenny has an excellent voice. She played solid rhythm on the electric guitar. She’s funny (though with CMJ, banter is often kept to a minimum).

I can’t comment on the lyrics, because everything was so loud (well-balanced, not painful) that even though Jenny’s voice came through strongly, it was more of an instrument (for me at least) than a lyrical delivery system.

For such a big sound (independent of the volume), it was a stripped-down band. Jenny was supported by two people:

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is always great, no exceptions, but last night’s performance was a bit more herculean for two reasons. The first is that every song was so up-tempo, and there were only three instruments (including the drums). Couple that with the fact that Jenny didn’t play any lead on the guitar. For my taste, Elliot was the musical focal point of the set.


He’s always a machine, but this set list called from him to be so non-stop, for roughly 45 minutes. It was almost like he took a 30-minute solo, supported by rhythm guitar and electric bass.

The second reason is a little frightening and only became clear a few hours after the show was over. When I got home (after seeing four additional CMJ sets!), I saw this tweet from Elliot:

elliotjacobson Elliot Jacobson

That was so fun. Thanks to all of you who came to the show! Sorry I wasn’t around to talk after. Food poisoning isn’t fun. ?

What? That performance occurred while Elliot was experiencing food poisoning? I can’t even imagine. Here’s hoping he’s better now.

Even the lighting guy felt the need to highlight Elliot. Winking smile


Mike Tuccillo on electric bass and vocals. Mike was excellent on the bass and sang a bit of harmony with Jenny as well (very nicely). He was also the subject of one of Jenny’s introductions (she asked his permission first). Winking smile


On two songs Jenny played on a bass drum (and hit Elliot’s cymbal a couple of times). Seeing as the drums were a focal point for me, this enhanced that feeling even more, with two of them drumming at the same time. In keeping with me sharing people’s tweets, here’s what Elliot had to say about that:

elliotjacobson Elliot Jacobson

Gave @jennyowenyoungs wimpy sticks to play her floor tom during our drum duet. She STILL played loud as hell. #profressionalbadass



I enjoyed the set, but I’d have to hear Jenny’s music recorded to know whether it’s something I’d clamor to hear over-and-over or to attend on a regular basis.

Here is the set list:


Ian Axel at Cooper Square Hotel

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This is CMJ week in NYC. Think of it as our SXSW (since I’ve never to been to the real SXSW, I won’t compare them). That means that there are a ton of choices to see amazing music all day and night, for 7+ days. That makes it even more difficult than it sometimes is to just pick one.

Last night we had to choose from three shows that we would have loved to attend (next Monday, there are four can’t-miss shows, three of which we’ll obviously miss…). Matt Simons and Chris Ayer performed in Brooklyn back-to-back last night. We missed that. There were nine singer/songwriters performing at City Winery (“The 9 Songwriter Series”), which included a number of our favorites (that was brutal to pass on).

There are a number of criteria that we use to break these impossible ties. Last night we chose based on the venue.

Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell were the opening act in the penthouse at the Cooper Square Hotel. The penthouse is home to the Annie O. Music Series, run by Annie Ohayon of Annie O. Media. Here’s the description of the series:

The Annie O. Music Series is a monthly showcase for musicians around the city and the world. Curated by former music publicist Annie Ohayon, the series is open to the public and attendance is first-come, first-served.  Drinks are available for purchase at the bar.  The concerts take place in The Cooper Square Hotel’s scenic 21st floor penthouse, which provides a breathtaking backdrop and 360-degree views of New York.

Let me paraphrase why we went: “Blah blah blah… breathtaking backdrop and 360-degree views of New York.” Calm down folks, the “blah blah blah” part was a joke. I just wanted to highlight the purported views.

Purport no longer, the views are stunning. Some feeble shots from a compact camera (no justice to the actual views).


You can also see the other direction in two of the darker shots below during the intro and performance.

We arrived around 7pm. The show was supposed to begin around 7:30pm. The best laid plans…

The headlining group is from France, The Two. If I understood correctly (I wasn’t there, so I might have this very wrong), when Ian plugged in his electronic keyboard, he plugged it into a power strip that the French group had put out. Somehow, this was connected to a Euro power supply (must be 220v). Ian’s keyboard fuses melted.

Ian scrambled and rented a keyboard for the night from The Guitar Center. He was back by 7:30, but not ready to play. So, we got to hear a bit of the sound check for the temporary keyboard and Ian’s vocals. Let’s turn to the Judges on the sound check: 6.5. Uh oh. There was a sound guy there, and he did end up at the floor near Ian’s monitor, but who knows what kind of adjustment he made.


The show began at 8pm, with Annie O. introducing the evening and Ian Axel specifically. She invited people to sit on the floor if they wanted (it was very crowded by then, inside and on the mind-bogglingly incredible wrap-around deck). Two rows of people spontaneously sat down (as if Annie had a Svengali-like hold on them). Perfect, since I was in the third row and now had a dead-center unobstructed view. Smile


Ian opened solo with Waltz. It was a CMJ miracle. The sound was flawless. I don’t know what magic this sound guy invoked, but he nailed it. Considering that the show was built around The Two, I was shocked to see that nearly everyone in the room was not only familiar with Ian’s music, but knew Waltz really well.

3/4’s of the way into the song, Ian abruptly stops singing and playing. In early shows (and still in a number of out-of-town ones), quite a number of people start applauding (naturally, the song definitely feels like it’s over). Not a single person clapped. Ian seems to feed on that silence, so he often stretches it out, almost daring someone in the room to clap. No one took his bait.

When he really finished the song, the place erupted. You had to be there to appreciate the beauty of dead silence in a crowded room, followed by deafening applause.

Ian invited Chad Vaccarino up and they sang one of their newer songs, Rockstar. Such a great song, such a great performance of it. Another crushing round of applause.


I may have the order of the next two songs wrong (flip them in your mind if you were there).

You’ll Be OK was next, another winner.

They followed that with their newest song (only played in public for the first time 10/6/2011). I call it “The More We Love”. They won’t call it that, so at some point (when they name it), these posts will seem silly or quaint. Winking smile

When this song is recorded properly, if it doesn’t hit the charts, it will be because of a vast name-your-paranoid-delusion conspiracy. It’s the real deal. Unless everyone had been at Bess Rogers CD Release Show (where Ian debuted the song), I’m betting it was new to most of the people in the room. You couldn’t tell by the reaction, since the reaction to every song was thunderous.

Ian invited Mike Campbell to join them. They performed Shorty. One of my favorite songs, done in my favorite way, with Chad singing all of the verses (the choruses are three-part harmony). Mike always take a short but very sweet lead after one of the verses. Last night he went for broke and pulled off a really hard (and fast) lead. Awesome! Well done Mike!

Mike was totally obscured from the camera while he was playing, so you’ll have to settle for this great shot of him (unfortunately ruined by having me in the photo) from before the show:


Ian announced that the next song would be their last. They played their signature, This is the New Year. Another incredible performance.

The crowd was so loud that Annie O. stepped in and asked Ian to play one more (thanks Annie!). A few people called out for Amory (which would have been awesome), but Ian decided to depress all of us instead. Winking smile

He closed the set solo with Say Something. I’ve seen it many times and loved it every time. I have to say that last night was perhaps the most emotionally charged delivery. What a way to end a set that was equally matched by the setting.


Most unfortunately, we had to run when the set was over (it started later than expected and went over by a song as well), so we had to miss The Two. Given Annie’s taste, I’m sure they were amazing as well. Hopefully we’ll catch them some other time.


Erik White at Rockwood Music Hall

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Erik White headlined a show at Rockwood Music Hall yesterday. I’ve seen Erik three times before, always in the role of sideman. I had no idea what to expect. I would have gone anyway, on the strength of how I came to know about him to begin with, but when Chris Anderson told me that I would definitely enjoy the set, curiosity turned into anticipation.

Erik White was the original guitar player in The Greg Mayo Band. Greg is my favorite local guitarist, but in the band with his own name, he plays the keyboards exclusively. Considering Greg’s talent on the guitar, it’s simply not possible that he could have a weak guitar player in his band. Therefore, without even seeing Erik play, it was obvious that he’s a talented guitar player.


Erik is part of a band called The Brothers McCann. Lois caught of full set of theirs at Rockwood 2 recently. I was next door, but got over in time to catch the last three numbers. Yes, Erik was very good. That same night, he substituted for the current guitar player in The Greg Mayo Band, who was touring with another group. Yes again, Erik was very good.

The set yesterday was a trio. Erik finger-picked his electric guitar throughout. He sang beautifully. He opened the set with a cover (the only one), Ophelia by The Band. Chris sang harmony with him on that, but Erik sang solo on all of his originals.

Erik reminded us of Colin Hay in his vocals and even in some of his songwriting (lyrics and style). We love Colin Hay, so that’s a good thing. Winking smile


I would describe most of the songs as jazzy (the trio setup might have biased that) with a country tinge overlaid. There was one number that was a soft, but unmistakable southern rock sound. I don’t have a set list, because Erik and Chris made it up as they went along.

Chris Anderson on upright bass (with and without bow). We’ve seen Chris so many times that even going back through my posts would make it hard to get an accurate count. He’s nailed every performance. That said, I think I can say with reasonably surety that this was his best performance yet.


In addition to the trio bringing Chris’ sound front-and-center, the jazzy guitar often called for the bass to be the lead/melody instrument, and Chris obliged perfectly. So glad I took Chris’ advice to attend this show, even though he never said a word about him being such a focal part of it.


Kenny Shaw on drums. Kenny was solely responsible for layering the country feel on top of the jazzy sounds. His drumming is always superb, and with only three of them playing, needed to be extra sharp yesterday. He was.


Unfortunately, Erik lives in Boston, so he doesn’t play in NYC as much as we’d like. We’ll keep an eye out for other opportunities to catch him.

OK SWEETHEART at Rockwood Music Hall

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We were planning to catch the 3 and 5pm sets at Rockwood Music Hall. Normally, that means we’d sit through the 4pm set no matter who it was. Considering that yesterday was one of the last gorgeous days of 2011, a reasonable alternative would have been to stretch our legs on the Lower East Side (LES) instead.

I clicked through to check out who was playing, just in case.

OK SWEETHEART was listed. I streamed a bit of the music, but they weren’t complete songs, so I short-circuited the process and clicked through to the video of the title cut of their current CD, Home. Nice sound, fun/quirky video, problem solved, we were going to stay to see them.

Erin Austin is the heart in OK SWEETHEART (I know, sometimes I’m too clever for my own good). She’s the person in the video. In 2008 she won the John Lennon Songwriting Award for Pop!


Erin played the grand piano on all but two numbers. On one of those she sat at the drums and hit the bass drum twice in a row at the end of a certain pattern. On one other she stood and sang without any instrument.


The key word in the above is sang. She has a beautiful voice, perfectly suited to the 60’s pop style that she credits as her inspiration. She played the piano well too.


She writes catchy songs and delivers them extremely well. After the show I told her that I was way more impressed with their live performance than I was with the video, and the video obviously got me to the show, so it too was good.

In looking at the bios/info pages on a number of sites, there are many people credited with collaborating on the CD Home. None of those people seems to be currently touring with Erin. Since I couldn’t find good links for the two names listed and therefore couldn’t find any photos, I can’t be sure that I saw the people I’m about to name.

Bradley Waller on drums, electric guitar and vocals. Bradley drummed on every song that Erin played piano on. He switched to finger-picking an electric guitar on the two numbers that Erin abandoned the piano on. He was excellent on the drums and did a fine (understated) job on the guitar.


He sang harmony (nearly always three-part) throughout the set, but mostly it was short bursts. On one number they really highlighted the harmonies. It was gorgeous.

Alan de Leon Uribe on electric bass, grand piano and vocals. Most of the set saw Alan playing solid (if a bit uninspired) bass. The last two songs took it up a few notches, so he has skills, they’re just not utilized in all of the songs. When Erin left the piano, Alan took over (for both songs). He was understated on that as well, so I can’t really judge his skills.


As mentioned above with Bradley, Alan sang harmony throughout with Erin. I was surprised that I could hear him very well, even though he stood reasonably far back from his mic. Alan did a very nice job.

The set was wonderful. I don’t have a set list to share with you because they made it up as they went along. Since I don’t know their music, I’d be hard-pressed to reproduce it from memory, so I won’t try.

Without a doubt, I’d go see them again!

Amy Rivard at Rockwood Music Hall

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Amy Rivard headlined Rockwood Music Hall yesterday. For us, this marked a big shift in her career (perhaps not so from her perspective).


I’ll describe the show in a bit, but I want to step back and explain what I mean above, mostly for myself. If you already know about Amy’s previous careers/accomplishments, skip ahead.

We first saw Amy perform on 9/21/2009 at a Livestrong Benefit. She rushed over from Madison Square Garden where she sang the National Anthem at the Rangers game (not the first time she sang at MSG!). I spent four paragraphs gushing about Amy in that post (about 40% of the way down). Here’s the first one, so you don’t have to wade through the original:

Amy Rivard sang, accompanied by Alex Berger on the keyboards. Before I begin, let me take a deep breath, and say Oh My God! Seriously, Amy has such an extraordinary voice. Alex was worried that Amy might be late, because she was singing the National Anthem at the NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden last night. Holy cow, I can only imagine how awesome that must have been!

Singing the National Anthem, both US and Canadian (Amy is Canadian, but don’t hold that against her) Winking smile is one one of Amy’s specialties. Madison Square Garden is a small venue for Amy. We watched her sing it live (in HD) from a NASCAR event (over 100,000 people, perhaps twice that?). Still, that isn’t what occupies most of Amy’s professional life.

She was a member of both Celtic Woman (one of the most extraordinary musical experiences) and Riverdance. She performed at Tokyo Disney for over a year. The point? Amy can sing.

That’s not all. Amy is downright funny. Not just in her ability to deliver a line, but to conceive and write it as well. An entirely separate aspect of Amy’s career has been the creation of Candy Canadiana, a lovable character Amy created to promote Canada in a lighthearted way. I particularly like the two-part episode, How to Make Maple Syrup. Smile

Combine the three talents (Singing, Acting, Comedy) and you can easily understand why the second I saw Amy, I thought she should be a lead on Broadway. More specifically, in that first blog, I wrote:

Amy has a Broadway style and quality voice. In fact, I would love to see her in Wicked!

Since that first night we’ve seen Amy perform twice. Once at Waltz-Astoria, again accompanied by Alex Berger and at The Metropolitan Room doing a Cabaret Show.

In 2005 Amy put out a CD titled Cashmere of Jazz numbers (covers plus a few originals). We bought that too. If you like Jazz singing and instrumentation, you’ll love this CD!

I have been (and continue to be) impressed with Amy’s voice. I hired Amy to sing on a project that I did just for fun (a Tonight Show Tribute). That was recorded on my laptop, in my living room, in under two hours, so please don’t judge the sonic quality.

You now know everything that I knew about Amy, going into yesterday’s show. More recently, Amy has been shifting gears into a singer/songwriter direction. We’ve seen a few recent YouTube videos but still didn’t know what to expect yesterday. For one, when I asked Amy what type of music we’d be hearing, she said “I don’t know, you be the judge”. Smile The bigger difference is that on the videos of the shows we missed, Amy was accompanied by either a piano or acoustic guitar, for a bigger focus on her voice.


Yesterday she had a full band (entirely comprised of some of my favorite musicians!), so it was bound to be dramatically different for that reason alone. It was. That still leaves the songs and the performance, so let’s finally get to that.

Amy’s voice came across wonderfully (no surprise). Her songs had a wider range of styles than I expected. For example, Shout it Out delivers quite a rock feel, I Got Your Back is cabaret, The Three Divas is jazzy, etc. For the most part, the songs are up-tempo (even the mellow ones) which gave the band some bones to chew on.

Removing Amy from the equation for a second (as a performer, these are still songs she wrote), I enjoyed the sound of practically every number, so they’re very easy to listen to. The lyrics are more inconsistent (for my taste). I think the numbers that are very personal for Amy need more work. In my opinion, she was likely too emotional when she wrote them, and could use more detachment (even though she’ll be delivering the same message, ultimately).

I was more impressed/interested in the ones where Amy was writing about something/someone else (e.g., The Three Divas). In any event, I believe Amy would accelerate her lyrical journey if she were to team up with a few different co-writers to get varying perspectives on techniques and processes of songwriting.

Back to Amy as a performer. We’ve already covered Amy’s voice, with one exception. Amy has been singing jazz/cabaret/showtunes for so long, that I can’t tell whether that’s so deeply ingrained that it’s the only style she’s comfortable with, or whether she prefers it to all other styles.

I believe (again, just an opinion) that Amy is trying to write songs that would appeal to a broader audience than cabaret lovers. If so, she could be held back a bit since she brings a cabaret-style voice to those numbers (even a drop to the rock-styled Shout it Out). There are so many sets (every day) at Rockwood, that it’s possible there are audiences that go there just to hear that kind of music. We tend to hit up more folk/pop/rock shows and Amy’s voice doesn’t fit most of what we see there.

On to the band, left-to-right on stage, then back for more about Amy and the specifics of the show:

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and grand piano. If you only found this post because of Amy then you have no idea how big a fan I am of everything Greg does. You can spend a few days reading everything I’ve written about him. Greg played electric guitar until the last two songs (beautifully) when he switched to the grand piano.


Amy’s big finale was I Got Your Back. I’m not a fan of the song (sorry), except for the fact that Greg took a killer piano solo. That part made me very happy to hear the song.


Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris was really terrific. The songs were mostly up-tempo and Chris kept the bottom full and constantly dancing.


Ryan Vaughn on drums. Like Chris, Ryan was a critical part of keeping everything gliding along at a nice clip.


The point is that Greg, Chris and Ryan brought a different quality to the same songs that I saw on YouTube with only a single accompanist. I am pretty sure they only had a single rehearsal. That showed a very few times, but otherwise is just another in a long series of examples of how professional each of these guys is.

Back to the show. Amy invited a friend of hers, the very talented Jason E. Bernard to dance on one of her numbers. Amy met Jason when they were in Riverdance together. Amy cleared his performance with the bartender. They removed one of the tables to give Jason room to maneuver on the floor, not the stage (he was sitting at the bar like any other audience member).


One verse into Hopes and Dreams, we heard tapping and looked over and saw Jason tap dancing and acting out the story line in dance. The best laid plans…

Unfortunately, Amy never discussed it with the sound engineer, who actually runs each set. He sits perched in the rafters. He thought (understandably) that someone in the audience was distracting the rest of us from the show, and he swooped down the ladder and stopped Jason from dancing.

Amy and the band were incredibly professional. They never lost their place, even though their faces told a very different story. After the song, Amy apologized to the sound guy, taking full responsibility for the snafu. When her set was over, she asked him if they could do Hopes and Dreams again, with Jason dancing this time, and of course, he said yes.


So, we got to hear the song twice, this time watching Jason dance. All’s well that ends well. Smile

I mentioned that Amy is very funny, and indeed throughout the set, she was just that. A number of times Amy was very quick on her feet bantering with the audience or with Greg and the guys. At some (most?) of her shows, Amy likes to give things away. She asked some questions early on (trivia style) and tossed a couple of T-Shirts into the audience for the correct answers.

One was tossed with no one answering correctly, so it was a generic toss. It hit one of the monitors in the ceiling and was diverted straight to me. Smile There were some other goodies handed out.

All in all a fun show that kicked off a very long day/night of music out for us in good fashion. We saw three additional sets/shows yesterday, each of which will follow this with their own posts. Whew!

Amy knows that we try to post set lists whenever we can. She anticipated that we’d ask for one and customized it for us in advance. Smile


Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall

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Bri Arden headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. This was a full-band show, but with some changes from Bri’s normal lineup. It’s one of the things that makes seeing the same artist many times interesting, you never know quite what to expect, even though you know you’ll likely enjoy whatever they throw at you.

The biggest change was that neither of Bri’s female backup singers (Valerie Mize and Kate Ferber) were able to make the show. That alone guaranteed to change the character of the show. What I didn’t know was that Bri would force two of her boys to sing with her, so there were still three voices in many of the expected parts, just at a different timbre.

Bri Arden is a singer/songwriter with an extraordinary voice. She sings with a passion that is infectious. She surrounds herself with top musicians. The energy emanating from the stage knocks you back a bit, but the music is good enough to make you fight to hold your position.


In addition to singing her heart out last night, Bri introduced a number of her songs (something we love) and had an attempt at humor as well. Rather than describe that attempt, I’ll reproduce Bri’s Tumblr account of it:

Thank you everyone for being such an amazing audience tonight and putting up with my failed attempts at humor. As someone pointed out to me after the show “You set the joke up really well, the only glitch was you forgot the punch line.” Working on it!!! XO B

Most importantly, Bri’s personality (extremely joyful) came out in the attempt. She made herself laugh, which made us laugh, regardless of the joke.


In the introduction to Aha Moment, Bri explained how her parents met. Fate will find a way. Smile

The band, left-to-right on stage:

Oscar Bautista on electric guitar. Oscar is one of the best guitarists on the local scene and I look forward to every show that he’s a part of. Last night was another example of why I do.


Jason Wexler on keyboards (grand piano and electronic). Jason did a great job on both. At one point I heard some cool sounds that I thought were being made by Oscar (who was hidden from my view behind Bri). When I leaned to my left, I saw that it was Jason on the electronic keyboards. Very nicely done!


Ian Schaefer on trumpets and shaker (yes, trumpets, plural). Ian is always great on the trumpet, but last night was different. Ian often plays with a cup (or whatever the technical term is for what you shove in the big hole at the end of the trumpet to mute it and morph the sound). I think he does it because the trumpet could (theoretically) overwhelm the vocals.


Last night, after testing with the cup first, he removed it quickly and let the sound loose. But that wasn’t the big qualitative difference. I don’t know if I missed it before, or if he doesn’t do it when Valerie and Kate are singing, but a number of times Ian actually used the trumpet to harmonize with Bri’s voice. It was fantastic.


For one song, Ian put down the trumpet and picked up a much smaller trumpet. For a minute, I wondered what would happen if in each succeeding song, he would pull out an even smaller trumpet, which made me think of the trumpet version of a Matryoshka Doll. Winking smile

For another song Ian put down all trumpets and played a shaker. Basically, he wasn’t getting off the stage last night. Do you think he was into playing the shaker? Winking smile


Justin Goldner on electric bass and vocals. Justin is an excellent bass player. I’m sure he sings a bit on many sets, but last night he was pressed into full backup singer mode. Well done!


Jake Cohen (I should really say Jake Colin Cohen) on drums and vocals. Excellent job on the drums, with the sole exception that they were a bit too loud (a typical Rockwood 1 problem). That had the side-effect of slightly washing out some of Bri’s amazing vocals. Jake joined Justin as the other male backup singer, doing a fine job as well.


Craig Wilson on acoustic guitar and vocals. Craig was on stage for the opening number only. He co-wrote it. Bri called is name out again later in the set giving him credit for another co-write, even though he didn’t come up to sing it with her.


Do you think they were having fun on stage?


We certainly had fun in the audience. Thanks Bri and gang.

Here’s last night’s set list:


The Milk Carton Kids at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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The Milk Carton Kids (MKC) headlined their first ever NYC show last night, at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. MKC is comprised of two individual stars, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale.



Before MKC was formed, we were huge fans of Joey’s work and attended as many shows as we could. A few of those shows had Kenneth as a guest. The two created magic. Thankfully, they recognized it too (the audiences knew it instantly) and they decided to combine their efforts and talents as MKC.


They both:

  • are excellent songwriters
  • have wonderful voices (each sings really high when they harmonize with the other)
  • play the guitar wonderfully, in complementary styles
  • are self-effacing
  • hysterical (though Joey speaks more than Kenneth on stage)

Before MKC, they played mostly Joey songs, with a couple of Kenneth songs thrown in the mix. Now they play a couple of each individual’s numbers, but they have written a lot of new music together. All are a delight to listen to.


They each sang lead on roughly half the numbers, with the other always harmonizing quite a bit. Joey finger picks his acoustic guitar beautifully, occasionally switching to rhythm.


Kenneth Pattengale is one of my favorite guitarists. It’s ironic that I caught him on a night when I just saw back-to-back exceptional guitar players (Greg Mayo and Adam Levy). Kenneth’s style is different than both of them (though Adam on occasion comes closer to Kenneth’s style).

Kenneth is wicked fast, buttery smooth and most important, extraordinarily interesting. Those are facts (indisputable, I command you to stop reading this now if you disagree!). What’s as impressive to me is that his brain is creating these sounds (concepts) and then directing his fingers (which never fail him). I am at a loss for words (now that I’ve written the ones before these). Winking smile


While Joey is finger picking, Kenneth is dancing in an around it, creating a mesmerizing sound.

That you could hear a pin drop in a crowded Rockwood 2, a place hardly known for it’s quiet, is a testament to the fact that I am not alone in my reaction to their set last night. Thunderous applause (at times during the songs, when Kenneth completed a lead), mixed with utter silence while they were singing. Exactly as it should be.

The only thing I know about the economics of the Music Industry is that for 99.9% of all musicians, it sucks. The only thing worse than how hard it is to make money, is how hard it is to get noticed. How nice it is that if you finally get noticed, you likely will continue to struggle financially. Sad smile

Joey is one of a number of artists who decided to experiment with breaking out of the cycle (even before MKC was formed). After creating some amazing CDs and EPs, he started giving away all of his music for free. There were zero catches. You didn’t even have to give your email address. You want his music, you get it.

MKC has continued that model. They’ve put out two albums already (one live, one studio). Both are available at their site for free download (Prologue and Retrospect, down the left-hand column). If you want to support the band, you can purchase them on iTunes. You can buy physical copies at shows. But clearly, they don’t expect to sell too many copies (please prove me wrong!).

This model requires them tour like crazy, which is exactly what they do. Recall that I said that getting noticed is the biggest problem. You can be crazy talented and tour like a fiend, and still play many shows in front of tiny audiences. Their concept is to try and get their music distributed (and discovered) as far and wide as possible, so that when they show up in your town, you’ll be excited to go see them play (and you should be excited!).

Another way to make money in the music business is through licensing. It’s difficult to get noticed in that arena too. Perhaps giving away your music will get it on the radar of people who place music in TV shows, commercials, movies, etc.

A year ago, we took our godson and his now-wife to see Joey in Birmingham, AL at Workplay. They really liked him a lot. I later told David that Joey made his albums available for free download and David grabbed them and listened and loved them (as I do). A few weeks ago David called to say that he was pretty sure he heard Joey’s voice in a Nature Valley commercial. Sure enough, he was right. Recognition, that’s what it’s all about!

Every couple of weeks, Kenneth tweets his road statistics (proving just how committed they are to the grueling life of a traveling musician). This is his most recent one:

kpattengale Kenneth Pattengale

Away = 202 Home = 76 #NightsInMyOwnBed2011

Ouch! On the other hand, I think it’s required, in particular with the model that they have chosen.

Go grab their music, go see them in your town (they’re all over the place, all the time) and judge for yourself.

Gaby Moreno at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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One of the joys of seeing as much live music as we do is the ever-growing universe of amazing performers we are exposed to. This happens when an opener blows us away, or even when the headliner does, when we showed up for the opener. On occasion it happens when we stick around for a set or show up early to grab a seat, and discover a treat.

Gaby Moreno opened last night for The Milk Carton Kids (Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale) a show we weren’t going to miss. I’ll post about their set next, but Gaby (and band) deserve a post of their own (and yes, now I follow her on Twitter so I’ll be sure to catch her the next time she plays in NY as well).


I had seen her name only in conjunction with the current Milk Carton Kids tour (she’s been opening for them), but otherwise had no idea what I was in for.

Gaby sang, extraordinarily, and accompanied herself beautifully on acoustic guitar. Her voice is exceptional in that she changes it to match whatever song she’s singing, and she took us on quite a wide tour of styles last night. In addition to the change in styles, Gaby performed roughly 60% (probably more) of the show in Spanish (she is a native of Guatemala) with the remainder in flawless English.

I learned (accidentally) that I am in love with Spanish songs (even though I understand less than a handful of words) from seeing Ximena Sarinana perform a number of times. Since I am a lover of lyrics, I’m thinking I better start learning Spanish.

Gaby’s voice ranged from throaty to angelic, always appropriate to the mood. A good portion of the huge crowd was clearly there for her (they knew her songs and swayed in ecstasy to them).

Supporting Gaby on either side of her:

Adam Levy on acoustic guitar and light vocals. We’ve seen Adam a number of times. He’s an excellent guitarist (formerly part of Norah Jones band). He can play a number of styles and I have to say that last night was perhaps my favorite performance of his. He nailed every lead and the crowd let him know it, each time (as did Gaby!).


Sebastian Aymanns on cajon, percussion and light vocals (no good individual link). Sebastian was excellent on the cajon. He also had two different kinds of shakers, attached to straps, on each of his ankles. One was multi-colored balls, the other was more like a small tambourine. As he tapped his feet on the stage, each produced a lovely sound, enriching his cajon play.


An absolute treat to be able to enjoy an opening act without constantly staring at your watch to see how much longer until the headliner comes on stage.

Sierra Noble at The Living Room

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Sierra Noble played The Living Room last night. Eight days earlier we we saw Sierra at Rockwood (covered here). If you told me that we would see an identical performance we would have attended, happily. Just as happily, that wasn’t the case.


Sierra had a different setup (no drummer, one less guitarist and a very special female vocalist). The sound system at The Living Room is nearly always great.

Without a drummer and the extra guitar, even though there was a large overlap in the set lists, the shows had an extremely different feel to them (each equally gorgeous). It’s also interesting how changing the order of the songs ends up producing a different feel/flow to a set, even if the band was identical.

Sierra played the first few songs on acoustic guitar, then played both fiddle and guitar for the remainder of the set. Her voice was fantastic (as it always is), if a bit smokier than usual (her vocals so remind me of Alison Krauss, having nothing to do with the fact that both are fiddlers).


I knew that Sierra co-wrote Human After All with Michael Logen from the first time she played it, but I thought that was the only song they worked on together. Last night she said that they’ve written three. One of the others is Happy Here, which she also played last week, but I might have missed her saying who she co-wrote it with then. They’re clearly a great team.

Sierra closed the show with the same fiddle tune, Dabe, that she closed the Rockwood show with. But, it was quite different (both were awesome) without the drum. More importantly, Sierra took really long solos and stretched the song out to show off her fiddle skills.


A few minutes into the tune a few people started clapping along. In seconds, that turned into nearly everyone clapping. They clapped the beat (replacing the drum) throughout the very long song. I was mightily impressed by their timing and stamina, but all that did was make Sierra’s fiddle play all the more spectacular (it’s like the crowd’s clapping was rocket fuel for her).

I mentioned to Sierra after the show that there must be something in the water in Winnipeg which gives fiddlers extra special powers. Two of my other favorite fiddlers hail from there, Tania Elizabeth (of The Duhks) and Jeremy Penner (of The Wailin’ Jennys).

It’s only been 15 hours, and we saw two other incredible sets after Sierra’s show, but I’m already anticipating seeing her again. We bought a physical copy of her EP last night so we could get it signed. We already own a digital download (purchased on Amazon) and love it!

I mentioned to another musician friend that he should come to the show. If he hadn’t tweeted publicly, I wouldn’t be outing him here:

BergerAlex Alex Berger

Just saw @SierraNoble for the 1st time. Blown away. ow.ly/i/j8m7

Nothing more needs to be said.

Except, of course, about the talented people who supported Sierra making the show all the more special. Left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Anderson on upright bass and vocals. Chris’ upright bass filled in the bottom so well that the drums really weren’t missed (even though the drums were a very special part of last week’s set). In addition to singing background vocals on a few numbers, Chris was the primary harmonizer on Human After All.


Chris didn’t take any verses by himself (like Martin Rivas did last week), but he sang on every chorus and on the bridge and nailed it. Great job, Sierra and Chris sounded terrific together.


Greg Mayo on electric and acoustic guitars and vocals. I mentioned this in last week’s writeup, supporting Sierra brings out an entirely different performance from Greg (from his typical headlining guitar style). In a word, his play was fantastic, without ever stepping on Sierra even for a second.


Greg also provided the primary harmony on most of the numbers. Absolutely wonderful. Greg’s string of never disappointing me continues. He’s the Cal Ripken Jr. of musicians (at least for me). Smile

Rebecca Haviland was a very special guest vocalist, singing harmony on roughly 40% of the numbers. If you’ve read this space, you know what I think of Rebecca’s voice. Having it blend with Sierra’s, aaaaaaaaah.


During one number, all four sang together, beautiful is an understatement.


Here’s the set list:


Sierra is next appearing this Monday night (Oct 17th) at City Winery as part of a singer/songwriter circle (along with quite a number of other amazing singer/songwriters!). Unfortunately, we’ll be missing that for another pair of great singer/songwriters. CMJ week is hell when trying to choose who to see.

The week after, she’s at The Bitter End on Tuesday, Oct 25th, at 9pm. We’ll be there. I give you permission to go see her at City Winery, but I insist you come to The Bitter End either way. Winking smile

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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It’s been 3.5 months since we last saw Jeff Litman headline a set at Rockwood Music Hall, so we were due. The band was the same (a very good thing considering their skills), including the same guest keyboard player. There were two additional guests, taking Jeff’s always excellent performances up a notch.


A quick recap about Jeff (I’ve written about him a number of times now, so if you want more details, find any one of those posts on this site).

Jeff is an excellent songwriter. He plays the guitar really well (both electric and acoustic). He happens to be a very good bass player too, but that’s not the instrument he plays in his own band. He sings well.

Most importantly, he surrounds himself with top musicians and delivers an upbeat show that is hard to resist (so we don’t bother trying).

The first of the two special guests spent much of the set on stage, starting on the very first song.

Maddy Wyatt sang harmony on roughly 2/3’s of the songs. On one number she also played the flute, beautifully, an instrument that is sorely lacking at Rockwood.


The other guest was Shanna Zell (who headlines her own sets, as well as being a member of The Ramblers, another of my favorite groups). Shanna was slated to sing on Back to You, the third song on the set.


Jeff announced that Shanna’s bus was running late and he was going to push that song down the list. What he didn’t know was that I personally arranged for Shanna’s bus to be late, not because I didn’t want to hear her, but because I wanted to move the fourth song up one notch, happily listening to Shanna a few songs later.


My evil plan worked! Winking smile

When I tell you above that Jeff is an excellent songwriter, I mean it across the board. That doesn’t mean that one song doesn’t stand out (for me personally). In my case, that song is Maine. Jeff knows it, I know it, anyone who reads this blog knows it (and for sure, the Lord knows it).

It’s been great every time, but last night was a real treat. On the CD (Postscript), Jeff sings the entire song harmonizing with a female voice (Kelly Jones). Since this was the first of Jeff’s shows where he had a female guest, it was the first time that he was able to perform the song as it is on the CD. Maddy was invited back up (while we waited for Shanna’s bus, bwahaha) to sing with him.

Thanks Jeff and Maddy. I should mention (for those that didn’t read the other posts) that Jeff switches to acoustic guitar on Maine and plays the harmonica as well.

Later in the set Jeff played a new song (he’s getting very close to releasing a brand new CD!) that he also played acoustic guitar on. The band took a break and Maddy sang with him (I think it might have been the song that Maddy played flute on as well). Wow. Maine may get some competition from this new CD (this song, or likely others that I haven’t heard yet). Very exciting.


The superb band, left-to-right on the stage:

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars and vocals. Bryan is good at everything he does (at least the things he does on stage). Winking smile For most of the set he played acoustic guitar while Jeff played electric. When they switch, Bryan shows off his considerable skills playing lead. He sings extremely well, though he deferred to Maddy more than he does during a more typical Jeff Litman set.


Matt Basile on electric bass. Matt is excellent, making bass play seem effortless (while keeping the sound just right).


Elliot Jacobson on drums. It was a treat to see Elliot for a second time in four days (he supported Bess Rogers on Thursday night for her CD Release Show). He’s excellent no matter who he’s supporting, but Jeff’s music is generally so upbeat, that Elliot’s precision, speed, stamina and notorious hard-hitting style are so perfectly suited to it. The rest of the band needs to nail every song because Elliot sets a demanding example.


Jason Wexler once again was a guest keyboard player (grand piano and electronic). He joined for the last two numbers and was an integral part of both, in particular the only cover of the night, the closing number, Pump it Up.


We couldn’t have been happier with the set. Thanks Jeff, Bryan, Matt, Elliot, Maddy, Shanna and Jason.