December, 2011:

Clara Lofaro at Caffe Vivaldi

Send to Kindle

We spent the entire night at Caffe Vivaldi last night. The middle set was someone we hadn’t heard of before.

Clara Lofaro impressed us enough when we checked her out before heading down, so we weren’t planning on just passing time during her set.

Clara performed solo accompanying herself on the grand piano with the exception of 1.5 a cappella numbers.

ClaraLofaro

She has a beautiful voice and plays the piano very nicely. She has a relaxed style with a very nice stage presence.

ClaraLofaroSinging

The songs available online (on her site and on MySpace) are produced with a full band sound. They’re excellent and have a vibrant feel to them. Last night was a bit more raw and stripped down (obviously), but that didn’t change the character/mood of the songs.

She’s talented, period.

The .5 a cappella mentioned above came toward the end of one song, when she stood up and shifted gears, singing and clapping to finish out the number (actually, I think she morphed it into anther one, but I don’t know her music well enough to be sure).

ClaraLofaroSingingClapping1ClaraLofaroSingingClapping2

She was ready to pack it in when everyone asked her to play some more. The bartender told her should could do at least two more. So, after doing two more on the piano, she stepped out from behind it and closed the set with an a cappella number that was wonderful. She put everything she had into it (voice/body/spirit) and it came across really well.

ClaraLofaroACappella

A lot of her friends were in the audience. They knew every word to every song. They often sang along (even in the uninvited times). That can be a ton of fun, when done well, but I’ll admit that they weren’t always on key, or consistent with their volume. Very nice that they were so into it, but they might have interfered a bit with a new fan’s attempt to get lost in the song.

More frustrating though were the times when they weren’t singing. At least 50% of their quiet time was hardly that. They were chatting up a storm with each other. I get that they know the songs cold and were partially out to simply support their friend, but with support like that, who needs detractors.

While Clara never called her friends out specifically (and it’s pretty clear they weren’t the only rude people in the audience). She noted that when she stopped talking, the audience instinctively quieted down. She turned that into a few very warm moments, as she toyed with talking/singing/silence to prove her point. In other words, people know they can be heard, but if they have the slightest cover from the artist’s singing, they are emboldened to take up their conversations again, loudly.

Of course, the minute the song is over, they clap loudly and generally whoop their appreciation. Sad smile

In any event, while we could have enjoyed the set more if it were quieter, we liked Clara enough to warrant going to see her again, hopefully with a more respectful audience next time.

Joe Whyte and Alec Gross at Caffe Vivaldi

Send to Kindle

We wanted to see the last set at Caffe Vivaldi last night. Having been there once before, we knew how small it is. We also assumed it would be mobbed for that set (it was). We checked out who was on before. When we noticed that the first set of the night included someone we’ve just recently discovered, we decided to spend the entire night at Vivaldi.

Joe Whyte was listed first. Alec Gross (the person we’ve seen) was listed as “w/”, which often means opening, but I assumed that he was supporting Joe. It turned out to be the kind of show we like, with Joe and Alec alternating performing their own songs. At times, each sang harmony with the other and there was a bit of guitar support for each other’s songs as well.

Joe’s part of the set was very good, but his voice wasn’t very strong. His harmonies with Alec were very good though, as his higher notes blended better when there was another voice. Joe played the harmonica very well. I just listened to a number of songs on his site (they start streaming instantly) and his voice comes across a bit better there.

JoeWhyteSinging

Alec played a dramatically more mellow set than the last time we saw him, when he was supported by a top guitar player (Will Hensley) and a drummer. I’ve mentioned before that Alec is an excellent harmonica player and that was true last night again.

AlecGross

I enjoyed Alec’s set a lot, but I liked the fuller, slightly more upbeat version from the last show a bit more.

The last time we saw Alec, we ran downstairs to catch Derek James whose set started a few minutes before Alec’s finished. Lois felt badly that we didn’t get a chance to buy Alec’s new CD (Strip the Lanterns) that night. She rectified that by purchasing it before their set began. I’m listening to it now as I type and enjoying it very much!

I enjoyed the experience thoroughly. Both Joe and Alec are hilarious and incredibly quick witted. They even joked that they talked more than they sang (they didn’t, but I suspect no one would have complained if that were the case, I know I wouldn’t have!).

In addition to being funny, they’re both extremely nice (or do an amazing job coming across like they are). I believe that I would seriously enjoy spending time with Joe.

The one distraction was that Joe is a doppelganger for Josh Gomez, a.k.a. Morgan Grimes on Chuck. You be the judge:

JoeWhyte

In a not-so-small irony, he has similar mannerisms and comes across as equally relaxed in his humor, completing the illusion (for me) that Joe Whyte is actually an alias for Josh Gomez.

Dennis Lichtman and The Brain Cloud at Rodeo Bar

Send to Kindle

Dennis Lichtman blew me away the only time I saw him, 10 months ago, at Mona’s. That night, he was doing his weekly Mona’s Hot Four gig, where he plays the clarinet. Our friend Melissa Tong took us there, specifically to hear Dennis. Here’s what I wrote about his clarinet play and her response to me:

Dennis Lichtman was that clarinet player. When I mentioned that to Melissa, she told me that he doesn’t consider the clarinet to be his strongest instrument. Say what? Now I have to find him and watch him play every other instrument, first ensuring that my seat belt is on and my tray table is locked in its upright position!

Dennis has another regular setup called The Brain Cloud. In that group, Dennis plays mandolin and fiddle. I’ve had a number of close encounters trying to get to see The Brain Cloud. They used to play every Monday night at Banjo Jim’s. I assumed I’d catch them there sometime, but then Banjo Jim’s closed. Sad smile That Monday gig moved to Barbes in Brooklyn. I might make it there, but the stars need to align (and I have to update my passport) to get us to Brooklyn (where we both grew up and spent all of our formative years). Smile

DennisLicthman

When I got Dennis’ email newsletter announcing a show at Rodeo Bar, not too far from our apartment, I knew that nothing else happening in NYC last night would push this off my calendar (and there was a ton happening at Rockwood Music Hall!). We had never been to Rodeo Bar (27th Street and 3rd Avenue), but we’ve driven by it 100 times. I had no idea they had live music, now I do.

We walked over thinking that this would be a noisy neighborhood bar (not unlike Mona’s) with Brain Cloud playing in some corner. Happily, I was wrong (I usually am). Rodeo Bar is a Tex-Mex restaurant bar, with two rooms. One is a more typical local sports bar, and the other is more of a casual restaurant with a real stage area. They have a real sound board and a full-time sound engineer working it. We were both extremely impressed with the sound quality.

The people in our room were an awesome audience. Super quiet during the songs, fully appreciative after each song was over. While we only had drinks, the food looked so good that I’m sure we’ll be back for a meal, with or without music being involved.

On to the music. The Brain Cloud is a mix of Bluegrass, Old Time Jazz, Western Swing, Big Band Lite, etc., sometimes all together in a single song. It’s all covers (or at least everything on their CD and in last night’s show were), so the musicians better be good.

Not to worry my pretties. Dennis is indeed masterful on both the mandolin and fiddle. I might still prefer his clarinet play, but that might also be biased by that being my first introduction to him. Dennis also sang a bit of background harmony. There are five more people in Brain Cloud. The bass player and drummer from the CD were not part of last night’s lineup.

Left-to-right on stage:

Skip Krevens on electric guitar and lead vocals. Skip played the electric beautifully. He sang lead vocals on one song. His vocals last night were OK. On the CD, he sings lead on one song and comes across much better.

SkipKrevens

Raphael McGregor on lap steel guitar. Fantastic! Tasty play, including duels with Dennis.

RaphaelMcGregor

Tamar Korn on lead vocals (lots of links about Tamar, but I couldn’t find her own website). Tamar has a voice that is very suited to Bluegrass and old-time Jazz (like the Andrews Sisters). It’s high, and has a bit of a Betty Boop flavor. She’s a showman (showwoman?), in her expressions and movements, including dancing around when she’s not singing. During one instrumental, she sat right near us and couldn’t have been lovelier.

TamarKorn

Scott Kettner on drums. Scott is not the drummer on the CD, but I didn’t feel cheated. He was excellent, including a number of solos. This style of drumming is generally understated, but that doesn’t make it easy.

ScottKettner

Ian Riggs on upright bass. Ian was also replacing the bassist from the CD, and as with Scott above, I thought Ian was excellent. He took a number of solos. In one number, Ian and Scott traded solos back-and-forth, with Scott supporting Ian on the high-hat. Wonderful!

IanRiggs

I mentioned above that Tamar sat next to us during one of the instrumentals (she sat for two songs, the second was when Skip sang lead). The instrumental was Mission to Moscow. It was awesome.

When the first set was over (they played two sets, split over three hours) I went up to Dennis and bought a copy of The Brain Cloud CD (it’s self-titled). When I popped it in this morning, I was thrilled to find that Mission to Moscow was the first song. The entire CD is excellent.

Glad to have finally caught Dennis again, playing two additional instruments. Glad to have discovered Rodeo Bar. Glad to have been able to walk to/from a music venue.