January, 2012:

Wicked Season

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The title that sprang to mind was Season of the Witch(es). While clever (at least to me), given our recent cluster of attendances, I couldn’t bring myself to drop Wicked from the title.

Yes, we seem to be knee deep in Wicked Season. Yesterday we went for our 13th time. If only we could have pulled that off last week, on Friday the 13th, who knows what magic/wickedness would have occurred.


There are two reasons for us to see Wicked over-and-over:

  1. It’s that awesome, and we enjoy it as much (truth be told, more) each time
  2. The shared experience of going with friends on their first time is joyous to us

#2 is the reason that gets us to the theater, as the opportunity to share it with friends makes us schedule it. But, #1 is what makes it the easiest decision in the world when our friends make their availability known to us. Smile

Such was the case yesterday, when two friends who are nearly impossible to schedule time with together both said “Let’s do it!”.

There was a real first for us. In the 12 previous times, Elphaba’s father was played by the same actor (pretty incredible, since our first time was in 2006!). Yesterday, someone else played that role (I think he was an understudy, and our guy will be back). The sub (Brian Munn) was excellent, but we both missed Michael DeVries.

The two leads were the same as the last few performances, Chandra Lee Schwartz and Jackie Burns as the witches. We love them, so that was great. I have been able to nitpick tiny parts of each of their performances in the past (more the singing than the acting) and that was true again. Their awesomeness so far outweighs the nits that I highly encourage everyone to see Wicked while they’re still in it, before the dice get rolled again.


If you can watch Chandra’s performance and not laugh out loud, multiple times, then I fear that your soul was crushed at some point in your life and is badly in need of some loving and healing.


We both continue to be charmed by Tom McGowan as The Wizard.

Another wonderfully successful outing to the Gershwin Theatre. Do I hear 14?!?

Not that we need signs to validate our decision to keep seeing Wicked, but we walked right by this place on way home from the theater. Winking smile


New York’s Finest Police Tribute at Arlene’s Grocery

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I’m the optimal age to have been a major fan of The Police. I wasn’t, not because I didn’t care for their music, it’s just one of those things. I never owned any of their CDs and never saw them perform. Through osmosis, I am obviously familiar with a number of their hits, but even some of those I don’t instantly associate with any particular band, including The Police.

So, you might wonder why we went to Arlene’s Grocery last night for a 10pm set by a Police tribute band.

Oscar Bautista is a superb NYC-based guitar player. We’d pretty much go see him in whatever project he was involved in, at least once. That’s what got us to Arlene’s last night.


New York’s Finest (Police tribute) is three incredibly talented guys who do a great job of faithfully reproducing the sound of The Police, vocally and instrumentally.


Mark Rinzel sang lead and played the electric bass. Aside from looking an awful lot like Sting, Mark sounds like him (at least when singing The Police songs). He’s excellent on the bass and is a showman with wonderful stage presence.


Alan Camlet on drums and vocals (sorry, no good individual musical link). Alan was excellent on the drums, ripping it up for the entire set. He also sang harmony on nearly every number.


Oscar Bautista on electric guitar and vocals. Oscar was fantastic on the guitar (validating our reason for attending in the first place!). In addition to straight up leads, Oscar utilized a slide and some serious effects (including looping the slide with a fuzz effect creating an enormous sound). He sang less than Alan, but when he did, the three-part harmonies worked extremely well.


Here’s the set list:


They have been playing a month-long residency at Arlene’s, with one show to go. If you want to verify any of the claims I made above, please get to Arlene’s next Tuesday, January 24th, at 10pm. If you are a fan of The Police, you’ll really thank me. If you’re not, but want to see three talented musicians execute an exceptional set, you’ll still thank me. Either way, win/win for you and me. Smile

The three of them created a huge sound (as I bet The Police did live), making the energy in the room heart-pumping on every number. We were very glad we went, both for the music and for running into some of our favorite people, completely unexpected.


Matt Cusson at Rockwood Music Hall

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Matt Cusson played his first ever show at Rockwood Music Hall last night. I’m sure it won’t be his last.

We hadn’t heard of him before, though after reading about him, I’m surprised at that. Thankfully, we have friends with excellent taste in music (in fact, we met them over a shared table at Joe’s Pub, a few years ago). They reached out and asked whether we wanted to join them for Matt’s show. Without knowing anything about him, our answer was yes. Smile


I encourage you to read about him as well, as my description from a single set won’t do him justice. What I saw last night was a young man with a number of incredible talents:

  • amazing keyboards player (electronic last night, but I think he avoided the grand just to be front-and-center on the stage, I didn’t notice any particular effects)
  • wonderful voice (including the kind of control that is required in a number of the styles that Matt sings, R&B/Soul/Jazz)
  • excellent songwriter (even though Matt made a name for himself in other bands and with cover tours, he will clearly eventually leave his mark with his own music)
  • fantastic stage presence (even if the above weren’t true, he could bluff his way through a set and people would walk out smiling, having enjoyed his quick wit, natural style and warmth)


In addition to playing some of his own tunes (including one or two brand new ones), he played a couple of older ones (including Comfortable, a John Mayer cover which Matt was well-known for). He also played a short medley of Michael Jackson songs. From what I understand, his range is much broader than he had time to display last night.


Matt was joined by two musicians:

Rich Zurkowski on electric bass (I couldn’t find a good individual link to him). Rich was outstanding on the bass. He was often the only melodic accompaniment (when Matt was playing chords), given that there wasn’t a guitar as well. His fingers were flying up and down the frets the entire set, always sounding in perfect unison/harmony with Matt’s voice and keyboard play.


On one number late in the set, Matt highlighted the band, including giving Rich a really long lead. It was mind-bogglingly good. I’m already looking forward to catching Rich again, any time, anywhere.


Adam Hanson on drums. Adam did a nice job on the drums throughout. On the same song that Rich was highlighted, so was Adam. Matt prompted him to continue his introductory solo a few times, then turned it over to him later in the song again for a longer solo. While I enjoyed his play, he wasn’t quite as loose or creative as Jazz drumming can/should be.


Matt introduced his fiancée to the audience:


Before the show, we had dinner with our friends at The Meatball Shop. So good, I’m still thinking out the BBQ Pork meatballs (the special last night). We would eat there more often if it wasn’t always so jammed (rightfully so).


Thanks for introducing us to Matt Cusson, and for being willing to meet/eat early enough to get seats at The Meatball Shop! Smile

Happy Ending Music and Reading Series at Joe’s Pub

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Since the remodel, we seem to be racking up the frequent flyer miles at Joe’s Pub. We were back there again last night for something different than our usual fare.

The Happy Ending Music and Reading Series is founded, curated, hosted and produced by Amanda Stern. It’s been going on for a while (to large audiences and rave reviews), mostly held at Joe’s Pub, but I gather not always.

We don’t typically take the time to seek out new forms of entertainment (as thought provoking as they might be), given our crazy schedule. It takes an alignment of interests to push our boundaries. Last night it was the musical guests in the Music part of the title that got us to discover this series.

Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino don’t play all that often in NYC (even though they live here), so we grab every opportunity we can to see them, even when the set is known to be short. They were advertised as playing six songs (three to open the show and three to close it). It turned out to be five songs (two then three), but that was fine.


I admit that hearing the other part of the series, authors reading their works, intrigued me.

Amanda opened the show. In order to promote the current sponsor of the series, Three by Three Seattle, Amanda did a pop-quiz, asking the audience about personal habits/foibles, rather than actual facts. People who answered interestingly, won a large magnet (dog, cat or arrow). The questions (and often amusing answers) continued until all magnets were given out.


While it was clear from the outset that Amanda is quite clever and quick, I couldn’t be sure whether she was nervous or awkward. It was fun, but it wasn’t the smoothest beginning I’ve seen.

Amanda also described the series. Musicians frame the readings. Each author reads for 10 minutes or less (I’m told they get yanked from the stage if they go over, but I don’t believe it). Winking smile Then each author is required to perform a risk (personal challenge). They are asked to do something that would otherwise make them uncomfortable.

Amanda introduced Ian who came out alone. He sat at the baby grand piano. Joe’s has a great sound system and hearing Ian on a real piano (it’s often an electronic keyboard) was an absolute joy. Nearly every audience for every type of show at Joe’s is there to enjoy the performance (last night was no exception), so it was wonderfully quiet as well.


Ian played Waltz and Gone.


Amanda returned to introduce the first author.

Diane Williams read six short stories. There was very clever writing, pacing, imagery going on, but I can’t say it’s the type of material I would personally choose to read. A few times (not too many) there were just enough vulgarities that would cause some people to instantly turn off. In most of those cases it wasn’t obvious to me whether they added to the story or were there for shock value (or to be cool).


Diane declined to do the risk portion on stage. She noted that simply agreeing to read her stories in public was risk enough for her. Smile

Amanda returned to introduce the next author.

Hari Kunzru read from a chapter in an upcoming book (to be published this spring). It appeared to be about 2/3’s to 3/4’s of the way into the book. I enjoyed both the concept and his delivery, though of course I have no idea how it fits in with the overall book.


For his risk, Harry told a long (and completely captivating) story, leading up to the actual risk, juggling. Smile


Amanda returned again to introduce the final author.

Adam Rapp read the first chapter from his upcoming book (also to be published this spring). It’s the kind of material I used to eat up when I was younger. First-person narrative (though Adam explained that there were four main characters, each of whom has their own voice in the book, but the first chapter is just one of them), that bounces all over the place, keeping your mind juggling (I was inspired by Hari to use that word!) a variety of images, not knowing where they’re heading.


For his risk, Adam sang the chorus to Don’t Know Much (a Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville tune, one of my favorites). He sang it in his best Aaron Neville impression. The reason this was his risk? According to him, he sings it in Aaron’s voice, at home, every day. Winking smile

Amanda returned to introduce Ian, this time introducing Chad Vaccarino as well.


Ian and Chad performed You’ll Be OK followed by This is the New Year. To repeat, with the sound system at Joe’s, and Ian on a real piano, wow is the only word to describe their delivery.


Chad left the stage and Ian closed with the obligatory cover. I might not have mentioned above, but just like each author has to take a risk, each musician has to play one cover, and they have to try to get the audience to sing along.

Ian chose Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend in Me. I am not sure how many people sang along, but I am 100% sure that Ian was awesome in his rendition. His piano play was crisp and his vocals were perfect. Randy would have been proud if he was there (perhaps he was, but he didn’t bother to introduce himself to me).

Amanda said her goodbyes immediately thereafter. I mentioned that she might have been nervous kicking off the show. While she never came across as a professional speaker, she definitely got more comfortable each time she stepped on the stage (a total of six times). She’s smart, funny, clever and quick. I haven’t read any of her books, but I’m betting those characteristics are apparent there as well.

Here is the program for the evening. Click on any picture for a larger image:


We ran into friends there as well. Smile


An Australian fan (other than me) went up to speak to Ian and Chad after the show!


Rebecca Haviland at Arlene’s Grocery

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Have I mentioned how much we love Rebecca Haviland before? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then welcome to this space, clearly you’re a first-timer. Winking smile

It’s been roughly six weeks since we’ve seen Rebecca perform. That’s bad enough, but she had a few shows in between that we couldn’t attend, including one co-bill with Sierra Noble. The last time we saw Rebecca was also at Arlene’s Grocery (the site of last night’s show). Given how good Howard (the sound engineer at Arlene’s) is and how hard he works to balance their sound, I was happy to return there.


Rebecca and the band were awesome and Howard played his part in it as well. They performed most (all?) of the songs off of her upcoming CD (Rebecca announced that it was currently being mixed, so we’re getting closer folks). Here’s the set list:


We attend shows by the same artist many times for a number of reasons, some of which I recently articulated. One of the reasons is also the serendipitous surprises that occur on occasion (more often than you might guess, if you’re open to spotting them).

We both feel blessed that in addition to loving a lot of the music currently being played by many of the NYC indie artists, we genuinely love many of the people themselves (headliners, side-people, fans, venue staff, videographers, producers, significant others, etc.). I can’t say I expected that bonus when we first immersed ourselves in the scene here, in April 2009.

We love them, because they’re wonderful people independent of their involvement in music. That sometimes happens in a vacuum, but rarely. Usually, there are some pretty amazing parents behind them, having figured out some magic to turn out these young adults (young by our standards, for sure).

Last night we got to meet two sets of those parents, Rebecca’s (including her brother and his girlfriend) and Kenny Shaw’s. It didn’t take 30 seconds to see why Rebecca and Kenny turned out the way they did. Good job Havilands and Shaws! Smile



Rebecca was accompanied by the same band she had last time out at Arlene’s, which (technically) had one fill-in for her more typical setup. For two reasons, I’m going to cover them from right-to-left, rather my usual left-to-right order:

Chris Anderson on electric bass (two actually, though not at the same time) and vocals. Chris is Rebecca’s primary writing partner on most of the numbers on the new CD (hence my desire to cover him first). He also sings harmony on every number. Independent of that, he’s a great bass player and that’s evident at every show (including last night).


Kenny Shaw on drums. While Rebecca is considered a Rock person, most of her numbers are very soulful, bluesy ones, which call for less than straight-up drumming. But, she’s also an all-out rocker on occasion, calling for highly energetic and fast drumming. Kenny delivers both styles, equally well, seamlessly switching between them whenever appropriate. For a specific example, on It’s Not Wrong, Kenny really tore it up, switching into high gear.


Todd Caldwell on electronic keyboards and vocals. Last time at Arlene’s was our first time hearing Todd. He impressed then, but was even better last night (he’s probably just getting more comfy with the material). He plays keyboards for Stephen Stills and Crosby, Stills and Nash, so you don’t need me to tell you how good he is (other than to tell you how well he fits with Rebecca’s music and band).


While Todd was excellent on every number, the last two included a number of leads on his part, all absolutely terrific. He sang harmony (making it 3-part) on a few songs as well.


Another winning performance from Rebecca and her band.

You can catch her this coming Saturday (Jan 14th) at Rockwood Music Hall, 9pm. If our dinner ends early enough, we’ll be there, but whether we make it or not, you should go! Smile

Chicks With Dip Joni Mitchell Blue Tribute at Christopher Street Coffeehouse

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Chicks With Dip is a songwriter circle consisting of extremely talented female singer/songwriters. A few of them co-founded a coffeehouse series at the St. John’s Lutheran Christopher Street Church. How they came up with the name Christopher Street Coffeehouse is still a mystery. Winking smile

In addition to providing incredible music on a regular (pretty much weekly) basis, the Chicks come together as a full ensemble to do good works. Last night was one such gathering. Our previous time at the Christopher Street Coffeehouse was for a benefit for one of their own members, Victoria Lavington. I covered that event in this post.

This time, the Chicks got together to raise money for the Coffeehouse itself. They donated their time and talent. There was quite a large crowd, so this was a very successful effort.

They chose to honor the 40th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s release of Blue as the theme for the evening.

We went for a few reasons:

  1. We like to support good causes
  2. We like to hear and support talented people
  3. It’s been way too long since we’ve seen Sharon Goldman, Carolann Solebello and Victoria Lavington perform

Unfortunately, while I love a number of Joni Mitchel songs, not a single one of them is on the Blue album. I’m not a fan. That didn’t stop me from coming out to support them anyway. Smile

Here is the program, cover, inside and back cover:


Rather than have me share my impressions, I saw the following review in my Facebook stream. He’s in love with the Blue album, and knows all of the Chicks well, so you’re way better off reading his take and enjoying his photos. Bonus points if you can spot Lois in one of his photos. Winking smile

Lois took a ton of pictures, some of which came out OK, but since the photos in the above link are better lit and taken from closer up, I’ll leave you with a single shot from the big finale, where everyone joined in to sing Big Yellow Taxi:


Sierra Noble and Michael Sackler-Berner at Joe’s Pub

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Sierra Noble was opening for Michael Sackler-Berner at Joe’s Pub last night. We weren’t supposed to be in NYC. After missing Sierra last week, when she played a co-bill with Rebecca Haviland, we decided that we had to get our priorities straight. We cut our trip short and returned in time to attend with two friends. Smile

Joe’s Pub was our favorite venue in NYC for nearly four years. For a number of reasons, we ended up not attending a single show there for 20 months! Now that they’ve remodeled the inside and switched to assigned seats (tables), we’ve been back three times in seven weeks. I’m sure we’ll continue to attend regularly.

Sierra played a full set (which was so welcome, because sometimes openers get short-shrift) and was fantastic on every number. As always, she switched between acoustic guitar and fiddle, impressing on both. Of course, her vocals (even though she was fighting a cold) were amazing.


All that said, she’s simply a great songwriter (and she picks great people to co-write with as well), so even if her cold had been worse, listening to her (and her band) play those songs would have been worth the trip. Here’s the set list:


Speaking of her band, let’s give them the credit they are due, left-to-right on stage:

Greg Mayo on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals. If this isn’t your first time here, then you know that Greg Mayo is my favorite local guitar player. If it is your first time, now you know that too! Smile


When Sierra was on acoustic guitar, Greg was on electric. When she was on fiddle he was on acoustic. He sang a lot of harmony and was as good as he ever is.

Seth Faulk on drums and vocals. Seth was masterful on the drums, which for most of the set were on the very subtle side (lots of brushes, with some mallets thrown in for good measure). He got to let loose on the last number, DABE, which is a collection of fiddle tunes that are highly energetic.


Seth has a wonderful voice (I’ve written about that a number of times) and he sang even more than Greg did. Most of the time it was three part harmony with Sierra and Greg and it was luscious.


Brian Killeen on upright bass. Brian was filling in for Chris Anderson who is on vacation. Since Brian is independently one of our favorite bass players (as is Chris), I wasn’t nervous as to whether Brian would sound good, even though he’s not familiar with Sierra’s catalog. I was right, no need to worry.


The biggest difference was that Chris sings a bunch with Sierra and Brian doesn’t know the material well enough to fill in there.

That led to another highlight of the set.

Martin Rivas was invited up to sing the duet Human After All (that Chris has been singing with Sierra at the last few shows). Martin has such a great voice and knows the song well. Sierra and Martin nailed it.


Sierra co-wrote Human After All with Michael Logen. When I first saw Michael Logen perform, he did that song solo. After the show I went up to him to ask whether it had been on TV. I told him I was sure I heard it before and fell in love with it instantly. He said it had come close to being placed, but sadly, was never on TV.

Then I remembered that I had heard it just the week before, when Sierra played it at a Backscratch. She sang it with Martin that night as well. It turns out that I was prescient. Human After All was just recently featured on Parenthood, on NBC, in season 3 episode 11.

Sierra asked Martin to stay and sing background on the next two numbers as well, creating lovely four-part harmony with Greg and Seth. #winning


In fact, on I Can See, Sierra asked the audience to sing along. It sounded really good from where I was sitting. I hope it did to her on stage as well. Smile

We had never heard of Michael Sackler-Berner (MSB) before, but were looking forward to serendipitously discovering him.

I really like his voice a lot and he plays the guitar quite nicely (mostly electric, but he switched to acoustic a couple of times). With the exception of a couple of very mellow folky songs (which I liked as well), most of the numbers were very high energy accompanied by a full band.


I had trouble concentrating on the lyrics (not really sure why), but the few times I was able to zone in, I was impressed with his imagery and phrasing. It will require more serious listening to determine whether this is true across a majority of his songs.


MSB closed the show by inviting Sierra up (with her fiddle). He dismissed the band and played the acoustic guitar. They sang together (beautifully) and each sang verses on the lead. What a terrific way to end the evening!


His band was very good and tight. Left-to-right on stage:

Ben Stivers on keyboards (electronic and grand piano). He was quite good on both, including standing for the entire first number while playing the grand piano.


Henry Geller on electric guitar. I can’t find a good individual link, but I’m betting he’s the guitarist profiled in Rough Waters. He was very good.


Liberty DeVitto on drums. He was great. Very hard hitter, very energetic, tight as a drum (OK, I couldn’t resist). Winking smile


MSB mentioned on stage that he saw Liberty play when he (MSB) was 11-years old and fell in love with him. Later, DeVitto joked that he was just 14 at the time. If you clicked through to the link above, then you know that Liberty was Billy Joel’s drummer for 30 years! I’m betting that MSB saw a Billy Joel concert at the Nassau Coliseum when he was 11.

Paul Frazier on electric bass and vocals. He was fantastic on the bass (even though he was handicapped by being a lefty, like Paul McCartney). Winking smile He was also the only member of the band to sing harmony with MSB, very nicely! Very impressive performance.


Here’s MSB’s set list:


We spotted Liberty as he was heading out and got to tell him how wonderful his play was and snap this picture as well:


Right after taking that picture, we headed out and got to say hello to Sierra, Seth and Greg. Brian had already left to get the car.


Totally worth having come back early, including enjoying our friends’ company before and after the show. The last two times we were at Joe’s Pub, they couldn’t make me my favorite Chocolate Martini. After they completed the remodel, they hadn’t stocked up on Chocolate Liqueur yet.

They finally remedied that situation and I got to enjoy it for the first time in nearly two years. Trust me, if you’re ever at Joe’s Pub, order the Chocolate Martini. Both of our friends tried it as well (first timers) and I am pretty sure they enjoyed it. Smile