Dining

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at The Falcon

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We love surprising musicians by showing up in places they’d never expect us. It’s way more fun when the venue is new to us and everything we read makes us think it will be a favorite, instantly. Such was the case last night.

Having just seen Ian Axel the night before (Tuesday) at Bowery Ballroom, he didn’t expect to see us two hours north of there the next night. Allie Moss was at Bowery Ballroom as well, singing on more than 1/2 of Rosi Golan’s CD Release Show. Bess Rogers joined Rosi and Allie to close the show, so we were actually seeing every performer for a second night in a row.

The venues couldn’t be more different. The night out at Bowery Ballroom was fantastic (you can read about the three sets here, here and here). Even so, The Falcon (last night’s venue) is so much more to our liking on every level. I’ll tell you why after I cover the music.

I’m reverting back to my normal style of covering the performers in reverse order.

Ian Axel got to return to a real grand piano. He’s been playing electronic keyboards and even a mock baby grand (looked like a grand, but was actually electronic at the Beacon Theatre). You can see its effect on Ian. He brightens up and is infused with even more energy (if that’s possible) when his fingers connect with ivory, rather than plastic.

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He set a different tone immediately. At Bowery Ballroom, Ian opened with Gone (a slow, emotional song). He played it last night too (fairly early), but opened with Leave Me Alone! It was fantastic, for two reasons: 1) It’s a great song and Ian and the band nailed it, and 2) The audience surprised the heck out of me!

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Here’s what I wrote about that song the night before (Chris refers to the bass player):

Hearing that song in NYC is so different than anywhere else. In NYC, such a large proportion of the crowd knows the cool clapping part (and has Chris to make sure they know when to do it, not that we don’t). In other places, there are a few lonely clappers who typically give up quickly.

My hubris was smacked down the very next night. Most of the people in the audience last night clapped correctly, immediately (in other words, they knew the song!). More importantly, three guys in the second row clapped it even when no one else ever does (it was appropriate from a percussion point of view, but it’s not in spots where the band expects it). They kept it up until the song was over. That’s commitment folks. Strike my comments from the night before!

Ian played most of the set accompanied by two band members (they didn’t travel with a guitar player):

Adam Christgau on drums, acoustic guitar and background vocals. Having seen Adam play the night before, it was impressive to see him shift gears and play some of the same songs with substantially more subtlety, matching the venue’s acoustics and size very appropriately. He did a very nice job on the acoustic guitar as well (something we only discovered he could play the night before).

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We met Adam’s mother at the show. She showed us a photo of Adam playing the drums at 3-years-old. It was one of the cutest photos we’ve ever seen. She was willing to send us a copy, but Adam insisted against it. So, I’m hereby considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to bribe his mom to ignore him, so we can release that photo into the wild (where it belongs!). Winking smile

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and background vocals. Like Adam, Chris was also more subdued at The Falcon. Also like Adam, there was a sophistication to his play that made it no less interesting than the night before. I’m always impressed by how professional Chris is. We see him so often, it amazes me how consistent he is.

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Ian played Say Something solo. He introduced the song and seemed a bit more emotional to me than he is at most shows. In fact, The Falcon seemed to bring out a bit more talkativeness in general (from the other performers as well) and that’s always a plus for me.

Chad Vaccarino, Ian’s primary writing partner, joined for a number of songs. The first, Shorty Don’t Wait, also had Allie Moss joining in, with Adam switching to the acoustic guitar. Chad sang lead on all but one verse, where Allie took over the mic. Allie, Chad and Ian shared the mic to sing the chorus and Ian played the ukulele. Shorty is one of my favorite songs and they delivered another winning performance.

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One of the songs that Chad and Ian performed was Rockstar, sure to be one of the bigger hits off their next CD (no, they haven’t started recording it yet, sigh…). When they opened for Five for Fighting in CT, they introduced a twist to the song. They morphed it into Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, then back to finish Rockstar.

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In CT, it was awesome. They did a longer version of Tiny Dancer. But, it wasn’t the smoothest transition in or out of Rockstar. At Bowery Ballroom and again last night, the transitions in/out were so seamless (really, perfect), that you would swear Elton John collaborated with them on Rockstar and Tiny Dancer.

I mentioned that to Ian after the Bowery Ballroom show, but I forgot to mention it in the post. I’m grateful to him for repeating the seamlessness last night, so I had a chance to correct my omission. Winking smile

They killed This is the New Year (do they ever not?). This was also the best example of Adam changing up the drums (quite dramatically) from the night before.

Ian had to come back for an encore (yes, had to) and he and Chad did You’ll Be OK. When they finished, everyone in the room gave them a standing ovation. No hesitations in people standing up. Great way to end the evening.

Bess Rogers was up before Ian. Adam and Chris backed her up for most of the set (though she did play solo acoustic guitar as well as ukulele). Allie Moss sang harmony on many of the numbers and played glockenspiel on at least one. The two of them sound so good (I guess it doesn’t hurt that they are forced to spend so much time together).

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Ian played piano on at least one number.

Bess played some songs from her upcoming CD (already recorded thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign). It should be out in October (fingers crossed). She also played a few off of her EP Bess Rogers Presents Bess Rogers.

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It was all excellent, but I have to say that she totally blew me away (and I suspect everyone else) when she switched to the ukulele, gave an introduction and then played, In My Life, by The Beatles. Wow. Not only did she sing it wonderfully, she went for it and played the fast instrumental part (played on the piano on Rubber Soul) on the ukulele and nailed it.

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Aside from the music, Bess is just hysterical. Possibly NC-17 (not quite R), but it works for me. She’s smart and quick-witted. What else can you ask for? Nothing, that’s right!

Allie Moss opened the adult portion of the evening (you’ll understand that comment in a minute). I already mentioned above how great she sounded singing with Ian and Bess. I also linked to the post praising her performance singing with Rosi Golan.

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Let me add now that in addition to clearly having an excellent voice (and playing the guitar really well), she’s also a very good songwriter. She opened the show with Passerby. It’s a song inspired by the feeling we all have about other drivers (inducing the desire for road rage). One of the phrases that struck me:

Would I have grace for you
And you for me

Amen, let’s just all do it, have grace for each other, in all situations! She also sang the title cut from her CD, Late Bloomer, among others (we didn’t grab any set lists, so I can’t rattle off all the songs). Bess sang harmony on a few numbers and played ukulele on the opener. She also played glockenspiel on one number. Adam and Chris supported Allie on a good portion of the set as well.

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Ian played piano during Allie’s first number. I can’t recall whether he returned during her set.

Opening the show were two girls (yes, girls, not women or ladies), The Knox Sisters. They will soon be 13 and 11 (Hailey and Samantha). Don’t worry, their parents were there as well.

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Hailey played the guitar and sang all of the leads. Samantha played the cajon and dejembe and sang harmony on a song she wrote!

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One of the songs they performed is the (current) default song on their YouTube Channel (Doorbell). It’s a year old, but is a reasonable representation of their performance last night. Hailey’s voice has matured further (IMO).

They received rousing applause after each song (from me as well) and were called back for an encore. I enjoyed their set, so I wasn’t just being polite, but I have to wonder whether everyone else felt that much more impressed than I was.

They are extremely impressive for their age, no doubt, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they make it, eventually, if they continue to work hard. That said, they aren’t really phenoms (in the child-prodigy sense). I wasn’t experiencing an 11-year-old Chris Thile, or a 10-year-old Sierra Hull, etc.

Allie, Bess and Ian all gushed over them, repeatedly. Whether they were being nice (supportive), or whether they saw something in these girls that I didn’t (being performers themselves), it was a very nice thing to do.

Lois bought a bunch of merch after the show. I look forward to listening to Allie’s Late Bloomer CD. We also bought a single from Bess’ upcoming CD. I think Bess said that the B-side is In My Life. We were driving all day today, so I haven’t had a chance to load it and find out if my wish will come true (that I heard correctly!).

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We bought a couple of T-Shirts (you can never have enough). Smile

OK, let’s wrap this up with some words about the venue itself.

The Falcon is simply an extraordinary place. It seats roughly 100 people. The first two rows are traditional seats. The rest of the room is tables that normally would seat four, but they orient the entire room toward the music. No one sits with their back to the stage or on the sides of the tables. That meant that the two of us shared that table for four, both sitting on one end together, facing the stage. Perfect!

Every person in the place (wait staff, owner Tony Falco, bartenders, bus-people, sound person) was happy, helpful, energetic and took their job seriously, doing it well.

The food was outstanding. I would go back for the food, even if there wasn’t music (it’s an hour’s drive from our house).

All of the above is great, but we showed up for the music. That’s where The Falcon shines even more. The acoustics were fantastic, in particular, the vocals (and kids, Allie, Bess, Ian and Chad are first and foremost about the vocals!). I was sitting in the stereo sweet spot (as if this was my living room and I got to design my own perfect sitting area).

The sound guy (he looked like a kid himself) was very active. I noticed a few times that if someone’s mic wasn’t just right (from the audience’s perspective), it was adjusted quickly. I often marvel at other places where the sound is awful and I think: is the sound guy in the restroom? He can’t be listening to what I’m listening to.

We’ll be back at the Falcon, no doubt. Here’s a great overview photo of the room.

Another Amazing Weekend

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This was our third consecutive weekend hosting out-of-town visitors. Since the last two were fantastic, the bar was set high for this one. Don’t worry, we cleared it.

When our friends (parents of our godchildren and our closest friends for nearly 30 years!) asked whether this weekend would be a good one for them to come up from VA, the automatic answer was of course! The only (minor) complication was our unmovable commitment to attending four sets of music on Saturday night.

I’ve already written about the music separately, but since this is a post about the entire weekend, I’ll link them here again. Rebecca Haviland: covered here. Matt Simons: covered here. Sierra Noble: covered here. Chris Ayer: covered here.

We had a small scare before everything got rolling. Our friends called from the airport to say that there was a mechanical problem on the plane. While it was (theoretically) simple to fix, they didn’t know how long it would take the mechanic to show up. There was a chance that they wouldn’t even get out that night (Friday, July 1st).

That’s exactly how the first of these three weekends began, with David and Rebecca (their son and daughter-in-law) not getting out until the next morning! This case turned out differently. Not 15 minutes later they called back to say they were boarding. I’m guessing the mechanic was on a smoke break. Winking smile

Shortly after they arrived at the apartment, nine of us (counting a 2-year-old as a full person) Winking smile walked up to the Peking Duck House for dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve been there (a minor crime against humanity). We had been talking about our need to correct that for the past two weeks, so this worked out perfectly.

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The meal was perfect. I never doubted it would be, but I report it here for the record.

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Given our music-filled night, we decided that Saturday would be a day of rest for us (conserving our energy). The parents, their daughter and son-in-law went to the Doughnut Plant (the site currently lists a Lower East Side address only, but there is one at 220 W. 23rd St. as well, which is where they went). Afterward, they walked the Highline Park.

They headed over to Broadway to see How to Succeed in Business. All four of them said it was terrific and they were sure both of us would love it. Something to add to the list. Smile

The six of us had a wonderful dinner at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant). In a complete shock, we bumped into a few good friends who were dining there outside. We were seated inside (our choice) on the other side of the window from them. Even though our chats with them were brief (before our meal and after theirs), it was a special delight.

After nearly falling asleep (due to the amazing frozen margaritas), I somehow gathered myself for the epic night of music and easily made it all the way through! I don’t know what the others did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they didn’t fight the feeling of sleep and succumbed to it. Winking smile

On Sunday morning the four of them attended Church services at Redeemer. They spent some time at the Cooper Hewitt Museum then returned to the apartment to relax a bit. This week is both our and Laura and Chris’ anniversaries. We decided to celebrate at the Old Homestead steakhouse. All six of us couldn’t stop raving about the meal afterward. At least three (perhaps as many as five) counted this meal (and therefore this restaurant) as their favorite steakhouse meal (that includes Lois saying that her Lobster was the best she’s ever had).

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I loved my meal (thoroughly), but I admitted (out loud) that The Palm is still my favorite. I promise not to complain or hesitate to return to the Old Homestead though, should anyone suggest it again. Smile

After dinner, we all wanted (and needed) to walk off the calories (please don’t make me estimate the full damage). We walked the super-long block from the restaurant to the 14th Street entrance to the Highline Park. This was my first time seeing it in person. We walked from 14th St. until the end, currently 30th St. It’s spectacular. I highly recommend making the effort to get there, whether you’re a New Yorker or an out-of-towner here on a visit.

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We collapsed when we got back to the apartment (well, at least Lois and I collapsed, the others may have gone dancing for all I know).

On Monday morning (the venerable July 4th), Chris and I went for a long walk. When we’re in the city, I typically take long walks for exercise. For me, that means somewhere between five and eight miles, depending on my mood and my schedule. I do it 2-3 times a week, if I have the time. Amazingly, blogging is often the cause of me not having the time to walk. The things we do for our readers… Winking smile

Few of you who read this know Chris. He served six years in the Navy and remains in amazing shape by regularly working out. My only hesitation in walking with him, ever, is that he can keep up a grueling pace forever. He can walk backward, faster than I walk forward, and keep it up seemingly forever as well. I negotiated through an intermediary (Laura) that he would drop the drill-sergeant routine this time.

When we got to the Brooklyn Bridge (typically as far as I’d walk), that marked the 3.9 mile point. That would be just under an eight mile walk if we turned around. Chris looked at me and asked if I’d walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him it had been over 30 years since I’d done that, but I was game. Instead, he suggested we just keep trucking further from the apartment. It had been a year since I’d done the loop I knew we were now committing to, but I (happily) agreed.

We continued south, past the Seaport, on to the Staten Island Ferry, where we headed north up the west side. At 34th Street we started the long trek over to the east side. When we arrived at the apartment, Chris was fresh as a daisy. I was a puddle of sweat who dreamt only of removing my sneakers from my feet. Total distance: 11.36 miles (I wear a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch that they all bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago). Total time was 3:14, but that included a stop in the World Financial Center to check out the progress at Ground Zero.

After a nice lunch out (Euro Diner if you’re keeping score) we veg’ed out all afternoon (I might have even slept a bit, shhh). All of that was to prepare for attending a July 4th party.

Up until three years ago, we used to host an annual 4th of July party on our deck. We had pretty good views of the Macy’s Fireworks when they had them on East River. This is the third year in a row that they were on the Hudson instead and we had no plans to fight the crowds to try and see them.

On Friday, we received an invitation to a party that claimed to have a spectacular view of the fireworks. Under normal circumstances, we would have said yes in a heartbeat, but we would have been adding four strangers to the party list, which felt wrong on our part. I politely declined, explaining why.

In a I’m not taking No for an answer reply, our host told us to bring our guests along. I only had one No in me, so this time I said Yes! We negotiated on what we could bring and settled on Sushi.

What a great plan, until we found out that our go-to Sushi restaurant was closed all weekend. Our backup Sushi place (also exceptional) was going to be closed on Monday as well. In a twist of fate (actually two twists), the first place was clearly marked as being closed all weekend. The backup place hadn’t updated their sign, so when Lois went in, she thought they’d be open on Monday.

Hiroshi Sushi is across the street from our apartment. I filled in our order before Lois walked over. When she started to say what time she wanted the order ready by, she found out that they were closed on Monday. As she was turning to leave, the person she was talking to called her back.

He told her that he remembered us from years earlier when we used to come in all the time with Lois’ mother to their former Japanese Restaurant (a few doors down, now closed for probably eight years!). He was our waiter many of those times. He asked Lois if he could call the owner (and head chef), who was also involved in the other restaurant, to ask if he’d come in just to prepare this order.

20 minutes later he called us and said that the owner would happily do this for us. Wow, we were so grateful. The order was ready to be picked up at exactly 5pm (as promised) and was fantastic (as evidenced by the oohs and aahs of the partiers). I couldn’t resist trying something called “peanut and avocado roll”. Yummy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We also brought a white pizza (for those who might not like Sushi). I had the first two slices (and didn’t notice if anyone else did). Man, that was really good too. Finally, we brought a gigantic fresh fruit salad that was seemingly bottomless, but it got completely devoured (or so I heard), so it apparently had a bottom after all. That too was a big hit.

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On to the actual party (I have a tough time not talking or thinking about food though). Winking smile

When we first arrived at our friend’s apartment we were blown away by the view. But, he lives in a one bedroom (very high up) and we wondered how everyone would get to enjoy the fireworks while being crowded like sardines in the living room. Ah, I’m so naïve at times. That was never the plan.

There was a friend of our friend, who lived 15 floors down (still quite high!). He has a much larger apartment, but more importantly, a massive deck, facing the Hudson River. The two of them decided to combine their parties. In an additional act of generosity, the second host (the friend of our friend), allowed an entire party of his next door neighbors to attend the viewing of the fireworks on his deck, when they were done with their meal (and drinking) on their adjacent (but not facing the river!) deck.

I don’t need to describe the view or the fireworks to you. All of the photos above were taken by Lois, on her compact camera. She took a ton of photos last night too, but I don’t need to share them.

Our friend (Bob) from VA is a semi-professional photographer (with professional equipment). He set up his Nikon on a tripod and captured stunning photos. His daughter (Laura) is following in his footsteps. A few of her shots are included with his. Here’s a representative sample (I’m not compressing these photos, for those of you who want the full effect).

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Followed by the calm after the storm:

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Our friend (let’s call him Host #1) made two pitchers of exotic drinks. The first was green, looked like slime, and was called Key Lime Martini. The second was blue (and frothy) and had Blue Curacao, some coconut stuff and other secret ingredients. I tried the Key Lime first. It was amazing, but one sip was nearly lethal. I am putting my name on a list for when it’s time for me to go, this is the way I’d like to end it all. While I know at least two people who loved it, but purposely didn’t finish theirs (for fear of expiring), I was brave and downed my entire glass.

I later moved on to the Blue mixture. It tasted even better. So much so that I had a second glass (don’t tell Lois!). It didn’t feel as lethal, but for all I know, that’s part of it’s secret. I heard many people raving about this concoction (actually both). Our Host #1 can definitely fall back on Mixologist if his primary profession hits a brick wall. Wow!

Host #2 is a fascinating person who couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (as noted above). In fact, we met many friends of Host #1, each one was a complete delight to converse with. Without a doubt, we’ll be following up with a number of them!

We had to walk a number of blocks before finding the first of the two cabs that got us home and a bit further for the second one.

An absolutely incredible ending to an incredible weekend. I’m no longer annoyed that the fireworks have moved to the west side. I’ll need to be nice to Host #1 for the entire year, just in case Macy’s decides to do it there again next year. It will be hard to keep up the façade, but I’ll do my best. Winking smile

Thank you for including all six of us. It’s a night we’ll never forget!

Chris Ayer at a House Concert

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This was a weekend extravaganza hosting our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca). In addition to seeing Wicked earlier in the day (covered in this post), we wanted to take them to see some live music in NYC. Our core group consisted of 10 people, which could present logistical problems with finding the right show to accommodate us and still allow for the socializing before/after the show that we desired.

It occurred to me that even though we are loath to put on a house concert in general (logistics, weather, etc.), since we could constrain the group to be reasonably small, we might try to pull off a little miracle this time around. I was hoping for a solo, guitar-wielding singer/songwriter, so that we could easily move it indoors if the weather turned nasty (we planned this a month ago).

We love a lot of singer/songwriters that are based in NYC. With no offense to any others, Chris Ayer was at the top of our list. He’s the first one we asked, and the last, since he said he was available. Smile

Let me (now) apologize to all of our friends, especially those who are also huge Chris Ayer fans, for not inviting you. Since this weekend was about our godson, and his sister (our goddaughter, Laura) lives in the same building as we do, we restricted the guest list to their friends only (and us, of course). There were 16 audience members.

Since the evening was about socializing as well (David and Rebecca live in Birmingham, so none of us gets to see them as often as we’d like), we invited people to come at 6pm, with music slated to begin a little after 8pm. The original invitation said “Sushi” for dinner, but we knew that a few people don’t eat Sushi. A couple of diligent husbands pointed out that their pregnant wives couldn’t eat Sushi either. One of those pregnant wives delivered the night before (and stood us up for the show, can you believe it?)!

Congratulations to Laura and Jason! Smile

The day before, Wes, Jacklyn and I walked to see Super 8 (I might be one of only three people in America to think the movie is entertaining, but really stupid). On our way over, it poured so hard that we (and roughly 50 other people) had to stop (even though we had umbrellas) under some construction scaffolding for nearly 10 minutes, to avoid the feeling of taking a full bath in our clothes.

When we arrived back at the apartment, I noticed a giant rainbow and Lois snagged these photos (the rainbow disappeared within a few minutes!). It turns out that the rainbow appeared nearly coincident with the birth of Laura and Jason’s daughter. How awesome is that?

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Don’t worry about us, we still had two remaining pregnant women in attendance, so I think our quota was still met. Winking smile

There was plenty of other food to eat, and general merriment took place from 6pm onward.

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We were thankful that Chris arrived early enough to taste some of the Sushi as well. I also cornered him and fired off a bunch of my imponderable questions about music, including asking him whether he buys lefty guitars, or plays upside-down, etc. Thanks for being a good sport Chris and answering all of my questions patiently. Smile

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Shortly after 8pm, we pushed one of the tables out of the way (yes, our deck is a veritable furniture store) to make a nice spot for Chris to play in.

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Chris had his traditional set list written out on his arm (and my traditional photos showing you his and our views):

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After Chris played a few numbers, he asked whether anyone had requests. Lois fired off a few (including some older ones). He agreed to play one of her current favorites (she has dozens), Snake Skin Heart. After playing a second request from her, my competitive juices were flowing and I weighed in with Hiding Places (a new one that we love) and Stranded (which was on his set list already).

When I introduced Chris (before the music started), I mentioned that I think of him as a modern-day James Taylor whereas Lois thinks of him as a modern-day Paul Simon. At one point, Chris asked if anyone wanted to hear any covers. Naturally, some Paul Simon songs were called out. He played The Boxer (beautifully!), then Kathy’s Song (wow!). Again, my competitive juices could not be controlled. I called out for any James Taylor song. He performed Fire and Rain (perfect choice!).

After the show, one of Laura’s friends (who I met for the first time last night) came up to me and said: “Chris’ James Taylor cover was spectacular, but I have to side with Lois in comparing him more to Paul Simon. I wonder whether we won’t soon all be calling him our modern-day Paul Simon!”. OK, uncle! Smile

When Chris returned to playing his own numbers, both Lois and I were about to ask for Say What You Mean (independently, we only found that out after the show when comparing notes). Before we could get it out, Chris started introducing it. It’s about his Grandfather, which we knew, but the story that inspired it was new to us and incredibly touching.

While introducing it, he mentioned that his grandfather was in the Navy at Pearl Harbor. The person sitting closest to Chris during the show was Laura’s husband, also named Chris. Our Chris was in the Navy for six years and it didn’t seem accidental to me that he ended up being serenaded to that closely on this song (and obviously the rest of the songs).

Lois had asked (at least three times) whether Chris was going to do Roy G. Biv. He answered yes every time. I guess she wanted to make sure he wouldn’t forget. Winking smile He didn’t. He closed with an absolutely fantastic rendition of it. He introduced it, and nearly every song last night with some background or context about the song (I love that part of live shows!). Even though we’ve seen Chris many times, most of the backgrounds we heard last night were new to us, and I enjoyed every single one.

After the show we opened it up to questions of Chris and there were some really good ones. A few examples: co-writing vs writing alone, how long it takes to write a typical song, which comes first, melody or lyrics, etc.

Most of the people (including Chris) hung around to chat afterward, eating some dessert and the most incredible fresh fruit you can imagine (I’m still in a bit of a fruit coma over how good it was). We did allow the pregnant ladies to head out and get off their feet. We’re nice like that (sometimes). Winking smile

I’d be lying to you if I said I could adequately describe how incredible the entire evening was, music, conversation, food, fellowship.

I’ll finish by throwing in bonus coverage from today. Winking smile

If you know David, you know that his entire life revolves around Meatballs (ha, those of you who don’t know him think I’m exaggerating for effect). Winking smile How could we have him up to NYC and not take him to The Meatball Shop? We couldn’t and we didn’t! The core 10 of us headed down there shortly after it opened at noon today. We took over the tiny corner at the end of the bar (with most of us standing) and had an absolutely amazing lunch, including the obligatory ice-cream cookie sandwiches for dessert.

The kids went on for a very long walk, heading from the Lower East Side to the new Highline Park. Us old folk returned to the apartment, which is how I found the time to finish today’s posts. Smile

Our Tenth Wicked is still the Charm

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Our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca) were coming up to spend their first weekend with us as a married couple. They were to arrive on Friday night when the festivities were to begin. Unfortunately, the Wicked witch was in control on Friday, and after hearing every excuse in the book, their flight was canceled.

The Good witch took over (you can’t reverse a spell) and got them out the next morning (yesterday), but since the evil spell had been cast, they were forced to wake up at 3am to catch a 5:30 flight. It all went well and after an amazing lunch at the Palm West, we headed over to see Wicked across the street (their choice).

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The last time we saw Wicked, I ended my post with the following:

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’ll hit double digits. It was roughly 11 months since the last time we saw Wicked, so it might not be right around the corner, but it’s coming, I can feel it. :-)

We wanted to make sure that David and Rebecca didn’t pick Wicked thinking we weren’t willing to see anything else, but they insisted that they were really interested, so no further arm twisting was necessary. We saw it with our mutual friends Wes and Jacklyn who came up from Philly for the weekend. We bought the tickets about a month ago, so we couldn’t get six together. Each couple sat together but we were clustered close enough to each other.

The last time we saw Wicked, Katie Rose Clarke played Glinda. She was in yesterday’s show again and was as spectacular this time as last. There was no letdown in the last number either, so this was actually a better performance (her comedy is still a touch over-the-top, but it really works, so perhaps I’ll stop saying that if we see her again). Smile

Teal Wicks as Elphaba. We made the mistake of watching a YouTube video of her singing Defying Gravity, on Broadway, from a February 2011 show. It was awful. Thankfully, that’s not the way she came across yesterday. I can easily quibble with a few things, particularly in her first number, The Wizard and I, but they were so minor and the rest of her performance was fantastic.

She hits the highest notes in Defying Gravity so crisply, cleanly and powerfully, it’s a thing to behold (and hear). My last quibble is that she’s not as forceful in a number of her duets, where it feels like she’s holding back in order to be generous to her co-star (both Glinda and Fiyero), but her voice gets a bit lost at those moments.

Nevertheless, I’d happily go see Teal again. She delivered the spoken parts of the show perfectly (including her acting).

Tom McGowan was The Wizard. I’m a big fan of his TV work. He was in 42 episodes of Frasier and 17 of Everybody Loves Raymond (and I’ve seen every one of them, probably at least twice). He did a marvelous job yesterday, including his singing.

Kathy Fitzgerald played Madame Morrible. Excellent!

The Governor of Munchkinland was the same actor we’ve seen all 10 times. That’s over a 4-year period and impresses the heck out of me. He’s great every single time.

Almost everyone in the ensemble has been the same (I can’t even believe how familiar they are to me, but I guess 10 times shouldn’t have me so surprised).

The rousing standing ovation from the sold-out crowd for the leads seemed to overwhelm them (in the positive sense), but then again, they’re both fine actresses, so who knows. Winking smile

WickedCastStandingOvationWickedCastBowing

Lois scooted home in a cab to prepare for the continuing weekend festivities, while the five of us walked back leisurely (the weather was spectacular) and arrived just as all the food was being delivered. Perfect timing. The rest of the evening will be covered in the next post.

Ian Axel, The Spring Standards and Madi Diaz at Bowery Ballroom

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I tell everyone I meet that Ian Axel is magical. Since I don’t distinguish between people I’ve already told it to and newcomers to this fact, I am not surprised when people start running away as I approach. Winking smile

Until now, it has seemed subjective, but I finally have proof, to convince all of the skeptics. It was supposed to thunderstorm in NYC last night. It didn’t (Ian had a show headlining the Bowery Ballroom, so it would have been inconvenient for his fans if it had stormed). I see you shaking your heads in disbelief. Mere coincidence or luck (you say). Wrong!

As of yesterday afternoon, rain was predicted every single day (but one) for the next week+ (I know, my doorman showed me the weather on his iPhone!). Check the NYC weather today, and more importantly, the forecast for the next seven days. Only one day of possible rain (a complete reversal). First 80+ degree days as well.

All it took was getting Ian Axel to perform in NYC, with a full band (well, specifically his full band), and the weather is now perfect. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is! Smile

IanAxelSinging

It’s been 97 days since we’ve seen Ian with his band. We’ve seen Ian and Chad Vaccarino performing together three times in between, as recently as 16 days ago, so don’t worry about any deep withdrawal. Ian’s solo shows and his performances with Chad are magical as well. That said, even though the set lists are often the same, the experiences are dramatically different (both great in their own way).

I have a few nits to pick as well (not about any of the music last night), but you’ll have to read nearly to the bottom if you are interested (no cheating and skipping ahead!).

You can spend an entire day on this site reading everything I’ve written about Ian in the past. I won’t repeat too much of it here.

In addition to playing a more typical (fantastic) Ian Axel set, there were a reasonable number of surprises. At the top of the list was the debut of two new songs: Rockstar and Golddigger (perhaps it’s two words). We’ve seen them performed once before at North Star Bar in Philly, but this was the fist time they were ever played live with a full band. I’ll wager a few dollars that there are still a few audience members who haven’t yet recovered from having their minds blown. At least we had a bit of warning from the duo show. Smile

Pacific Sun was performed very differently. All five band members were clustered together. Chris Kuffner created an organ-like sound on his electric guitar (adding a cool/eerie flavor to the song) and all five sang the chorus together. Excellent.

IanAxelChadVaccarinoAdamChristgauChrisAndersonChrisKuffnerPacificSun

Since I mentioned Chris Kuffner above, let me mention each band member briefly before continuing with the surprises.

Chad Vaccarino was tucked away in the far left-hand corner of the stage. He had a double-decker electronic keyboard setup and was mostly creating organ sounds to complement Ian’s piano sounds. He broke out the trumpet for Hangman and one or two others, to great effect.

ChadVaccarinoSinging

Adam Christgau on drums. We used to see Adam play with various bands (including Ian’s) a couple of times a week. We were quickly spoiled and expected to see him as often going forward, and have other drummers live up to his standard. Then all of sudden, poof, Adam started traveling more and for longer periods, so we don’t get to see him as often. I savor ever single strike of his sticks whenever I can.

AdamChristgauDrums

Last night was no exception, but it wasn’t a robotic reproduction of his previous play either. His fills during the epic This is the New Year varied quite a bit, at some critical moments. I enjoyed it, but my ears were expecting the fills I’ve come to love and it caught me by surprise. For those that are curious, the changes were to a more understated drum pattern, less focus on Adam. Nice, but bring back the more dramatic version, please.

AdamChristgau

Chris Anderson on electric bass. I seem to write about Chris a lot as well, since he plays with a number of bands that we can’t get enough of (I wonder if Chris deserves any credit for that?). Winking smile He was wonderful last night as well. Later, in the nit-picking section, I’ll have a bit more to say (very positive) about the difference between Chris’ play last night and the bassists who were on stage before him.

ChrisAnderson

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. Chris was great as he always is. In addition to the organ effects mentioned above, he also effectively used the slide. But, his best work last night was actually in the set before, so I’ll save that for a bit and describe it where it belongs.

ChrisKuffnerSlideGuitar

Now that the core band has received its due, I can continue with the surprises, which largely involved guests (but not entirely).

Ian brought out Dan Romer, who played accordion on a couple of numbers. Dan produced Ian’s CD (This is the New Year) with the exception of the title song (he is credited with producing the piano track on that song as well). Dan is an icon in the NY music scene (on many levels). Having him on stage is more of a huge Thank You from Ian than a necessary addition to the sound.

DanRomerAccordion

If you’ve been to Ian’s NYC shows in the past, you know exactly what happens when he plays Girl I Got a Thing. It happened last night too, but with some twists. Normally, when Ian starts the song, Glenn Chocky climbs on stage and does his thing (read any of my other NYC-based Ian posts to know what that thing is).

Last night, Ian actually called Chocky up before starting the song. Obviously, we knew what song was about to be played, but clearly there was going to be a twist. First, Chocky came out in a red sweatsuit (track suit). Next, he was carrying a gym bag which he laid on the stage. Third, instead of his signature bourbon in a glass, he had two of them, in plastic cups.

ChockyTrackSuit

Chocky had a surprise in the gym bag. When it came close to the time to shake my tambourine, Chocky opened the bag and started tossing tambourines into the crowd. His timing wasn’t perfect as he got to his a beat or two later than he usually does. It still created a memorable moment. Hundreds of us joined Ian and the band in singing the “Na na na na, Whoah wo” part repeatedly as well.

That wasn’t the last surprise of the song though. Toward the end of the song a Blues Brother’s looking guy walked onto the stage carrying a gong held by a rope (he had white gloves on). He held it unwaveringly, center stage, as Chocky banged the hell out of it for the rest of the song. Smile

ChockyStrikingGong

Another surprise was an added twist to one of Ian’s standards, Waltz. Toward the end of the song they broke out their version of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), returning to finish it off with the end of Waltz.

Ian dismissed the band for one song, removed his glasses and played a perfect version of Say Something.

IanAxelSingingSaySomething

The rest of the surprises came during the encore. Of course there was an encore! I can’t do justice to describing the electricity in the very large crowd throughout the set. Surely, Ian wasn’t getting out of the building without coming back when the set was over.

He returned by himself and played You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman. Ian joked (or perhaps he was serious) on Twitter about starting a Randy Newman cover band. Last night he started it off perfectly, without an actual band (or rather, he was a band of one!).

He called the band out when he was done and they performed You’ll Be OK. During the song, Dan Romer came out and shared the mic with Chad (who was center stage, leading the awesome vocal mayhem). A minute later, Chocky came out and eventually settled on Ian’s bench. He mimed the key phrases, pointing at the crowd (letting us know that We’ll Be OK). Thanks Chocky. Now we will be!

ChadVaccarinoDanRomerChockyIanAxel

I was pretty sure that would be the end (and what a high-note ending it would have been). But no, there’s more!

After Dan and Chocky left the stage, Mike Campbell appeared. Everyone knew exactly what song was about to be played. For those of you playing the home version, it was Shorty Don’t Wait. Smile

MikeCampbellIanAxelChadVaccarino

Mike picked up an acoustic guitar and Ian returned to the ukulele (that he played on Pacific Sun). Chad took the mic at center stage (he kicks off the song). It all started as amazingly as you could hope/expect. After the first verse, there’s a dramatic pause in the music as Chad launches into an incredible vocal beginning to verse #2. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

For the first time in my experience, Chad lost the words for a second. It turned into quite a funny moment as nearly everyone on stage broke down laughing (Chad most of all!). The audience ate it up as well. Chad wanted to pick it up exactly from that point, but Ian would have none of that. As if to punish Chad (I’m kidding), but more importantly to thrill the crowd with an extra verse, Ian insisted they start from the beginning. Thanks Ian, that was the correct call! Smile

From the second Ian walked onto the stage, until the second he walked off, the people all around me (we were right up at the stage) were in a state of rapture (that’s an honest description, and my one and only homage to the numerous hilarious Twitter comments I enjoyed for the past two weeks).

The Spring Standards were co-billed with Ian and appeared right before him. There’s something very fresh about The Spring Standards that isn’t just about their excellent music. They are inventive, passionate, talented people who blend together really well. It’s near impossible not to get sucked into their energy (not that I noticed anyone in the crowd trying to avoid being pulled in!).

I don’t know their music so I won’t rattle off song names (like I can and do with Ian). I’ll attempt to describe what I meant in my adjectives above, but first, who are they? Left-to-right on the stage:

James Cleare on acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, drums, electric bass and vocals (no doubt I left off a dozen other amazing things he did). He’s an excellent singer (more on that later) and a really good guitarist as well (leads on acoustic and electric were really well done).

JamesCleare

Heather Robb on electronic keyboards, drums, percussion, melodica and vocals. Heather is often the visual focal point of The Spring Standards both because she is the constant fixture center stage (the other two swap spots on the edges, often) and because she has enough energy to power the energizer bunny for decades. She sings many of the leads. She’s very impressive in every respect save one.

HeatherRobb

She puts so much power into everything she does, that while she hits every note, more than occasionally, her voice sounds strained. That might actually make her voice more appealing to some, because it’s different, but I’m used to hearing people with more control over their vocals and I notice the difference.

James Smith (I can’t find a good individual link) on electric bass, acoustic guitar, drums, vocals and likely others. Like James Cleare, James Smith has a very good voice and plays all of his instruments well.

JamesSmithGuitarDrumsSetup

Noah Goldman (also no good link) supported The Spring Standards on nearly every song, standing or sitting right behind them. He used to be their road manager (might still be). He played pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass and once or twice banged the daylights of some cymbals and a drum. He did a very nice job on everything, bringing a dancing energy that matches up well with the rest of the group.

NoahGoldman

So, aside from their music, what makes them so interesting?

They take a full drum set and split it apart, putting the various pieces in three separate areas on the stage. The kick drum and some other parts are on the right hand side (where James Smith spends most of his time, but James Cleare is there a reasonable amount as well). High hat cymbal and some other drum parts on the left. The rest of the kit is on either side of Heather, behind the keyboards, with some cymbals and a drum to the right of the keyboards (so that everyone, including Heather, can easily reach that, including Noah).

HeatherRobbKeyboardsDrumsSetup

It’s quite interesting to watch James Smith playing the electric bass and singing, while realizing that the perfectly timed kick drum is being operated by him at the same time. Similarly, watching James Cleare play guitar and harmonica while operating the high hat cymbal tells me that their brains operate more interestingly (if not efficiently) from mine.

Heather does a ton of drumming with sticks and brushes, all while weaving in very good keyboard play. It’s all a joy to watch.

The three of them sing extremely well together. I need to listen to their songs at home to learn them better so that I can enjoy that aspect of their show even half as much as the people around me. There were similar trances (in the most positive sense) on the faces around me as there were for Ian’s set. The other similarity is that everyone seemed to know every word to every song with the exception of the brand new ones (yes, The Spring Standards broke out new material, just like Ian did).

The Spring Standards are extremely well matched to play a show with Ian Axel (well done, whoever thought of pairing them!). So much so, that the next thing I describe was one of the highlights of the night (for me).

As you may know, musicians all over are celebrating Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. He has obviously inspired more singer/songwriters than most, so it’s natural for people to want to salute him, at the least.

The Spring Standards invited Ian and his band (including Dan Romer) on stage and they performed Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. Everyone sang the chorus simultaneously (all nine people on stage plus most of the audience). James Cleare sang most of the lead (Heather joined him on a couple of verses).

James did a fantastic job. He donned sunglasses, had the harmonica holder and played acoustic guitar. There were a few phrases that were extremely close-sounding to Dylan, without the typical over-the-top impersonations where someone’s trying to be more like Frank Caliendo doing Dylan than an honest singer songwriter becoming a little more Dylan-esque.

JamesCleareAsBobDylan

Toward the end of the song Chad Vaccarino came out of the wings, trumpet in hand, and took a simple, but perfect solo. That brought the stage total to 10.

ChadVaccarinoTrumpetIShallBeReleased

In the middle of the song, Chris Kuffner took an absolutely amazing lead. It had a single flaw in it, it was too short. That was a missed opportunity for whoever was running the song to turn to Chris (in amazement) and give him the signal that he simply had to take another turn on the lead guitar.

Anyway, it was so excellent, that when Ian’s band left the stage, Heather correctly joked that perhaps they should have considered closing their set with that number. Anything else might feel anti-climactic now. They played another two or three songs. While they didn’t necessarily have the drama of everyone on stage, there was really no letdown in the final numbers. When The Spring Standards left the stage, it was completely triumphant, with the crowd screaming their heads off.

Here is the set list from The Spring Standards:

SpringStandardsSetList

Madi Diaz opened the show with a full band. She sings (beautifully) and played both electric and acoustic guitar.

MadiDiaz

Madi just recently signed with the same label that Ian is signed with, tinyOGRE. As I type this, she still isn’t listed on their site, but I’m (reasonably) sure it will happen soon enough. Having her open for Ian and The Spring Standards was a good move to get her better recognition in NYC (she’s based in Nashville).

I was completely unaware of Madi’s music before last night. Many were upbeat catchy pop-style numbers, but there were slower ones to mix it up as well. Even the slower numbers had a deliberate beat which made them feel less folky.

Madi’s voice is excellent. She’s roughly 25-years-old. I would describe her voice as sweet (that’s not a negative, but is the only word I can think of to say that somehow, she sounds more like a 16 or 17-year-old who has an excellent voice, rather than someone whose voice sounds more mature, not necessarily better).

Given that she came onto the stage at 8:02pm (I really like that Bowery started the show on time!), the crowd was much thinner than it was later for The Spring Standards and Ian Axel. Even so, most of the people there knew every word to every Madi Diaz song. Her fans were very passionate, often making her smile (but never losing her composure) when they yelled silly things to her.

I’ll mention the band in my usual order, left-to-right on the stage. It has a bit more significance this time, because that’s also the order they contributed to the success of Madi’s set last night (in my opinion). I also have to apologize in advance if I got the drummer’s name wrong. Other than clearly hearing the first guy (and being unable to mistake him once you search, as you’ll see), Madi rattled off the other names in a nearly inaudible manner. I would swear she never even named the keyboard player (I’ll explain below why that’s important).

Kyle Ryan on guitar and vocals. It turns out that Kyle Ryan is actually the second half of Madi Diaz! Confused? Don’t be. In addition to having the name Madi Diaz, the group itself is actually called Madi Diaz as well (I didn’t know that until I looked her up), consisting of Madi (the person) and Kyle Ryan. They write together (much as Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino write together).

KyleRyan

Kyle plays the guitar really well and sings well too. It took a while to realize he sings well, mostly because it felt like he was whispering into his mic. Two guys standing behind me yelled a number of times to him that he should sing louder (that’s what I was thinking, but I’m too old to yell that out, much as I’d like to). Winking smile

Somehow, either they, or Kyle himself caught the attention of the sound guy, who turned up Kyle’s mic a bit (not enough to be at parity with Madi’s voice, but loud enough to tell that their harmony was nice and Kyle can sing).

Adam Popick on drums. Adam was never flashy, even when a song would have allowed it (let alone called for it). That said, my respect for him grew on every song. He was quite an integral part of the sound of each song. Keeping such an excellent and interesting beat, without ever being the focus of attention (except for mine, because I pay a lot of attention to drummers).

AdamPopick

I just looked up his touring schedule, and it seems he plays with some pretty big acts (and opens for a lot of even bigger ones). Clearly, Adam is a very talented musician (I think he plays bass as well, perhaps more often than drums, but I’m not sure).

Bass Player (electric). I just gave up trying to find his name, sorry, but I did work at it. He was fine, but very straight up, nothing that made me pay attention to him (other than a related topic in my nitpicking section).

MadiDiazBassPlayer

I have no idea who the keyboard player was. At the end of her set, Madi mentioned that her normal keyboard player quit 24 hours earlier. She was raving that this guy learned the material in under 24 hours and traveled to play with them. From the beginning of the set, I was thinking that he was barely noticeable (there were a few exceptions) and hardly integral to the sound. I am reasonably sure Madi never named him.

MadiDiazKeyboardPlayer

So, I’m not holding anything against him, or judging his skill. Clearly, he never got a chance to play with them. But, for my taste, Madi Diaz would have been fine with just Madi, Kyle and Adam.

Here is Madi’s set list:

MadiDiazSetList

All in all (even with the nitpicking section to follow immediately), it was one of the more amazing evenings of music in recent memory (and we’ve had many).

I need to put the nitpicking in context. There’s a difference in pointing out things that could stand (or even just benefit from) improvement, vs things that are awful (where the word improvement doesn’t really apply). It’s all a matter of context and relative degrees. Given how great the show was in general, these complaints fall under the category of “should be fixed”, not “ruined my experience”.

On the positive side, the guy who was running the stage (he sat in a booth way above the stage, deep in the left-hand side of the stage, was totally on top of every physical issue and he pounced on them immediately. Early on, he noticed that Adam Popick’s kick drum was sliding forward with each kick (I didn’t notice). He ran down the stairs from his booth, grabbed something like a sand bag from the side and placed it in front of the kick drum feet so that it stopped moving. Very impressive. He continued jumping on problems throughout the show in an efficient manner.

On the negative side, mic volumes weren’t handled as well, as smoothly, or as quickly. I already gave the example where the crowd needed to point out that Kyle was dramatically under-mic’ed. That continued throughout the show, all three sets. Mic’s were turned down when they weren’t in use (good, smart). When someone stepped up to them later on, it often took a full verse for the sound engineer to notice and get it to the correct level (sometimes, it never got correct, but at least became audible).

Chad Vaccarino was plagued by a number of mic mishaps, since he moves around on the stage a lot and switches mic’s. What a shame. He has one of the most special voices around (on a number of levels) and we were cheated out of the first few words more often than I care to remember.

That was a tolerable problem, because it didn’t last long and you were then lost in the vocals once they got it right.

The biggest problem, and I’m not sure where to lay the blame, was the general insane volume of the bass for much of the night.

I mentioned that the first bass player was very “straight up” (which is fine). What wasn’t fine was that he overwhelmed most of the other sounds nearly every time he played a note. This included full-on buzzing at times. Of course, the floor shook (a ton) with every note as well. If he were an extraordinary bassist, it still would have been wrong (even bad), but it might have been interesting as well, which it wasn’t.

I don’t know if it was the Bowery Ballroom sound guy, or the bass player himself cranking his amp and bass to unreasonable levels. I have no idea what it sounds like on the stage. Perhaps the monitor engineer had the levels better set so that it sounded good on stage, but horrible to the audience.

The Spring Standards share the electric bass duties. Both James’ and Noah play the bass at various times. None of them is fancy either (again, fine), with all three doing a nice job. Nice, with the exception that 80% of the time, their bass also overwhelmed the other instruments. One of the nicest songs The Spring Standards performed was when both James’ were on acoustic guitar. Everything was so clean and pleasant. A correctly leveled bass would not have detracted from any of the other songs.

I mentioned above that I would praise Chris Anderson down here. As far as bass playing goes, Chris was dramatically more interesting on every single bass line than the others, combined. But, what was more interesting (shocking) to me was that for the first half of Ian’s set, he was also at a much more reasonable volume (still quite loud, but no distortion).

Then, mysteriously, in the second half of the set, he too became too loud (while maintaining fantastic bass lines, so I was correct in stating above that if you’re going be too loud, you better be interesting as well!). Did Chris change something, or did the sound guy wake up and wonder why the bass wasn’t killing everyone in the front half of the room? We may never know…

Anyway, rather than ruining the show, all it did was make me think about things I shouldn’t have noticed. This was an awesome show that simply could have been much better.

I mentioned above that we’ve seen Ian and Chad three times in a row without the full band. One of those shows was at Jammin’ Java in VA. Another was in Philly. At each of those shows, we brought friends who had never seen them. In both cases our friends fell in love with them. One of our VA friends flew up just to catch this show. Our two Philly friends took the bus up. All three of them left early this morning to return to their normal lives. All three were thankful to have made the effort to soak in last night’s experience.

Before heading to the show, we had an awesome Mexican meal with our out-of-town guests. Note that the two of us on the ends are both proudly wearing our Ian Axel T-Shirts.

HadarOutOfTowners

When the show was first announced, we bought our tickets the day they were available online. I know for a fact that we bought the fourth and fifth tickets sold. At the show (actually in line before the doors opened) we saw Lindsie, who organized the amazing house concert that Ian and Chad performed at in VA. She showed me her ticket and it was #3 sold. Inside, we ended up standing with Lindsie and Alison (another Ian fan whose tweets I’ve seen many times). While I didn’t check Alison’s ticket, I’ll bet it was one of the first sold as well. It’s a badge of honor for a true fan to get tickets early and spend a long time anticipating the great night out!

HadarLindsie

We ran into so many friends at the show it was almost comical. Here are some photos of people that Lois forced to pose for the blog:

AmyRivardElyseShannonTerryElyse

LindsieAlisonMelissaTongJimSamTeichmanKelly

After the show was over, I found myself standing next to none other than Derek James (of Derek James and the Lovely Fools). We chatted for a bit about how absolutely incredible the show was. I made sure to tell Derek that we would be at his show next Wednesday, June 1st, 8pm, Rockwood 1. The original Lovely Fools (Roy Gurel and Assaf Spector), both of whom were away the last time we saw Derek, will be back this time.

If you’re in NYC next Wed, and don’t show up for this set, you have no idea what damage you’re doing to your immortal soul. Come, experience the outrageous fun that is a Derek James and the Lovely Fools set. You won’t regret it! Smile

Jesse Terry, Michael Logen and Carley Tanchon at a House Concert

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For people who see live music as often as we do, I’m still amazed that it’s only been eight months since our first-ever house concert. We’ve been to a reasonable number of them since. Last night brought us full circle. We attended a concert at the same house that kicked it off, with the same headliner, with two other artists.

I’m normally very long winded (for the newcomers here, it’s because I write purely for myself, to remember the events in detail). Today, since I’ve written about all three performers (Jesse most of all), I’ll be briefer about them. You can click through above to see more about Jesse from the last house concert, or the links below for my coverage of Michael and Carley. You’re welcome! Smile

Jesse Terry was spectacular (again). In addition to selecting (and performing) a great set, he was on fire with his banter (quick and witty). He dedicated two songs to our amazing hostess. He dedicated another to a therapist in the room (a deeply moving song called Silver Hills, that melted everyone’s heart when Jesse introduced it). He dedicated another to Lois (I think just because he knew he could make her cry, he’s cruel that way!). Winking smile

JesseTerryGuitar

Jesse made reference to a video shot in Vanuatu. He mentioned that it’s the last documented case of cannibalism (we found out later it was roughly 25 years ago). None of the people in the video look like they were involved in that incident, but you never know, so be careful (especially of the one guy who dances behind Jesse, looking a little too happy!). The woman in the pink dress is now Jesse’s wife (not yet when the video was shot) and the woman in the straw hat, bikini top and shorts is Carley, another of the performers last night:

Ain’t No Tellin by Jesse Terry

Here’s Jesse telling the story about the video:

JesseTerryBanter

And the lovely ladies who appear in the video:

JessTerryCarleyTanchon

And the effect the story had on Carley!

CarleyTanchonLaughing

Michael Logen alternated songs with Jesse (like he did the only other time we’ve seen him). This time it was only acoustic guitar (he played the grand piano as well at Rockwood). I’ll repeat that Jesse was right when he said we’d love Michael, we do!

MichaelLogenGuitar

Michael has a wonderful voice, plays the guitar and harmonica beautifully, and writes excellent songs, many of which are very moving. We were happy to buy his CD last night, Things I Failed to Mention (we ran out too quickly after the Rockwood show), so now we’ll get to hear them over and over.

MichaelLogenHarmonica

At Rockwood, Michael harmonized with Jesse on Noise (a song they co-wrote), while accompanying him on the piano. Last night, he also harmonized (beautifully) and accompanied Jesse on the guitar. In fact, Michael added a bit of harmony to a few of Jesse’s songs last night (and Jesse returned the favor once or twice). I was sitting less than two feet from Michael, so I could hear every note, but Lois asked him to sing his harmonies louder, because they were so well done!

Carley Tanchon opened the show. We had a tiny taste of Carley, singing harmony with Jesse on one song at The Bitter End. Then we finally got to see her goods at her CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. That was a full band, all-out Rock ‘N Roll show.

Last night was solo with acoustic guitar. Still, everything I said about her in that show applies. Aside from the generic fact that Carley has a stunning voice, it’s a bit hard to imagine a better fitting voice for a house concert. No microphone? No problem! Her voice projects so clearly and cleanly. She has such power, but there’s no yelling about it.

CarleyTanchonPerforming

Jesse called Carley up to sing harmony on Ain’t No Tellin (the video above). Of course, the harmony was gorgeous.

They closed the show by calling Carley back up again and all three (but mostly Jesse and Carley) sang To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees. Of course they nailed it, but more interestingly, nearly everyone sang the chorus with them, quite well.

Excluding an intermission, they played for three hours (or a bit more!). It was by far the longest house concert we’ve seen. It was awesome, but made for a very late night, since we still had to drive back to Manhattan from Long Island.

Here are a few photos from before and after the show:

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Now that I’ve gotten the music out of the way, let’s get to real point of last night, eating our hostess’ food! Ah, you think I jest, but I don’t! Last year’s meal was one of the best home cooked meals I’ve had. I’ll admit (now) that I was bit nervous if the second time around would live up to my own memories and expectations.

OurAmazingHosts

No need to worry! There was an even bigger choice, so there were a few dishes I didn’t get to taste, but everything I ate (which was a lot of variety) was simply amazing. Pasta Puttanesca, Beet Salad, Rigatoni with meat sauce, Meatballs, Tandoori Chicken, Indian-spiced Chickpeas (cooked, not a salad), Bean Dip with Chips, Homemade Breads (made by a male guest!).

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Every bite was excellent, but I still can’t get the taste of the meatballs out of my head. If my godson had been there, I don’t think they could have gotten him to leave. Winking smile

The reason I didn’t eat everything (I skipped the Poached Salmon, Asparagus Salad, Grilled Chicken, Basmati Rice, Veggie Wraps and a few other dishes) is because last year I was too full to enjoy the incredible desserts. Since I am occasionally capable of learning from my mistakes, I saved room.

While trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid stares from Lois, I did indeed indulge in a number of desserts during intermission and after the show. They were all amazing, but I have to shout out to the chocolate covered strawberries (OMG) and the blond-mini-kisses covered pretzels. Desserts were provided by a variety of guests, so a special thank you to all of you!

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Merry, you outdid yourself! So, now I’m already nervous about the next house concert and what you will serve to delight me (that’s why you’re doing these shows, right?). Smile

The Southern Wedding

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One of the major events in being a godparent is seeing your godchild get married. Nearly three years ago we got our first taste when Laura married Chris (captured in this post). This past Saturday, her brother (David) completed this stage by marrying the most wonderful woman (Rebecca) we could have imagined for him.

We arrived in Birmingham, AL late Monday. The festivities began in earnest on Tuesday morning, when we helped David’s parents move the remaining belongings from his apartment to his bride-to-be’s home. The ladies packed and scrubbed, the men hauled and drove. The next morning we sat in the new home waiting for the cable guy (he was only five minutes late, but that was five minutes after the full allotted time). In other words, a zesty start. Winking smile

On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we had wonderful meals with the groom, his parents and his future in-laws. That’s more like it! Smile

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(All photos in the post can be clicked on for larger versions that will open in a separate tab/window. A few of them are courtesy of another wedding guest, Maggie, who took great shots with a better camera. I didn’t ask permission before snagging them, so I hope Maggie is OK with it, or doesn’t see this blog…) Winking smile

Thursday became more wedding-y. I picked up my tux (yes, it was a big deal, those of you who know me, are either smiling or shaking your head in disbelief while reading that). Not just a tux, one with tails!

After that, it was off to the bachelor party. If you’re easily offended, you might want to skip ahead now. Just kidding! David is a devout Christian, as was everyone in the entire wedding party, so no one needed to worry about any possible debauchery with this crowd. One of those times that the bride could concentrate on her night out with the gals, without wondering what was happening across town.

We started off the evening with bowling. If you know me, you know that’s right up my alley (I know, but I couldn’t resist, sorry!). Eight of us bowled two games each.

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Not to brag, but to remember this years later, I started off my second game with four consecutive strikes. It devolved from there, but I still ended up with a 185. The photo below shows the name Bob next to that score. Bob left after the first game to pick up another reveler and asked me to bowl for him. When he returned, I had just finished up the fourth frame. He took over my game on the second lane and kindly let me play out his.

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We then headed over to Buffalo Wild Wings, picking up a few more people who couldn’t make it over in time for bowling. We watched ACC Basketball while drinking some beer (that’s as wild as it got) and enjoying an excellent meal (my first time at a BWW, I’d happily return).

After that we headed back to the hotel and played poker for a couple of hours in the breakfast area. We got to greet more wedding guests as they arrived late into the night. Speaking of late arrivals, the groom’s sister and her husband were delayed getting out of NYC and arrived after 3am!

Anyone that wasn’t part of the bachelor or bachelorette night out was invited for a meal at the bride’s parents’ home. On Friday, the bride’s father called the groom’s father and told him to bring people over for leftovers (the gals were having a bride and bridesmaids tea). I knew that the bride’s mom was an excellent cook and baker already (we’ve had quite a number of meals there), but her leftover chicken salad (with red grapes in it) still took me completely by surprise (straight out of the fridge). Wow!

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Here are some photos from the tea:

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We were supposed to be at the church at 5pm for the rehearsal. I have come to trust my GPS. It rarely lets me down. It didn’t this time either. It took me exactly where I told it to. Unfortunately, I punched in the wrong address (a different church). Oops, operator error. Still, even after fighting traffic from the wrong church to the correct one, we walked in the door at precisely 5pm. Whew.

One example of the lighthearted spirit during the rehearsal. When they were practicing placing the rings, there was more fumbling than exchanging. The Pastor, Dr. Dennis W. Foust (who is the doppleganger for Bill Engvall, in my opinion) said to David: “It feels like this is your first time”. Perfect! Smile

The bride’s family is very large (she has four siblings, three of whom are married, each with at least two children). Most of the kids (ages 2+) were part of the ceremony (ring bearers, flower girls, junior bridesmaid). During the rehearsal, one of the two-year-old boys was told to go up the stairs and stand in a certain position. He declared, loudly, that he didn’t want to go up there, because he didn’t want to get married! Winking smile

On to the rehearsal dinner. At some weddings this is a very small gathering, restricted to the wedding party only. Even if this one were restricted to that subset, it would have been a large party. Since everyone on the groom’s side was an out-of-towner, with his family hailing from Richmond, VA and Lincoln, NE, The Preserve (the very special place where the rehearsal dinner was hosted) was at capacity, 100 people!

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Everything about the dinner was fantastic (the food, prepared by “Chef Bob”), the wine (brought by the groom’s dad from Richmond) and the company. After the meal, they projected a slide show with music. The photos were of David and Rebecca from babies all the way through to couple-hood. The families submitted the photos. The presentation was put together by Laura (David’s sister) and her husband Chris.

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Laura selected perfect songs to accompany every stage of each of David and Rebecca’s lives. This culminated in a huge surprise for us when we heard the song she picked for David and Rebecca coming together (photos of the two of them over the past 18 months). Our own Ian Axel’s We Are. Here are a few of the lyrics, to give you a sense of why I think her choice was perfect:

I’ll believe in you if you believe in me

We are the lucky ones

I won’t let you down (repeated 16 times!)

Sounds just about right to me. If every married couple took those three lines to heart there would be no divorce!

After that, speeches from some of the bridesmaids and groomsmen (including the dad, who was also the Best Man!). With each speech came humor, love, celebration and some added understanding of how/why both David and Rebecca are so special (individually and as a couple).

That was followed by Rebecca and David giving speeches of their own, both extremely moving. The Dad led us in a toast and we called the night before the big day over.

The week started out with horrible weather: heavy rain (and cold) punctuating Tuesday and Wednesday. In fact, on Wednesday evening, the rain was so hard, it felt like a portent of end-of-days to me (or at least the return of the need for an Ark). Thursday was dry but cold. Friday was very nice, but still a tad on the chilly side.

Saturday, the big day, was extraordinary. Low 70’s, sunny, crisp, perfect. Someone was smiling on our happy couple!

After gathering for breakfast in the hotel, various groups of people went off to explore the city (Botanical Gardens, Vulcan Park, Civil Rights Museum). The boys (lots of ‘em) went to the park and burned off their nervous energy.

Breakfast

Lois and I met up with them and most of their wives for lunch, at one of my favorite BBQ places, Jim ‘N Nicks (this was my fourth location, many more to try). Not including babies (at least three), there were 18 of us at lunch. Another winning meal in a week full of them.

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Barely time to clean up and get dressed for the wedding party to get to the church for photos. For the groomsmen and ushers (and me), it was mostly a game of hurry up and wait. The Duke game was on. David and a number of his groomsmen are Duke graduates. Tim (a groomsman and brother of the bride) performed yeoman’s duty and got a PC in the music room hooked up to a giant screen and streamed the game on ESPN3.com. Yay! Duke won (of course!).

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Lois snuck some photos of her own, before we gathered for the professional photo shoot:

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Since there were very few posed photos of the groomsmen, I won’t have trouble selecting one:

Groomsmen

After the photo session people started streaming in. As I mentioned, the bride has a very big family. Also, since she was getting married in the church that the family has been attending for decades, the guest list was very large. When everyone was seated it was time for the seating of the Grandparents and Parents. As godparents, we were the first to walk down the aisle (hence my wearing of the tails!). After us came the parents, followed by Rebecca’s one remaining grandmother.

LoisHadarGrandmotherRebecca

I mentioned above that Rebecca is one of five siblings. Actually, she is one of six, but the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, passed away nearly 21 years ago. In an extremely moving tribute to her loving memory, one of Rebecca’s sisters walked down the aisle, up the stairs in the center and lit a candle next to a bouquet of flowers. Amazing Grace was played on the horn to commemorate her short time on earth.

Everyone in Rebecca’s family plays a brass instrument (amazingly well). Including the parents, there are two trumpet players and five horn players (that’s the politically correct name for what used to be called the French Horn). To honor the love of brass instruments, there were two brass quintets, one on each side of the church (10 brass instruments in all, for those of you who didn’t feel like doing the math yourselves). Rebecca’s brother Tim (of the Duke fame above) performed double duty. He played the horn with the quintet on the left and also stood for the ceremony as one of the groomsmen (very busy day for Tim!).

The brass quintets were awesome in playing Canzona Per Sonare No. 2 by Giovanni Gabrieli as the Processional began.

The Bridal Processional was equally incredible. First, because she’s a stunning woman (not just a stunning bride), judge for yourself from the accompanying photos. Second, because the quintets continued to impress with Canzon Duodecimi Toni also by Gabrieli.

When the entire wedding party was in place the Reverend (Dr. Foust) greeted them and the congregation. After that, there were two Scripture Readings, one by Rebecca’s sister-in-law and the other by Laura.

The Marriage Vows were led by Dr. Foust. The Exchange of Rings was led by David’s uncle, a Reverend from Richmond, Dr. James Colvin. David and Rebecca then lit the Unity Candle.

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Reverend Colvin led us all in prayer followed by both Reverends simultaneously pronouncing David and Rebecca husband and wife, instructing them: “You may now Kiss your Spouse!” (that was a new one for me, I like it!). Since we were first in, we were last out in the Recessional.

The wedding party and families stayed at the church for additional photos while everyone else proceeded to the reception. We joined them all for a terrific celebration.

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For those of you who know us, you know that Lois and I attend a wee bit more than our fair share of live music. Over the years, we’ve dragged many guests along with us (some kicking and screaming), including our godchildren and their spouses. When we heard that Laura chose one of Ian Axel’s songs (someone we introduced her to) it was obviously gratifying.

Apparently, we had a musical effect on David as well. For the mother/son dance, he selected a song by another of our favorite artists, Vienna Teng. They danced to Harbor, another perfect choice (in my opinion). A few select lyrics (in case you require proof!): Winking smile

The light in me will guide you home

All I want is to be your harbor

You’ve got a journey to make

There’s your horizon to chase

So go far beyond where we stand

No matter the distance I’m holding your hand

Seriously, can a mother say anything more beautiful and meaningful to her son on the day she’s letting him go? I didn’t think so!

The father/daughter dance was to Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman. Another perfect choice. Unfortunately, we can’t take credit for that one. Winking smile

Both of those dances were serious affairs. When David and Rebecca danced their first dance (Feels Like Home by Chantal Kreviazuk), a much more lighthearted moment was created. Prancing on to the dance floor was a 2.5-year-old from Richmond, who just wanted to dance with the happy couple. The first photo shows them noticing something low, approaching them. Then David appears to be high fiving her in the second photo, before she was coaxed back to her parents. Precious!

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The rest of the evening was filled with music by a jazz quartet. The female sax player was incredible as was the electric guitarist.

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There were two absolutely incredible cakes, one for the bride and one for the groom. That made for two cake-cutting photo ops. Since the cakes were on opposite sides of the room, it enhanced the chance that guests would catch at least one. I caught both.

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I also caught the photo op (Lois didn’t, so I don’t have a photo to attach) with the person who introduced David and Rebecca. If she ever stops wanting to be a doctor (at least I believe she is), she can probably make a living as a matchmaker!

In a shocking turn of events, while the cakes were being cut, a group of hoodlums were vandalizing the couple’s car outside. It turns out that some good samaritans caught it all on camera, so the police shouldn’t have too much trouble bringing them to justice! Smile

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Hoodlums

We all lined up outside to send the happy couple off on their well-deserved honeymoon. May they enjoy it at least a drop as much as the rest of us enjoyed sharing the last few days with them!

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A few straggler photos:

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Paper Raincoat and Gregory Alan Isakov at Highline Ballroom

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Looking for a night of good music in NYC? Every night of the week will present difficult choices. Occasionally, those decisions achieve Solomonic proportions. Last night was one of those nights. I had Carley Tanchon and Joey Ryan in our calendar for quite a while. Carley was appearing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 at 7pm and Joey was at Rockwood 2 at 9pm.

Everything changed when a month ago, The Paper Raincoat (TPR) announced that they were appearing at Highline Ballroom on the same night. It’s not (necessarily) the case that we would always choose to see TPR over Joey. It’s that opportunities to see TPR live are rarer nowadays than they used to be.

We last saw TPR on September 7th, 2010. We have seen Joey live three times since then.

TPR was sandwiched between two other acts. I’ll cover them first since we showed up expressly to see them.

TPR is comprised of two people, Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth. They (nearly) always have a drummer, but which one will show up to any particular show has been a surprise lately (last night included). They often have special guests join them, last night was no exception.

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The 9-song set was well chosen, kicking off with perhaps my favorite TPR song, Brooklyn Blurs.

The second song was Sympathetic Vibrations with its signature audience-participatory clapping. Our table (well, four of the six of us) clapped on cue (perfectly if I may say so myself). But, it seemed to us that very few people in the extremely crowded audience were clapping with us.

We must have been correct, because a little bit later in the song, ambeR looked at Alex and said that it might be a good idea to teach the audience the clap (it’s sophisticated) Winking smile. After the lesson, more people joined us.

The next song, Motion Sickness has become a sing-along in the last year (mostly at solo Alex Wong shows). Half the audience sings the na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na part and the other half sings the ah, ah, ah ah ah part. Alex always seems to get the entire audience doing their part. Last night, the singing was anemic (except for our table, again).

I can’t tell whether the majority of the audience was unfamiliar with TPR or they were shy.

After playing The Same Old Things, Rough Cut, Don’t Be Afraid and Right Angles, they played another favorite (OK, I admit that the entire set was comprised of favorites), It All Depends. First, a photo of Alex and ambeR playing the keyboards together on Right Angles:

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As they started It All Depends, Alex tossed (yes, actually threw) a tambourine at Lois. I was shocked and impressed when she caught it without flinching.

Tambourine

The rest of us did our clapping part until the finale, where Alex (and shortly after) ambeR both joined the drummer with all three of them drumming on the same drum set at the same time. I never tire of it and I never will! Of course, without Lois’ tambourine play, the entire song would just be boring. Winking smile

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They closed the set with their signature a cappella Rewind, wonderfully!

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The drummer for last night was Sarab Singh who is the regular drummer for a hot local group, Harper Blynn (they have a new site coming too). We’ve seen Sarab once before, supporting ambeR’s solo show at Highline as well. He’s very good, but it took a few songs for him to settle into a good rhythm with TPR. The kick drum was mic’ed too loud and made my hair flutter every time he kicked it.

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Alex is an amazing producer. TPR’s self-titled CD (absolutely incredible) is but one of his masterpieces. One of Alex’s specialties is crafting string arrangements that blend perfectly with Pop music. Last night we were treated to two top musicians playing some of those arrangements live.

Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa was wonderful (as always) throughout the set, but in particular, the opening for Right Angles is all violin.

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David Fallo on viola. David too was wonderful (as always) throughout. He too was highlighted a number of times, most notably on Don’t Be Afraid where David took the lead.

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Another surprise occurred during Rough Cut. There is a local dance troupe called Insight Dance Company. Last year they set a ballet to the music of Ian Axel. They are currently working on a number of pieces by TPR and will be putting on a show in the Spring (I believe). ambeR called them up (six of them, I believe) to dance while TPR performed Rough Cut. It was interesting, but the stage was definitely an obstacle course for the dancers. It will be more interesting to see them in their own element.

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After a 20-minute break, the headliner (co-billed) took the stage.

Gregory Alan Isakov sings, plays the guitar and the harmonica. I’ve heard of him but knew nothing about his music. He headlined a show at Highline where Rosi Golan opened for him. We had hoped to make that show but couldn’t. I’m told he played solo that night. Last night he was joined by three musicians.

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I was impressed by Gregory’s voice, very rich and clear. That said, he had a setup I’ve never seen before, two microphones inches apart. One was normal and the other had a couple of effects attached to it (including heavy reverb, but more importantly, a vocal distortion). While it was technically interesting to see him switch (even in the middle of a song) from one mic (and sound) to another, I strongly preferred the normal mic to the more synthesized voice. It’s a gimmick (to me) and I can do without it.

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It’s often tough for me to hang on to lyrics when seeing someone new the first time. Aside from the fact that there is so much else going on (when there are other musicians), big spaces aren’t conducive for really close listening. Still, on occasion I heard some very interesting phrases making me feel that Gregory is a poet first and foremost, but it will require more listening for me to be sure.

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

Philip Parker on cello and vocals. Phil did a really nice job on the cello. He actually played it as much as an upright bass (plucking it) as he did as a cello (with a bow). While I could see him move his lips on many songs, I would be lying if I said I could hear a single sound coming from his mic. Before I got to say that to Lois, she told me that she thought he did a nice job singing with Gregory, so it might have just been me who couldn’t pick out his voice.

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Jeb Bows on violin. I was very impressed with Jeb’s play and felt that he was the most critical part of enhancing Gregory’s sound. Gregory came out for a two-song encore, the first of which was just Gregory and Jeb, validating my feeling that Jeb was more central to Gregory’s sound. On a number of songs Jeb plucked the violin. We’ve seen that before (in fact Melissa did it during the TPR set). But, for the first time in my experience, much of Jeb’s plucking sounded a lot like a mandolin. Cool!

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James Han on electronic keyboards. James had two keyboards placed at a right angle. He swiveled to play one or the other. His play was quite understated, but also excellent. It fit the mood of Gregory’s music very well.

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Paul Dempsey opened the show at 7pm on the dot (always a pleasure when shows start when they’re supposed to). He has an easy charm, a good voice and plays the guitar well enough to accompany himself. His song intros (very short) amused us. Other than a few choice phrases though, I can’t say that the lyrics made an impression on me.

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He played for exactly half an hour.

Six of us had dinner before the show. The food and drinks at Highline are always a treat and our service last night was excellent as well. Another fun night out with friends, sharing some laughs, some food and a lot of music.

Martin Rivas and Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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There was an all-star triple-header lineup at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. Robbie Gil at 9pm, Martin Rivas at 10pm and the Greg Mayo Band at 11pm. I was committed to seeing Martin and Greg, but I was really looking forward to catching Robbie’s set as well. The best laid plans… I’ll end the post with why/how I missed Robbie’s set (again).

Lois didn’t make the show (see why at the bottom). All complaints about photo quality go to me, but I was also further away, so there was little I could do. As you’ll see below, tons of people on stage, some were basically out of view for much of the show.

As is typical for a big lineup Saturday at Rockwood, three things could be counted on:

  • Capacity crowd (great on most levels, crappy on a few)
  • Sets starting late (due to setup time and fans insisting on longer sets than scheduled)
  • Awesome music

Martin Rivas had a full(er) band. He opened the show with seven people on stage, but after three (or four?) numbers, he brought out a horn section as well, bringing the number of people on stage to 10. That was a new record for the number of people on stage at the same time at Rockwood for a show that I was at. Later on, Martin had two separate guests join, setting the new record at 11.

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This was a typical Martin Rivas show:

  • Incredible energy from every band member
  • Incredible energy from every audience member
  • Lots of Soul, Funk and Rock, sprinkled with other stuff
  • Generosity from Martin, giving solos to (nearly) every band member (no bass solo)
  • Freshly baked cookies passed around the audience (Lois, no worries, amazingly, the cookies never passed me, so I didn’t have to show any restraint!) Winking smile
  • Pins passed around the audience (Sam Teichman made sure I got one, but he did not make sure I got a cookie, or Lois secretly got to him and he made sure I didn’t!)
  • Spirits lifted

Given how many people played across these two sets, I’ll get right to it, left-to-right, front-to-back on the stage, supporting Martin:

Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and vocals. They lifted the grand piano off the stage (one of the cool sights at Rockwood 2). Patrick was his usual excellent self, including a few great solos.

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Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and vocals. Another fantastic performance from an all-around star. I’ll have a couple more things to say about Chris when I get to the other guitarist, Greg Mayo.

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Ryan Vaughn on percussion. If you can bang it or shake it, Ryan was doing it.

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Craig Meyer on drums. Craig is always wonderful. We saw him a week ago supporting Rachel Platten. The difference in styles (including the drum kit itself) between that type of performance and last night is dramatic. Craig handles it all. He was such an integral part of the upbeat sound keeping everything hopping. (No photo, sorry!)

John Liotta on the baritone sax. Excellent. He was more prominent in the next set, but held his own in this one.

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Wayne Tucker on trumpet. Wayne was terrific. He took a couple of solos, including one where he played a few notes staccato at very high speed for a few bars, very tasty, adding to the funk sounds beautifully.

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From my vantage point, it appeared to me that Wayne’s right cheek was bruised with a shiner the likes of which I hadn’t seen for a very long time. Every time he puffed his cheek to play, I winced on his behalf. You’ll have to stick around (or skip ahead) to the next set to find out how wrong I was. Smile

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Dan Voss on tenor sax. This was our first time seeing Dan play. He was excellent. One of the people I was standing with told me that he’s a real pro. I have no reason to doubt that from last night’s performance!

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Brian Killeen on electric bass. Another extremely solid performance from Brian. Martin’s full band sound requires a very solid bottom to keep things going and Brian and Craig are well matched to deliver.

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Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. I can’t get enough of Greg’s guitar play and last night was no exception. Every time he stops his leads, I wait impatiently for the next one. He and Chris Kuffner trade off the leads, each with their own excellent style. On a few numbers (most notably the closer), they took independent simultaneous leads (very different from each other). It was mind-blowingly satisfying.

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Chrissi Poland joined Martin to sing lead and harmony vocals. Chrissi has such a wonderful and powerful voice and is so well-suited to soul music. Their duets are a real crowd favorite. When she was on stage, there were 11 performers. Since the record is for shows I attend, I am the sole arbiter (and counter) of who holds the record. Martin actually looked at me and asked if this was the record. Indeed it was. Smile

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Rebecca Haviland joined Martin to sing lead and harmony vocals. Like Chrissi, Rebecca has a very big voice, also suited to soul (among many other genres). She was great (as she always is). The record stood at 11, since Chrissi and Rebecca were not on stage at the same time.

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Martin had a number of family members in the audience, including his sister and aunt. His aunt might be his biggest fan. She kept flying out of her seat, singing, clapping over her head, screaming and dancing. You’d think she was a teen with the energy she displayed.

When the set was over it was difficult to stand in place. People were coming and going, pushing and shoving (not in a mean way, it was necessary simply to get through the crowd). The person I was standing with spotted two people leaving their seats 1/2 way across the club. She headed there to see if it was just temporary. Amazingly, when she got there, the seats were still available. It took me a while to work my way through (rather around) the crowd, but she held the seat for me. To quote her: “It’s nice to sit!”. Amen! Smile

The Greg Mayo Band is a relatively recent discovery for us, but they made our favorites list instantly, so we were really looking forward to this set. To remove any mystery, they remain high on our favorites list.

The core band consists of eight members. Last night, Greg had a few special guests, one of whom played on every song making the minimum number of people on stage nine.

The similarities with the prior set are the basic style of music (Greg’s band concentrates on Funk and Soul, with some good old fashioned Rock as well). The differences aren’t huge, but they’re noticeable and material. Martin’s sets are very guitar heavy (three of them on the stage at all times) and Greg’s set is very piano centric (they brought the grand piano back down for Greg to play and he played electronic keyboards as well).

The other difference is that Martin rarely has a horn section and Greg always does. The horns were a wonderful addition to Martin’s set, but they are extremely integral to Greg’s sound, much more highlighted with more and longer solos. Finally, Greg has a full-time female voice to sing harmony with, while Martin’s regular vocalists are male.

This show was billed as a Valentine’s Day extravaganza, which will become important in a minute.

Let’s cover the band, again left-to-right, front-to-back.

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. I have a single complaint about Rebecca’s role in the Greg May Band: give us more Rebecca! She does sing some lead, but not enough. She and Greg sing so beautifully together, but there too she takes a back seat and doesn’t sing as much harmony with Greg as I’d like.

RebeccaHavilandSinging

The above is meant to compliment Rebecca. Greg has a wonderful voice and I can listen to him sing alone all night. Together is better, it’s that simple. Smile

Erik White on tambourine (and mic-less vocals!). Erik was a special guest. He was the original guitarist in the Greg May Band. He projected energy on stage throughout the show, singing with Greg even though he didn’t have a mic (except for one song when the brass section walked off the stage and Rebecca shared her mic with Erik). He played some seriously good tambourine. He wasn’t just a prop.

ErikWhite

John Liotta on baritone sax. Highlighted a bit more in Greg’s set, John did a wonderful job.

Wayne Tucker on trumpet. Another excellent job. Since we moved to seats that were behind the piano, I had a very different vantage point on what I had thought was a terrible shiner on Wayne’s right cheek. It turns out it was a large red heart (looked like it was drawn in red lipstick). Made sense with the Valentine’s Day theme, but I missed it during Martin’s set. I was glad Wayne wasn’t injured after all. Winking smile

WayneTuckerHeart

Matt Simons on tenor sax. Matt is another incredible musician. We just saw him perform a few days earlier in VA, playing electronic keyboards and singing. Last night, he was master of the sax (I love his play!). Come to Rockwood 2 this Saturday night (2/19/2011) at 11pm for a 90-minute set which Matt is headlining (with guest, Chris Ayer). It’s a longer set than usual, so that we can all celebrate Matt’s birthday at midnight. Smile

MattSimons

Kenny Shaw on drums. Kenny keeps up perfectly with the upbeat tempos of the Greg Mayo Band. Well suited to this style of music.

KennyShaw

Chris Anderson on electric bass (and probably some vocals, but I only caught a few glimpses of Chris). Chris is one of our favorite bassists. He too played in the same VA show that Matt did a few days ago, but that night he played upright bass. We’ll see him again this Wednesday when he plays with Ian Axel for his CD Release Show. Another performance that is perfectly suited to this band and coupled tightly with Kenny Shaw’s drumming. (Horrible photo, sorry!)

ChrisAnderson

Paul Maddison on electric guitar and vocals. Paul did a very nice job, taking a well-known lead on one of the covers. He also sang well. The Greg Mayo band doesn’t highlight the guitar that much so I look forward to catching Paul in one of his other projects (most notably Julius C).

PaulMaddison

The above was the core band last night. Greg brought up another special guest very early in the show.

Matt Abatelli on tenor sax. Matt was a founding member of the band but doesn’t appear to play with them regularly any longer. Matt Simons stepped off the stage to make way for Matt Abatelli (apparently, you have to be named Matt in order to qualify to play the tenor sax in this band!). Winking smile (No photo, sorry!)

Given his stature with the band, Greg chose a song to highlight Matt right from the get-go. Matt (Abitelli) didn’t disappoint. He wailed on the sax and I look forward to catching him again in a longer set.

Greg’s birthday was 6 weeks ago. You can only imagine his surprise when Rebecca announced that the band bought him a special gift, albeit a little late. She asked us all to sing Happy Birthday to Greg (which we did) and asked Greg to open the gift and show it to us. It was a bag of custom guitar picks. On one side, it said “Greg Mayo”. On the other, “How you doin’ y’all?”. Perfect! Smile

GregMayoBeerGregMayoBirthdayGift

After a very satisfying set, Greg announced that if we made enough noise after his next (and last) number, they would do an encore to give a proper sendoff to two of the musicians who played the earlier set. You shouldn’t have to ask whether there was enough cheering to keep them on stage.

Both Patrick Firth and Ryan Vaughn are leaving shortly for an extended tour to Russia, supporting John Forte. Greg wanted to give them a proper sendoff.

He called both of them on the stage. Ryan took control of the full drum set. Kenny Shaw moved over to play percussion (exactly what Ryan did the set before). Patrick just took to a microphone to sing (lead and harmony). If that was it, that would have just tied the record for 11 people on stage at the same time.

PatrickFirthVocals

Records are meant to be broken, even if they were set just an hour earlier. Greg also called up Martin Rivas to sing and Matt Abatelli on the sax (this time, Matt Simons stayed on stage!). Uh oh, that smashed Martin’s record with 13 people on stage! Well, technically, there were only 12 people on stage, because Paul Maddison played the entire song standing on his amp! Yes, it was that jam packed on the stage and he’s that much of a rock star. Winking smile

Martin looked over to me and said “Oh well, at least I held the record for a bit…”. Indeed, he ousted Alex Berger before being ousted himself.

Earlier, Sam Teichman told me that during the second Soul Revue Benefit (which we missed because we were out of town), they had either 13 or 14 people on stage at the same time (he’s going to send me a video to prove it). I don’t doubt him, but this record doesn’t count if I’m not there, so, nice try Sam! Smile

Here is Greg’s set list:

GregMayoSetList

Circling back to why I missed Robbie Gil, again…

Four of us had an absolutely incredible meal at The Green Table in the Chelsea Market. Organic food that was delectable, served by people who we enjoyed interacting with.

OrganicBeefOrganicRoastChickenCrabCakes

Lois wasn’t feeling too well even before dinner, but it was early enough for her to push herself. After the meal, she grabbed a cab home. Two of us got into a car and headed east to Rockwood. Cross-town traffic was slow so it took a bit longer to get there than expected. Then we circled a few times looking for a non-existent spot. Eventually, the driver forced me out of the car so I could get in line for Martin’s show (Robbie’s was a distant memory).

I waited outside for over 30 minutes (yes, it was very cold). Robbie’s set was packed to the gills (no pun intended) and it appeared from the outside that they were tearing the house down. I am determined to catch his set one of these days, sooner rather than later.

When the show was over, a little after 1am, there were a dozen people looking for a cab, with none available. I eventually walked over a mile and while waiting for the bus (for quite a while) finally caught a cab the rest of the way home. I walked in the apartment at 2:10am. Yippee. I loved the entire evening/night (with the exception of the 30 minutes waiting in the cold), but I’m too old to be acting like a kid.

William and Mary 2011 Alumni Medallion Award Winners

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Truly generous people don’t require thanks or recognition (not that it’s not completely appreciated!). They give because it’s one of the things that defines them and their beliefs. Generosity/giving comes in many forms. On occasion, it becomes obvious to many people how special a particular person is and we get together in groups to recognize and honor a lifetime’s worth of achievements. Yesterday was just such a day for five incredible people.

For many of us, our memories and affiliation with our university lasts a lifetime. I know roughly a dozen graduates of the College of William and Mary and can say unequivocally that each of those will be grateful for their experience and education at W&M throughout their lives. Yesterday, the W&M Alumni Association presented five exceptional people with the Medallion Award for 2011.

Each of these people built a career and a life on the foundation that they received at W&M. We have the privilege of calling one of them, Bob Mooney, our life-long friend. We had the additional privilege of hearing about the extraordinary accomplishments of the other four recipients and sharing their stories with their proud families and friends.

The ceremony began with the very talented W&M choir (undergrads who got up on a rainy Saturday morning to entertain and amaze us). They also closed the ceremony with an incredible rendition of Oh Shenandoah followed by the W&M Alma Mater.

WilliamAndMaryChoirWarmingUp

After some introductory remarks from the Vice President and President of the Alumni Association (both excellent speakers), each of the five recipients was introduced by another alumni via a video presentation. I will link each of the recipient’s names to the W&M page which houses those videos so that you can see some (and I stress that’s it’s only some) of the accomplishments that each of these people has achieved.

After each video presentation, the recipient of the Medallion Award gave a speech at the podium. It should surprise no one that all of them gave inspirational (and extremely humorous and self-deprecating) talks. It was obvious why each of these people has been able to move mountains by inspiring others to work with them. None of them are lone cowboys. Here is a video of part of each speech, put together by the W&M Alumni Association (I haven’t as yet found videos of each person’s full speech):

W&M Alumni Medallion Award winners for 2011

The first three recipients were:

Sue Hanna Gerdelman, Marilyn Ward Midyette and Rene A. Henry. Please click on each link and watch the tribute videos.

During the Rene Henry video, when they catalog his accomplishments, they show a clip from a video he created to teach the art of shooting a basketball (it starts at the 1:43 mark). The audience erupted in laughter when the video panned out to show that Rene was instructing none other than Jerry West. I got to chat with Rene after the awards and he told me that he’s still in touch with all three men from that instructional video, Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley and Pat Riley!

ReneHenryHadar

Next up was our own Bob Mooney. Above, I said that each video only addresses some of each person’s accomplishments. Given our long friendship with Bob, I know that to be a fact. When you’ve dedicated your life to helping others, it’s not possible to chronicle that in a 4-minute video (though Jim Ukrop certainly made a valiant effort). I could add things that didn’t make it in, like his spear-heading the building of the Maggie Walker Governor’s School in Richmond. But, inevitably, I too would fail in listing everything.

JimUkropBobMooney

Instead, I’d like to call out one of the things that Bob discussed in his speech (you can watch it for yourself in the embedded YouTube video above). First, Bob reminded everyone of the W&M tag line (many speakers repeated it yesterday):

Students come here wanting to change the world, and leave with the tools to do it!

That’s great, but it’s a tag line after all. Bob gives the more achievable message (in my opinion) and one we should all live by. He continues:

Some of the students here today will actually change the world. But all of us, all of the students and us here today can change someone’s world! So, whether you carry out your calling in changing the world or someone’s world, you will always find success in your work and significance in your life.

Please, I beg of you, read that paragraph 100 times, then go out and live it. It doesn’t get any simpler or more powerful than that. Strive to change someone’s world (not your own). The rewards are immeasurable and along the way, you might just end up changing the world as well. Bob certainly has.

Last, but certainly not least, was the youngest honoree, Michael K. Powell. I think that having a legacy to follow makes it more difficult to leave your mark on the world. Michael Powell has overcome that hurdle (I don’t think he can even see the hurdle in his rear view mirror). His proud parents (General Colin Powell and his wife Alma) were in attendance.

BobMooneyColinPowell

Michael gave an extraordinary speech (the snippet in the above video is good, but in no way does justice to the entire speech). Lois and I were honored to have an opportunity to each shake his hand and tell him how moved we were by it.

I am certain that spending quality time with any of the award winners would be rewarding in so many ways. Lois and I consider ourselves very fortunate to be 100% sure of that in the case of Bob Mooney. There were many people in the audience who feel exactly the same way about the person they came to see.

WM2011MedallionAwardWinners

After the ceremony, there was a wonderful reception in the Alumni House. The food (quiches the size of quarters!) was unbelievably delicious.

BobMooneySallyMooney

The Mooney party all headed over to W&M Mason Business School afterward. Bob was instrumental in getting that building built. He’s also the CFO of the Business School. In the center of the main hall is a statue of Pierre L’Enfant, the architect who laid out Washington, DC. The sculptor is Gordon Kray, also a W&M Alumni. Lois captured Bob and Gordon together at the reception shortly before we got to see the statue first hand.

BobMooneyGordonKrayPierreL'EnfantBobMooney