Dining

Girlyman at Joe’s Pub

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The wait between Girlyman concerts wasn’t quite as challenging this time around. As I reported in this post, it had been 143 days between concerts until we saw them last Wednesday at the Barns at Wolftrap. This time, we only had to amuse ourselves for four days. How we came to see them first in VA, then four days later in NYC is a long story, which I’ll tell after reviewing the concert itself.

The show was at Joe’s Pub. Aside from being our favorite place to see concerts, it also happens to be the first place we saw Girlyman, on August 19th, 2007. We were back at the same table, right up against the stage.

Girlyman took the stage at 7:03pm, so we were cheated out of three minutes of their wonder. πŸ˜‰

They opened the show with the same song that they had opened the previous two shows we saw, On the Air (from the Little Star CD). If you read my post about the Wolftrap show, then you know that I took them to task about experimenting with the song. I have no idea whether they read the entry, nor if they did, whether it had any influence on them at all. That said, they played On the Air straight down the middle (which is to say, awesomely), and it was obvious that this night was going to be pure magic.

Lois prefers for me to share my bottom line first, mostly because she says people who skim won’t know how I really feel. I think she’s just too polite to say that people will likely fall asleep trying to get through my post before they get to the bottom line. So, in honor of Lois, here’s the bottom line on last night’s concert, followed by the details:

Girlyman was/were PERFECT last night!

OK, you can safely stop reading now, and go back to your real lives.

The banter was great (as always), but it wasn’t 100% identical to last week. That’s very cool. I’ve discussed this before, where some groups have great stories, but they’re repeated identically at each show. I still like those stories, but fresh is always good.

The set list was close to Wolftrap as well, but also not identical, and that too was great. One of the marks of a creative group is that they have too much material to fit into a single show. That means that you have to leave wanting more, because inevitably, they simply can’t play everything you’d like to hear.

Putting to rest the other problem from Wolftrap, Through To Sunrise. That was the other song that they played with. Last night, perfect. Whew.

The night before (therefore not in time for the Wolftrap show), the band finally started selling their new Live CD, Somewhere Different Now (Live). The link to the CD is an earlybird special. Run (don’t walk) to your favorite browser and buy this CD now, you have five days left (if you’re reading it shortly after I’m writing this). I’ll have more to say about this CD in one (possibly two) more post(s). The point of buying it now, is that all of the money goes to the band, so show your support, and just order it, don’t think about it!

The reason I mentioned the CD above, is that they tailored the set (at least that’s what I read into it) to match some of the selections that are on the Live CD. To me, it was a very nice touch, because it meant that those who would take the CD home could instantly relate to their own personal live experience with the band.

Their singing and playing was simply spectacular. Above, I described it as perfect. If you’ve made it all the way here, I’ll tell you a secret. While playing Kittery Tide, Doris actually missed one riff on the banjo (shhhhh). Why did I call the performance perfect then? Because Doris handled it perfectly. She laughed, made a funny exasperated face, and plowed on wonderfully. I got a big kick out of it, and that’s part of the live experience. We’re not paying to see automatons.

Last comparison to Wolftrap. In that review, I took Ty to task for getting a cheap laugh at Bush’s expense. Last night, she didn’t, but during the introduction of the same song (Through To Sunrise), Nate took a similar shot, and received a similar reaction (positive, of course). OK, next time, we’ll let Doris get the cheap laugh, so that no one is ahead in the collection of cheap laughs, and then we can all take a deep breath. πŸ˜‰

Because we sat touching the stage, we could see the set list. That meant that we knew what songs they were going to play, in what order (it pays to learn to read upside down!). They got through every song on the list, except for one of their new songs. Usually, when they do their request section, I scream Through To Sunrise at the top of my lungs (that’s Lois’ favorite song, and near the top of my list). We saw that they were going to play it so I showed a drop of class (not typical for me), and I didn’t call out for anything.

The problem is that I wanted to yell out at least five different songs. They settled on Hey Rose, and did it wonderfully! It happens to be on the new Live CD as well, so I think that may have influenced them choosing it from the many songs that were yelled out at them.

OK, I could give more details, but I’d end up repeating myself saying things like “They sang great! They played great!”, etc., etc.

Instead, on to the back story leading up to the show, then the after show stuff. I’ve decided to follow this post with a separate post on the new Live CD.

The second I noticed the tickets to Girlyman at Wolftrap, I snagged four of them. We invited our friends in Richmond, knowing that if they couldn’t make it, finding other people wouldn’t be a chore. We like to introduce new people to Girlyman live (they already have copies of Joyful Sign as gifts from us) so we buy extra tickets.

We were scheduled to work at Zope that week (or rather, once we bought the tickets, we were committed to making that a work week at Zope), and we were intending to work through the next week (this week) as well. Because we knew we’d be down here already, I snagged two tickets to see Kathy Mattea (and Bill Cooley!), also at Wolftrap, tomorrow night (Tuesday, April 1st). So far, so good.

Then, a few weeks later, Girlyman adds a previously unscheduled show to their site, Joe’s Pub on March 30th! I went to Joe’s Pub site, and the show wasn’t even up yet. Hot off the presses. We discussed it, and even though we knew it was crazy (or least those that don’t understand the magic of Girlyman would think we were crazy), we decided to do it. Do it meant coming back to NYC over the weekend, then returning back to VA no later than Tuesday to see Kathy Mattea.

A few days later, Joe’s Pub listed the show, and I grabbed four tickets and a dinner reservation.

I had just connected in an interesting way with another VC in NYC, who also is a music fanatic. We’ve never met, just exchanged some emails and commented on each other’s blog. Lois thought it would be nice to invite him and his wife along as our guests. She sent him an email, and he never replied. From everything I know about him, it doesn’t seem to be his style, so we both assumed it went to a SPAM folder, never to be seen again.

I could have written (and Lois wanted me to), because he was getting my emails (and responding), but I didn’t want to, mostly because if he had seen Lois’ email, we would essentially be stalking him, which was most definitely not our intent.

Then we had a brainstorm. We’re very friendly with a family of five in Leesburg, VA. Dad, Mom, 10-year-old boy, 7-year-old boy, 2-year-old girl. We thought that we could take the two boys, picking them up on our way back to NYC, dropping them back home on Monday, since we had to return for Kathy anyway.

When we called, it turned out that the 7-year-old was attending his ceremony for attaining a first-degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do on the day of the concert. No way he was missing that. The older boy already has his, and was getting a certificate at the same ceremony. He was willing to miss the ceremony. So, we locked in picking him up on Friday, on our way back to NYC.

That left us with one ticket. The universe likes to fill these kinds of voids, usually elegantly (at least if you pay attention to the cues). A day or two later, I received an email from someone in MN that I had only met once, through a mutual friend. We got along great during that one dinner. Of course, during that dinner, I raved about Girlyman (do I ever shut up about them? No!). He bought Joyful Sign on iTunes the next day.

In the email, he mentioned that he was in love with Joyful Sign, was ready for another dose of Girlyman, and could I recommend Remember Who I Am or Little Star as the next taste. They’re both fantastic albums, but I recommended Remember Who I Am. Even though he lives in MN, I mentioned that we had an extra ticket to the March 30th show, and he was welcome to join us. I couldn’t believe it when he replied that he already had a business trip scheduled to NYC and would be in that night! Wow, thanks universe! πŸ˜‰

So, on Friday, we drove from Fredericksburg to Leesburg and took the Mom and the three kids to lunch, then headed to NY with the 10-year-old. On Saturday we took him to the circus (and I wrote about that here).

Backing up, when we got home on Friday night, there was an email from my new friend in MN saying that he had to cancel his trip due to a nasty cold. He kindly offered to pay for his ticket, and I told him that was unnecessary. First, the show was sold out and I could have sold the ticket if I wanted to. Second, I expected the universe to bail me out again. πŸ˜‰

I quickly made a phone call to someone I know loves live music, and lives in Manhattan. He was busy and had to pass. We then sent out a number of emails, but in particular, wanted to take someone I’ve written about before in this space, Jonathan Pytell. He’s a wonderful pianist, who we’ve also previously raved to about Girlyman, and I thought he’d really appreciate them. The rest of the people were informed in their emails that if Jonathan said yes, we’d have to rescind our offer.

Again, the universe delivered. Jonathan was the first to answer, with a Yes, so I was able to send emails to everyone else before they responded.

Here’s one part of an unedited response from one of my friends who received an invitation. He happens to be as funny (to me) as any professional comedian out there, and this is but a tiny example:

I was sooooo looking forward to a mention in the inevitable blog entry on the Girlyman concert. “Last night, Lois and I took our two favorite boys, one who’s 10 and another who often acts like he is, to the Girlyman show at Joe’s Pub. What a night! The set selection included…” Perhaps you could still squeeze me in with “Although distraught that our favorite pre-teen compatible friend could not make it, we nonetheless loved Girlyman at Joe’s Pub last night…”

Here’s a photo that Lois took of the three boys in our party at Joe’s Pub:

The Boys at Joe\'s Pub

We had excellent meals (as always) at Joe’s. I had the Seared Tuna Steak, on top of Artichoke Hearts and Pine Nuts. It too was perfect. The other boys had burgers. Lois had a salad, because she’s always so good

While we were eating, we were staring at the shiny GIrlyman instruments on the stage, just tantalizing us. Nate’s electric guitar is not in this shot, as it was hiding behind another piece of equipment:

Girlyman Instruments

After the show, we lined up with tons of other fans to finally meet the group. We did, and we can prove it:

Girlyman, Lois and Hadar

It was a very exciting moment for us. Thanks Ty, Nate and Doris, we’ll never forget it! πŸ™‚

This morning, we woke up and drove our young guest back to Leesburg. After dropping him off, we headed to the office in Fredericksburg, and are now in the hotel. A very long day. I don’t know if I have the energy to bang out the post about the CD, but if not, it will arrive early tomorrow morning. Look for it! πŸ™‚

Girlyman at Wolftrap

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Last night finally came, thankfully! We’ve been waiting (not so patiently!) since November 4th, 2007 to see Girlyman live again. That’s 143 days, in a row (if you can believe that). Somehow, we survived, but I’m not sure how!

Continuing with the new tradition, I’ll cover the concert first, then circle back and share lots more stuff from the day. That will allow people who only care about their Girlyman Fix to bail out after this part.

This was our first time at the Barns at Wolftrap. It won’t be our last. Not just because the place is simply fantastic, but we just so happen to have tickets for this coming Tuesday night (April 1st, 2008) to see Kathy Mattea (and of course, accompanying her, the amazing Bill Cooley!).

We had four seats in the fifth row, left center stage. Excellent! Opening for Girlyman was a group called We’re About 9. I have quite a bit to say about them, but I’ll save it for the section immediately following Girlyman, before the rest of my shtick, since this post is really about Girlyman.

Girlyman came on stage at exactly 9pm. It’s hard to describe the joy and excitement that was evident in the entire crowd. There might have been a reasonable number of newbies in the audience, but even the vast majority of those have either heard the band before (CD, streaming, etc.) or were there with friends who are die-hard groupies.

In fact, the two people we brought were seeing Girlyman for the first time live, but each have separate copies of Joyful Sign (gifts from us) even though they are a married couple. πŸ˜‰

The band feels the love immediately, and reflects it back. These are not jaded people who take the love for granted, even though they absolutely should expect it at this point! It’s heartwarming.

They open the show with the same song that they opened the Highline Ballroom show with (that was our last time, on November 4th, 2007), On The Air (the first cut on the Little Star CD). Unfortunately, for the first time ever (OK, we’ve only seen them live twice before) πŸ˜‰ they actually take liberty with the song and do it somewhat differently than the CD version.

It was OK, but not as good. Sorry folks, I have to call it like I see it. Many might disagree (perhaps everyone except for me), but while very nice, it wasn’t as good. I was immediately nervous. If this was going to be a night of complete experimentation, I would probably be somewhat disappointed. Not the least of which is that one minute before they came on, I leaned over to my friend and said “Wait until they come out, it’s complete magic!”.

I’ve written about this before, in a different (but somewhat analogous) situation (about the lead performers in Wicked the Musical). I can understand how an artist can be bored doing the same thing every night for years on end. They want to grow, stretch, etc. In the case of Girlyman, for me (I realize this obviously isn’t true for them), it shouldn’t apply. Here’s why:

  • They actually don’t tour as much as other road bands (e.g., The Wailin’ Jennys)
  • They have more material than a single show, so they can mix it up
  • They have quite a lot of new material, so they are experimenting!
  • While they’ve been around a while (7+ years?), it’s hardly an eternity…

So, I say that their fans (a constantly expanding group, especially if I have anything to do about it!), are hardly sick of the current versions.

Whew. Onward. The fear passed quickly, as they only fooled around with one other song, more about that later.

While everything was beautiful, even from the beginning, to my ear, it took a while for their voices to warm up, get stronger, and gel together as wonderfully as we’ve come to expect. That’s not so much of a complaint as a surprising observation. They dazzled last year from the first note at both Joe’s Pub and the Highline, and the acoustics at the Barns were good.

Once they got rolling (not too long into the set), they were spectacular (you better not be surprised!). πŸ™‚

They always have an amazing stage presence, rapport with the crowd, and banter (between them, and separately aimed toward the audience). Last night took it to new heights. Seriously, they were so on, I’m not sure people would have stoned them if they didn’t play a single song! OK, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not as much as you might think.

When they talk to the crowd, you feel like you’re at a family reunion, sharing laughs and catching up with relatives, people who you deeply care about, and want to hear about, even though you have mostly separate lives the rest of the year!

They had a phenomenal mini-set of fun stuff. Sorry, but I don’t like to ruin these kinds of surprises for those that have tickets to see them on this tour. What’s really cool is that while the songs are fun, they still share all of the musical qualities that we’ve all come to expect from Girlyman, great musicianship, great voices, and impeccable harmonies. If you get that, and get to laugh out loud at the same time, who can complain? πŸ™‚

All three of them were on top of their game yesterday. Ty actually spent a bit more time on the guitar (she’s excellent!) than she has before. The new material is a real hit. They have a new Live CD coming out this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready last night. Thankfully, it will be available when we see them again this coming Sunday, in NYC. Yippee!

Time to pick one last bone with the band. Their politics are reasonably obvious. No problem, we all have our own politics (of some sort or another), whether we make it obvious or not. In the case of Girlyman, its often laudable. For example, I learned more about biodiesel (the good and the bad!) from Nate and Ty’s separate blog posts than I had previously known. I admire their effort and caring to do the right thing!

That said, I’ve written before that I don’t pay for musical entertainment with the expectation to be lectured to on politics (by either side!). Having seen Girlyman twice before, I had no reason to expect that to happen (as it hadn’t happened at Joe’s or Highline). It didn’t really happen last night either (meaning, no lecture, no speech, etc.).

But, during the intro to Through To Sunrise (Lois’ favorite song of theirs!), Ty couldn’t resist saying that she partially wrote the song looking forward to the end of the Bush Presidency. The crowd ate it up, giving her a rousing ovation. That’s all she said, hardly a lecture. Also, hardly necessary.

I’m not writing this in support of Bush, or the Presidency in general. I’m writing this because it’s odd, that a group that writes so deeply and passionately about love and other subjects, should find the need to take open slaps at anyone, including someone who they obviously disagree with politically.

I’d actually go further. I found it to be pandering (to the audience!). It’s a guaranteed laugh and clap getter, in most venues. To me, it’s a cheap laugh, especially given that one way or another, he’s out in less than a year. It’s no longer wishful thinking on the part of his detractors.

Sorry to drone on, but I need to put a fine point on it. Earlier in the show, in a more light-hearted romp on the current crop of candidates, Ty made it clear that she believes in Obama (at least it was clear to me). Until Obama got dragged into the mud relatively recently, his rhetoric lectured us on being united, not divided. No one with a public megaphone needs to take cheap shots at the opposition (though they all do…).

Sorry. It’s off my chest now. Do I love Girlyman (or Ty) any less? Not a single drop. It wasn’t egregious, didn’t show me a dark side I was previously unaware of. It was just unnecessary.

The other disappointing thing about Through To Sunrise is that it was the only other song last night that they heavily experimented with. It too was fine, but not even close to the standard that Lois and I are nuts about. Oh well.

Everything else was perfect! πŸ˜‰ Including a one and a half song encore (with a fun surprise). Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes. Very nice!

We loved it, in every way, so the amount of words dedicated to the negative stuff shouldn’t be used to judge the overall effect of the evening. Our friends loved it as well!

We really wanted to hang around and finally say hello to the group, but our friends had a very early flight out of Dulles and we wanted to drop them off at their airport hotel as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we’ll rectify this on Sunday at Joe’s Pub.

OK, that’s the end of the Girlyman section, and you can safely stop reading if that’s the only reason you landed here. Next is We’re about 9.

Whenever I buy tickets to see a headliner that I’m in love with, I get a twinge when I see an opening act announced that I’ve never heard of. There are two reasons:

  1. The group might stink (which can affect the crowd too, possibly spilling into the headliner’s vibe)
  2. The headliner might simply play a short set (perhaps much shorter!) especially when the venue has hard time deadlines

When I saw that We’re About 9 was opening for Girlyman, I went to their music page and listened to the songs available there. I liked them instantly, so #1 could be scratched off the list. Just as Girlyman was complementary when opening for the Indigo Girls, We’re About 9 was going to be complementary to Girlyman.

I’ve already reported that Girlyman was on stage for 105 minutes, so #2 turned out to be nothing to worry about this time either.

From their website, We’re About 9 has three members. When we were reading the program waiting for the show to start, we noticed that the full page ad showing the group, only had two people in the picture. The Bio on the next page talked about all three. We remarked that it seemed strange. They never mentioned the third person the entire night, even though only two of them performed last night (Brian Gundersdorf and Katie Graybeal).

It’s hard to describe them succinctly (of course, it’s hard for me to do anything succinctly). πŸ˜‰

They are old-style folk meisters, with very nice harmonies, and excellent musicianship. Brian is very good on the guitar, and Katie is excellent on the bass (and on the one song that she played the guitar). They both have good voices.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Bob Dylan, especially in my youth. Brian reminds me of him in some ways. There is a depth to most of their lyrics that can be insightful and instructive. His voice isn’t gravelly like Dylan, but it has an earthy quality, passion, and driving nature that is still reminiscent of Dylan.

On the other hand, some of their songs are incredibly playful (not that this wasn’t the case for Dylan as well!). But, even the playful songs are rich and complicated in their lyrics. At their heart, they are story tellers, sometimes with a deep message, sometimes a playful one, but almost always with a story.

Many of their lyrics are also sophisticated. By that, I meant that you have to listen very closely to get the meaning, as well as sometimes just to understand the actual words. Some of their songs cram so many words into a stanza of music, that you wonder not only how they can remember all the words, but how they can sing them in synchronized harmony without missing a note, breath or word. It’s extremely impressive!

I could go on, but I’ll end by simply saying that they were a hit with the four of us, and Lois went and bought two of their CDs during the intermission (signed, of course). πŸ™‚ They have more CDs, and after I listened to both today (Engine and Paperdust::Stardust), I am sure I will be buying more of their music (I think they have six CDs out, but I’m not sure).

They are not playing with Girlyman this Sunday at Joe’s, but they are playing in a number of other future dates with them. There was a cool surprise during the We’re About 9 set, but I won’t ruin it, in case they repeat it in future shows.

They were on for 38 minutes. As much as I enjoyed it, it made me a little worried that Girlyman wouldn’t be on for as long as I would want them to be, but it all worked out (as reported above).

OK, if you came just for the music, leave now. The rest is about everything yesterday leading up to the concert. πŸ™‚

We bought last night’s tickets a long time ago. We bought four tickets, in the hopes of bringing our friends from Richmond, but knowing that if they couldn’t make it, we’d have no trouble enticing other people to discover the wonders of Girlyman.

Our Richmond friends committed right away, so we were set. The original plan was that they would drive to Fredericksburg (where we often work) and we’d drive up together to Vienna, VA. A week ago, those plans changed. They needed to fly out early this morning from Dulles to CA. They got to Fredericksburg via car service, and we drove them to the show, and as reported above, dropped them afterwards at an airport hotel.

In between, we had dinner in Vienna. We would have been happy to have sandwiches at the bar at the Barns. They don’t open their doors until an hour before show time (7pm last night), but we were in the neighborhood by 6pm. So, I asked the GPS to highlight nearby restaurants. It generated a large list, but we decided to go simple, and headed for a local TGI Friday’s.

When we arrived, we didn’t see it. We asked a group of people relaxing outside in the gorgeous 75 degree weather where it was. They laughed and said it was long gone. Oh well. Right there was another choice that the GPS had shown, Hunan Lion. We went in there instead.

Fantastic food, fantastic value (prices), fantastic atmosphere, great service, zero complaints! The only thing that made me feel bad (and always does) is that the place was relatively empty. The staff still went out of their way to enhance everyone’s experience by spreading out the guests widely in what is a very large restaurant. We appreciated the comfort and privacy, but it made the place feel even emptier than it really was.

Hunan Lion in Vienna, VA is highly recommended.

When we got to the Barns, at 7:05pm, we had coffee and cookies in the bar. Yummy, and bodes well for the sandwiches, which Lois and I will likely do for dinner this coming Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, someone I worked with for many years at UBS stopped by the office to visit. When he was at UBS, he worked in our London office (he relocated from VA just for the job). His family fell in love with the UK, and when the stint at UBS ended, they moved back to VA for a few years, but really missed the UK. Roughly five years ago, they moved back, and he runs his own software company there.

I hadn’t seen him since he moved, and we had a very leisurely lunch together, and had a great time catching up. Thanks for making the drive down Chris, it was great to see you! πŸ™‚

Tomorrow, we head back to NYC. We’ll be seeing Girlyman again on Sunday night at Joe’s Pub. We head back down on Monday, and have Kathy Mattea back at the Barns on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we’re back at Joe’s Pub to see Tim O’Brien, so we have an insane travel schedule ahead of us, but all for good and fun reasons, so we promise not to complain. πŸ™‚

Avenue Q

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The young folks spent the day running around NYC, riding the Staten Island Ferry, and spending time in Central Park. The old folks spent the day tethered to their laptops.

We met up at the apartment and walked up to our favorite restaurant, the Peking Duck House in mid-town. We had a fantastic meal there (no surprise), including having the one person in our group who was previously not a fan of seafood taking seconds.

We got there extremely early (Lois is always the overly cautious one), and that worked out. It was an unusually leisurely meal for the Duck House (which typically serves more quickly) and it all worked out perfectly. You can see how satisfied we all looked at the end of the meal:

Duck House Meal Before Avenue Q

They called for rain starting early evening, but it held off. That worked out too, since we got to walk from the Duck House to the theater, with no precipitation.

We had tickets to see Avenue Q at the Golden Theater on 45th Street. We got there at about 7:52 and were comfortably seated long before the curtain went up (or rather the lights went down, since there was no curtain) at 8:05 like most Broadway shows.

Setting the record straight, I exaggerated by saying comfortably seated. There’s nothing wrong with the Golden Theater, but we’re pretty spoiled by the Gershwin Theater (where we’ve seen Wicked seven times!), which is so much more comfortable, so much more spacious (leg room), and so many more seats…

Our goddaughter saw Avenue Q a number of years ago. She enjoyed it, but warned us that it was off color. That’s code for Lois should stay away! Both my godson and I were more than a little worried about her reaction, even though neither of knew exactly how off color the show would be.

The very first number is cute, but also sets some expectations in that regard. The words it sucks to be me are repeated too many times to count. It didn’t offend me, but I was already a tad worried about Lois. Completely due to chance, Lois and I ended up at opposite ends of our seven seat block, so we caught each other’s eye a few times, but didn’t talk about the show until it was over.

Without giving away anything material (trust me), Avenue Q is essentially an adult version of Sesame Street. In other words, it is done in the style of Sesame Street, and is meant to educate, while being playful (only this time, in an adult sense). The education is meant to teach some life lessons, but they use other techniques that are more traditional Sesame Street (as in teaching the meaning of some words).

As with Sesame Street, some of the characters are puppets, and some are honest-to-goodness humans. Different than Sesame Street, the puppets are controlled by humans who are on the stage acting alongside the puppet they are controlling, and singing and speaking without trying to pretend to be ventriloquists. It works perfectly well, so even if my description sounds cheesy, fear not!

Every single actor on the stage was excellent. There wasn’t a weak voice or performance among the group. The two leads, Howie Michael Smith and Sarah Stiles are fantastic. Great voices, great acting and great range (they each control multiple characters). That said, to repeat, the entire cast is superb, and you should check each of them out on the cast page.

Here are the two leads, then a photo of some other cast members:

Avenue Q Lead ActorsPhoto of some cast members of Avenue Q

The humor in the show is largely tongue-in-cheek, and goes over well with the audience. Lots of bursts of uncontrollable laughter from people all around us. But, an over-the-top focus on sex and sexual themes. Not innuendo, but rather explicit stuff. Keep in mind that they can do things with puppets on the stage that actors couldn’t get away with. Nuff said.

That kind of stuff doesn’t bug me, in any way, even when it’s completely gratuitous. I love comedy/humor in most forms. I believe I’ve said in the past that I like it even when it isn’t funny, as long as I can project where they were heading, if the unrealized destination would have been funny.

In this case, it also didn’t bug me at all. But, it was more than just over-the-top. It was actually vulgar at times, and I imagine that it offended a number of people (including Lois) though many (not including Lois) wouldn’t be comfortable admitting their discomfort. Even the vulgarity was good for cheap laughs, and the audience as a whole most definitely laughed heartily even at those jokes!

I tried not to look around too much, but I heard some people say something about kids being in the audience. I hope there weren’t too many (or rather any!). If parents brought young children to this show, thinking it’s only a puppet show with singing, they were sadly mistaken, and abrogated their parental responsibility to investigate the show in advance of bringing their kids. Of course, if they did, and still brought their kids, their judgment needs to be checked in other matters as well (in my opinion).

From very early on, it was entirely obvious that this was not going to be a PC (Politically Correct) show. For that, I applaud them completely. In my opinion, the PC in this country is out of control. Not wanting to offend entire groups of people is laudable. But, the same people that feel it’s verboten to say something against this particular group, have no shame in knocking something else (oh, let’s say Republicans or Christians).

Avenue Q takes no prisoners, and shouldn’t!

That said, they also take the obligatory shot at President Bush (only one, which was in itself impressive restraint!). The crowd whooped it up like they had just heard the funniest joke in their life! It’s fine, and wasn’t over-the-top in any sense.

That said, I found it incredibly ironic. Basically, the complaint is that life under W’s rule is horrible, and we simply can’t wait to get out from under it. I realize that at a minimum, at least half of the country feels this way, perhaps even more. So, it’s a legitimate point of view, right or wrong. But, in this case, it’s written by people who have a very successful Broadway hit on their hands (a Tony winner!), it’s being delivered by actors who are starring in a Broadway hit, and being received by people who can afford to take their dates/families/friends to a Broadway show, all in the midst of these horrible economic times.

Yes, the lives of all of those that shared this very clever joke all seem terribly in shambles at this time, entirely due to W’s iron-fisted madness!

Unfortunately, I really worry about the half of the country that thinks their lives will be immeasurably better when either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama become President. The magical thinking that goes on, that a President exerts such power to change things (in either direction) simply discounts what our government and economy have become and how they work. Oh well…

In and around all of the jokes, there are actually some very deep insights about life, and the plight we all experience as we grow up and make our own way. I’m impressed with the way the writers deliver those lessons (to those who are paying attention) in a subtle and lighthearted manner.

Bottom line: A very clever show, wittily written, with good songs, great singing, excellent harmonies, lots of funny dialog, top-notch acting and great puppeteering. If you don’t mind vulgarity (at times), and lots of focus on sex (even when it’s not vulgar), and you aren’t offended by non-PC jokes, you will really enjoy this show. I did, even though I can totally understand why some others might not.

When we got out it was raining. It was coming down reasonably steadily, but it wasn’t too cold, and it wasn’t windy (so the rain was coming straight down rather than blowing in your face), so we walked home (cutting through Grand Central as we did the night before). Given all of the weather predictions, so far, it’s held up remarkably well.

Another excellent day! πŸ™‚

A Wicked Surprise

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For the past few weeks, Lois and I have mentioned to each other that we were itching to see Wicked again. This was probably more true for me, but I think she wouldn’t have minded too much. That said, we did nothing about that itch. I didn’t even check for ticket availability online, even just for fun.

Over the weekend, good friends of ours called to say that they were finally ready to take the Wicked plunge (we had been telling them for a while what lunatics we are with regard to this show). They asked us what might work in our crazy schedule. We offered up the upcoming Wednesday (last night) as the only day we could do it in the next month or so. They said that amazingly enough, that night worked for them too.

So, while we were still on the phone, I hopped on to Ticketmaster to see if there were any seats available. No regular seats, but they had premium seats (fifth or sixth row, center orchestra) available. I offered to grab them right then. They said that they were very friendly with a ticket broker, and they wanted the opportunity to contact him first.

They called back 30 minutes later and told us that they could get the tickets cheaper than the premium seat price, so we locked in the date.

We met for dinner at a restaurant we had never been to (or heard of), one block away from the theater, called Vice Versa. Beautiful place, extremely nice staff. The tables are crowded together, but offset like an interesting jigsaw puzzle, so there’s still a sense of privacy, even though there are lots of people right around you.

The food was superb, and for mid-town, theater district, reasonably priced (not cheap, but cheaper than most restaurants of this caliber). I feel the need to highlight the $10 lentil and chickpea soup that I had. Very generous portion, and wonderfully delicious. Everyone enjoyed their meal thoroughly.

We tried to split the bill. We tried hard. At one point, I even thought we succeeded, since the other couple took my credit card. But, when the waiter came with the bill, the husband only gave his card, returned mine to me, and promised that we’ll split it “next time”. Oh well, we suffered with a great meal that didn’t cost us anything. Thanks guys, we loved the place and the food, and you’re not getting away with treating next time! πŸ™‚

The tickets that they got were simply incredible. Third row, dead center orchestra. Wow. I have to get me a friend who is a ticket broker too. πŸ˜‰ We paid less than the cost of premium seats (which is exactly what this row is considered), so I’m a little suspicious that our friends underwrote part of our ticket price, but I’m hoping that wasn’t the case!

For those who don’t regularly read this blog, this was our seventh time seeing Wicked, and I’ve written about it many times. The most recent writeup was here, which summarizes our general feelings about Wicked as a show, and specific cast members.

In that show, we saw Annaleigh Ashford for the first time. She was awesome. For regular readers, you know I can be particularly tough/harsh on the two lead roles. We missed Stephanie J. Block that night, as she off getting married to the then Fiyero (Sebastian Arcelus).

So, when we walked into the theater last night, both Lois and I were anxious to rip into the playbill to see if there were any critical understudies filling in. There were two: Jan Neuberger was playing Madame Morrible and Briana Yacavone was playing the Midwife. The Midwife is on stage for a few minutes, so I wasn’t nervous. Madame Morrible has a large role, so there was a twinge, but as long as the two leads are good, it would be hard to ruin the magic. It turns out that Jan did a wonderful job as Madame Morrible, so no worries there.

After their marriage, Sebastian Arcelus left the Broadway cast fairly quickly. Luckily for us, we had seen him once (before Stephanie joined the cast), and he was terrific. The understudy who covered for him while he was away getting married was wonderful too. We’ve been very happy with every Fiyero we’ve seen.

Last night was a new one, David Burham. He’s as cute as they come, looks the role and plays the spoken parts well. He isn’t as good as the others at the dancing parts (not that he’s bad), and he’s inconsistent (though never bad) in the singing parts. He was OK (nothing special) in his opening (signature!) number (Dancing Through Life), but was fantastic in the duet with Elphaba (As Long As You’re Mine). So, he has the voice, just not the consistency. We liked him though, so again, no problem.

On to the leads. Annaleigh was awesome, again. Aside from having a spectacular voice, to repeat my last post, her comedic timing is impeccable (that includes facial expressions, which can easily be seen from the third row). The only number that she didn’t shine in (this time, since she did it better last time) was the normally spine tingling For Good. She was flat in that number (not bad), and it’s possible that it was the interplay between her and Stephanie, but who knows what the real reason is.

Now the one that I was particularly nervous about, Stephanie J. Block. All-in-all, a good performance. She was notable in the acting parts of the role. She was more expressive than the previous Elphabas, and handled all of the speaking parts as well as one could hope for.

Vocally, nothing in her performance was disappointing (other than wanting every note to be perfect), but there was a vast difference between her and Idina Menzel or Eden Espinosa. Even Ana Gasteyer did a better job singing the role.

What was surprising to me though was that the hardest notes to hit, she hit flawlessly each time, and with wonderful controlled power. Specifically (but not exclusively) during the last few stanzas of Defying Gravity (perhaps the most challenging number for Elphaba), Stephanie completely nailed it. The same chills that run up and down your spine for the other great Elphabas appear for Stephanie here as well.

But, for the majority of the normal parts of the rest of the songs, she sings a little flatly. She hits all the notes, but with less power and clarity. So, she has all of the ingredients of being a great Elphaba, but it doesn’t all hang together (for me). I wasn’t disappointed, and most certainly didn’t feel like I have with the bad Elphabas we’ve seen, but she didn’t inspire like the great ones have.

As always, the crowd was nuts about the show. The applause were thunderous. The one (marginally) surprising thing was that while the crowd gave Annaleigh and Stephanie a very rousing standing ovation, they didn’t stand until those two came on the stage. In other words, they were very enthusiastic for the rest of the cast, but didn’t stand for them. At the majority of the shows we’ve been to before, the crowd typically stood up once someone like Madame Morrible came out, and stood from then on.

At this point, there are only a few things that will get us to the show again:

  1. Our Richmond friends finally setting a date to come see the show πŸ˜‰
  2. Someone else that we’re close to begging us to go with them πŸ˜‰
  3. The leads changing again, to someone that I have reason to believe might bring back the thrills and chills of seeing them perform the roles.

Other than that, we’re probably satiated at this point.

If you still haven’t seen Wicked, just go and do it already! πŸ™‚

Goodbye Florida

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This morning, we drove from southern Florida, and arrived mid-afternoon in Savannah, GA, where we are camped for the night, before heading back to VA tomorrow morning.

The weather in Florida was fantastic (84, sunny, and breezy) and our visit with my parents was delightful. Serendipitously, Lois and I interviewed a wonderful person over dinner at PF Changs last night (man, we really love that place). He is based in Miami, and happened to contact us (Zope Corporation) this week, and it all just worked out to meet him in person.

Last year, I forgot my sandals at home, so even though I had shorts with me, I didn’t wear them. I didn’t repeat that mistake this year, and it was great to come from the cold in the North East and just wear shorts for four straight days. I wavered about wearing them today, because I didn’t know what the temperature would be in Savannah.

It worked out perfectly. It was 69 degrees when we got here. Ironically, just two hours later, when we went to dinner, it was down to 60, and felt more like 45-50, and by then, I had put on my pants and a sweatshirt, and everyone was the better for it. πŸ˜‰

On the recommendation of some friends, we drove downtown to the “Historic District”. We ate dinner at Belfords. Beautiful place, with fantastic food.

Another anomaly on the ride today. Nearly 8 hours in the car today, and we never once turned on the radio, the iPod, the XM satellite, etc. Lois worked for much of the trip (emailing on the Treo, and speaking a fair amount on the phone, including a few interviews), but otherwise, we talked a lot. You’d think that after 26 years together, we’d run out of things to say. You’d think that, but apparently, you’d be wrong. πŸ˜‰

Last year, for the first time, we used HiltonHHonors points for our stay on the way down, in Florida, and the way back as well. It was a hit last year, so we did it again this year. The only difference is that last year, we only stayed at Hampton Inns. This year, we stayed at the same Hampton Inn near my parents, but we stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn in Daytona Beach, and tonight in Savannah as well. Very nice hotels, and we’ve been treated very nicely by the staff at both HGI’s.

Lois ended up working like a dog on this trip (especially yesterday, where other than joining us for lunch, she was working the laptop at my parent’s apartment non-stop). I just had a great time with my folks and didn’t think about work too much.

One last comment about the temperature. I don’t understand how this works, but most of the time that we drive through Florida, the temperature (according to the thermometer in the car) typically doesn’t vary even one degree, the entire length of I95. It’s a really long stretch, so this simply doesn’t make sense to me. Also, as I noted on my post earlier this week, Savannah was warmer than Daytona was on Monday, and it was a a few degrees warmer again today.

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub Featuring Rascal Flatts Songs

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In November, we attended our first CMA Writer’s Series event at Joe’s Pub, and covered it in this post. As mentioned in that post, we purchased tickets that night for the next in the series, which was last night.

Whenever we can, we reserve the same table for two, and last night, we had been told that we had our usual table. Unfortunately, when we arrived, they apologized and seated us right up at the stage (knees touching the stage, literally). We had previously discussed trying that particular table out in the past, but never bothered. Except for the fact that we were right under an electric piano, which obscured the view a bit (more for Lois than me), it wasn’t a bad spot.

Perfect chocolate martini – check! Perfect Seared Tuna – check! Perfect French Fries – check! Perfectly boring me, sticking to my usuals – check! πŸ˜‰

Last night was a celebration of Rascal Flatts music, though they played a number of other songs as well (which were all great!). It was meant to coincide with Rascal Flatts playing at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. Yes, Lois and I have tickets. πŸ™‚

Bob DiPiero was the host (I think he’s always the host). The other four (one more than last time) were (in seating order): Danny Orton, Steve Bogard, Tony Mullins and D. Vincent Williams (Bob sat in the middle).

In closing the November show, Bob mentioned that at the end of January, he was going to visit the troops in Iraq with Kix Brooks. A while ago, a good friend of ours gave Lois a book called Dear Soldier. Lois decided then and there to get some copies and give them to Bob at the next show.

So, last night, before the show started, Lois went backstage and asked someone to get Bob to come out. After a bit, he did. They chatted briefly, and she gave him two copies to bring along with him to Iraq. She told him that if it seemed to resonate with the soldiers, that we’d be delighted to buy many more copies and get them delivered over there.

In closing last night’s show, Bob said that a wonderful woman from the audience gave him a couple of copies of Dear Solider to deliver on his upcoming trip. It was extremely nice of him to recognize Lois publicly, and yes, she’s a wonderful woman, in all respects. πŸ™‚

On to the show. It was excellent. As I’ve mentioned before, half the fun is hearing all of their stories (they’re writers, after all) πŸ˜‰ and last night was no exception. They are fun, interesting people, who tell the tale of their lives through their songs. Then, famous artists make those songs famous, and we associate the words with their lives, but it’s the writer’s life that created those songs.

We had a blast, and will definitely continue to support the CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub when they’re next in town!

Abigail Washburn and Sparrow Quartet at Joe’s Pub

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At the bottom of this very long post, I mentioned that Lois and a friend were going to see Abigail Washburn at Joe’s Pub, on April 3rd, 2007. I went to see the Allman Brothers Band on the same night with that friend’s husband, so I didn’t blog about Abigail, even though Lois gave me a complete update.

Lois really enjoyed the show, which was Abigail playing banjo along with Ben Sollee playing cello. She bought two of Abigail’s CDs after the show. One thing that makes Abigail different is that she’s fluent in Mandarin, and writes and sings a good portion of her repertoire in Chinese!

I listened to both CDs while exercising, and while I liked both of them, I got a little tired of the Chinese (which I enjoyed on the first cut) after the third or fourth song that was in Chinese.

Her life story is fascinating, and well worth the read on her site (click on Bio on the bottom left of the screen).

Last night, she played at Joe’s Pub again, this time with her new quartet (Sparrow Quartet). In addition to Ben Sollee (mentioned above), the quartet includes Bela Fleck and Casey Driessen.

Bela is considered by many to be one of the greatest banjo players in the world. Casey is an extraordinary fiddle player. I had never seen Bela, and wasn’t familiar with his music, but I certainly had heard of him, in particular Bela Fleck and The Flecktones. His bio is fascinating too. Among many interesting facts is that he holds the record for most categories of Grammy nominations. In other words, he’s an exceptionally talented person!

I was particularly interested in hearing them, because I love banjo playing, and hearing two banjos on the same stage is unusual.

Whew, lots of background…

A quick word on the meal. Chocolate Martini was perfect, as always. Seared Tuna was as delectable as always (done to perfection). Joe’s Fries were yummy too! Absolutely perfect meal, which ended seconds before they took the stage, perfect timing on that front as well.

The concert was excellent. They are a talented group of people. Abigail had a cold, but she sounded great anyway, so I guess she sounds better on other nights, but I wasn’t disappointed.

That said, they only played one purely instrumental number (about 2/3 of the way through), and to me, it was by far the best number of the night. That’s not to take anything away from her voice, which is excellent. There is just a ton more energy in the group when they are jamming together, rather than accompanying Abigail.

While listening to a half dozen songs in Chinese was much more interesting live than on CD, it was at least a tad over the top (to me). A little more so for Lois.

Thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I would see them again live without hesitation. That said, I wouldn’t likely listen to a CD of last night’s performance, so (to me) this is more of an immersion experience than a just listen one.

Here is a YouTube video of them playing together in Shanghai. They sat in the same order (Fleck, Washburn, Sollee, Driessen) last night as well. I found it slightly ironic that this is a song done in English to a Chinese crowd, while we heard a bunch of Chinese delivered to an American crowd. πŸ˜‰

Here is a much longer YouTube video, which includes music and interviews with all of them in Beijing. If you haven’t lost interest to this point, I found it quite enjoyable.

If you’re reading this today (Saturday, 1/12/2008) and you’re already in NYC, they are playing again tonight at BB King, so you can catch the show and decide for yourself! πŸ™‚

Enjoying Repetition

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We have company staying with us this weekend. Yesterday morning, while they were eating a late breakfast in the apartment, I wandered out on my own to TKTS. I listened to another The Business podcast (from KCRW) on the way, and to part of the new Celine Dion CD (Taking Chances) on the way back.

There were quite a number of shows available at TKTS. When I called, the guests were interested in seeing Curtains The Musical. Lois and I had already seen it (and enjoyed it, as discussed in this post), so I only got three tickets. Row J (not necessarily exactly the 10th row), center orchestra, for 1/2 price. Not too shabby.

They enjoyed the show (as did we). We later met up at the Peking Duck House. We had dinner there nine days earlier as well, but you can never have too much of their food. Two of our guests don’t eat duck (neither does Lois), so this was one of the rare trips where we didn’t order duck. That permitted a wider sampling of their main dishes, and all were delectable, as always.

We did something we almost never do, we drove to the duck house. Normally, we walk. Rarely, we take the bus or a taxi. We drove last night because we intended to go to Filli Ponte after dinner, to hang out in the bar. It’s a long trek to get there, and five of us would have required two cabs.

In this post, I discussed what a wonderful time we had the last (and first) time we went to Filli Ponte. That was a relatively quiet Wednesday night. Last night was a holiday Saturday night, and the bar was much more active, and the restaurant was doing a great business as well. We were still able to snag seats right next to the piano on ultra-comfortable couches, as most of the bar crowd sat around the bar itself, waiting to be seated for dinner.

Jonathan Pytell was exceptional on the piano. He played a mixture of holiday classics, more traditional bar classics, and some of his own compositions, which were very impressive! The chocolate martinis were as perfect as always (thanks Natalia!) πŸ™‚ and I think I converted a few new fans to this wonderful drink.

A good time was had by all, as can be seen in the following photo (click for a larger version):

Jonathan Pytell and our Gang

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

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Last night finally came, our long-awaited second live concert seeing Girlyman. They performed at the Highline Ballroom. We had never been there before, and only found about it from the Girlyman mailing list. It’s owned by the same people that own the Blue Note and BB King, both places that we love to see shows at, so we were certainly looking forward to the venue, aside from the obvious anticipation of seeing Girlyman again.

We went with a family of three, so there were five of us in total. We got there seven minutes before the doors were scheduled to open, and there were roughly 10 people on line ahead of us, so we knew we’d have our pick of tables to sit at (all three clubs are first come, first served).

As often is the case at BB King, the doors don’t typically open on time (at 6pm), and that’s really annoying to us. In this case, the doors opened at about 6:10pm, not too terrible. Inside, the club is really beautiful, perhaps the nicest of the three clubs. There is a spaciousness to the downstairs, with wider aisles and very nice tables. There is a cool-looking upstairs, but (unfortunately) Girlyman didn’t fill the place, so they didn’t seat anyone upstairs last night.

We grabbed a very nice table for six (there are at least 12 tables for six right in front the stage), and because they didn’t sell out, no one sat in our sixth seat, which worked out very nicely for us.

When we ordered drinks, I thought I was going to experience a mini-disaster, as the waitress told me that they didn’t have any “chocolate martinis”. Since both of the other clubs owned by the same people do (in fact, I discovered the “Nutty Angel”, my first ever chocolate martini at the Blue Note!), this was very surprising. She said she’d check with the bartender, and indeed came back and said, “Sorry, no chocolate martinis”. Ugh.

So, I ordered a regular martini (how droll), but asked for Belvedere Vodka (my favorite), which she also said she didn’t think they had. Another big ugh. A few minutes later, I notice the bartender walking across the room (nowhere near us), with what looked suspiciously like a chocolate martini. Apparently she was walking to find my waitress, with a chocolate martini, who was beaming when she was able to deliver it to me. Whew, evening saved! πŸ˜‰

A little while later, we ordered dinner. The menu is a little more limited than either Blue Note or BB King (or Joe’s Pub for that matter), and more high-end in terms of prices. Still, it all sounded good. Our companions ordered the Filet Mignon (which the husband said was the best he’s ever had), and the mother and daughter each had mini-Kobe burgers, which they too liked, and which looked amazing.

I had Riverhead Salmon, which came 30 minutes after everyone else’s meal was out. I was not fussed, because I had ordered a side of fries which came out with the other meals, and which I got to savor on their own. Just as I was done, my salmon came out. It was extremely tasty, but full of bones, which I hate, so I won’t make that mistake there again, even though it was delicious.

OK, is it time for the music review? Yes indeedy. After we purchased the tickets, we were surprised to find out that Girlyman had an opening act. We were disappointed in that it meant potentially less stage time for them. On the other hand, it was encouraging that they were potentially a big enough draw to warrant an opening act (as in warm up group). The opening act was Garrison Starr.

I don’t want to spend too much time on her. She definitely has some talent. She’s an OK guitar player and she sings reasonably well. That said, she’s a one-woman hard-rock band, which is far from our cup of tea. Her guitar was painfully loud and screeching, and of course, she had to sing at the top of her lungs to be heard over it. Oh well. On rare occasions, she toned down the sound of her guitar, and her voice was more pleasant, and one could make out a few of her words, which weren’t that bad either. We’re not likely to check her out any further, but some of the crowd appeared to enjoy her music, and some might have even come out just to see her…

On to our main attraction, finally. πŸ™‚ (Click on the image below to see a larger version.)

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

We hadn’t seen Girlyman since August 19th, 2007. Even though we constantly listen to their CDs, we were counting the days. They opened with On the Air, the first cut from the Little Star CD. Instant electricity. Crowd responds with significantly more applause than for Garrison, but that wasn’t a big surprise.

They played a a number of excellent songs, including one of my favorites, Sunday Morning Bird. Lois and I joked with each other that we’d have to go up on the stage and slap them silly if they didn’t perform each of our individual favorites. While I’m nuts about so many of their songs, I’m reasonably sure that my slight favorite is Hold It All At Bay, while Lois’ is without-a-doubt Through To Sunrise.

After a few more songs, they played Hold It All At Bay, so I was safe, but Lois was still waiting (breathlessly). As they neared the end of the show, they still hadn’t played hers. Then they asked the audience to yell out a song on request. We screamed Through To Sunrise at the top of our lungs. So did a few others, but many people shouted out random Girlyman songs, so we were nervous when they finally said, “Do it again, all together!”. So, again, we screamed Through To Sunrise.

After a pause, they said, well, we heard a few there, but this is the one we think we heard the most. They then played Viola. It’s a gorgeous song, which we both love, and were glad to hear, but we were also disappointed not to hear Through To Sunrise…

Right after they finished playing Viola, they said: “You know, we think we heard just as many ask for this, so we’ll play it too.” When Doris picked up the banjo, and Ty picked up the mandolin, I knew with 100% certainty, that they were about to play Lois’ song. Indeed, not only did they play it (brilliantly), but the crowd (led by us, of course!) πŸ™‚ clapped the beat throughout the entire song (the only song that happened for the entire night!), as Girlyman themselves taught us to do at Joe’s Pub! It was awesome.

As Lois said to me afterwards, given that kind of crowd reaction, how can they ever not play that song?!?!?

They closed with Joyful Sign, the title cut of their latest album, and one of my top picks (among many top picks). πŸ˜‰

The cheers were so great that they came out for three encores, and all were wonderful and fully appreciated by the crowd.

That was the overview. I have a drop of detail to add, but if you’ve lost interest already, you at least know they were brilliant, again, and can bail now…

Their song selection varied somewhat (of course, there were overlaps) from Joe’s Pub, so that was wonderful for us as well. In addition to just mixing up their repertoire, they also introduced three new songs. Each one of them had written one. All three were amazing. We literally can’t wait for the next CD, since we now know they have at least 25% of it completed. πŸ™‚

Ty’s song was called The Saints Come Marching In (or very close to that), and it’s beautiful. Nate’s had “Easy” in the title, and I apologize for not remembering it. It was gorgeous. He played the acoustic guitar for it (something he does for less than a handful of songs each concert), and both women sang without instruments (something that rarely happens), and yet, the sound was soaring!

Doris’ song was the best of the three, so, of course, bonehead that I am, I can’t recall the title at all. πŸ™ The harmonies on that song are so dramatic, and Doris belts out the lead in such a breath-taking manner, I can’t credibly describe it. The family we were with hadn’t seen them before, and the husband had only heard one or two songs in advance. He turned to me during the show and said that Doris was an amazing vocalist, and I have to concur completely.

We knew (from reading) that Doris is the harmonizing genius of the group, and obviously, we’ve throughly enjoyed her voice (and guitar/banjo/mandolin playing!), but she surpassed every expectation last night, every time she opened her mouth to sing. There was a raw power and clarity, and she was just generally amazing.

Nate was solid, and as entertaining as you can imagine. In fact, while I mentioned in the past that all three were engaging with the audience, they were even more so last night, telling stories, and having some (obviously) impromptu banter amongst themselves. They are thoroughly natural on the stage, and it is infectious.

On to Ty. I hesitated writing this, and as you can see, I’m burying it at the end of a long post, hoping that most people will have gotten bored and left already. That said, I pride myself on trying to share my real opinions, rather than just be a cheerleader, even when I so obviously want to just spread the word about Girlyman.

On some levels, Ty is my favorite in the group. She writes brilliant and moving songs. I really like her voice. She looks like she’s 20, is probably in her low 30’s, but if you listen to her voice on the CDs, there is a maturity that makes her sound older than that. The passion and emotion of her words comes through in her voice, in a very special way.

Last night, something was just off a drop with Ty. I don’t know if she had a cold (though her voice didn’t sound nasal) or if something else was up. Her usually extremely strong voice wavered a number of times (not cracked, more like a slight warble). More amazingly, she missed a few notes (not that many) on some harmonies. Most notably, during my favorite song, Hold It All At Bay.

In that song, Nate sings the first verse alone, and then sings the chorus alone. Ty sings the second verse alone, then the two of them sing the chorus together (in harmony). Doris sings the third verse alone, and then all three sing the chorus together in a haunting harmony that I can never (and don’t want to ever!) get out of my head. When Ty and Nate sang their part together, Ty missed the first two or three notes, and she smiled because she realized it right away.

I’m hoping that whatever was wrong last night, is transient. Even more so, I’m hoping that no one who has read this far, thinks that I was in any way disappointed with Girlyman’s performance last night, or even in Ty’s performance. The evening was completely magical, and both Lois and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more, and can’t wait to see them again.

Finally, Lois and I discussed in the car today that we both think that Girlyman is better than Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary. I know, heresy to many, and I can even understand that. Why then, are S&G and P,P&M so much better known (and commercially successful) than Girlyman? In my opinion, it’s an accident of timing. Back in the 60’s, the world was ready (and hungry) for the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, S&G, P,P&M, etc. Yes, rock and roll (in the form of The Beatles, etc.) was huge, but folks songs, and in particular the message delivered in the lyrics, were striking a generational chord.

Nowadays, there is (clearly) an audience for that kind of message, but it seems that in general, to be a big sensation, you have to deliver a different kind of sound, and it’s not all that likely that any kind of folk artist will achieve the kind of fame and success that Dylan did (and still does!). Too bad, as the world would be a better place if more people spent serious time listening to Girlyman!

Kathy Mattea at Joes Pub

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Last night, Lois and I saw Kathy Mattea perform at Joe’s Pub. It was a minor odyssey to make it all happen…

Since we regularly frequent Joe’s Pub (as loyal readers already know), I read their regular email newsletter reasonably carefully, to spot performers that we already know, as well as attempt to discover ones we might enjoy.

A few weeks back, while we were at Zope, I noticed that Kathy Mattea was scheduled to be there on October 24th, 2007. This was a very exciting discovery. She is one of Lois’ all-time favorites. Through her, we also discovered Ceili Rain (she did fabulous covers of both Love Travels and That’s All the Lumber You Sent).

I instantly got on the site and tried to order tickets. Unfortunately, they were sold out. Lois called a few hours later when the box office opened, and they said that they best we could hope for was to call the day of the performance, and see if they released any tickets that were being held for the band, etc. Bummer…

Kathy was a certifiable Country music superstar for a very long time. In the past 2+ years, she seemed to disappear (at least somewhat) from the scene. It was mildly surprising to me that she was playing a venue as small as Joe’s Pub, and therefore not surprising that she sold it out in minutes. In her hey day, I imagine she could have easily sold out Radio City Music Hall, like Martina McBride did. It turns out, she is doing a new project to bring back songs of the coal miners, with an album coming out in January, that she’s touring to promote and work on at the moment.

Two weeks ago, I checked the web site again on a whim. There was one ticket available! I immediately offered Lois that I would snag it, and she could go without me. I would have been thrilled for her to see Kathy, even if I had to miss it. She wasn’t interested. But, she immediately called Joe’s Pub, and told them how often we come, etc., and could they possibly see it in their hearts to release one more ticket?

They got a manager on the phone, they looked up my name and saw how often we come, and he told Lois that he would authorize another ticket, but that we would have to stand at the bar, no seats and no dinner. Obviously, we said yes right away, and they took our info over the phone. I checked the web site a minute later, and they were showing as sold out again, so they definitely have their act together systems-wise…

A few days later, Lois called to ask whether it was possible that dinner reservations might open up (as the one ticket did). They said that it wasn’t likely, but that we should call back a few days before the show. She did, and they said that she should call back the day of the show. She did, and they said that they couldn’t release a reservation, but if we showed up really early, they could practically guarantee that we’d be seated for dinner.

We did, and they did, so everyone ended up happy. We had excellent seats, and had an amazing dinner (they always do a good job!). I had a perfect chocolate martini as well. πŸ™‚ We were seated at a table for four, so we ended up chatted with a very nice couple who were seated next to us. They ordered dishes I never tasted there, and both raved about their meals as well. The woman’s steak looked outstanding!

On to the music. Well first, Kathy simply looked amazing. Whatever she was doing while she wasn’t climbing the Country charts, definitely agrees with her physically. πŸ™‚

Kathy’s voice isn’t in the same league as Martina McBride, or even Alison Krauss for that matter (obviously, all in my own opinion, no need to publicly disagree with me on this). That said, she’s still amazing. Her voice is powerful, emotive and moving. Her song selection is outstanding, and she’s a wonderful guitarist. Half of the show was the new coal project, and half were previous hits (which she encouraged the crowd to sign along during the chorus, and they/we happily obliged).

She had a three-member band playing with her. Bill Cooley on acoustic guitar. Dave Roe on the upright bass. Eamonn O’Rourke on the fiddle and mandolin (unfortunately, a quick search doesn’t reveal any web site dedicated to this amazing musician!). All three are amazing enough to deserve their own mentions independent of Kathy.

I am a guitar-loving nut. I like all styles of guitar, from classical through to screaming rock. While classical is probably my favorite, a close second is someone who can do wonders with an acoustic guitar. Among my favorites forever has been David Bromberg. The man is a genius with an acoustic guitar. That said, he isn’t the cleanest guitar player, as on occasion, in his attempts to dazzle (which he achieves so many times), he can even (gasp) miss a note (no, say it ain’t so!).

The above was meant to put the next statement into context:

Bill Cooley is possibly the greatest acoustic guitarist I have ever heard!

There, I’m on the record with a very bold statement (as in bold font at the very least). πŸ˜‰

I’m not sure I can describe exactly why, though I tried to last night when Lois asked me why I felt that way. His fingers are so fast it’s almost unbelievable. He plays in a variety of styles. His leads are so clean and clear. He’s one of the few guitarists where you don’t hear the transitional screeches of the strings as his hands slide up and down the neck. He plays brilliantly both softly (when he’s accompanying Kathy as the solo instrument), and when he has to pound it out with all of the instruments going full bore. He’s been touring with Kathy since 1990. She’s crazy if she ever lets him go. Simply brilliant!

Dave Roe is a top-notch bass player. In addition to normal bass playing, he plays a style that includes slapping the body of the bass with his palm, while strumming the strings with his fingers, creating the sounds that a drum might make (they had no drummer on the stage last night), making for a wonderful sound coming from one instrument. He’s truly gifted, and sings harmonies with Kathy as well.

Eamonn O’Rourke is an outstanding mandolin player. His fiddle playing is even better. In the past few years, I’ve seen some amazing fiddle work. While I wouldn’t say that Eamonn is the best (like I did for Bill Cooley above), he certainly isn’t far from it. He also sings harmonies with Kathy.

The following three photos aren’t very good (at all), but they’ll give you a sense. The first is Kathy Mattea, with Bill Cooley in the background, obscured by her guitar. The second is them again, with Bill’s face finally recognizable. The last is Eamonn O’Rourke and Dave Roe. Fuzzy, yes, but you can at least make them all out (I hope). Click on any of the images to see a larger version:

Kathy Mattea Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley Eamonn O'Rourke and Dave Roe

Anyway, a truly outstanding band, to complement a truly outstanding performer in Kathy. She has a wonderful stage presence, and connects deeply with the audience.

She came out for an encore and did two songs. The first was her alone, no instruments. Wow. Another song from the coal project, and her vocal power was overwhelming (in the most positive way that statement can be taken!). The second number was completely instrumental, an Irish-style jig. Kathy played both her normal guitar, but also broke out two penny-whistles. Man, she’s very talented, and can play that whistle beautifully. We left on an ultra-high note.

On another topic, management chided me for not mentioning Girlyman in my CDB post on Sunday. They weren’t going to take any punitive action (this time), until Wes commented on the blog, and they realized that they were looking weak in public. So, they are now insisting that I put in a solid mention of Girlyman, or risk losing my blogging privileges.

The above qualifies, for sure, but I’ll just remind you all that we’re only 10 days away from seeing Girlyman live again, on Sunday November 4th, at the Highline Ballroom. If you’re in NYC on November 4th, and you don’t go to see Girlyman live, shame on you! πŸ˜‰

One final Girlyman connection, that is definitely related to the opening theme in this post. The only reason we discovered Girlyman to begin with was because of Joe’s Pub. We had an opening in a blockbuster weekend, and the first place I checked was Joe’s Pub, and through luck (or more likely serendipity, our theme for this week!), Girlyman was playing there that night. πŸ™‚