Food

Informal Vacations

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The last formal vacation that Lois and I took was in 1995, our only trip to Hawaii. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun times in amazing places, but nearly every one of them was on an international business trip for me. I consider our current vacations informal. They typically consist of very long drives south to visit my parents and our godson and his wife. Lois works non-stop, in the car, in the hotels and in the homes of the people we visit. I loaf and enjoy myself thoroughly, so it’s more of a vacation for me.

We just completed one and this is a brief documentation of it.

First stop was visiting my folks in Florida. 95 degrees and broiling every day, right after the heat broke up north, was a bit of a shock. It was nice to put on shorts and sandals again, but it would’ve been even nicer if the air conditioner in our car actually worked when it was hot outside. For the record, our car is 11 years old and has 225,000 miles on it (did I mention we drive long distances on all of our informal vacations?).

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I hope I have my Dad’s appetite when I’m 85!

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From Florida, we drove to Atlanta. We visited three sets of friends, all centered around wonderful meals. We got in late-ish and wandered out of our hotel in search of frozen yogurt. The person at the front desk didn’t think there were any within walking distance so we just headed out. One block away was a Ted’s Montana Grill (not exactly frozen yogurt), but we had a great meal at one in NYC when our goddaughter and her husband took us there. We decided to take serendipitous advantage and have a much bigger meal than planned, just the two of us.

The next day, first of our three social meals, lunch with a friend who worked with Lois before I met her, so while I know her for nearly 30 years, Lois knows her even longer. Three of her four children were able to join us too (children, as in adults!). The fact that the fourth couldn’t make it was OK, as she is a twin, so we just looked at the other twin twice as long to pretend that the missing kid was there too. Winking smile

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We ate at 5 Seasons Brewing Company. We had a delicious, leisurely lunch, served by one of the nicest waiters (we prodded one of the girls to consider dating him afterward, but he doesn’t know that). Such a great time catching up and swapping stories. We’ve seen the girls a couple of times in the past few years (in NYC), but we haven’t seen the boy (man!) in much longer, so that was a very special treat. After lunch they all had to run back to work. We miss them all already!

That night we had dinner with a couple who insisted on cooking. We had our first taste of Portobello mushroom burgers. OMG, one of the best things I’ve eaten, including toasted buns and I believe a home-made aioli sauce (it was definitely home-made, possibly not aioli). I can’t believe Lois missed taking a photo of the burgers.

It was our first time at their house. In addition to being completely inviting in every way, it’s absolutely gorgeous (often a hard combination to achieve). We ate outdoors, in a screen-enclosed, covered porch. The steady rain was welcome rather than a nuisance (until we had to walk back to our car).

The next morning we met another couple for brunch at Sun in My Belly. We had eaten there once before, so we knew how much we’d like the food (we were correct). The more important part was meeting our friends. We hadn’t seen them since April and that meeting was all too brief. Great conversation, great food, more time (but always too little). Perfect way to cap off our brief stop in Atlanta.

We headed to Birmingham directly from Sun in My Belly. Our godson was married in March (this year) and we were going to pick up a portrait of his wife from the wedding photographer to hang in our apartment. We had a little adventure meeting him at a McDonald’s, don’t ask. Thankfully, the portrait is so gorgeous that it was worth the Keystone Cops coordination.

After checking into the hotel and catching up on some business, we headed over to their house to hang out with Rebecca a bit. David was working in the hospital. When he was done he called and we agreed to meet at Davenport’s Pizza Palace for dinner (halfway for each of us).

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I have never had pizza served like that, cut into small rectangles all the way through the very large pie, so that it was easy to handle every bite (most pieces were two or three bites worth). That it was delicious as well was a big bonus. Winking smile

I tried to order seltzer/club soda (honestly, I have witnesses), but they didn’t have any, so I was forced to drink beer. Rebecca drove us there, and David drove me back, so it was a good time to be in a seltzer-less place.

After dinner we headed over to Yogurt Mountain for a refreshing dessert.

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On the drive back to their place, David and I had very manly discussions. I’m sure the girls had very girlie ones, so no gender stereotypes were harmed during the return trip. Winking smile

We just recently finished watching all five seasons of Friday Night Lights and totally loved the show. In a wild small-world story, one of the producers and directors of the show was my best friend in high school. We lost contact shortly after and his participation in the show had nothing to do with our watching it or our enjoyment of it. Still, I was proud of the job he did.

We gave the DVDs for all five seasons to David and Rebecca and after pizza watched the first two episodes with them (yes, we picked up nuances that we missed the first time around now that we knew where the stories were heading!). We then headed back to the hotel to crash.

The next morning we returned to their house. Rebecca’s parents, along with her brother and his girlfriend came over as well. The eight of us caravanned to Irondale, AL. The Irondale Café is the place known as The Whistle Stop in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. That’s where we ate lunch. Yes, we had the Fried Green Tomatoes! My meal was excellent. Thanks to the parents for treating all of us!

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Since Lois is constantly taking photos, Charlie decided to duel with her when he noticed her lining up a shot:

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It also happened to be The Whistle Stop Festival that weekend, so we spent the next two hours wandering around the various tents/booths on a gorgeous day. Lois and I spent a good amount of time listening to a trio called The Tame Dogs, an acoustic subset of The Rescue Dogs Band (their domain just expired, so I linked to their Reverb Nation page instead). They were very good.

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There was also a classic car exhibit:

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ClassicBentley

We said our (temporary) goodbyes and headed back to David and Rebecca’s for some more Friday Night Lights and the Alabama/Arkansas game (Roll Tide Roll). I rooted David’s Incredible 2 and put on a custom ROM. David has been on Android for nearly two years, but this is the first time he’s had root and a custom ROM. We’ll see how he likes it.

The day before, we were told firmly (but nicely) by Rebecca that dinner on Saturday was on them (no ifs ands or buts). In order to guarantee that, she wouldn’t even tell us where we were going, so that Lois (being the sneaky person she is) wouldn’t be able to call in advance and arrange to pay (secretly).

We met Rebecca’s parents at The Veranda on Highland. It felt like it was mostly a seafood restaurant, but for whatever reason, I was in the mood for the Filet Mignon. It was one of the most incredible steaks I’ve had (and I’ve had many). Melted in my mouth and the mashed potatoes were equally delicious. Everyone else raved about theirs (scallops, shrimp and grits and fish of the day).

David paid and we didn’t interfere. Thanks David and Rebecca! This was the first time I experienced table-side credit card swiping (not Square, a real portable swiper). David was able to press a button to select a pre-defined tip percentage, and he signed on the reader as well. A built-in printer spat out the receipt. A very efficient system, where your credit card is never out of your sight. Slick.

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After picking up my computer we headed back to the hotel for another crash. The next morning Lois went to Church with David and Rebecca while I stayed in their house. They called when they were done and I met them for an exceptional lunch at Genghis Grill. Pick out your own stuff, season it yourself, have a professional stir-fry it for you. Fresh and delicious.

Next door is a brand new Red Mango (frozen yogurt), so we had to repeat the refreshing dessert ritual from Friday night. Smile

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We spent roughly 1/2 an hour back at their house sharing some new music with them and then hit the road mid-afternoon. Of course, we miss them already!

I’m sitting at my desk working (OK, I’m blogging, but I’ll be working again shortly). Another informal vacation in the books. Another winning one (they all are!).

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at Jammin Java

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Another night, another stop on the Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. It wasn’t originally meant to be, but when the Universe (and Beyond!) wants something, it makes it happen.

Two years ago, Richmond CenterStage opened with a big gala celebration. I covered one of the nights. Last night was a big anniversary celebration, with Patti LaBelle as the headliner. We had tickets and were committed to attending a very long time ago.

On June 30th, I saw the following tweet:

JamnJavaDoorGal
I know what can make a few smile, especially @linds047 – 9/10 -Ian Axel + Bess Rogers + Allie Moss http://bit.ly/kE5gyC

So, even though we knew about this show 10 weeks out, we also knew there was no way we could attend. A few weeks ago, my friend told me that I’d have to wear a suit to attend the Patti LaBelle show. If you know me, you can probably guess what my body language involuntarily portrayed. I was going to do it, but I didn’t need to be happy about it.

Earlier this week, he called me (we were still in NY) and said that he knew some people who would really appreciate getting their hands on our tickets. Obviously, he would be delighted if we really wanted to attend, but essentially, he was letting me off the hook (he knows me for 29.5 years, so the suit reaction wasn’t a surprise to him). It took us all of two minutes to conclude that the tickets were better used by the local Richmonders.

Suddenly, going to Jammin’ Java to see another round of the Intergalactic Tour was a reality. If you’re wondering whether we had even one second’s hesitation about seeing them for a fourth time in five days, you’ve never met us or read my tiny corner of the Internet.

As with all shows, there’s enough of a twist to make them worth showing up to. That was true last night too, even though two of the twists weren’t so positive. The overall show/experience was great, so I am not (really) complaining.

There was a late show scheduled for 10pm (different group) so the start time for this show was moved up to 7pm (that part, us old folks like, especially since we had a 2.5 hour round-trip drive to get to/from the venue). I assumed our folks would play until at least 9pm, and then the hustle would begin to clear the place.

I was wrong. They were told that they had to be off the stage by 8:30pm sharp! There wasn’t even a chance to cajole an encore. The second the set was over, the lights came on and the house music started playing.

On the flip side (a very positive flip side at that!), the crowd got to line-up and connect with the artists for quite a long time (so people were not hustled out at 8:30). I haven’t seen that long a line at a merch table in quite a while (separate from the long line of people waiting to hi, or get some of that merch signed!). Lindsie (of yesterday’s post’s fame) was working the merch table. A very valiant effort!

The other positive flip side is that there were no breaks between the the sets of the three performers. Each took exactly 30 minutes. While that probably cut roughly 10-15 minutes off what each has been doing on this tour, saving the 10-15 minutes between sets was actually quite pleasant (to me at least). The fact that we were back in the hotel room shortly after 10pm was a very pleasant side-effect of the early ending.

Allie Moss kicked it off, with the full band, playing Passerby, which included everyone singing at the end (everyone = Bess Rogers, Ian Axel, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson). Ian then left the stage, returning once more to play with Allie with the others taking a beak. They played Prisoner of Hope. I think that was the first time they played it where we were in attendance (though I haven’t grabbed set lists this week, so I could be remembering it incorrectly).

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With the exception of another solo song (or two?), Bess sang harmony with Allie (perfectly) and Adam and Chris did their always amazing jobs on the drums and electric bass respectively.

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Allie seemed dramatically healthier than the night before, thank goodness. Otherwise, she took great pains to avoid talking about feeling poorly.

When her 30 minutes was up, she and Bess simply traded spots. Bess introduced herself by saying: “You may remember me from earlier in the night when I was standing over there.” Smile

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Bess had Allie sing harmony on most of her songs too (again, perfectly). Adam and Chris were on each of those numbers as well. She also played some solo numbers, including In My Life on the ukulele.

She finished up her set by inviting Ian to join the rest of them in performing Anchor (the single from her upcoming CD, where In My Life is the B Side).

After about 10 seconds of confusion as to whether they would take a break before Ian started, they decided against a break. Good decision!

Ian sat down (he was already on stage) and started playing Leave Me Alone! He played the same set from the night before, but had to toss a few songs due to the time constraint. So, no Amory. He played Say Something on the keyboards (reverting from the previous night’s ukulele version). It was awesome, so even though I (slightly) prefer the ukulele version, I’ll take it any way Ian wants to deliver it.

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Chad Vaccarino came out for the second half of Ian’s set to very loud cheers and applause. He was joined on the first number by Allie Moss. They sang Shorty Don’t Wait, with Ian on the ukulele (the only song Ian played on the uke, as opposed to three consecutive numbers the night before). Adam played acoustic guitar on Shorty.

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Of course they nailed it. When Chad sang, the whoops were exactly as you hear them in NYC. In other places, I am 100% sure that people feel the urge, but they probably think it’s impolite (and in general/theory, it is), but when it’s Chad, it’s such a natural reaction, and so expected in NYC (and now in DC as well), that you just have to let out the joy (otherwise, it would be like a holding in a sneeze, i.e., not good for you). Smile

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Allie does a fantastic job singing the second verse on the lead, bringing a similar style/emotion to the song that Chad does. The chorus and ending are three-part harmony (with Ian joining Chad and Allie) that simply forces a smile on your face.

Ian and Chad also played Rockstar (such a great song) and closed it out with This is the New Year.

We got to say hi/goodbye to everyone except for Chris Anderson (who I think was loading the equipment onto the van) and Allie (I simply didn’t see her in the dark). We will not be seeing them again on this tour (a single tear streaked down my cheek as I typed that).

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Thanks to all of them: Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino, Bess Rogers, Allie Moss, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson for making this week unbelievably special for us. We’ll never forget it! Smile

Now for the second negative. The sound guy just couldn’t get the vocal levels right. For much of the night, they were too bright/loud. Eventually, I either got used to it, or he woke up a bit and toned it down. The sound booth was roughly 10 rows directly behind me, so I can’t imagine he was hearing it much differently than I was. It’s one of the mysteries of live show engineering that feels destined to elude my understanding forever…

We normally eat at Jammin’ Java when we see a show there. The food is excellent and we look forward to it. Last night we were having dinner with a friend and we were interested in something more leisurely, quiet, with a bit more choice. I did a search nearby in Google and found a dozen restaurants listed within 1000 feet of Jammin’ Java (apparently, that little strip mall is restaurant heaven).

I chose Café Renaissance, which is around the corner of the same block of stores that Jammin’ Java is in. The first few reviews I read were some of the most praise-worthy I had ever seen, describing the service as unparalleled and food excellent. Then I read some real slams as well. Then I read some people slamming the slammers. So, it didn’t seem to be a slam dunk, but we decided to try it anyway.

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I’m officially slamming the slammers as well. We had a great meal and were treated like kings (and a queen). I could complain that they were a bit over-solicitous, but that would only be true because we were time-constrained to make it to Jammin’ Java by showtime. Otherwise, their attention and conversation were delightful and welcome.

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It’s not cheap (if you go for the full treatment, which we did, of appetizer and wine), but I thought it was more than worth the price. I am absolutely sure that we will dine there again. We did buy two large lattes and one large coffee at Jammin’ Java. Partially out of guilt about not spending the money for dinner there, but mostly because they live up to having Java in their name! Smile

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at a House Concert

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Last night was our third time in four days seeing Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss perform (no big deal, don’t be too jealous). The last two shows were part of the Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. All three shows were unique because the venues were so different, as were the audiences. Of course, there were changes in the banter and the set lists as well.

The first was at Bowery Ballroom, covered here. The second was at The Falcon, covered here. Allie and Bess were a key part of Rosi Golan’s set at Bowery Ballroom on the same night that Ian performed. That post is here. Whew.

Last night’s show was a house concert in Arlington, VA, hosted by the extraordinary Lindsie. We met Lindsie when she hosted an Ian Axel house concert six months ago. It was one of the best shows we’ve attended, so when we go the invitation to this one, we made sure to be in VA for it.

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The Bowery Ballroom was show was great! The Falcon show was better, in that it was much more intimate, zero talking by the audience and more talking by the performers.

Last night was even better. So much more intimate, total silence during the songs, thunderous applause after each song and lots of mixing/chatting with the musicians before, between and after the sets. Oh, and there were homemade moonpies (among other yummy desserts)! Smile

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When we’re down in VA, we’re here to work at Zope Corporation. That gives us an opportunity to invite some of the music lovers in the company to attend shows with us. Last night, eight of us attended (one was a 7-year-old, not a slave-labor employee, the daughter of a slave-labor employee). Winking smile

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Bess Rogers opened the show. Before she came out, there was a microphone in the middle of the stage area (this is a home, there was no actual stage). Bess decided to have it removed and the rest of the singers sang without the aid of the microphone either. For the most part, that was fantastic. No effects, direct from their mouth to our ears. A few times, Bess sang softly, and her words were a bit swallowed up by the band. On balance, still excellent.

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Bess played acoustic guitar and ukulele.

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She played a few numbers solo (including her exceptional cover of In My Life by The Beatles). On the rest, she was accompanied by:

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris sat on his amp, and played a very quiet, mellow bass, even though it was amplified. I commented to him after the show that he was able to get even quieter than he could have with an acoustic upright bass (he agreed). It was perfect (volume, as well as his always amazing play).

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Adam Christgau on drums (and anything else you can hit!). A truly extraordinary performance by Adam. This was not the setting to plop a full drum set in and bang away. Aside from washing out the vocals, it would have overwhelmed the audience independently.

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Adam had a single snare drum (no cymbals). For most of the evening, he had his shirt draped over it to mute it even further. On occasion he used a shaker. At other times a tambourine, all while using the other hand to continue hitting the snare. He used Bess’ guitar case as a kick drum (which sounded really good). That wasn’t enough. He often hit the top of the guitar case with a stick or mallet.

He also used brushes to great effect. And, when he wanted the sound of a cymbal, he hit the tambourine with a stick, or with his foot. Basically, he was inventive.

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All of that was amazing, but the best part of Adam’s performance was his singing. He sang a lot with Bess. I knew he could sing, but his range was much greater than I had previously experienced. He sang some really high parts, wonderfully.

In my post about The Falcon, I mentioned that we bought Bess’ single of her upcoming CD, Anchor, with In My Life on the “B side”. I didn’t have a chance to listen to it until after I posted. Yesterday, before we headed up to the show I listened to it. Both songs are great, but I was blown away to hear In My Life, professionally produced, with harmony (Bess overdubs and harmonizes with herself). I was already excited for the new CD, but even more so now.

I also mentioned how funny/clever/quick Bess was at The Falcon. Ditto last night. It’s largely a self-deprecating humor, but nothing about is canned. One of the running gags last night involved the above-highlighted moonpies. Bess had one on a plate that she placed on Ian’s keyboard (so that she could keep an eye on it while she performed).

Way on the left edge of this photo, you can Bess still connecting with her moonpie. Winking smile

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She mentioned that she didn’t want to risk them all being gone by the end of her set. She kept eyeing it between songs and making a number of jokes about it. The second her set was done, she took a big bite, sharing her obvious satisfaction with us. Smile

Allie Moss sang on two songs with Bess, playing glockenspiel. In the two days since we saw Allie at The Falcon, she got sick and nearly lost her voice. I think that’s why Adam filled in singing on songs that Allie otherwise would have sung with Bess. Still, her harmonies with Bess were beautiful.

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Ian Axel joined for one song as well on the piano, the above-mentioned Anchor, one of the songs Allie was on as well. It was awesome, having everyone (yes, all five of them, including Adam and Chris) singing together.

In the car on the way back to Fredericksburg, one of the guys asked me whether Bess puts her music up on Bandcamp. I just checked, and yes indeed, it’s available for streaming (both Anchor and In My Life). Once you listen, spend the $1.98 to buy it so that Bess can afford her next moonpie!

Allie Moss was up next. It was clear that she wasn’t feeling well. She could have easily gotten away without performing, but she was a trooper and delivered a pretty incredible set. A very few times you could see an expression on her face that she thought she wouldn’t be able to hit the next note. She did, but it obviously took more concentration than it normally does.

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Her guitar play wasn’t affected, it was very good. She sang a few solo and the rest with Adam and Chris supporting her.

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Bess joined for at least two songs (one on the glockenspiel) and sang gorgeous harmony with her.

Allie was hysterical as well, but it was largely due to jokes about her illness and the effects of any medication she took (it seemed to kick in gradually during the course of her set). Trust me, she’s very funny when she’s healthy as well.

When she sang Passerby and reached the line “What if we’d shared a pint”, she leaned forward toward the 7-year-old and whispered “of ice cream”, without missing a beat. Did I tell you how quick and clever these ladies are? Smile

Like with Bess’ Digital 45, I didn’t have a chance to listen to Allie’s CD, Late Bloomer when I last posted. That too was rectified before the show. Another winner. A beautiful CD from start to finish. These ladies are on a roll, with their individual careers as well as their roles in Ingrid Michaelson’s band.

Ian was up next, starting out with Leave Me Alone, accompanied by Adam and Chris. Since Ian’s keyboard had to be amplified, both Adam and Chris were able (needed) to crank it up a bit. Amazingly, Ian’s voice was strong and clear enough to be heard perfectly on every note throughout the set, even though he had a more difficult task than Bess and Allie.

Ian is always impish (at least at times) during every show, and the audience always responds to it. At a house concert, it’s so much easier to connect with that side of his personality, and it was in full force last night.

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Lois told Ian before the show that the 7-year-old and her 2-year-old brother (who wasn’t at the show) are entranced whenever their mom puts on Waltz. They both play air piano trying to keep up with Ian (it’s not possible, but A for effort to the kids!). Smile

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After playing Gone, Ian played Waltz, looking at the 7-year-old and saying: “This one’s for you”. Smile

There were some changes to the set list from the other shows. One biggie started with Ian coming out from behind the keyboard and picking up the ukulele. He said that he was getting sick of playing the song he was about to play and he hoped that playing it on the ukulele (rather than the keyboards) would make it fresher for him.

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I knew immediately which song he was going to play, Say Something. It’s absolutely gorgeous on the piano, which is how he mostly plays it the past year, but it was originally written on the ukulele, which is how I heard it the first few times. I’m partial to the ukulele version, because it’s rawer, allowing the overwhelming emotion of the song (and Ian’s delivery!) to smack you in the face. That’s doubly true in such an intimate venue.

After the show, a few people told Ian that he had to continue to play the song, even if he’s sick of it, because it’s cathartic for them, or people they know. Lindsie was one of those people and she told us (and Ian) about a friend of hers who attended a show in LA a few weeks ago and was totally moved by the song due to current circumstances in his life.

Ian continued with two more numbers on the ukulele (I might not have the order correct). He asked Allie if she was up to singing with him and she was. She and Chad Vaccarino (Ian’s writing and performing partner) came up to sing Shorty (with Adam Christgau switching to acoustic guitar to accompany them).

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We saw Chad, Allie and Ian (with Adam) do Shorty (one of my favorites) at Bowery and The Falcon, both amazingly well. Still, last night was even better. At the other shows, the leads were sung right into the microphone (perfectly), but all three (Chad, Allie and Ian) shared that same mic to sing the chorus. These mic’s are mostly directional, with short pickup ranges, so the harmonies could be heard (because it’s relatively quiet), but there’s really a lack of power.

Last night, no microphone, all three voices (even Allie’s sick one) came through flawlessly and at the right volume.

When Allie left, Ian, Chad and Adam played a song they debuted at Bowery but didn’t play at The Falcon, Amory. It was stunning at Bowery, but like Shorty, even better last night (for the same reasons). Three-part harmony for the win!

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There were a couple of funny moments as Ian and Adam weren’t on the same page about a repeating section. That’s another major advantage of a house concert, the comfort level between the performers and the audience, where you can actually enjoy a flub, especially when you know you’re watching a great song being birthed.

Ian then announced that the ukulele portion of the evening was over. Winking smile

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Back at the keyboards, Ian and Chad (along with Adam and Chris) played Rockstar and killed it. They finished up with This is the New Year. Of course it was great, but I was blown away by how interesting Adam kept the drumming, with such a minimalist setup.

Speaking of Adam, one one song (of course I can’t remember which right now), Adam switched from the snare to his signature use of a Frisbee as a percussive instrument. Well done! Smile

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Of course, the eight of us bought a ton of merch! Here is a photo of Ian, with his T-Shirt Brigade. The Tour Poster (also in the photo) was designed by Kristine Thune:

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Here’s Ian signing a CD for one our folks:

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The only negative the entire evening was that the show started 50-minutes late. We were tempted to run out instantly when it was over (we had a 1-hour drive ahead of us), but the glow in the room was impossible to leave, so we ended up schmoozing and taking a ton of photos with everyone. It was worth it, but we didn’t get back to the hotel until midnight.

We drove up in two cars, boys in one, girls in the other. Before heading over to the show we had a lovely dinner at Sawatdee, a Thai restaurant in Arlington. Thanks for the recommendation Lindsie! Smile

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!

Busy Weekend Without Music

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When I tell you we had a busy weekend, you assume you will be reading about a ton of musical events. Not this time.

We have good friends who live in VA, parents with three kids, ages 13, 10 and 5. We’ve known them since the 13-year-old was 18 months old (they lived in NYC then). In what has become an annual outing, the family comes up to celebrate the 13-year-old’s birthday with a baseball game (the first year was a Mets game, the last three years Yankees, his favorite team).

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They arrived on Friday just in time for a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole. There are a lot of great burger places in NYC, but I probably think of Jackson Hole first when someone mentions burgers. Everyone agreed our adventure started off perfectly. When we stepped out of the restaurant, we split up.

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The parents got a rare break from being absolutely incredible parents, who have raised kids we love to spend time with. They went on an extended walk around Manhattan (or so they said!). Winking smile

We took the three kids to see Cars 2 in IMAX 3D (I didn’t even know our local AMC Theatre had an IMAX in it, let alone with 3D). We had seen the original Cars with them as well (in fact, every animated movie we’ve seen in the theater has been with these boys). This is the first time we’ve taken the 5-year-old (the only girl in the bunch) with us. She didn’t make a peep during the movie, so it likely won’t be the last time she joins us. Smile

I’m thankful that I didn’t see how poorly the movie was reviewed. I would have gone anyway, but I might have tried to find the bad spots. I don’t know what people expect from these movies, but I found it completely delightful. The boys both rated it higher than the original Cars, which they enjoyed (as did I). Cars was perhaps a little sappy (in a good way). While Cars 2 is definitely a message movie, they went for a bit more excitement and a bit less sap. I thought they found the right balance.

It was also very funny, in a completely corny way. I’m a sucker for corny, but to be honest, if the humor is too sophisticated, it will lose the kids quickly. This kept my interest and had the kids howling a number of times.

We had about an hour to wind down and hook up with the parents before it was time to head out to the Yankee game. This was going to be the first night game with the boys. The mom and the daughter stayed home, so Lois was the only female in our group of five. We took the train at the height of rush hour and were packed like sardines all the way to the stadium. Thankfully, since it’s a super express, the entire trip is barely over 20 minutes from Grand Central.

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Since this was a night game, I wasn’t worried about picking seats in the shade. I changed up the section we sat in the past two years and picked the first row near the foul pole in left field, up one level (section 231 for you die-hard fans). All five of us were thrilled with the seats, though I would probably avoid them on a very sunny day, where we would have broiled.

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The bigger risk was that rain was called for throughout the day and night. It misted and even rained a bit during the 90 minutes leading up to game time, but there were no delays and the tarp never came out. It misted a bit very briefly during the game as well.

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Exactly a week earlier, our godson and his wife were supposed to come visit. Their flight was canceled. In the post about that weekend, I shared a photo of a rainbow that coincided with the birth of our friends’ daughter. While we were sitting at the game, Rebecca (our godson’s wife) texted me this photo of a rainbow in Birmingham, AL. We took it as another sign that we were going to have a great weekend.

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Unfortunately, the Yankees lost 4-2, in a very sloppy game. There were a few extremely close calls (two on steals at second base). All of the close calls went against the Yankees, and none were shown on replay. They replayed plenty of other ones, none of which were even marginally close. The people behind us said that this was normal for Yankee Stadium, no replays of close calls. Ridiculous! Sad smile

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We had another quick ride back into Manhattan and after a few minutes of wind-down watching TV, everyone collapsed for a long, excellent sleep.

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Saturday morning started with a hearty breakfast made by Lois. Everyone but me then headed out to a local park for some baseball (both boys made the All-Star league this year!), basketball and general running around. I stayed back to clean off a laptop that our goddaughter was giving to the family for the kids to use. Just as I finished, Lois called to say they were all ready for lunch. Perfect timing!

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We tried a place we had never been to before, Gemini Diner. Again, everyone really enjoyed their meal. I would happily go there again, but we have a diner we love that is a whopping two blocks closer to us (one of which is an Avenue block), so we’re not likely to get over there too often.

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Once again we split up after eating. This time the parents took the girl with them. They went on a really long walk along the East River, south, all the way past the Brooklyn Bridge.

We took the boys back to the movies, this time, for another one that was poorly reviewed. This time we were all aware of the reviews in advance, but the boys really wanted to see it anyway. The Green Lantern was showing in both regular and 3D, but showtimes had us at the 2D viewing (which is probably way better for Lois than having to wear the 3D glasses anyway).

We got there just as the showing before us was letting out. The 10-year-old and Lois each asked a number of people what they thought, and everyone, roughly 1/2 a dozen people, all said they enjoyed it. One woman was nice enough to tell us to make sure to stay through the credits, as there was a short but important extra scene near the end of the credits. She was correct. Thanks! Smile

While waiting for the theater to be cleaned in between showings, the 10-year-old decided to spontaneously do a trust exercise. He fell backwards toward me, and I caught him, every time. One of his attempts came just as a few final people walked out of the theater. I caught him a little later than those folks thought I would (or rather should have), and a very big guy let out a noticeable sigh of relief when I finally did catch him. Whew! Winking smile

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All four of us concurred with the people who gave us the thumbs up. We really liked the movie a lot. I guess I don’t know what people are complaining about. I admit to not being a comic book aficionado, so I don’t know if it wasn’t true enough to the original comic, or too true (and therefore predictable), etc. All I know is that it was thoroughly entertaining, moved along quickly, had amazing graphics (even in 2D, can you believe it?), was funny (both for the kids and the adults), well acted, with a self-consistent story.

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We returned to the apartment and had a bit more downtime. Then Lois and the boys headed over to the hotel where the parents and the girl were staying (two blocks away). They headed up to the rooftop bar, which we’d heard was amazing. Lois confirms that it is and that I have to join her there in the near future.

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I met them at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant) for another fantastic meal. When it was over, we headed our separate ways. We ended our evening watching Ocean’s 12 with the boys (well, Lois slept through most of it). The movie was a bit slow for the boys. Each of them nearly gave up before the big surprise finish, but in the end, they stuck it out. We all slept late again, exhausted from another chock-full day.

This morning we had another great breakfast courtesy of Lois, then they hit the road at around 10am for the long trip back to VA.

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The title of this post reveals that this weekend hasn’t had any live music. Of course, the weekend isn’t done. Barring some unforeseen issue, we will be at the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza tonight at 8pm, to see Ian Axel perform a few songs on a outdoor piano. It should be the perfect way to cap an already perfect weekend. Smile

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?

Rainbow1Rainbow2

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.

SchmoozingOnTheDeck

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

SushiSpread

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.

ChrisAyerPerformingAtHouseConcert

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

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

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).

LunchAtThePalmWest

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.

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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!

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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:

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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

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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:

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And the lovely ladies who appear in the video:

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And the effect the story had on Carley!

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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!

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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.

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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:

CarleyTanchonJesseTerryJesseTerryHadarHadarMichaelLogen

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.

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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