Music

Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall

Send to Kindle

I need no extra incentives to attend a Bri Arden show, especially at Rockwood Music Hall. But, if you’re going to entice me, I’m paying attention. Here are a few tweets that Bri unleashed in the past few days (in order):

BriArden Bri Arden

Guys— show this Sat, 9pm at Rockwood. Super excited. Playing BRAND new songs… & I’m playing guitar (& piano) This will be a FUN one 😉

Tomorrow night: 9pm— bringing some very awesome, talented boys to play with me. Come on out! XO B http://fb.me/QPl7iraG

I can count the amount of hours I’ve slept this week on my fingers.

So very excited for a VERY special show tonight 🙂 SURPRISES!!! 9pm Rockwood 1! Come early for @JeffJacobsMusic! XO B

Let’s summarize: New songs, Bri on guitar and piano, talented boys, Bri sleepwalking, and SURPRISES! Come on, who doesn’t want to experience all of those things?

One of those surprises? Bri’s hair was straight. The last show, it was extremely curly. You just never know what to expect. Winking smile

BriArden

So, even though we had some last-minute monkey wrench thrown into our schedule, we still made it down to Rockwood for this show. We ended up missing two other shows, one of which I badly wanted to see (The Stone Lonesome at midnight), but monkey wrenches will have their way with you at times.

So, let’s back up and review what’s special about Bri, independent of this show. Phenomenal voice. Great songwriter. Amazing band (when she has one!). Excellent stage presence. Nice (never discount nice!). I could go on, but if that’s not enough to get you to check her music out, or come to a show, then anything I add won’t help.

OscarBautistaBriArdenCraigWilson

I’ve seen Bri perform in a number of configurations, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them and fully appreciated the differences. Full band with backup singers, check. Practically solo, accompanied by a single acoustic guitarist, check. Full band without backup singers (except, psych, the band sang backup to make up for the loss of the backup singers!).

Tonight was different again, on a number of levels. The first was a psych of the psych. Full band (very different though!), with none of them singing backup. The only vocals were Bri’s and she was absolutely incredible. In fact, a couple of times in the past I complained that picking out some of her lyrics was difficult given how much sound (power) was coming from the stage. Tonight, every word was crystal clear. Perfect!

In the times that I’ve seen Bri, she’s never played guitar on stage. Tonight, the band took a break on one song and Bri played the guitar. Afterward, she said she’d never do it again. While the guitar playing wasn’t perfect, Bri was way too hard on herself about it.

But, the song, wait, not enough emphasis: the song! I’m Fine, is a real winner, whether she accompanies herself in the future or not. Her introduction was emotional and authentic and the song lived up to the intro.

A little later, Bri gave the band another break and played a solo on the piano, The Other Man. The only intro to that song was her telling us that she gets requests for it often enough that she decided to play it. Thank you all you requesters!

BriArdenPiano

Every number was special. Not every band member played on every song. There are few notes on the set list to guide you, but it’s not exact. Also, Bri had to cut out one number due to time constraints.

SetList

The band, left-to-right on stage:

Oscar Bautista on acoustic guitar. I’ve seen Oscar play electric many times (most often with Bri, but not exclusively). He’s masterful. This was my first time seeing him on the acoustic, and his play was equally terrific. On Fly Away (a cover), Oscar played the guitar and Bri sang, without the rest of the band.

OscarBautista

Craig Wilson on piano. Craig has co-written a number of songs with Bri. He played on three numbers, the opener and closer (both full band) and Scars Do Fade, where most of the band took a break. Folks, Scars Do Fade is incredible. Bri and Craig are a very good team, and Craig did a wonderful job accompanying her on the piano.

CraigWilson

Ian Schaefer on trumpet. Ian played on three or four numbers, all with a muting cup. He was as good as he always is lending a character to the songs that works really well.

IanSchaefer

Jeremiah Birnbaum on electric bass. This was one of the aforementioned surprises, and was also covered by the talented boys tweet. It wasn’t a surprise to me, since Jeremiah himself tweeted:

jeremiahmusic jeremiahbirnbaum

Very excited to play bass for the fabulously talented @BriArden tonight at Rockwood Music Hall, 9pm!

I’ve seen Jeremiah on electric guitar and singing lead vocals, a number of times (most specially with his group The Ramblers). This was the first time I saw him on bass. He was replacing Bri’s regular bass player, Justin Goldner (who is excellent), and Jeremiah acquitted himself well.

JeremiahBirnbaum

Bruno Esrubilsky on cajon, shaker and percussion. Bruno was a sub for Bri’s regular drummer/percussionist, Jake Cohen. That said, Jake has played drums every time I’ve seen him, so Bruno playing the cajon (extremely well) created an entirely different sound.

BrunoEsrubilsky

Rather than butchering Bruno’s last name, Bri gave him the opportunity to pronounce it himself. He quickly retorted: “So, you’ll let me butcher it myself?”. Winking smile

I have enjoyed every one of Bri’s shows. That said, I think I can say with little hesitation that I enjoyed this one the most.

After the show, Bri wanted to introduce us to her mom. Unfortunately, I got separated from Lois and Bri as the crowd divided us and pushed me further away. Lois got to say hi, but my introduction will have to wait for another time.

For the astute among you, you may have noticed that this post is about 12-15 hours earlier than normal. Tomorrow (by now actually today), is a crazy and somewhat unpredictable day for us. I didn’t want to take the chance on not posting until Monday, so I stayed up late to get it out now. Time for bed! Smile

Clara Lofaro at Caffe Vivaldi

Send to Kindle

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

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

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

ClaraLofaro

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

ClaraLofaroSinging

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

She’s talented, period.

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

ClaraLofaroSingingClapping1ClaraLofaroSingingClapping2

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

ClaraLofaroACappella

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Whyte and Alec Gross at Caffe Vivaldi

Send to Kindle

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

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

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

JoeWhyteSinging

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

AlecGross

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

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

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

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

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

JoeWhyte

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

Dennis Lichtman and The Brain Cloud at Rodeo Bar

Send to Kindle

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

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

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

DennisLicthman

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

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

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

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

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

Left-to-right on stage:

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

SkipKrevens

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

RaphaelMcGregor

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

TamarKorn

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

ScottKettner

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

IanRiggs

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

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

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

Rebecca Haviland at Arelene’s Grocery

Send to Kindle

We missed a bunch of great shows last week due to the extended holiday weekend and the wonderful company that was up from Richmond to spend it with us.

Rebecca Haviland was appearing at Rockwood Music Hall on Friday night, and that’s the only show we had planned to abandon our company to go see. Unfortunately, our goddaughter baked one of her world-famous apple pies and got permission from Lois for me to have a slice (the answer is often hit-or-miss). Couple that with their latte machine (cherry, or cherry chocolate that night, amazing!) plus an awesome bottle of port, and well, somehow, we didn’t make it to Rockwood…

The saving grace is that we knew Rebecca was playing again, last night, at Arlene’s Grocery. While I prefer Rockwood over Arlene’s for most shows, I admit that I was more excited to see Rebecca at Arlene’s this time around. She’s a rocker, and Arlene’s is well-suited for rock shows (much more so than Rockwood 1).

RebeccaHavilandSinging

Even if we had seen her at Rockwood, it would have been worth coming out again, for the contrast in venues and the swap of two band members.

We never worry about whether Rebecca’s sets will be good, they always are, last night too. If there’s ever a concern, it’s about the sound. Arlene’s has a very good sound guy (Howard), but on occasion, it can get too loud. Last night the volumes were all balanced perfectly. In fact, Chris’ vocals were at a better level than any other show. More on Howard the sound guy a bit later.

In addition to Rebecca’s voice being extremely tasty throughout, on one number Howard cranked the reverb but had a long delay on it (unless Rebecca was controlling that through her pedal). It sounded like Rebecca had a background vocalist singing with her (rather than a trail or echo). It was an extremely cool sound, hearing Rebecca twice.

When Rebecca got to If You (possibly my favorite song of hers, but there’s no shortage of songs to love), she called out that if the audience didn’t know when to sing, they should follow me. Ha! Indeed, good advice, since I belt it out whenever I can (even at home, without the CD on, seriously!). Sorry Krista, I hope I wasn’t too loud, sitting right next to you. Winking smile

Let’s cover the band, right-to-left this time (not my normal direction), then return to Howard the sound guy:

Chris Anderson on electric bass (two of them, one an 8-string) and vocals. Another excellent performance on the bass, in particular, on Money, when Chris was wailing fantastic bass lines while Todd was ripping up the keyboards. More importantly, as mentioned above, Chris’ vocals were leveled perfectly and he sounded great singing with Rebecca on every number.

ChrisAndersonTuning

Chris asked for less of Rebecca’s vocals in his monitor, and Rebecca asked for more of Chris in hers. Chris was particularly impish last night (in general), and after that exchange, hilarity ensued.

Kenny Shaw on drums. Kenny wasn’t able to make Friday’s show, even though he’s Rebecca’s normal drummer. Always a treat to see him. Many of the numbers last night called for slower, but deeply rhythmical (jungle/swing) drumming. Absolutely wonderful.

KennyShawToddCaldwellKennyShaw

Todd Caldwell on electronic keyboards. (The site linked to his name isn’t fully active yet, but hopefully it will be in the near future.) I’d never seen Todd before, and I’m very glad to have corrected that oversight. An incredible keyboard player who took a number of wonderful leads throughout the set. I already mentioned above that he ripped it up on Money.

ToddCaldwell

In 2007, Stephen Stills selected Todd to tour with him. In addition to holding on to that role, he was also invited to play with Crosby, Stills and Nash, another continuing role. Need I say more? I didn’t think so!

ToddCaldwellRebeccaHaviland

I’ve noted in other posts that Howard (the sound guy) is one of the hardest working people I’ve seen. His dedication is impressive. After working the stage to set everyone up, he comes out of the booth during the show to stand in the audience to hear it like we do. During one number, he thought that the electric guitar was a bit too bright. He left the room and came on stage from a side door. He moved a mic that was in front of the amp about four inches further away. That solved the problem perfectly.

He’s also a fan of Rebecca (which means he has good taste too). When her set was over, he asked them to play one more. Folks, it’s highly unusual for a sound guy to do that. They often allow the extra number, but rarely insist on it, like Howard did. Rebecca noted that it was almost time for the next band to go on, but Howard told her to play on!

Then he said something into his mic that cracked me up: “Don’t worry, once you start playing, I’ll turn off the sound.” Winking smile

So, the impromptu encore is not listed on the set list:

SetList

We were both pooped and a bit under the weather, so we bagged another show we were planning on seeing at Rockwood and most unfortunately a special birthday party that we had hoped to attend as well.

The Book of Mormon on Broadway

Send to Kindle

I’m a Scorpio, in practically every way. The most important way is that my birthday just recently passed. I love comedy in nearly every form. When we watch sitcoms on TV, and I laugh at everything truly groan-worthy, Lois always says: “You’re so easy!” It’s true, I am.

I don’t live under a rock (at least not any longer). I am aware that The Book of Mormon is the hottest ticket on Broadway (even hotter than my beloved Wicked). I was aware that it was by the creators of South Park. I was sure that it would be hysterical, irreverent and over-the-top (in particular in its use of foul language). I wanted to see it.

I knew that Lois couldn’t make it through the performance, so I never bothered to get tickets. Then Lois told me that I should get tickets for my birthday and take friends rather than her. Well, if I must (apparently, I must’ed, so I did). Winking smile

Three of us went last night. I went with an open mind, with no doubt that I would love it even more, without the guilt of thinking about Lois squirming in her seat next to me.

I was wrong. Not about everything. It is very funny (though not even close to hysterical or even consistent in the level of humor). It’s extremely irreverent, though not in the let’s poke fun at everything (but rather, let’s ridicule a group that isn’t likely to do/say anything in response). It’s over-the-top, but in making light of things that simply can’t be made light of (the very real, ongoing female genital mutilation in Africa is a non-stop riot in their opinion).

People laugh their heads off, even at those images. It feels to me like it’s more the shock value than an actual joke. When you see people around you laughing, and you’re at the hottest comedy for which you paid a small ransom to attend, you laugh too (or at least most people in the audience did).

To me, there were two separate shows (seamlessly integrated into one spectacle):

  1. A (very raw) comedy ridiculing every aspect of Mormonism. As a side dish, the plight of the poorest, most oppressed, AIDS stricken Ugandans is served up for our delight.
  2. A sendup (parody/skewering) of Broadway Musicals.

Let’s start with #2. I think The Book of Mormon nails it perfectly, in a funny way. Every single actor/singer is fantastic. The music is fine (nothing that I can remember even the next day, but it was all pleasant and professional throughout). The lyrics are often sophomoric, but they’re meant to be (or at least completely feel like that’s intentional). The dancers are very good and all of the exaggerated movements are precisely meant to parody the genre.

The sets are minimalistic on some level, but extremely creative. The transitions from one scene to another are simplistic, but work very well. In other words, the team that put this show together are incredible pros.

The female lead (character of Nabulungi) was a substitute last night (played by Asmeret Ghebremichael). She was amazing! That’s all the more impressive when I found out that the person she was subbing for, Nikki M. James, won the Tony for this role. If Nikki is better than Asmeret (and perhaps that’s true), I can only imagine how good she is!

The two male leads were perfect. Andrew Rannells reminded me of Jim Carrey at his best (physically as well as performance skills). Josh Gad was phenomenal.

To summarize, if #2 was the total target, then The Book of Mormon was as good as it gets.

The problem is that it was paired with #1. When I described it to Lois last night, she asked why they didn’t make up a religion, sprinkle in parts of every major belief system (including Mormonism)? Bingo (once again, Lois is typically more insightful than I am, even about things I’ve seen and she hasn’t!).

I’ve already said (twice) that the entire lighthearted treatment of the Ugandan people borders on the absurd (wow, Hadar, you finally get it, it’s supposed to be exaggerated to absurdity). Unfortunately, there’s no exaggeration, it’s happening, today, and it’s simply not funny.

How about Mormonism? Surely that’s fair game, right? Well, anything is fair game to the authors and that’s fine. They are equal opportunity skewerers. For that, I do applaud them (seriously), they’ve taken on some groups (at South Park) that got them heavily censored as well, so they don’t shy away from one group and only target another.

My problem is with the audiences (not just mine, but the ones who make this a runaway hit). First, let’s stipulate something that I had to check (I was not and obviously still am not an authority on Mormon doctrine). I looked on the official site of the Mormon Church where they describe the Book of Mormon on a single page. There is nothing in the show that contradicts what is on the official page.

In other words, the creators choose to present the material in a satirical manner, but from my perspective, they do not distort the teachings as far as I can tell. They deliver the words with a classic tongue-in-cheek and wink-wink nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean know-what-I-mean manner.

Does some of it sound unbelievable? Of course (to me!). But then are there any major religions that don’t have ample amount of hard-to-swallow stories that can’t be proven beyond the faith of their believers? If you’re not a disciple of the Judeo/Christian bible, do you really think the Garden of Eden existed and played out literally as the bible tells us? If you’re not a Muslim, do you believe that Muhammad memorized the Quran as told to him by an angel and then dictated to his followers from memory?

If you believe all of those things (or more importantly, any of those things), is the tale of Joseph Smith really so absurd? Yet, people have no trouble equating the beliefs of honest Mormons with raucous comedy. In fact, I would posit that in general Christians (of any ilk) are considered to be a fair target for any treatment in this country (unfairly and incorrectly, IMHO).

I further posit that if everything about this show were held constant, with the exception of swapping Mormonism for Islam, few (if any) would laugh at a single line, even devout atheists who think all religions are absurd. In fact, the show wouldn’t be made. On the off chance that I’m wrong about that, I’m sure it would close pretty quickly. In the end, some things aren’t funny (or aren’t allowed to be in our Politically Correct environment).

Thankfully, Mormons are a peaceful bunch who aren’t even likely to sue (unlike, say, Scientologists, when they are made fun of). So hey, let’s all take our best shot at Mormons, they’re obviously good sports!

It’s a funny thing about strongly held beliefs. Over time, they can change, either because they’re proven to be wrong, or because something else makes us rethink aspects of them.

The earth was flat, then it wasn’t (perhaps someday it will be again). Nothing can go faster than the speed of light, even in theory (except for warp speed in Star Trek). Oops, some neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light (man was Einstein a moron). Let’s not get started on our Food Pyramid (which minute of the day is it now, so I know which Pyramid to refer to?).

I started this out by mentioning that I’m a Scorpio. Well, am I? According to this article in Time Magazine (the most respected publication on our planet, can I get an amen?), I am no longer a Scorpio. In fact, Scorpio is now exactly a week-long phenomenon, and not a single person who was a Scorpio before is one now.

What? Is nothing sacred anymore? When you can’t trust your Zodiac Sign, it’s clearly an indication of end days, no?

I’ll finish this off by stating that it’s extremely rare that I agree with a review in The New York Times. Typically, when they love a show, I hate it. When they hate it, I at least enjoyed it, often loved it.

Ben Brantley wrote a very long and detailed review of The Book of Mormon in March 2011. I encourage you to read it fully. I think it’s actually very fair (at least 80% of it is), even though he’s clearly over-the-moon about the show. We don’t really differ in our description of most of it. We differ in the why of some parts (he loves it, and I believe that not everything that can be done should be done).

I still can’t wrap my head around some of his conclusions though:

Now you should probably know that this collaboration between the creators of television’s “South Park” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and the composer of “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez) is also blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak. But trust me when I tell you that its heart is as pure as that of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.

That last line, really? Really? He spends way too much time trying to prove the connection (to the Sound of Music and the King and I). When you can point out to me in either of those how Rodgers and Hammerstein work in anything even remotely pure of heart as repeating a single line that starts with F U, dozens of times in a row, I’ll stand corrected.

He ends another string of paragraphs that I felt like quoting in their entirety with this line:

And it uses this vocabulary with a mixture of reverence and ridicule in which, I would say, reverence has the upper hand.

If you saw this show and thought that reverence had the upper hand, then I want to shake your hand for having the sunniest disposition of anyone I can imagine. To be fair, since most of you who have seen the show (and read the review) will want to pinpoint Brantley’s comment as referring purely to their reverence of the Broadway Musical Genre, and not to their reverence of Mormonism, a true quibble/debate is possible on that.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll conclude with what happened after the show. Like with Friday night’s performance of Wicked, we’re still in the Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (to repeat, twice a year, possibly lasting the entire year between the two times). The character of the shows comes through in the way they appeal for donations.

Wicked was represented by Glinda, who was charming in every way in making her appeal. The Book of Mormon was represented by Josh Gad, who was very funny, but at times downright vicious in his humor in trying to get people to donate. Aside from the mandatory F-bombs that he was required to throw (in particular at audience members who left while he was talking), he had to throw in the optional D-Bags to describe anyone who might not put money in the buckets. Nice!

I put money in the bucket last night as well, but I put four times more in the Wicked bucket. I’ll give Josh this. I might have put in zero, if he hadn’t pre-shamed me with the D-Bag comment, so mission accomplished Josh!

For the record, both of my friends loved the show, unconditionally. For the record, I love both of my friends just as much today as I did before I found that out. Winking smile

Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

Send to Kindle

What’s a Saturday night in NYC without a taste of Greg Mayo? Empty! Thankfully, NYC was full last night. Greg often plays with others on a Saturday, but it was his turn to shine in the spotlight with The Greg Mayo Band.

GregMayo

Given the time of year, it was no surprise that there were some substitutions. While we will welcome the regulars back with open arms (they are all exceptional), last night’s replacements were no slouches and the show was up there with the best we’ve seen!

The only missing piece was female vocals (Rebecca Haviland was performing in MD). That said, while Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 often gets the sound right (or at least really good), I can’t recall it ever being better than last night.

Greg is always an excellent vocalist, but last night was perhaps his best effort (possibly due entirely to the sound engineer getting everyone’s levels perfect).

GregMayoSinging

Greg was as masterful as ever on the grand piano and electronic keyboards. We typically sit/stand on that side of the stage for a Greg Mayo Band show, but last night we stood very close at a better angle to watch Greg play. Wow!

GregMayoKeyboard

I wondered whether there would be a good crowd, because Greg’s set was sandwiched between two paid shows. Logistically, that can be a headache. No worries, it was a large and very energetic/enthusiastic crowd.

It was impossible to stand still. Foot tapping, head bobbing, body swaying, full-on dancing. If you weren’t doing at least one of those, you weren’t at the same show.

Let’s get to the amazing band, left-to-right on stage:

Jeff Richardi on baritone sax. Jeff was filling in for John Liotta, very ably. Jeff took a couple of leads, one was very long and tasty. He also kicked off a number of the songs with a funky bottom.

JeffRichardi

Josh Reed on trumpet. Josh tore it up on one long solo and was consistently excellent on the remaining fills, as always.

JoshReed

Jon Irabagon on tenor sax. Jon was filling in for Matt Simons. I am in love with Matt Simons sax play, but I still feel a bit silly labeling Jon as filling in. Here’s part of the first line of Jon’s bio:

winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition

Yes folks, we had a superstar in our midst. That’s what can happen at any time at a place like Rockwood. Jon hasn’t forgotten his friends as he’s moved up the ladder and when given an opportunity to sit in, happily took it. Happily for us as well!

JonIrabagon

Kenny Shaw on drums. It’s been nearly a month since we’ve seen Kenny hit the skins. Something was probably askew with the universe, as we’ve seen Kenny more often this year than any other drummer. He was on fire last night, so I guess he felt he had to make it up to us. OK Kenny, we’re back to even again. Until next time! (which I hope will be this Friday, 8pm, Rockwood 1, for Rebecca Haviland’s show) Smile

KennyShawKennyShawDrums

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris always delivers on the bass. He also sings background on every Greg Mayo Band show, but without Rebecca’s voice last night, Chris was way more prominent on the harmony with Greg. Given how good the sound levels were, he was crystal clear and really did a great job. Way to belt it out Chris!

ChrisAndersonChrisAndersonSinging

Paul Maddison on electric guitar and vocals. Paul was excellent throughout on both. During one number, Greg seemed to finish the song abruptly. A few people clapped, but it didn’t feel like the song was actually over. In fact, they took the few seconds of silence to morph it into a song by a band that Paul Maddison and Kenny Shaw are in, which Greg Mayo produces.

PaulMaddisonSinging

Paul sang two verses of Lipstick on My Booty, a staple of The Thang Band. I’ve seen one Thang Band show, and have been waiting (impatiently and excitedly) for another opportunity.

To prove that the original song wasn’t over, after singing the second verse of Lipstick, they morphed back into the original song and Greg finished it up big. A nice tease for The Thang Band.

Paul also sang a lot of background vocals on the other numbers, often with Chris Anderson as well.

Robbie Gil was called up as a special guest star on two numbers. One in the middle of the set and again for the encore. Robbie has a very powerful voice, which reminds me of Joe Cocker. He fit in perfectly with Greg’s sound, and sang a verse on lead in each number, along with background for the rest of the song.

RobbieGilChrisAndersonPaulMaddisonRobbieGilSinging

Here’s the set list:

SetList

At one point, Greg introduced himself. After saying that he was Greg Mayo, he added: “Or when my mom is in the room, like now, Gregory is OK as well”. Smile

The audiences at Rockwood definitely like the human interest side of their artists (we certainly do), so everyone started looking around immediately. At first Greg said “Perhaps she doesn’t want attention called to her”. That didn’t stop people from trying to figure out who it was. So, eventually, he said “Mom, raise your hand”. She did and we were all satisfied and allowed Greg to back to singing. Smile

A great show which definitely made going out on a chilly Saturday night the right decision. I think Greg mentioned that the next Greg Mayo Band show was on December 17th, also at Rockwood 2, but the website doesn’t go out that far yet, so double check.

Some shots of the brass section and the rest of the band (can’t see Kenny or Greg in these angles). Last shot is of the encore, with Robbie Gil back on stage:

BrassSectionCloseupJeffRichardiJoshReedChrisAndersonJonIrabagonPaulMaddison

GregMayoBandEncore

Wicked Continues to Rule

Send to Kindle

On the 11th month, of the 11th year, (7 days after the 11th day), there is but one thing to do: See Wicked for the 11th time! Smile

We had friends in from out of town. We’ve been targeting one of them for three years now to see Wicked with us and we finally made it happen last night.

I’ve written about each other performance, so I won’t go into specific show details. Feel free to search for “Wicked” up top and find the other 10 write-ups.

Instead, I’ll just briefly review the performances of the main characters and explain an insight I had last night.

I always worry about the two leads (usually, unnecessarily). I typically check them out before buying tickets. Since we didn’t have leeway this time, I just bought without looking them up.

Both were new to us, which is exciting and frightening at the same time.

Jackie Burns as Elphaba. Jackie was nearly flawless. You can’t expect, nor even hope for flawless, so I was completely happy/satisfied with her performance.

Jackie’s acting was fantastic. I noticed a few nuances that I had either missed in earlier performances, or that Jackie brought a fresh take on. Her voice is extraordinary.

My nits were in a few of the harmonies and a tiny amount of styling (singing a song reasonably different than the original cast album version).

Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda. Chandra was fantastic, though a bit less flawless than Jackie. I was still completely happy with the performance.

Chandra’s acting was equal to Jackie’s. Her comedic timing and physical gestures were up there with the best Glinda’s we’ve seen, while never being too over-the-top (they’re supposed be somewhat over-the-top, by design).

She has a stunning voice, but it’s not completely consistent across all ranges. For the most part, the harmonies with Jackie were great, but there were a few notable exceptions, which I also counted against Jackie (in my mind).

In particular, the big finale with both of them, For Good, caused them a bit of a problem (probably unrecognizable to a first-timer). This song often seems to cause a problem. I don’t know if it’s trickier than the rest or whether they’re exhausted and it’s difficult to keep up the concentration and energy by then.

To be clear, it was still excellent, but with meaningfully noticeable issues.

They are paired well and I’d happily seem them again.

The rest of the cast was excellent with one very minor exception. Fiyero was a substitute last night (Constantine Rousouli). He was delightful throughout. The exception was in the forest scene with Elphaba where they sing together sitting on the stage. He struggled a bit when he was singing his solo parts and a bit when he sang harmony with Jackie.

Now my insight. I know that practically everyone who knows me thinks I’m crazy to have seen Wicked as often as I have. I would bet that the people that have seen it with me, even the ones who loved it, think that the most (meaning, they can’t imagine wanting to see it 11 times).

That wasn’t the insight. Winking smile

The insight is that the more often I see it, the easier it is to soak in the total majesty (and occasionally notice new things, which happens every time), because I know every note and every word. The point is that I don’t have to sit on the edge of my seat hoping to catch the next clever line (spoken or sung). I enjoy them (like they’re second nature), but can concentrate on anything else I want without missing the joke, the melody, the harmony, etc.

The first time around, you have to really pay attention to the dialog and the singing, so closely, or you will miss a key piece of the story, or a hysterical pun/joke.

OK, so it’s not deep, but it’s still accurate.

After the bows (to a standing ovation when Chandra and Jackie came out), the entire cast stayed on stage.

WickedStandingOvation

Chandra came forward and announced that this was one of the two times a year that all of Broadway raises money for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS.

ChandraLeeSchwartzAIDSAnnouncementWickedCastBroadwayCares

I gave money (as I always do) when we walked out. Our schedule must be predicable, because this is at least the 6th time in our 11 trips that it’s been one of the two times a year. I’m now suspicious that the two times are the first 180 days, and the second 180 days, or the two times are whenever Hadar is in the theater. Winking smile

Before the show, five of us ate at Bar Americain which is just two blocks from the theater. Everything about our meal was great. The food (appetizers, entrees and desserts), the company and the service. In fact, the banter and helpful recommendations from our waitress were a key part of the enjoyment.

That said, I’m not sure if I can explain why it wouldn’t be at the top of my list to return to (I don’t have a single complaint about any aspect of the evening!). Just a feeling that some other places that I’ve been to leave me more excited to return. Plus, there are the thousands of places I’ve never tried before either…

Delta Rae at Sullivan Hall

Send to Kindle

Delta Rae opened for Carbon Leaf at Sullivan Hall last night. We went because of Delta Rae. Discovering Carbon Leaf (who we had heard of, but had never seen or listened to) was a nice bonus.

DeltaRaeSingingBotR

The last few times we saw Delta Rae were at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. Those shows were all excellent (covered here, here and here, in reverse order).

When Delta Rae comes to town, you can be sure of one of two things:

  1. It will be over 100 degrees out
  2. It will be pouring

It wasn’t going to be 100 degrees yesterday, so that meant that weeks back (when the show was announced), you could be sure that it would rain in NYC on November 17th, 2011. So, seeing this tweet from Elizabeth Hopkins of Delta Rae, yesterday morning, should have come as no surprise to any NYC-based Delta Rae fan:

BatSparkles Liz Hopkins

raining in NYC again . #RockingInAnyWeather again!! 😉 looking forward to seeing Miss @alexandra_watts this fine evening@SullivanHallNYC

If I could make money with this information, I would! If only I were a farmer and could bet on the weather… Winking smile They’ll be back in January (Mercury Lounge, date not yet listed). Once the date is listed, start making bets about rain (or possibly snow) that day in NYC!

As awesome as the shows at Rockwood have been (all three), the stage is very cramped when Delta Rae is on, largely because of the Grand Piano. The sound there has been great too, but Delta Rae goes big (they never go home), and Rockwood might be a tad too small for their sound.

Sullivan Hall is a more classic rock venue like The Studio at Webster Hall, Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery, etc., with larger stages and wide-open, standing-only venues. It’s longer than it is wider (this was our first time there), but it’s not a railroad car (meaning, it’s not too skinny). The stage is reasonably wide and very deep. Delta Rae was easily able to spread out, move around and the ladies were able to dance a bit more freely.

BrittanyHolljesElizabethHopkinsElizabethHopkinsIanHolljes

With a notable exception (below), the sound was very good, even though we were smack in the middle in front of the stage, not the ideal listening place since we’re standing between the two main speakers on either side of the stage.

EricHolljesEricHolljesSinging

The show itself was one of the best we’ve seen. The crowd was at near capacity (Sullivan Hall holds 345) and the energy in the room was fantastic. While nearly everyone in the crowd (perhaps other than us?) was clearly a Carbon Leaf fan, everyone standing near the stage (meaning everyone around us) were clearly Delta Rae fans too (knowing every song).

IanHolljes

While they didn’t abide to a strict rotation, the first four songs were lead by a different member of the band. Each did a fantastic job. And of course, when they sing together (in pairs or all four), make sure you take your heart medicine (OK, I’m older than most of their fans). Winking smile

BrittanyHolljesMikeMcKeeElizabethHopkinsIanHolljes

Ian Holljes popped a string on his acoustic and switched to an electric for a few numbers.

IanHolljesElectricGuitar

The lighting person has a very different idea of how to light a show than I do. Often, the entire stage was nearly dark, or back-lit with bright lights shining on us, casting everyone on stage in shadows. Sometimes it took him a full verse to put a light on the person singing lead. At times, that made for cool looking effects (which perhaps is exactly what he was looking to accomplish), but it felt random to me, more like he didn’t know how to find the singer (whack a mole?).

Backlighting

The one sound complaint was that Grant Emerson’s amp (for his electric bass) was cranked too high. The same problem existed in spades for the Carbon Leaf set. It seemed a drop better for Delta Rae for two reasons: 1) Four extremely strong voices seemed to soar above even a loud bass and 2) I’m so familiar with the songs that (even unconsciously) I could have been filling in sounds I was sure I was hearing.

GrantEmersonUprightElectricBassBow

That said, every note of Grant’s play could be made out (which wasn’t true for Carbon Leaf). In fact, I was mesmerized by his play during the finale, Fire, where he tore up the bass lines (since he was a focal point, it was OK that he was louder than the rest in that instance).

GrantEmersonElectricBass

If you want to know more details about them in general, please read the posts linked above. For now, I’ll end with the set list from last night, and more photos.

SetListBrittanyHolljesSingingFire

BrittanyHolljesBacklitBrittanyHolljesSinging

ElizabethHopkinsSingingMikeMcKee

Carbon Leaf at Sullivan Hall

Send to Kindle

Last night was our first time at Sullivan Hall. It was also our first time seeing Carbon Leaf. Both of those are thanks to our love of Delta Rae, who opened for Carbon Leaf.

I hadn’t listened to any of their music before the show, so I truly had no idea what to expect, other than a number of people told me that they’re really great. Having seen them, I don’t doubt it, but there was one reason (and one reason only!) that I don’t think last night’s show was an ideal one to be introduced to them. I’ll get to that below.

My categorization of them would be Celtic-tinged Rock. They reminded me (sonically) of The Proclaimers, a number of times (yes, I know they are Scottish, not Irish). Note the modifier tinged. Not every song has a Celtic feel to it.

They are all very talented and they’re tight as a group. Regardless of the music, it was a fun and interesting place to be. Sullivan Hall was packed. Capacity is listed at 345. I would guess they were a few short of a sellout, but not by much. Carbon Leaf has devoted fans who were singing along to every song, every word. At first, it surprised me, because I looked on stage and saw only one person singing, but I heard multiple voices. Then I looked around and everyone near me was singing along. Cool.

The band connects with the audience deeply. They love being on stage and playing for their fans. If they don’t, they should be Hollywood stars! Winking smile

After playing an electrified set for nearly 90 minutes, they brought out a single high-end acoustic mic to center stage. All five members gathered around the mic and played an acoustic number. That was a homage to their current CD, a 2-Disc Live Acoustic offering, with a bonus DVD (a bonus you pay for, as Barry joked: You get three for the price of three!). Smile

CarbonLeafAcoustic1CarbonLeafAcoustic2

Carter then switched from mandolin to banjo and they did another song with the same setup.

CarbonLeafAcoustic3CarbonLeafAcoustic4

Both acoustic songs were absolutely gorgeous. It overcame the problem (that I haven’t described yet) and made me truly realize their talent. They followed that with another rock number (electrified) to close out the set. Of course they were called back for an encore.

They returned without the acoustic mic but all gathered center stage again. This time they sang completely unplugged and un-mic’ed. The reason? They sang a song that the fans sang with them, out loud, so it didn’t matter whether you heard Barry singing lead. We might have been the only two people in the audience who didn’t sing (since we didn’t know the song).

In a could-have-been-uncomfortable moment, we happened to be standing dead center, at the stage (surprise!), so we were staring right into Barry’s eyes, meaning, he knew we weren’t singing. Hopefully, he didn’t take it personally. Winking smile

I have been streaming Carbon Leaf since I started writing, directly from their site (right at the top, just click to start). In an incredible twist (to me at least), the minute I started writing about the first song in the encore (the one I just described), it came on in the rotation, so now I can tell you the name: One Prairie Outpost. Another winner!

In fact, I haven’t heard a song I don’t like yet, which makes me feel much better about my second paragraph up top.

They followed that with another electrified number to close the show (like they closed the set before the encore).

I’ll mention each band member (as I always do), just not in my typical left-to-right order. I’ll finish with the problem.

Barry Privett on lead vocals, penny whistle and recorders, tambourine and shakers. Barry is the classic front man. He has a very nice voice, though it didn’t do anything special for me. There’s something that feels spiritual about him on stage. He acts out some of the lyrics and moves in a somewhat ethereal manner. At times, it seems like he’s in a bit of a trance. It all works (at least it did for me).

BarryPrivettSingingBarryPrivettMetalRecorder

PennyWhistleBarryPrivettPennyWhistle

Carter Gravatt on most things that have strings. Carter played multiple acoustic and electric guitars. He played a cello-like instrument that I’ve never seen before. He played a lot of mandolin (amplified and unplugged) and bouzouki (or a derivative). His banjo play in the unplugged segment was beautiful. Here’s his setup:

CarterGravattSetup

Here he is playing most of those instruments:

CarterGravattAcousticGuitarCarterGravattCello

Carter took a couple of seriously long leads on electric guitar, extremely tasty. Basically, he’s masterful on all of the instruments that he plays. He had a pedal steel guitar set up on stage, but I don’t think he played it. He also sang background vocals quite a bit.

CarterGravattElectricGuitarCarterGravattSinging

CarterGravattBouzoukiCarterGravattMandolin

Terry Clark on acoustic and electric guitars and the most prominent harmonies with Barry. Terry was quite good (a real crowd favorite), but for the most part, his guitar play takes a back seat to Carter’s leads (by design). In the two unplugged songs, he took some extremely tasty leads on the acoustic guitar (when Carter played mandolin and banjo respectively), so he showed off his chops.

TerryClarkAcousticTerryClarkElectricGuitar

Jason Neal on drums and background vocals. Jason did a terrific job throughout the set. His drums were energetic and interesting. On both unplugged numbers, he came out with a drum strapped around his neck and played with brushes to great effect.

JasonNealJasonNealDrums

JasonNealBrushesJasonNealSinging

Jon Markel on electric and upright bass and background vocals. John is an excellent bassist. I know that largely because of the two unplugged numbers. I also know it because on one number I watched him very closely on the upright, and his fingers were flying up and down the neck while his right hand was plucking the strings at a crazy-fast rate.

JonMarkelBlueElectricBassJonMarkelBlondElectricBass

That said, he was the problem last night. I can’t properly describe or explain how poorly (loudly) amp’ed the bass was. Practically every stroke of a bass string sounded like the kick drum (yes, I know the difference). It pounded me in the chest, shook the floor so that my feet and legs rattled.

Basically, it was a thump/buzz that deadened most of the other sounds. If I wasn’t as close to the stage, I might have missed some of Carter’s amazing leads. For me, being able to see a guitarist’s fingers really helps me pick out the guitar sound from rest, which I was able to do last night, barely.

The problem was twice as bad on the upright. I have never experienced an upright bass mic’ed louder than an electric. It was practically impossible to pick out separate notes. Every time Jon plucked a bass string (on the upright), it was the same as any other string on any other fret (I know there aren’t physical frets). It was just another strike of a kick drum. At least on the electric, I could often make out a specific note.

JonMarkelUprightBassJonMarkelUprightBassBow

To repeat, this has nothing to do with Jon’s skill, which was evident when he unplugged. This was a setup problem. The sound engineer probably had no control over it, but he could have still gotten word to the band that it was overwhelming so they could turn down the amp.

Of course, fans didn’t seem to mind (or even notice) and I totally get that. They knew every word (and every note), so they could hear things, because their brains filled in the parts that weren’t easy to hear separately. That’s why I said this wasn’t an ideal show to be introduced to Carbon Leaf.

In a miraculous saving grace, Carbon Leaf uses in-ear monitors, like our beloved Girlyman. Because of that, the sound engineer came out and flipped around the two center stage monitors (that had been used by Delta Rae), and pointed them directly at us (remember, we were standing at the stage, dead center). He told us that we would appreciate having the monitors facing us, so that we could hear the vocals better.

He was correct! I can assure you that I wouldn’t have heard Barry even for a second over the bass if not for this incredibly serendipitous turn of events.

I’ve now been listening for quite a while to Carbon Leaf streaming, and I continue to be impressed. Independent of my complaint about the bass, I enjoyed the show and am glad that we stayed, even though we were both exhausted. Here’s the set list from last night, many of those songs are available for free streaming on the Carbon Leaf site!

SetList