Music

New Grado Headphones

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I was in the market for new headphones, and after doing some research on the web, landed on Grado. I decided that the best value was the Grado SR80. Most of the reviews that I read were on Amazon.com. After placing an order with one site, I ended up canceling the order when they wanted me to jump through hoops to have it delivered to Zope Corporation, which wasn’t listed on my credit card as a verified address.

I ended up ordering them from HCM Audio for the same price, plus HCM threw in a 12′ extension cord (which I don’t need, but hey, it’s still a nice touch). During the shopping process, I discovered the iGrado model as well, a street-style headset meant for iPod listening. So, I snagged one of those as well.

They both showed up yesterday. Wow, the reviews were very accurate. Great sound, but not really comfortable to begin with. Everyone says that they eventually stretch just the right amount, and you end up loving the fit. It’s been one day, and I can already believe that, but man, it’s definitely uncomfortable at the moment…

What’s funny is that for the past two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the new iPods with the included ear buds. They are wildly comfortable, but what a joke they are from a fidelity standpoint (a surprise given Apple’s usual attention to detail). I’m no audiophile, so I wasn’t all that unhappy with them, until I put on the Grados. What a difference. That said, even my ancient Sony ear buds (low end model!) kick the iPod buds’ behind. They really are a complete joke.

Now, here’s a real first for me! I wrote a post on this topic that reached 790 words and was barely 1/3 of the way toward making the points I intended to make. Highly uncharacteristic of my style, I just tossed it all and wrote this short version instead. Good for you, but bad for my normal intention of using this blog to capture my thoughts (including tons of silly details) for my own posterity when I can’t recall the details like I can now. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a trend! πŸ˜‰

(not including this paragraph, but including the silly disclaimer above, this post is 373 words. What a difference!)

The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

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We’re in the middle our usual Zope Trip, which involves a weekend in Virginia. We typically spend the weekend with our friends. They were on a 10-day trip cruising from Italy to Greece, and were scheduled to return late last night (they did).

On Friday afternoon, during a lull in the workday, I decided to check the websites of some of our favorite artists to see where they were touring. The second one that I checked was The Wailin’ Jennys. I’ve written about them before, once when we saw them live, and once when I got their CDs.

I was surprised, and excited, when I saw that they were playing the next night (last night, Saturday) in Charlottesville, VA, at the Gravity Lounge. I could describe Gravity Lounge, perhaps even adequately, but they have a YouTube video tour which I watched, making me want to see the show even more. If you bothered to watch the video, you can see that the setting is up-close and personal. Just like we like it (specifically, at Joe’s Pub in NYC).

We rarely see shows outside of NY, so I wasn’t sure how Lois would react to the idea. We’ve been in Charlottesville a number of times, and think it’s a gorgeous town, but it’s 90-120 minutes from Fredericksburg, depending on the traffic, and while it’s a gorgeous ride, it’s mainly on two lane roads (one in each direction), so it’s easy to get stuck behind someone…

She wasn’t wild about the idea, but she knows how crazy I am about the Jennys, so she agreed reasonably quickly. I snagged two tickets online. If you watched the video, you know that they can seat at most about 150 people, so I was very pleased that there were at least two tickets left. Since it’s a first-come first-served venue, it didn’t matter if I bought the first two or last two tickets!

So, we headed out at 4pm from the hotel, and arrived at Gravity Lounge at 5:45pm, not bad. There were roughly 15 people on line in front of us. They didn’t let us in (even though the front door was open) because the Jennys were doing a sound check, and no one was allowed in until that was done.

When they let us in, we grabbed two seats in the third row, dead center. Once our coats were on the seats, we headed back to the cafe area and ordered wraps for dinner. Very fresh, very cheap, very tasty! We ate in our seats, though there were tables in the cafe area that we could have used, if we hadn’t ordered finger food.

The show was scheduled to begin at 7pm. At 6:30pm, the place seemed relatively empty. We would have been surprised if there were 50 people there by then. At 7pm, when the show was clearly not going to start on time, the place was full, clearly sold out. They started at around 7:15pm.

In addition to the serendipity of me finding out about this late Friday afternoon, having two tickets left, and us being available, it turns out that this was the last show on the Jennys year-long tour. Their next date is February 7, 2008, in British Columbia! So, this was extra-special, for them as well, as they could collapse after putting on this show!

We were roughly 12 feet from the performers. The intimacy was amazing. I’ve written in the past at the vast difference in feel of Wicked (on Broadway) when we have sat in the first few rows versus sitting further back. This was like that too. When we saw the Jennys in Tarrytown, we were in the 13th row, dead center. In addition to being considerably further back, the theater there is so much larger, and well, theater-like (tall ceiling, etc.) that everything is wildly different about the experience.

The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

As with Wicked, to Lois, being this close up made a world of difference, and she connected with the Jennys much more than she did in Tarrytown. I too felt the connection (as did the entire crowd), and noticed things I didn’t in Tarrytown (like the one boy Jenny, Jeremy Penner, who I thought was 20 years older at Tarrytown).

In my last post, I pointed you to their web site for their musical backgrounds. I won’t go into too much detail here, but I feel the need to give them a little more direct play. The leader of the group is Ruth Moody. She sings like an angel. She reminds me a little of Alison Krauss in that both sing in a register so high that most humans have trouble hearing it, let alone attempting to hit those notes. That said, Alison Krauss hits those notes with the clarity of a bell, and Ruth hits them with a breathy sultriness (still nailing each individual note every time) that is sufficiently different than Alison.

In addition to an angelic voice, Ruth plays the guitar, banjo, concertina (small accordian), percussion, all brilliantly. Nicky Mehta sings one register lower (though she can hit high notes flawlessly), and she plays the guitar, drums and harmonica, brilliantly as well. Heather Masse (the newest Jenny, third in the role she is in) sings bass amazingly (complementing and rounding out the vocal range of the three) and plays the bass as well (yes, to overuse the word, brilliantly).

Jeremy Penner doesn’t sing, but plays the fiddle and mandolin brilliantly. You could weep at some of his solos, and they are reasonably generous in highlighting his skills.

Jeremy Penner at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

Their songs are gorgeous, and flowing, and the words are generally very powerful as well. That said, the magic happens when they harmonize together. It’s stunning.

So, how did this show compare to the one in Tarrytown? For Lois, this was much better. Seeing everything up close, and hearing the power of their voices in such an intimate setting, made her appreciate them more than she did in Tarrytown. For me, I loved last night’s show, but Tarrytown was better acoustically. Last night was a little more raw, in that we were close to the speakers, and in between them. In Tarrytown, as I reported before, the acoustics were nearly perfect, and the entire feeling was significantly more lush. No complaints about last night, the raw-ness was a great experience, just different, and not as beautiful to me personally.

As I mentioned for Tarrytown as well, the Jennys connect with the audience wonderfully. They are so natural on the stage. That said, the stories were mostly identical to the ones at Tarrytown, delivered with the same apparent impromptu-ness. Don’t get me wrong, they were delivered flawlessly, and the audience loved it (as did we), but, Girlyman mixed in new stories the second time we saw them, which was a nicer touch. πŸ˜‰

Ah, so we snuck in a mention of Girlyman, finally! So, Lois was shocked (pre-concert) when I told her that I liked the Jennys 80-90% as much as Girlyman (she thought that was blasphemous!). I think she may not feel quite the same as I do about the Jennys, but she inched up a lot closer after last night. For me, as amazing as the Jennys are (I listen to their CDs a lot), Girlyman still beats them out, on a number of levels.

Bill Cooley CDs

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In this post about Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub, I mentioned that I thought that Bill Cooley was possibly the best acoustic guitarist I have ever heard. I’m glad I said possibly, because only four days later, I saw California Guitar Trio at BB King, and as my post on that concert attests, all three of them are amazing as well. I haven’t changed my mind on Bill, I’m just glad I allowed for others to be in his league, by adding possibly. πŸ˜‰

So, as I reported, I immediately ordered both of Bill’s CDs. I was lucky enough to have Bill himself respond to my email, and he informed me that his first CD, Unravel’d, was officially out of print. He offered to burn a copy for me, and he also had the original artwork for the CD cover, so I would be getting nearly the same experience as purchasing the original CD. (Yes, folks, I paid for that, so don’t think Bill is or should be giving anything away!).

I ordered two sets of each CD, so that we could give one away as a gift should the urge hit us.

Both CDs just showed up a little while ago, and I was like a kid at Christmas unwrapping them. Having the burned CD is an extra treat, because Bill hand wrote the title of the CD and his name, and on one of the two, it’s more like a signature, so I have a signed copy of his original CD, which I would not have had if I had bought a shrink-wrapped original. Cool!

The range of music on Unravel’d is impressive, and his playing is exceptional throughout. As the styles change, so do the variety of instruments that accompany him, including horns, flutes, harmonica, drums, etc. Bill picks, strums, uses a slide, sometimes all at once (no, I’m not kidding), and it’s simply gorgeous. I’ll be listening to this CD over and over, it’s a real treat!

The newer CD is A Turn In The Road. The first song Butter Fingers is really cool, and is a nice double entendre. Obviously, Bill is anthing but a Butter Fingers in the classical sense of that meaning. Of course, his fingers are as smooth and rich as butter, so that part applies. πŸ˜‰

On the second track, Uno Tuno, there is both a really good electric guitar playing, as well as a superb acoustic one, so I’m not sure if the song is dubbed, and he plays both, or if someone is accompanying him on the electric guitar.

The third track, The Voice Of The Wind is in a more classical guitar style (and you know how much I love that!), accompanied only by violins (or some other strings, cello, etc.). OK, OK, I’ll stop describing each individual song.

Obviously, even though there were seven years between the release of these CDs, Bill didn’t lose his touch. A Turn In The Road is gorgeous as well!

According to Bill, his third CD will be coming out in 2008. I for one, can’t wait!

I checked the Tour Dates section of Bill’s site, and nothing in the near future can really be worked into our schedule. That said, one show in particular really intrigued me, and I’ll mention it here, since I have a number of buddies who live in Minneapolis.

Kathy Mattea (and therefore Bill!) are performing with the Minneapolis Orchestra on December 21st, in a Christmas Concert. Aside from an opportunity to see Bill live, this sounds like a special opportunity to see Kathy perform her magic as well. If you can be in Minneapolis on December 21st, you should lock in your tickets now! πŸ™‚

Anyway, you just have to love it when you look forward to something as much as I was looking forward to getting Bill’s CDs, and not being disappointed when the day finally arrives! πŸ™‚

New iPods = New Joy + New Headaches

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I have a good friend (let’s call him Ed, because that’s his real first name) who is perhaps the worlds best gift giver. I am embarrassed to admit how many amazing gifts he has given me over the years. I have reciprocated on rare occasion, and I’m sure that while my gifts pleased him somewhat, they more likely amused him as feeble attempts to give true pleasure.

Ed got me my first Blackberry, my first Sony Voice Recorder, Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Noise Canceling Headphones, my first GPS system (a high-end Garmin) and a few other really cool toys, all over the past eight years.

When he got me the GPS, he bought Lois a 30GB iPod (Video). I had a Creative Zen MP3 player at the time, and I was happy that Lois now had her own device. Lois isn’t much of a techie, so she didn’t really want to manage the iPod (meaning, run iTunes on her laptop, select music, sync, charge, etc.). Since loading iTunes on my laptop didn’t interfere with the Creative software that I was running, I was happy to manage Lois’ iPod for her.

So, I loaded all of our collective MP3’s on to the iPod, and we used it primarily in the car (on our extremely long drives) for both of us, but really, 90% of the time for Lois’ music. Away from the car, I’m the only one that used the iPod, primarily when I was taking my long exercise walks, because it was just a tad sleeker than my Zen.

This has worked out great, for years now, as between us, we only had 18GB filled out of the 30 on the machine, so there was no need to upgrade. Further, the battery is still holding a charge reasonably well.

Then, as I’ve reported twice already, on occasion, the iPod started freezing (nothing too terrible, but annoying nonetheless). When the new iPods became available at Sam’s Club, I started thinking hard about getting a new one. Then a good friend of mine asked me for advice as he was interested in getting his first iPod. Voila! I realized I could kill two birds with one stone. Get us a new iPod, and keep Ed’s karma alive by finding a very happy home for the old iPod.

On our next outing to Sam’s Club, I bought a new iPod Classic, 160GB. I still only have 18GB of music on it, but now I can also back up my hard drive (if necessary or desired), etc. Just more wiggle room. I couldn’t resist, and I bought an 8GB Nano as well. Man, it’s a crazy feat of engineering. Sweet little thing. It could never be my sole iPod, because 8GB just won’t cut it. But, for exercising and just running around, it’s more than enough, and I already love it to pieces.

So far, I’ve covered the New iPods = New Joy part of the title. On to the + New Headaches part now…

When Lois and I were driving to Peekskill on Saturday to see the David Bromberg concert, I took the Nano so that we could gear up in the car. I created a little playlist of Angel Band and Bromberg tunes. We were listening to them in the car, and when Angel Band songs switched to Bromberg, Lois asked me why I haven’t put on One Voice (Angel Band’s best song, where they cover The Wailin’ Jennys song). I knew that I did.

So, I skipped backwards, and sure enough, it was there, but didn’t play. The minute I selected the song, the next song in the playlist started playing. I tried to play the song straight from the album, but it skipped after showing the metadata there as well. OK, no big deal (I figured), it must have copied over weirdly.

The next day we made our usual long trek, and had the Classic in the car for entertainment. We tried to play One Voice on the Classic, and it wouldn’t play either! Seemed too coincidental that the same song didn’t sync correctly to two separate devices. Along the way, Lois tried to play Bring It On Home by Little Big Town, and it too wouldn’t play. So far, those are the only two songs that we’re sure don’t play, out of the 7080 songs on the Classic (no, we haven’t tried them all yet). πŸ˜‰

So, yesterday, I fired up iTunes on the PC, and sure enough, those two songs play perfectly. Further, if I select those songs on the iPods themselves, but through iTunes on the PC, and play them, they both play. They are definitely playing from the iPod, and not from the PC hard drive (I’ve proven that much to myself). That means that the songs transferred correctly, but something in the library file that contains the metadata on the iPod simply can’t play those songs!

So, the next logical thing to do is to search the net. I was shocked to find so many people claiming to have exactly the same problem. The trouble is that nearly every post was from 2005, and involved iTunes 4.5+. There were many solutions proposed, some temporary, some permanent, each receiving mixed success with those who originally complained.

One semi-common denominator was that the skipped songs were often purchased songs, so they had some form of DRM associated with them. That’s not our case. 100% of our songs are ripped from our own CD collection. They are all ripped at 96kbps (I’m far from an audiophile, and the smaller disk space requirement is a good balance for me).

Anyway, lots more searching and trying unsuccessfully a few of the suggestions, and I decided to try a suggestion that someone claimed worked 100% of the time. Select the song in iTunes, click on the Advanced Menu, and click on Convert to MP3. Yes, it’s already in MP3 format, but hey, I tried it anyway. It made a new copy in the iTunes Music directory (remember, mine were ripped by Creative and stored elsewhere on the disk).

The resultant file was slightly larger than original, but not by much. The only horrible side-effect was that all ID3 tag information was lost. In my case, it was only two songs (so far), but if I end up discovering lots more problems (as many people in 2005 complained about), that fact alone might cause me to search for a better solution. Once converted, I moved the new file over the old file (so that all of my other players would still find it where it was), and resync’ed the iPods. Both songs now play perfectly.

Whew!

I’m holding my breath that it won’t happen to too many more songs. While easy to fix, it’s still a more painful process than it needs to be, given that I have to re-enter all of the ID3 tags by hand, and I don’t look forward to doing that too many times… It also can’t be fixed while on the go, as you have to be at the computer to convert and resync.

Perhaps some poor soul who searches for the same problem will stumble on this post, and save a little time and sanity in the process. My two reasons for writing this post are that (helping someone by chance) and memorializing the fact that Ed is indeed the world’s greatest gift giver!

Bromberg and Angel Band at Paramount Theater

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This past Saturday night, we went to see David Bromberg and Angel Band (David’s wife’s group) perform at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that David Bromberg is one of my all-time favorite live performers.

In September 2006, I saw him again at BB King in NYC for the first time in over 20 years. That night, we accidentally discovered Angel Band. We had never heard of them, and would have sat through any opening band to hear Bromberg. What a treat it turned out to be that Angel Band was not only his wife’s group, but that David and his band played all of the instruments in support of these three amazing female vocalists.

Ironically, another of my favorite groups (Jazz this time though), Spyro Gyra was playing the same night, just three miles from our house at Tarrytown Music Hall. I didn’t find out about the Spyro Gyra concert until after I had the tickets for the Bromberg concert, so it was too late. Given that we saw Bromberg twice in the past 14 months, I would have gone to see Spyro Gyra had I known about both at the same time.

The Paramount is a gorgeous old theater with very comfortable seats. We were in the ninth row, center orchestra, so we had excellent seats.

We own the one CD that Angel Band has out now, Beautiful Noise, and we like it a lot. They are releasing a new CD early next year, so we were expecting to hear some new material. Sure enough, at least 2/3’s of the show was different than the one we saw at BB King, which was a real treat. They sing so beautifully and powerfully, and the David Bromberg band would enhance any singer’s performance.

The first few songs that they played were awesome. While they took a while to get Nancy Josephson’s (David’s wife) microphone level correct, she was in particularly good voice, and was truly belting out her leads, amazingly. The other two women, Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber (their bios are here), are both wonderful as well!

The selection of songs they played in the middle had less oomph (to me), and while I wasn’t bored (at all), I wasn’t as moved or mesmerized either. They finished on a high note though. When they walked off the stage, Lois commented that she couldn’t believe that they didn’t play the song One Voice.

The first time we ever heard that song was Angel Band singing it at BB King in September 2006, and we have listened to it on the Beautiful Noise CD many times. We recently found out that the song was written by one of my new favorite bands, The Wailin’ Jennys, whom I’ve written about twice now, here and here.

Just as Lois was lamenting not hearing it, they came out for an encore, and lo and behold, played One Voice. It was great, but, not as good as the version on the CD, or the one we heard live that first time. I’m not complaining, just ‘splaining. Great, but not awesome.

The one low point in their performance, for me, was the introduction (in the form of a speech) of a new song written by Nancy Josephson. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, and caused me to write a separate blog entry complaining about it. I didn’t want to conflate the great music, with my feelings about the speech, so I separated the two. If you care to hear me rant about my feelings about performers lecturing their audience on politics, feel free to read it here.

After a 15 minute break, the David Bromberg Quartet took the stage. As much as the audience loved Angel Band (us included), it was as obvious at the Paramount as it was a year earlier at BB King, that the overwhelming majority of the crowd came out to see David do his thing. The one real surprise was that they switched bass players between sets (I don’t recall that happening at BB King, though I might just not remember it correctly).

David has a very large body of work to choose from, so you never really know what you’re going to hear when you see him live. At the show, he even said that he doesn’t typically have a set playlist for a given concert, but rather lets the band know in between songs what has tickled his fancy to play next. That’s very cool and likely pretty unusual.

Unfortunately (only for me!), his selection on Saturday bordered on the slightly more boring side to me. He played a few of his very famous songs, and they truly wailed on some of the songs that wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting on a CD, but, ultimately, I wasn’t blown away by Bromberg himself.

In fact, while he’s nowhere near over the hill, his fingers don’t quite listen to his mind like they used to. In this post about Kathy Mattea, I wrote about Bill Cooley, and the fact that he was likely the best acoustic guitarist I had ever heard. Right before I made that pronouncement, I described what a genius I thought Bromberg is with a guitar. He still is, just not as consistently perfect as he used to be. He misses notes, or perhaps more accurate, simply doesn’t execute what you can tell he was aiming for. That said, on occasion, he thrills like he used to, and it’s sheer bliss.

Still, Bromberg is one of the most fun (as in entertaining) performers you can imagine. When he plays the guitar, he produces facial expressions (and body contortions) aimed to mimic the style and emotion of what he’s playing on the guitar. It’s awesome. The crowd totally eats it up. It gives his guitar playing a sense of story telling that matches the lyrics of whatever song he’s playing. In other words, even though there are no words, you hear the words as he plays each individual lead.

One last thing about Bromberg’s guitar playing: it’s distinctive. In other words, he’s one of the rare guitarists where you can close your eyes, hear him play, and say “That’s Bromberg”. A few others are Jerry Garcia, Santana, Clapton, etc. They are all playing the same basic instrument, and yet, across hundreds of songs, you can still say instantly which one of them it is.

Playing along with David are the top three people listed on this page, Jeff Wisor, Butch Amiot and Bobby Tangrea. Lois is crazy about Bobby Tangrea as a musician (as am I), and we both love Jeff Wisor as well. Wisor is an amazing fiddler (who also plays the mandolin in a few songs), and Tangrea is an exceptional mandolin and guitar player, who plays the fiddle really well on a few songs as well.

Tangrea is a world-class mandolin player, but he is not nearly as good as Chris Thile (who many people believe is the best in the world), or even Ricky Skaggs (in my opinion), but take nothing away from him, you’ll love every minute if you get to see him. His guitar playing is a little better (to my tastes), but in Saturday’s selection of songs, he spent the vast majority of his time on the mandolin.

The highlight (to both Lois and me) of the Bromberg set was the instrumental number Yankee’s Revenge (from the CD Midnight on the Water). It’s a great song on the CD, but live, man, they just nailed it. In particular, Jeff Wisor was so brilliant on the fiddle and Bromberg made him (and Bobby Tangrea on the mandolin) take double-long solos. Yes, they were that good. The only thing missing was they didn’t use a picolo (or some sort of flute) live, which is done really well on the CD version.

Anyway, they came out for two (or three?) encores, with Angel Band as well, though Angel Band just sang very soft background, and was almost superfluous during the encores.

All-in-all, we had a great time. That said, while I’d see him/them again, I can tell already that I won’t be as anxious to catch him in the future as I was these past three times. That’s partly because of the tiresomeness of the political speeches, partly because his selection of songs can be a little too varied, and because as great as he still can be, he’s not as flawless as he used to be.

So, here comes the obligatory Girlyman mention. To try and pretend that it’s even slightly in context, I’ll simply say that I (as of this moment in time) can’t imagine not being excited to catch Girlyman in a live show! πŸ™‚ I used to feel that way about Bromberg…

In fact, it occurs to me what the problem was (for me only!) with this performance at the Paramount, vs the Girlyman performance at both Highline Ballroom and Joe’s Pub:

At both Girlyman concerts (as with past Bromberg shows), I was so totally immersed in the music, that it was truly a zen-like experience. In Saturday’s show, I was aware of my surroundings, the people around me, etc. It was a great concert, but it wasn’t a magical, mystical journey like a Girlyman show is.

Breaking a Promise to Myself

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When I started blogging, nearly a year ago, I decided to avoid politics and business. I really wanted to blog about personal stuff (computers, food, music, poker, etc.). Aside from a minor comment or two about how certain performers use the stage to share their politics, I’ve resisted (sometimes mightily) from jumping in.

I’m about to go back on that decision, and I’m none too happy it. I seriously hope that I can avoid the inevitable slippery slope, and I certainly intend to try hard to do that.

If you know me, you probably think you know my politics, but you’re also likely as wrong as you might be somewhat correct. In fact, I think 99.999% of all politics and politicians is/are corrupt. I don’t mean that so many individual politicians are corrupt, and take bribes, etc. The entire system is skewed to selling out your principles if you hope to get anything done.

The only saving grace in all of this is that most legislation stalls, and that which gets through is usually watered down (and unfortunately laden with pork), so that the sheer inertia of our government is what keeps us from spiraling into hell.

Whew. Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to the real point of this post.

While the volume and proportion hasn’t been overwhelming (so far) at the concerts that Lois and I choose to go to, it annoys the hell out of both of us whenever any performer feels compelled to share their politics with the audience. Last I checked, we didn’t pay (darn good money in most cases!) to come to a political lecture in general, nor did we specifically anoint this performer as the know-it-all keeper of political knowledge.

To be clear, I don’t want a lecture that supports my beliefs either, so this has nothing to do with not wanting to hear a dissenting opinion. Of course, it’s rare (nowadays) with the majority of the groups that we see, and the fact that the venues are in and around NYC, that the lectures are anything but anti-Bush and anti-war. Wow, how clever, as we don’t get enough of that sentiment on TV.

Some are classy about it, but guess what, I don’t appreciate that either, though I’ll quickly admit that it’s a tad less painful than a rant. An example of class is Kathy Mattea. We loved her concert (which you can read about here). I can’t even recall the exact comment she made, but she dedicated one song to a polite, but clear anti-war sentiment. Like I said, classy, no rubbing it in anyone’s face, but the dig was still unmistakable.

A different form (and much less prevalent) of political agendas was Kathy specifically promoting Al Gore’s presentations on behalf of raising awareness for Global Warming. Again, not over the top.

One more example before I get to the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I also reported that we enjoyed seeing Treble at Joe’s Pub. This is hardly a well-known group with a platform or following, where you might expect (unfortunately) to hear any political opinions. While they didn’t give any speeches, they had a generally clever song that I assume they wrote (they don’t write many of their own songs), and in two of the verses, they are just plain ugly about President Bush. Wow, they’re just so darn accomplished that their opinions about politics deserve to stand the test of time by being burned into their CDs.

I don’t begrudge them their opinions, and as I said to Lois right after we heard the song, I’d much rather hear the opinions in the form of a song than in an actual speech, but still, give me a break, please.

OK, now the ice-breaker. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, David Bromberg is one of my all-time favorite performers, in particular live, but I have many of his CDs, and love most of them as well. Clearly, he grew up in the Viet Nam era, and the strong Folk singer culture (Dylan, Baez, Seeger, Bromberg πŸ˜‰ etc.), so I get that he feels the need to speak out.

So, the first time I saw him in over two decades was last September (2006) which was before I started blogging. So, there was no individual post about him, though I summarized it in my uber getting back into live music post. We saw him again solo at Joe’s Pub.

In both performances, his encore was a speech, with background guitar. It annoyed the daylights out of Lois. She would have happily got up and left if I was willing, which I wasn’t. It annoyed me too, a lot, but the first time, I pointed out to Lois that at least, he truly was trying to communicate, rather than rant. Specifically, when he started speaking against the current administration, the majority of the crowd whooped it up. He immediately asked them to be silent (in other words, he didn’t use the opportunity for self-aggrandizement). He said: “I don’t need to reach those of you who agree with me, I need to speak calmly to those that disagree.”

They quieted down and respected him. I respected him as well, because most artists in his position prefer the applause than actually making an intelligent argument. I listened, so he got what he wanted. That said, it’s not what I paid for, and I was thankful that he waited for the encore, and didn’t waste a lot of show time lecturing me.

As noted above, he repeated the exact same act at Joe’s Pub. Oh well…

Last night, we went to see him again, at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY. I will blog separately about the concert, and give all of the appropriate links in that post. As in the first show at BB King, Angel Band (his wife’s group, that David’s band backs up) opened the show.

We were (unfortunately) fully prepared to hear the same speech again at the end of the show. Most gratefully, we didn’t. But, we didn’t, because he didn’t need to. Instead, his wife, Nancy Josephson, used her microphone time when Angel Band was in the spotlight to tell a story about how she came to write an anti-war song. The speech came complete with her acting out the head banging on her kitchen counter that occurred (to her) and therefore inspired the song, when she first heard the term “the surge” on the radio.

The song itself is gorgeous (melodically, and harmony-wise). The words are interesting, if not quite as inspiring as Nancy would like us to believe. If there was no explanation at all, I would have appreciated the song, and the universality of the message. Essentially, the song is about mothers uniting against war, refusing to let their children participate. A nice message (if ultimately naive beyond description, though I’ll try anyway down below πŸ˜‰ ). For me, by tying it specifically to “the surge”, it became embroiled in the current divisive politics that are destroying this amazing country!

My point is that as an ideal it’s fine to wish for a world that never saw another war. But, to shape the argument in a way that claims that no war is ever worth fighting, quickly loses me.

Since I can’t resist, I’ll point out two issues with the “can’t we all just love each other and resist all wars” messages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m adamantly anti-war (I even demonstrated at the age of 13 at Bryant Park against the Viet Nam war). That said, anti-war, at all costs, is too high a cost, and there’s ample proof of that.

First, let’s look at the brilliant Sally Field, who at the Emmys, made the astoundingly insightful claim (quoted exactly, as I just watched the clip again a second ago) “If mothers ruled the world, there would be no god-damned wars”. Ah, of course. It reminds me of watching 60 Minutes interviewing Palestinian mothers, who lamented (while crying to the cameras!) that they had only lost three sons as suicide bombers, and that their remaining two sons hadn’t yet given themselves to the glory of becoming a suicide bomber. Thanks Mom!

Second, let’s look at Nancy Josephson’s view that no mother should give up any child to war. I think there were a lot of Jews that behaved all-too-passively while being politely marched to the death camps. Surely (they thought), it can’t be worth fighting, we’re only giving up material things. Surely (they thought), there is not so great an evil in the world that could conceive of the final solution, so we don’t have to resort to violence.

The point is, there are things that are worth fighting for, as appalling as that notion is. It may very well be true that Iraq is not. For sure, both Lois and I strongly wish we had never gotten involved there, and we wish there was a way to get out that wouldn’t leave us worse off than we already are. But, to confuse and conflate a legitimate distaste for the current specific situation in Iraq, and try to push a naive message that no war is ever necessary, and our kids should all be flower children, is equally appalling to me, if not actually more so…

I’m done, except to beg all performers who are being paid by their audience to entertain, to stop pretending that your opinion is more important than mine. If your music itself is known to be political, that’s great, as I can easily self-select whether I want to hear it. But, if your music is inherently not political, then I shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of being lectured.

P.S. Note that this message isn’t being forced on you, you didn’t have to read it. It wasn’t presented to you as part of another activity that you chose to participate in, and therefore couldn’t avoid this little insert. Also, you weren’t charged for the privilege of reading my opinion, nor did I attempt to profit from you in any way, by running an Ad on this page, etc. This is a major difference from what we are subjected to as an audience in the above matters!

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Guitar Trio at BB King

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If you don’t know how we came to see California Guitar Trio (CGT), you didn’t read my previous post.

Last night was a typical evening for us at BB King’s. We had excellent seats, and thoroughly enjoyed our meals, including a fabulous chocolate martini for me too. Yummy.

CGT is three guitarists who are each individually amazing, but together, are mind-bogglingly good! Paul Richards (whose diary mentions BB King and he posts some really good photos of the group as well), Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya. Each of them (by default) has a very different sound for their amplified acoustic guitars, so you can close you eyes and still distinguish which one of them is playing.

As Paul’s diary notes, last night they had Tony Levin sitting in with them. Paul congratulated Tony for winning Bass Players Magazine award for Best Bass Player just the night before! If you read the string of bands that Tony has played with in the first paragraph of this entry, including many of my favorite groups, you won’t be surprised! He is amazing, and he sat in for the majority of the numbers they played.

While there is a similarity to Acoustic Alchemy, which drew me to wanting to hear them, they really aren’t all that similar. Acoustic Alchemy is all Jazz, all the time. They are also more than just guitars (though that’s their calling card!), as they have many more instruments accompanying them. They also tend to be more consistent in being melodic.

CGT is more creative in some ways (in this sense Acoustic Alchemy is more commercial). They also play many more styles of music. Without changing guitars, but definitely by changing the electronics on the amplifiers, they perform hard rock, classical, jazz, etc., and all of the styles, brilliantly. In addition, they are just plain fun when they are performing, and it’s contagious.

They played their own arrangement of Beethoven’s Pastoral, gorgeous beyond description. They also did a version of Beethoven’s Fifth, which was funky, and really cool.

In addition to the different default sounds that they each produce, they also all play in different styles. Individually, each style is fantastic. Blended, it’s simply unreal (in the good sense). πŸ˜‰

When they said “Thanks and goodnight”, the crowd went crazy (us included) and all instantly shot up in the air for a standing ovation. We all stood until they came back out. They played one terrific song, and then said that they would finally play the single most requested guitar song in history, that they never used to play.

They then proceeded to play Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd (those of you who read my post about Treble, will now understand the small world nature of hearing two different groups, on the same day, in different venues, covering two of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s famous songs, one a cappella, and one only instrumental!).

They started out playing it in a funky reggae style. It was cute and fun, but as my regular readers already know, I’m not typically crazy for fooling around with classics. However, after building up the momentum, they hit their electronics, and wailed as brilliantly (on acoustic guitars!) as the original version by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Simply amazing, and they brought the house down.

So, now they say goodnight again, and the crowd gives them another rousing standing ovation. They unplug their guitars, and start to head off again, when they stop, and Paul says that we should all be extremely quiet, as they are going to try another experiment. He tells us that all three of their guitars are really soft-sounding, so we’ll have to huddle up because they are going to play one final song, unplugged.

They stepped out to the very edge of the stage, and played Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Lead guitar replaced the voice. You really had to listen closely, but it was one of the most gorgeous and amazing things I’ve ever heard. Mystical, magical, perfect, etc. At least once, we all missed a few notes when they did something clever, and most of the crowd couldn’t help but chuckle together.

Now, if you thought that was the end of the amazement, you were wrong. πŸ˜‰

They then announce that they’ve been recording the concert live, in real-time, and that they have a high-speed CD duplicator there, and that if we want, we can wait 10-15 minutes, and purchase a CD of tonight’s show. Of course, we (and most of the crowd!) couldn’t resist such an offer.

I bought ours after a brief wait on a long line (I was near the front, thankfully), and bought four additional CD’s. Three were CGT and the fourth was Bert Lams doing Bach Preludes on the Steel Guitar (recall that I recently mentioned that classical guitar is my favorite!). I’ve listened to a little of Bert’s CD today, and it’s fantastic! All three of them signed our Live CD.

A night we will never forget, with a group that I now count way up among my favorites!

P.S. The obligatory mention of Girlyman isn’t as easy in this post, given that I wove it in so politically correctly in the last one. I even forgot to put it in last night, even though I tagged the post with Girlyman. I’m adding this mention after the fact. Whew…

Treble at Joes Pub

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When we saw Charlie Daniels Band on Saturday, October 20th, 2007 at BB King, I noticed that the following Sunday (8 days later), a group called California Guitar Trio (CGT) would be playing at BB’s. I didn’t link any of the above, because this posting isn’t really about any of them, but they’re responsible for this post… πŸ™‚

I had never heard about CGT, so I looked them up on the web, and listened to some samples. They reminded me a lot of Acoustic Alchemy (my favorite Jazz group), so I had an interest in seeing them live. That said, we were planning on coming up to the house for the weekend, after finishing up our long-lost friends week.

I mentioned this to Lois, and she suggested that we get the tickets, and either spend the weekend in NYC, or come in and return on Sunday. I was reluctant, but Lois pressed me to get the tickets. So, when we walked to Wicked on Tuesday, we stopped in at BB King’s, and bought tickets for Sunday night.

The next day, Lois firmly decided that we would spend the weekend in NYC. Once that was decided, I remembered that I noticed something intriguing in the Joe’s Pub newsletter. They had a Sunday Brunch concert with an all-female a cappella group named Treble. While we were waiting on line to see Kathy Mattea the next day, I ran in and bought two tickets to see Treble for Sunday at noon.

This was our first time for brunch at Joe’s Pub. They do a very nice job, as they do for dinner as well. We each had different paninis, and both enjoyed them.

Finally, the music. Treble is nine women who sing a cappella. They rotate the lead singer in most songs. The remaining women either harmonize (on occasion) with the lead, or create sounds that mimic different instruments (including drums, bass, horns, cymbals, etc.).

They are very talented. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. That said, we were left feeling that they could be so much more than they actually are. There are a number of problems (all in our opinion, obviously):

  • They are too egalitarian. While they all sing very well, a number of them are simply not lead material. It’s socially nice that they give each of them a whirl at the mic, but in the end, they aren’t doing the group a favor.
  • Their selection for the performance could stand improvement. I’ll have a little more to say on this subject below.
  • Their arrangements could also stand some improvement in a number of cases. This is highly related to the next point, which is perhaps the most important complaint (of ours).
  • They spend way too much energy (and talent!) mimicking instruments (in particular drums and cymbals). There is way too little actual harmony, for such talented a group of singers, and so many of them to boot!

Backing up for a second, Joe’s Pub was somewhere between 1/2 to 2/3’s full. We were both reasonably impressed that a group like this could draw that much of a crowd (even though Joe’s is a very small venue) on a Sunday at noon. That said, we had the overwhelming sense that we were either the only, or two of a handful of people who weren’t specifically friends or family of the members of the group.

We had no problem with that, but we’re pointing it out to say that it would have been really hard for a group like this to get a nice-sized crowd for a Sunday brunch concert.

We weren’t going to buy their CD (which they were selling there) for a few reasons which I won’t mention. But, there was one song that they did, Time, which simply blew us away. It turns out that it’s a song by Chantal Kreviazuk. We didn’t know that until we looked it up today. Lois went up to talk to the person selling the CD, and in the end, decided to buy it.

We’re very glad we did. In addition to a stunning recording of Time, there are a number of nice tracks on the CD that they didn’t do in the live show. That’s one of the reasons that I mentioned that their selection wasn’t that great at the show, clearly, they have better material.

Basically, they need to decide what they want to be when they grow up. πŸ˜‰

This time, the Girlyman reference will be really easy to work in. They should pay Doris Muramatsu whatever she would demand in order to create harmonies for them. She’s a certifiable genius, and we can’t even imagine what she could do with more than the three voices that she arranges with Girlyman. It’s OK if on occasion, they show off their ability to mimic instruments, but if they highlighted their harmonies, they could be something extremely special!

I’m too lazy to listen to them all now (sorry), but there is one song on the album that has very little instrumentation and it’s very beautiful.

At the other end of the spectrum, if they don’t want specialized harmonies, they should spend a lot of time listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and go for that kind of sound. Both Doris and the Choir came to my mind while I was listening to Treble.

While driving home late last night, Lois says to me (unprompted): “You know, Treble should hire Doris to write their harmonies for them!”. I told her that I already intended to write that, and that she was stealing my line. To which she replied: “Or, they should study the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!”. Ouch, we are way too similar. Frightening actually…

So, if you like a cappella, and perhaps even enjoy the mimicking of instruments with human voices, you should really enjoy their CD immensely. We’re glad we saw them, and glad we bought the CD, but really hope that they decide to become more professional and make it as a result.

Finally, one of the better songs that they performed was Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd (it’s not on the album). This will only become slightly interesting if you read my next post on CGT. πŸ˜‰

Kathy Mattea at Joes Pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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