Alex Liang Wong at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

Send to Kindle

Alex Wong is someone I’ve written about so many times. Starting with this post, I’m going to do my best to never write about him again. The reason? Too many darned Alex Wong’s running around getting famous on the Internet. In order to stake out a defined spot, our Alex has chosen to revive his long-dormant middle name.

Alex Liang Wong will now be the target of my admiration (and to save myself a bunch of typing, he’ll also be known as ALW). Feel free to beat me up in the comments if in the future I slip and call him by his old name.

There have been other (in)famous Alex Wong’s for a while. So, why change the name now, specifically? Because ALW is getting close to releasing his first-ever solo album, on February 14th, 2012. Having your name collide with others is a friction point and ALW wants people to be able to find his music more easily.

Amen to that. This new album will be amazing in every sense of the word. That brings me to last night’s show.

ALW has been playing a number of the songs from the upcoming CD for a while now. Some of them are deep earworms for me and have been since the first listen. They have morphed from purely solo efforts (when only ALW knew them), to duets, to slightly fuller band versions, over the past six months.

Last night was the culmination of that progression. ALW has already recorded the CD (mixed and mastered as well), so he knows exactly what it will sound like to the world. He’s finally ready to get closer to reproducing that sound live (which is a big trick, because aside from being a great songwriter, ALW is one of the best producers around, so his CD is not going to be a humble singer/songwriter sitting alone at a mic with his guitar).

Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 was packed (from the set before as well). ALW played mostly new songs, but he threw in a big surprise as well. He played the grand piano on most numbers, and some acoustic guitar, of course singing the lead on every song.

AlexLiangWongPiano

He had a number of special guests and a core band of three fantastic musicians. He also performed one song solo on the acoustic guitar, Patiently, which is a great song. There’s a video of him doing a solo version on the site linked to his (new) name above. The CD version will have a much bigger sound with a full band.

AlexLiangWongGuitar

Since the core band played on almost every song, let me mention them first, and then cover the guests in the order that they appeared.

Ward Williams on cello and electric guitar. Ward was outstanding on both, but I was particularly impressed with his play on the guitar. ALW has created a lot of unusual sounds on the new album, and much of effort to reproduce those live fell to Ward. Very impressive!

WardWilliamsCello

Ward also sang a lot more harmony with ALW than he has previously. He really nailed it every single time. I’ve always been a fan of Ward’s, including his performance in the set before, but this might have been the best all-around performance of his that I’ve attended.

WardWilliamsGuitar

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is always great, with last night being no exception. That said, as I think I’ve mentioned before, drumming for ALW on a song that ALW wrote has to be a challenge. ALW is first and foremost a percussionist himself, so he doesn’t tend to make vanilla drum tracks.

ElliotJacobson

Of course Elliot is up to the task (there’s no way that ALW would consistently pick him to play his shows otherwise), but I’m still impressed to see it, each and every time. For a specific example, the major beat in Never Look Back is in opposition to the basic melody and in my head, feels like it would be really easy to lose focus as a drummer. Not only did Elliot nail it, he took the subtlest of cues from ALW when the song started as to tempo and volume, adjusted instantly, and then drummed to perfection for the remainder of the song.

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is one of my favorites, but clearly he is one of ALW’s too, since he plays so many of his shows. Good choice. Tony was excellent last night. When I ran into him on the sidewalk as we left, I mentioned that the bass was the critical part in reproducing the really big sound in the bridge of Never Look back. So, Tony and Elliot were really key in that number.

TonyMaceli

Alex Berger (who headlined the set before, covered here) joined to sing The Fighter, a song they co-wrote (and it will appear on each of their upcoming albums, I’m betting it will sound quite different on each).

AlexBerger

ALW also called up Alisa James to sing harmony with them (I couldn’t find a good link to her).

AlisaJames

Before the show started, ALW tried to convince Rachel Platten to join him on a number they co-wrote, Make It Home (that link takes you to a page where you can listen for free, but please buy it, as 100% of the proceeds go to CityHarvest.org!). I saw Rachel shake her head no, but I couldn’t hear her reason.

RachelPlatten

When Alex got up to that number, he joked (or perhaps he was serious!) that Rachel couldn’t play it because she was contractually prohibited by her record label from appearing at the show. I think he was kidding. I’m guessing that they didn’t rehearse it and Rachel wasn’t prepared to wing it. But, even if it was true, ALW performed it beautifully by himself, so we got to enjoy it anyway.

ambeR Rubarth was a very special guest. She and ALW had a group called The Paper Raincoat which is actually solely responsible for our immersion in the indie music scene in NYC (we saw them at the Canal Room on April 16th, 2009!). ambeR took to the piano and ALW to the acoustic guitar and they performed one of their Paper Raincoat songs, The Same Old Things. Yay! Smile

ambeRRubarth

David Fallo joined on that number and sat in on another, playing the viola as well as he always does.

DavidFallo

To close the show, ALW picked one of my favorite songs (I’m obsessed actually, I could listen to it 24×7): Are You Listening. Typically, ALW has at most one other person singing the chorus (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) with him on stage. That never matters, as the entire audience sings it with him (no one sings it louder than I do).

Last night he shook it up a bit and had a ton of the best singers around belting out the chorus with him on stage. The wall of sound coming from the stage was heavenly and made it a bit more difficult to hear the audience singing along, but I’m not complaining!

Left-to-right, singing with Alex:

Ari Hest, Martin Rivas, Ian Holljes, Elizabeth Hopkins and Eric Holljes. The last three names listed are 3/4’s of the singers in the amazing band Delta Rae. ALW is producing their new CD as I type (literally) and it will be awesome, I have no doubt!

AriHestMartinRivas

IanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

TonyMaceliIanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

Here’s the (planned) set list. As you already know (e.g., Rachel Platten did not play), this was not followed like a blueprint, but rather like a guide. Don’t Be Afraid also didn’t make the actual cut:

SetList

Like I noted in the previous post, we ran into a lot of people between the two sets. Here are some photos that Lois snapped as we were heading out the door:

EricHolljesIanHolljesHadarGrantEmerson

MikeMcKeeHadarCarleyTanchonHadar

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

Send to Kindle

Alex Berger lives in London. That’s sad enough (for us, not necessarily for him), but the really sad part is that we get to see him perform rather infrequently. When he’s in town, and schedules a show, it’s a must-see event. Last night was the night!

From the first time we saw Alex perform (9/21/2009), I considered him to be an excellent songwriter, a great piano player and a constantly improving (and interesting!) guitar player. Add to those basics his absolutely amazing voice (last night showed off a multi-octave range) and his warm/funny/engaging/relaxed stage presence, and you can be sure we’ll be coming to see him for years to come.

AlexBergerPiano

In addition to playing the title cut from his previous (still current) CD, Snow Globe (a multi award-winning number), Alex mostly played songs from his upcoming (as yet unrecorded) CD. I really love every song that I’ve heard. In addition to being great songs in general, Alex seems to have found a niche (for my taste) in making people laugh out loud at his lyrics.

In other words, he’s translated the easy warmth/humor in his stage banter to fantastic lyrics/images in song. What makes them more special is his delivery. Comedy has two necessary components: the actual material (the thing that makes our brains recognize the twist) and the delivery (which is most often accentuated by comedic timing). Alex has crafted funny songs, but his timing/pacing in delivering those lines is impeccable.

I can’t wait for this CD to be made. I have helped make that a reality, and if you want to do me (and yourself) a personal favor, you’ll help too! Alex is raising money to have it produced (again, like his previous award-winning effort, by the equally amazing Alex Wong). You can click on this link to contribute.

This new CD is full of songs that Alex co-wrote with other talented singer/songwriters. Three of them guest-starred to sing and play the songs with Alex. He also had some special musical guests and even a dancer (yes, it was a spectacle). So, let’s get to it.

Ward Williams joined Alex to open the show. In addition to setting up his cello, Ward pulled over one of the mics from center stage. He noted that he needed it for the big surprise finish. That surprise? Ward singing gorgeous harmony with Alex at the very end of the song. Needless to say, Ward’s cello play was outstanding, complementing Alex’s equally amazing piano play.

WardWilliamsCello

Adam Levy joined Alex to accompany him on their song, A Kiss is as Sweet. Alex sang, Adam sweetly finger-picked the electric guitar, including taking a very long and wonderful solo in the middle.

AlexBergerAdamLevy

Ari Hest joined to sing harmony and finger-pick an acoustic guitar on their co-written number. The interplay with the piano and guitar was beautiful, and Ari’s voice is always wonderful, solo or singing harmony (with pretty much anyone!). Smile

AriHest

Andrew Nemr joined to add percussion to the next song. Well, it was a bit more complicated that that, as the percussion was actually delivered via tap dancing. Andrew is a top dancer.

AndrewNemr

He danced on two numbers. On the first, Alex played the guitar (wonderfully!). On the second, Alex sang The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), almost a cappella. There was an amazing bass player who provided the only accompaniment (described next). At one point, it was just Andrew dancing and the bass player, with Alex watching in amazement.

AlexBergerGuitar

Gregory Jones was the bass player, on the upright. He was wonderful on Alex’s song, but really came to life when he was the sole instrument (if you don’t include the sound made by tap shoes) on The Christmas Song. Very well done!

GregoryJones

Jay Stolar came up to sing and play acoustic guitar on their co-written number, Last Night in Tokyo (one of the ones that slays me). They asked Martin Rivas to join them so they could amp up the three-part harmony. An absolutely perfect way to end an exceptional set!

JayStolarAlexBergerMartinRivasJayStolar

We got to say hi to so many people before the show (some that we see all the time, and some that only come out for special occasions, of which Alex Berger is obviously one). More photos were taken as we were leaving (after the next set, covered separately), so here are only a few of the ones that were taken before Alex’s set:

AyeletWardWilliams

DavidFalloSamTeichman

Backscratch XVII at Rockwood Music Hall

Send to Kindle

Last night we attended the early show at Joe’s Pub. Under normal circumstances, we would have run home after the show. These were not normal circumstances. Over at Rockwood Music Hall, timed perfectly for us, was Backscratch XVII. That would have been more than enough to get us to stay out for another few hours.

More poignantly, and most unfortunately, this was also billed as the last NYC-based Backscratch. Folks, that’s simply a tragedy (of reasonably large proportions). The concept of Backscratch was originated by Martin Rivas (and I think Craig Meyer). It will live on in London, run by Alex Berger, but unless I can find a way to blackmail Martin (or twist his arm really hard), it’s going to be very expensive to catch one of these shows in the future.

MartinRivas

In addition to just wanting to catch any Backscratch show, the lineup for last night was particularly tasty. Every performer was particularly sharp (they understood the stakes), so it ended up being an extra-special night all around.

Quick recap of what a Backscratch is: 6-9 performers. Each does three numbers. One has to be a cover of one of the other performers. They get drawn randomly and no one knows in advance who is doing their song. For the other two numbers, deep tradition has the artist performing one of their originals plus a well-known cover. More recently, many artists perform two originals.

Stephanie White and the Philth Harmonic were up first. The Philth Harmonic is Robbie LaFalce (considering that Stephanie’s name appears separately and there are only two of them). Let’s start with Stephanie. We’ve seen her sing one song, at one of Sam Techman’s Leave a Lasting Mark benefit shows. She was extraordinary then, and again last night. The woman can sing, pure and simple.

RobbieLaFalceStephanieWhite

We’ve seen Robbie LaFalce three times, all at Sam Teichman benefits. At the first, he drummed. The second, he played piano. The third, he drummed, played piano, and sang. Last night, he played the electric guitar on all three numbers. Beautiful play, subtly, but interestingly supporting Stephanie.

RobbieLaFalce

This was the first time that we saw them play together, as the Philth Harmonic.

Unlike most Backscratch performers, they chose to do their cover as the middle number (there are no hard-and-fast rules). They drew The Vanity Belles. I am not familiar enough with the VB version to tell you how much Stephanie morphed it, but I can tell you that Stephanie was exceptional in performing her version.

On one of the numbers, Robbie added a percussion loop and some looping of him clapping and playing guitar. It created a much bigger sound than the two of them would otherwise have.

Morgan Karr was up next. I had never seen him before. He kicked it off on the grand piano, playing beautifully, but really, showing off a great voice. For the next number, he came to center stage and just sang (he had accompaniment) without playing any instrument. Again, his voice really shone and I really liked his songs as well.

MorganKarrPiano

For his backscratch, he sang accompanied by only an upright bass. He drew Jay Stolar. Again, I wasn’t familiar with Jay’s song, but Morgan nailed his rendition of it, hitting some high notes spectacularly.

MorganKarrSinging

Morgan was accompanied by two top-notch musicians:

Justin Goldner on acoustic guitar. I’ve seen Justin a number of times, mostly playing bass for Bri Arden and Sam’s benefits. I also saw him play acoustic guitar for a very intimate performance of Bri’s. He blows me away on the bass, but hadn’t on the acoustic guitar that one time. Last night, supporting Morgan, he showed a lot more skill on the acoustic guitar.

JustinGoldner

Lorenzo Wolff on upright bass. Very good on the first two numbers. On the backscratch, he was the sole accompaniment (Justin sat that one out and Morgan sang). Hearing just a bass with a great vocalist really highlights how good (or not) the bass player is. Lorenzo is really good! Smile

LorenzoWolff

Abby Ahmad was up next. Another first for me. Great voice, very interesting guitar play. I really liked her songs as well. In other words, someone I intend to go see doing a full set soon (she’s playing Rockwood on Thursday at 11pm, but that might be too late for me that night).

AbbyAhmad

For her backscratch, she drew Morgan Karr. Another winner (both the song and her rendition).

Abb

Abby was accompanied by two extremely talented people:

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and floor tom. On Abby’s first number, Adam took the floor tom from the drum kit and brought it up on stage. He and the drummer (up next) played together, mostly on the rims first (in unison) and then separately, creating an extraordinary jungle rhythm for Abby to sing to.

AdamMinkoffSeanDixon

For the next two numbers, Adam switched to his more usual electric bass, and of course, was his usual excellent self.

AdamMinkoffBass

Sean Dixon on drums (again, no good link for him). This was my second time seeing Sean, and again he was excellent. In addition to playing the drum kit (minus the floor tom which Adam swiped, he also played the djembe on one number, beautifully. In fact, he put the djembe where the floor tom would have been. Not sure where else he could have placed it otherwise. Smile

SeanDixon

Jay Stolar was up next. We’ve never seen Jay do his own stuff, but have seen him sing a song here and there (as a guest, and at a benefit concert). He has a superb voice which was in full effect last night and played the acoustic guitar. I really enjoyed his two songs.

JayStolar

He drew Derek James for his backscratch. He chose Mama Said (it helps that I’m Derek James’ biggest fan, self-declared, so that I at least know which song Jay was covering). He played it so much slower than Derek does, but it totally worked. I’ll still take Derek’s version, but huge Kudos to Jay for creative arrangement and execution!

Jason Wexler accompanied Jay Stolar on his two numbers, sitting out the backscratch. Jason was superb on the grand piano. It started off in a funny manner. Jay began by picking on one or two notes, repeatedly, in a slow rhythmic manner, alone, no singing and no piano accompaniment. After a minute, Jay turned to Jason and said “Feel free to join in any time!”. Winking smile

JasonWexler

Jason laughed and immediately launched into a fantastic series of piano leads. Satisfied, Jay started singing. Smile

Derek James was up next. This was the first time I’ve seen Derek solo. I loved both of his numbers, which he dedicated to Terry. He kicked it off with What’s That Sound from his first CD, Stray. In a small-world story, I didn’t have that CD (though I’ve seen Derek perform the song a number of times), but Lois had secretly arranged with Derek in advance to purchase the CD last night, so I have it now! Smile

DerekJames

I was totally satisfied with Derek’s solo performance, but I admit that with the full band, there’s a swagger that was missing last night.

Derek drew Stephanie and the Philth Harmonic for his backscratch and did a beautiful job. Another example of me not knowing the original, so I can’t compare the versions.

The final act to close down the NYC-based backscratches (unless I have my way with Martin!) were The Vanity Belles. I’ve mentioned how much I love them a number of times, even though the first time I’ve ever seen them perform live, as themselves, was just this past Wednesday at a benefit show.

They were stripped down last night, the two Belles, Carrie Welling and Jessi Rae Waltz, accompanied by the amazing Oscar Bautista on acoustic guitar (they typically have a full band).

OscarBautistaTheVanityBelles

They opened with a brand new song that so blew me away I can’t find the words to describe it. I happened to be standing next to their manager, Patryk Larney, and I couldn’t contain myself after the song. I turned to him and said: “Holy cow, that was absolutely extraordinary!”.

He said that he agreed, and they just finished it and rushed to get it on the new CD (of which I am a very proud Kickstarter contributor). I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that I will soon own this song.

CarrieWellingJessiRaeWaltzOscarBautista

Their next song had Jessi move to the grand piano. It too was absolutely breathtaking.

They finished with their backscratch, drawing Abby Ahmad. Another mind-blowing performance, and I really loved the song too (credit for that to Abby, obviously, though I have no idea how her original version sounds).

Folks, if The Vanity Belles don’t make it, the world is very broken.

They closed the show by awarding Martin Rivas with an actual backscratcher, dated and signed by everyone who appeared last night. A very nice gesture indeed!

MartinRivasBackscratcher

Here a pic of Alex Berger, currently the only Backscratch Master, with Jay Stolar. Alex has a show in 3 hours at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, so hurry up and get over there! Smile

AlexBergerJayStolar

Joey and Rory at Joe’s Pub

Send to Kindle

We’re both fans of Country Music in general and of Joey and Rory specifically. We’ve never seen them perform live before last night. We love Joe’s Pub, including the wonderful remodel. It is a great place for Country acts, consistently drawing audiences that are starved for that sound in NYC. This was Rory and Joey’s first-ever NYC show, a perfect match.

JoeyAndRory

Rather than read this post, I strongly urge you to read their bio, in its entirety. The first paragraph is:

Often times, Nashville goes to great lengths to sell you on how ‘real’ an artist is. Sometimes they’re not quite as genuine as they are advertised to be…but then again, sometimes they really are.

This one feels so real. Their on-stage chemistry is fantastic. Their videos are a blast (that’s how I discovered them, Lois knows everything about Country Music, so she probably has other magic ways of knowing about them).

This tour is called A Farmhouse Christmas (if you did your homework, and read the bio, then you know they really do live on a farm, in a farmhouse). Roughly half the songs were Christmas ones (all lovely) and the rest were their own hits plus a few that Rory wrote that others cut.

One of those is one of our favorite songs, The Chain of Love, cut by Clay Walker. Somehow, we didn’t know Rory wrote that song, which is crazy, because Lois always knows who wrote every song she loves. I admit to choking up every single time I hear that song, even though I (obviously) know exactly what’s coming. Winking smile

Joey has a gorgeous voice and an extremely gentle stage presence. There’s a spiritual aura about her. She also played acoustic guitar on a few numbers.

JoeyFeek

Rory is a great songwriter, with a wonderful voice and good guitar skills (very nice finger picking). They sing beautifully together.

RoryFeek

Rory is very funny. It may start off feeling a bit corny to those who don’t know anything about him, but the genuineness of it catches on pretty quickly and engulfs you in his homespun, aw-shucks style.

I have no doubt that Joey and Rory could enthrall by themselves. They choose to take it up a few levels from there, bringing a top-notch band to support them on stage. Joe’s Pub is not a large place. A full Country band could overwhelm the audience. That shouldn’t happen with truly professional musicians, which certainly describes their band. The sound was perfect.

I found it extremely difficult to track down the names of their band (they should make it more prominent on their website, IMHO). They did introduce them last night, but I didn’t take notes, because I assumed it would be easy to find them. If I got any of them wrong, my humble apologies, they deserve to be called out.

I’m actually going to give up (though I found the most important name, I think, in a single link on Google). Here’s a CMT article that talks about the tour, and even there, they simply say that Joey and Rory are traveling with a four-piece band. That’s just bad.

Left-to-right on stage:

Tommy McCaleb on dobro and acoustic guitar (no good link). Absolutely masterful on both. He single-handedly elevated the musical quality of the set. In addition to taking a lead (or a number of them) on each song, his play was fantastic even while they were singing, subtle but always enhancing.

TommyMcCablebDobro

Fiddle player. Subtle, but excellent throughout. He was highlighted a few times.

FiddlePlayer

Drummer played on a reduced kit. Snare, kick drum and three cymbals. He was excellent as well, sang a drop of harmony.

Drummer

Electric bass player. Extremely subtle, enhancing the sound without ever overwhelming Joey and Rory.

BassPlayer

Heidi Feek on vocals. Heidi is one of Rory’s two daughters. She sang background vocals on nearly every number. Then on one Christmas song (later in the show), she took an entire verse on the lead. She followed that up with a solo number that she wrote (accompanying herself on Rory’s acoustic guitar). She has a very powerful and beautiful voice. She has a musical career independent of Joey and Rory, but is supporting them on this tour, wonderfully.

HeidiFeek

Here’s a set list for the tour. They played most of the songs on it, but it wasn’t an exact list. For example, The Chain of Love isn’t listed. They negotiated a few of the numbers on stage before doing them.

SetList

We’re often the first in line at Joe’s Pub (even though we have tickets with assigned seats). That was true last night as well. That gave us plenty of time to chat with the woman working the merch table for Joey and Rory. It turns out that it was Rory’s other daughter, Hopie.

HopieFeek

She did a good job selling us on visiting the restaurant that Joey co-owns, with Rory’s sister. One of these days, when we’re driving from Birmingham to Nashville, or vice versa, we’ll just have to do that! It’s great to see these two young women happy to be traveling with their parents.

We had a table for four and shared it with two friends who happen to be singer/songwriters themselves. We had an excellent meal before the show started (even though Joe’s has not yet completed their full kitchen renovation).

HadarJohnSchmittAlexBerger

An absolutely wonderful evening (or rather beginning of it, since we went directly from this show to another one at Rockwood Music Hall). Smile

JohnSchmittJoeyAndRoryBus

A Holiday Benefit #5 at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

Send to Kindle

Last week I scanned the Rockwood Music Hall website for this week’s shows. There was a show listed for last night simply labeled: “A Holiday Benefit”. The performers were a mixture of our favorite who’s who, plus a couple of groups we have wanted to see for a while, but scheduling has gotten in the way.

I snagged two tickets and excitedly waited for the week to pass. It turns out that this was the fifth (and unfortunately last) installment of this particular annual Holiday Benefit. It is organized by Benjamin Wagner (with some others who helped co-found it). The money raised is for 826NYC. Great cause, great people involved in raising the money and great musicians all around.

Bottom line: my expectations were very high. I was blown away beyond those expectations on two levels: most of the people we know brought their A+ games and we discovered some people that became instant favorites!

There were 16 acts (individuals and groups), some accompanied by a house band. Each act performed two numbers. The entire atmosphere at Rockwood was that of a party filled with loved ones. In fact, some of the musicians noted (on Twitter, and probably elsewhere) that it was more like an Office Party for them, given how many musicians were performing and in the audience. We were thrilled to participate in said party.

In addition to the ticket price going to the charity, this was also an official CD Release Party. Physical CDs were on sale for $10. $20 got you the physical CD of A Holiday Benefit #5 plus downloads of the previous four albums. Of course we did that. We kicked in more money later to purchase CDs by some of the performers, signed, with the proceeds going to 826NYC as well.

At the end, the encore involved inviting all of the performers back on stage together to sing one last song. It was hard to count accurately, as people kept jumping on stage (even some who didn’t perform earlier), but I’m 99% sure that at one point there were at least 26 people on stage at the same time. If that’s correct, that’s a new record for a show I’ve attended (sorry Sam Teichman, you have your work cut out for you now!). Winking smile

There’s no way to review a show like this without spending an entire day writing (something I don’t have the time to do today, nor the inclination). In fact, it’s sort of beside the point. What I’ll do instead is similar to what I did for the Haiti Benefit nearly two years ago. I’ll list the acts in the order they appeared, and mention who supported them. When first mentioning a support person, I might say a few extra words.

Mary Bragg (#1). Mary was new to us. Great voice. On her second number she also played acoustic guitar. She was accompanied by two very talented people, who I think played only with her. I’ll list them next.

MaryBragg

Mike Cassedy on electronic keyboards. Excellent. Mary gave him a couple of leads and he was great.

MikeCassedy

Jimmy Sullivan on electric bass (no good individual link). He too was excellent. He made the electric bass sound exactly like a very jazzy upright on one of the numbers. He was smooth.

JimmySullivan

Casey Shea (#2) on electric guitar and vocals. Casey was wonderful. In addition to singing and playing well, he was very funny. He had two female backup singers, each of which was a lead performer later in the show, so I’ll save their names for their proper spots.

CaseyShea

Casey brought up Sean White to read a poem to end one of his songs. It continued the comic nature of an otherwise horrifyingly sad song (my house burned down on Christmas).

CaseySheaPaulaValsteinMistyBoyceSeanWhite

Paula Valstein (#3). We’ve seen Paula once before, at the Haiti Benefit. She played solo at the electronic keyboards. Great voice, excellent piano play. Definitely someone we need to check out more (one of our friends has been telling that to me for a while). Paula was also one of Casey Shea’s backup singers.

PaulaValstein

Astoria Boulevard (#4). Wow! I can’t believe I never heard them (or of them) before. Three guys who sing heavenly three-part harmony. They’re funny and natural on stage as well. They opened the first number a cappella and knocked me back a few steps with how awesome they were.

AstoriaBoulevard

Guitar, ukulele, harmonica and kazoos were played too. They were supported by the default house band (the next two people listed).

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Ryan was fantastic playing with roughly half of the acts last night. Ryan also joined for Mary Bragg’s second number, so I should have listed him earlier.

RyanVaughn

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony was his usual excellent self whenever he was on stage, which was a bit less than Ryan, but still the primary bass player for the evening.

TonyMaceli

Dave Pittenger (#5). We’ve never seen him, but I’ve heard of him many times. Mostly because he’s producing Live Society’s new CD (or at least I think it’s him). Dave invited two special guests up, Bess Rogers and Chris Kuffner to kick off his first number. Dave and Bess flubbed Baby It’s Cold Outside a bit, but turned it into a very good natured thing.

ChrisKuffnerDavePittengerBessRogers

Chris played the electric guitar in an understated but fascinating manner. When they had to restart, he signaled to Ryan and Tony to join in, filling out the sound.

Dave then performed a second number accompanying himself on the electric guitar (with Ryan and Tony playing).

DavePittenger

Misty Boyce (#6). Misty kicked off her numbers on the guitar (I didn’t know she played the guitar), with the second number on the keyboards. Her voice is fantastic. In addition to playing the keyboards really well accompanying herself, she also played them with a couple of other acts, super tasty every time. I’ve been wanting to see her perform her own set for a while and this only increased that desire. She was the second backup singer supporting Casey Shea.

MistyBoyceGuitarMistyBoyceKeyboards

Nick Africano (#7). We hadn’t seen Nick before. (That’s a total lie, Nick played with Misty during her first number, so we saw him before he took center stage!). He played the guitar beautifully (subtle slide leads). When he took over, Misty played the keyboards and she called up Bess Rogers, Paula Valstein and Charlene Kaye to sing backup. Very nicely done. We will be on the lookout for Nick in the future.

NickAfricano

Greg Mayo Band (#8). OK, it was technically the Greg Mayo Band, without the brass section. They also weren’t wearing suits, so I’m not sure how official this appearance was. That said, they were incredible, so I have no complaints! They had a guest vocalist and percussionist join them, but since each was a headliner as well, I’ll mention them later.

GregMayoKeyboards

Here are the people that were in the Greg Mayo Band setup last night (left-to-right on stage, not including the guests):

Paul Maddison on electric guitar and vocals. Wonderful.

PaulMaddison

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. Spectacular.

RebeccaHaviland

Kenny Shaw on drums. Excellent.

KennyShaw

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Superb.

ChrisAndersonSinging

The Vanity Belles (#9). We’ve seen them sing backup with other groups. We’ve seen them perform on TV twice. Unbelievably, this was the first time we saw them perform as The Vanity Belles, live. We’re proud supporters of the ladies through their recent (successful) Kickstarter, so this was one of the extra special reasons why I wanted to attend. Of course, they were fantastic. Whew! Winking smile

TheVanityBelles

Patrick Firth played electronic keyboards for them. Joining him to round out the band were: Greg Mayo on guitar and Chris Anderson on electric bass. The drummer was already on stage before with the Greg Mayo band (as the guest percussionist) but I still haven’t mentioned his name (soon, don’t panic!).

PatrickFirth

Oscar Bautista played electric guitar as part of The Vanity Belles band. He is always great, so I wanted him to have a paragraph for himself. Smile Another reason to give Oscar his own section? He broke out the mandolin last night, one of my favorite instruments. Sweet!

OscarBautistaOscarBautistaMandolin

Next up was another group I’ve wanted to see for a long time.

The Stone Lonesome (#10). This is duo of Zach Jones (finally got to mention him) and Emily Long. We’ve seen Zach drum many times (including earlier last night, and he was the guest percussionist with the Greg Mayo Band as well). He’s an awesome drummer. I also knew that he sings well, and that was proven when he was front-and-center with Emily last night. What I didn’t know was that he also plays the guitar. Emily sings really well too and the two of them sound great together.

TheStoneLonesome

GregMayoZachJonesEmilyLong

Brian Killeen supported them on electric bass, a perennial favorite of ours. He was joined by Ryan Vaughn on drums and Greg Mayo on electric guitar. Zach let Greg take a number of fantastic leads. The entire night was amazing, but I would have left happy just for the guitar solos that Greg took during The Stone Lonesome songs!

BrianKilleen

Martin Rivas (#11). Martin had previously sung as a guest with the Greg Mayo Band, wonderfully. He now took center stage and wowed everyone with two of his own songs (one a Christmas number, the other off of his new CD, due out in May, 2012). He was supported (incredibly) by Patrick Firth, Greg Mayo, Chris Kuffner, Zach Jones and Brian Killeen.

MartinRivas

A few items were raffled off during the evening. One of them was a jar of Martin Rivas’ world-famous spaghetti sauce (or is it more properly referred to as tomato sauce?!?). Anyway, we won it (see the proof here and again in a couple of the photos at the very bottom!). Can’t wait to savor it!

BenjaminWagnerRivasSauceJarMartinRivasLoisSauce

Chrissi Poland (#12). We’ve only seen Chrissi singing backup with others. We knew she had an extraordinary voice but I have to say that I still didn’t understand the full effect of it until last night. Another wow. We won’t be attending, but if you want to catch her headlining a show, with Martin Rivas opening, head to Highline Ballroom this Sunday night (Dec 18th, 2011). You won’t be disappointed!

ChrissiPolandGuitar

On her first number, she played guitar and was accompanied by Patrick Firth, Greg Mayo, Rebecca Haviland, Martin Rivas, Ryan Vaughn and Brian Killeen.

She then put the guitar down and blew everyone away accompanied by the same band, minus the backup singers (Rebecca and Martin). Her voice and stage presence had us eating out of her hand.

ChrissiPolandSinging

Caleb Hawley (#13). Caleb is one of my favorites and I’m always disappointed when I can’t make it to one of his shows (which happens more frequently than I care to admit, including the night before!). At least I got a taste last night to hold me over until his next full show.

CalebHawley

Caleb was supported by Patrick Firth, Ryan Vaughn, Zach Jones and Brian Killeen. There was dancing in the audience (not atypical of any Caleb performance), but I won’t post the pictures, since those people didn’t sign any waivers. Winking smile

Benjamin Wagner (#14). Benjamin was our host throughout the show, introducing each act as they were coming on stage. Now it was his turn to shine and shine he did. He has a wonderful voice and he wielded it for our delight. He was joined by a stellar band. I’ll mention all but two of them, since they were the next two headliners and hadn’t yet made an appearance.

BenjaminWagnerSinging

Misty Boyce on keyboards, Chrissi Poland singing backup, Ryan Vaughn and Tony Maceli. All, great!

For his second number, additional backup singers joined: Mary Bragg, Bess Rogers, Paula Valstein and Martin Rivas.

In true showman style, Benjamin left the stage and prostrated himself right in front of us! Smile

BenjaminWagnerOnTheFloor

Bryan Dunn (#15). Bryan also played guitar on Benjamin’s set. Bryan is wonderful all around. When Benjamin introduced him, he said “Bryan is normally a rocker, but he’s going to bring you down a bit with his first number.” Ha! I hope no one fell for that. It might have started out sounding like a ballad, but Bryan had everyone hopping in no time.

BryanDunn

Both his numbers were fantastic (and no, I wasn’t the least bit surprised!).

He was supported (wonderfully) by Misty Boyce, Ryan Vaughn and Tony Maceli. He also had another guitar player and vocalist, but since he was the next headliner, I’ll save his name for the very next line.

Chris Abad (#16). Another wow for me. He played guitar for Benjamin and Bryan Dunn and sang harmony with Bryan. His guitar play was awesome. It looked like he was playing one of Greg Mayo’s two electric guitars, so for a minute, I thought that perhaps Greg just has magical guitars and anyone could make them sound this good. I checked after the show, and the guitars are just look-a-likes, so apparently Chris is just really that good. Winking smile

ChrisAbad

He also sang at center stage when Bryan was done, and did a great job. He was supported by Misty Boyce, Bryan Dunn, Ryan Vaughn and Tony Maceli. If I heard correctly, Chris also produced at least one of Bryan’s CDs, perhaps the upcoming one as well. Talented guy, no doubt!

For his second number, he was joined by a slew of backup singers: Mary Bragg, Bess Rogers, Paula Valstein, Charlene Kaye, Chris Kuffner and Benjamin Wagner.

ChrisAbadMaryBraggBessRogersPaulaValsteinCharleneKayChrisKuffnerBenjaminWagner

Like I said above, the finale had a ton of people on stage. Here are some photos:

Finale1Finale2

Finale3Finale4

One of the only performers who didn’t hop on stage was Kenny Shaw. When Martin tried to get him to come up, Kenny seemed to motion to Martin to come down instead. Martin took it as an invitation to have Kenny hold him in his arms. Kenny obliged! Smile

MartinRivasKennyShawPreludeMartinRivasKennyShaw

We shared the evening a number of friends. In one of the photos you can even see our hard-won jar of sauce (I went with the cautious “sauce” with no modifier there).

RebeccaHavilandRobinChrisAndersonMom

KellySamTeichmanKellyKristenSauce

Here’s a shot of our bounty from the night:

HolidayBenefitBounty

Ximena Sarinana and Graffiti6 at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

Send to Kindle

We’ve seen Ximena Sarinana perform a number of times. We’re big fans. Considering that she lives in LA, we decided to cut a business trip short to return to NYC to catch her show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night (who knows when the opportunities will present themselves!).

XimenaKeyboards

Ximena has two CDs under her belt. The first is all Spanish, produced when Ximena was living in Mexico (where she is a superstar). The new one (self-titled) is in English, except for track 10, Tu Y Yo (You and I). Both are excellent.

So if we own both CDs, and they’re excellent, why run back to NYC to catch Ximena live? Because the CDs don’t actually do justice to the two things that make Ximena such a special live act:

  • She has a stunning voice which comes across more powerfully/vibrantly live
  • She is delightful/effervescent/charming/funny/natural/cute and any number of other adjectives (all positive)

Did we make the right decision? Of course! Ximena’s voice was in full bloom last night, charming and mesmerizing. She played a mix of songs from both CDs (can’t let your original fans down by ignoring the old stuff!).

On Normal (a Spanish song from the first CD), Ximena looped her voice at least six times (I’d guess it was closer to eight), each time adding a new harmonizing track. It’s mindboggling how beautiful it was and how creative she is for being able to come up with that many different melodies that blend together so well.

XimenaSinging

Ximena was supported by two fantastic musicians, left-to-right on stage:

Aaron Steele on drums. I’ve seen Aaron once before (this past January). He was very impressive, but I was sitting inches away from the drums in the much-smaller Rockwood 1, and Aaron’s hard-hitting style overwhelmed me a bit. Last night was an even more impressive performance, with zero negatives.

AaronSteeleDrumKit

Aaron is fast, steady as a machine, doesn’t over-drum, and delivers a perfectly matched beat to Ximena’s power-pop style. On the jazzier numbers, he can be subtle as well.

Pete Lalish  on guitar. I’ve seen Pete a number of times (with Lucius as well as Ximena) and he’s impressed every time. Last night I noticed some things I hadn’t before. Ximena’s new music has quite a bit of electronica in it. I tend to think that most of that is generated on a keyboard (and much of it is, by Ximena herself).

PeteLalishGuitar

Last night I saw that Pete actually produces more of it than Ximena. He spent a fair amount of time on his knees furiously working his pedal board with both hands (with the guitar just hanging on the strap, unattended), making the electronica sounds.

PeteLalishPedalBoardXimenaElectronica

I’m not the biggest fan of electronica in general (having nothing to do with Ximena), but that doesn’t mean that I’m not impressed at seeing it performed/produced live, giving fans of the CD a real taste of the same sound in a live setting.

Here’s the set list, which was a big hit. We attended the early show, but Ximena was on again for a second show, after a short break!

SetList

Gaffiti6 opened the show (both shows). We knew nothing about them, other than the many tweets that I saw, including one from another musician that we both really like, Valerie Mize:

ValerieMIZE Valerie MIZE

Hey, NEW YORKERS! Catch UK Harmonic Awesomeness@Graffiti6 at #ROCKWOODmusicHall w @ximenamusicTONIGHT! 2 Shows! @TommyDD @JamieScottG6

OK, so instead of me making up a new description, pay attention to Valerie’s: “UK Harmonic Awesomeness”.

I would describe them as power folk. Two acoustic guitars (the duo that formed Graffiti6) and an electric bass.

Graffiti6

Jamie Scott sings the majority of the leads, with Tommy Danvers (TommyD) joining for a lot of very powerful harmonies. The bass player (Pete Cherry) was excellent and added three-part harmony to many of the numbers.

JamieScottTommyDanvers

PeteCherry

The crowd was extremely enthusiastic in their support for Graffiti6. I thoroughly enjoyed their sound, but I’d have to listen again to have a better sense of whether the lyrics will grab me if I give them another shot.

As we were leaving, we ran into one of our favorite musicians/people, Alex Berger. Come to Rockwood 2 on Tuesday (12/20) to see him play at 9pm. Stay for Alex Wong immediately thereafter. That’s where we’ll be. Smile

AlexBergerHadar

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.